Hey, here’s another story written in response to a prompt contest. The prompt was the word ‘Eternal’.
(**warning for cursing and violence**)
Death is Eternal
Copyright© 2009 Venice Kennedy
All Rights Reserved
~DEATH IS ETERNAL~
Spadacinno’s Funeral Home.
The words were blurred, but they were profound.
The sign, a morbid workplace joke, hung over the morgue freezer door.
He groaned and tried to turn on to his side, he could not.
He needed someone to address that fact ASAP. He’d shout it if he could
but at the moment, talking was as impossible for him as trying to get up.
He was having some really bad thoughts.
What if a damn mortician apprentice, working the night shift, came upon him and decided like earning a little extra credit. Embalm him. That had to be nasty.
A cop runs through his mind all the different ways it could happen. When death could interrupt your regular day. On a stakeout and someone sneaking out of the dark and pumping you full of bullets was one that particularly bothered him. But there were so many different scenarios. A meth’d out super strengthened ex-linebacker wrestling him for his gun…a distracted school bus driver slipping out into an intersection during a high speed chase. And there was always the threats of revenge and promises of payback with almost every arrest to consider. All the possible scenarios of his demise he could imagine, neatly cataloged in his memory banks.
But freezing to death? In a mortuary freezer?
That was the way it was gonna happen?
And then the damn sign, the one having its way with him, and the stupid bastard that put it up would be happy. Wouldn’t they?
His eyes, on automatic pilot, on their own volition, wandered back to it.
Death was not fucking eternal! That’s not the way it was supposed to work. Life, or was it love, was eternal. But no f’n way was it death. Not for him, not now. Not ever.
Why couldn’t he roll himself off of the cold slab under him? He was a big guy—six feet one, 190 pounds of hard earned muscle. What was the purpose of all those workouts in the gym if he couldn’t turn over? Even a four month old baby could accomplish that. If he did manage to get up he’d make a bee-line for that damn thing and tear it off the wall it was taped to.
He was so cold. Too cold to shiver. Maybe he was dead. Maybe that sign had him dead to rights. And he was too stubborn to face reality…or too dumb.
Either way, his incredibly over protective and short-fused partner was gonna be pissed. This was a guy people called Tilt because of his reputation of flipping over pinball machines that had earned his contempt. A guy who couldn’t make it to 1 on a count to 10.
It was a stupid move on his part. Any rookie would have known better. A simple bust. They had the guns and he was carrying the cash. Then, out of nowhere, there was talk of needing to go somewhere else to do the exchange. And that’s where he made the dumbest move of his whole career. His captain was gonna rip him a new one. Maybe freezing to death in a funeral home freezer might be a more pleasant end. The problem was, after a month’s worth of work and him having such complete and utter disdain for the crew of young bucks from suburbia trying to live out some gangsta’ fantasy— No way was he gonna let them walk away from a bust. No way was he gonna let them flood his streets with more automatic weapons. The murder rate was high enough out there.
So, he’d lost it. Broke a serious ‘never break it’ rule. Left his back up and went out on his own.
Misjudged just how stupid the punks were. Got in their vehicle and let them drive him right into a set- up to rob the fifty grand he was carrying. It wasn’t like he’d made it easy for them, he was kicking their asses. But one of those idiot college dropouts had shot him…in the head.
On the ground, he remembered seeing one of them rifling through his wallet, the kid was freaking out, “Shit man, he’s a cop, Stu… we shot a cop…” And kept repeating it over and over again. He didn’t know what happened after that.
So was he gonna bleed or freeze to death?
Flayed opened skin was probably the source of the gooey stuff slickly dripping behind his ear. He had never had a bullet try and burrow through his skull before. And while it did appear he was still alive, despite what that freaking sign was telling him, his brain apparently had some objections to the whole concept of being shot at. It was being very uncooperative. Otherwise he would have walked, or crawled his way out of this cold grave.
Any criminal, man or woman, with a pair of real ones, would have had the decency to finish him off on the spot, instead of turning his death into a stupid college prank. Well, the joke was on them. Killing him–killing a cop, with a bullet, or putting him on ice, respectively– still earned those punks 1. the wrath of his vengeful partner and 2. the death penalty. Stupid fake wannabe gangsters didn’t even know the basics of murder 101. You don’t fucking kill a cop.
He blinked away at the cold air seeping into his eye balls, hoping the eerie blue lighting around him and that worthless sign would fade away with it.
But it remained steadfast and immovable.
~DEATH IS ETERNAL~
All right, so just maybe that sign had a point.
Everybody else there had to agree with it.
He hated dead bodies.
Everyone knew that. And six years on the street and just as many as a homicide detective hadn’t changed that fact. His shrink had suggested he was an unusual case. Then came up with something he diagnosed as Anomalistic Morbidity Association. Or, the psychiatrist suggested, they could call it Atypical Bereavement Disorder–either one. His unique problem the doctor pointed out, wasn’t about him having any psychic susceptibility; he failed all those tests horribly. Simply put– he had peculiar empathy for the dead. Possibly stemming from an incident from his childhood he wasn’t able to connect to as an adult. So nice to have a disease named especially for you, how many people had that claim to fame?
Whatever. It all sounded like a bunch of bull.
The doctor also suggested he quit the force, and that was never gonna happen.
So, yeah sometimes it did affect his job performance…
And tonight his AMA or ABD, or whatever the hell you wanted to call it, and him, were strapped in for a wild and crazy ride.
Where was a doctor when you needed one?
There were bodies. Dead ones, all around him and not one of them seemed to have any objections to the sick joke of a sign mocking them. No need to take a vote to see if anybody else thought it inappropriate. Especially in light of their current situation.
The man lying on the pallet next to him was missing a sizable portion of part of his skull. The expression on the dead man’s face was unforgettable.
Shock and sadness captured at the exact moment his life was taken away from him.
No! Not now…
No fucking shit—he needed to get the hell out of there! But he couldn’t make his body do anything. A very old woman nearby, was blurry but he could see her near-century old white hair was so long, it hung almost to the floor.
He didn’t want to look at the others, but was too frightened to close his eyes. Leaving him to wonder if they were moving closer to him. He didn’t want that. He didn’t want to know their stories or how they met their end. Or who was going to miss them. Those were always the kind of questions that messed with his sanity.
Please. Let me out.
He didn’t want to but his eyes were drawn to it.
~DEATH IS ETERNAL~
No help then?
Now there was no escaping them, or the sign, or his fate.
Warmth of a hand on his neck and a voice to boot. “You stupid ass. I can’t believe that first day outta the academy crap you pulled. What the hell were you thinkin?”
Sweet Lord…his partner.
A waft of leather and something fluttered over him. Tilt’s precious leather jacket, the one that cost him a week’s salary, being tucked around him.
Shouts from Tilt—making it more than clear, he wasn’t gonna take no nonsense. Yells for medics and blankets.
His back-up was here. Tilt was always there. Now him and his partner were gonna show that punk sign who was in charge. If he could just get up, get over to it and rip it down. Show it who was in charge.
Feeling gloriously victorious, he muttered a curse at it, “Fuck you.”
The shadowy shape of his partner’s face leaned in close. “Look pal, I’m rescuing you here, show a little gratitude, huh?”
He tried to smile and a sob sneaked out of a corner of it.
“Just take it easy, hero. Easy.” Tilt’s image cleared up and he could see his partner wasn’t smiling when he told him, “You know I’m gonna kick your ass later, right?”
Damn he was in big trouble. He made an effort to explain it all.
“I said take it easy.” Tilt barked.
He turned back to his tormentor.
The damn sign didn’t look so intimidating anymore and he felt more hands on him. And a cool sting at the gash in his head.
“I’m gonna let these guys take care of you,” Tilt said. “But I’m right here and I’m in the ambulance soon as they roll you out of here.”
There was a sweet gentleness in Tilt’s voice. Just what a guy who had the shit scared out of him needed. His partner, despite all his macho posturing, knew that.
The consoling gesture had him smiling like a fool.
“What?” Tilt asked.
His mouth was dry but he licked at frozen lips and spoke. “I-it’s…love. Love’s eternal…n-not…death.”
“You proposing to me, partner? Cuz Anissa, she ain’t gonna appreciate it. You know she already don’t like you that much.” Tilt referred to his wife of less than a year. That was a crock of bull because he knew for a fact, that sweet wife of his partner, loved him like a brother.
“We can move him, now. Let’s get this officer out of here!” He heard a voice proclaim. Warm blankets stuffed around him as they kept talking, “It’s a nasty wound. Bullet did quite a bit of damage as it grazed across his temple and forehead. Usually, with this kind of injury, they’ll do X-rays, CT scan to see it there’s a fracture, or any neurological problems.”
Grazed? No bullets in his head. That was some good news. Things just kept getting better and better.
They rolled him out through the door and into the land of the living. Him watching the sign disappear from his view.
He smiled again and let himself ease into restfulness and being alive. Listening to the medics chortling over Tilt’s half joke, “You ever see a guy so friggin’ happy to take one to the head before?”
“I seen this guy once– take two blasts to the stomach. He laughed like a hyena the whole ride to the hospital.”
Casual conversation from live people. Very nice.
“Is that right,” Tilt asked.
His partner always liked that ‘strange but true’ stuff.
“Yeah, weirdest thing– the guy never had any pain.”
“This job—you see it all, man.”
Enough excitement for one night. Tilt would take care of things from here on out. He was going to sleep.
The prompt for this one was a very intriguing portrait of a woman, offered to authors for inspiration. And well, it did inspire me!
(*please forgive typos, grammatical screw ups, and exuberant punctuation I’m sure most any editor would have scolded me for*)
Copyright© 2009 Venice Kennedy
All Rights Reserved
“Mrs. McGuire! Mrs. McGuire! Wait!”
The tall woman in the expensive designer skirt suit turned to look at her. Her thin lips were drawn into a frown. She slid off her sunglasses to squint a disgruntled glare, raising a hand to block out the sun.
“The picture? This is your father’s. You left this, don’t you want…”
“No,” the woman quickly snapped, cutting her off. “I don’t want anything to do with that… thing.”
“But what am I…”
“Burn it for all I care.” She glowered at the large portrait in wood frame that Maybelle was trying to hand over to her.
“Ever since my father brought that thing into our lives, its meant nothing but trouble.” Almost softening her tone as she reflected on the past, she continued her explanation for her disdain for the painting… “That woman destroyed my parent’s marriage. Since the day my father brought her into our home, that’s all he cared about. A preposterous woman, a…damn spattering of color on canvas was more real to him than his own wife. No, I don’t want it. I don’t ever want to see that thing again in my life.” She straightened her shoulders, deliberately sliding back on her dark sunglasses, and took off down the cobbled walkway to her car.
Maybelle, stunned and confused, watched her drive away.
The 89-year-old man who she had cared for in the south wing for close to three years, a resident at the facility for close to ten years, had died. It had taken a couple of days for them to contact someone in his family to come and pick up his few possessions. A thick, gold wedding band, and the close to three thousand dollars that had been in his personal expenses account, and the portrait. No one had ever called or visited him, no family member or friend. Oddly, the man, who hardly had spoken more than a handful words to her while she was caring for him; washing his body and clothes, more recently feeding him– did seem to have an unusual relationship with the painting. He’d sit in his room for hours in front of it, entranced by the dark-haired woman’s image forever captured peeking from behind a red curtain.
Maybelle, hadn’t really paid it much mind. Old folks were strange; she’d learned that much from working five days a week plus two weekends per month for the past three years at Golden Gate nursing home. Despite the beautiful manicured grounds and the gardens of pastel colored flowers and being filled with antique furniture and despite all the busy daily activity of the place, there was much sadness behind its fancy rusting gilded doors. And in the one hundred and twenty-five rooms occupied by the aged and some severely disabled residents.
Many of the old people residing in Golden Gate lived trapped in a place and time only they could see. Imaginary worlds with imaginary loved ones to converse with. So, an old man’s obsession with a painted woman wasn’t news. Mrs. Englewood in 209C had a long-legged ratty, blond-haired doll that she’d couldn’t be separated from for more than ten minutes, before she’d commence into a high-pitched shriek until the doll was placed back into her lap. The nurses’ aides working at the home had to make sure the child’s toy accompanied the elderly woman to meals when she ate in the dining hall, and to off-site doctors’ visits or she would be impossible to handle. There was a 79-year-old who couldn’t be parted from a baseball card, so worn; no one could even tell what player had been celebrated on it.
All Maybelle knew about Mr. Chambers was that he had a living daughter and a painting of a dark-haired woman, that didn’t look like someone in his family. Now, that daughter had just taken all his
belongings except for the painting. Leaving it behind.
“So what should I do with it?”
“Do with what?” Sharon, Maybelle’s disinterested supervisor, pushed by her, making her way to the gray metal file cabinet she was always rifling through.
“The painting.” Maybelle reminded her.
Sharon stopped to think on her answer. “If it was worth anything, than that daughter of his would have taken it. If she told you to burn it, then, again it’s worthless.”
“I just don’t want to get in trouble…”
There were strict rules about taking any of the patient’s things, even if they were gifts.
“You want it?” Her boss, annoyed and sounding perplexed at why someone would fancy an old dusty picture with a cracked and peeling frame. “Look, toss it into the trash bin– or— take it. I really don’t care. I’ve got way more important things on my mind right now.”
Sharon went back to rummaging for whatever file she was looking for and Maybelle nodded to the back of her head and quietly left the woman to her work.
It wasn’t exactly easy getting the picture home on the bus, they were always so crowded, and she had to stand. Most of the ride was spent struggling to keep the large tote bag she always carried from slipping off her shoulder while trying to hold the painting close to her chest and not poke anyone with its sharp corners. And Maybelle had to take it into the grocery store, which was several blocks from her home. That earned her a few inquisitive stares. Their hard looks made Maybelle uncomfortable, usually no one ever noticed her at all. But she picked up a package of the store-brand frozen fried codfish fillets. The store’s fillets were the cheapest and actually tasted better than all the other name brand ones she had tried. Some hamburger rolls, to make her own fish sandwiches with, a big tomato; they were on sale– 99 cents a pound, a head of iceberg lettuce, and toilet paper, which was the main reason she had needed to make the stop. She got home much later than expected and as soon as she walked into her small apartment she went about her ‘getting ready for the next day’ chores, placing her new possession into a hallway closet.
And that’s where it stayed until Friday. Saturday would be her first day off after ten straight working days. Freshly showered, and bored, she flipped the TV off. Heading for bed she remembered the woman and the red curtain she’d stuffed between a box filled with her winter clothes and a broken kitchen chair. Maybelle pulled it out, plopping down on the floor in front of it, studying the painting. First she looked at the stained, yellow paper on the backside. There were a few holes poked in the material, and some dimensions written in pencil. Nothing more. She flipped it back around and was now face to face with the woman Mr. Chambers had been so obsessed over.
She ran a finger over the bumps and cracks on the wood frame. “Hmm, you need replacin’,” Maybelle spoke softly to it, like she could be heard.
She leaned the painting against a wall, sitting back on her heels and looked at it. There was so much red. A bold, rich red….blood red, the color and the curtains were so prominent. Curtains, and a woman peeking out of them. And darkness in corners and in the folds of the material created depth.
“She’s pretty, real pretty,” Maybelle mumbled to herself, letting her eyes slowly take in the woman with long black hair that curled onto her shoulders. Had she been a real person, or was she created out of someone’s imagination? Who was she looking at? The more she studied it, the more Maybelle realized she wasn’t quite ready to deal with the painted woman’s eyes. There was something disturbing about them, and being alone at night, thinking about the way Mrs. Chambers daughter had talked about “that thing”–all of it, was making Maybelle feel uneasy. She wouldn’t say she was scared exactly, because she was scared a lot and knew what that felt like, but whatever the feeling was, she’d consider it a valid response for now and Maybelle stuck the painting back into the closet.
She was in a coffin. A wall of glass separated her from the living…she pressed her palms flat against the cold, clear barrier, pressing against it with all her strength. Her tubular tomb started spinning. Faster and faster until the top flew open and she was tossed out of it. Then she was upright…wandering in the dark, in the distance– a vertical beam of light before her. A jerk of movement and she was upright, standing directly in front of it. Long curtain, red … seemingly draping down from a dark moon less sky. A hand, wrinkled by age, black dirt under the nails slid out. And she watched it pull back the heavy cloth to reveal an old naked man, skin and bones, his eyes big with fright. She wanted to run, but her legs felt like she was cemented to the ground. A small figure–a woman, was at his side…long dark haired covered most of her face. They were reaching out for her, and the woman was wailing — a woeful sound. The couple was…touching her, their hands were freezing. A loud, rushing wind picked her up, her arms and legs flailed about in the air and she was sucked into the light–with the old man and the wailing woman and she couldn’t feel herself. There was nothing. And she’d become part of that.
Maybelle woke up with a start, surprised to look down and see her hands were trembling.
It had been weeks. She hadn’t even taken a peek at the damn thing. Had tried to forget about it. But truth be told, she’d been feeling out of sorts lately. Not necessarily in a bad way either. Something was–different. That’s all Maybelle was sure of. Another 10 days straight shift ended and Maybelle found herself looking into the face of the woman painted on canvas. Visiting with her is what it felt like. Maybelle sat there with her waiting…ready. For what? She had no idea. But there was definitely a determination in her. A push–she was compelled to sit and…see.
Maybelle, listened to the voices and sounds of her neighbors coming and going, the slamming of their apartment doors and their barks of laughter. Sitting in her hallway with the picture beside her. She focused on it, trying to imaging the texture of the curtain, what it might feel like to her own touch. That dark red curtain.
She ate a cereal bowl full of cherries and almost a whole bag of potato chips during her…vigil. Not sure of the strange feeling – not sure of what she was waiting for to happen. Uncertain of what might happen to her nervous stomach if she gorged on more food, Maybelle thought of something else she could do in the meantime.
She filled a small bucket with soap and warm water. She picked out a soft tan washcloth and gently went about dabbing it to clean off the dirty frame. So careful not to get the portrait wet. Maybelle was intently working at the task, when the memory of washing Mr. Chamber’s body flashed in her head.
And she remembered something. On that last day, she had been bathing him, and his large hand with long bony fingers had grabbed onto her wrist, telling her, “There’s so much more.”
His eyes, the white yellowed, marred by the brown spots of aging, were frantic. The strength of his grip
had surprised her. She tried to continue sponging, but he tugged at her, struggling to sit up. “Mr. Chambers,” she called out to calm him and he gripped her more tightly. “Stop,” he said. “Get out.” She thought the words were a scolding but when she looked closer, Maybelle could tell he was pleading for something. “Mr. C,” she sometimes used the moniker for him, “…do you want me to get the nurse?” His expression turned sad, and just now she remembered what he had said to her.
“There’s so much m-more…d-do you understand? Th-here’s more,” he stuttered.
“You’re hurting me.” She winced, staring down at his grip on her wrist.
He fell back onto the mattress and she had shrugged off the weird behavior, just glad he had calmed. But the whole rest of the time Maybelle bathed him, the old man’s eyes searched her and she wondered – what in the world had he wanted from her?
“There’s more.” Alone, saying the words out loud, they suddenly shot up through her like a flock of birds fluttering up inside. “There’s…more,” she repeated. “There is more.” She reached for the portrait, got face to face with the woman– the one made from strokes of oil and color on canvas. Maybelle looked at the young woman and finally understood what had frightened her so. She’d seen the same fear in her own eyes. The longing…the pain-filled yearning in the dark-haired woman’s eyes. Maybe that’s what Mr. Chambers had seen in hers. Maybe he was trying to tell her what she had always known to be true. That there was more to life than waiting for the hours of her shift to end, and scurrying home to lock herself behind a door–when the world was out there–on the other side of it. Just within reach.
He was six feet and handsome. Every morning she stopped at his bakery to pick up breakfast.
When he turned to make her coffee, Maybelle shyly stole a glance of him. Her heart fluttered lightly, almost making her giggle at the sensation of the pitter pattering in her chest.
“Here ya go.” He smiled. “Your hair. You took it down. I like it.”
Maybelle’s hand rose to touch it, she stroked the ends, subconscious now of her need to be seen.
“I liked it the other way, too,” he said, easily reading her reaction to his compliment
Then she did smile. “Thanks.”
She turned to leave.
“Maybelle? That’s your name, right?” he asked, stopping her exit.
“It is.” She confirmed, grinning back at his warm smile.
“Have a nice day, Maybelle.”
“Thanks.” They stared at each other, silently acknowledging the attraction and her being open
to his pursuit.
Some teenagers bounding into the shop interrupted the warm exchange and she laughed, rushing outside.
“I’m Henry.” He called out to her.
“Maybelle?” The shock in Sharon’s voice and on her face were more than amusing. “Wha– what?”
She beamed. Maybelle never, ever had her supervisor’s full attention before. Maybe it was the big waves in her hair that curled over her shoulders and down her back, or maybe the halter dress with big pink flowers she’d bought out of the discount designer store on River Street. Or, it could have been the striking bright red lipstick she had freshened up on the subway ride over. Most likely all of that, along with her announcement of her quitting which was making Sharon’s eye’s bug and her voice shrill.
“But, Maybelle– you’re my best girl. None of these lazy ones hold a candle to you.” The compliment was too late to make a difference, the decision had been made.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Maybelle explained. “You take care, Sharon.”
“Wait!” the panicked supervisor cried, reaching for her. “What if I…what if I can get you another dollar per hour…”
“I’ll see you, Sharon.” Maybelle patted her hand and started walking away.
“But you gotta work.” Her ex- boss, threw up her hands, “You gotta work somewhere, right?”
Not turning to look back, Maybelle yelled over her shoulder. “I’ve had enough of workin’. I’m gonna do some livin’ for a while.”
She had one more trip to make before her class started.
It was a beautiful day, the air was warmed by the eighty degree temperature and a gentle breeze lifted the hem of her dress, gently flapping it at her knees–making her feel gloriously girlish.
She didn’t have the best shoes on for this, but didn’t matter. Maybelle had to give her respects.
She touched the headstone… feeling across the etched name. “Hello Mr. Chambers…I-I just wanted to tell you… I understand– what you were trying to tell me.” Emotional, she bit her lip, trying not to think too much about how sad the man who realized he wasn’t living the life he should have been, must have been.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “I’ll live for us… Mr. Chambers…you’ll see.” Then she let the tears come.
“It must have been hard for you,” she said, touching the cold marble with sympathetic fingers, as she considered what it must have been like to let the curtain close with everything you desire on the other side of it.
“Mr. Chambers, I ‘m going to cooking school. I always wanted to be a chef. And lately I’ve been dreaming about having my own little place, ‘Maybelle’s’. It’s gonna have shiny hardwood floors and I’m gonna fill it with little round tables, and flowers and cozy booths… and…hah,” she snickered. “… maybe even some curtains – red ones.”
She paused, letting the sun dry her wet face. “And you know, if that doesn’t work out, I’ll try something else, and if that doesn’t…well, you get the idea.” Maybelle sniffed back tears, brushing them away quickly. “Anyway Mr. C., I just want to thank ya, and I hope….wherever you are– I hope you’re happy.”
“Maybelle, how are you doing over here?”
“Having a little trouble.” She admitted to the instructor in the white chef’s coat.
“Chopping, takes a lot of practice. You keep at it,” he winked. “I think you’ll soon realize you’ve got natural talent. I can tell,” he assured her.
“You think so?” Her mood brightened.
“Let’s see, your garnishes look wonderful.” The instructor complimented.
Henry’s head tilted, taking a cockeyed view. “Hey, did you leave off an “A?” he asked, pointing to the sign above the restaurant Maybelle was twenty-four hours away from opening. “I mean isn’t it —Amore?” He waggled his eyebrows, slipping an arm around her waist, pulling her closer to him.
“Hey you two– get a room!” A construction worker, eating his lunch, sitting on a stoop nearby playfully scolded them.
Maybelle grinned up a the man she loved, “No, Henry. It’s More. M-O-R-E.”
“I thought you were gonna name it ‘Maybelle’s’?”
“Changed my mind.”
“Hmm, interesting. More, huh? Like…” he nuzzled her ear, whispering, “…like, please miss, can I have some more?”
“No, silly– not like that.” She gently pushed him away, “Now, you better get back to work, before both of us forget what we’re supposed to be doing,” she kidded.
“Seriously, though, hon– what does it mean?” He was holding her hand.
She sighed. “It means everything. You know, someday, somebody’s gonna see that sign, and they’ll know exactly what it means, without asking.”
‘I don’t get it.”
“It’s a long story. A strange one, too.”
“Tell me later?”
“Um hum,” she promised, giving him a good-bye hug.
“Okay, babe.” A kiss on her cheek and he was gone.
“Over some. To the left. Now, ah, just a tiny bit to the right. There! That’s perfect.”
The carpenter who had just finished hanging up the portrait of the dark-haired woman looking from behind a red curtain, wiped the sweat from his brow, commenting. “It’s beautiful.”
Maybelle, stood back admiring it. “Yeah, she is.”
Author’s note: This short is a result of me writing to a prompt. The phrase “Shadows of Self” was the weekly challenge tossed out to writers competing on a popular Live Journal writer’s site. It was my first original work in years, and while it didn’t make it to the final rounds, I was really satisfied with the way I pulled a little romantic piece out of my hat. At the time I think I instinctively wrote it as an IR, while there isn’t anything in the story that illustrates that. This is where you jump in and decide what you think this couple might look like to you.
Copyright© 2008 Venice Kennedy
All Rights Reserved.
Shadows of Self
by Venice Kennedy
He spotted her.
He didn’t like that he still got butterflies. Even after nearly a year. Like she had some power over him.
“You’re late.” She looked sad. Him the cause, no doubt.
“I’m here, right?” His answer, he realized almost immediately, he sounded like he was trying to be mean. And didn’t do much better when he added to it, “Now you’re pissed?”
“You know—you don’t know me like you think you do.”
“What’s that’s supposed to mean?” He watched her eyes darken and tilted his head to get a closer look at her face and what message was in it.
She looked away and he took the moment to try and think about how to change the direction of the way they were communicating.
His eyes scanned the room. Red velvet, dark mahogany wood tables and booths, the flickering gold glow of candles, and more people than a few minutes ago. The music was louder and he liked the song that was playing.
“Okay…” he said, making his voice soft and warm, hoping she’d give him another chance to say something she wanted to hear from him.
But then her friend, Clive, was right there. He was sporting a big smile and was obviously too into the state of mind that was creating the goofy grin, that he didn’t bother to notice that– he and his girlfriend were having one of those moments. One of the kind of moments that only had enough space for the both of them.
But he was going to be nice, because he liked the guy. “Hey.” It was the best he could do under the circumstances.
“What’s up, man?” Clive patted his arm and reached out a hand of greeting and then asked, “Hey, can I steal her? Last set.”
He studied her face for a second. Her abundant brown eyes, the same ones he was crazy over, were shiny. And he thought about refusing the request so that he could find out what he’d done to make them fill up with tears, but he gave a nod and let Clive walk off with the woman he was almost sure he’d marry one day.
He took a seat in a corner, watched Clive slip on his guitar and waited.
“Hi Handsome,” Chloe, the youngest barmaid at the club teased. Shoving an ice-cold Heineken into his hand, she also gave him a disapproving scowl. “Late again, I see.”
Offering no defense, “I know,” he admitted.
The lights dimmed and the young girl pointed to the stage. “Oh, they’re starting”
His eyes settled onto the stage… on to her.
She was singing.
It was a new song. A romantic folky soulful number – and maybe it was telling their secrets, but it was glorious and he didn’t care.
When it was over, the crowd had cheered, some folks stood up, and he was clapping, too.
A guy in his early twenties in a seat nearby tugged at his arm and shouted at him. “The band’s great. Who are they?”
He leaned over, so he wouldn’t have to yell. “Shadows of Self.”
“Wow, man that chick can blow!” The guy proclaimed.
“Yeah, she’s sumpthin’.”
“What is it? Shadow and Cells?” The younger man was trying to get the name straight.
“Shadows- of – Self,” he clarified. It wasn’t the best name for a band and he had suggested she pick something with more magic in it ’cause…magic, that’s what she was.
“They got a CD?”
She started singing again and those damn butterflies, June bugs or dragonflies—whatever they were, mocking him once more with the power they had over him, started dancing. Setting off a familiar fire in his groin.
Damn, she was so beautiful.
And later, he’d tell her so.
A hundred times if she needed to hear it.