Untitled – A Vignette

The sparse hairs on Mr Fairchilde’s chin did nothing to promote the air of confidence he wore like a bespoke suit. He beckoned Eleni into his office with a small head dip, an echo of past centuries’ courtly bows, a concession to politeness he only expressed in physical gestures. In conversation, Mr Fairchilde was short, although in stature he was rather tall.

Eleni glided in, her feet obscured by her perpetual hippie-skirt. She jingled as she moved, obscuring any sound her feet might have made, giving her the illusion of true weightlessness. The cheap metal bracelets on her arms, peeling fake silver revealing coppery rust flakes, chimed as she swung them to and fro with far more vigour than seemed necessary for such a small person.

She looked around, surveying the tinseled, red and green bannered, generally over-the-top ornamented walls. They reminded her of the gaudy décor that hung at the corner bar, dug out of lumpy, leaking, boxes every holiday season and packed away with sweaty, alcohol soaked hands a week later. Mr Fairchilde’s reputation was sinking in her eyes minute by minute, and though she had no one to blame but her sister for recommending him so highly, she eyed him with the kind of distaste she usually reserved for small critters, hamsters and guinea pigs, which she especially hated.

“Anything to drink, Ms Cooper?”

“No. You get paid by the hour, don’t you?”

“I do. Business it is.”

They sat down, Mr Fairchilde taking his huge brown leather chair – brown, not black, he was sure, made him seem a little warmer than the usual solicitor – and Eleni in the right-hand plastic on plastic affair reserved for clients. She thought it would make more sense the other way around, with the client feeling more comfortable, more apt to waste time and money. It didn’t seem the thing, to consider the client’s need to be reminded that time was short and that any minute over the first hour would be charged as an entire second one. Like parking lots, the whole bunch of them, she thought.

“Why don’t you tell me what it’s about.”

“I told you over the phone.”

“Refresh my memory, please.”

Eleni spoke, telling him the things he wanted to know and watching him make notes on a legal pad which he held up on his knee, so she couldn’t see it. She imagined, as she often did, a film camera coming around her, circling, until it panned onto the lined yellow paper to reveal the punch line – that Mr Fairchilde wasn’t taking notes at all, but was doodling pictures of naked women or genitalia.

Mr Fairchilde, for his part, took notes carefully, meticulously, and more importantly, accurately, just in case Eleni were to claim to have said something she didn’t later down the line. Clients could be fickle, he’d found. His brain was consumed entirely by the task, and he didn’t even notice, not even with a tiny corner of his brain, how much Eleni resembled his ex-wife, nor how the pitch of her voice was similar to the babysitter he’d had when he was nine years old. These things flew by his consciousness as he focused on the chore in front of him, and the only nagging thought in his brain was a sneaking suspicion that, if this was all that therapists needed to do – listen and take notes – he could be making even more money than he was already.

Discarded [Flash Fiction]

Discarding his jumper, Professor Bradley P. Lawrence did a few push-ups in his office. He remembered the exercise classes he used to go to with friends, back in the 80s, when it was all the rage to “feel the burn”. He missed those days, not because he particularly liked exercising (he didn’t) but because he had been fit and it hadn’t seemed to take so much effort. Now his lifestyle was too sedentary, his doctor said he needed to cut down on the red meat, and his body didn’t seem to belong to him. Those weren’t his white hairs on his chest, those weren’t his fingers that were so puffy and red every time he came in from the cold, and it definitely wasn’t his stomach that was jutting over his pants. Somebody else, some alien being, had performed on operation on him (he was sometimes almost certain of this, in his worst moments at the corner pub) over the years, replacing his body parts with those of his uncle’s.
He had a picture of his uncle that he kept in his desk drawer and took out whenever he was expecting distinguished visitors. He had smashed the glass against the wall once, in a fit of rage, and had never replaced it. He hoped it wasn’t too noticeable. Nobody had yet remarked on it yet, anyway. It was the kind of thing most visitors, if they were indeed distinguished, wouldn’t do.
After five vigorous push-ups, he felt he’d done quite enough exercise. He lay on the floor of his office, resting, and looked around. It was a marvelous view, one that he hadn’t seen since he’d slept with one of his students many years ago, and then he’d been far to absorbed in impressing her while simultaneously trying to enjoy the experience, and hadn’t particularly taken notice of his surroundings. He did so now. The light fell very nicely on the little rug he kept in front of his easy chair. There was a lot of dust beneath his desk that he ought to clean up.
A glint beneath a bookcase caught his attention and he shimmied forward and stretched his arm out to reach under it and see what it was. Pulling it out, he saw that it was a piece of glass. It must have been there since he’d broken his uncle’s picture. He turned the glass fragment over and over between his fingers, until it cut him and he had to get up to find a plaster to put on his hand.

Carved Innocence

“Carve my face just like it is, okay?” Juliet turned to see how her hair would look piled up on top of her head in a messy knot. The result was unappealing so she let her long, dark locks tumble back down to cover her back.

When she took her eyes off the riveting image of herself, she was almost surprised by the other presence in the room. She was so used to speaking to herself, that it was hard to remember how to act when she did have company.

“Of course, my lady. I would dare not insult you by creating a lesser image than the one you see before you in the glass.” This courtly nonsense was exactly what any poor artist who lived on the whims of the rich was supposed to say.

Juliet didn’t smile. She wouldn’t smile unless absolutely delighted. The uncles that raised her had taught her that facial expressions could cause lines in older age, and they strictly forbade them. Juliet was their prize, their secret weapon, growing into womanhood in relative secrecy and almost absolute privacy in order to be unleashed upon the world at precisely the right moment. Until she was out of their hands – and, if they had their way, she never would be, not entirely – she would do as they said and would be rewarded and punished accordingly.

The artist was one of her rewards. Juliet knew that she was beautiful. But her uncles didn’t know that she was growing shrewd, locked as she was inside the walls of the estate they’d allocated to her. She asked questions of the servants and bribed or charmed them to answer her despite their fears. She discovered how she could get what she wanted. In time, her intelligence might prove dangerous to her kin, and she might become a force to be reckoned with in quite a different way than her uncles had planned for.

But now, having just celebrated her fourteenth birthday, Juliet was getting a statue carved of her. Her uncles had been surprised. “Not a portrait?” they’d asked. “No,” she’d answered. “A statue. Of me in robes. Like a wise woman of the old days.” When they’d begun to complain about the cost of such an endeavor, she’d pouted, frowned, and wrinkled her brow. They had become alarmed, remembering the tantrums she’d had as a little girl and had quickly agreed. “Alright then,” they’d said. “As a birthday gift. How’s that?” She had let her face slacken, thanked them politely, and had walked away softly, demonstrating her perfect posture and the pleasing way her hair swayed back and forth lightly with every step.

Now the artist was taking some sketches of her. Juliet had been worried, at first, that her uncles had gotten confused or had tried to foist a portrait on her after all, but the artist had reassured her. “Ah, no, fair lady, I need the sketches in order to be able to work even when I am not in your presence. Have you not heard about artists and their muses? We do not always work at the most convenient of times.”

Juliet had spent her morning doing what she always did. She read poetry aloud in front of the mirror, listening to the resonance of her voice and practicing to make the tones more pleasing. She sat at the harp and played it for a while, eyes wide open, not getting lost in the music as she’d read in books that some people did. She couldn’t get lost in anything, not because the artist was there, but because she’d been raised to be aware of herself at every moment. She always thought of the way she held herself, moved, expressed her physicality in all its aspects.

The only time she could get lost was when she gazed in the mirror. Only when she saw that she was doing everything correctly and that there would be no lashes, no punishments, no chastising and shaming words from her masters – only then was she able to relax into herself.

It was when Juliet was gazing in the mirror and the weight came off her shoulders that the artist saw the human being in her. Before that, she had seemed like an automaton, a puppet being moved on strings. The artist began to sketch furiously, terrified of losing the one glimpse of this girl whose innocence was never allowed to flourish.

Next moment, Juliet heard the call from one of her masters and the weight of her uncles, their friends and their enemies seemed to sit back on her so that her posture became once more an act of will.

Raccoon

A Massive Attack song played and Jonathan drove faster and faster down the freeway. It was two in the morning, he was slightly tipsy, and he knew this was a bad idea. But the freeway was empty, so at worst, he thought, he would careen into the concrete divide and kill himself or else he would run over a raccoon. And he had a beef with them anyway. They’d dug into his garbage can so often that he’d realized that the animal control department wasn’t heeding his phone calls. His date – Tanya? Or Tina? – had said that raccoon were adorable.
“Adorable my ass,” Jonathan muttered and hit the steering wheel hard with the palm of his hand. He jumped as a honk sounded. Then he giggled at his own surprise. Then he stifled the giggle and glanced sideways, just to make sure that no one was watching him make such a stupid face. And then he remembered that he was alone, tipsy and driving on the freeway and he quickly brought his eyes to face front again. He had to straighten the car, which was veering into the right-hand lane. When he managed, he felt very proud of himself.
Tanya or Tina had been pretty. They’d danced together for a couple hours but she hadn’t agreed to come over to his apartment. “You’re drunk,” she’d said, frowning. “And I am too. Let’s go to a cafe and sober up.” He’d ask her if she’d agree to come to his apartment after they did that and she laughed very suddenly and said that probably not. Then she’d punched him on the arm, lightly, in a brotherly guyish kind of way that turned him off. So he’d invented a dog that he remembered he had to walk – because it was good to keep a good impression and not to close any doors with rude remarks, and everyone knew that girls liked guys who liked animals.
Jonathan wondered if he should actually get a dog. Then he realized that it would mean two things. First, he would need to walk it, pay for its shots at the vet, and in general stand having it around. Second, it would mean he wouldn’t be able to bring home girls who were allergic to dogs. And what if the girl of his dreams would be allergic to dogs?
Not that he was a romantic. No, he had no false notions of love or tenderness. He knew what he wanted and how to get it. His older brother was married and claimed to be happy, but Jonathan was pretty sure that he was actually miserable.
He wasn’t a complete bastard. He had friends who were girls, and he knew that women were people, too. But he didn’t really think that he wanted to have one around all the time. He’d been in several relationships in his life, but he always got tired of the girls he’d been with and so he’d ended it. His big brother told him that he was an immature man-child. Jonathan took that as a compliment.
He got home without causing an accident. There was a raccoon digging around in the trash can again. He tried to kick it and fell, swearing. So he went inside and tried calling animal control again, forgetting that they weren’t open at three in the morning.

Golden Morning

Glen unfolded the morning newspaper carefully, making sure not to rip any part of it. He was one of the only people in his building who still got a paper newspaper delivered. He knew this because he was always awake early enough to receive the paper straight from the deliveryman’s hands, and he became friendly with him over time and asked him whether there were many deliveries to be made in that neighborhood. The deliveryman just shook his head and smiled sadly. It was too early for him to engage in conversation and he answered Glen’s questions in monosyllables, releasing the words from his mouth as if they were precious bits of energy that he had to conserve.
Although Glen wasn’t personally invested in any business that had to do with the news – he wasn’t a reporter, nor did he own a publication of any sort – he still felt a deep and abiding kinship that dated back to the days of his early childhood, when he would watch his father iron the newspaper with gloved hands before unfolding it carefully and reading it in its entirety over his long breakfast. The ritual fascinated him as a child, and he saw something sacred in it. His mother had always told him not to disturb his father while he was reading the newspaper, and Glen, always an obedient child, still remembered the hushed mornings when he would play with his heavy metal train set, moving the cars quietly over the little rails and mouthing the “woo-woo!” that, at other times of day, he would shout out exuberantly every time the train ran under the little bridge he’d constructed over it with three hardcover books.
Although Glen didn’t iron the newspaper – he didn’t mind getting his hands a little dirty from the smudgy ink – he read the paper front to back every morning before heading out to work. It took him three cups of milky coffee, drunk slowly as it cooled to room temperature and below, to finish the pages, which, these days, seemed to be filled with more advertisements than articles.
When he finished the paper, he would fold it up just as carefully, and then would go downstairs and put it in the mailbox of apartment 14, where old Mr. Spiegal lived. Old Mr. Spiegal had stopped getting a pension when the company he’d worked for had gone bankrupt and had had to cancel his newspaper subscription in order to cut down on costs. He had been gruffly thankful when Glen offered to give him the newspaper every morning.
Glen’s ritualized morning ended with the action of popping the neatly folded newspaper into Mr. Spiegal’s mailbox. After he did that, he was never quite sure what to do next, and had to improvise every morning anew. He still hadn’t found a new job after the factory had laid him off, and although he continued applying for new positions, there were many days during which his only obligation was to avoid spending more money than he needed to. He had a nest-egg from his parents that he’d never touched until three months ago when he found himself, for the first time since high school, out of work.
This morning, he decided to go for a walk. He had a phone interview scheduled for the afternoon, and nothing else to do until then. The sun had come out from behind the fog that had shrouded it in the early hours and the day was beginning to look like the first real spring day of the year.
Walking down the pathway from the dilapidated apartment building, Glen stretched his arms above his head and tugged each hand with the other, the better to stretch his shoulders. As he turned right onto the sidewalks, he let his arms fall down to his sides, shook his head, took a deep breath, and began to walk.
There was nowhere in town that was unfamiliar to him anymore. He’d walked every inch of it, even ducking into a few private yards, just to see if there was a magic garden concealed by the stocky buildings that his them.
This morning, he decided to take the path that led up to the only hill in town, where the wealthy people lived. He found himself turning to this familiar walk more and more often lately, and he had a suspicion that there lurked in his breast some illogical hope that being around moneyed people would give him luck of some sort.

Soundtrack

The day was brisk and revenge was in the air. Trevor was looking forward to the end of it all. He wanted to reach the point at which he would feel vindicated and satisfied. But he didn’t know when that would be, and even though the wind blowing the strands of damp hair away from his face was cool, he still felt too warm and continued sweating profusely. He contemplated taking off his coat, but that wouldn’t be quite right. Revenge required a certain style, there were standards to be met, and those included the long, black leather overcoat he was wearing.
He knew he looked the part, but he wasn’t feeling it anymore. When he’d woken up in the morning, everything had felt right – the stars were aligned in his favor and his muscles were loose and pliant as he conducted his daily exercises. Everything matched his expectations, right up to the fine spread of grayness that filled the sky in a perfectly foreboding way.
The clothes were already prepared from the night before and they lay draped over the chair beside his bed, inviting him to put them on. He put music on first so that he could pretend he was in a movie. When he dressed, he made sure to pull his sleeves taut in time with the bass line and to knot the tie when the drums started up again after the bridge.
Trevor lived with a soundtrack. Although he worked in a job that he enjoyed – he was a studio musician – he wanted to work at something different. He wanted to be the person who chooses the music to go with each bit of a movie. When his friends described their lives to him, he constantly thought of which song should go with each instance. In his own life he kept meticulous playlists on his iPod and was ready for any situation he might fall into.
Today he was listening to his revenge playlist, but he only kept one earphone in because he also needed to hear the door opening. When it opened, he would be ready for her.
He tried to make his hand stop shaking. It looked distinctly unprofessional. The only thing he could hope for was that when she came in everything would suddenly work on instinct, just like in the movies. That’s what should happen.
But the door slammed open and she rushed out, clearly in a hurry. She was putting her earrings on as she jogged to her car. His hand kept shaking, and the metal didn’t glint, and it was all wrong now. Somehow she was already in the car, and the car was starting and then she was gone, and Trevor was left there, hunched behind the rose bush, the sweat finally growing cold on his face and his hand finally beginning to steady.
Too late. He was too late. He wanted to scream. His music stopped and he looked at his iPod and saw that it had died. He must not have charged it for long enough. This was awful.
“This is awful,” he said aloud. “This isn’t how it should go.” He wanted to ask someone what his next line was, or maybe ask to do the whole scene from the beginning, but life didn’t work like that and there was no director waiting to say “cut!”
It started raining as Trevor walked home and he wondered whether this was a turning point. Was this when the hero of the story was supposed to learn something? Was he supposed to take this as a sign or should he just try again tomorrow? Maybe he needed a sunny day, something less obvious than a gloomy day. Or perhaps he needed to just break into her house at night and do it then.
When he got home he put another playlist on. This one was called “Disappointment.” After a moment he changed it to the one he’d named “Failure.” It sat better with him. Stretched out on the bed, on his back, he struggled out of his clothing, trying not to lift his body very much because he was suddenly exhausted. He wondered whether he was coming down with something. He was drenched from the rain, after all.
The phone rang. He didn’t pick it up for a while, but finally, when it didn’t stop ringing, he decided to answer. It was her. She was asking him if he was ready to be friends yet. He said “Yeah, okay,” and made plans to meet her for dinner that evening.
Maybe there had been a reason for his failure after all.

Darkness’s Melody

   Darkness protects her own. She is a loyal mistress to some, a protective mother to others, and, to a rare few, she is a constant companion. She hugs her lovers’ figures with a sweet and cool caress. She throws a warm blanket over her children. She kisses those few who live with her eternally and teaches them the secrets of the senses that no one else possesses.
   Melody had woken up one morning in her narrow bed to discover that she was one of those few that Darkness chooses to initiate into those secrets. The sun was barely over the horizon – the nurse told Melody – and the ground was white with the snow that had been falling all night. Melody held her hands out in front of her face, stretched her eyes wide, and began to wail.
   It took a few days to calm her down. She had hysterics that exhausted her still-weak body, and then she would fall asleep for hours. During those blessed hours, she dreamed of a world awash with color and lit by sunlight. That world was locked for her, now forever.
   She missed it terribly. She cursed the Darkness over and over again, screamed her throat raw and lashed out violently at anyone who dared come near and try to comfort her. The narrow bed that she lay in gave her the only joy she was able and willing to receive because it allowed her to disappear from the Darkness.
   Eventually, there came a day when she was strong enough to get up – so the doctor told her. He was a kindly man, and she remembered his pudgy face, so at odds with his withered body. Everyone knew that he had been sick for many years now. How he clung to life, how he’d managed to keep the rosy boyish cheeks from sinking, nobody knew. Melody remembered him, but whenever she tried to look into his face – she didn’t stretch out her clawed fingers to him, because he seemed to bring calm into any room he entered – she could see only Darkness.
   Once the doctor left, she tried to sleep. But she couldn’t. She was too strong now to fall into bouts of healing sleep and her legs were shaking with the wish to move, to run, to sprint, to dance. She had loved dancing. She wondered whether she’d ever be able to dance again.
   The room was quiet as she slowly swung her legs over the side of the bed and found the warped wooden floorboards. Nobody sat through the day with her anymore – she’d made it abundantly clear that she didn’t appreciate such attention and that she wanted to be left alone. Nobody was there to see her take her first faltering steps, arms stretched out in front of her, reaching out to make sure that Darkness wouldn’t try to trip her up on a table or chair.
   She wondered whether all the other girls who’d used to be in her room were dead. The sickness had taken many of them. Few survived. She knew that, because she could hear the Sisters talking in hushed voices in the long hallway. For the first time, Melody felt guilty. She hadn’t thought about the other girls in her rage against the Darkness. She didn’t know whether or not any of them was suffering the same fate as she.
   Hush! the Darkness seemed to whisper. Listen! Melody paused. Her eyes closed of their own accord. She could hear the wind softly touching the curtains of the cracked window and making them sway. The fabric moving sounded like a small child shifting in its sleep. From above, she could hear the creaking of a bedstead as someone climbed onto a bunk. She knew it was a bunk because there was a rickety sort of rattling that came from the old wooden ladders that still clung desperately to the three-tiered bunks.
Footsteps in the hall. Melody felt them in the floorboards before she could even hear them. All the Sisters walked barefooted and had the trick of walking silently, avoiding the squeaky spots on the floor. A knock. Melody turned and slowly walked to the door, letting her arms drop to her sides. She used to walk to the door in Darkness even before, whenever she had to go use the bathroom at night. She knew how to get there. The Darkness seemed to smile at her encouragingly. Yes, we were friends even before, she seemed to say.
   Melody could smell the cheap varnish on the door before she reached it. Putting her hand out, she found that she’d stopped at precisely where she would stop if things were normal again – she wasn’t too far and she wasn’t too close. She turned the handle of the door and opened it.
A warmth emanated from the Sister standing there. She moved closer and Melody stepped back. She didn’t want anyone to be too near, yet. A combination of sound and feeling told her that the Sister had raised her arm and was going to put it on her cheek. And there was the hand, caressing her. There were callouses on it.
   “Sister Hannah,” Melody said. The hand stopped for a split second before moving up to smooth her hair. Not knowing how she knew it – maybe the hand trembled just a tad – Melody knew that the Sister was crying silently, and she could see, as if an image was imprinting itself on the Darkness, the way the Sister probably looked, tears rolling down her face and collecting on her round chin.
   The Darkness danced around Melody. The weight was becoming familiar, like a serpent draped around her shoulders.
   Stepping into Sister Hannah’s embrace, Melody held out a mental hand to the Darkness and joined the dance.