The fire smoldered in the dim light of the sitting room. Gerald debated adding more wood. He was alone, so he debated the glass of whiskey beside him. He promised himself he wouldn't let the fire die, but he also knew that, most mornings, he awoke to winter chill. Still, there was something in the promise that made him feel imperceptibly warmer. He had everything he needed; this was what he wanted, wasn't it? A quiet cabin full of books and music that he picked. It would have been the perfect writer's retreat if he still wrote instead of just talking about it.
A familiar face flashed across his subconscious, and he winced. He took another sip and opened the book he had chosen to stare at. Dickens. A former version of himself might chuckle at this pretentiousness - small stone cabin, winter, scotch, and an evening of Dickens? That version of himself had been dead for at least a decade. He barely remembered him.
Gerald lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. He often coughed these days, but not when he was drinking. Every time he went to the doctor, he pretended to be concerned about lung cancer, and the doc pretended to act like he gave a shit. It was a delightful pantomime. It amused and pained him at the same time. It was a bitter, acidic feeling. He craved it. Something to rage against.
He stood up and threw a log on the fire. Congratulated himself for this. He unplugged the wall phone and put his cell phone high on the top of the book shelf, turned off. He was reaching the point in the evening where, sometimes, the whiskey was able to convince him that calling her would be a good idea. Hearing her voice. But would he hear other voices? He convinced himself that it was bravery - to nip and cauterize. He was the victim and the hero. So many of us are, he thought. He reached for a pen and paper to write this down, this theme, this seed, something to work with in the morning. By the time he found a pen, he had forgotten what he wanted to write down. He would have to buy a new laptop to replace the one that lay smashed and broken in the corner of the room.
It was her, the fucking bitch. She was the reason he couldn't write. Couldn't take care of himself. She would have told him to cut back on the cigarettes and whiskey. She would have convinced him to finish one of the novels he'd started and never realize that it was her fault that he couldn't find the words, the plot, the magic. He had folders full of character studies with no life in them. He took a sip and cursed the day he'd met her. Cursed the "happy" years. The years that had ruined him. Writers weren't supposed to be happy. The pain was a cattle prod. He thought briefly about excavating one of those pieces, then realized that the files were on the demolished laptop.
The urge to call was strong, but he had so much to answer for. So many drunken nights and fights and misplaced flirtations. And she would forgive it all. He knew that, and it made him despise her all the more. The fucking bitch. Fucking doormat. He tried to giggle and failed.
The fire was dying, but he was too drunk to care. Too drunk to stand up. His trousers were soaked, and he knew that tomorrow would be agony. Somewhere deep in his semi-consciousness, he feared the pain that was guaranteed after a night of work like this. He could feel it already. Sobriety was fighting through the scotch and the agony was starting. The aches he could stand, the blood in the toilet bowl. What scared him was the emotional fallout he would feel. He would want to call, but he couldn't call when he was hung over. It required too much.
The cat padded over in disgust. Used to dirty litter boxes and unreliable food, he was not bitter. He was simply disgusted. Gerald could feel it and, somehow, the stab of it was too much, and he broke down into bitter sobs.
He would kill himself. That would fix everything. The pain, the failing ambition. The half-hearted drive. And she would find out somehow. She'd finally see what she'd done to him with her poison love. It would be big news, even. The networks would have a field day. His books would start selling again, and myths might just be created. The suffering artist. The suicidal writer. They would eat it up, whoever the hell they were. The readers. The faceless fucking readers he cared so much about. The vultures. The ones who decided where in the pile you ended up.
People love dead writers. It's the living ones they can't stand. Except for all the no-talent hacks that were climbing the bestseller lists. Hacks like he used to be.
He was nodding off now. There would be no suicide, no death knell. He would fail even in that. He tried half-heartedly to stand. To make it to bed. To drink a glass of water, something. He didn't make it. The cat settled on the arm of the chair, not his wet lap. He'd learned his lesson. He fell asleep next to the man he had known since kittenhood. This man was not even worth hating. Deep in his mind there was a memory of how life had been before the move to this cabin.
Before he never saw the woman again.
Wow. That was deep and gorgeous. So many poignant thoughts, visuals. I was right there in the room. "The cat padded over in disgust." So good.ReplyDelete
Yes, this is really good stuff. "...small stone cabin, winter, scotch, and an evening of Dickens?" For me, it was a small wooden cabin, winter, rum, and an evening of Dostoyevsky. Oh, and an acoustic guitar. I think I had him beat in the pretentiousness stakes. Although to be fair, I did indeed laugh.Delete
But the interesting touch is that he sees himself as victim and hero, but never the bad guy. And he even thinks it's an insight. Self-pity is a terrible thing.
Great piece JD. He had me from the beginning but then he threw in whiskey and Dickens and I was a goner. It's hard to pull off pathetic and compelling. I think I know why the cat's sticking around.Delete
Wow is right. I think every writer has spent time in that lonely cabin.Delete
Ethan poured himself a second cup of coffee, added oatmilk, something Mariposa had introduced to him in California, and sat at the table in the sunroom. Thick gray cartoon clouds scudded across the sky, casting shadows on the Ashokan Reservoir, making that normally placid body of water into a dark, raging sea. He thought of how it was created—several towns flooded, gone—and wondered about the people who’d lived there. They’d been paid off, relocated, the towns reincorporated down the road. Nobody had been killed or injured except an unknown number of stone masons who’d come from Italy to create the retaining walls, but Ethan knew well that physical locations retained the energy of those who’d come before. He’d walked the perimeter, in another life it seemed, as a child in the shadow of his larger-than-life mother, Jude, as she lectured him on the wrenching irony of the Native American tribe that had “lent” the body of water, and many of the towns flooded to create it, its name.ReplyDelete
Said mother now creaked down the stairs, tightening the belt of her white cotton bathrobe. She beamed a smile at him, as if she couldn’t believe that he was real, that he’d come back.
“I’d love to make a documentary about the reservoir when I go home,” he said.
The disappointment in Jude’s eyes that one day he’d again be leaving didn’t have a chance to take root, wiped away by a smile that looked a little forced. Maybe he wanted to hurt her, a little. Maybe he didn’t want her to start getting any ideas. But he didn’t want to be cruel.
He sat up straighter, grinned. “You could help me.”
Jude’s brief laugh was rich, deep, like an old movie star. “Sweetie. You don’t need any help from me.” She sniffed at the pot of coffee, frowned, but poured a cup despite her reservations and joined him.
“No, I’m serious. You know the history. Sal’s grandfather helped build it—”
“So talk to Sal. You don’t need my permission.”
Ethan sat back, let out a slow breath. No, he thought. He wasn’t going to let her get under his skin like that. “Sure. Whatever.”
Even though he was studying his coffee cup, he knew what her face was doing. That tiny lift of her brow, that little victory smile. No wonder Mariposa had begged off coming with him. He’d been disappointed at first, but slowly began to realize the wisdom of her choice. He had to handle this on his own. The documentary. And Jude.
“Mom.” She looked up with some surprise—he hadn’t called her that since he was a young child. When it was just the two of them. It was always just the two of them. “I’m only here for a few days. Let’s not make this weird.”
“What, weird? Who’s making this weird?”
He felt himself shrink a little. “Well, like now.” His voice sounded so small to his ears that he wanted to crush it. Or something. But she’d always taught him to be honest. “Like you assuming that I’d ask you for help with my work—”
She stiffened. “Of course you don’t need help, and I assumed nothing. You’re a film school graduate working in the industry and I trust they taught you the skills do to what you need to do to make a documentary. I only…”
Her hesitation puzzled and scared him a little. It wasn’t like her to not finish a thought. “What? Jude, what?”
“Nothing. Never mind.” She sipped her coffee, looked displeased at it, and set the mug down. Then smiled. “So. How’s Mariposa?”
Ethan glanced at the reservoir. A sunbeam had poked through the clouds, a beacon on the stormy sea. He took that as a sign. “We’re getting married.”
That sunbeam is like this story, a light shining briefly on a real life. I don't know how you do this, imbue even the briefest character with a sense of a life lived beyond the page.Delete
There is so much in what's left unsaid between Ethan and Jude it drew me in completely. These brambles in what should be the closest relationships are in very good hands with you as their storyteller.Delete
She had no clear idea how to do this, so she texted him to come meet her in the Subterranean, a dive bar on the main drag.
When he slipped into the booth seat beside her, it felt eellike. Sleek and nasty. Like mucous.
The server popped beer caps and let the bottles land, cold and foamy, on the table.
She had no guile left, no time or energy to dissemble, and said simply, “What is it you want?”
In lieu of an answer he smiled a crooked smile.
She drank from the bottle, looked away. At all the distant people, the lonely, abandoned detritus, the scammers and the stammerers and the wholly unblessed.
“You ain’t gonna talk, why you here at all?”
His smile lived a life of its own on his river-delta face. It never wavered. Like her, he scanned the room, drinking in the people and their ambience, avid. His eyes were dark, almost black, yet they glittered.
“Girl, I’mma tell you a thing.”
Unsettled, she waited within the pause, knowing it was coming at last.
He chewed a hangnail, spit it out, coughed twice, went still as hemlock in snowfall, grinned again, and said to her, “Moment I saw you, baby girl, I knew you was mine. Didn’t care who you pledged yourself to. To whom you were betrothed”—at this he giggled, almost childlike—“but I also knew it ain’t never easy to convince another of this type of destiny. So I waited. And dreamed. And brought reality kicking and screaming closer to them dreams. You know me, though…”
“No. I don’t. You’re mistaken. You a stranger to me.”
“I ain’t saying it literally. But you know me. My predatory nature. My thirst. And you want that.”
“No. Fuck you. I ain’t nobody’s prey.”
“And that’s… laudable.” He tipped his empty bottle her way. “It is.”
The waiter brought two more beers, and someone paid the jukebox to play “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
Her head swam the toxic currents of the bar’s stale air. No one smoked indoors, but it felt defiled and choked by mere collective thoughts, of loss and debt and grievance, of abandonment and domestic pain.
She knew courage would be called for, so she called for it. “If it cash you need, keep on dreaming. I ain’t got that. I’mma ask you to leave me alone now, though. I’m sayin’ enough.”
His grin was a levelheaded weapon on his face. It was larger than all of this.
“You think you can tell me what it is you sayin’. You think it’s something I’d consider. I might could almost love you for that, girl. That’s honest-to-god touching. If my heart was a size larger, it might break. But it ain’t. And it won’t. And I don’t break. Ever. Listen to me, little burr. I will do with you what my appetites dictate.”
She drew on reserves. “And what exactly do they dictate?”
He looked at her. Gazed with dazzling black irises into her depths. Moved his beer aside. Shifted so he was facing her head-on.
She’d never felt more naked.
“Girl, they want to skip through alpine meadows breathing glacial air, run down scree slopes, cryin with the life of it all, surf above the reef, rassle sharks, swing on lianas in the hot deep greenery. All that is true, my fever-browed friend, but right now, truth be told, all I want to do is scoop out your uterus with my teeth.”
Somehow she found reserves that kept her still and quiet and placed her fear on delay.
Whispering. “You are the devil.”
“Indefinite not definite article, and you’re hiking an adjacent trail.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
He gestured to the boy who’d brought their beers, and he came across, and the man paid him with a generous tip.
“I like this place,” he said. “But were leaving now.”
The boy nodded.
“And if I refuse?” she asked in earshot of the boy.
“Then I’ll indulge my urge in public.”
Inside her pocket, she hit 911 on her phone, and his grin only widened.
“Don’t matter. They’ll arrive too late and maybe wonder for a few seconds who the eviscerated woman torn open in the booth really was, but they’ll go home to semblances of family or maybe only precooked dinners and neglected cats and forget quite soon because they have to, or this world will squeeze the last few drops of joy out of them. This is hopelessness. You are hopeless. Please, for all our sakes, won’t you accept this?”
“No. Never.” She stood and began to walk away, her hair a tawdry halo, her body clean and muscled as a trout, her heart a mourning bell.
Behind her the infection, the ooze, the filth of rot. Rising.
This one slowly crept under my skin...wonderfully dark!Delete
Yikes, dude. She was brave. I might have dissolved into a weepy mass at being called "little burr" like that. And that's the point really, I literally heard how creepy it was when he said that and everything else while reading this, which means you did your job, twice over.Delete
Ha, yes, "little burr" was when I felt I'd homed in on his character. And as brave as our protagonist is, and she really is, she felt some of her hope drain at that point. Thanks for noticing that, Lily!Delete
He asked her for a date plainly enough. But there was something nasty in his expression. He didn’t say anything that would have left him vulnerable but she sense him regarding her with a nearly physical type of contempt. It was infuriating since she hadn’t once invited his intrusion into her life. So she refused the date and had continued refusing him at least five times in the last month.
She’d considered reporting him to HR but Sadie didn’t work for Dex. They were lateral in the chain of command and the truth was that the #metoo movement had given women a new lease on how to deal with the crappy innuendos and exchanges between a vulnerable woman and a man who doesn’t understand the word no. Still, however much security she felt in her position to thwart this kind of behavior Sadie couldn’t help feeling that the moment she took this problem upstairs the target would be on both of them, not just Dex. Silently condemned not for being a whistle-blower but for being a woman in a powerful position who couldn’t handle her own trash.
This had to end though. Intruding on her self care was the final straw. Turning the treadmill off, Sadie grabbed her towel and wiped down. Hoping to get away clean she started making her way towards the mats and mirrors to stretch at the other side of the gym. When Dex put his hand on the back of her shoulder a moment later, Sadie knew she’d suppressed her feelings long enough.
“Hey not so fast. I have something I want to ask you.”
“What’s that Dex?” Sadie said as she turned to face him.
“I just bought a new car and was thinking of driving out to my place in Sag Harbor this weekend. Thought you might like to come get a taste of fresh clean air and see my place. It’s a dream and I know you could probably use a break from city life—“
“Let me stop you there Dex. It’s a nice offer but I’m not interested.”
“How can you—“
“Maybe it’s because you’re a broker. No, is never quite no for you is it?”
Dex chuckles softly but the smile solidly did not reach his eyes.
“Look if you’ve got something else going on with someone I’ll back off.”
A lie if she ever heard one. Sadie considered her options before answering. This series of exchanges had gone on too long to mince around.
“No. that’s not it. I’m not dating anyone presently Dex, I just don’t want to date you. Not ever.”
The hint of smile was gone now and there was a trace of barely contained violence in his gaze as he glared at her.
“We’re not meant to be Dex. It’s as simple as that. I don’t date colleagues and even if I did, you and I are not compatible. So, rather than waste time I think it’s best if you stop asking me.”
“That’s a solid no then. You’re a bit nasty for someone who could use a good fuck.”
“What did you say to me?”
“You heard me.” Dex took a step closer to her. She could see a line of perspiration curdling above his brow. It took an intense amount of restraint not to back up.
“Look Sadie,” he said stretching her name out. “you’re sexy I’ll give you that but you know I’m the best offer you’re going to get in the C-suite. There’s plenty more than one cocoa snatch like yours for me to test out. You should consider your options better when you don’t have many options at all.”
The roaring in her belly seemed to churn then billow out through her body. She wanted to go nuclear. She wanted to take her fingers to his eyes and poke them so far back in his sockets he’d taste them. Instead, she breathed deep, and when his eyes went to her chest she knew exactly what to do. She smiled.
“You want this sweet thing bad don’t you Dex? Even if I didn’t have one single option, rest assured you’re too insufferable to have ever made the cut. You’re not man enough to lick the bottom of my Ivy Park’s. Let me know if you’re so deaf that I need to take our talk up the food chain.”
The need to end this horrible moment and get away from him was visceral so Sadie turned quickly. Too quickly, she hadn’t even sensed anyone behind her so deep she was in the moment. Bumping hard into the man behind her caused a myriad of sensations. The expanse of his hands on her arms stabilizing them both felt large and strong. Her eyes locked onto his chest and the wetness of his tee shirt. She inhaled him unconsciously and caught a whiff of something close to cedar that reminded her of an old storage chest her grandmother used to have in the attic.
Speaking before she raised her eyes, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…”
Looking up at his face led to another wholly different sensation that startled Sadie. Whoever he was he looked angry. No more than that. He was furious. But it had been an accident. If Dex hadn’t been such a vile prick she wouldn’t have even crossed this man’s path much less hit him like truck.
“Are you hurt?” The stranger asked after her.
And, in turn, Sadie noticed that the voice fit the man. Deep, well modulated, sincere. If she’d been right in her assessment about his mood, she suddenly knew he wasn’t angry with her. She also realized her own hands were still wide spread against the flat muscled planes of the man’s waist. Removing them quickly, she cleared her throat. Even flustered, Sadie had a quick tongue and the confidence to use it.
“I’m fine. Just no temporal vision and more than a little klutzy today.”
He looked down at her and smiled. She thought he did it despite himself, as if he hadn’t expected her to make him smile.
“If you’re finished, I had some questions for you.” She realized that as the stranger spoke to her, he wasn’t looking at her but at something directly behind her.
Sadie had momentarily forgotten he was there. Looking over her shoulder briefly, she said “Yes, absolutely. We’re done. How can I help you?”
Sadie felt rather than watched as Dex huff off.
As someone once said, the best fiction is an empathy machine, and this helps me understand the still-nuanced and complex dynamics women experience even in the post #MeToo era.Delete
Seeing as how energy doesn’t abide by the rules of time as we do in our thermodynamic realm, this story existed in some way prior to me writing it, no? It is energy in many senses. Energy in my brain, potential energy stored in my neurons, ready to pass between synapses; energy in these 1s and 0s being shared through wires across the globe; energy in my spirit, in my mind, that strange thing, maybe, that arises out of a brain, but is not itself limited to being just a brain. I spoke to this story, while it was in that in-between space of existence, transforming from one kind of energy to another, and it told me that it only wanted to be but so long. If anyone asks why it is as short (or long) as it is in this form, I will explain that I spoke with my story and it told me that it only wanted to be this long. Who am I to dash the dreams of a story?ReplyDelete