This is the continuation of a story that Vernon and myself are working on. Part I can be found here. Thanks for reading and enjoy.
I still have that pen. Although that day I didn’t have anything to write; no story, no words of wisdom, nothing. But I keep the pen close by now, if ever inspiration strikes the pen bleeds for me. I didn’t see Love for two days after that, which was weird because you couldn’t go ten minutes without running into everyone. No privacy. But when I saw her on the third day I knew exactly why I hadn’t seen her: she had bandages on both her wrists. White bandages on an already pale skin make for a translucent tragedy. It was lunch time and she was sitting down at a table when I looked out across the room. She wasn’t sitting alone at the table but rather, apart. I set my plate down and straddled the seat. That was when my eyes caught the bandages. “What happened?” I asked, but I already knew. Love looked at me, incredulous. “What happened? Life happened, Alex.” I didn’t have anything to say to that so I stared silently at my food. How is it that institutions that we are forced beyond our will to attend always has food that looks like it was made from another planet and mated with dinosaurs? I was also thinking of how to broach the situation again, but carefully, when she stuck a fork into my Jurassic salad. I looked up. Her eyes were a deeper green than I remembered. I have never since then seen eyes so fiercely tranquil. “Come with me.” She zigzagged between tables and I followed listlessly behind her like a lapdog. She banged the bar to the utilitarian EXIT door and I caught it right before it closed. We were out on the stairwell again. “Love, what are we doing out here? We’ll get in trouble.” I whined. “Shut up, Alex.” She sat down on a concrete step and I followed suit. It was colder out in the stairwell and I pulled my state-issued robe tighter against me. I looked at Love; she was wearing only a t-shirt and was shivering. I offered my robe to her but she brushed it off. “Love, come on, take my robe, you’re freezing.” Little fragile glass-like tears started dropping from her eyes, she was vulnerable and she was beautiful actually. I hadn’t noticed until now though, I guess I wasn’t looking for it—the beauty—but it found me. Her voice was shaky, “I’m broken, Alex, and I don’t know how to get fixed.” “You’re not broken, you’re just misplaced is all,” I told her. She laid her right arm across my leg and asked me to undo her bandage. I did as I was told and immediately taken aback by the long red wires scaling the length of her wrist. The cuts were deep and there were stitches all over the place, like a tattered Raggedy Anne doll. “See, Alex, I am broken.” All of a sudden the stairwell became flushed with warmth and my heart quickened. I don’t know why, I don’t know where, I don’t know how, but what I do know is that I did. I kissed her wrist. It was one of those moments that made my eyes dart up to meet hers and my cheeks flushed red as a pit formed in my stomach. Love’s breath caught in her lungs and she held my gaze for a long time. “What does it taste like?” My fingers traced along the ragged train tracks, but I couldn’t really find an answer. Blood has a distinct taste whereas pain, doesn’t. Love’s pain ran deep. It showed through in the way she looked at me and I remember not being able to say much unless I turned my head and focused on something ugly. So I looked at her wrist and said, “I remember this one time I was downstairs sitting by the Christmas tree with my mom. She was still around. I was eleven, I think, and it was snowing outside. My dad came downstairs. He was smoking a cigarette and I remember my mom looking over at him, giving him that stern look that only moms can give, ya know? “Anyway, he put a box down beside me and said, ‘Untangle these’ and then walked away. Probably to his study. He always did things like that. “So I opened this box and there were all these light inside in a big ball, just tangled together in this big mess. I pulled them out and sat them in my lap, untangling them and laying them out along the floor in big lines. “It took me five hours to untangle them all. I even plugged them in and checked the bulbs, replacing the ones that needed it.” Love was looking at her wrists, two fingers hovering over the stitches. “Why did you tell me that?” “I don’t know. I guess your stitches remind me of a memory. They look like the Christmas lights on my living room floor. It was one of the first things I ever did on my own. Without my dad’s help or his attorney friends. They always got me out of trouble. High school was horrible. I wasn’t a very good person.” Love’s head rested on my shoulder. “I guess I’m still not a good person.” “That’s not true, Alex. You’re a good person.” I laughed. “I don’t feel like one. Mistakes brought me here. But then I guess, I wouldn’t have met you. So, that’s a good thing, right?” She looked up at me and I started to put her bandages back together, somehow hoping that it would make a difference, perhaps to cover up my wandering lips still pressed into her skin, but only in my mind. “Are you hungry?” Love asked. “I think I’m always hungry.” We laughed. I stood and offered Love my hand. She took it gracefully, like a fifties movie starlet would before exiting a seedy speak easy, her bandages acting as gloves with a cigarette dangling precariously from her pouting lips. The cafeteria was empty except for abandoned trays and scraps of food. Love looked at me and said, “Don’t let them take me.” “What?” I looked back as her eyes went wide, etched over my left shoulder towards the double doors as two large men in white followed by a doctor made their way towards us. Love grabbed my hand, her bandages coming loose from the tape holding them in place. “Promise me, Alex. Don’t let them take me.” “Okay.” I squeezed her hand and stood up.
An ongoing short story collaboration with Vernon. Part I can be found here and Part II can be found here. Thanks for reading and enjoy.
All at once her hand felt as fragile as a daisy. That is something I’ll never forget to this day: how limp it went. Like all of the light sucked out by a black hole. So sudden, and so complete. The floor shook like an earthquake with every new pounding step taken by the large men. My heart felt like a glass full of water. I thought quickly and rashly, my eyes scanning the room. The EXIT door. The stairwell. An escape. I started running, this time Love as my lapdog. “Protect Love” was the only thing flashing in my mind like a cheap marquee. Our pursuers were yelling at us to stop now at once or else you’ll be in trouble too hey kid can you hear us—but I kept running. Keeping Love safe was a new high for me to indulge in. Before I hit the steel bar I turned around—the scene unfolding in slow motion: Love smiling, eyes closed, hand firmly clasped in mine; the angels of Death following closely behind, blurs of white descending. The stairwell did not provide much of a resolution to our certain issue and there were two decisions to make. Up. Down. The chill hastened my bones which led to action in my feet and the nerves there decided on going down. I pushed Love in front of me, a sacrifice I never knew I possessed till then. I told her to “Run!” She took the stairs two at a time, leaping quickly and using the railing to guide herself tastefully around corners. We were a platform ahead of them when the door burst open loudly. I was sure the hinges splintered. I couldn’t look back this time; wedged in my subconscious the words—Lot’s wife Lot’s wife Lot’s wife—kept welling up. The lights of the stairwell seemed to grow dimmer as we sank below sea level. I took it to mean that we were almost to failing but Love never pulled up, and neither did I. At the bottom flight another EXIT sign pierced the dim blood red. Love crashed into the door. It opened. Brightness. A flash of brilliance and white hot pain on my face. My hands flew to my eyes and my knees met cold concrete, cutting through the cheap fabric belonging to the facility and into my flesh. Love’s hands went under my arms, trying to pick me up but my legs felt anchored. The chains released me and we were up, my arm draped around Love’s neck. I kept my eyes closed and let her guide us. The guards were closing in and the feeble heart in my chest was ready to burst. It was raining. My hand was sticky with something warm and I kept having to wipe my forehead. The rain was heavy. I wanted a cigarette. Love was slowing down. Her lungs were ready to give out. I could hear the labored wheezing coming from her tiny mouth. “Love. Where are we?” “Outside. Alex. You’re hurt. Lay down.” I didn’t understand until I tried to open my eyes and realized they had been open the whole time. It wasn’t the rain that felt warm. It wasn’t sweat making my hand sticky. Love was touching my face and I could hear her crying. “Oh my God, Alex. Alex.” She sounded hopeless, like only she could. I thought of her pen. “Love. I can’t see. Why can’t I see?” Love held my hands in hers. She felt warm. Everything was cold. The grass smelled fresh and alive. There was a lot of shouting and pounding footsteps. I could hear Love screaming. Strong hands all around my body. Love was still screaming something but the world was fading and my senses couldn’t focus on anything solid. More pain. Love. Still white. The smell of cotton balls. Fine metal tools touching each other. Smelling salts. Warmth. Screaming. Love. The pen. My dad and his attorney reading large books, sipping scotch from low ball glasses. “Honey, don’t touch that.” “Don’t let them take me, Alex.” Love. The sharp smell of marker. Sinking into carpet. Fresh leather. Love. “Promise me.” Promises. Absent minded. Careless. Dead flowers stuffed in the pages of a book. Newspaper fingertips. Love. Lips. Love. Promise me. Promise me. Promise me.
Here is Part IV of an ongoing short story collaboration between Vernon and myself. Part I can be found here, Part II can be found here and Part III can be found here. Thanks for reading and enjoy.
In my dream I am sitting across from my father’s large desk while he is speaking into a phone. I look down only to notice that we are not in fact in his true office but in the Oval Office of the White House. Although I am seated not but four feet from him his words I cannot hear, like they are being said across a great distance but I can only assume these are words about me. His son: flesh and blood, disappointment and love, commitment and failure, all confined into bone and marrow and I sit across from him. My father hangs up the phone and looks at me intently but doesn’t issue a word to me. His secretary comes into the room and asks me if I’d like anything to drink. I start to say No but my father cuts me off and says, “Who are you talking to Margerie?” She looks back to where I’m sitting and I can tell that I don’t exist by the odd look that crosses her face. I am an empty chair. The secretary leaves and my father and I are alone once again. He smiles at me. His teeth are the size of piano keys and he starts to tap them. A melody drifts into the room and I can remember where I heard it last. I was six and the storm outside had woken me; my mother heard my cries and ran into my bedroom. At the edge of the bed she sat, rubbing my feet, massaging my terrors away, out the bottom of the mattress and onto the floor. She parted her mouth, mouth glistening by the fire of my nightlight, and she started singing. The song that cured my fear is the song that my father is playing now, on his face, with his mouth that till now had only had time for reprimands. I feel cold tears on my cheeks and my father stops playing my song. He starts laughing at me. He jumps across the desk, hurtling it like an Olympic jumper and shoves me. My tears come harder. His laugh grows larger. He pushes me and pushes me and pushes me and pushes me and pushes me until I am up against the wall. My father puts his right hand on my chest, above my heart. I can sense the tremor in his large hand, the one he has from drinking, the one I have from hate. My father leans in close to my ear, wraps his lips around pieces of my hair and says, “If only you’d have listened, son,” and shoves me one last time into the wall where I cannot move, I cannot feel, I cannot hate. I watch my father press down his suit, wiping my tears and perspiration off of him. He walks around to his side of the desk and takes his seat in his chair. I am a picture on the wall of a boy long forgotten; a boy long abandoned. Wake. Everything is blurred around the edges, like a photograph left out in the sun for too long. I’m handcuffed to the bed and there was a man in white standing at the doorway, watching me. “Hey. Guard.” His eyes narrowed. “Yea.” “Can you help me? I can’t reach my water because I’m handcuffed. I’m really thirsty.” He walked over and picked up the white Styrofoam cup, placing it in my hand. “Thanks.” “Yea.” He walked back to stand in the doorway and watch me. “Why am I handcuffed?” “Don’t know.” He crossed his arms across his wide chest. “Oh. Alright.” I let the water coat the inside of my mouth, in small sips. Over hydrating after dehydration can lead to nausea. “What time is it?” “Don’t know.” “Day?” “Thursday.” “Is there a doctor I can talk to?” “Don’t know.” “What do you know?” “Nothing. Go ahead and ask me.” “Ask you what?” “What I know.” I hesitated. “What do you know?” “Nothing.” He turned his back and leaned against the inside of the door frame. I wondered where Love was and what happened. I wondered where the bright flash came from and when I would fully regain my vision. My wrist was raw. I had been thrashing in my dream. Family has a way of imprisoning the soul and entitlement towards mental anguish. I wanted a cigarette. I wanted Love to come through the door and hold my hand and tell me everything was going to be okay. But she never did. I wasn’t allowed outside for three more days. The doctors came and went, but no one said a word to me. They would sit me up and slip their ice cold stethoscopes onto my spine and rib cage, listening to my heart. I had become a ghost. Monday came and it was snowing. Two guards came into the room. The one with the glasses handed me a letter while the tall one with the crew cut uncuffed me. They led me down a long white hallway, up two flights of stairs, down two more long white hallways and then outside to the courtyard. I clutched the letter close to my chest and kept my mouth shut. Love was there, standing and shivering with her back to me, flakes of snow settling in her long brunette hair. The curls were coming undone. “Love.” I walked to her and turned her around. She had tears in her eyes and thick black twine running through her lips, crisscross stitching, same as her wrists. I tried to blink her mouth open, but she just leaned her head against my chest and I could feel her tears soaking the front of my shirt. I held Love close and turned towards the door I had come out of. The guards were watching and smiling.