Pink Lady Queen Blues

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Lorna bought a pink fleece pants set at Macy’s. In fact, she wore it up to the register. Her tattered clothes were neatly folded, held tightly under her arm. The pants set was fun, on sale and pink. She simply couldn’t take it off. It was ballet pink. Not that obnoxious cotton candy or bubble gum pink.  An embroidered butterfly spanned the jewel neckline, and she touched it while she waited to make her purchase.

Pink was her favorite color, but she never wore it. The fact that was she was an autumn through and through, meant olives, grays, and browns were best suited to bring out the chestnut of her eyes and her natural complexion, the net result enhancing the highlights of her auburn hair. Everything came together when you simply followed your chart. Ballet pink was for springs and clearly she was not one. Today, Lorna wandered off her chart and she just couldn’t stop herself.

Leaning over the register’s counter, Lorna struck a graceful dancer’s pose, fully embracing her ballet pink, so the sales clerk could scan her pants set; she was confident that her recent extra pounds went unnoticed. Lorna felt so close to starlet status that, just as the clerk hit the total button, she nabbed a pair of silver hoops displayed by the register, each studded with a faux pink diamond at the bottom. She held them up to her ear. “What do you think?”

The clerk said, “Nice. It matches your outfit.”

The earrings looked like they fell out of a Cracker Jack box and were far too young for her, and Lorna knew it, but spontaneity channeled her inner child and she decided to buy them anyway. Sitting comfortably in her car, she thought about going to her Zumba class in her new pants set or maybe even for a quick jog. Anything seemed possible. She could just as easily call a friend and arrange that much-needed coffee date, the one promised in the final moments of a passing conversation. Her new outfit freed her spirit. That’s what she knew.

The pants and jacket hugged her skin, inviting a rest on the couch, and so she spread out her limbs and lounged, an altogether new activity she never allowed herself. Her husband Randall had already adopted his usual position in his La-Z-Boy recliner.

“Nice outfit,” Randall said, looking up from his smartphone. “Pink, huh? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in pink.” He went back to his scrolling.

Lorna couldn’t hold back her grin. “Just trying something different.”

Randall grunted; whether it was in response to her comment, Lorna didn’t know nor did she care. She stretched out some more and watched TV until it glowed in the darkness.

Finally, Randall asked, “What are we having for dinner?” He had fallen asleep, a common phenomenon for he woke up in shock every time when he slipped away like that. Lorna counted on his typical snoozing for personal space and peace of mind, now invaded.

“I thought we’d order out. Why not Chinese from that place in the shopping center? We’ll have it delivered.”

When the food arrived, they resumed their watching positions and ate quietly, Lorna careful not to spill on her pink fleece, so soft she hardly wanted to wash it. And the comfort. The longer she wore it, the more comfortable it felt, comfortable enough that she fell asleep in front of the TV and didn’t wake until the next day.

Waking up in her outfit made getting ready a snap. A few stretches and she was off running her usual course, feeling as light as the butterfly that passed her, running sparingly so as not to muck up, what she momentarily considered, her new activewear. She showered quickly and slipped right back into her pink pants set. Her absence didn’t occur to Randall as he slept through her run and only noticed the pink flush of her skin as she prepared morning eggs.

Gardening in the pink fleece was as equally as comforting. Lorna sat her soft, fleeced bum on the dirt before remembering to protect her clothes with a towel. As the dirt was dry, she simply brushed it off. She saw no reason to change before having that coffee with her friend Felicia, who noticed her new outfit straight away.

“Do you need to change?” asked Felicia, who never needed to change a thing, always achieving the right combination of personal style and high fashion know-how.  

Lorna did a pass in front of the mirror, brushed a few stray flecks of dirt and powdered her nose. “No, I’m good.”

Several times during their outing, Felicia looked her up and down and interrupted Lorna in mid-sentence asking if she felt all right, to which Lorna responded, “I’ve never felt better.”

Her heightened mood continued even as she shed her clothes into the washing machine for a cleaning. Hot from the dryer, the pants set retained its lovely pink softness and Lorna promptly returned it to his proper place, her body. It didn’t matter that it was Monday and that her body would be returning to the office of mortar grays and fabric browns. Her smooth pink undoubtedly influenced her co-workers’ cheerful nods and smiles.  No one suggested she return in more formal attire, which was a good thing considering she had neglected to wash her clothes; she determined that her pants set be washed in exclusivity and nothing else fit in her closet anyway. The pants set really saved the day.

So, she wore it with no hesitation, day in and day out, and it was no surprise that she wore it out to dinner with Randall. Not since the gorgeous gown of her wedding day had Randall bothered to comment on her attire, and remarked, “It’s the pink lady.”

“Oh, stop,” Lorna said, and then, “Do you think I should change?”

“Nah, I’m glad you’re comfortable, hon.”

“That’s what I said,” Lorna said. “Why should clothes really matter? If anything, my production has gone way up.”

After they ordered two spaghetti plates and red wine, Lorna explained how her boss called her in, giving her a lecture about the importance of on-the-job professionalism and so she asked her husband between slurps of noodles, “Where else would you have professionalism, right?” A few drops of wine fell onto her jacket, which she forgot to take off at dinner; she almost forgot she wore it all. Her whole outfit, in fact, had become her second skin, and now it was stained.

“Tsk-tsk. I guess you’ll have to change now,” Randall said. “Or, you could wear nothing at all.”

His comment faded into the checkered tablecloth Lorna stared at while she sipped her wine, twitching her eyebrows together as they did when she sank into deep thought. “I need to order some backups.”

That evening, Lorna ordered seven “backups” from Macy’s online, one for each day of the week, all pink and, of course, she knew they would fit. It was an action both pure and simple, and resolute self-assurance swelled in her loins. It was her suit and tie, her prescribed uniform of happiness, and no one could stand in her way.

Scarfs, purses, and necklaces fortified her outfit and added just enough variance to fool her boss when he saw her from the waist up sitting at the conference table. She even joined Felicia in a spontaneous shopping frenzy, accessorizing her outfit to such a degree that her slim wardrobe was allotted more money than she had ever spent on herself in the past. It was her small price for freedom of a pink pants set. Her co-workers presented her a tiara with sparkling pink diamonds, which adorned her desk and bounced prisms of light across the ceiling in late afternoon. She wore her pink pants and matching jacket with pride.

Except, she couldn’t bring herself to wear anything else, even when all of her outfits were dirtied. It got so that everyone expected to see her dressed in her multitalented pink pants set: her work getup, her jogger, her activewear lounger. She was the Pink Lady Queen and she had the blues. This second skin morphed like a tattoo she couldn’t undo.

Constant washings diluted her pink pants sets and they became lighter in color, all different versions of themselves, ghosts of white. She was done with backups. One day, she let them all float away and lay in bed in her real skin, lingering a little longer. Naked and exposed, her light shone through, her skin illuminating its own private hue.

photo credit: she lives in shadows via photopin (license)

In Search of Masterpieces (part 2)

If you’d like to read the previous part of this scene, you can find it here. Thanks for reading.

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Two more steps and my body would have been a heap on the concrete floor.

I inched across the platform, releasing the door from my sweaty fingers, and it slammed shut behind me. When I tried to open it this time, it was locked.

I stepped into the hallway, but instead of a long corridor before me, I gazed at a shortened version, faced with yet another greyish-blue door directly across from me, just like the one I passed through moments before. Had my eyes played tricks on me or had it been there all along?

I had no choice but to but to exit one door and enter the next. The knob turned easily, and as if to say I’d chosen wrongly before, and the door opened to an elegant stairway, the walls and steps a pristine, white marble, with candlesticks mounted on the walls, lighting a path, that wound itself around and around endlessly. I hadn’t been aware that the museum had more than three stories, and in fact, knew I had climbed up just one flight to see the exhibit, remembering it now with the pain in my big toe throbbing the whole way; yet, here there must be at least three, maybe five floors of stairway. 

I gained momentum with each step, winding down and around, not even knowing if I was still in the same building. I recalled a mental picture of the outside of the museum, trying to remember if there was an attachment of some kind and could remember none.

“Is anyone here? Anyone? Hello?” My voice echoed.

As I walked the spiral, I felt like I was drifting, almost carried, and moving faster than I wanted to, and faster than my aching foot would allow me. Don’t give into it, hold it together. Almost there, almost there. Almost where? I found I couldn’t even so much as pause, and gusts of warmth inflated my body like I had been caught in an air pocket, taking one step and falling the next two. Cascading downward, the staircase narrowed, and I needed more air.

Faster, less air, warmth, then heat, spinning around the railing, I felt like I might lose my step and fall, so I grabbed the thick, marble railing and held it as it slid underneath my fingers, friction burning my flesh. The spiral didn’t stop for any floor, and I lost track of how many I’d passed, my disorientation emerging as the ground slipped from beneath me. I reached the bottom with a crash, landing on my side; my cheek hit the cool, smooth wood of the floor.

Faint classical music played in the background. It was a piano, something I’d heard many times. Even if I ended up in the wrong place, I wasn’t alone. A murmuring of voices flowed from a room nearby and the floors creaked with footsteps. I rose, drifting towards their voices and then I saw them all; people milled about, laughing, enjoying themselves, viewing grand art on the walls, and sipping from champagne flutes. A jolt hit me in a deep pocket of my stomach because it was all too familiar. This was the exhibition, the same exact one.

I spun around in every direction, gauging the parameters of the room. Patrons bounced in and out of my path as I searched for the exit.

“Looking for something?” A security guard towered above me.

I said nothing and walked in the opposite direction, and who did I see but Jake, standing by himself. He stared at a painting, smothered in an expression of dumb calm, the way he looked when I ceremonially removed my shirt or my bra for his viewing pleasure.

“There you are,” I said, trying to appear as equally calm. He wasn’t flustered in the slightest. He was lost in this painting. The recessed light cast a glow around him, holding him captive; a smile crept across his face as if he could barely contain himself. He stood motionless, unable to turn his head to look at me.

“Isn’t she incredible?” he exclaimed, fixated on a portrait of a woman, dressed in a white, flowing gown. An iridescence emanated from the painting, casting a glow around her husband.

“I looked everywhere for you,” I said. My absence hadn’t occurred to him.

His eyes were wild pinpoints, and I felt he was almost incapable of moving. I waved my hand in front of his face.

“Hey,” I yelled at him, loud enough for the next room to hear me.

“Hmm?” he finally turned to look at me directly in the face and shrugged.

“Where the hell have you been?”

“Right here. I’ve been here the whole time,” he said. “Marveling at this painting. Claudia, it’s called. Claudia,” he whispered the last to himself. “Isn’t she a masterpiece?”

I blinked my eyes several times.  “A masterpiece? No, I don’t think so,” I said, but he didn’t hear me.

The lights flickered on and off signaling the museum’s closing. The security guard, the same one who crossed my path, poked his head in.

“We will be closing in ten minutes,” he said, nodding his head at Jake. The evening had slipped away.

Jake glanced once at the lady in white and then grabbed my hand. Looking back over my shoulder, I swear she blinked her eyes. I knew she could see me. She stole my evening.

photo credit: The Tulip Staircase, Queen’s House via photopin (license)

In Search of Masterpieces

A bit of fiction today. It’s something I started and dropped a long time ago. Do you find it interesting? Want more? As always, thanks for reading.

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Jake tilted his head, staring at the painting of horses and fields of flowers, and drifted. I watched him walk away, and I let him. He could make his decisions. We didn’t need to be the hand-holding couple that was Noah and Laura, our partners in crime and purveyors of high art.  He could drift off and he would return, refreshed, with a kiss to my cheek.

More than twenty minutes passed, and the crowd in the gallery thinned.

Noah and Laura discussed each painting as if it mattered, absorbing and dissecting each one. Honestly, it bored me to tears. I was back in Art History class feeling more tired than I ought to have felt at that moment.

“I’m going to search for other masterpieces,” I said.

“Oh, okay. Tully, don’t forget about us,” Laura said, offering me a token glance.

I wandered out into the main thoroughfare, and still no sign of Jake. Anxiety crept in as it usually did at this point, the point of which I felt betrayal, even though I knew the second I thought it, it was senseless exaggeration, the kind of thought process that Jake bemoaned, “You worry too much. You over think.”

The chatter of the main exhibit hushed in the background, as I milled around looking for my husband. When he wandered away like this, I tried not to take it personally. Was my company not exhilarating enough that he must leave my side at every social gathering? The truth was he didn’t like people much and being in their midst was like a small torture to him that he equated with scooping one’s eyeballs out with a spoon. The first chance he had to slip away, he usually took it, although usually I had an inkling as to where I’d find him.

This museum had more secured doors than a government building; the few doors I passed and tried were locked. Passing through long, narrow hallways, the wood floors recorded the clicks of my three-inch heels. With each click, click, I incurred a deepening pain in my toe, rubbing at the inside my shoe. This excursion to the museum needed to expire, I decided right then and there. Through each passing hallway, click, click, I felt like a rat in maze; every corner I turned I met a new hallway; the wood floor disappeared and was embellished with a padded busy maroon carpet better suited for a casino than a museum.

If it wasn’t for the recessed light, I might have tripped on the its endless design, feeling light headed as I stepped with purpose. There was possibly one alternate turn I could have made, but for the most part, I simply followed the path in front of me. I had come so far already I thought I should see the path through. Jake could be only steps away for me, for all I knew. It would be a shame to turn back now, all my effort wasted.

Clearly, I had embarked on a new territory of the museum with the exhibits behind me, although I saw no rope or security guard that might indicate its end. I saw no more golden plates inscribed with artists’ names. The ambiance had shifted to a more generic atmosphere of a hotel, with a requisite chair and lamp positioned at every corner. With more footsteps, I encountered a few potted plant until the maze seemingly ended in the form of a well-lit hallway. My eyes adjusted to stunning white walls. This must be the behind-the-scenes employee territory where they put together their glossy brochures and fine-tuned their calendars. I wondered if they ever met a living, breathing artist or if it was all dead people.

“Jake, Jake,” I said. My voice echoed through the narrowing hallway with its final point up ahead fuzzy and indistinguishable from everything I had passed so far. I never would have guessed the small, neighborly museum would have so much staff, or was this storage space? I begin to think I should leave a trail of bread crumbs or anything to mark my passage, but I had nothing to work with. I had left my exhibit program on a table on one of several possible tables I had passed, up to this point.

Several doors were locked when I tried them; the door knobs tight like they hadn’t been touched in some time. I knocked on a couple of doors, knowing it was useless. It was whisper quiet, but no one whispered. No one was anywhere.

“Jake! Jake! If you can hear me….Are you there?” I whispered, then yelled.

At the end of the hallway was a greyish-blue door, heavier wood than the flimsy white doors I had been pounding on. It must be locked like all the others and felt foolish to even try it, but given that I was at the end, what I actually perceived was the end of the museum, at least in this corridor. If I had tried another corridor, who knows, but this had to be the end. It was obviously the wrong way, I had miscalculated, I was tired, but I tried it anyway.

It opened the door to a sea of darkness.

I imagined cobwebs and artwork and furniture entombed in sheets, until my feeling hands located the switch to right. Flipping it on, I saw that I was on a landing platform with only a foot around me. Two more steps and I would have fallen to my death. I shook on my spindly heels and hung on to my gasping breath.

photo credit: 44th Floor of Trump Plaza Hotel (WHITE) via photopin (license)

Their Last Supper

Missy met Daniel at a park while escaping a Frisbee flung at her head. Daniel fled to her side to apologize. His best friend Ace had lobbed it in her direction by accident. Missy glanced over Daniel’s shoulder to see this friend, in his bare-chested attire, waving at them. But Daniel was in no hurry. He had a gentleness about him, with his dark hair and olive skin. Missy wanted to touch him as soon as possible.

They were in each other’s pants days later. The shine of her auburn hair and blue eyes radiated heat. With their sexual energy barely contained, risky exploits followed. It was Daniel who nicknamed her Missy, short for Melissa, as he nibbled at her ear, pressing her hands against the wall in the hallway of his parents’ house with them only a room away sipping tea. ”I need to taste you, Missy,” he said, dropping her pants to the floor. “Missy” stuck after that.

When Daniel wasn’t with Missy, he spent time with Ace, and it wasn’t long before the three of them hung together. Missy thought “Ace” was a nickname too, but never asked. The truth was that you rarely asked questions of Ace. He was the abrasive sort, presenting his side, the only side, of an argument on the topic of the day. If you spoke, you hedged your bets on whether you’d offend or that your remark would be offensive enough.

Driving with him in his car in a simple jaunt across town was a death wish, his wide-set eyes on bold display. Ace weaved in and out of cars, flying down hills, speeding through busy intersections, a jolly good time. Signal lights were hit or miss; accidents with daydreaming pedestrians, near misses.

This wild side of his was held in check by a more cultured, tempered Ace, most noticeable when he worked in the kitchen. He cooked only with the finest ingredients, but he always referred to his meals as homey suppers. Missy’s mouth watered when she thought of his artichoke olive dip. When his girlfriend, Olivia, entered the picture for four solid months, his chivalrous side made an entrance as well. His Cioppino transported Olivia to an exotic Italian sea village, at least that’s what Ace reported to Daniel the next morning.

All was going swimmingly, until one evening, Olivia didn’t feel well and, apparently, never recuperated. Their relationship fell flat, and Ace deflated; his invitations to dinner all but vanished.

Wanting to return the favor, Missy invited Ace to dinner, confessing that her cooking skills could never match his. She made a strong effort with Hot and Sour Soup and Mongolian Beef, with rice noodles that exploded into threaded balls. Ace, with a beer in his hand, relaxed.

As Ace ate his soup, he got quieter with each bite. A few times he remarked that he liked the flavor and discussed his broth-making process.

“Missy just used cans,” Daniel said.

His eating slowed, and his speech diminished to one syllable words, before resting his spoon beside his bowl altogether, aghast that she did not slave over real broth.

He dismissed the main dish as well. Ace claimed that too many competing flavors assaulted his taste buds. Nothing could salvage this abysmal culinary fail.

Weeks later, Ace invited them over. He apologized for his previous behavior, and their reunion was off to the right start. The summer had just begun, and the mood was light. Ace slipped out of the kitchen, and the pantry door hung open, inviting entrance. Daniel pulled Missy into the pantry. They fumbled, adjusting to their small enclosure. Daniel buried his head in her bosom. Missy knocked over a box of cereal as she raised her arms to pull off her shirt.

“What are we doing?” Missy said.

“Who cares?” Daniel locked the door and shut off the light.

They giggled, their bodies finding each other in the darkness; her delicate hip bone and the hollow of her rib cage pressed into the grooves of lanky limbs, and they slid to the floor. He thrust into her, as a hot pan sizzled in the kitchen. Missy held back her moans of delight. They heard footsteps and froze. A jiggling of the door, a pause, and then quietly they finished.

Missy freshened up and joined Daniel and Ace at the table, a plate of steaming food placed before them. Missy took the empty chair, her face aglow. She saw Daniel’s hair feathered with flour and touched her own head to tip him off. Ace watched and snickered. He knew, and they knew that he knew. It was laughable to hide the evidence.

“This fish is the perfect flakiness,” Daniel said.

“I’m glad you approve,” Ace nodded.

“You never disappoint,” Daniel said.

“I am here to serve,” Ace said, piercing a piece of asparagus. “Your satisfaction is always of the utmost importance.”

“How generous of you.” Daniel could think of nothing else to say.

“Chez Ace. Mi casa es su casa.”

“How trilingual of you.” Daniel kicked Missy’s foot under the table.

Missy blurted out, “Oh, it’s so good, Ace. I’m famished.”

“You must have worked up quite an appetite,” Ace said, waving his fork, gesturing to random spots in the room, and finally marking the door of the pantry.

Daniel and Missy smiled, trying to gauge the reaction Ace wanted.

“A romp in the pantry,” Ace blurted out. “Nice.”

Daniel cleared his throat, “Just checking out the spices.”

“What did you think?” Ace glanced at Missy.

“Very spicy,” Daniel said, laughing.

“I can hear you,” Missy said, her face reddening.

Ace sighed. “I think it’s wonderful to express yourself. I wouldn’t want anything else for my guests.”

“It would be rude, otherwise,” Daniel played along.

“It would be rude,” Ace said. He dropped his utensils on his plate. Ace raised his glass, “A toast,” and nodded to them. “To rudeness.”

“To rudeness,” and they clinked their foamy pints.

Missy stopped chewing.

“And now I need to clean my safe haven, my shrine to the cooking gods. The pantry is like my man cave. Do you think it needs a mop?”

Daniel and Missy were mute.

“It needs to be sterilized,” Ace said matter-of-factly.

“Sterilized, because of the fizzy lifting drinks,” Daniel said.

“What would Wonka do?” Ace belted out a laugh, thumping Daniel on the back as they rose from their chairs.

Missy still chewed, as Ace glared at her every time he returned to pick up a dish to clear the table. She inhaled her last two bites and hurried her plate to the counter.

The air hung as heavy as the food in their stomachs. Daniel would have liked to duck out for the evening, instead he met Ace’s request for a tidying up of the pantry with enthusiasm. At least it was a diversion from the rude talk.

Ace hurriedly supplied cleansers, a mop and bucket, and rags. “Well, don’t just stand there.”

Daniel stumbled with the bucket and mop, slopping water all over the floor, creating a bigger mess than the invisible one before him. Ace scooted them into the pantry.

Missy panted. “I’m feeling claustrophobic.”

Ace left them, looking past them as if invisible, and locked the door behind him.

“What a psycho,” Missy whispered.

Daniel applied a quick mop; Missy made sure all the containers lined up, shifting them in nano increments.

Seconds later. “We’re done,” they yelled.

They heard the water running, Ace washing pans, running the dishwasher, talking on the phone. He played music, too. All the while, they pounded on the door.

Finally, Ace knocked on the pantry door. “One more thing,” he said. “Remove your clothes and put these on.” He cracked the door and dispensed two pieces of black cloth.

Daniel stretched it between his fingers. Panty? Thong?

“It’s a blindfold,” Missy said. “He’s a sick bastard.”

“Come out sans clothing, wearing the blindfold, and you can leave.”

Daniel convinced her to play his stupid game, and get on with their lives. It was just naked bodies.

“What if he’s a murderer,” she cried.

Daniel looked for something to jimmy the lock, and that could double as a weapon, all the while bouncing around like a jumping bean.

“I have to piss,” he said, holding on the wall.

He begged Missy to hurry, and then urinated in the corner, turning the flour golden.

They stripped. Missy folded each item of her clothing, wanting to hide them inside of her. They banged on the door again. “We’re ready. We’re naked.”

“Do you have your blindfolds on?” They didn’t. They put them on.

“Yes,” they said.

“Hand me your clothes now.”

Ace stuck his head through the door, and they shoved clothes in his face. The door slammed and was then unlocked. They walked out to the sound of Ace cracking open a beer across the room. Their audience of one.

As they walked past him, he clapped, and then put a set of keys in Daniel’s hand. Daniel clutched the keys, then hesitated, wanting to beat the living hell out of his friend, his best friend.

But Missy sobbed and that was it. They ripped their blindfolds off and rushed to the car.

Daniel drove away and hollered, “I pissed in his pantry.”

photo credit: Salt and pepper via photopin (license)

confessional.com


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She turned her wheel looking at me in my rearview mirror. What did she expect me to do? Who made eye contact for Christ’s sake? Doesn’t eye contact mean anything to anyone any more?

Bitch. My hands shook while I poured my coffee. Fucking bitch. I burnt my toast. My stomach grumbled. Fucking, self-serving bitch. Did she expect me to worship the ground she walked on? Or drove on rather?

As I thought it, I knew it was ridiculous.

It happened at the line of cars at the school drop off. Morning, people in a hurry to get to their next destination, shuffling kids around. I tried to let her go in front of me. She was in such a hurry, but then she got so pissed. We called each other names into our rear-view mirrors.

I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. She’s probably forgotten all about it my now.

I thumbed through my mail. Abigail Tribly. I saw my name appear on bill after bill. No one called me Abigail, not even my parents. It was always Abby. Whenever I saw my name printed on a piece of mail, I thought of Abigail as the wrong addressee. Just who is Abigail? Could she let this whole drop off disaster go? How could I have lost such control in such a short amount of time?

If Doreen were here, she would make me feel better, the only decent person I could trust and who didn’t judge. Doreen Henderson, she’d tell me to buck up, thicken my skin, and drop it. If only I could hear it from her lips. I called her. No answer, so I left a voicemail.

An hour later, this woman’s face kept flashing before my eyes, even when I closed them and tried to meditate. Especially when I tried to meditate. I couldn’t seem to get away from her. She had that scowl, fuming at me, revealing the most uncomfortable expressions. Oh, if she could only see herself, she would stop making those expressions instantly, on the spot. Did she really think she was such a badass for yelling at me in a minivan packed full of kids. Way to set a good example for our youth; our promise for a brighter tomorrow.

My chest tightened when I saw her face. I exhaled deeply. Again and again. There she still was. Then I marveled and lambasted myself for wasting all my time on her; time this precious resource so easily thrown away. I could have confessed it to “The Confessional” by now and been done with it.

Doreen had told me all about it at her house over a glass of wine after the kids were in bed. The Confessional was an anonymous website where anyone could go to confess. It’s just like it sounds. So long as you’re at least 18 years old and have a credit card, and a pair of standard device glasses handy, you could sign up and participate. That’s the thing though. You must participate. You can’t sign up unless you agree to confess. Doreen made that clear. Besides, everyone was doing it these days.

“Like who?” I asked, dipping my pita chip in humus. Doreen was the kind of person who provided snacks with the wine. A decent person, as I said.

“I don’t know. A lot of people do it. Just people you wouldn’t expect. My boss did it.”

“Oh,” I was genuinely surprised she had known this intimate detail about her boss, even though I knew she was infatuated with him. Entirely innocent, of course. “Well…did you get any bits?”

Doreen’s eyes turned glassy, and she was absolutely still. She surveyed the room like it was new and unfamiliar.

“It’s not like anyone talks about it. It’s kind of secret. That’s kind of the point.” She poured more wine.

“What about murderers? Lurkers?”

“That’s not allowed,” Doreen said firmly. “That’s against the ‘Rules of Engagement.’”

“Is that like the Ten Commandments?” I teased.

Doreen pursed her lips. “Kind of.” She was deadly serious.

“So you’ve done it,” I said, surprised.

She didn’t respond with a verbal reply, but I saw it in her eyes as she greedily returned her wine glass to her lips. She’d done it, and more than once as I had suspected.

If she did it, why couldn’t I? Just one time.

I typed in “confessional.com” to a sea of happy, uplifted faces, posing by sailboats, riding bikes, and walking dogs. A family joined at a picnic. Everyone smiling, all ethnicities represented. It wasn’t the self-punishing, sinister, dark-alley confessional I had imagined. This was happiness, like fall colors or an ice cream cone enjoyed on the seashore with salt spray in your hair. A joy inflated with ear-to-ear grins. Something was unsettling, but Doreen had seemed to place so much value in it.

A yellow arrow indicated the starting place. One click and a video screen appeared. The presenter was a good-looking man, forties, wearing a business suit. He probably drank protein drinks every day, and his glowing white teeth looked like tall white shutters. If this guy accomplished nothing else in his lifetime, he would at least have this set of glossy veneers to flash for the screen.

He sat awkwardly on a stool, the background portrait studio tan. He spoke:

Confess it here among friends. Lighten your outlook on life. You are not alone. People are here, just like you, to get through a difficult time and to talk about how they’re feeling in the comfort of their own home. There’s no need to hunt down a therapist. If you’re here, I’m betting you have something to get off your chest.

A montage of more happy people and then a few testimonials from participants.

You’re going to love the Confessional. People here just want to share and help.

Since I’ve signed up, I rest easy at night.

Okay, I was ready. I wanted to just get it over with. I tried to stop the video and got flashing text: “It is highly recommended you watch this video. Opting out of the video requires you to sign a waiver to participate.”

Fine, I clicked to continue. A woman appeared onscreen now, Mr. Protein Drink’s counterpart, equally lovely, African-American, in a tan business suit.

This isn’t a gossip colony or a place to spread rumors like other websites. This is about you. Don’t worry. Your privacy is guaranteed.

More rambling about requirements of confessing, support groups, setting up a profile. I almost forgot my confessional altogether. The urgency was almost all but lost until the screen blinked, “Are you ready to confess?”

Had I not talked to Doreen about it, honestly I just as easily could have closed the site. I had work to do, deadlines, but I had already invested twenty minutes watching a video. I pressed on, as my confession loomed; but more than anything, I wanted to experience it.

Clicking the button brought on a whole new subset of conditions. I picked an avatar from a selection of homely looking cartoonish male and female characters. I could select from male or female and then dress them up with glasses, or ribbons, a tie, or a mustache. If desired, I could further accessorize with a dark cloak, much like a monk. A character was also capable of expressing emotion, indicated by emoticons on the screen: sad, happy, angry, fearful, or joyful. Just the five emotions.

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After I positioned the glasses device on my head and pushed the green “Start” button, I was inside “The Confessional.” It appeared as a maze of rooms with dark hallways poorly lit by glowing candles; more for effect than function. The tunnels and stone walls resembled a castle. We were all knights and princesses now? I thought of role-playing games and wondered if there was a different setting. Instantly, I felt claustrophobic, surrounded by columns and dark cloaks milling about outside the rooms.

A bubble of text flashed onscreen dictating my next move. “You may now choose a room.”

I vaguely recall this got a mention in the instructional video, although it was a bit fuzzy. I hadn’t expected so many bodies.

As if feeling my unease, a new set of instructions surfaced asking me to rate my confession on a scale of 1 to 5: one, being soft and five, severe. What was soft? Severe? What about a middle ground? A reference would be helpful, and then I felt ridiculous for playing along with this obvious scam. Once again, I was on the ledge of jumping back and quietly shutting my computer down. Something told me it wasn’t going to be that simple anyway. They had all my information.

I wandered into a random room, not knowing the assigned category of soft to severe. It didn’t help that every time I thought of soft, I wanted to lay down on a pillow. A rambunctious fellow in a hooded cloak and red tie was in my face gesturing some kind of sign language, and I wanted to crouch in a corner; I saw others had flocked to the corner like wallflowers at a dance, their hoods in the shadows.

A red light glowed on my screen and within seconds a queue of texts formed on a sidebar. Another item I had glossed over in the video was that apparently I could write my confession, which would appear as text; I could have it spoken for me, or speak it myself. Undoubtedly, users chose to have their voices disguised, as this was also an option. A male or female voice was a choice, similar to the avatar selection.

Momentarily, the thought occurred to me that I could have a male avatar and select a female voice, not that anyone would really know. More blinking lights than a ride at Disneyland flickered on-screen. I laid back in my chair and watched. Showtime.

More text streamed and then one-by-one, a series of confessions:

I pissed on my sister’s plant.

I masturbated out in the parking lot.

I’m in love with my boss. I flirted with him in a meeting. Now everybody knows.

No doubt a sexual theme permeated this room. The “time remaining” ticked away and I clicked in another room worried about supply of minutes. In this new room, I noticed a change in mood with the voices more edgy and tentative.

I stole money from my mom again for a fix. She thinks it was for a doctor’s bill.

I stole underwear and pajamas. It’s not my fault if they’re not paying attention.

My confession was like a tickle fight on the playground and dwarfed in comparison to these maniacs. I wanted to run for the door, except there was no door. I was tempted to disband the eyewear and then a blinking button appeared as if a personal message, “Are you ready to confess?”

I slipped into yet another room with fewer participants, and for this reason, felt more calm. With less confessions, the time in between seemed more relaxed. There wasn’t this big jump to reveal your innermost secret. It appeared as if these confessions were a bit more drawn out, more conversational, more personal is how I would describe them. Here avatars were sitting on a couch as if in therapy. I listened in:

He doesn’t have to cry about it. It’s not my fault if the team lost the game. It’s just a goddamn game. Whoever thought people would let it rule their lives?

And then a few activated voices, most likely disguised but wavering.

I’m tired of my life. I want a happy Facebook life. I’m almost forty and got nothing to show for it.

This seemed more of a life crisis than admittance of any wrongdoing. I paused to look on the screen for more clues, still familiarizing myself with the dashboard.

I want to sleep with my therapist. What should I do? I need to be in therapy because of therapy. Therapy is never going to work.

This was juicy soap opera fodder and my mind referenced people in my own inner circle. Did I know anyone going to therapy? Was it someone I knew? Probably not, since these people could conceivably be from anywhere. On the other side of the world perhaps…or were they?

Another warning button flashed and then a voice articulated, “Confess or prepare to pay a penalty. Time remaining: two minutes.”

I clicked to the grey queue area and, within seconds, it was my turn. After all that listening in, I was completely unprepared to throw my confession into the ring.

I clicked for the voice option since my hands were shaking too much to type; my confession felt stupid and pointless. What did I want? Validation for confessing? Support for being a dumbass? I almost wanted to make up something else, something better, but my ability to form coherent thoughts was questionable. I could do nothing but go with my gut. What was the saying: if you told the truth you don’t have to remember the lie.

Here goes nothing.

I selected “Male” to generate my words as I spoke into the microphone on my computer. There was a slight delay in projecting my words to the group of avatars still posed on the couch, which gave me the sensation of speaking into a cavernous room, the voice echoing. It was unexpected and threw me off. I couldn’t even think straight, but the words left my lips:

I flipped off this woman in the parking lot at my kid’s school this morning. She got so pissed. We yelled at each other in our rear-view mirrors and I…I..I

my voice echoed….

I lost it. I called her names.

That was it? All this trouble and this was all I could muster? I continued, even though it looked like my turn was over.

I wanted to wring her neck.

I improvised that last remark, although certainly I had felt that way. Had I not? A group of five or six avatars nodded, and I felt reassured by their bobbing heads. No one expressed silly emoticons.

I clicked for feedback when the session was over, buying additional time as needed. The few that remained said things like everyone has their best intentions at drop off in the morning and that it could happen to anyone. It really could, too. I felt my face ease in a more relaxed position. I may have even been smiling.

And then there was this exchange:

I was a bitch this morning, too. I don’t even know what happened. I wasn’t being myself at all.

A pink heart landed in my avatar’s hand that said “hugs.” Could this hug-thrower actually be my accused? The woman I wished to inflict bodily harm upon only hours ago, and mentally bashed with insults? Could be or might as well be. Wasn’t it enough? Could it be enough?

How I could feel liberated by a bunch of pixellated images identified as mere numbers was beyond reason. It had felt like the most transparent exchange I had encountered in some time. A camaraderie of the spirit, of being human, of acceptance.

I felt cleansed, ready to take on the day.

I felt something else, too. I recognized it right away.

I wanted to do it again.

photo credits: Anglepoise Apple iMac and Windows via photopin (license)Karim Grib (Le Lab) via photopin (license)

A Wild Cackling

Previous parts of the story are here:

Knock Knock
Who’s There?
Knock it off
Clang Clang

As always, thanks for reading. Please excuse any typos. This part will close Chapter 1.

***********************************

There was no choice but to participate in this charade. Kate had grown accustomed to superficial band aids, the family movie night required suffering through a movie no one really wanted to watch, but the scales had been tipped here. Negotiation suspended indefinitely.

The movie played its opening credits. It was Caddyshack, a movie introduced by their father yeas ago, one of his favorites. At least it was a comedy, although no one was in the mood to laugh. Kate and Faye sat bunched in the corner of the couch, while their father sat in his easy chair. For a brief moment, all appearances suggested this set-up might hold true.

“Finally, some peace. This is going to be good,” Kyle said, as if he never seen it before. His head sunk into the head rest; in a glided puppeteer motion, he turned his head towards Kate.

Kate nodded barely holding his gaze, while her sister squeezed her hand underneath a blanket. It would appear an ordinary scene to an uninformed guest, but something was off with her dad. She studied his reddened face, and sweaty armpits. He had taken off his sweater he wore earlier, and now lounged in a ragged, white undershirt. And he was happy, too happy. He couldn’t wipe that giddy grin of his face, like he just took a look up a hottie’s dress and it was his little secret.

The movie began ordinarily enough. Even Kate caught her breath for a moment, laughing at scenes her father insisted were classic.

“They don’t make movies like this anymore,” Kyle said to the television. He then erupted in hysterical laughing, crunching over in his seat and holding his belly. And then he would have fluid moments of attempted coherent conversation. “We should take up golf. What do you kids think?”

“Golf could be fun…I suppose,” Kate said, stuttering. Her mouth felt full of cotton.

But Kyle didn’t hear her,  because he wasn’t listening, pounding the coffee table as he laughed, making the girls jump with each hand stomping. The velocity and fervor increased, until he wheezed, letting his head hang so that all you could see was the top of his head. He quieted, the whole room silent. Even the movie fell to a whisper. His head bobbled, and he directed all his energy at the floor. Kate stirred, squeezing her sister’s hand. The idea of a phone emerged at that moment. She should call. Someone. She felt helpless to move, afraid to put her feet on the floor.

Kyle lifted his head, laughed, bursting uncontrollably. No funny scene, no Rodney Dangerfield one-liner. No excuse for a laugh of any sort. But a laugh that made Kate’s insides twist inside out. She thought she might vomit, until she looked at her sister’s pale complexion. His raucous cackling intermingled with short grunting noises that began to sound like code.

Wild cackling, grunt, grunt, grunt.  Silence. This pattern held for whole minutes with Kyle in a trance, his beady eyes his most prominent feature. Faye pointed to their father’s pants lying in a heap in the corner. Kate nodded, and slipped off the couch in a crouched position, and made her way towards the corner on her hands and knees, like a wild animal evading capture, except there was no tall grass, nothing to hide behind.

Kyle stomped on the floor in perfect sync with a knock at the door. A fresh, crisp knock. With a second in between, two knocks, with Kyle thumping the coffee table two times. He averted his gaze to the TV, and laughed and grunted at the movie. Three knocks now at the door matching Kyle’s rhythm. Three pounds on the coffee table. He only looked at the television as if unaware that he pounded on anything at all. The knocks appeared to come every second on the clock. Five seconds, five knocks. Six seconds, six knocks. Ten seconds, ten knocks echoing through the house.

The clock that hung on the wall read 11:55 pm, marking the approaching midnight hour. Faye crept over to find Kate, tossing through her father’s clothes, feeling around in his pockets, and felt the rectangular shape she sought. His phone, still operative.

The incessant beating rang in her ears, as Kate attempted a text to her boyfriend that read:

Pick us up. NOW!!!!

The reply came swiftly:

KNOCK. KNOCK

Shaking, the phone fell out of her hands, and she choked on her labored breathing. Faye crawled up next to her, shaking her head frantically, a mad dance to the steady hum of knocking that wouldn’t let up. Kate glanced at the clock and saw the moving hand hit thirty seconds.

The knocks increasing in tempo to keep up with the seconds were now a non-stop crescendo of sound, a wall of sound, building and swelling. The individual knocks no longer audible. The door looked to be breathing; a heavy exhaling, ready to burst. Kyle banged on every object he could get his hands on, the lamp, the couch, the floor, the easy chair, as if drumming on bongo furniture, all in fun, all with a grin plastered on his face and his eyes boundless, dark pools again.

The wall of sound engulfed them as they heard thudding on the windows, surrounding them, drowning their screams, their throats course and raw. Their next round of screaming was reduced to a thin, hoarse cry, no one could hear.

They prepared for the worst, as the buildup increased at such a level, the whole house might explode in a burst of flames. They could hardly move, the sound deafening, piercing, and only getting louder and louder.

Kate questioned herself whether or not she heard it, or was it reverberating in her ears instead. She squatted to the ground, encircled her arms around her head, and shriveled tight into a ball. As the clock of the moving hand approached the fifty-second mark, they awaited the last seconds crouched together in the corner, their arms wrapped around each other in an interlocking embrace, burying their heads into their chests.

The pounding surrounded them and it felt like it was closing in on them. The sound tighter, chipping, narrower. A pressure held them, contained them. The knocking, an endless cycle that now lacked structure; a deafening sound that could swallow them whole.

The clock hit midnight, and Kyle raced to the door like he was welcoming an old friend, with no acknowledgement of his daughters shivering in the corner. Kyle flew open the door. No one was there, not visibly, but Kyle felt a solidness in front of him. He took one step back, and a cold air pushed him into the house smack into the wall, with the door slamming behind him. He felt his head slam into the wall, and his body slid down in his aftermath; he fell unconscious, his head heavy, nodding against his chest.

“Dad,” his girls rushed to him, and then stepped back as they approached closer.

 Kate knelt to hold his hand, “Dad, Dad. Can you hear me?” She squeezed his hand and got nothing back, then brushed his chin, and lifted his head. His eyelids flitted, shifting between open and closed.

“Talk to me?” She slapped him on the face. Faye bounced on her tip toes behind her.

 Kate found herself suddenly in the parental role, an unwilling participant, trying to rise above it all but just as easily sinking beside her sister a twisted ball of nerves.

“Why isn’t he talking, Faye? Help me.”

With tears streaming down her face, she replied, “He’ll be okay, Kate. He just hit his head.” Faye, the eternal optimist, actually gave Kate a much needed boost.

A gale force wind encircled them and drew them together, but there was no air and they could not bust free from it. A wave of air rippled through the drapes like keys on a piano, and then with one thrust, burst into the chandelier, forcing it to swing to and fro, an invisible trapeze act.

“Did you see that?” Kate asked.

“Uh huh,” Faye looked almost catatonic. They both knew it wasn’t the wind, and the windows were shut.

The girls clutched their hands together, collectively holding their breath. The chandelier stopped swaying; their father moaned at their feet.

“Dad.” Kate nudged him. “Go get a wet rag, Faye. He’s burning up.”

“I’m too scared,” she said.

“Just do it. Dad needs our help.” Faye knees shook unwilling to move, her body sinking in a quicksand of despair.

Kate also too scared to move, collapsed over her father. Now more forcefully, she slapped her father on the face. “Wake up, wake up. We need you, daddy. Now.” The urge to flee the scene pulled at her with equal force. The door in front of her with no one there to stop her. She could take Faye, run to a neighbor, or just run. Run.

In the adjoining room, they heard a thumping on the slide glass door, repeatedly. Slam, slam, as if someone were throwing himself into the window. It was just enough to keep them anchored by their dad.

Then all was quiet. Something was yanking at them, yanking at the seams, the fabric of their clothes, the angles of the walls seemed to breathe, in and out, again, and again, until an explosive thudding, this time inside the walls, as if someone were trapped inside willing a release, stomping and banging, louder and louder still; Kate and Faye could do nothing but cover their ears. Like a drill it exploded inside Kate’s head. Faye blocked it out of her head by screaming; she couldn’t stop. This did nothing to alert their father, passed out and unresponsive.

In an explosive burst, Kyle rose to his feet, grabbed Kate by the temples, suspending her a few feet off the ground. He slammed her against the wall. Faye’s screaming accompanied his one-man act execution. Kyle pounded her head against the wall, harder the second time, and held her jaw.

“Daddy. Stop,” Kate whispered, her eyes rolling up into her head.

Kyle eye’s quickly gained focus, like a dull blade sharpening, and he released Kate, her legs breaking the fall, her head banging the floor on impact with a jolt that pierced her skull.

Kate didn’t know how long she’d been out when she came to. Faye lay beside her with tears streaming down her face. Kate bolted from her horizontal position which Faye mirrored.

“Listen,” Kate whispered.

“What?” Faye asked, although she sounded miles away.

With another light tapping on the door, she realized they had drifted off.

“Kate. It’s me, Jake. Are you all right?”

She gasped, opening the door to him and falling into an embrace.

“I didn’t hear from you, so I thought I’d drop by. What’s wrong?” eyeing her swollen, red face. “You guys have a fight?”

“Take me out of here,” she said to Jake. “C’mon. Faye, we’re taking a ride.”

They left with no interference out the front door. A steady hammering came from the garage, a piercing in her ear like fingernails on a chalkboard, except she felt it in her gut. She assumed it was her father, but she really didn’t want to know.

They slipped out the front door, piled into his pickup without speaking. Faye clutched Kate’s hand, her face still wet from tears. Piled together in the front seat felt oddly comforting. Away from the house, she could feel the frantic pace of her heart beating, and a dull clattering inside her head.

photo credit: chatblanc1 via photopin cc

Clang Clang

If you would like to read the previous parts to this story, here they are:

Part 1: Knock Knock
Part 2: Who’s There?
Part 3: Knock it off

As always, thanks for reading!

*************************************

“Dad is acting funny,” Faye said, sniffling. Must be the dust in the room. Kate knew she wasn’t crying. “Is it his medication again? You know, acting up?’

“The antidepressants? Hmm. Could be.” Kate could pretend with the best of them, especially if it meant protecting her sister.

“You could check.”

Kate nodded.

They both wanted logic to swing in their direction, but rummaging in dad’s medicine cabinet was a possibility so remote, Kate had no words. Not even on a good day would Kate stake a claim in any area of the house that was clearly labeled dad’s, like his bedroom. The garage was also off-limits, not that Kate ever had a need to go in there. Talk of antidepressants was welcome conversation, comforting even. They dare not mention the knocking lest it start the whole ordeal again. The risk was too great. They tried to ignore it, swallow it whole, and spit it out, undigested. But it gnawed at them in the pits of their stomach like tiny beasts with ruptured claws, tearing away at their insides.

Their breathing slowed in an effort to recoup from the rush of adrenaline, their body temperature chilling at an alarming rate. Faye searched her closet for sweaters, while Kate had her eye on the sweating beads on the window. She opened the window to look at the drop, a flow of warm air brushing past her face. The thick wisteria branch could hold Faye, she thought, as she stared at it, but she might need to be there to catch her.

“I have a friend on medication,” Faye said, sitting on her purple, fairy comforter, snuggling with a stuffed animal. “She wants to be off of it,” she nodded, scooting in closer into corner of the wall. Faye rambled while Kate fretted over a spotty plan.

She held Faye’s hands, “Do you think you can slide down that branch on the side of the house?”

“Out there?” Faye pointed to the window, and squeezed her eyes shut. “That’s high, Kate. Five stories high.”

“It’s two.”

“Two, whatever.”

“Faye, look at me. You can do this. I’m not asking you to jump. Listen.”

“What about the window downstairs? Did it open?” Faye spoke to Kate, inching further into the corner.

“I don’t know. Never got there.” She pulled Faye over to window, not bothering to explain her run-in with their dad. Not now. She opened the window, pushed out the screen, which dropped ruthlessly, bouncing off the concrete on its arrival. Faye stared at Kate wide-eyed and gasped.

“We don’t have a lot of options, Faye,” she said, pressing into her side. “I know you can do this.”

“You go, first.”

“That branch won’t hold me.”

“Just jump. It’s only two stories.” Confusion stirred in her eyes. “Let’s talk to dad.”

Kate thought she detected frost in the corner of the window. “I just want to get the hell out of here. We can do this, Faye.”

Beyond their door, they heard a muted pounding.

Clang, clang, clang, clang.

(Pause.)

Bam, Bam.

Kate and Faye exchanged a glance, shivering.

“It’s not outside,” Kate whispered. “It’s in our house. I can’t tell where.”

It could be in the basement, except they didn’t have one. It sounded like it could be under water or behind walls, layers of them. It had a familiar tone, like an instrument badly tuned. After a louder burst, Kate could hear the clanging ring, ring, ringing. A chiming, delicate enough, but with a rough edge. Where had she heard it before? It had to be the garage. She envisioned her dad with his tools. A hammer.

Hammering, hammering…like a nail. Setting it in the wall, and then with a bit more punch, bam, bam into the wall. But it wasn’t a wall, it was steel.

The banging stopped as suddenly as it began. Faye shrugged her shoulders with a look of fresh innocence that sparked hope inside of Kate. I will take care of her, no matter what, she thought. The knocking was not at the front door, but it had been grating nonetheless. They collapsed in the middle of the floor exhausted. Their plan full of loose ends; their dad a mystery, no phone, no jumping.

They rested until they could hear themselves breathe again. But only for seconds. A tide rolled in, crashing beneath them with tsunami strength, tossing them around the room like toys in a Cracker Jack box. The bed popped off the floor and slid toward them, wedging them against the dresser. A picture crashed to the floor, spraying glass inches from their faces.

“Earthquake!” Faye screamed. “It’s got to be.” Living in Southern California, it wasn’t out of the question, but neither of them had felt such a strong tremor before.

“Maybe. Maybe. Are you okay?” Kate asked, lying almost on top of Faye, sloping at a downward angle.

“I want out of here, Kate.”

A light tapping at Faye’s bedroom door and they both jumped, already rattled enough.

“Girls.” It was their dad. He knocked again lightly.

Kate caught her breath. “Yes.”

“Girls. Why don’t we watch the rest of that movie.”

Kate looked at Faye stunned, shrugging her shoulders, while Faye shook her head “no, no, no.”

“We’re a little tired. I think we’re just going to bed.”

“Kate, you know how important our movie night is,” Kyle said.

Kate fell silent, hoping he’d go away, but she heard his labored breathing through the door.

“I’ll be waiting downstairs,” he said.

Kate thought she heard whistling.

photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc