Letting Life Lead
Note: This is part of a much larger story from my novella-in-progress. Writing on the Fly is an exercise I have been using when I have gotten stuck and feel like quitting. I take a random idea and try to write in one sprint until I reach 800-1000 words with no editing (except for glaring spelling errors). All random excerpts from the story can be found under the title “What She Is”.
Inez lay awake on the couch fiddling with the thread patterns on Paula’s quilt which reeked of detergent, lavender, and dog. The wind squall blew hard outside whipping rain against the windows and she stared at the wet patterns creeping up on the panes. The humidity concentrated the odors of their shared dinner. It had been long since she’d tasted that dish; the flavors danced so close, but the crumbling potatoes had been wrong. She allowed the memories she’d kept at bay earlier to surface and fill her with a melancholy that crushed her chest and squeezed the breath from her throat until her ears ached. The ball necklace seemed to grown heavier and she rubbed the tiny, round links between her fingers.
The first time she smelled the swirl of ham and cabbage had been in the little white cottage set back from an old brick paved road half buried under hard packed dirt. Its white fence had needed a new coat of whitewash, but the pickets stood straight in good repair. “My daddy bought this place from a catalogue and built it himself, if you can believe that,” Gary said while he stooped to take off his scuffed, brown leather boots and left them on a tray on the covered porch. His body dwarfed the entrance way. He didn’t call out, but let the screen door slam and clicked a red light switch on and off. He had her hang back at the front door just inside. The beaded doormat tickled her bare feet and the screen’s broken latch rattled against the cool breeze. She noted the wide, clean wood floor scuffed and nicked that creaked under Gary’s weight. She breathed deeply of the odor of soap, polishing oil, and something deliciously simmering in the kitchen. Her growling stomach seemed to move from one part of her abdomen to the other.
She could see Gary if she stretched and leaned a little towards the living room. He knelt on the floor, his shoulders pulled inward to his chest as spoke to someone hidden partially in a wingback, upholstered chair. Curiously, he moved his lips but no sound reached her ears and his hands gestured to the rhythm of his mouth and facial expressions. An apology, she surmised, judging from his lowered head but then his expression changed. It became almost pleading then surprised, angered, and frightened. Each played across his face and animated his body during the story’s recounting. When he placed his hand down, she could see a woman’s leg appear, a shoeless foot slide, and the cotton fabric of a yellow and white striped dress shift. One long-fingered hand and then another embraced Gary’s face.
He stopped his hand motions and spoke to the hidden face with rapid, but precise lip movements. She couldn’t make out the words no matter how she strained. The woman stood up after what seemed like an hour and started towards the door. She walked barefoot, taking halting steps, clutching a square of knitting to her chest as Gary followed. Her face was red and swollen from old tears and wet with new. She was near as tall as her husband with brown hair neatly braided and hanging down past her lower back. An almost sheer leaf-green scarf curled around her neck. The long, v-shaped stripes on the skirt, straight stripes at the bodice, and crisp collar flattered her shape and stature. Her wide featured face, dark eyebrows, and deeply tanned skin contrasted Gary’s straighter, but sun burned, weathered countenance. She smelled of soap and sugared green, and another, subtle natural perfume. And then Gary’s wife, Alice, smiled. A small, terrible knowing smile of a person pleased with the news of a long-awaited tragic end to an enemy. Alice stood straight-backed and regarded the skinny, ragged girl from down the length of her nose and inhaled as if trying to extract the essence of the macabre deed.
Alice signed and mouthed slowly without sound, “You will stay.” And motioned with both hands to be followed upstairs.
She hesitated unsure, and then Gary said, “Just look at her when you talk, speak the words clear, and you’ll be fine. We’ve got no secrets. She knows what you are–what you did. She knows your ways. Go on, now. Told you, if you got in with my missus you’ll want for nothing. No saints live here and we want none. ”
She glanced up the stairs and heard the gentle creak of the floorboards and suddenly identified the odd, subtle pheromone. It read differently than Gary’s–quieter and darker. Alice was not a stranger to violence–neither to receiving nor dispensing–a survivor who had known the precious seconds of her death. The imprint of it lingered around the woman like a faded scar. In her inexperience, she’d expected Alice to be a more delicate woman prone to hysterical fits of despair. Alice’s sorrow, instead, had a cold dignity under which hid the fiery desires of deadly retribution. She’d scurried up the stairs with her heart pounding in her head.
Inez covered her face with her hands and pressed her eyes hard with her palms in an attempt to gain control of the tears. She curled herself tighter in the quilt. How she missed them and the freedom and protection she enjoyed under their roof. One day, even these cherished memories would become pale and lost in the ever building numbers of days between. The sobbing attracted the whining affections of Winston who left his owner’s bed and lay his heavy body on hers and licked at the saltiness of her face until she fell asleep.
(40 years in the making)
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