Hello Readers, Writers, and Friends,
Happy Monday. Okay, average Monday. Maybe it’s just meh.
Mine has been busy, but in the best way including a trip to the movies to see “The Tragedy of MacBeth.” My brain on Shakespeare buzzes and tends to function in iambic pentameter for a day or two afterwards.
But my review will have to wait as it is time for a mini fiction. A swift foray into impromptu writing with only my autocorrect to save me.
Today’s prompts are: Homeless person, third day without sleep
“I don’t want to be here, doing this, but I’m kinda desperate.”
The ‘kinda’ was unnecessary.
Walter ‘Wally’ Whitehead hadn’t been this desperate since he’d realized too late to drop the senior seminar that he was going to fail a required class and his graduation was in jeopardy. Any psychologist would have seen the emerging signs of psychosis and just as quickly dismissed them for what they were upon learning that Walter hand’t slept in three days.
The object of his desperation now was a woman, wrapped up against the cold in no fewer than four layers of grime clothing. She could have been anywhere from thirty-nine to fifty-seven, her time on the street obscured the years not only to the observer, but to herself. She couldn’t be sure when her next birthday was, let alone how old she’d be when it came. And she had no clue what this young man, he was certainly young, was babbling about.
“Well then don’t do it and go away.” She tried to wave him off as she turned down the nearest alley, hoping shadows and the smell of trash would dissuade him.
“No, no, I’m sorry, I’m not going to hurt you,” Walter insisted. “Some one said you could help me.”
“What kind of someone?” The woman was suspicious now. Very few people knew anything about her, and even fewer would send someone her way. At least, not anymore.
“They told me not to say, but well, they gave me this.” Walter pulled a playing card, the four of hearts, with a fifty dollar bill wrapped around it from his shirt pocket.
The woman snatched from his hand. Greedy. Not for the money, though that would serve its purpose before too many hours had passed, but for the memory. The card smelled new, crisp paper and sharp ink, but the dollar bill smelled like a woodsy cologne she could have buried her face in for hours, and had once. It was both a peace offering and a plea. Help the boy and come home it seemed to say. But the money said that he didn’t really believe she would.
She considered it all in the time it took to take a deep lungful, and then she went to work. She sat down in the middle of the alley, burrowing through a huge bag that could have contained anything for all its form gave away.
“How long?” She asked.
“How long, what?” Walter asked, slow with all those waking hours. He’d barely registered the woman’s response to the card. One minute it had been in his hand, further explanation on his lips, the next it was in her hand and she was asking the questions.
“Oh, it’s um seventy-eight hours.” He rubbed his eyes, watery beyond reasoning, but he knew even though his body would have laid down on that filthy concrete and his eyes would close he would not get tot he rest he craved. Seventy-eight hours since he’d been able to do anything other than see her face. His love. His only. And now gone. Blue and cold, her breathless lips calling his name. “Wally, Wally where are you?”
The first night he’d gone from one horrifying vision to the next, certain the fear and the sorrow would kill him if he dared to try for sleep again. But night after night he could only lay there, unseeing eyes staring back at him as he stared at the ceiling.
“That’s not so bad.” The woman had pulled a pair of bottle from her back and a lumpy package wrapped in a once pink bandana. Walter shook his head and blinked, willing himself back into the present and the one hope he had of finding some slumber and some solace. “I once knew a man who went eight days. He was on death’s door when he found me. But we set him right as we could. He was never quite the same after, but none of us are the same after we look into death’s face and it looks back, are we?”
Walter had no words, but the woman didn’t seem to expect any. She unwrapped her bandana to reveal a pack of much worn tarot cards. She pulled the top card off the deck, the four of cups, and pushed it on to Walter’s forehead where it stuck as though magnetized to his brain. Then she pulled a second and a third, looking at each one and then adding them to a growing pile in Walter’s lap.
“You cannot see all that lays before you, for the one wrong right in front of your face,” she said, adding to the pile in his lap. “You need to see her. See her as she was, and as she is now.”
“But I don’t want to see–“
“Exactly! You are willing yourself into blindness and that will is strong. Strong enough to keep you from the truth, but the sleeping mind defeats the will. It breaks down fear and anger and sadness and loss and delivered us the truth.” She put the last card in Walter’s lap face up.
There on the torn and weathered card was the face of his beloved, beaming at him under a crown of gold, a chalice and wreath clasped in her hands. She looked stern at first, as though rebuking him for not seeing her sooner. But the anger melted away into into the grief of leaving, of being taken too quickly, too soon. She looked as though she would miss him as much as he would her. And his heart broke all over again.
His eyes clouded as they filled with he tears he hadn’t been able to shed when they’d closed the casket, hadn’t shed in the hospital, hadn’t shed the night she told him that it was all too much for her. His shoulders shook as he sat in a dirty alley on a busy street in broad daylight and wept until he couldn’t breathe.
“Jainey. Jainey, I can’t without you.”
“You will.” The voice was hers. He blinked ferociously until he could see her face again, this time beaming up at him, beatific. She would be at peace now. Her pain had ended, and she seemed to be giving him permission to move through his too.
“Not soon, I won’t forget soon.”
“You don’t have to forget,” the woman said, still seated across from him, still dressed in her layers of gritty cloth. “You just have to promise not to hide.” She bit her lip, rebuking herself with her own speech. How much did these layers cover? How many years had she been running? How many more would she bury herself and her own pain in?
Walter took his first easy, relaxed breath in in almost four days.
The card on his forehead slipped off with quiet whoosh and fluttered to join all the others in his lap. He pulled it up, not wanting to let that easy smile go so soon, but when he lifted the card he didn’t see Jainey at all. Just sort of bland, medieval beauty one would expect to see in an old deck of tarot. He sat, baffled, as the woman snatched up and ordered the deck, wrapping it carefully and tucking it away once more.
She picked up the two bottles. He noticed for the first time that they had no labels, no markings. He had assumed liquor, but they could have been anything, really.
She put the large, clear one away. They pulled the cap off the smaller, brown bottle and handed it to him.
“One good swig, that’ll do it.” The woman watched closely, as though expecting him to take more than his allotment. But as he took the bottle and brought it close, he wasn’t sure he could take even the one. It smelled of, well, of Jainey. Of her perfume. Of her breath, and her skin, and those cookies she used to make. It was like standing in the kitchen with his face buried in her neck. He almost started weeping anew, but the woman leaned forward and pushed the bottle to his lips.
He felt cool liquid that did not taste of perfume or cookies. It tasted like the crystalline spring water you find in a Rocky Mountain waterfall. There was a purity in it he could not describe. It cleansed him, from the tip of his tongue to the soles of his feet he felt refreshed. Renewed. Revived.
When the woman took the bottle back he nearly grabbed after it. But he knew it wouldn’t be the same. A little was good. More would be too much.
He stood. Nodding to himself as though in the midst of a profound conversation with himself. And perhaps he was. A conversation without language, without words, but so full of understanding it pushed at his whole being. He looked down at eh woman, still seated on ground. He looked up at eh building rising around him, their grubby exteriors creating a cathedral he didn’t want to step out of.
The sky above him, was blue, so blue. Had it looked like that before? How had he not seen it?
He reached a hand out to the woman to help her up, but his shaman waved him off again.
“What can I do for you?” Walter heard himself asking, wanting to repay whatever it was she had just done for him.
The woman looked surprised. She looked down at her self, as though seeing herself anew.
But then the years of hiding piled up around her again, and her face took on the years she hadn’t yet lived and might not see.
“Tell him, when you see him, that I’ll be home when I decide and not a minute sooner, but–” she ran her thumb over the fifty dollar bill stashed in safe fold of her street armor, “soon. Tell him soon.”
With that she was on her way and as she passed around the corner and out of sight, Walter’s strength ebbed. He knew if he could hail a cab, make it to his apartment, he might finally get some sleep.
Read well and Write on, my friends,