Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dear Aldo, a Vignette

From the series, “Unedited, Love Stories”

The summer came unexpectedly in late May, brought by a series of downpours late in the evenings that woke Lila up with a shiver, coldly.  It began as a wet summer.  It was the wettest she would remember, and sitting inside her home, with the lights off, Lila still shivered while the summer passed by, hour after hour. 

Lila had been writing letters every day.  It began with a brief memory, maybe when the summer started or maybe before then. She marked the first day of her letter writing as the first day she remembered when the memory came to her, an out-of-place feeling which prompted her to say, “You don’t belong here.  This is now, and you were then.  Go back to then, and leave me alone.” 

The feeling was indirect, and Lila was shapely.  She touched and smelled.  She held onto hard things, defining the smoothness of their corners and the sharpness of their edges.  This was – a sitting cloud – it weighed, but it didn’t move.  Unable to hold her cloud, Lila began writing letters.

How long ago was it?  How long did it last?  The month held thirty days and the days held twenty-four hours, and each hour that passed in each month, Lila thought about the name, “Aldo”.  “Aldo,” she said to her desk.  Her desk looked back, a sitting cloud.  “Aldo left some time ago,” she murmured again and then closed her eyes.  Aldo’s face came to her in a shadow, and Lila crinkled her nose.  When her mind decided against giving Aldo a shape, Lila stood up and poured herself a glass of milk.

Aldo had a lively face, a face unlike the forgetfulness that lurked into Lila’s evenings, and Aldo had once said to Lila, “Why don’t we take a ride together?”  Just like that, a careless request with a shrug, to which Lila had smiled and replied, “Okay.  I just need to be home before dinner.”

Lila saw stars when she had sat hanging in the car, upside-down on the side of the road, the seat belt cutting deep into her skin right along the fat leaving a permanent mark on her belly that would always remind her why she hated stars.  She had felt Aldo next to her.  Poor Aldo.  Poor, poor Aldo.  He had creeped onto her, a big heap of leftovers.  She had sat for hours later, unable to scrub him off her.

“I’m having a dinner party tonight,” she had said to him the day before.  “My girlfriends are coming over, and I have to make a pie.  I can’t stay out for long.”  She had paused.  Aldo had looked at her and turned his eyes down to the grass. 

After a minute of grass watching, Aldo had replied, “We’ll be back in time.  I just need to show you something I found a few weeks ago.  You might like it.  We could take a short walk after I park the car at the visitor’s site.  It won’t be long.”  Aldo’s down-turned eyes had turned upward to smile at her.  His freckles spread along his nose and under his eye lids.  In a minute, she had replied by opening the door to his car and strapping herself in, stiff with excitement.  Twenty minutes later, she was seeing stars, and Aldo would be plastered across the window and onto her, all one million little pieces of him, like the million little stars she kept seeing.  

The night was  clear.  Lila walked out the door and smelled the left-over rain, little drops of it reflecting onto her, blurring her nightgown with the color of the air.  There was a softness in the touch, a slight warmth of the nervousness, the sweat of indecision and conviction.  Two weeks before The Day, Lila had grabbed Aldo’s hand and kissed him.  He stood still, and his eyes had widened at her sudden approach, but with her mouth firmly planted on his, she had felt his hands soften and tighten all at once.  Upside-down, she had reached to grab hold of his hand, and all she had felt was warm wet. 

It was humid out when Lila walked out her door.  There was warmness in the air, and the smell of the rain choked her as the stars lingered and poked themselves through the departing clouds.  She sat like a meditating hunched cloud, watching the stars: humid and wet, blood and nerves, kiss and hand.  There was no more sharpness and edge between the things, no discernible shape of the cloud, but the thing she could still see were the stars, just like the stars Lila saw with Aldo, dead alongside her with her eyes closed or opened. 

Lila abandoned the step on her house and went back indoors, closing the door firmly behind her.  She returned to her letter.  “Dear Aldo,” they had all begun with.   This one was no different.  Some letters were finished, some were left without ending.  Lila took care to put each one in an envelope, seal it tight with a stamp, and send it out without shape or form.  “Dear Aldo,” this one began like the others, “sitting cloud.  Heart, oh, heart.”  With those few words, Lila put her pen down.

She stepped to bed and closed her eyes with the window still open.  She heard silence and dark, but she could still see the stars.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Woman in the Mirror

First published in Cigale Literary Magazine, Summer 2012

Her scarf lay along the desk which contained three books and held a large, oval mirror. The days passed and various things would place themselves in front of her mirror: a vase of flowers, her day’s left-over work, a laptop, an occasional sweater, and now and then, on mornings when she could afford the minutes, she’d sit in front of her mirror and check the reflection that stared back at her. Sometimes the reflection blinked, sometimes it smiled, sometimes it frowned, but most the time, it looked back at her with a stern resignation of indifference. 

One morning, she sat in front of her mirror brushing her hair before the day began. Suddenly, she caught sight of something moving very quickly, a sight that disturbed the image of familiarity in the mirror, softly, undeniably, as if the glass suddenly quivered, and she lost focus of the images nearest her. She looked closer into the mirror. Nothing. She turned around and searched her room. Her gaze was returned by her bed, which stood neatly made and serious, as if shrugging and saying, “It wasn’t us. There’s nothing over here.”

The next morning, as she sat at her usual throne, the disturbance appeared once more. As before, it was a sudden flicker, a momentary movement, as if the entire distance and image of the light and the glass and the objects of the reflection shook, disappeared and reappeared again, like waves lapping on the shore. She rubbed her eyes and pressed her face to the mirror, so close that the tip of her nose touched the hard surface and her breath warmed the cold glass. When the condensation from her breathing disappeared, she caught the shadow of something dark moving behind her. She could hear her breathing –which slowed and then hastened again– and her heart beats matched the panic in her breath. Was there something in her room she had not noticed before? She looked back in the mirror. Nothing. She turned around. Again, nothing. Everything placed in order as before. Her ears heard static, and she realized it was nothing but the blood flowing from her fluttered heart to her terrified brain. She put on her coat and ran out of her room, shutting the door loudly behind her. She did not turn around.

That night, she returned to her house and quietly walked up the stairs and looked at her bedroom door. She wanted to knock, as if to ask, “Whatever is in there, you, you who keeps appearing in my mirror! Leave this room. I need some sleep tonight, and I deserve to stay in my own bed, don’t you think?” Instead, she placed her head near the door to listen for sounds. The silence of the other side was only interrupted by the steady beating of the pulse in her own ears, pressed and wedged against the wood. Slowly, she opened the door and peered in. A dark bed, desk, and mirror greeted her. She turned on her light. Everything was as it had been before. Nothing was unusual. 

Before bed, she sat in front of her mirror again, brushing her air. It was then that the image came to her directly. It stared at her, violently made a face of horror, placed its hand over its mouth as if to scream, and nothing came out. The image was clear, and out of terror of the foreign thing, she picked the mirror up and slammed it against the hardwood floor of her room. The thick glass fell with a scream and broke into seven distinct pieces, lying neatly on her floor, the pieces next to one another. She slowly inched herself up, her hands holding the wall behind her and looked down. This time, the image in the mirror was real. It was undeniable. She put her hand to her mouth. The image put its hand to its mouth. She touched her nose. The image touched its nose. She smiled. The image smiled back. And as she gazed at it again with an eye of resignation, the image of herself gazed back at its form with the same resignation, identity to identity, self to self.