When She Thought of Him

There were days on end when she didn’t have to think of him at all.  Long summer days when she hid away in the shade where stillness invited the white tail and the fiery red fox.  The twilight evenings when she heard the greeting of her father as the hired hands drove off toward their supper. 

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After the shove or taunt, she imagined herself with the older man who came at night.  He was the one who would cause envy in all those who sneered at her during the day.  He was the one who spoke to her gently, read poetry and didn’t like to dance.   She remembered events that made her happy but never happened.

There were days on end when she didn’t have to think of him at all.  Long summer days when she hid away in the shade where stillness invited the white tail and the fiery red fox.  The twilight evenings when she heard the greeting of her father as the hired hands drove off toward their supper.  When the cool started to settle in she dreaded the call to be sociable outside the need for church.

The whispered jeers and snarling looks of disdain from her peers would not have been so painful if they had not, in turn, been so hypocritically kind to her father.  Their kindness lightened his face with hope when invitations were sent but she refused to go.

“Mrs. Harper will think you rude; you didn’t accept her last invitation.”  She would go and in the prettiest dress but feel awkward and uncomfortable none the less.  She would sit as still as possible allowing her tea to cool or lemonade to grow warm.  She wouldn’t eat a thing for fear of looking more uncouth and gangly then feel the tears burn into her eyes knowing her father was disappointed.  So she thought of the older man who came at night.  He would walk by Mrs. Harper’s window and she would think that he was so handsome and some day she would be the envy of all the lovely girls when she walked by his side.

After such times away from home and books, and bubbling brooks, away from tracks in the snow and blankets of fallen leaves she would think of him.  She saw him in the fields right after harvest, standing alone among the stubbled stalks of corn.  She saw him late at night while the new moon hid in angles; he stood between the broad, tall barn and her lofty old farm house.  He stood and gazed up at her window and when she crept up to the glass to see if indeed he was there, he would not flinch or change expression but continue to stare.

When William only tipped his hat at her not seeing her, she would think of him, tall, angular and looking off into the distance.  When Tom’s smile turned into a laugh as she walked by she thought of him, standing just below her window.

Then one day her father sent her away to Chicago.  The move was sudden and unexpected.  He one day fired all of his hired hands and sent her to Chicago to learn.  Her grief was an agony and only once did she try to plead.  In the city, there was no time to think of him.  She had only time to learn how to set the table, order her meals in French and dance in shoes that pinched.

She had no time to remember and then one spring a gentle touch caused her amnesia regarding the white tail, the fiery red fox, the tracks in the snow and the blanket of multi-colored leaves at her feet.  She may have remained if not for a night at home again.  Smiling at her father, speaking to him in excited tones of what goes on in Chicago.  Asleep in an instant so glad to be home and suddenly awake, the old sadness about her.

He sat on the edge of her bed, broad-shouldered, angular and silent.  If she closed her eyes and willed herself asleep, she would return to the world of whirling seasons, high towers and smiling people.  Or she could open her arms up to him.

He had stayed with her when she was alone, so opening her arms to him she felt the alarm of bitter cold for only a moment and the soft contentment of returning home again.

Photo by m wrona on Unsplash

 

Clever Girl

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it. Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what. Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you. Just keep working and focus on that.

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it. Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what. Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you.

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it.  Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what.  Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you.  Just keep working and focus on that.

That’s what I wanted to tell her but I didn’t.  I told her that she was welcome to the coffee in the pot (just brewed), and I showed her the location of the bathroom.  I then left her to become acclimated to working with me and working within my haunted rooms.  When she shivered, I looked up from my manuscript.

“You okay?”

“Yes, felt like someone just walked over my grave.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, that’s something my grandmother used to say.  When she felt a cold shiver run down her back or shoulders, she always said that.”

I nodded and smiled while letting my eyes drop back to my manuscript.  It was rude but these Indiana girls had to keep their back-water statements to themselves.  She got right back to work without any sniffs or huffs.  The girls from outside the city were usually very conscientious and she was no exception.  When we broke for lunch I asked her how long she had been living in Chicago.

“About 12 weeks.  I was ready to give it up, I felt so overwhelmed.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t.” I was sincere as I passed her the salt.  I needed her help and, well, I needed someone around.  The cold spots were getting worse, the sounds of footsteps and God help me I thought I had heard a few sighs.  I needed someone who would come every morning, work hard and make human noises, human movement, human scents, and human residue.

“So this used to be an old warehouse, huh?  It makes a beautiful apartment.”

“It is nice,” I said  “I like the view all around.  I think the realtor thought I should be here because she found out I was a writer.”

She laughed slightly and nodded as if she understood that as a writer I must also be a Bohemian by nature.  I wasn’t, I was just a writer.  The apartment suited me for other reasons, one it was isolated for Chicago and two, the noise of the city didn’t crowd in upon my work.

We worked together for 13 glorious weeks and the manuscript began to take shape.  We even managed one night to make a timeline of the plot and conclusion.  She stayed until 11 P.M. we became so consumed with the work she lost track of the time.  Her hair began to fall out of its pins and curl down around her neck.  Her freckles began to glow through her smudged makeup.  She almost looked 12.  She definitely looked beautiful.  But this was business, all business and I couldn’t mix business with pleasure.

One Wednesday morning she was standing, looking out toward Lake Michigan.  The city was clear and gleamed before her, like some promising city.  I admired her body as she studied the scene before her.  Her straight, sky-blue, skirt was too large but still looked enticing around her rather bony hips and her soft, buff colored sweater cascaded around her narrow shoulders and folded softly around her thin waist.  Her clothes always seemed a size too large but she wore it well, oddly enough.

“You know,” she said, “I know this apartment is haunted.  I heard her crying in the bathroom.”

I stopped what I was doing.  My pen was in mid stride as she said those words.  She turned at my silence looking a little perplexed.  “What do you think happened?  Do you think she died in an accident while this place was still a factory?”

“No,” I said, slightly relieved she was forming conclusions that didn’t include me.

She looked slightly pouty and my heart beat hard.  “Are you sure?  How do you know?” she asked.

“Because the sounds and the cold spots started after I started living here.  I’ve never heard her cry before though.”

The dear girl actually frowned and sat down next to me as if to try and comfort me or dissuade me from my idea.  “You don’t know that.  The former owners probably wanted you to buy the place so they could leave.”  She looked so sincere and concerned.  I grasped her tiny hips and pulled her under me, wanting that one kiss, that wouldn’t be tainted with fear.  The kiss was sweet, and moist and lingering.  I would regret this one, I remembered thinking.

“I know you killed her actually,” she whispered softly in my ear.  “I know you did.”

I felt her pull the trigger, felt the bullet rip through my shirt, my skin, my heart my back.  My weight muffled the sound; just what she needed to leave me here to sigh, chill the air and press down upon the old floor boards.  No one stays for long.

She was a clever girl, whoever she was, a very clever girl.

 

Summoning Winter

I must chide myself more often in that I miss my dog more than my ex-husband.

There is a strong diabolic side to me; I recognize it, and in my calmer moments salute that entity with all the respect one soldier can give to another.

I want to lead my life wondering about consequences not living them, so my sense of fair play must be brief and I must have faith and act within the confines of what I claim is my God given guilt.  However, I’ve notice guilt has begun to slip.

I must chide myself more often in that I miss my dog more than my ex-husband. I grapple with the idea that I look at men now with a sort of mercenary attraction and above all I fight the urge to summon winter in all but one season of the year.

Ah-ha!  A left turn in a right-handed world.  Who is behind such egotistical words?  Who or what could fathom herself able to summon winter?

I deal in death.  That’s how I earn my bread and butter.  I wallow in the financial implications and shuffle the sheaves of paper, both tactile and electronic, that rustle or static the real life certainty of not existing anymore.  I suppose that my diabolical side has grown from my life’s advance in this work and my thick armor of mental self-preservation has grown with the continual observation of someone else’s misery.  I work in an emotional freezer.

But why summon winter in say, July?  Because often times the armor that thickens around my mental processes will crack.   When there is a break down, there is also a will to wallow in whatever brings me momentary happiness; a flirtation that I know I won’t pursue, the question as to why my dog had to die, wine in a box, a German film (earth and water let’s talk mercenary!) or a drive to find some of the best ice cream in town.

(I feel that the pursuit of ice cream is actually me already summoning winter in a subconscious quasi Freudian manner.)

Alas, dear reader, if you’ve made it this far I know that I left you topside with the word “guilt.”  Oh that word has become vile in the 21st century.  Tax evasion, illegal immigration, anarchy, murder, rape, home invasion, perjury, all can be shrugged off because no one wants to condemn anyone.  Who are we that we might judge anyone?

Why separate my diabolical self from analytical, dare I say, faithful-to-God self?  Why should I feel guilt over a pornographic film, a brief encounter that boils down to using someone or summoning winter?  What line in the sand am I drawing?

To tell the truth, I’m not sure I know any longer.  I’m older and more muddled.  My strength has waned and really what problems would there be to freezing summer, burying spring and demolishing autumn?  Why fight at all the freeze?

I salute you, oh self-motivated and diabolical one, and pray to God the strength to stop.

(Yet I’m grateful Creator for the 30-degree drop.)

 

Cinnamon

I look about, realizing suddenly that I am thinking of nothing.

As I wait for my coffee to come forth through the combination of stagnate hot water and the forced push of said water through the compact coffee grounds within the stylized plastic cup, (naturally decaffeinated for my overly taxed nerves which are affected by extra stimuli), this cup of coffee is,of course, from hand-picked beans, fairly traded, well packaged, and, no doubt, still sold with ample profit to the middle man.  I look about, realizing suddenly that I am thinking of nothing. In a rush I begin thinking of those nimble fingers picking the perfectly ripened coffee bean and keeping hearth and home together so that my brief reprieve at work could be enjoyed. To avoid consumerism guilt let me put a face to the nameless.

Oh the wonderful aroma of 21st century coffee!  The perfectly brewed one cupper coffee pots that have taken away the traditions of percolators and the drudgery of almost religious fervor in preparing that perfect pot of coffee, so that I am able to scurry back to the desk, the telephone, the computer and the mass of humanity who can’t understand why health insurance doesn’t pay for the world’s woes.  This keeps my “hearth and home” together, dodging such questions.  The coffee bean planter, cultivator, and picker meet clandestinely, within the tall, glass and steel buildings of the mid-American insurance industry via me.

The insurance industry and the business of coffee production demands my abject compliance.  The women and men, the day laborers whom the western world believes extinct, as well as the insurance industry pegs who, through constant, at-you-fingertips mopery, stiffen their joints and bow their back during their life’s labors at the front line of claims payment; are at the beck and call of those in charge and those who simply don’t believe in death.

I stand before the coffee pot waiting for the heap of brown to puddle into the well thought out coffee-mug-of-a-gift that my son had chosen for me two Christmases ago.

Glancing around to distract myself from my own depression, I notice on the shelf above the coffee machine that my conglomerate employer provides, a tubular jar of cinnamon.  Vietnamese cinnamon.

The vast cultures and the global economy are meeting here at my job.

Dress and trappings are everything, so I’m told – and so it seems that is true as I watch my fellow workers shake daintily and with fervor the cinnamon into their gratis coffee – gratis except for the cup.  The cups are carefully given by our children from the allowances we can afford to give them.

I too reach for the cinnamon and with a heavy shake cover the top of my coffee with the stuff to the wide-eyed amazement of my fellow employees; too much their expressions say but they turn from me and say nothing.

Before the mixture sinks, I sip the hot liquid from the cup my son thought worthy of me, the taste is surprisingly sweet in aroma but when it touches my mouth something like dirt, sandpapers my tongue and grits between my teeth.

Yes, yes, so brief we pause in our consumption and so long we work to take a sip.

 

Her Need

When he discovered that she didn’t have a rough patch of skin, smelled like spring-time rain, and that falling into her was something between physical bliss and realizing he had been half a person all of his life, he became sullen and angry afterward. He didn’t understand why.

He had never been with a woman before; he had never felt the need.  He didn’t care much for their voices and he certainly didn’t trust their intentions.  Some men thought the wiles of women were what gave meaning to life.  He didn’t.

She was red headed, freckled and had green eyes.  Most men shuddered when they walked by her.  What struck him was that she was tall, straight, had large hands for a woman, and her figure, though thin, was well proportioned.  So he shrugged at other men’s judgment.  What he didn’t confess to, until late at night, in his own bunk, was that he thought her the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes upon.

When he discovered that she didn’t have a rough patch of skin, smelled like spring-time rain, and that falling into her was something between physical bliss and realizing he had been half a person all of his life, he became sullen and angry afterward.  He didn’t understand why.

He forgot about his anger when she woke up, when she wrapped her legs around his waist and pulled him in as easily as a man pulls in a sack of potatoes to hoist to his shoulders.  Again he became aware of who he was, how brief his life would be, how strange it was to feel himself surge into her and remain. 

He never questioned why he took so long to find her, but why he never thought of searching for her at the beginning of his life, to complete what seemed to him now a sort of destiny. 

He dreamed in her arms that he had returned to the forest.  He saw everything in pairs; the birds, the fish, the deer, the elk, the mountain lion, the bear.  Two.  He didn’t miss her or mourn her presence, he was simply aware of a second idea, a second sound, a second scent, a second tread upon the earth. 

He was aware that she didn’t want to keep him, wasn’t interested in his ability to provide for her and was sure that she had used him.  

Other men longed to be taken up the pea patch, to complain loudly at the bar that his wife was demanding, exacting and insatiable in her drive for things, he sensed that her ambition had nothing to do with conquest or avarice just need and in turn her need was his. 

When he heard her door close behind him, the shivering, knife’s edge feeling that went up his back and across his shoulders told him not to turn around.  He stood for a moment, looking at the sun rising, the leaves of the trees translucent, in their spring-time green.

Don’t turn around man, don’t be a fool. 

He took a step forward and felt a loosening around his waist and the idea that he might survive his night.  He turned without so much as a thought, or even with the conscious idea that he had turned about upon his heel. 

Her web encased him in frigid threads and his voice was the first thing she drain from him, the last was his dread.  

Her Need / Lydia Ink by SK Woodiwiss

He Wore a Silk Tie

She thought back to her teenage years while on her 10-minute breaks; those new awkward years when boys looked tantalizing and something to be driven or broken.

She wanted to cry and tell him that she loved him and that he meant the world to her.  Then she would immediately want an Egg McMuffin from McDonalds.  Hot.  She wanted it hot, wrapped in a grease soaked paper with black coffee and a room full of strangers ignoring her eating it.

That’s love she supposed – thwarted by food.

She had no idea why she loved him – he was older, past his prime and looked oh so comfortable.  She was older just past her prime and oh so uptight.

She had fantasies about him while she was alone in her apartment.  They were wonderful visions actually that helped her sleep at night but had the most evil tendency to crop up in her mind while on the phone at work or during a committee meeting.  The imagined groan of ecstasy or the most uninhibited scenes she contrived in her mind would make the tips of her ears glow red.  Male coworkers would look away confused, female coworkers would cluck at her afterwards “isn’t the change awful,” or “those hot flashes, my mother went through that, just terrible.”  None of them assumed she was blushing – just old.

She wanted to cackle at times, turn green and rub her crystal ball, but she just bent her head and prayed for mundane concentration.

She thought back to her teenage years while on her 10-minute breaks; those new awkward years when boys looked tantalizing and something to be driven or broken.  She was a quiet and shy girl who never participated because she discovered too late that she was normal.  She never played out her fantasies then and it looked as if she would not now.

Which was fine.  In her more sane moments, which happened to be when he was in the room oddly enough, she often thought that her fantasies were more rewarding than probable reality.

But why the fast food craving at her lowest ebbs was beyond her.

What was to become of her?  Those low flowing moments when her own life weighed down upon her; being alone, budgeting for ripe old age, thinking of cats and knitting as hobbies all made her shudder with despondency and long for a lover

She imagined him not able to speak English and the two of them explaining what shirt, panties, bra meant in their respective languages.  She almost choked on her coffee next morning during a sales team meeting.

He asked her once to make copies for him and dictate a letter; he was the old-fashioned type but she could accommodate.  His black suit was double breasted and hung perfectly across his wide shoulders.  He wore a silk tie, a shade of blue she couldn’t name, but the idea of him wearing black and blue made her shiver and smile.

“You must be having a good day,” his voice deep and relaxed.

“Yes,” she said barely raising her head and imagining a missed fleck of shaving cream just behind his left ear.

He Wore a Silk Tie / Lydia Ink by SK Woodiwiss

 

The Strength to Choose

“Jonathan, nothing is certain. You must believe me. I’ve seen hell and nothing is worse than that, please help me.”

I, of course, didn’t believe her.  I told her I did but I didn’t.  She smiled at me in a half-hearted or perhaps a whimsical sort of way and said ‘thank-you.’  She whispered the two words to me and looked away.  Her soft hair, straw colored and wavy, veiled the side of her face in a cascading shine of brilliance as she looked down at her hands.

I felt a surge of male adrenaline.  Was she that damsel in distress or that Victorian lady, even the mad Ophelia who was sitting across from me?

My friend, this is the 21st century and maybe my Baby-boomer father would have succumbed to her soft strength, I did not.  I pocketed my anxiety about her, along with my surge of Freudian awareness, paid the bill and walked away.

She was found dead the next day – her neck was broken.  I was questioned by the police and it was determined that I was the last to see her alive – outside of her murderer.

I did not kill her.

I did not.

I was at a party that night, celebrating my best friend’s engagement to a wonderful woman; strong, an attorney and not beyond child bearing years despite the time it took for them to fall in love between their accomplishments.

Does that sound cynical?

The cynicism is for me alone and anyone who might read this and ponder their long nights working not for the money necessarily but for the security of being the best.

She told me that nothing was secure.  She told me just before she died.

“Jonathan, nothing is certain.  You must believe me.  I’ve seen hell and nothing is worse than that, please help me.”

“I believe you.”  I think I even reached forward and squeezed her delicate hands.  They were warm to my touch but only, I think, because they had held the coffee I had bought for her.  She had looked almost anemic, frail, suffering.

No, perhaps now that she is in a pauper’s grave, by the grace of the state of New York, I see her differently.  My memory, no doubt, is romanticizing her last moments.

Don’t think me a total brute, please.  I would have taken her with me, fed her, introduced her back into the fold of our mutual friends but she said no.  She had to face her reality.  Odd now that I rethink our last meeting, odd that she said reality and not destiny.  Writing this all down, to whom or really why I don’t know, it strikes me that I didn’t pick up on that.  Perhaps I was too busy being pragmatic and telling myself it was for her sake.

For you see, I did believe she believed what she told me.  Now I believe her and it will no doubt be the death of me.

I won’t suffer as she did, the long nights, the endless pursuit of truth.  I’ll fight the monster as long as I can and hope I have the strength to choose death in the end.

 

 

Lydia Ink / The Strength to Choose by SK Woodiwiss