Author Topic: You're Never Alone (Short Story--Second Half) Literary/Romance 2,407 Words  (Read 994 times)

Offline Akemp

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Jasmine Fields

Lake Michigan had mild waves that summer afternoon. The blueness of the skyline was vibrant, but still ordinary. More beachgoers had just arrived as Blake finished rubbing the sunscreen on my back. I didn’t want to argue, but it needed to be said.

               “You should have talked to me beforehand.”

               “Let’s not, okay?”

               I turned around. Blake still had too much lotion on his hands. Taking his palms in my own, I rubbed the extra cream into my skin. 

               “This won’t be a fight,” I said.

               “We fight every goddamn week.”

               “Because you do things without telling me. Next time my mom and her husband offer you money, tell me, so I can refuse it.” 

               Blake stood. His body cast a shadow over me. “I’m trying my best. They offered us an anniversary gift and we’re struggling. Bills need to be paid.” 

“It’s not that simple,” I snapped.

             “Why the hell not?”

             “Please sit down.” 

“Whatever.” He took off, sprinting towards the water.

As the heat of the summer day crashed down, my feet burned on the hot sand as I ran to the lake. I knew Blake was right. We did fight every week.   

In the water, a wave consumed me, and then another. I swam up, and Blake was nowhere to be seen. And that was okay.

***

The event that did it was a date night, ironically enough. 

A mutual friend had given us free tickets to a local band that I never liked, but it was a night out. Blake looked handsome in his black dress shirt. Even though it was freezing, I had freshly shaved legs to look good in the red bandage dress I wore. During the car ride, we laughed about some silly incident from our wedding. Everything started nicely.

Inside the crowded bar, I ordered a craft beer, Blake got a whiskey sour for himself. The music pounded and a stringy haired singer belted out vulgar lyrics. An hour into the night, I regretted the pumps I wore. 

A couple we knew from school had arrived and we drank more, even though Blake and I were on a strict budget. The pounding of the loud speakers vibrated all the way to our distant table. The couple blabbered about their upcoming European trip. I grabbed Blake’s hand and gave it two quick squeezes, our signal to wrap things up. He withdrew his hand. He kept blabbering like some teen girl, so it was settled, we stayed. 

 After another round of drinks we couldn’t afford, my girlfriend and I swam through the crowd. Near the hallway of the restrooms, eerily close, words lurked from behind. 

“Hey baby, what’s your name? Let me get you a drink. Hey baby--”

Inside the bathroom, my friend touched my shoulder. “Honey, what’s wrong with you and Blake?”

“What are you talking about?”

Embarrassed, she shook her head. We went to our own stalls. On the toilet, my head swirled, and I felt nauseated, and my eyes burned, and my feet swelled in those damn shoes, and I wanted to go home. After I finished, I struggled to stand. Blake and I needed to leave. 

My friend and I started the trek back to our table. A linebacker of a man used his heft to block my way. He said:

“Hey baby, you lookin’ damn good. Im’ma about to buy you a drink. What you want?”

A sinking feeling took over. “Not tonight,” I said. I tried to walk past. He blocked my way. The lights blurred everything and my eyes couldn’t latch onto my friend. 

“Baby, I’m getting you a Long Island. What’s your name, sexy?” The brown leather of his jacket rustled as he moved in closer and placed his right hand on my back.

“I’m married.” I slurred the words. 

“I believe you,” he said. His hand slithered down my back. The bar merged into a poorly lit bedroom, and my childhood bed was in the corner, I had on Minnie Mouse pajamas. The door cracked open, my stepfather. “And I believe,” he said, waking me from my trance, “that your husband don’t know what to do with all this. Am I right?” 

His big paw rested on my ass.

Instead of vomit, words spewed out. “Fuck off!”

The crowd parted as I stumbled back to my table. My friend told Blake something. He stormed over. 

I grabbed him by the shirt collar. 

“Stop it,” I pleaded, “take me home.” 

“He touch you?” Blake screamed.

“It’s over,” I screamed back. “Let’s go!” 

It all happened in flashes. Blake went up to the huge man and pushed him against a chair. The pedestrians ran. The man’s fist was so big. The smack of skin on skin flooded my ears. Blake’s head jerked back. His body hit the corner of a table. Blood, Blake’s blood, flowed down his forehead. Now the monster was on top of Blake, and I didn’t see him anymore.

A scuffle erupted when a couple of bouncers jumped in. The monster escaped into the night. Blake didn’t move. My friends and I helped him up.

Outside, he regained consciousness and spoke a little. Spectators insisted on calling an ambulance. Blake stubbornly shook his swelling head. I stayed silent about the emergency room. Neither of us had health insurance. 

Back at home, with an ice pack on his jaw, I felt something rise. I still wanted to puke, but nothing came out. We glared at one another.

“Why’d you do it?” I yelled. “I told you it was over. And you do some stupid hood shit.”

“What the fuck else was I supposed to do?” 

“Go home! Or call the cops.”

He took the ice pack off his face. Nasty bruises were already appearing. “Nobody touches my wife. And why the fuck did you wear that slutty outfit tonight?”

“So this is my fault now? You always fucking turn shit around,” I yelled. I took a few steps closer to him. It was almost here.

“You spent money we don’t have on stupid drinks. And then you parade your body around in some nasty dress. And now look what happened,” he howled.

“What happened,” I said, knowing there was no going back, “is you got your ass beat in front of a 100 people. He made you whimper, like an animal.”

“You’re a filthy cunt.”

“And you’re a bitch who can’t fight.”

Blake, once again defeated, plopped down on the couch. With his head in his hands, he whispered, “What now?”

I crossed my arms and shrugged. But even though I wasn’t ready to say it, I knew what was next.

Jasmine B.

Four hours to decide. The contract needed to be signed and I still didn’t know if I could take a sabbatical from the college. And Darius, my husband, just wanted me to be happy, no matter the cost.

I slowed to a near stop around the corner. A light snowfall had begun. Michigan was having another harsh winter. Penelope and Jade had two snow days from school last week. 

Going into the community college parking lot, I almost passed my faculty spot. The freezing walk to the arts building couldn’t distract from the prospect of a photo shoot in the Middle East, albeit for lousy pay. Mount Sinai Church, my potential employer, would cover my expenses. And most importantly, all ownership of the shots would transfer to me, finally making my portfolio valuable. I stopped at the entrance, terrified I’d botch my last chance.

In the hallway, a former student said “morning” and I gave a fake-ass smile. Middle age wasn’t making me nicer. 

The last classroom in the hallway was mine. Thirty students total, only three had any discernible talent. I took a big breath. There was one reason I liked being an adjunct professor to youth obsessed with experimental art, those three students.

***

My officemate, a culinary instructor, was not around when Karla arrived. Fifty minutes were left. A decision was needed. Karla, still petite, sat across from me. How that old woman hadn’t aged a day in 20 years puzzled me. 

“Jazzy, the pastors are expecting a call from you,” Karla said. 

“I know.” 

Only reason I got the job offer was because of Karla’s recommendation. 

“The situation is tricky. If I complete the rest of this school year, they’ll change my faculty status to full-time. Hell, I might get tenure.”

A high-pitched wind crashed against the window. Large snowflakes blew everywhere. Karla’s eyes were locked on me. 

“Is this what you want?” she asked, making a hand gesture around the modest office. 

“Listen, you know better than I do how hard it is out there. And taking a month off from work just isn’t in the cards for me,” I said. 

The old woman’s gaze was too much. I averted my eyes onto the frozen terrain outside. Windchill was below zero. For the hundredth time I wondered what the temperature was in Bethlehem.   

“Jazzy, and don’t answer this if I’m getting too personal, but Darius...isn’t his practice still booming? I thought you were fine financially.”

I nodded. What she was getting at was true. Darius’ dental practice was good. Fuck it, the practice was thriving. The house, the two cars, the girls' private school were largely paid for by him. Years ago, while laid up in a hospital bed following the arrival of Penelope, I swore to myself I’d be professionally stable by age 40. I’d be 42 next month. 

“Hear from Blake? I did.”

“You know we haven’t spoken in years,” I said. Karla shrugged her shoulders, forcing me to ask. “What’s he up to?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. I got a birthday card in the mail from him with no return address. He wished me well and said he sold some work he’s proud of,” and as an afterthought, “he’s still a film devotee.”

After Blake disappeared, his name became forbidden. Not remembering was easier. 

“So he’s selling work,” I said, partially proud, and partially something else. 

“That’s what he wrote,” Karla said.

The Middle East screamed for my own lens. 

***

 I swished the Merlot around in my glass. Penelope stayed seated by me at the table, completing an arithmetic worksheet. Seven years ago, when Darius and I were deciding on names, I mentioned “Penelope” in passing. Darius loved it. That was the name Blake and I agreed on if we ever changed our minds about kids, and if we had a daughter. 

My rule was broken, and I was remembering him. Penelope gave me a random, goofy smile, then went back to work. Darius walked past and squeezed my shoulder. I understood I was lucky. That was worth remembering. 

I had declined the job offer from Mount Sinai. 

Outdoors, the snow accumulated. This meant the technical contrasts in shooting light on top of snow could be covered next week. Long as I had a few good students, there was value. It made sense. I glanced at my oversize modern kitchen, and my attentive husband lounging on the couch, and my girl, who was funny without trying, and I knew I was lucky. That was my truth.

  The bitter wind howled. For only a minute, maybe two, I imagined being trapped outside. Could anyone hear me? If I screamed with all my strength, would anyone hear me?   

Blake

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change/Courage to change the things I can/Wisdom to know the difference. 

Another meeting concluded. Ordinarily I jumped out of my chair to escape the delusional banter from these losers. I wasn’t one of them. Even so, for the first time in six months, I stayed and daydreamed. I didn’t notice Travis sit next to me.

Travis, a Vietnam vet, sighed loudly to get my attention. “Fields,” he said, “you didn’t talk tonight. What’s your number?”

“174 days,” I said. “I’m sober, Travis. But thanks anyhow.”

“And how’s the job?” Travis gently stretched. I knew he couldn’t fully extend his right arm. For all the months I had known him, he was evasive on whether the injury occurred in Nam or was something connected to being old and waiting for death. 

“My job is steady. But you know that.” 

“Naw, you lookin’ different tonight. But if you’re going to be a clam, I won’t pry.”

“My nights are sleepless. That’s what the job does to me. The horror lingers. Don’t have much else to say.” I leaned forward to stand. This would be another night of walking the streets of East L.A. 

“Add positive pictures,” Travis recommended. “The things we’ve seen don’t get erased.” The old man closed his eyes. That was the first time he indicated we shared a trauma.     

***

The members of the Los Angeles Police Department grimaced when I walked onto the scene. No one was ever happy to see me, and I couldn’t blame them. The idea of preventing harm had vanished. 

The objective of the job was all about the details. For example, the brown carpet stained with blood was always easy to point a camera at, or the broken door handle, that’s another easy photo. The detectives and forensic team covered it. What separated the great photographers from the average were the details.   

In the upper left corner of a wall was a vent. While framing my angle, I applied the zoom feature to get a tighter shot of a loose screw on the cover. Later on, when the murder weapon was found in the vent, my superiors at the LAPD offered praise. The details were what separated the great from the average. The photos I took of a caved-in face that belonged to a grandfather of four were routine. There was nothing special about overview shots of a corpse. 

***

“I could taste the warmth of the whiskey as it flowed down my throat. The memory consumed me. I could see the bartender mixing the lemon juice and sugar. Ordering a whiskey sour on the rocks feels like being home with mama, before she became a fucking drunk,” I said.

Travis nodded. The turnout tonight was light, just a few other addicts. 

“Outside, in the blinding sunlight, right by a palm tree, was a Ford Tauras. I owned a purple one, in a past life. Anyway, going into a bar for my job was hell. But I’m still here. On day 187. I’m still living.” 

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: You're Never Alone (Short Story--Second Half) Literary/Romance 2,407 Words
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2020, 02:25:30 PM »
Bits of this are good, but the narrative wanders all over the place. I couldn't keep track of what was happening, when it happened, who it happened to or why we even needed to know it happened. By the end,  the constant head-hopping made this virtually impossible to enjoy. My advice - back to the drawing board and stick to the elements of the story that are relevant and drive the plot forwards.