My class is working through a sort of writing-as-meditation text called Writing the Mind Alive this week which means I’m trawling through the seedy cellars of my own cracked brain, digging up issues and holding them up to the light. Something like what obstetricians do with the placenta. Except grosser. So, anyway, here you will find a bit of fiction inspired by the introspective work I have done thus far. It has nothing at all to do with the Fiction Project; just something I did instead of real homework today and shared with my class, and now you! Enjoy or flame at your leisure :-)
Emily and Karen sat at the table nearest the open French doors. It was their table, their once-a-month meeting place for all of the twenty years since highschool. They drank espressos with complex amendments and meticulous preparation. No longer generic grounds strained through the sputtering drip machine and left to thicken in a glass carafe. Now their mugs were tall handled bowls, tooled for optimum beverage heat retention and mouthfeel. Emily remembered anonymous white cups with cracked glaze and the chalky touch of chipped stoneware against her tongue. Those cups they had used that first time, when Karen had said, “You want a coffee?” and Emily, blushing with the heat of Ma’s predicted recriminations, said, “Sure.”
Their hands touched loosely, fingertips to first knuckles, not quite entwined but unwilling to separate. Emily looked through the window at the broad river beyond and wondered when the café owners replaced the plastic Proctor Silex with the stainless Rancilio beast. Was it before or after “half-caff” meant anything? Before this part of the river grew park benches and poop-bag dispensers, and wiener stands with bright umbrellas crowded the winos away?
A girl on the shore was resisting her parents. Maybe three or four years old, she flopped to the grass, screaming and thrashing. Karen’s face tightened. Judgmental. If little Grace ever did that, Karen would no doubt walk away. Leave the child shouting until she became aware on her own that her personal auditorium had gone silent. The girl on the beach came to her feet, dusting her pink denim skirt. She formed her lips into smile shapes and reached out with her hands, while her pleading eyes ran and ran. Emily looked away.
Karen said, “Is it hard for you to come here? We could go somewhere else.”
Surprised, Emily laughed. “No. Where else would we go?”
“I just mean…. Well, you can see where it happened. That must… be hard for you.” Asking the questions everyone asked: How are you coping? How can I help? The words that follow I’m sorry for your loss.
“It’s okay.” Emily smiled, like the little girl on the beach. The hands on the table entangled briefly then separated, back to pleated laps. Emily watched the creases around Karen’s eyes deepen, the purplish bags go black. Freckles became liver spots over skin that thinned and sagged. Crepe bunting gathered on trembling jaws. Wisps of grey hair fell like streamers, rustling onto the shaved chocolate shakers.
There was a shatter like wind chimes or dishes washed in anger. Shards of thick mug and the cloying stink of chemically modified coffee.
Karen gaped. “Did I say something wrong?”
Emily watched maggots roll on Karen’s blackened tongue. She shook her head, hands pressed tight over her lips, and ran.
© Desi S. Valentine, 2012