Here is my noir fiction entry into the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition.
Scalding water couldn’t expel the moist, woody stench from her nostrils, but that never arrested Laura’s attempts to rid her body of the salty film, sweat dripped and smeared, that coated her delicate frame, the corruption of her mind, after each habitual depravity.
Laura settles onto a brownish pink, salvaged-from-the-junk threadbare vanity stool questioning not her conduct, but if the spaghetti strap of her camisole can be mended. Ribbons of makeup and tears rush to trickle past her jawline—she doesn’t deserve to have them wiped away. In the past, Laura questioned how she was capable of crying for her damned soul any longer. The pain, the shame flows from her, water gushing from the spout to choke the rusted, porcelain cast iron tub with water the equivalent.
The burning pain of the overly hot water fosters her mind to flood her thoughts with Jim. Jim, the light in Laura’s world, a simple man who works hard each day to provide for her. Jim, soft-spoken Jim, impossibly shy, grateful Laura’s in his life, in his arms, in his bed—unaware of her truth, unknowing of her anguish. He picks her wildflowers, takes her to the pond for a dip or the occasional sappy film he doesn’t realize she can’t enjoy, for that will never be her life, her love, her joy.
Laura, ne’er the cocktail waitress, orphan, plain woman Jim believes. Laura, savaged, invaded, distraught, manages through the world her mind demands of shameful, secret, set up, cash-grabbing fornication that drags her senseless to the depths of hell, to remember, to forget, to feel normal.
She weeps for the lost child, the lost woman, as though she is not one and the same. She weeps for Jim, who deserves “honor and cherish,” but will only get cherish from her, she has no honor. And so the tears flow.
Financial gain for servicing her mind and the vulgar consumers thirsting to devour her, all given away to local vagrants, the exiled, the undesirable—monies she could never bear celebrate.
The elite, the shocking, the important, the relatives, the neighbors, the teachers of past, the once trusted, once needed, once loved have used, will use her the same—those who created and enforce her normal. She can’t stop.
Survivor is for the past, it is not her present, her future, her reality—it never was—it was never meant to be. And so she sits in a burial case of torrid water, her reddened skin screaming for relief, and she cries. Cries for the molested girl, the raped woman, the sex addict that craves, needs the abuse to feel normal.
She cries for Jim, whose smile warms her desire to be with him. For Jim, who always comes home filthy from work. For Jim, whose truck is rusting around him while he can’t stop smiling to himself, anticipating Laura’s beauty, Laura’s love, Laura’s presence, for he is truly fortunate.
Jim, the beacon in Laura’s life that keeps her alive, keeps her safe, keeps her from suicide.
by Michaelle Wilde
…tears streaked my cheeks, my nose reddened. I held my hand against my chest trying to calm the fluttering of my heart. Fifty-two years I waited to meet you. The chill of the day faded and harsh fluorescent lighting dismissed the darkness of the hour. Then there you were, in my arms. Tears dulled my vision, fine details lost in joy. You were thinner than I had expected. I’m sure I had embraced you too tightly.
Falling asleep in the early dawn took some doing. The smile on my face and fresh tears the result of an incredibly joyous day. The thought of seeing you again after I rested and for the remainder of my life reverberated in my mind.
On occasion, you would call out in the wee hours, just as you had done the first time we met. I’d sit with you, recalling humorous events in my life—the black bear lounging on the Oldsmobile, your favorite, maybe it was mine too. I would like to share one last tale with you, William.
John had only worked the mine three years when the Army called on him. I’d wait at the station with the others, hoping he would be on the train that week. Then the Western Union came out to Pa’s farm one evening, about two years had passed I suppose. The message was from your grandfather. He’d be home in a couple weeks and wanted to marry just as soon as he stepped foot off the rail. If I agreed to marry him and Pa found the arrangement favorable, I was to be ready.
Mama altered the passed on white dress that I would wear and Pa worked to convince Pastor Massee to marry us outside the church—he couldn’t of course. Everyone at the station walked with us to the church. Our wedding lifted many weary spirits in the backwoods that day.
Your grandfather gave me that scarf on our wedding night. He’d bought a small box to keep it safe during his journey home. He said he was determined to get that scarf to me in good order. Oh, it isn’t much to look at now, but in its day, that scarf had been the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. There isn’t much pretty in the foothills of Appalachia. I may not have had a wedding ring, but I had that scarf. And I wore it every outing.
When you were very young, you’d poke at the scarf. The smoothness always quieted your tears. Before you began walking, you’d pinch the rolled hem between two chubby fingers, tugging until I warned that you’d undo the hem.
I expect you’ve no memory of the scarf, but for me, it’s a reminder every day of the great love John and I shared. And you, a result of that love. When life offers you respite, William, take the scarf out and remember me. I love you always.
“That is the end of Ann Margaret Walker’s last will and testament.” Mr. Henderson, Ann Margaret’s lawyer, opened his desk drawer placing the audio recorder inside then pulled a bulging manila envelope from the safe behind his desk. “Mr. Walker, your grandmother asked me to give this to you personally on this day.” Mr. Henderson placed the contents of the envelope in front of William.
William Walker laid his hand upon the scorched lid of a rosewood box. “Her last words,” he choked, tears burning his eyes. “I thought she was talking about someone named Rose and what she would do. It has pained me that I could not understand what Rose would do or what Grandma wanted me to know.”
“Ann Margaret told me that this rosewood box and its contents were among the few articles she could salvage after a cluster of wildfires swept through the valley where they lived.”
“My grandfather died in that fire, saving their baby, my mother.”
Mr. Henderson nodded in sympathy. “Yes.”
William fought to speak clearly, to not burst out in anguish. “She died last year. I have no one left.”
Mr. Henderson walked around the desk to William and gripped his shoulder. “Open the box,” he encouraged William.
On a cushion of threadbare red velvet lay the faint blue silk scarf, its pink flower petals barely discernable from their once green leaves.
“Take it out, look at it, son.” William gingerly lifted the scarf from the box. Though faded from years of use, William could find only one small defect in the scarf. An area of the hem, no longer than a grain of pudding rice, was unrolled and the material had begun to fray. William smiled for the first time in days; for he knew that it had been his “chubby little fingers” that had worked the hem loose.
“There’s a note, William.”
“Would you read it to me, Mr. Henderson?” Williams gaze remained on the hem.
“Certainly.” Mr. Henderson unfolded the piece of unaged note paper and read aloud, “Four of my great loves are now together. Keep them safe, William.”
William looked to Mr. Henderson, puzzled. “What does she mean?”
“Look in the box, William.”
William drew a cracked yellowed photograph from the box. The unsmiling young couple in the photo held an infant. On the back of the picture was written, John William Walker.
“So the four things she loved were Grandpa, my mother, the scarf, and this box.”
“Not the box, William John Walker. You.”