Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Face in the Dust

My night often unfolds in a similar pattern, with the unwinding of routine or the commencement of the same necessary rituals. I walk home, turning right or left when appropriate. I cut the street between the third tree, because it's fastest. Past the house with too many flowers I look at the store with wide empty windows, and think "I like those". If it is cold, I wear a jacket, and if it is warm, I may sweat enough to think, "God It's hot". Sometimes I shuffle faster passed the allies. Sometimes I pick leaves from the bushes just to tear them in my hands. Once I get in my house I throw my briefcase on the floor in the foyer, letting the papers and appointments between those leather snaps just sleep. Those printed words can sit in the boxed darkness tonight, because in the morning at my office I will unleash them, and they will pull me like gravity.

It had been a day, not a particularly long or stressful day, but one which made my mind white blank, while my cunning hands mechanically put the cubed ice in a glass, and poured the Chivas Regal scotch to the rim. I drank the scotch and opened the kitchen shades. The windows were already open and the crisp air brushed against me like a cat longing attention. The wind breathing into my kitchen is the closest feeling of company I'll care to count, and the sound of ice clanking in my scotch is the only nightly conversation my kitchen walls will hear. Sometimes when the windows are down, I'll hear the couple next door screaming hell at each other. I can't ever make out the argument, but they yell and the walls bang with thrown pans and shoes, then pelts of words like knives. They always makeup just as ravenously though, each time closer to the brink of disaster. "Damn fools", I say to my scotch glass when I hear it all. The ice clanks back.

She threw a glass at me once. It wasn't scotch though, it was a wine glass. There had been a purple stain on the kitchen wall for years afterward. I painted over it, but the paint layers couldn't make me forget the exact spot below the window where the wine dripped onto the floor, and the exact way she breathed so furiously in that moment; like she was trapped inside herself. I didn't kiss her though. I didn't ravenously makeup with her. I said words instead, released them into the room like a balloon escaped towards clouds, never to be retrieved. I came into my bed late that night, and didn't touch her when she cried. I drowned her out of my brain and went over the next day's schedule in my head. It's been ten years since she died and I can still hear her next to me sometimes while I lay in bed, making that awful snotty noise.

I closed the windows and poured another glass of scotch, this time with a dash of water. My reflection from the glass blurred before me, "Old man", I said, "Don't think about that!" Loosening my tie, I walked down the shadowed hallway and up the stairwell towards my bedroom. At the end of the hallway I could see that the door to my room was partly open and the light was on inside. I never leave the lights on in the morning, and I always close my bedroom door.I stood silent, cautiously holding my glass. Slowly I moved to the hall closet, reached behind the coats and pulled my rifle from the corner. I crept towards the open door, moving slowly passed the smiling eyes framed in the portraits on the wall. The photos of her, sitting by my side, haunted every cautioned step towards the lit room.

I opened the door with the riffle barrel. The old hinges creaked. The windows were both wide open, and the white curtains blew with the wind furiously. The bedside lamp was on. I walked slowly to the closet, opening it in a wisp. Empty. I moved to the bed, raising the bed skirt with the barrel, I knelt down quickly. Aside from a single storage box, the floor was empty. The air was cold, and the wind howled lowly like whispered breath moving from one octave to the next in a panic. I sat on the bed, turned off the bedside lamp, and drank the glass of scotch in one ravenous swallow. I fell backwards onto the cool cotton, my rifle across my chest.

The whirled curtains made dancing shadows on the walls. Above me, a dusty configuration on the ceiling fan created an apparition of a face. The face, as my imagination manifested, was opened mouth and wide-eyed. It was a face of surprise. I hadn't dusted the fan, and had taken the habit of talking to the dust face.

"Who was here?" I asked.

The shadowed face, it's open mouth paralyzed and permanently appalled, gaped back at me.

It wasn't the first time something peculiar had happened in this room. The old floor boards crept in the night. Taps on the window had woken me before. Sometimes the door closed and opened. One night I came home, and the bed covers were disheveled and unmade. The bottom cover was even un-tucked from the mattress.

I look at the dust face, and I know it sees all. Like God himself. It watches me while I lay. It saw the covers un-tuck. It saw the light turn on.

"What does she want?" I ask it.

The moon rose, illuminating the walls, and splashing silver and grey on the shadows in the rectangular room. My eyelids, heavy with scotch and cool air, belted closed and strained for sleep. My drifting brain, elevated to a minor drunk, dizzily surveyed the notions of my life like passing scenes on a Ferris wheel. There was my job. The appointments and clients, court dates. A crisp new suit. Flashes of my watch with the time. Me, answering the phone, "It's unacceptable. Yes, of course. I'll see you at 8 a.m sharp." Hanging up the phone. Jotting down a note, importantly.

There She was. Before everything. Before the daily tension, and the courtesy small talk, the silence... She wore a plain blue dress the day I met her. It fell just above her knee, and flowed gracefully on her pale skin when she walked across the cafe. She sat at the table parallel to me. With perfect posture, she tucked loose strands of dull brown hair behind her ear. Her elegant hand moved the spoon in her coffee, mixing the cream and sugar clockwise. Her eyes followed her book, but looked up towards me awkwardly every few pages.

And there She was again.. mixing the cream into her coffee at our kitchen table, in the same way years later. She was still a ghost to me now. The silence between us became tension, tension became annoyance, annoyance became hate. Our marriage was a wound ignored. Soon I hated that way she moved the spoon. I hated that way she sat so straight in the chair. I couldn't stand the sound of her gulping the coffee, and clearing her throat. "Ehhhuuum".

She always looked at me so thoughtfully, like she was reading a screen too far away. I used to like that mystique about her. Eventually it made me feel like she was appraising my every move. "What are you looking at!" I'd yelled to her. I'd pour a glass of scotch, I'd talk on the phone with clients, and she'd look at me with those dark discerning eyes. "I can have a damn drink if I want one." I'd whisper. "Ehhhumm". She'd clear her throat. The sound of it made me sick.

And there I was as a child. Sitting outside the principals office, my arms crossed and my feet swinging below the chair. The secretary shook her head at me. I'd pushed Becky McPhee off the monkey bars. She was just sitting there next to me, peering out towards the playground. I pushed her thoughtlessly. She skinned her knee. "What made you push her?" the principal asked me. "I don't know," I'd said. I didn't know. I just didn't like her. I didn't like her in the same way I didn't like mustard.

"She reminds me of mustard." I told my father later that night. The excuse cost me a belt spanking, and an hour long lesson from my mother about Jesus, and the parable of the mustard seed. "Now go kneel by your bed and say ten Hail Mary's so God will forgive you." My mother told me. She watched me kneel, my hands together towards the sky. I looked up, reverently. Really I wasn't praying. I was wondering if God was peering down at me and shaking his head, in the same way the secretary had in the office. "I still don't like mustard..." I thought to myself.

And there I was, sitting at my desk one night. I'd accomplished the better half of the Chivas Regal, and I sorted through a clients' file. The room was dim and my forehead sweat anxiety and scotch. It was a high profile case. Arthur Gooden, an affluent Real Estate agent was awaiting trial for first degree murder. One of his residential listings had burned down. His wife was in the master bedroom. She was his partner in business, and known around town as a cold, pushy shrew. However, her mind for business management was brilliant. He was the face of Gooden Realty. She was the backbone. Now that sales smile was all over the news, and the district attorneys' case had evidence of arson, and an eye witnesses of Arthur leaving the estate. He did have an alibi though, and with that I calculated and planned, the nuts and bolts turned in my brain like a machine. I sat there in my desk that night, building a manipulation of words, a persuasion of his character and reputation... sips of scotch barreled down my throat like gasoline into a Greyhound. It fueled my jotted notes, plans for Arthur's redemption.

She walked passed my office door, back and forth several times. Her dark eyes darted into the dim room, watching me work, until finally she crept through the doorway, a cup of tea in her hand. She wore a floor length white night gown. "Ehhuuuum." She set the tea on my desk. Her eyes converging with the papers before her, and her lips slightly open, on the brink of words. "Well what is it?" I said, irritated. "Here is your tea, huuusband." She said. She called me 'husband' on occassion, with a patronizing tone. She did it to emphasize some sort of duty I'd neglected. Some sort of passive way for her to tell me I'd failed her.

"Fine. Now please leave me be, I have work to do, wife." I said. I laughed furiously, for just a moment. Her skin glowed in the dark room, almost matching the pearl shade of her night gown. She'd taken to drinking a bottle of Merlot in place of her dinners, I'd noticed. Her cheek bones, high and darting in hunger now, so emphatically adorned her sneered lips. And that look, that disdainful look, she gave it now, castigating me to my core. "I know you. I know what your 'working' on. That man. That murderer. Your defending him, and you know that he's guilty." Her lips hadn't moved, but I saw the words in her eyes, judging me, scorning me with each piercing gaze. "Get out. You're worthless. You're barren..." I whispered furiously at her. My fingers clenched the desk wood.

And there I was the day after that, waking alone in my bed. I showered and shaved. I pressed my crisp white shirt. I fixed my tie, perfectly. I slipped on my leather shoes. She must have passed out drunk on the couch again, I'd thought. I made the bed and closed the bedroom door. I walked down the stairs, grabbing my brief case and securing its' contents. The downstairs bathroom light was on, and in the silent house a dripping tap echoed from the open door. The house was dry and dark that morning. I walked into the bathroom.

There She was. She hung from the shower rod, turning slowly and gracefully, like a charm on a music box, a foot above the floor. Her skin so pale, it hurt my eyes. And her face, with that same thoughtful expression, was now empty and blank. The black eyes arrested me, "look what you've done," they said. I turned away from the body, and looked at my reflection in the mirror. I fixed my hair with my hands. I looked at my watch. It was 6:26. My green eyes were footed by black bags. I contorted my face and huffed my lungs, digging for mourning, for shock. Stopping all efforts, I brought my eyes close to the mirror, releasing a great smile."You're running late." I told myself. I took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. I turned off the bathroom light, leaving the door open and behind me.

And suddenly there was a tapping noise, constant and loud. It bumped me into a half sleep, and the dreamed Ferris wheel scenes collided with the reality of the tapping. My eyes opened, and strained to adjust. Above me in the dust, the face appeared contorted to discern. It was her likeness suddenly; her dark thoughtful eyes and sullen cheeks. Her mouth small and closed. The apparition peered at me, her discern and likeness intensified. My heart sped, and the feelings of hatred and guilt came rushing back to me in tidal waves.

"WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT!" I screamed into the night. In a thoughtless motion I picked up the rifle from my chest, and fired it 3 times at the face on the fan. The shots rang in echoes after, and the bullet holes crumbled chunks of ceiling onto my bed, hitting me like chalky hail in the face. The fan quickly dismantled from the ceiling fixture, and crashed down on me like a great spider descending on prey. Paint made falling coughs, with a sound like the clearing of a throat, while bits of ceiling and fan shredded down from the smoky hole.

The room became silent and dry. The tapping sound of blood dripping onto the hardwood floor collided with mental drifts back to Ferris wheel scenes.

And there She was again. That discerning face turned coy, slightly smiling, her blue dress flowed in the wind.

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