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gray by slingshotmama

10 Jan

John tried deliberately to remove the stubborn metal dust from his hands, rubbing the soap into a lather, rubbing his skin raw and red. It never worked, his fingers seemed to retain a permanent blue hue, a reminder that he was stuck here. That he would never be free.

He felt old now. His beard, heavy with sweat, made him look more creased and damaged than, maybe, he actually was. He didn’t know anymore. They didn’t celebrate birthdays, or the passing of each year here. John barely managed to keep hold of the number of days that had passed since he came here. Most days, especially today, he forgot where “here” was.

The air was smoky and gray, just like his hands, just as permanent. The sloshing water calmed him, eased his mind, helped him remember. He closed his eyes and thought of her. Her dark eyes, almost black. Her red hair which created a halo of curls around her shining pink face. Her soft belly and pillow-like breasts. He remembered the reverberation of lullabies he felt on his cheek when he rested there, small and fragile. Her scent was sweet and floral and left his nose aching. There were no flowers here, never were. Just endless grays, endless shadows, and always, always the sound of the water.

John’s lips were cracked and dry. Hoping to impart some moisture, he licked them. The taste of salt clawed at his tongue and he was pulled violently from his reverie. It was always the case. Whenever he came close to remembering her name, the exact image of her face instead of just pieces that created the whole, he was stopped. What was stopping him, though, that was the question. But he never had the time to investigate properly, never had the energy. Nearly every hour was taken up with the seemingly useless task of grinding metal, a job designated solely for him. He didn’t know why. He didn’t know where the metal went and never noticed where it came from.

Three thousand six hundred forty five days, give or take hundreds of days. That is how long he’d been here. He laid on his cot, exhausted physically but his memories, or more accurately, the want of them were prying at his mind; a prisoner trying to vain to pull open the bars of his iron cage. He rolled on his side and, after digging his thumb into the decaying wood for the three thousand six hundred forty sixth time, began to count the existing tally marks.

The memories pushed through his dreams, black and curling at the edges as charred photographs. His mother was there, wonderfully large and looking very soft. She was just out of reach. There was a boy, too, small and sharp-looking, bones protruding through thin ivory skin and he was being pulled, pulled away from her by big, hairy, dark-colored hands. He was clawing at her yellow blouse desperately. “Momma,” he was shouting in his little boy voice, “Momma.” Again and again, each time more painful, each time more agonized by the fact that she would not answer. She was not even moving. She was sleeping, too asleep to notice him being taken away. He tried reaching for the little boy, tried to hug him, comfort him. How can you allow something so small to hurt so badly? Why wasn’t she waking? He was so loud. As close as he felt he could not wrap his arms around the boy. And then he wondered… was she dead?

John woke abruptly. His face was wet with sweat and tears. He was shaking. He tried recalling what he had just seen: dark hands, yellow blouse, someone screaming, and then everything disappeared. He was left only the hollow in his heart.

Feeling heavy with sleep, he washed his face.

He drank his coffee.

He arrived to work.

He grinded metal.

He arrived home.

He washed his hands red.

After thumbing the three thousand six hundred forty seventh tally mark into the wall, he turned to his side, listening to the water, his only lullaby, hoping tomorrow he would remember more than his name.

unexpected by slingshotmama

14 Feb

Amy could not help but wonder if she was making a mistake.

Alan was a pudgy man, balding, and smelled often of garlic and onions. He liked numbers and logic and quiet girls like her, girls that didn’t dream or stretch, the ones that would settle… for him. It was part of his plan to look the part, but not have to play it. He wasn’t unkind; he didn’t yell or make demands. Merely, he was a ghost in their home, sometimes leaving dirty socks and underwear in the bathroom or a dirty coffee mug in the sink. If not for these small markers of his presence, she would forget him altogether.

She never had many boyfriends and had never been in love. Settling for this man, for his puzzle that was so perfect and concise was, perhaps, the best she could do. She stared hard at herself and pulled out an old, baby blue handkerchief, also borrowed (three birds with one stone) from Alan’s mother who was as logical as her son. She dabbed gingerly at her doe eyes shiny with tears. Not necessarily sad, she knew, with life like this she would never be happy. She fingered the lace eyelets that adorned her cuff. Her mother insisted the cream shade was more suitable for her voluptuous figure, the white, she said, would highlight every bulge. Great cascades of auburn curls rolled down her shoulder, her pale skin shimmered with the glittery powder her sister dusted all over her, her brown pupils shined brighter than ever contrasted sharply with her ever reddening eyes.

She remembered the night she made the decision to settle. It wasn’t romantic, not the romance she read about, not the kind in movies. Alan shoved his glasses up his greasy nose and, gesturing to last year’s mountain of receipts, invoices, and check stubs, mumbled, mostly to himself, “Getting married could really be a tax benefit.” She lifted her head slightly, sipping a glass of 14 dollar wine, “Sure…” and continued reading about a life she would never have, about a woman she would never be. Had it not been for her mother, they would’ve married at city hall with a couple witnesses, probably co-workers as neither of them had any close friends.

She smoothed the creamy wrinkles across the expanse of her belly and imagined a man who would appreciate it. She tugged the sweetheart neckline down a bit so her ample cleavage would seem a bit more… ample. She looked closely, making sure her mascara hadn’t run, though if it had, it wouldn’t matter. The stranger filled hall of guests would assume she was overwhelmed, weeping tears of joy on the happiest day of her life.

She fingered her lips, smearing pink lip gloss into the creases and corners of their fullness. She was beautiful and for the first time knew it.

Was this mediocre life good enough? Didn’t she deserve more? Do we really ever get what we deserve? Parents didn’t deserve to hold dead children and feel, with heavy hearts, that loss. Good people didn’t deserve to lose their jobs and homes. Starving people didn’t deserve to be hungry. Corporate CEOs didn’t deserve to fry fat pigs at home while their employees worked for pennies a day. Life wasn’t fair and her life was no exception.

She would marry Alan. She would work hard at a job that meant nothing to any one. She would play the role of Suburban Wife, Obedient Daughter, and one day, despite his overall absence – especially in the bedroom, Doting Mother. She saw her life roll out, uncomplicated and uncluttered, and knew Alan would be satisfied with the predictability of it all. No, not happiness, but at least this wouldn’t be difficult.

With one last look in the mirror, she picked up the bouquet of pink lilies and headed for the door. With a deep sigh she pulled the heavy door ajar to find Alan, out of breath, with red eyes, looking greasier than ever.

“Amy, I can’t marry you.”

“Oh…” was the only response she could muster.

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