Veiled

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Magritte’s veiled lovers had graced her walls for quite some time now. They took her back to the time when they believed in nakedness and transparence; when they sought mates who could peel each layer away and display admiration and awe at each revelation.

They believed in mysteries back then, and surprises. They hoped for secret gardens and wondrous treasures around every hidden corner. Their fevered brains found lush oases and sparkling streams in believable mirages.

Hopes were never dashed and surprises could never be unpleasant and so they sought surprises; they lifted up a rock here and peeked behind some fronds there, they heard a bird chirping and held butterflies in their palms.

That didn’t last too long.

The world sought warriors, they soon realized, not lovers or dreamers, and warriors needed camouflage.

It wasn’t difficult to learn how to hide, concealment came easy and made for better first impressions, they learnt. They found masquerades alluring and not for the mystery anymore, nor the thrill of discovering what lay beyond.

They veiled themselves away. They didn’t want to look into each other’s eyes, to spot the beast that lurked within. They hid behind fake laughter and feigned concern, their smiles never reaching their eyes and their hearts never touching. They loved being masked lovers, loved the artful mastery of disguise. They loved the colors of their veils and they loved who they appeared to be. They knew deep down that they were equally adept at concealment.

The lovers grace her walls now as a reminder that veils need to stay in place that they must do what they can, to keep them secure, to keep them in place.

She has seen them slip and she has been unnerved by the ugliness revealed.

She has been confounded by emergent contempt and has reeled from resentments unleashed.

Most of all, she has ruminated about the incipient desire to run and hide and to seek enormous distances from the rent and vanishing veils and the starkness of naked selves.

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The message was blinking on the screen as she watched, transfixed. The words started swimming around on the page, drifting in and out of focus while she sat, paralyzed. They leapt out at her – HUMAN THOUGHT – growing bigger in her line of vision and taking over completely.

If they weren’t going to be thinking how would she monitor their thoughts? The Grand Triumvirate (TGT) had no tolerance for excuses. “Excuses” were a fascinating discovery. When humans were in trouble, when they hadn’t done or said what they were supposed to have done, when they broke promises or commitments they could use excuses and get away with almost anything. TGT had greeted this discovery of hers with great amazement and equal disdain.

Now they would think she had learnt the art of making excuses from her subjects of study. If the humans weren’t going to be thinking for an entire week how and what could she report back? This could jeopardize the whole project.

The World Wide Web had offered some amazing behavioral insights. She had seen them change and evolve and accept willingly the leashes that bound them to their laptops, computers and various hand-held devices. Laptops had replaced the bedtime book and people on the streets always appeared to be talking to themselves. They had little devices hidden behind their ears and a tiny microphones dangling around their necks. She had ridden with them on trains and buses, noticing their deep involvement with their gadgets. No one paid attention to their fellow travelers in this journey of life, it was a wonder they still needed to get up and go somewhere every morning! People didn’t seem to need or want flesh and blood people anymore. Why, just last night she had watched a news snippet on TV about the International Pornographers Convention and their optimism about the new phenomenon of Pocket Porn. Cell phones could now provide titillation on demand! Well, well! Back home she had learnt about the outcome of such utter dependence on technology. It had taken them eons to recover from its soul-destroying effects.

Her efforts to understand humans had led to her becoming an avid chatter. She chatted around the clock, interacting with people all over the world. Loneliness was rampant. Real relationships had deteriorated or were somehow standing simply because their dissolution was a nuisance that wouldn’t add anything meaningful to the their lives. Clean breaks were just as meaningless as unions. And now it was all virtual. People were virtually stimulating the same areas of the brain that got stimulated during the mating ritual simply by interacting across chat lines. She was very amused with the “a/s/l” inquiries that came her way each day as some lonely soul somewhere, on this vast blue planet, reached out to “touch” someone across high bandwidth cables.

So how was this world going to react to a shut down of the Web and subsequently human thoughts? It did cross her mind that this was perhaps a hoax, but her research validated its authenticity. She was worried for herself. The TGT would demand her return and immediate execution if she failed to send in her weekly report. They would never believe all thoughts were going to be shutdown for a week. They would think it was her ploy to take that vacation to the 12th moon of Jupiter. They believed human tendencies were contagious and disdainfully cited the example of a renegade predecessor of hers who had gone around sporting an S on his suit as he flew around making people wonder if he was a bird or a plane.

She needed to think and fast. The shut down would happen in a few hours. She decided to take a walk on the beach to clear her head. There still was time.

She walked along the shore watching the waves thinking about her future, when suddenly she saw it. It jumped out of the water, a gargantuan beast, before gliding back in. A plume of water shot out of its head. What was that? Could it be? This was wonderful! She had been reading about these sea creatures, there was some data that they were almost as, if not more, intelligent than the humans she had ended up studying all these years. It all came back to her now – The Discovery Channel – she remembered the Whale. They were even said to have a language of their own, a Whale song! Her problem was solved.

She summoned up all her energy, and saw the sands shift beneath her slowly disappearing feet, her legs turning into that mighty tailfin as she slid, smoothly into the calm waters.

She was going to be reporting on whales this week.

Short Story

“These are the latest”, she said as she flicked the envelope toward Josie. Angie’s cheeks were tear-stained and her fingers shook as she lit another cigarette. The packet had arrived in the mail today, another set of photographs that Mr Desoto, her private investigator had sent.. It was Joe assisting a long haired blonde woman out of the limousine. The picture was grainy but not unclear. There were other pictures of Joe holding the door open for the same woman or enjoying a meal at a sidewalk café. She had yelled at Mr Desoto for never being able to capture a clear view of the woman on film.

She had spent hours poring over all the photographs she had collected. She had scanned them in her computer and had invested hundreds of dollars in imaging software. It had become an obsession. She had suspected Joe of cheating on her ever since he had become more attentive in bed and had taken to having flowers delivered at the office every other day. Her coworkers were going gaga over the long stemmed roses, orchids and other floral arrangements that had made her cubicle resemble a florist’s. But this was highly unusual behavior. They had been married fifteen years and Joe had rarely showered her with cards, candy, flowers or jewelry in all their years together. She didn’t mind, she saw herself as a practical woman who only yearned for these things when she saw other well-loved women exclaiming with glee all around her.

“You have no need for artifice”, he liked telling her and she had laughed such comments away. So this was puzzling, to say the least.

She had also been noting his late work hours and the sudden proliferation of work assignments that required frequent travel. She has deliberated long and hard and then, on a whim, picked out Desoto Investigations from the yellow pages. Mr Desoto had been tailing Joe for two months now. She was convinced Joe was having an affair. She wasn’t sure who the object of his affection was, but she felt she was close and that the answer was there, staring her in the face, she just needed to concentrate.

Josie scanned each picture again. She felt the color drain from her face. She looked up at Angie and said, “I don’t know what to say Ange. These pictures are not very clear. You can hardly make out anything. Besides, I could never imagine Joe being unfaithful, especially after all these years!”

“Get a hold of yourself Ange, I can’t see you doing this to yourself!”

“I don’t know, Josie, I just don’t know! I really trusted him….never thought for a moment that he would do this to me! The saddest part is that our married life has really perked up! He has been so attentive, so sensitive. I am convinced now it’s guilt!”

Josie saw the tears brimming again and rested her hand on Angie’s, “Maybe she is just an acquaintance Ange! You are letting your imagination run away with you. And this Desoto guy is just making it worse. I think he is a charlatan, a bottom feeder. You have to cut him loose Ange! He is messing you up!”

“I don’t think so. I have really studied these pictures. The woman looks so familiar to me, yet I can’t place her. That hair, her style. I wish these pictures were clearer!”

Josie felt nauseous. She had an insane desire to leave the table at the restaurant where they had met for lunch. She wanted to bolt and was just about to excuse herself for the powder room when the waiter arrived. He smiled at her and said, “Ms Greene! So nice to see you again! Two days in a row. How fortunate we are!”

Angie looked at her as Josie flashed an icy smile back at the waiter, “Why John, you must be confused! I haven’t been here in awhile! Excuse me!” She got up and walked to the powder room while Angie stared after her, with a perplexed John looking on. She ordered herself a martini and told John that she needed a few more minutes.

But instead of reading the menu she pulled out the pictures from the packet again and flicked through them until she came upon the one where the restaurant awning read – Café Un Deux Trois.
That’s where they were today. The blonde hairstyle, the clothes, the shoes, were all pieces of a puzzle that suddenly fell neatly into place. She had been confiding in Josie for many months now, sharing her deepest, darkest secrets and more recently her suspicions about Joe’s infidelity.

She saw things with crystal clarity now. The music changed to a familiar old tune, “When you left me all alone/At the record shop/ Told me you were going out/For a soda pop…” A favorite oldie. She saw Josie walking back from the restroom, steps resolute, a decision reached.

“Angie, I don’t know how to tell you this. Actually I have told you about it, many times. I am hopelessly in love. It started that day at your fifteenth anniversary party. Remember when you had retired early, with a headache? Joe had spent a lot of time organizing the party. He was heartbroken when you left. I found him standing alone on your porch, drinking. He talked about that spark that was missing and one thing led to another….this is it for me Ange, I have found love. I am glad it’s out in the open. We should all try to move on with our lives now.”

The wrought iron chair scraped the floor and fell backward as Angie got up with a start, she walked out of the restaurant with whatever dignity she could muster as Josie picked an olive out of her hair and wiping the martini from her face looked on at Angie’s retreating figure. John was standing nearby, napkin in hand….

Peace

The hot sun is suddenly unbearable, the desert sands torture on his blistered, bleeding feet. There is no recourse, no respite. He has walked for miles, even his footprints erased by the shifting sands. Perhaps he has simply been walking in circles, there’s no way to tell. The realization leaves him paralyzed. Another step isn’t possible. He is drained of will. He just wants to give up the fight. What was he fighting for? The war wounds are there, obvious, bleeding, scars abound. But what was the battle all about?

He had put on a fine show for his companions along the way. Shared many jokes, tall tales and nights of passion. They had watched the starlit skies above and marveled at their places in the universe. They had shared their joys and sorrows and traversed an arc or two together. Then some hastened their steps others fell behind, while he was left alone, once again. Alone with his thoughts, his hopes, his dreams within his living dream.

He wants to sit down now, to let the shifting dunes cover him, entomb him. His reality has spiraled down and converged to a pinpoint of pain, its origins within the blisters on his feet. That is all he is, that’s all he feels. Enough is enough and there has to be a time for the struggle to end. Maybe if he just sat down, stopped fighting, stopped resisting, the blisters would heal.

He closes his eyes and lies down. At peace. No struggle, no strife. He feels the others around him, in constant motion, running after nameless, faceless dreams and visions. They don’t feel their blisters yet.

Grandfather’s Coat

That coat, its cavernous pockets, the hidden treasures within, it graced Benny’s Scarecrow now.

My hands were always cold. My earliest memories are of times I’d slip my tiny, cold hands into his and ask, “Grandpa, how come your hands are so warm?” He would tell me his coat pockets had special hand-warming powers. He would ask me to see for myself and every time I tried I would come up with candy bars or other trinkets I fancied. The coat had inside pockets as well, for his books, notebooks, pens and pencils. Grandpa’s coat was a source of eternal fascination for me.

I loved our long walks through the woods, the fields, hand in hand stopping by Pirates’ Cove. His binoculars would come out of those pockets so we could watch the Peregrine falcons perched atop the rocks or circling up above. We walked by the scarecrow in the field, its arms extended in mid-speech, exhorting crows to stay away from the corn. Grandpa never failed to hum, “If I only had a brain…”, whenever we saw Benny’s Scarecrow. Benny was Grandpa’s childhood friend and they had crafted it together as little boys.

Deeper in the woods we would wait for the red-breasted bullfinch or the loons on the lake. His notebook always at hand, recording the stunning descriptions of flora and fauna he’d observed around us. I still remember him telling me the zoological name of the bullfinch – Pyrrhula Pyrrhula – and my inquiring if they called it that for its sound, its quiet warble. He laughed at that and told me it probably referred to the male bullfinch’s fiery red breast. I was in awe of Gramps and never left his side throughout my summer vacations.

I watched him now in his room at the Sunset Home for Seniors. The sunken eyes staring out into nothingness. I held his hand in mine watching the translucent skin stretched tight across his frail hands, crisscrossed by underlying blue veins; they had lost the warmth I had sought as a child.

He wasn’t sitting up today or pacing or throwing things in anger and frustration. This lack of energy seemed so uncharacteristic of him. His condition rarely stopped him from pacing around the room or sitting up in bed, scribbling in that notebook of his, its pages yellowed with age.

I’d tucked him in on many a night, before leaving his side; smoothing his brow, positioning his head on the pillow, unclasping his fingers from that notebook. It’s pages were immortalized in my brain, each notation firmly etched, each sketch as fresh as the day it was first rendered, at least in the earlier pages. The latter ones gradually devolving into a spidery scrawl, increasingly unintelligible, just dark squiggles now, meaningless to anyone but me. Yet his arthritic fingers clung to it with ferocity. The nurses weren’t able to pry it away.

He didn’t recognize me anymore, didn’t know my name. He even threw things at me or pushed me aside when I tried to get him to change his clothes or to go out on the lawns or to eat or drink. In his more lucid moments he recalled Benny from seventy-five years ago. He talked about the games they played, their bird watching, their tree house, his mom’s apple pie. But he never remembered his siblings or my parents. It was as if they had never existed for him.

I sat down beside him, tears rolling down my cheeks, on to the notebook, smudging the blue ink. I found the entry from fifteen years ago where he wrote about the morning he’d taken me out for breakfast and had shared the shattering news with me. We’d found our favorite spot at Papa Gallo’s Diner. He had calmly shrugged off the coat as he settled into the booth and ordered the stack of hot pancakes that we both loved. He told me his sudden bouts of forgetfulness had taken him to his doctor and that they had diagnosed the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. He’d warned me about the progressive degeneration, reassuring me, telling me not to get disheartened. He knew things would only get worse from here on end.

They finally were. I stared at the thick blankets covering his frail form. Was my beloved Grandpa really in there? Where was the person I knew and loved?

He had handed me his favorite coat that day at the diner. He had wanted me to replace the frayed one on Benny’s Scarecrow.

Bluebird Inn – IV

Hank watched the car pulling away from his driveway with a sinking feeling. All he remembered was Nisha’s stricken face, her disappointment, disgust, anger and sorrow, each emotion that flitted across her face in those irretrievable moments.

“Hank, honey, are you OK? Come back to bed. What’s wrong, Hank, Hank, HANK?”

He finally heard Donna’s shrill voice shatter the silence in the room. He turned around from the window. He couldn’t bear to see her face anymore. He wanted her gone. He scooped up her clothes from the floor and threw them at her.

“Get dressed and leave!”

He felt as though he was thrashing his arms around in a dense fog that showed no signs of clearing. He wanted to come out of the fog, to reach out and find Nisha at the clearing. Her leaving felt as raw as a severed limb, as an “-ectomy” of some sort. He wanted her back in his life.

He walked into the bathroom and took a look at his face in the mirror. He didn’t like what he saw. He couldn’t understand his infatuation with Donna, couldn’t explain it even to himself, but one thing was certain – she needed to leave.

He walked over to the bar and poured himself a scotch on the rocks. He walked over to the balcony and saw the city lights flashing, the fast-moving traffic, the red taillights and the glaring oncoming headlights. Life elsewhere went on, its rhythm unchecked, while his own lay in pieces, broken shards that reflected back a distorted vision of himself, filling him with self-hatred.

He walked back in to see Donna dressed and poised at the doorstep.

She pointed a long manicured finger at him and said, “This isn’t over yet, Hank! You haven’t seen the last of me!” Then she left, slamming the door behind her.

He didn’t care. He leaned back in his chair, thinking, regretting his recent behavior, replaying memorable moments with Nisha, hearing her laughter, seeing her relax and unwind from the pressures of the day, on this very same reclining chair. He remembered the final look of hurt on her beautiful face. He visualized her driving, speeding away on Route 80 West, eyes clouded over with tears. Then he saw her on a desolate stretch of Route 46, staring up at a crackling neon sign that read – “B-UE-IRD M-TOR INN”. He saw her walk up to the lobby and then up an elevator walking up to Room 613. The brass numbers 613 grew larger in size, until they took over his thoughts completely, swimming in and out of focus, swirling around, making him dizzy and then he saw her sitting in a rocking chair by an open window that looked out into complete darkness. He woke up in a cold sweat, shaking.

Hank rarely spoke about it. Ever since he was a child, he saw things. He could rarely make sense of these visions. The images were disjointed, some vivid, some hazy. They always troubled him but he never could tie them together in a lucid reconstruction. Often he would see things in the news or glance upon a news headline and feeling a strange sense of déjà vu. This time the vision was real enough to make him sit up, it was clear, sinister and, most significantly, it involved Nisha.

He knew what he had to do. Getting dressed in a hurry, he ran out the door and into his car, setting out along Route 80 West.

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Bluebird Inn – V

“Fancy meeting you here, Clara. Still hanging around?”

He walked toward me, his loping, stumbling gait as ominous as that fateful day. I felt cornered and trapped. His bloodshot eyes looked right into mine and asked, “Why Clara? Why?”

“You were in a murderous rage, you would have killed me. I was scared Tom, so scared!”

“ It came so easy to you, the killing, the first stab…after the first stab…, Clara, why did you keep stabbing me and twisting the knife each time? What did I do to deserve that? I had never struck you, had never laid a finger on you, woman, drunk or sober, never! I never would have hurt you, never!”

“There was no way for me to know that, Tom. I couldn’t take it anymore. You had imprisoned me in a life with no escape. You had snatched away every freedom I ever knew!”

“Well, my dear, there’s something to be said for being six feet under, under a mountain of dirt, worms crawling in and out of every pore, clawing at the darkness, at my eyes, trying to dig out the dirt, trying to see, seeking the faintest ray of light and finding only pitch black, screaming, with no one there to hear me, no wind to carry my stifled voice anywhere. That changed me in ways you can’t imagine. You see Clara, you buried me alive! I still had a breath or two left.”

“B-b-but you were dead! I knew you were dead!”

“Merely unconscious. Imagine opening up your eyes – or struggling to open your eyes under the weight of dirt, clawing at them, blinding yourself, can you imagine that Clara?”

“You were dead, you were dead!”

“ I wasn’t then, but yes, those conditions didn’t support life for long, I did die….I am quite dead now. And after you, all the women who remind me of your simpering, sniveling self have been paying for your crime Clara. Paying with their unfinished lives. That boy hates you Clara but he can’t kill. He can’t take a life. He talks to me every night, describes all our female guests in exquisite detail. He is merely a facilitator, in cleansing the world of cowards like you, one restless soul at a time. Yes we’ve lost a few, due to his incompetence, his resolve crumbles, he ends up calling the ambulance or the authorities and they carry them away on gurneys. But our backyard is filling up rather nicely with women who were buried before they drew their last breaths.”

“ Noooo…..I am not really hearing this, please tell me it isn’t true! You can’t do that to her, she is with child! Show some mercy, please!”

“Mercy….where was your mercy?”

Bluebird Inn – III

I walked up to the window where our guest sat in the rocking chair in the corner, eyes closed, lying back touching her belly in that certain way that could only mean one thing. Room 613 faced the backyard. I knew what I would see there. This was the time of the night when Kevin visited that particular spot. He was kneeling by the tree, his head down. The wind carried his voice upstairs and I heard him say, “Yes Father” every few seconds. I can’t be certain the words were actually spoken but I heard them, every night, at the same time. I kept staring out of the window, looking at Kevin and feeling weighed down by the burden of my actions, my cowardice from twenty years ago.

Our guest continued to rock herself on the antique rocking chair that had been in our family for generations. I had spent many a night on it, rocking baby Kevin to sleep. Strange how one never has an inkling where one’s life or death would take one. I added a push to the rocking chair, startling her. She looked around, wondering what had upset the rhythm of the chair. I had startled her out of her reverie. Then she got up and walked over to the bathroom. I saw her splash some water over her face as if she was trying to wash the dark circles and the puffiness away. I walked up behind her and stood close to her, if I had any breaths left she would have felt my breath rustle the fine hairs on the nape of her neck. Then she looked up at the mirror after one final splash of water and saw me in the mirror. I could tell she saw me. The color drained from her face. None of these women had ever been able to see me before. I was as startled as she was. She stared at the red spot of blood on my blouse and the knife sticking out of my chest and was about to let out a scream when I decided to test the theory that this one could probably hear me as well. I spoke and asked her to pick up her stuff and run. She screamed then, a scream he must have heard.

A knock on the door confirmed it. It was Kevin. She was too shell-shocked to get to the door, several minutes passed while Kevin kept knocking, he finally let himself in. He saw her standing there, rooted to the spot and asked, “Ms Alec, are you alright?”

She was shivering now, uncontrollably. A very concerned looking Kevin walked up to her and put a comforting arm around her shoulders asking if he could get her anything. He led her to the foot of the bed and sat her down, draping a blanket around her. Then he pulled up a chair and sat down, facing her. He was very patient, inviting confidences, giving her time to compose herself. He asked if he could get her anything to drink, she asked for some water. I had stepped away so she couldn’t see me while Kevin was around. He poured her a glass of water and asked her if he could get anything else. She shook her head and sat there quietly until Kevin asked if she thought it would help to talk. He asked her to unburden herself and to tell him everything. She must have been searching for just such a confidante, a perfect stranger, who would listen to her without passing judgment. I heard her tell her story to Kevin and was saddened. I wished I could sit by her side and comfort her. I watched Kevin comfort her. He was like her best friend, radiating sympathy, gaining her trust completely. She told him all about the events of the day and blamed her screams on the delusions of a troubled mind. She seemed to have relegated my presence to the realm of delusions. Ms Alec was certainly made of sterner stuff than anyone else I had met in these rooms that ended in number 13.

In the past, these women had been terrified by my actions and had run out of the room screaming. Ms Alec was different, she had screamed but she had stood her ground and what complicated matters further was that she could see me and hear me. This changed things. I was standing near the window, contemplating the next move, while trying to keep myself out of her sight when there was a loud knock on the door. Kevin left Ms Alec’s side and got up to answer the door. He opened the door and craned his neck to look in either direction. He appeared not to have noticed anything. He kept looking up and down the hall but saw no one. He couldn’t have. He had never been able to see me either.

I saw him. I saw the shirt he had been wearing that day, blood-stained, every wound I had inflicted raw and visible and a face that wore the perpetually angry expression that I had learned to loath and fear in life. After twenty long years we were sharing the same space again, our seasons in hell about to overflow into two innocent lives, one still unborn.

Kevin walked back to Ms Alec and asked if she would accompany him to the kitchen for a cup of hot cocoa. He told her it would help soothe her nerves. She agreed. They left the room and then he turned to face me.

Bluebird Inn – II

The events of the day had taken a toll on Nisha and she felt drained. An unthinking reflex had carried her away from the slightly ajar bedroom door through which she had glimpsed her shattered dreams. She had dropped her keys as she watched them and they had both looked up to see the shocked expression on her face. He had called out after her but her feet had carried her out the front door and into the car, the tear-filled eyes unable to focus on anything in her path. She had started the car and had briefly glanced up at the bedroom windows, long enough to catch the twitching of the curtains, then she had stepped on the gas and had left his home forever. She had no idea where she was headed. She took the exit for Route 80 West and kept on driving and playing back the last three years of her life.

She had gone to work for the law firm of McDermott, Roberson and Chenault (M,R&C) as an associate. Hank had been a senior partner at the firm. They often ended up on the same legal defense team and she had seen Hank as a mentor. He showed her the ropes, helped hone her skills and sought her assistance in the most difficult and high profile cases. Looking back she wasn’t sure if this was by accident or design. It was just a matter of time before she was too far gone in love, with his mind, his brilliance, the power he exuded. The seduction was complete. She owed her own meteoric rise to him, or so she believed. She had loved him, couldn’t imagine life without him. He was a married man when they met and although this was an initial deterrent it was impossible to ignore the attraction. He had said there was no love lost between him and his estranged wife, that the marriage was on its last legs and it was just a matter of time before the divorce came through. She believed him completely, he sounded sincere, he hadn’t even been living with his wife. He lived alone in a brownstone in the city.

She started spending an occasional night or two there. They often brought work home, work that didn’t last too long once the bottle of wine had been opened, once she ended up on his lap, kissing him, lost in him, work that ended up in the bedroom trailed by a line of shed clothing. Soon enough it became rather pointless for her to maintain a separate residence. It was impossible to wake up at his brownstone and commute cross-town to her own place in order to get dressed for a busy day at work. She started leaving spare clothing, toiletries and bare feminine necessities at his place, before she knew it, within a matter of two exciting, whirlwind years, she had moved in with him.

She now wondered if she would have done this had she been thinking clearly, had she retained even an iota of rational thought and objectivity. But the clarity of hindsight has never proved helpful to anyone. The thrill of the chase, after all, lasts only as long as it takes to get to the finish line. Expectations change, perceptions change almost as soon as a certain milestone is reached, but not quite. The rose-tinted glasses stay on for another year or so. The attraction unabated, the mysteries intact and then things start changing very slowly but surely.

It started with the arrival of Donna, long and tall Donna with her lacquered black, waist length hair and fitted suits with the shortest possible skirts and high-heeled look. She was a recent Yale grad, the newest associate at M, R&C. Hank was impressed with her intelligence and their bedtime conversations often ended up in discussions about Donna’s latest courtroom antics. At the office she was often seen in Hank’s chambers, ostensibly going over the finer points of criminal law but Nisha’s heart skipped several beats every time she noticed them putting their heads together. Hank had also started coming home a little bit later each day. They weren’t working on the same cases anymore ever since she had been promoted to junior partner. Hank used to kiss her goodbye with instructions on whether or not she was to stay up for dinner. He told her how heavy his caseload was and how much of a godsend Donna really was. She had walked into his office once to see his hands caressing the back of Donna’s head looking as if he wanted to drown in the silkiness of those tresses. She was shaken to the core at the sight of the obvious attraction they shared. She had even confronted Hank about it but he had denied it and had said it was all work.

She had convinced herself that all was well until today. She had come home from a week long business trip to Philly where she had been doing some research for a case she was on. She was excited. She had some news to share with Hank. Their lives were going to change forever. She had been feeling slightly unwell for several days now, a persistent queasiness that followed her around. She had felt so ill at one point that she had taken herself to the emergency room at the hospital in Philly. The doctor had smiled at her and given her the news.

She had rushed home and was running, taking two steps at a time, calling out for Hank when she had heard voices from their bedroom. She had slowed down her steps and reaching the door, had turned the knob, cautiously pushing the door open. Her world froze at what she saw inside. Donna astride Hank, she couldn’t even say she had interrupted their lovemaking because it went on uninterrupted, they hadn’t noticed her. After several frozen, catatonic moments, she turned on her heels, blinded by tears, dropping her keys. They noticed her then. But it was too late.

She couldn’t tell how long she had driven. The stars were out now and she found herself in the middle of nowhere. She needed to find a place for the night. She was lost, disheveled, tears still stung her eyes and she started looking around for a place to spend the night. Soon enough, she saw a battered sign for The Bluebird Inn. She took the upcoming exit for Route 46 and nervously pulled into the parking lot of the “B-UE-IRD M-TOR INN”.

She sensed a presence here, something sinister but she put it down to her current state, a heightened awareness and vulnerability. She sat down on the rocking chair near the window of her room and leaning back, closed her eyes, hands caressing her belly in that certain way that could only mean one thing.

Bluebird Inn – I

It was 9:00 PM, Kevin was about to close up for the night when a car pulled up at the Bluebird Motor Inn. She seemed distraught; her eyes were puffy as if she had been crying for days. She glanced furtively at the crackling neon sign that read, “B-UE-IRD M-TOR INN”. She wasn’t sure she wanted to spend the night here and I could see the uncertainty on her face that lasted less than a second before she resolutely stepped into the lobby.

She asked Kevin if she could get a room for the night. He gave her the once over, running various scenarios in his brain about her special circumstances. He took in her rich clothes, the make of her car, the pearl necklace around her neck and her tear-stained face as he tried to understand what a woman like her was doing on a desolate section of the highway at this hour of the night. He removed the key for Room 613 from the hook on the wall and asked her to fill up her information on the guest card. He asked if she had any luggage but she shook her head, lifting up the valise she was carrying, to emphasize her point.

She made her way to the elevator, glancing behind every few seconds, as if she was expecting to be followed. I studied her face, the tears were flowing unbidden now in the privacy of the elevator. She was definitely the type. I suddenly felt nervous, accosted by a sense of déjà vu. Exactly a month ago, a similar woman, who had appeared to be a victim of reduced circumstances, had motored in and had been carried out on a gurney the next morning, dead of multiple stab wounds. She had been in Room 513. I watched our new guest’s anxious fingers turn the key and enter her room. I came back downstairs and saw Kevin locking up the cash register for the night. He was headed to the block of rooms next door where he lived. I used to live there with him, until that fateful night twenty years ago.

His Dad had come home drunk again. He was staggering around the kitchen, unsatisfied with the dinner that was waiting for him. He was throwing dishes around, slamming the lids on the pots and was about to overturn the kitchen dinette in his rage. I had had enough. I begged him to stop but he came after me, cursing me for the rotten food, his sorry life, my perpetual tears. He started shoving me toward the kitchen counter, cornering me, when I grabbed the kitchen knife and stabbed him. He died instantaneously. I was appalled at what I had done; I stood there in shock and then slowly turned around to see Kevin. Ten-year old Kevin had been cowering in the doorway. He had seen everything. He ran from the room when he realized I had seen him.

I had a son to raise and I certainly didn’t want to be put away for life. I dragged the body outside and buried him in the backyard. I said my prayers, made my peace with God and decided to move on with my life. Everyone believed he had left home in a drunken rage and only Kevin and I knew the truth.

Kevin didn’t talk to me anymore, his dark eyes shone with angry tears and intense hatred every time he looked at me. He wouldn’t come home for days and when he did, he used to pick up his things and leave to spend time at his friend’s place.

Then one morning I found myself gazing at the lifeless body of a woman lying on my bed. She looked like me but there was a knife wound in her chest, bloodstains on her clothes. The police called it an unsolved mystery.

But he didn’t feel avenged. The Bluebird Motor Inn was only frequented by stray travelers now, who knew nothing of its sordid history. I tried to warn them if they happened to be emotionally distraught women. I had tried to write messages on the misted bathroom mirrors asking them to leave, warning them of dire consequences but I only succeeded in frightening them into scurrying out of their rooms, right into his arms. They never trusted what they were seeing. They imagined themselves delusional in their weakened states. This was always the perfect opportunity for him. He got them to open up, to tell him why they had run away from home, from a brutal and insensitive husband or boyfriend. He wiped the tears that he had come to detest as much as his father before him, and pretended to be their best friend. He offered them hot cocoa, which always included a rather strong sleep-inducer.

The bodies were always buried in the grounds that had first been converted into a cemetery by me, our backyard. Their cars were then driven to abandoned lots or junkyards, never to be found.

I had to put a stop to this and I was stronger now. I wasn’t about to leave our guest’s side this evening.

Juana’s Pearl

Based on John Steinbeck’s – The Pearl. Tried to write it from Juana’s perspective.
He asked Juana to throw it away. She gazed at it, the briefest hypnotic trance, before deciding this was something Kino needed to do, for his sake, for their sake. It needed to be done to restore some semblance of sanity to their lives, even if it was just a facade.

She thrust the pearl in his hand as he shirked away, flinching, refusing to touch or even glance at it. But she was determined. It had to be done and Kino had to do it.

Pearls fascinated Juana. She came from a long line of pearl divers, people whose boats were their most prized material possession and pearls, that helped line the King of Spain’s coffers, were what kept their small town clothed, fed and one step ahead of hunger and starvation. As a little girl she accompanied her Dad on pearl diving trips, eagerly awaiting his emergence from the depths, bearing the haul of the day. She could gaze for hours at the lustrous sheen, mesmerized by the distorted reflections she saw on the glistening surfaces, they seemed to be teasing her, tantalizing her. He told her how the pearl, in essence, was simply an irritant, an intruder that changed the oyster forever. She wondered why he never let her keep them, selling every single one to scrape together a living. It was a harmonious existence amongst gentle people who lived, loved feeling the serene music of existence within their sensitive souls.

Now as they stood by the shore, purged of all joy, she remembered her Dad’s fear, his wariness of these glistening, shimmering things of evil beauty. Her life with Kino had been a song, the melody of the earth sung in three simple notes until the day it all changed, forever.

That morning, she woke early and stood for a few moments, watching the dawn’s first light playfully dancing on Kino’s back She turned her head to Coyotito, asleep in his hammock, and gave silent thanks for her blissful existence. She was humming her favorite tune, going about her chores when Kino came up behind her and planted a kiss on her neck. Then, as she lifted her eyes to glance at Coyotito, she saw it, out of the corner of her eye, a scorpion. It was crawling down the rope that suspended the hammock from the beams above. She screamed and pointed as Kino glided across the room. Suddenly awake Coyotito burst out laughing at the sight of his parents, shaking the rope. The scorpion fell on him and stung him the split second before Kino could get there to pulverize and grind it to dust. But the damage was done, she had witnessed the most horror-filled moment of her life. The neighbors came, word about the baby being stung by a scorpion had spread. They stood, paralyzed, not knowing what to do as she ran to the baby and placed her lips on the wound sucking and spitting out the poison. She yelled at Kino to get a doctor and saw them exchanging sad glances. They knew the doctor would never attend to them here.

Juana insisted they walk to the doctor’s house. The townsfolk set out behind them, too distressed to note they had left the brush houses behind and had walked into the stone and plaster city. They knocked at the doctor’s door and asked the servant to fetch his master. The servant came back asking for money. They handed him three small pearls to take back but he returned apologizing, shaking his head, indicating that the doctor was unmoved. Juana had heard them inside, the doctor screaming at the servant, amazed that they expected him to cure insect bites on an Indian child! She heard him remark he was a doctor, not a veterinarian.

They had walked back, steps heavy with dejection and anger. Juana had prayed. She remembered praying the doctor would relent, she had sought the doctor’s help in her prayers not God’s, while Coyotito’s wound swelled. They had set out in their little boat the next morning, Kino wound tight as a whip, ready to strike. She sensed his anger and shame, felt his determination. She had watched him dive and had known it was different this time. He stayed submerged for what felt like an eternity he then emerged holding the biggest pearl she had ever seen. He held it up to her, proud. They rejoiced, their prayers had been answered. Word spread fast. The excitement palpable as everyone celebrated their good fortune, talking about the sums its sale would fetch praying their sudden luck wouldn’t change them. She was swept away in Kino’s excitement as he planned their glorious future, dreamt of making Coyotito a man of letters and of bidding farewell to penury.

The doctor appeared at their door the next day bearing medicine for the child, agreeing to postpone the collection of his fees until the sale of the pearl. The priest who had refused them a church wedding now came a-calling, expressing hopes of charitable donations.

Juana noted Kino’s gradual transformation from protector to fierce defender of not just his wife and child but the pearl as well. She saw him dig a hole by the fireplace to hide the pearl and she saw him take to wearing his knife on his person. His watchful eyes never slept anymore. She recalled the burglary attempts on their home and through her own lack of sleep heard the discordant notes getting louder, reverberating and filling her head until she couldn’t stand it anymore. She asked him to return the pearl to the ocean, she told him it was evil but he refused to listen. He assured her they would sell the pearl the next day, casting off the evil and holding on to the good.

They set off to the market the next day to pit their wits and wares against the pearl buyers’ collusive powers. They were offered a miserable amount – 1000 pesos. An infuriated Kino had refused to sell it for the pittance he was offered and had threatened to take it elsewhere. That night someone tried to steal from them again and Kino was hurt in the scuffle that ensued. Juana couldn’t take it anymore. She extracted the pearl from its hiding place crept out of the house while Kino slept. She intended to return the pearl to the evil depths from whence it had emerged. But as she was getting ready to do this she took an instant to notice a menacing looking Kino right behind her, enraged. He snatched the pearl away from her and struck her with a force that sent her crashing against the rocks. He left her there and walked away. When she gathered her courage to get up and walk back she noticed Kino in a struggle with a man, but by the time she walked back to them, someone had died. Kino stood, staggering, attempting to steady himself and at his feet lay a murdered man. Juana had to think fast, she left Kino there and dragged the man to the nearest bushes and hid him. Fugitives now they needed to leave town, the murdered man would soon be found and trackers set on the trail of the murderer.

They set out in the wilderness, Juana carrying Coyotito in her arms. They walked for miles, hiding whenever they spotted the trackers, climbing up the mountains evading them as best they could. They spotted them in the distance, two men and a horse. Seeking shelter for the night, they found the cave by a lake. The trackers were close now and they hid, knowing it was just a matter of time. Kino was restless. She had always been submissive and knew men. She knew there were no half measures with men, she viewed them as half insane and half god, willing to plunge their strength against the mountains and the seas. Juana knew the mountains would break him and the seas would drown him but there wasn’t a thing she could do. He felt cornered and wanted confront his pursuers and snatch one of their rifles away. He asked Juana to wait in the cave and left. He attacked the trackers like a man possessed, with a vengeance and fury she hadn’t known he possessed. He shot at them while she crouched within and then saw the sight no mother should ever witness, a sight so gruesome, so evil that she was now amazed she was still alive, standing, breathing, walking. Kino’s stray bullet had blown away Coyotito’ s head.

The songs of their soul, the music had been silenced forever. The irritant had left them tainted and changed forever, altered beyond recognition. She wanted nothing more than to see Kino cast the evil back to the darkest depths from which it had emerged as she stood there rocking a blood soaked bundle in her arms.

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