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Fabala
10-07-2005, 01:37 AM
(A, uh...strange little piece I finished a few days ago. I don't know what I think of it yet. I know it will be revised.)



“Look at you! Look at what you’ve become!”

“I… I can’t just give up.”

“Honey, listen…it’s not giving up. It’s accepting the truth.”

“You don’t know that. I don’t know that!”

“Honey, he’s not coming bac-”

“He won’t if we- if I give up.”

“You’re killing yourself. You’re not the woman I married.”

“…No.”

“I love you…but I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”


Long Term Parking


The pale white band of flesh wrapped around the finger of her left hand seems to glow with the climaxing of the sun’s descent. With a feline’s pained attention to detail she tenses with the nearing of voices, opening of doors. A pair walks out, chatting amiably. The woman pauses to lock the door behind her, laughingly complaining to her male companion of the onslaught of icy weather.

They pass the woman in the shadows on the way to their cars, huddled side by side along the nearest strip of parking lot. They know she is there, sense her presence with every step, feel bloodshot steeling blue eyes sharply following their every move, but make no outward appearances of acknowledging her. They shiver, stamp their feet to circulate blood while the cars purr and sputter to life, and wish each other farewell between gasps of clouded breath.

Deep in the shadows she watches the cars circle through the long route to the main road. She wears no coat against the biting cold, but does not shiver. The cars move out of sight, and she is alone again.

***

Like a starved mouth the parking lot spreads in every discernable direction. A churning, yawning, gray ocean caught fast. Waiting. Faintly white lines roll horizontally along its mass, moving like cresting waves, also momentarily lapsed into silence. The flatness of the Western landscape is amplified. At one end squats a slumbering building, the closing piece of a small strip mall. The store, a departmentalized convenience, shrinks into growing shadows of evening lighting. The eastern sky turns a deepening gray; the western horizon seeps the red of fresh-spilled blood. It is early, yet, for the timed outdoor lights to flicker into life.

A sorry attempt at landscaping bears a plot of browned grass littered along opposing sides of the store, sprinkled with a thick, molding layer of the accompanying trees’ droppings, lost again to the earth. It lies in varying, crackling shades of a dying brown, like the pre-cancerous face of an old man who’s seen too much sun.

Deep shadows of the store’s wide doorway come alive, separating into a figure unfolding itself from a fetal-like ball. Rustling skirts, cracking joints, her hair ripples into a near dead breeze, long and bottle-blonde, rising from an inch of gray roots. She wears a dress deeper than a midnight- near black –sky. In the fading light, hidden are the fraying patches at each elbow, the stretched neck hole, the hinting of wear. It appears a size too large, or she a size too small, clinging to razor-sharpened angles. Blue veins glare from pale feet, crammed into Worthington pumps two inches high. These too show signs of scuffing, tearing, of long hours pacing.

She wears nothing over the breath-thin material, and so shivers involuntarily into a stronger passing wind. With it fly pieces and pages of yellowing frayed newspapers, fragments of fading green Starbucks coffee cups, and rolling cigarette butts nigh half-burned, all to dance waltzes within its piercing song.

***

The store teems with life, buzzing with gossiping voices, droning music, and monotone announcements on the overhead. Customers sort through racks of clothing, games, shoes, and household appliances. Many sniffle with red-rimmed eyes, the season being particularly harsh on allergy sufferers. Employees in iron-creased white shirts, shuffle through aisles, staring into the overhead fluorescent lights as though in search of sunlight, while others stand at half-hearted attention behind registers or counters.

Along the wall to the right of the main entrance is a counter, recognized by an inconveniently placed, red on white sign above it as the “Customer Service” desk. For the moment, the two girls behind the counter have no customers to serve. One relaxes, stretching her aching arms and smoothing her knee-length, flesh colored skirt. The other digs through drawers and cabinets, at last locating a bag of festively colored candy corn. She rips it open and removes one, nibbling off the white tip before pouring the rest of the candy into a jack-o-lantern shaped ceramic bowl perched on the countertop.

“Mm, I love these. Want one?” She gestures to the bowl.

“No, thanks. They make me sick.”

“Sick? Beck, you’re crazy! C’mon, these are great. It’s the only thing I like about this time of the year.”

“Really? Here I thought you’d jump at the chance to experiment with new makeup. You know…a little molding green, little blood red. Or how about this? None!”

Ashleigh narrows her eyes, pointing her nose in the air. “You can be a real ***** you know that?”

“So they tell me.” She examines her coworker, letting the silence between them mount until it is broken by a scarcely contained giggle. “Oh c’mon Ashleigh, I’m kidding!” She smoothes again her ever rising skirt. “So hey, how long do you think that woman out front is going to keep up her stakeout?”

“Eh, I dunno. Doesn’t she go home at night?”

“I dunno. I hear she’s here after closing, and when I opened the other day she was outside before any of us got here. I think someone’s taking bets on when she’ll stop.”

“Weird.”

“I know. I wonder if that’s her car that’s always sitting out there. I don’t think its moved in weeks! Maybe longer.”

Ashleigh’s brow furrows. “That car? Nah, I don’t think so… It’s an SUV. She looks like a bag lady.” She grins, adding, “Actually, she makes bag ladies look good.”

“Now who’s the *****?”

Ashleigh stuffs a fistful of candy into her mouth as the counter’s phone simultaneously rings, sound ripping the air. Neither girl makes a move to answer it.

“Beck, can you get that? My mouth is full.”

“No, you get it this time.”

“Rebecca…” When her whining tone isn’t greeted with action, Ashleigh rolls her eyes, chokes down what sweets remain in her mouth, and grabs the handset. “Hello, thank you for calling JCPenney. This is Ashleigh speaking. How may I help you today?” She pauses, listening. “Oh, sure. Monday through Friday we’re open nine to five-”

“Six.”

Ashleigh looks in Rebecca’s direction, raising her eyebrows.

“Nine to six weekdays, nine to eight Saturdays, and ten to five Sundays.” Rebecca’s voice is clipped, the words automated.

“I’m sorry ma’am. That’s nine to six Monday through Fridays, nine to…”

The words fade into the background drone of the store. Rebecca leans across the counter with a thoughtful expression, watching customers outside passing a thin scrap of a woman. The woman studies them all, especially observant of children. All but the children feign disinterest in her, their movements consciously and subconsciously increasing to escape her.

***

“Pictures With Santa Claus!” the sign hanging behind the front store’s glass proclaims boldly. Underneath, less boldly, “Make memories of today last into tomorrow…only at JCPenney.”

Stillness drapes over the cement savannah. The woman stares at the store’s doors, waiting with hungering eyes. She grips tighter a fragment of wrinkled paper she’s kept tucked carefully away. A photograph. Bony fingers create creases upon creases. From the doors to the photo and back again, her eyes burn with straining, wet with pain.

She startles with sudden beacons of light raining down from overhead outdoor lamps. The one above her hums into the frosty air, warming. The glow brings sharp focus to the face printed in the photograph. She nearly drops it, shocked, hands trembling from something other than cold. Under the glow of the lamp’s luminance, split hairs haloed by surviving and circling gnats, she searches the face in the picture.

***

Click-click.

Click-click.

Her heels tap notes against the pavement that even the bravest of schoolchildren would grow cold and clammy listening to. Her shadow, faint but exaggerated to that of a giant, precedes her crossing of the gray ocean. It shrinks to her feet with every lamp’s circle of oasis-like light she penetrates, and runs on ahead once past. She clicks over white line after white line, feet headed in a direction they know only too well.

It’s the last remaining car in the parking lot, set far from the front doors. A Ford Freestyle SUV. A recent 2003 model, the red of its finish nigh indiscernible in the final strands of sunlight. The lamps found several spaces away on either side fall short, casting the vehicle into a greater shadowing obscurity.

She slows within a few yards of the car, her movements measured, surveying it with the stranger qualities of two tomcats meeting in a darkened alley. Her muscles tense, animal-like. She circles, stopping on the passenger’s side. The photograph pressed between her fingers and palm burns. She holds it up to stare at, sees only a faint outline without aid of the lamps. She folds it twice, slipping it into a tiny pocket she has devised from loosened, worried material about her left sleeve.

The car beckons. She closes the gap, standing in front of the smoked glass of the passenger side. Stars begin to dot the sky, the temperature drops further. She is numb, and her fingers and toes have turned a pale blue.

She stares, eyes straining, into the glass, letting her fingers play over its curved surface, jagged bare nails scraping. Layers of dust and grime are removed with the touch. Voice hoarse and crackling like dead leaves crunched underfoot she whispers, “Where are you?”

The words are not new. The repetition fetches images of small, sun-freckled faces. Large startling eyes. Miniature grasping fingers sticky with jelly. Lips stained a soft artificial pink. Her eyes grow vacant. She looks into the car’s backseat interior, to where in better light she would see a pair of sunglasses carelessly tossed from the driver’s seat encrusted with the dried remains of a Mott’s apple juice box, also lost to the floor. She looks but does not see, regardless of the darkening sky.

Free to roam, the hand not on the glass smoothes over the car’s paint finish, directing itself independently towards a groove found directly below the door’s handle. A two-inch long scratch. The car is fire engine red. A small, chipping oval coating and surrounding the scratch is crimson, a deeper, misplaced, color. She knows this without looking, without needing light enough to look. A smile tugs at the lines cornering her mouth, twitching her lips.

She sees again the glass, again the silhouetted form she makes against the starring background. She moves her hand from the glass to finger the frayed ends of her hair. The silhouetted form does the same. Her eyes widen, pupils dilate into focus.

“God…where are you?”

***

“Oh my God, Beck! I can’t believe it!” Ashleigh slips behind the counter, adjusting her name badge and running her fingers through her freshly highlighted hair.

Rebecca glances up from the register drawer, frowning, five dollar bills in hand. “You’re late, you know.”

“Oh please. My boyfriend dropped me off.” She brightens. “Anyway, did you hear what happened?”

“About that woman? No, what?”

“Huh? What woman?”

“The one who’s been hanging around out front. Who do you think I’m talking about?”

“Oh. No.” She settles against the counter with a sigh, legs crossed, watching Rebecca sort bills. “I heard some kid peed on Jeff. Right on his lap! He was the Santa Claus all week, you know. Poor bastard.”

“Mmhm…”

“Isn’t that gross? I mean I know he’s making extra and all, but you couldn’t pay me enough for that.” She shudders.

“Hey, let me count this, okay?”

“Okay, okay.”

Ashleigh busied herself straightening and re-straightening stacks of filing papers and the Christmas-themed wrapping paper lining one side of the customer service desk.

“So did you hear anything about that woman?” Rebecca asked, closing the register drawer with a snap of her wrist.

“Huh? Oh…no. Why? What about her?”

Rebecca blinked. “She’s gone. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

“She’s been there every day, all day, for months now and you don’t notice the first time she isn’t there? Unbelievable.”

“Well what do you care? She was weird. I mean did you see the way she stared at kids coming in and out of the store? She was probably planning to kidnap one of them. Creepy.”

“I dunno…”

“God, how many times are they going to play that song? It’s driving me crazy! Thank God Christmas is almost here.”

“Where do you think she went?”

“Who?”

“That woman! God, pay attention.”

“Shut up.” Ashleigh flipped some slipped hair back over her shoulder. “I don’t care, anyway. She was weird.”

Rebecca peers out towards the front doors of the store, into the parking lot of early morning customers slamming doors and hurrying to reach the warmth of the building’s interior. The emptiness of the spot to the right of the doors draws her eyes. “Maybe…but don’t you wanna know?”

Kewii
10-14-2005, 04:09 PM
You've got great atmosphere in the story and I love how you've used the cashiers/sales reps to carry your story.

I just hate open-ended endings. I don't mean that in the, all stories written like that are stupid, but more in the, 'Why can't you just tell me, call a whambulance' sort of way. So yes, I do want to know. But I have my own ideas of what she was searching for and what it is she found and I believe that she's now moved on because she has found what she's been searching for.

Good story.

Klutz

Ms. Lucy
10-14-2005, 04:35 PM
Wow. That was great. Keep it up.

Fabala
10-14-2005, 10:27 PM
You've got great atmosphere in the story and I love how you've used the cashiers/sales reps to carry your story.

I just hate open-ended endings. I don't mean that in the, all stories written like that are stupid, but more in the, 'Why can't you just tell me, call a whambulance' sort of way. So yes, I do want to know. But I have my own ideas of what she was searching for and what it is she found and I believe that she's now moved on because she has found what she's been searching for.

Good story.

Klutz
I'm a little of both. I like open-ended stories and like WRITING them...when its left to the reader to draw conclusions from, and not simply not-ended. There is a difference. It's the difference between a mystery that ends with the detective bursting into a room, saying, "I know whodunit!" and this story, in which the reader knows, essentially, what happened in the end...but are left to come up with reasons for it on their own.

Thanks doll ^_~

mimiruchan
03-30-2006, 02:09 AM
“Maybe…but don’t you wanna know?”


omg yes! What happened to her? Like what did you intend happened to her? lol

very nice story though <3 I love your work ^__^

~Troublesome Woman~
03-30-2006, 04:18 AM
Nice... I liked it. AND I like open-ended stories... just do. Very good work. I admire your writing style...