by Andrew Watterson
For six straight days it had been overcast with the rain being reluctant to show until noon of each day. The people—or at least the people whose lives depended on going outside—began to turn to Pavlov’s dogs under the grey fleece skies. Each noon a torrent of rain would let loose, reaching a crescendo at one o’clock and then fading into a drizzle from then onwards. At six o’clock it would stop completely and the day would simply be overcast again, never to budge from its hold over the town. The routine began to become engrained into the townspeople’s lives, into their intricacies. If the weather had cleared on the seventh day, at noon, in the sun on pure reflex – their coats would inexplicably become downed with droplets of water; also of reflex, each person in their small talk with another would complain of the horrible streak of weather they were going through. A tourist passing through town would overhear this conversation and bemusedly report it back to his youthful girlfriend who had opted to wait in the car. The clocks all over town would strike noon and umbrellas would unfold and grey pedestrians would huddle underneath muttering ‘great’ while not bothering to see if their reflex was merited. It was routine, it was predictable, and it got the vote of every turned-up jacket collar and rubber rain boot in town.
On the sixth day of this gorgeous-idyll weather pattern, Franklin walked to a studio apartment on the third floor of an apartment building on the corner of Indian Summer Drive and Clubhouse Lane. His watch read three forty-five and that meant there was a rancorous drizzle in the air with bite enough to snarl but not enough to break skin—in meteorological terms lost on most. Above him was the absence of an umbrella (passersby could practically see the dotted outline where it was supposed to go) and instead, very saturated clumps of moppish brown hair, now turned black with the wet. One thin strand damply clung to his ear until he folded it behind the ear tip and felt, from the end of that one strand, a solitary cold drop creep down his neck and slip under his shirt collar. His slender hands were curled up at the bottom front of his jacket, pressing it to his waist. The chest of the jacket was protruding and rectangular, obviously unnatural to anyone watching, not to mention strange, curious, and suspicious. But, alas, everyone was watching their feet squish along and the lithe splashes made by the raindrops on the surface of the sidewalk. They were too busy watching a little creek form in the gutter carrying ripped, yellowed leaves and other detritus down the street, too busy to notice a box-chested young male waltzing umbrella-less and damp in their very midst. The slight precipitation was and always would be on the forefront of their minds. Then that sin-soaked demon jauntily took the stairs to the apartment building two at a time, hearing the splash of each footstep and making sure his square bundle was pressed firmly to his chest. Once inside the door, he slipped the bundle out from under his jacket: a blank canvas stapled to a wooden frame and a carrying case for paints and brushes. He set his collection against the wall on the granite floor tile and he brushed the droplets from his coat and slicked his wet, black hair back over his head. His hair was ordinarily very long; steeped in the rain, it appeared even longer. Wiping his hands on his pants, taking up his supplies from the floor, he then glided across the room and into a vacant elevator. There was an unmistakable snap to his heel. Anyone watching him, which could be established as no one, would’ve thought that this boy had not even taken notice of the disastrously inclement weather. And thus they’d think, ‘this boy is not sane.’ They’d dutifully avoid him and his ratty eye contact, his sheepish grin.
The dim light behind the neat, black number 3 illuminated and the most imperceptible knell, seemingly coming from nowhere, rang out to let him know he was at his destination. He wiped his hair back slick again, as one of the clumps had fallen directly in front of his eye. It had dangled for a moment before becoming the Largest Nuisance He Had Ever Known. It was a great annoyance to him, being bothered by strands of hair—they were like toddlers who tap on their parents’ legs and pull shirt sleeves to gather the proper dosage of attention. The elevator doors had parted with an electronic whir and he sauntered out and down the hall to a pale green door at the end. The eye of the peephole glared back at him. He rapped his curled knuckles on the door and heard from inside the pads of bare feet moving across hardwood floor. Then a pause, and he assumed, a look through the peephole at the pending visitor. He smiled and swayed with his supplies under his arm. When the lock on the door had been audibly unbolted, the door opened into the room. Standing at the door, one hand’s delicate fingers holding the door, was a woman of nearly average height and nearly middle age. With her other hand she clasped the front of a silk robe she was wearing. The robe scarcely made it past her hips, allowing her bare thighs to roam freely. Also outside the confines of the robe was one bare shoulder that was smooth and looked significantly younger than herself under the soft yellow lights of the apartment. She had olive skin, black hair (more black, dry, than his was wet) and crows feet leaving the corner of her grinning eyes like rays of light.
She waved him through the threshold as soon as they were finished looking at each other. Once the door had been closed and locked behind them, they were free to return to looking at each other intently. After setting his supplies leaning against his leg, he removed his jacket, the shoulders of which were dark from the rain, and set it on a coat tree. “Here,” the woman said, motioning to an easel and a stool. Hers had been the first word uttered, and meekly. He then nodded his gratitude and took up his supplies.
The apartment was startlingly bohemian. There were large windows in the kitchen, looking down on the street and streaked with the droplets of rain running down. They were also gathering fog. The kitchen was composed of a four-burner stove and oven and thin countertop. There was, apparently, heat emanating from the kitchen, from a gurgling percolator that steamed on one of the four burners. Franklin noticed this, as did the woman who padded over to it and picked it off the burner. She flicked the switch and the flame gasped and went out and then she poured the steaming liquid into two cups. From the cups, the steam rose in lofty curls much like smoke from an extinguished match. Franklin felt the immense warmth of the apartment filling him. The woman brought two cups with her across the room to Franklin, presenting him with one and sipping from the other. When she had given him the cup and gained her free hand, she used it to tuck a long piece of black hair behind her petite ear. The rim of the ear stuck out wide and bright and he smirked when he saw it. He took a drink from his cup.
“Thanks, Mrs. Murphy,” he said. She stared at him, her eyes reprimanding but her little pink lips jocose. “I mean Charlotte,” he corrected himself. He blushed.
“Don’t think anything of it, Mr. Reed-I-mean-Franklin.” She giggled like most grade school girls tend to. It was bright and colorful and had in it a spark.
They then fell to drifting around the room aimlessly. Neither of them watched the other. Instead, Franklin took to inspecting the apartment closely and Charlotte took to untying and then retying the silk sash of her robe. Franklin felt warm, comfortable in that room, empty as it was. Perhaps, he speculated, it was the emptiness that did it. There were no adornments on the walls. Even the bed, a twin mattress that rested on the hardwood floor, was as plain and warm as to be expected. The bedsheets, or at least the bulk of them, were rolled into folds at the foot of the mattress and one white sheet was wrinkled, unkempt, over the surface of the rest of the bed, looking like loose skin on a prone body. Only the white pillowcase was stretched taut over the pillow. The rest looked slovenly pleasant. Franklin looked up at Charlotte and simpered. He motioned to the bed. “This is where you had in mind, then?”
“Yes, that’s what I thought. I don’t know why I like the look of it so much. Maybe I’m trying to say something with it. That beauty can be plain and simple. Do you think you could capture that kind of thing?”
“Sure, sure. Could I pull up a stand to the easel so I can set my coffee down?”
“Yeah, lemme go see what I can find.” She alit from the room and around the corner. The edge of her robe billowed and flowed as she disappeared.
Meanwhile, Franklin picked up his box of paints and brushes. He assorted them, took an artist’s glance at the bed and chose the brush and paint accordingly. Charlotte returned to the room toting a gaunt wooden nightstand. She set it at his side and he placed the coffee cup on it with a resounding, ceramic clink. “Will that do?” she asked.
“It’s great; thank you.” He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “I’m gonna take off this long-sleeve, it’s pretty hot in here.”
“Yeah, go ahead.”
They each cleared their throat and smiled inwardly, unwilling to acknowledge the trumpeting elephant in the room that was, like Franklin, becoming more comfortable as time continued. In fact, as Franklin removed his long-sleeved shirt, the elephant was considering drawing itself a bath in the next room to unwind. Neither Franklin nor Charlotte paid it any mind.
“Well, I guess I’m ready to begin,” Franklin muttered. With each word he turned more scarlet. The room now seemed very warm. The elephant apologized for it, on account of the steam from his bath. Charlotte looked at Franklin seriously for a fraction of a moment, her almond eyes rifling through his baby blues. Then she walked on her bare feet to the bed, met eyes with her artist one more time and let the silk robe fall from her olive, sun-kissed shoulders to the floor. Its sash fluttered to her plump toes. She lowered herself to the mattress and spread her legs out in front of her. One of her arms she kept under her cheek like a pillow and the other she draped over her side, hand reaching down to her naval. “Actually, I was kinda thinking you could be sitting up. Like take that pillow and prop yourself up against the wall with it. Almost like you would for reading. Casual. Yeah, that’s better I think. Now bring that far knee, your left knee, up to your chest. Perfect, that’s it. Okay, now I’ll start.”
His wrist trembled something awful for the first few strokes until he got a handle on it. Across the room the large kitchen windows were more or less completely fogged over. Outside the rain was letting up but it still had some endurance left in it. Charlotte got goosebumps on her thighs and rubbed them to warm them. “Why do I feel so cold? It’s hotter than heck in this apartment,” she said, relieving a snorting chuckle.
“Nervous?” Franklin provided. Behind the canvas he was smiling. “This isn’t exactly Advanced Painting anymore, is it? No syllabus covered this.”
“Consider it extra credit or something.” She laughed. Her belly throbbed with her small girl laughter. When it was relaxed, her stomach had one fleshy roll over her waist, at her belly button. The line formed by it traced the waist of pants or skirts worn each day, all her life. And now bare and exposed, a vestigial comment of the life outside the apartment. It was not unattractive, the singular roll, in fact quite the opposite. It was the Plain Beauty she had spoken of.
“Mrs. Mur—I mean Charlotte; I don’t want to make this sound as terrible as it is going to, but is Mr. Murphy going to be home any time soon?”
“No, Franklin, of course not—what do you take me for? This is my cousin’s apartment. She gave me the key to use when she’s out-of-town, so I can water her plants and check her mail. Whatever. So, no, Mr. Murphy will not be joining us.” At this statement, her chest swelled and then sank in a dim sigh. “He just… he just wouldn’t understand this. Would he?” the question addressing herself more than Franklin. “Y’know, after a while I guess… well, he’s no painter. He doesn’t get it. But let’s get off this topic,” she giggled. He could tell she was swallowing a lump in her throat that had caught well. When she looked to him she smiled hopefully and was returned a furrowed countenance, one neither of admonishment nor anger but of intent. He looked from the scene to the canvas several times in quick succession. “You have a girlfriend?” Charlotte asked him.
“No,” he scoffed. “‘Fraid not. I guess there’s something about me that makes getting a date particularly difficult.”
“Here is where I say you’ll grow into it, I guess, into yourself. That’s what adults are supposed to say, right?”
“I’ll go ahead and venture to say that you’re in no position of authority and I’m in no position to receive advice. This apartment relinquishes all appearances, if you get me.” He gave a weak laugh.
“True, true,” pursing her lips. “I dunno if it means anything, but if I were your age, I’d probably say yes to a date. If you picked the right flowers to ask me with.”
“Aren’t your expectations a little high there?”
“Not at all—a man should always give a woman flowers. To show her how beautiful he thinks she is. Not enough of that happens these days.”
“‘Fraid not. But I’ll start, if you say so.”
“I do say so. Can’t go wrong with flowers.”
“And if she’s allergic?”
“An anti-histamine is the second most romantic gift. So you’re set.”
“So wise. Sit up a little bit more, you’re starting to slouch.”
“It’s alright. Just like that. Good.”
“You ever done anything like this before?”
“I always imagined doing it, but no.”
He was biting his lip in concentration. Every now and again he would chew on the inside of his cheek, making a dimple on the outside. She watched him as he watched her.
“Franklin?” Her eyes were fluttering rapidly from artist to naked thighs to hands to blank wall and back again, unable to decide which surface to land on. Franklin looked at her, eyebrows raised expectantly. “Am I—” she started. Her gaze fell to naked thighs and swelling, nude chest once again.
Before she had opportunity to finish her thought, the sound of key scraping into lock and dull chatterings on the other side of the door effectively froze every muscle in Charlotte’s anatomy with palpable rigidity. Franklin watched her musculature flex under her soft flesh, lunging her to her robe that was still curled on the floor like a cat. She held it to her chest as the door opened and the dull voices became clear as they entered the room. There wasn’t quite enough of the fabric to cover herself as much as she wanted to. Etched in her eyes was a look of urgency.
Entering the room was a young woman, whose guise greatly matched the general feel of the small apartment, accompanied by a man some years older than her. They laughed as though they had been laughing continually in that same manner for the last two or three blocks. Her hair was wavy from the rain and one string was strewn across her jaw to her chin, which was dripping. Upon entering she adopted a flabbergasted, gaping expression and pulled the wet hair from her jaw so it joined the rest—Franklin thought that she did it, fixed that hair, in a way that made her seem guilty, or perhaps her gestures had simply absorbed the general emotional inertia from the room. Her male counterpart, much taller than she and with a sparse growth of chin stubble, had also taken on a look of shame. Franklin watched each face behind his easel (wishing somehow he could turn it into a video camera).
“Charlotte?” the girl finally said. “What are… ummm, what are ya doin’ here?”
Charlotte took the robe she had been pressing to her chest and attempted to swiftly make the transition to wearing it so that perhaps she’d feel a trifle less nude. When she made the attempt she found that she had mistaken the configuration (is that a sleeve or what?) and her breasts tensed in the struggle, bare for all to see, before she managed to slip it on correctly and shut the opening tightly over her chest. It was not as tight as she would’ve liked, which is to say tight enough to crush her from existence and thus whisking her away from her presence in the room. Her complexion became very pale as she looked back and forth between faces. “I thought you were out-of-town,” she responded in whisper. The elephant came out of the bathroom, holding a towel wrapped about his waist and wanting to ask if there was any bar soap on hand; he tenderheeled back into the bathroom after seeing the tension.
“Oh. Damn. Well now you know that’s not true. But I can explain, Charlotte.” Here she broke off and gave an imploring look at her man friend, who was surely in the same terse land of mumbling stumbles as the young girl was. He gave a somewhat spurious shrug and then walked across the room to Charlotte, put his arm around her and then set his chin on top of her head.
“Listen,” he began. Franklin still sat, veritably undetected, behind his canvas, watching the spectacle unroll before him. “I didn’t want you to find out this way, Lottie. I guess I’ll tell you the whole truth. This has been going on for a while. But Charlotte, it doesn’t mean anything.” The blonde scoffed one specific type of cough of many discernible types; this particular scoff evoked an ‘excuse me’. “Cut it out,” the man said to the blonde girl. Franklin then knew it was Mr. Murphy. The young girl resumed looking guilty despite that one small break in character. “Charlotte? Do you wanna say something? What are you thinkin’? I know you must hate me right now.”
“No, I—” her brown eyes, which had become a bit more haggard since Franklin had first seen her, flashed to the easel and the silent artist perched behind it. Mr. Murphy followed her eyes. He nearly jumped, noticing Franklin’s presence for the first time. Franklin’s mouth opened but a mucusy film of reluctance had formed on his tongue and at the back of his throat.
“Who’s this?” Mr. Murphy asked. He was intrigued, it goes without saying, but as the words still permeated the air and dribbled from his lips, they began to become accusatory.
“Hello. I’m Franklin.”
“Honey? Charlotte? Who the hell is this?” ignoring Franklin’s confession from the moment before.
“He’s… well he’s a painter… an artist.”
Franklin then felt simultaneously complimented and betrayed. Mr. Murphy’s shoulders became rigid under his grey raincoat. His feet cut their way to Franklin, keeping eye contact the entirety of the room-crossing until he was at Franklin’s side. Then he looked at the canvas. After a few moments of huffing, his eyes searching desperately for something recognizably crass, he seemed to calm some. “What’s that there?” he asked Franklin.
“That’s her… Y’know, I’d rather not say, to be honest.” Then Mr. Murphy became agitated once again. In all reality, he still hadn’t been able to perceive what was being portrayed but the suggestion of it was enough to rile his imagination. He looked at Franklin, giving the impression of truculently leaning forward. Franklin stood from his stool and took a few steps backward. Mr. Murphy’s chin was wrinkled aggressively and his thick index finger wagged at Franklin, accompanying frothing words.
“What kind of sonuva—.” Vim flowed from his form as he just about chased Franklin in a circle about the room. A blushing Charlotte and blonde cousin watched, standing out of their path. Charlotte noticed, apparently for the first time, Mr. Murphy’s wire-grey nose hairs curling out from his nostrils. Their flaring brought much attention to them. His yelling Charlotte’s name in plea and frustration finally dragged her back into the calamity that was that rainy afternoon. “Charlotte! Explain exactly what you were doing with this…. This… why you sonuva—.”
“We were having an affair,” Charlotte told him, matter-of-factly. Her chin raised and her eyes fluttered. With her hands nested in her robe pockets she gave off an image of absolute aplomb. “And if you’d like to know the truth, he’s three times the man you ever were.”
“Mr. Murphy, she doesn’t mean that. Tell him the truth Mrs. Mur—I mean Char—Mrs. Murphy. Tell him you’re just messin’ around. Quickly, quickly.” Franklin still held his open hands at chest height in innocence. Mr. Murphy had stopped pursuing him around the room but his heaving chest and flared nostrils might as well have continued. Charlotte had turned away from them and her small sobs could just be heard. She had abandoned her aplomb along with her stature and had vowed for, instead, tears (and ugly snot-running tears at that). The cousin and Franklin shared a prolonged look while Mr. Murphy attempted consoling Mrs. Murphy in her crumpled position on the bed. Her face was buried in the pillow. Muffled sentence fragments escaped now and again, but all Mr. Murphy could do was rub her shoulders and pat her on the back and shush her like a riled infant.
“There, there,” he mumbled.
“None of it’s true,” said the weeping voice from inside the pillow. Franklin looked at the cousin again. Noticing his hands were still up to his chest, he shrugged and set his arms at his sides. She shrugged too. One side of her mouth shrugged itself into her cheek to say ‘I dunno either.’ Then they listened to Charlotte’s sobs.
Soon Mr. Murphy had settled Mrs. Murphy’s woeful wailings into a much less severe series of emotionally charged sniffles. Franklin had returned to his stool behind the canvas, obscuring him from view (and thus, he hoped, conversation altogether). The cousin had pulled a chair into the room from the kitchen. The three lovers discussed their options, feelings, intentions, and decisions while Franklin’s eyes, peering just over the canvas’s edge, followed their dialogue.
The familiar scratching, tumbling sound of a key in the lock drew everyone’s attention to the door. A muttered syllable came through from the hallway as the visitor had realized the door was unlocked and had dropped his keys. The jingle of the keys was hushed into their pocket and then there was the turning of the doorknob and a gentle, inquiring knock. As soon as the door was open wide enough for a head to peek through, Franklin saw a long-beaked nose enter followed by tousled, dirty hair and a garish smile. “Beth? The voice called out.
“Damn,” Beth, the blonde cousin who was twirling her hair in her finger, said. She cringed and waited for impact as the voice came through the door, seeing Franklin at his easel first.
“Who are you?” he asked, accusingly, of Franklin. Through reflex, Franklin dismounted his stool and put his hands up. He thusly waited for Beth to spring in on his account to explain to the young man the current situation. Beth was still closing her eyes like playing emotionally high-risk hide and seek. “Beth?” the young man asked again, coming all the way into the room, “Who is this guy?”
He had in his hands a movie case. Franklin tried to read the title but the young man’s grubby fingers were spread over the cover. It was colorful, anyway, Franklin saw. “Bradley,” Beth finally began, “What’re you doin’ here?”
“You told me you were sick. I was gonna visit and ask if you wanted to watch this movie,” holding up the movie in his hand as exhibit A. “And maybe make you some soup if you wanted.”
“Listen, Bradley.” She sucked in her bottom lip to brace herself. “We need to talk, I think.”
Next thing, Bradley was sitting on the bed between Mr. and Mrs. Murphy, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes as if to force the emotions back in through their exit of choice, the tear ducts. Bubbles of spit formed at the corner of his mouth and popped. Drool began to dribble from his bottom lip. Beth was shushing him and putting her cheek on his quaking shoulder once in a while, for effect.
Franklin was sitting on his stool once again, ankle on knee, wringing his sock in his hands—a nervous habit. He saw the apathy in Beth’s eyes, the complete lack of remorse as she looked from Bradley to Mr. Murphy and back. She might as well have been looking at her wrist watch and tapping her foot. Through some strange form of obligation, Franklin had decided to stay instead of, the logical response, packing up and jumping from the first available open window to the street below. He had wanted to help console Charlotte and while he was on his perch looking into the group, it seemed, he was formulating phrases to say to her in a hushed tone (in his head, he also brushed hair behind her ear with his finger). Mr. Murphy was still occupying Franklin’s desired position. Franklin was determined to outlast him and speak the final, comforting word to Charlotte. No one had spoken for some time; they were either crying or shushing.
Voices were coming up the hall. When they lingered outside the door for a moment too long for normalcy, the occupants of the little apartment took notice and, subsequently, pause. The door opened and two intertwined bodies came spilling through. One was a grey haired man. The little tufts of hair over each ear were actually bleach white. The woman, short, plump with tight curls and flabby armback fat was vigorously rubbing her stubby hands through the man’s snowy hair. The meeting of their lips was so voluble and moist-sounding, if the milk in the refrigerator had ears, it would’ve soured immediately (and willingly). Franklin’s neck hairs stood on end and the skin on his back and arms turned cold. He nearly retched. Luckily, the elderly couple noticed the stares before going further. The old man looked at Beth and almost jumped.
“Mr. Thompson?” Beth said, incredulously. “What are you doing?”
“I thought you said… that you’d be out-of-town.”
“Oh, who’s this one now?” Bradley wailed. “Another lover? You weren’t satisfied breaking one innocent heart and having a man on the side, you needed two. You need therapy, y’know.” He returned to his realm inside dribbling drool and the heels of his hands.
“It’s not like that, Bradley. This is my landlord. What do you think you’re doing, Mr. Thompson? Do you always use my apartment like this when I’m out of town?” Franklin noticed that Beth looked pleased to have an excuse to stop coddling Bradley. She couldn’t quite conceal a smug grin hiding in her cheek.
“No, no, it’s not like that—I’ve only done this twice or sumpin’.”
“Is this why my lamp was broken when I got back from Minnesota two months ago?”
“Minnesota?” Mr. Murphy reminisced. “Great state, Minnesota.”
Bradley wailed, sounding like a sobby air-raid siren.
“I don’t know anything about a lamp,” Mr. Thompson said, “I swear.”
Another couple came stumbling into the room. The woman looked as plump as the other but her date looked like a fifteen-year old boy with a thin mustache, comprised of a few red bristles, and braces. They had stopped kissing when the boy had been bumped (thrown in more appropriate a word, by the woman’s disproportionate upper-body strength) into Mr. Thompson’s shoulder.
“Irene? What the hell ya doin’? Is this the boy that delivers the mail?” Mr. Thompson began to shout.
“I could ask you the exact same question,” Mrs. Thompson responded. Then her expression became befuddled. “Well, not the exact same question—I can’t ask you the mail part, but the ‘what the hell are you doing’ part. Well? Who’s this cheap replacement you’ve put in my place?”
Mr. Thompson sighed. “It’s Mrs. Roberts, the night custodian. I’m not surprised you don’t recognize her, you’ve been plastered drunk both times you met.”
“Oh, I was plastered? You must’ve been trying to talk to me again—that’s why I resort to alcohol in the first place; it’s true—Mrs. Platts, my psychoanalyst told me it was you who was responsible for my drinking habits.”
“Well, y’know what, I’ve been seeing Mrs. Platts ever since you hired her.” (Mrs. Roberts smacked him on the chest in reprimand, her fat lips pouting).
“Oh, yeah? Well I’ve been seeing Mr. Roberts ever since you hired Mrs. Roberts here.” (Mrs. Roberts put her hands on her hips. She didn’t know who to hit anymore).
The elephant that had, until then, been taking a bath came out into the room and stood behind Franklin’s shoulder. “You know,” it said to him, “I think Mr. Thompson has a type—the short, plump type—and look at that Beth, licking her lips at all this drama—pure, free, real entertainment. And look over there—Mr. Murphy has stopped consoling his lady love.” Franklin and Charlotte looked at each other briefly. “You can stay here,” the elephant said, “the weather outside is perfect for my Gene Kelly, Singin’ in the Rain impersonation. I memorized the whole dance, too. So it looks like I’ll be skedaddling here.”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute,” Beth said. “Why are you here Mrs. Thompson? Do you use this apartment when I’m gone?”
“Yes—I overheard my husband telling someone you were out of town tonight.”
“So was it you who broke my lamp?”
“Yes—I’ll pay you back, darling.”
The confession was a shame; Franklin wanted to start taking bets. He needed a way to pass the time. His sock was nearly soaked through with his palm sweat and his back was aching.
Sometime during the confusion, the door had once again swung closed. There was rather urgent knocking coming from the hall and, against all odds, the sound managed to sail above the irascible shouts of the slighted lovers that had taken over the air of the room. Mr. Thompson opened the door. A burly man with an amorphous head and a thick, black mustache lumbered through the door, hands in the pockets of his stained overalls. Everyone in the room looked from him to the door, perhaps expecting a date that he had left to park the car; he was alone.
“Mr. O’Flannigan, what is it?”
“Beth told me there was something wrong with the radiator last week… I’ve uhhh… come to fix it.”
“Oh, yeah, damn,” Beth said, walking over to the radiator, “It’s just been acting real flaky—I mean right now it’s goin’ full steam ahead but then other times it just quits.”
“Alright, lemme at ‘er,” he grunted. He rubbed his hands together and a large pocket of gas made its way up, past his enormous belly, and out of his mouth. His tongue wiped along the bristles of his mustache and he hiccupped. The fifteen-year old mailboy felt at his mediocre mustache self-consciously.
The arguments had ceased for the time being. They all interestedly watched Mr. O’Flannigan kneel by the radiator, his eyes serious. “Knob is just a little busted, is all. Have you been putting a lot of pressure on it? Cause that’d do it.” Beth then looked admonishingly at Mrs. Thompson and the mailboy but they both averted their eyes (apparently the corner of the ceiling piquing both their interest). The boy blushed. Mr. O’Flannigan rubbed his hands together again and came to his feet—on the second attempt, on the first his knee had refused to accept the load and his stomach dragged him back down. He leaned in toward Beth and hushedly said “So about that date later tonight, when should I pick you up?”
Bradley, who had managed to stave off the heavier symptoms of his grief, began to howl and moan again. A fresh deposit of drool accumulated at the corner of his mouth. “Damn,” Beth cursed.
“What’d I say?” Mr. O’Flannigan asked.
A voice cleared itself from the doorway, the door having been left ajar. All eyes looked to stage left where a police officer in suave navy-blue uniform and badge stood with his hands on his hips. “Hello ladies, gentlemen. I’ve received some noise complaints coming from this address?”
“Yes… that’s them, those noisy… noise… makers,” a raspy voice said from the hall.
“You just take it easy,” the officer said to the voice. “Just go back in your apartment, Mrs. Crank.”
“Arrest ‘em! Arrest ‘em!”
“Please return to your home—I’m handling this.”
The voice complained once more than receded down the hall to the noise of a slamming door. The officer looked back into the room. “Beth? This is your place?” he asked. Bradley wailed and moaned again.
“Damn,” Beth cursed.
“Alright,” Franklin started. His hands flew up to demand silence and he took his mark at center stage. “I’ve seen enough of this.”
“Who’re you?” came the general consensus of the room.
“Hello, everyone—my name is Franklin. I’d like to say a little something. You are all out of your damn minds. Every single one of you.” He turned to a sitting Mr. Murphy. “Especially you. You are the biggest idiot in the room. Why, you ask? Because you had her,” pointing to Charlotte, “And you thought you could do better. You had her and you opted out. Now, you’re either the stupidest sonuvabitch in the world or—” A crashing rip came to him through his eye, sending a myriad of crystal colors glimmering along, sweeping him off his feet. Then he heard the fleshy report of the clenched fist on eye socket immediately following the explosion of light.
After another two days of rain, the sun had come out again. People were genuinely surprised, as if they had expected it to abandon them and never return. The fields throbbed with life and dried themselves into blooms and beauties. Kids jumped into the pulsing river, which was at record-setting depth. People then expected their fertility to surpass the Nile’s; they expected the fecund earth to continue in that manner for eternity, or at least the remainder of their lifetimes, just as they had thought with the torrent rains.
Charlotte Murphy pulled herself from her voluptuous bed-sheets on a Sunday morning and reminded herself of her reality. She kicked the remnants of her dreams off her heels like kicking her blanket from her legs. Then she meandered down the hall to the kitchen to brew coffee.
Outside a red-crested bird flitted to a thin branch, flapped its wing once or twice and then alit to a higher branch, out of sight. Charlotte listened to its song coming from offstage. Her doorbell rang.
It took her several seconds of dream-or-reality doubt, paired with morning torpor, to walk to the door. The fresh air from outside poured in over her body. On her porch, resting against one of the wooden pillars, was a large rectangle wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. Next to it was a bouquet of flowers, yellow and purple. She smelled the flowers and then set them down to pick up the package. Without first going inside, she ripped the paper back. Childhood reminiscences of Christmas mornings came to her. Underneath the paper was a canvas, dripping with such fantastic hues as to be a spectacle to everyday kind of sight. Then (just as suddenly) it was nothing like childhood Christmases.
Her lithe fingers hovered a thread above the surface of the painting; they outlined her bare thighs, her naval, the curve of her breast, and she looked into the face, her own face, as if looking into a lens of absolute truth, honesty. The light in the painting was warm, the shadows blue and dark. A note fell from the painting to settle at her slipper feet. Ecstatically, she bent to pick it up and had read it over three times before standing erect once again. ‘You’ll never be plain,’ it read.
She wafted back inside, her gifts in tow. She held them to her chest elated then pushed them away for fear of damaging them. She saw none and giggled her grade-school girl’s laugh and bit her lip. She put her face in the bouquet and breathed deeply.
ANDREW WATTERSON - [Read Full Bio] is a twenty year old living in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He has been writing for a few years and just recently decided to try and get his work published. He hopes to author a truly great novel in the future...
[Featured]Art Image Credit: Mansard Roof by Debra Bretton Robinson. ©Copyright 2015, Debra Bretton Robinson
Snapping Twig – Spring – 2015
Vol: Feb 2015 thru Apr 2015