A few years ago, I started a story that held a bit of a mystery, and I decided to let it unfold as I wrote, instead of planning out the “truth” of it. I found myself extremely drawn to the characters – essentially opposites of each other, living completely opposing lives.
For some reason or other, I stopped working on this one, but I intend to continue it at some point.
I will post this in a few installments – and maybe even write some more in the meantime.
As she walks up the front path, she can’t help thinking that it would be nice if it were a winding, mile-long track through fences entwined by ivy, and majestic weeping willows. There might be cobblestones along the road, and she wouldn’t mind them tripping her up, because it would feel like England, and Spring, and Jane Austen.
But all too soon she is stepping over a browning weed pushing up through a crack in the pavement, reaching the door. The chipped red wood opens with a lurch, a symptom of the coming spring, and she enters the parlour, which is really just a four foot square area with coat and shoe racks lining both walls. Shrugging out of her jacket, she steps from linoleum onto warped hardwood; instantly, her demeanor changes. Footsteps become soft echoes of themselves, and the squeaky spots, all committed to memory, are cautiously avoided as though she treads a maze she can only complete without waking the great monster. She can hear the television in the back room, a sports game of some sort. It occurs to her that she should have looked up who is playing what games in case he decides to discuss his favourite teams at supper – occasionally he takes a break from shoveling down his food and most of hers to mention a fact about his day, and lord help her if she doesn’t appear to take an interest.
She is nearly at the stairs when a starling outside the hall window catches her attention. The small bird ruffles its feathers as it rests on the ledge. It is small, and black, and would fit in the palm of her hand. She could keep it as a friend, though not in a cage – never in a cage. Someone to talk to on lonely days, someone to love.
Her distraction breaks her focus – one traitorous foot finds a loose floorboard. The sound is short, a hesitant squeak before she quickly adjusts, but the damage is done. Abruptly, the sound from the back room stops, preceded by the click of the remote’s power button. With only seconds to think, she seriously considers running up the stairs to her office, locking the door, tilting a chair under the handle. In a split second she calculates the distance from her window to the ground two stories below – the jump shouldn’t result in anything more than a twisted ankle. If she could just –
“Announcing your presence, are you?” He steps through the doorway and then he is looming over her, his stare dwarfing her as much as his six and a half feet. She looks up at him, slowly, as though he is an unidentified animal for whom eye contact may either spook, or set mad. His prominent brow further shadows dark, deep-set eyes; eyes she gazed into on their first date, whose playful, humourous glint drew her in. Now, they bore into her and she imagines flames leaping out, singeing her hair and igniting her blouse.
“Now I’ve missed half of the game.”
Again, she tries, but the words stick in her throat, “I –”
She cringes, despite a conscious attempt not to, steps back and finds that she is cornered between the wall and the staircase. She looks to her right. The fifteen steps stretch on for miles, and she is certain that the fifth stair has a pressure switch that will fold the whole staircase in on itself, creating a slippery ramp that will send her back down into ravenous jaws. She swallows. The words unstick.
“I’m sorry. I was just going to get some writing in before Elsa prepares supper. I think you can still catch the last … period.”
She holds her breath. Lord help her if he is watching football. His eyebrows rise and she waits for the inferno to scorch her lashes, her lips. He shows his teeth; she imagines a cavernous maw, bits of rotting flesh and bone from the last meal stuck in pointed teeth, each the size of her thumb.
“Leafs’re getting their asses kicked,” he grumbles as he shifts his weight back and slowly rotates his bulk to face the room he just vacated. She lifts a careful foot to the first stair, reaches her right hand to the rail. He looks over his shoulder. She freezes, her head turned to the taupe threads of the stair-runner, his face in her peripheral.
“When Elsa calls, you get your ass down here. Everything will be ready by the time I get back from Ralph’s.” She watches as he takes in her trembling fingers still reaching for the railing, and she knows he is savouring his effect on her. She seizes the banister as though it is his throat, digging in her fingernails, savouring her own, equally satisfying, if imaginary, victory. He turns once more and re-enters the back room. She waits until she can hear the game again, then walks briskly up the stairs, pointedly avoiding the fifth step.
He had waited for the squeaking of the floorboard to lease the anger piled up from having no one to throw it at all day; she is safe from reprimand until dinner. She reaches the door of her office and enters, opening it just enough to slide through. She turns the lock behind her, and tilts a chair against the knob for good measure. The grate over the window filters the diminishing sunlight into slats across the thick Berber carpet.
–End of Part I–