'What in the hell did you do that for?' He pushed her away from him, brushing at the ashes left on his chest. 'Jesus Fucking Christ, are you some kind of psycho?'
His push had landed her on the edge of the bed, and still holding her crumbled cigarette, she slid to the floor and started laughing. Muttering, he found his clothes and pulled them on, wincing when the shirt touched the burn.
'Fucking bitch!' He slammed out of the room. On the floor, she continued to laugh. At least this one hadn't hit her.
‘Excuse me.' Her head jerked up and he flinched, floored by the starkness in her eyes. A second passed, and her mask slipped into place. The starkness replaced with friendly warmth. If it wasn't for the way she clutched her pen he might have thought he imagined it. Suddenly, he suddenly wanted to ask her why. He wanted to hold this stranger and assure her everything would be okay. He wanted to... ‘Do you have the time?'
'But why then, did you let me do it for so long?' He drew her attention back to him. 'You grew your hair long for me. You stopped dying it for me. You quit your job and moved here for me.'
'But those are just insubstantial. Those I can always change again.'
It's unfair. When you're a child and going through hell, they always tell you it will get better. But do things really get better? Not for her. Maybe not ever.
‘Look at me… am I not real? Do I not exist? Can you not see me? Oh please look at me!’ She screamed silently to herself. Someone in the crowd squealed and more people pushed forward, forcing her against the wall. The wall rippled as she faded into it. But no one noticed at all.
‘Oh, we’re opposites you and I. I’ve always wanted someone to reach me. To have some kind of impact on my life.’ I took a sip of soup then placed the spoon back into the bowl. ‘But no one’s ever come looking.’
‘Hmmm… Do you think we should…?’
‘Get the check now? Whose turn to pay?’
Her husband screamed at her. Threw a few things around. Stomped out of the house. Didn't return.
She painted pretty flowers.
Her children said nothing to her. Stole money from her purse. Snuck out after curfew. And other things better left unsaid.
She painted quiet ponds.
Friends asked questions. Shook their heads. Gossiped. Took sides.
She painted ducks on those quiet ponds.
Lawyers fought. Sent letters. Divided property. Ended ‘til death do you part'.
She painted trees with autumn colored leaves.
‘It's really a better world.' She said, pointing to her paintings leaning against the walls.
I'm an out of place person. I grew up poor, but you won't catch a trace of it about me. But I don't fit in your middle-class world. I changed from city to small town to suburbia to city to small town… I think I'm searching for something I'm never going to find. Ever.
'Excuse me.' He mumbled, knowing that if she turned and looked at him, she would know it hadn't been an accident; she would read it in his eyes. She didn't, and his breathing eased. Maybe tomorrow when he passed her he could make a joke about it. Absentmindedly rubbing his shoulder he forgot all about age and playing games.
'You want an orange?' As she clutched her orange tightly, he twisted her wrist and brought the knife downward, intentionally aiming away from the orange. She screamed as the blade slammed into her hand, sinking down through tender skin, the orange falling to the ground, forgotten. Grabbing her shoulders, he shook her. 'It was an accident...'
He stares at her. Looking for the subtle signs in her body language to give it away. Is her back too straight? Is her mouth set in a grim line? But her body is just as hard to read as her code. He takes a deep breath…
As his eyes met hers, she pulled her hand away from his shoulder. She clasped her hands together to stop them from trembling, hoping he wouldn’t notice.
She asked him a question, which he barely heard even as he watched her mouth form the words.
His answer didn’t make sense, but she didn’t notice anything but his eyes…
She had thought she would die quietly on her bed, in her most presentable dressing gown, hair neatly brushed, and just a hint of rouge and lipstick. But games of chance rarely play out the way they’re expected to, and death doesn’t give a hoot about appearances.