Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Chapter Four-Beyond The Seven Seas


“Figured I’d find you ‘ere.” He looked like an unshaven postal worker. His eyes were bloodshot behind his black-rimmed glasses and he was wearing the same clothes she had left him in the night before. James never wore his glasses in public.

“I’m sorry I hung up on you. I thought I told you to stay home.”

He wrapped his hand around the inside of her elbow and led them over to a table in the corner of the room.

He said, “There are worse sins though I doubt you could have picked worse timing-- and you did.”

“Yeah well, I sort of panicked. I’m sorry I’m such an idiot. And if I did, why are you here?”

“Ah, there you go assuming I follow orders”

“Well, you at least could have cleaned yourself up before going out in public. Jeez.”

“Piss off.” He grinned.

James slid the stool out for Ilse and tilted his head in the direction of the girl behind the counter.

“Two of the usual eh?” She nodded and smiled.

Ilse dropped her bag between her legs and scooted awkwardly onto the gangly red vinyl topped bar stool purposely not looking at James looking at her, awaiting some sort of explanation.

“Not before I get some food in my system.” She leaned her back against the wall and propped her feet on the bottom rung of the table.

The waitress brought two coffees and the best looking pair of warm tomato and Portobello mushroom sandwiches in all of London proper. It gave her a renewed sense of hope in life. Whoever said the Brits don’t know anything about food most certainly never ate here. The café was a hole in the walls of London that most of the Buskers in the area would frequent. The walls were vermillion red and while there were only five tables in the whole place the rhythm had adjusted so that there was usually a seat to be found. The smell of vanilla and warm spiced tea and cigarettes mixed pleasantly as it was filtered throughout the small room by the whirring ceiling fans overhead.

“Well?” His restless fingers picked at the buttons on his sleeves, the scratches in the tabletop, the fraying threads on his jeans.

She said, “Smoke a cigarette would you. You’re making me nervous.”

“I left them at home.” He raked a hand through his hair and pressed his palms flat on the table.

Ilse paused for a fraction of time between bites. He’s really worried about me. She finished her sandwich and brushed the crumbs from her fingers onto the plate.

“You want to tell me what that was all about earlier?”

“Not really.” She stirred more milk into her coffee. “Did you see the pig in Piccadilly earlier?”

“Don’t change the subject.” He needed a cigarette.

“Fuck James. I don’t know anymore. I thought I had things under control but lately, it’s been like going back in time. I can’t focus, I can’t think straight.” She took a sip. “I can’t write. Jesus, I don’t even remember the last time I had a fucking flashback and now today there’s been two! What the hell am I supposed to do with that? And then this god-damned kid shows up and half of London is standing in the streets gawking at the fucking pig in Piccadilly Circus and I don’t know-- -- it’s been a piss poor day.”

The waitress came over to clear away plates and refill James’ cup of coffee. She set half a pack of Lucky Strikes down on the table in front of him.

“Some guy left these here earlier. I was going to throw them away but you look like you could put them to better use.”

“Marry me.” She laughed as she walked away.

Ilse said, “And don’t tell me this shit is normal. I’m so sick of hearing the word “processing” I could vomit.”

“I didn’t say anything. I think you’re being a little hard on yourself. You had a shit afternoon. You got mugged for Christ’s sake. Little bugger would have been brown bread if I’d gotten a hold of him—“

He took a long pull off of his cigarette and slid another one out of the pack.

“It’s just—look—last time—when I first came to London—I couldn’t walk out my front door without expecting to see him standing there. He never quit wanting me.” Her voice sounded like a house with all the lights burned out.

“Few of us have ever quit wanting you” His tone was flippant. Now serious. “But I know—it was three years ago though. It’s behind you.” He took a pause and drew on his cigarette. “It’s behind us.”

“Don’t make jokes. And apparently it isn’t. And this kid today—that really fucked me up—why the hell wouldn’t he take anything? What if it was a way to test me? To see if he could get to me?”

She was leaning across the table, her coffee cup was tucked up underneath her like something precious. Her necklaces were hovering just inches above the edge of the cup.

“Oh Christ Ilse, I swear you were a conspiracy theorist in a past life. Don’t be ridiculous. I know you had a good scare but you should be sayin’ your hail mary’s that you didn’t lose anything except time today. And what the hell do you mean did I see the pig in Piccadilly?” James finished his cigarette and drove the butt into the bottom of the ashtray. He lit up a second one. “like smoking damn candy cigarettes” he muttered to himself. Ilse rolled her eyes and un-hunched her shoulders.

Her tone was casual again.

She said, “A little slow on the uptake this afternoon. Tsk. I don’t mean anything. There was a damn pig in the circus today. He was standing beneath that ridiculous statue of Eros and half of the damn planet was standing there staring back at him. I didn’t exactly stick around to interview him. Besides, he sort of, well, he sort of disappeared.”

“Pigs don’t disappear.” He gave her a flat look.

“Yeah, I know. But this one did. One minute I was looking at him and the next minute, he was gone.”

“I see.”

“You don’t believe me.”

She folded her arms in front of her and squared her shoulders.

“Well, I know what I saw. And what I saw was a white pig disappear into thin air. End of story.”

James took a heavy breath and took his glasses off. He rubbed his fingers along the top of his nose and traced his sinuses. He was obliterated from last night and she was being unreasonable.

There is nothing like an irrational woman with a temper to cure a hangover.

He finished the second cigarette and took his time exhaling the smoke. The blurred edges of her face were softened further by the haze that sifted through the space between them and he impulsively reached his hand across the table. He laid his fingers gently across her hand as she reached for her coffee cup. Irrational women were just his type.

“Let’s—“ She cut him off with a hardened stare.

“Don’t.” Panic built up inside of her like bubbles fighting to break across the surface of a pond. She would not be played.

James took a hold of her hand.

“I said Don’t!

“Ilse….calm down…I was going to say let’s—“

“Let go of me! Don’t touch me! Let go!” She wrenched her hand away from him but his fingers lingered instinctively. The coffee cup flew from the table top and shattered on the floor. Milky brown liquid crawled into the cracks in the tile and headed for the door.

“Ilse…Stop this…chill out..” James let go of her hand.

“It always starts like this!” She stood up frantically and knocked the stool back against the wall she had been lounging against not thirty seconds ago. She kicked pieces of broken coffee cup out of her way and slipped on the wet tile as she reached down to pick up her bag.

People were beginning to stare.

“It’s always about this for you isn’t it!? You always have to be the logical one! Nothing could possible be as I see it for once could it! You never change. You never change!”

She was spitting the words at him as though they were on fire.

“ I didn’t ask you to come here in the first place! I don’t even know why you did! To call me a liar and make me look like a fool because I tried to tell you what went on in my day? You asked me, remember?! I didn’t want you here! You. Came. To. ME!”

James picked his glasses up and put them on.

“Ilse..” People stared. The room had gone silent. His throat was dry.

“You always have to do this! Always have to be the one who comes out right! Fuck you! Why am I never allowed to have boundaries?! I won’t be violated again! Ever!”

She twisted on the heel of her boot and stormed out of the café. The door mirrored her emotions as it slammed shut punctuating the air that had gone stale in the café. Warmth and charm left with her and James was left with a black hole sucking at his insides. A draft of chilly afternoon air joined the crowd and stirred the flyers on the bulletin board across the room. Wet footprints stared at James from the floor.

He stared back at them. The chemistry for hurt is not complicated.

The other customers went back to their conversations but not without casting glances that they thought were subtle in James’ direction. Some looked at the door. He would not chase after her. He was finished with that. She can take her boundaries and her attitude and go to hell. And for once, he refused to follow her there. Charon never did make good company. He parted the curtains ever so slightly and hated himself for doing it. Ilse turned the corner and was gone.

I will not be violated again. It bounced off the interior of her brain over and over again. Her mantra. Her promise. She was through with broken boundaries. Her boots thudded heavily on the gray sidewalk. She moved like a storm moving in across a windy Nebraska plain. Rain fell inside her bones. She was heading for Not-Here as fast as she could. She needed to be Not-Here.

Reason is a slow moving beast when it finds itself fighting a two front war and today it was particularly taxed.

Her brain slowly caught up with her passion and her footsteps began to slow. The sidewalk stopped being accused. Her breath found her lungs. The joints in her fingers unclenched and her fingernails pulled back their attack on the insides of her palms. The fury began to leak out of her as water from a garden hose in summer. Tears welled up in her eyes. Hot. Angry. Ashamed. Rain fell.

She was useless.

She stopped at the next corner and shoved her hands into her pockets. Toes turned slightly inwards, pushing against the leather heels of her boots. Her shoelace was untied and her hair was hanging in an angry mass down her back and she stood there on the street corner not knowing what to do.

I am a fool.

The blacksmiths hammer came down on her rage forcing it to bend into a controlled heat that flushed her face and burned her ears. Not-Here had come faster than she expected. She glanced across the street as she waited for the light to change. She couldn’t go back to the café. She should apologize. She couldn’t face the humiliation. She should go back to the café. She never turned back when she should. How many moments had she lost, how many spaces had been forgotten and abandoned. She didn’t know how many proverbial bridges she had left in her future but she was sure she had plenty of matches at her disposal. The means are easier to grasp than the ends.

She had lost James. Matches and fragments.

I am a product of my destroyed relationships. Her mantra. Her promise. No wonder no one wants me.

The street light changed to a walk signal and she looked up to see where she was going.

The white pig from Piccadilly Circus was staring back at her from the other side of the street looking somewhat puzzled. And lost. Definitely lost. He was sitting with his rounded back against a wall. Ilse took a double take and jumped back onto the curb. He cocked his head to the side and looked at her as if he expected some sort of answer to an unvoiced question. They stared at each other. Ha! I’m not crazy! I’ll show him! Call me a liar! Ha! Humility and rage lost their seats to triumph and she ran back towards the café.

James was paying the bill. The door swung open and Ilse swept through with an impish grin played across her lips. For the second time that day the customers gave up on their lunch to watch the live theatre performance in front of them. They got nothing for their money this time, however.

“Come with me.” She grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him outside in stumbling steps.

“What the hell is going on Ilse?” He stuffed his wallet frantically back into his back pocket as he struggled to get his feet under him.

“Shut up and come with me.”

James regained his footing and tried to pull away. She was like an over excited puppy on a leash.

“You think I’m some sort of rag doll now? One minute you’re in there screaming at the top of your lungs like a damn fool. A damn fool about how I think you’re a liar and going on about your fucking boundaries and now you want me to come with you? Who the hell do you think you are?” It was his turn to speak bullets.

Ilse made no indication that she was listening. She snatched his wrist up again and started pulling.

“I need to show you something.”

They reached the street corner, James following for reasons unbeknownst to him, protesting and arguing the whole way to ears that were only half listening. She would show him that she wasn’t just making this business up and then she could go back to caring about him. She would have time for humility afterwards.

They reached the street corner and Ilse pointed victoriously across the street.

“There! There’s the damn pig! He followed me! I knew it!”

James paused mid sentence and followed the line her finger was scorching through the air. Red brick buildings and business store fronts met his gaze. The clothing stores had pulled their racks underneath awnings of various striped colors and sizes in case the skies overhead turned rainy with the cooling temperature. Flowers were hanging from hooks and piled high on tables at the flower market. People were walking. In short, there was no pig.

“There’s no pig Ilse.’ His voice was thin with poorly masked bewilderment and the remains of his anger.


“Don’t start. Pigs don’t disappear. Nor do they follow people half around God’s forsaken London.”

Ilse stared hard at the space where moments before her sanity had stood in the flesh.

There was nothing but space and a patch of sunlight filtering through the clouds.


Lisa said...

You have a wonderful writing voice and this story is entirely unique. I can't wait to see where you take it.

Riss said...


That makes two of us (c:

MelanieD said...

Love the story! I found a few of the parts a little difficult to follow as to who as speaking. I'm waiting to hear where the 8 women come back into the story and what role they will play. They almost sound like some sort of guardian/watcher organization. There are some great lines in this story! The descriptiveness is really good. The first chapter might have been a little heavy on the description in balance with the importance of her apartment in the story, but made it easy to imagine. Overall I was hooked from the beginning. This story could go any which way from here! Can't wait to read the rest. It's a hell of a lot better than anything I have ever done. :)