It’s Creative Writing Wednesday! Enjoy an original short story from Trope and Dagger!
John Copper sat in his living room, reclining in the green comfy chair that he loved so much. It was his only comfort these days, its pillowy embrace having replaced his once-loving wife’s, who was now embracing another man. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surchage at a formerly surcharge-free ATM. He sat there, trying to sink further and further into the chair, resisting the urge to call out “whore!” every now and again, for fear of judgement from the lamp. He looked over at it. The lamp just sat there, like an inanimate object. John wondered what he had expected.
John had met his wife, Ursula, shortly after he had returned from active duty. He had been injured and his right leg was weak and felt useless. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something. John, of course, hadn’t stepped on a land mine, but had simply taken a bit of shrapnel in his leg, which he always felt was much more boring. That injury, combined with the waddle he now had from too many consolation beers as of late, made the duck comparison quite appropriate.
It’s uncertain what made this particular Saturday different from all the days that had come before, but today John decided that he was done wallowing in his misery. He slipped off his stained sweat pants and put on some slacks. He traded his ratty Whitesnake T-shirt and put on one of his nicer polos, one that made him feel a little like pre-infidelity Tiger Woods, before he lost his skill in the divorce. John knew the feeling.
But he stepped out on this fine Saturday anyways, feeling great and two feet taller. Though, of course, he wasn’t actually any taller. He was as tall as a 6’3” tree. No more and no less. Should the tree grow any taller, he would no longer be the same height as that tree, but instead would be as tall as a different 6’3” tree, though on this particular day he felt much taller than that. And, in spite of his lameness, he was considerably more mobile than a 6’3” tree, which is always helpful when trying to obtain a cup of coffee from a corner shop, as John was on his way to do.
John found himself terribly surprised, however, when a woman leapt out in front of him from behind a garbage can. John stumbled in his steps, almost falling over before catching himself just in time.
“Holy hell, why did you do that?” John asked the woman, who wore torn jeans, an oversized hoody, and whose name was Mary.
John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met. They both, however, were considerably larger and less prone to eating their entire weight in a day. John wasn’t sure that he liked the look of the woman, though he wasn’t quite sure why. By all accounts, she was a perfectly normal looking woman, nothing remarkable however nothing unpleasant about her. Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center. He noted that they did not sparkle nor were they lifeless, but simply existed on the woman’s face, staring at him. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master. Why was it so symmetrical? Shouldn’t, by right of simply existing in the world for a period of time, it have some character to it? A scar, a dimple, one ear higher than the other? But this unremarkable face simply stared at him, as he stood there feeling uncomfortable in his slacks and polo.
“OK…” he said eventually, and began to step around her.
“I’m Mary,” she said, moving in front of him. He stopped in his tracks.
“Hello,” he said, tentatively, unwilling to share his name. She continued to gaze at him, expressionless. “Starey Mary,” John finally muttered, awkwardly.
Mary let out a mighty guffaw. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up. It reminded John of his grandfather’s laugh, and even had the same kindness underlying it.
“You’re really funny. Like, like, a funny guy,” Mary said. “You know, on the TV?”
“Sure, sure, I know,” said John. “Thank you.”
“Welcome,” she said. “Do you wanna see something?”
John did not like the way this conversation was going.
“I, uh, I don’t think so,” he replied, not interested in anything unpleasant or lewd that Mary might be wanting to show him.
“It’s good,” she implored him. “It’s, like, super good. You’ll like it.”
John did not feel very reassured, for some reason. “It’s nothing…weird, is it? Nothing strange?”
“No no no, it’s good,” said Mary. “Promise, it’s like, good stuff.” Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever. John wondered if she was being missed by someone, a very put-upon nurse or concerned mother. She didn’t seem dangerous, though, and John figured that he used to be a military man, and he could defend himself from this considerably smaller woman, even with a bum leg and more generous behind these days.
“OK, what do you want to show me?” he asked. She motioned for him to follow her and she walked down a small alleyway. John glanced around, looking for some sort of ambush, but didn’t see any danger, and followed. She crouched down beside a pile of cardboard boxes and pulled out a wooden one. She sat and motioned for him to sit, as well.
The wooden box was splendid, beautifully carved with flowers edged into it, and finished so that it shone under the sunlight. John had to admit, this strange woman had his curiosity piqued. Her excitement for what she was about to show him was almost infectious as she grinned, holding the box in her hands as though it were her most prized possession. John realized that it very well could be, and felt honored that she wanted to share this with him. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
“Sit, sit,” she commanded, and John complied, settling next to her. “This is the most important thing in the world. It’s not for anybody but us, OK?”
John nodded, smiling and feeling a small amount of anticipation. Mary ran her finger along the seam of the box and gently pried it open. When she did, a small ballerina appeared, pressing against the lid until it was completely open. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant. John watched as she danced, small and lovely music emanating from the box. He was mesmerized by the tiny dancer, who moved gracefully, almost life-like, spinning and moving her limbs in time with the music.
“It’s me,” said Mary. “Do you see?” John did see, John saw her dancing in front of him, small and perfect in the box. He felt insecure, his pants too tight and his collar itchy, nervous in front of the small version of Mary dancing in front of him.
He didn’t know how long he had been watching the ballerina, but suddenly all the lights in the house next to them switched on, and the alleyway was illuminated much more brightly. John was confused, as it had been the middle of the day when he had left his home, or at least he had thought it was the middle of the day. He definitely did not notice it growing dark. There was a commotion in the house next to them. Mary shut the lid on her box, as they heard several loud crashes and frantic scuffling. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30. John stood, and Mary stood with him.
“What in god’s name was that?” he asked.
“Henry,” Mary said, matter-of-factly. “Big dog. Pretty mean. OK, goodbye!” She turned and walked down the alleyway, her wooden box in hand.
“Wait,” said John, unsure of what he wanted, but knowing that he didn’t want her to leave. “Are you…OK? Do you need a place to stay?”
“Dude, I got school tomorrow,” Mary replied, as she continued on her way. “But I’ll see ya!”
John watched as she disappeared around the house. He was annoyed with himself that he mistook the high school kid for a homeless person, and he blamed his ex-wife for no particular reason. It had been an odd day, but he decided to count it as a win, a first step in getting back out into the world. Maybe now the lamp wouldn’t judge him so harshly, and tomorrow he would try again, hopefully actually making it to the coffee shop this time. And if he was stopped by another weirdo with something interesting to show him, all the better.
This post is dedicated to Ellie Di Julio (she now owes me a dollar) and high school students who write really bad analogies everywhere!