Purgatory Avenue

I figured I’d have a play with this week’s prompt from Flash Fiction Friday, so here’s my offering:

Purgatory Avenue

The door bell rings at exactly 12:00. I’ve been expecting it for a while now, but I’m half-way through my yoga routine. Sweat’s glistening off the tattoos stabbed into my skin and I roll my eyes at the timing. The top of my head is pressing into my pristine white carpet while I’m taking the weight on my forearms. My feet point toward Heaven like I’m some kind of Otherworldly compass. I think about letting it go, ignoring it, but I left that kind of M.O behind when I moved up here.

The bell chimes again and I try not to swear as I fold my body in on itself. My toes sink into the deep, rich pile and I unhinge my waist until I’m on my feet, standing straight and shoulders squared. I swipe an equally white towel from the arm of my thematically-fitting leather sofa, swat perspiration from my face and head to the front door.

I let a smile tickle my mouth as she hits the buzzer again. I don’t need to open the door to know it’s her. The fact she’s matched my schedule for everything from hitting the shops to putting out the bins would give even the least aware resident a hint they’d made a new friend, but it’s not her kooky bad stalking that give her away; there’s so much light leaking through my solid-slab front door that the high-gloss finish is positively singing.

I wipe the towel around my face, around my chest, under my arms. I consider dashing upstairs for a shirt, but another ding tells me she’s as clued in to the fact there’s a couple inches of wood between as I am. I guess things must be a little shadier that side of the door.

I shake my head, hide as many of the tattoos as I can by draping the terry cloth over my shoulders and swing the door open.

“Hi,” she says, spidery fingers tugging at the hem of Judas Priest t-shirt with more curry stains than the India Restaurant’s table cloth.

“I …”

She gives me a smile and I have to turn away. The light from those pearly gnashers would put any Hollywood A-lister to shame and I just can’t stand it.

“Are you okay?”

The concern in her voice is horrible. It actually washes over me in cool, soothing wave that, were I back home, would probably flay the flesh from my bones. It takes all I can muster not to vomit on her bare feet.

“You’d better come in,” I say, holding out the door and making an expansive gesture with my right arm.

“Straight through to the kitchen.”

It’s against the constraints of the ‘new me’, but I can’t help snickering when she crosses the threshold and shivers like she’s got an ice cube in her panties. My mirth quickly dies from the genuinely hurt expression on her stupidly pretty face and I almost reach out to touch her when she looks at the door.

“Devlin,” I say, holding out a hand that I hope to Home she doesn’t take.

“Angela.” She gives me a little curtsy along with the name.

She likes my pun as much as I like hers. The tension shifts from her shoulders and the thin lines of worry disappear from her brow. I can’t stop my breath catching when her pretty face turns drop-dead beautiful.

“You, uh, you want a drink?”

“Sure,” she says, nose wrinkling at the bridge.

“You have any Scotch?”

“Sure,” I say, shaking my head as I lead her to the kitchen.

“I’m a red wine guy, myself.”

Angela’s still grinning when I’m done rummaging through cupboards and pouring booze. She smiles wide enough to blind me momentarily when scoops the glass from my alabaster counter, swills the amber liquid around the glass and pours it, one hit, down her throat.

“Ah,” she says, smacking her lips noisily.

“You don’t get that back home.”

“I do,” I say with a wink.

“Or rather, did.”

A sliver of something tossed aside works its way through my chest at the thought of where I’m from. It lodges in my heart and sinks through my flesh. I guess Angela sees it happen because the room loses more than a few lux along with as many degrees Celsius.

“Hey,” Angela says, her hand sliding across alabaster, stopping a millimeter from my fingers.

“If this isn’t okay, I can go.”

Her mouth turns up at the corners but the lights stay dimmed. I level my eyes with hers and do my best to match the expression.

“No,” I say, cutting that millimeter in half with a push of wrist, not daring to risk a further half.

“It’s nice to have someone around who gets it.”

Her nod is so gentle it’s barely perceptible. What I do see is fatigue in her eyes. The war, the death, the constant conflict that eats away at your core. They’re etched across her face as clear as the tattoos cut into mine.

“How long have you been down here?”

“Uh, about a month… independently, I mean. When my last charge went to His arms, I decided I couldn’t go back. It was too ….”

Angela can’t help who she is, and I have to remember that as her sorry, her grief, roll from her core with the power of hurricane and threaten to smash me from my seat. I thank whatever ‘s left for a guy like me when she tries to surreptitiously wipe a tear from her eye and misses me grab the breakfast bar for support.

“It’s a lot better here,” I say, cutting that half to a quarter, desperate to find out what happens when it’s gone.

“Yeah,” she says, a little hint of hope in her pretty eyes.

“It’s so beautifully…”

I make a mental note to buy some sunglasses as she draws out the sentence to find the right word.

“Dull? Normal?” I cut in.

“I was going to say peaceful, but I was probably being too generous.”

The warmth of her smile starts to grow on me, and I take a moment to really look. I might have hinted that she’s as gorgeous as her people are supposed to be, and the stained shirt, threadbare jogging pants and cheap jewellery strike me as so incongruous as to bring the attention she’s trying to avoid.

“You know,” I say, taking a sip from the glass of red.

“There are better ways to dodge unwanted attention. I know what you’re doing but….”

I let the sentence hang because the look on her face breaks my misappropriated heart. The embarrassment and shame etched across her features chills the room so low it makes the dead guy I’m wearing prickle with frost.

“No, it’s okay. I made the same mistakes when I first got here.”

The words are an effort, but don’t take half as much concentration as shifting my hand away from hers. As I sweep the towel from my shoulders, exposing the sigils etched into my flesh, there’s a strange tingle in my finger tips that feels like longing.

“Oh wow,” she says, bringing a dainty hand to her perfect lips and breaking her spell on my corpse jacket.

“They’re…”

“Basic,” I say.

“I got them when I first ran. I made one last deal with a boy in a graveyard. In my desperation, I let him convince me he knew more than he said.”

She leans in so close I can feel her breath against my chest. Her eyes drink in the marks from a thousand cultures and it’s all I can do to keep the response in my stolen hormones under check.

“Did they hurt?”

“Some,” I say.

“But I know someone better now. If you’d like…”

The words catch in my throat and I’m unsure what’s happening. She knows though, she knows because that longing in my fingertips is replaced with a fire so bright it’s almost too fierce, even for something like me.

“Would you take me?” She says, spreading those flames to the back of my hand.

“Would you help me be free?”

I can’t help but smile as I nod my head. A tear stings my eye, but it’s nothing to do with the searing heat in my flesh.

END

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What’s in the bag

Flash Fiction Friday posted their weekly thing. Since I haven’t updated here for a while, I figured I’d have a pop. Turns out not only can I not keep to a word count, but I also can’t play along with all the other stipulations.

Also, to be honest, if you’re offended by shite fiction, it’ probably best if you look away now. It’s been a while since I’ve put down some words and bugger me if it doesn’t show.

WHAT’S IN THE BAG?

She looks at the bag, eyes wide and teeth worrying her bottom lip. It’s a simple affair brown canvas with white leather handles that are stained and cracked from years of use. There’s no emblem on it, no tag on the basic brass zipper. There is no label on the base.

The bag is not her own and this worries her. She can only assume she picked it up when she rushed from the crowded bus, reaching out a hand and blindly snatching at cool leather grips that felt as familiar as those on the blue sports bag she’d owned since college.

The prospect of finding its owner worries her too. The embarrassment of admitting her mistake to a stranger is already heating her padded cheeks. The prospect of opening it to find an clue to its rightful owner scares her more than anything.

She runs a hand through her long blonde hair, exhaling indecision into the small apartment.Her mouth is dry, her tongue swollen from the dehydration of a long workout. She doesn’t move for water. She simply sits and stares at the object, willing herself to reach out and open it.

“Grow up, Jen.”

She snaps the words to an empty room. Instead of finding strength in the harsh sentence, she pushes herself away from the table and got to slake her thirst. She tries to ignore the way her fingers tremble when she holds a glass under a running tap. She pretends her heart isn’t slamming against her chest as she pulls up a possible list of owners among her memories of the crowded, sweat-humid bus.

A face jumps forward. A young man in his late teens or early twenties. He is bad hair, raw-looking skin and a scowl. She remember the tinny music leaking from his head phones, his dark eyes alternating between the screen of his iPhone and sweeping the other passengers with long, emotionless stares.

“Books?”

Jenny slides back into her chair. Brown eyes looking for the tell-tale edges and spines disfiguring the brown fabric.

“No,” she says, “books are too heavy”.

She extends a hand, tempted to feel for any sign of academic tomes weighing the stained bag but the tick-tick-tick of her clock punches into her thoughts, seizing her imagination. Wooden chair legs screech against black and white floor tiles. She pushes herself from the table a second time.

“Shit,” she gasps, hands clutched at her throat and eyes so wide her brow begins to ache.

She pulls up his memory again, sees the anger and fear in his dark eyes. Other youths on another bus years before spring to mind. The stench of burning described by solemn news anchors flag in her brain.

“No,” she says, the word forced more by fear than rationality.

Jenny can see his music player, his phone and twins straps of a rucksack hanging loose on his shoulders of his red sports jacket. A smile plays across her lips as private embarrassment tingles in her face. Thick relief eases the staccato rhythm in her chest. She brushes a strand of hair from her face.

“Not a bomb,” she decides, surprised at the tension audibly draining from her voice.

A second figures pushes into the mental image. He’s broad-shouldered, male and maybe in his early forties. Pattern baldness has been tackled with a close run of barber’s a barber’s clippers, leaving nothing but peach fuzz on his scalp. She remembers his black suit over a white shirt. Pale drawn and waxy skin. Dark circles under his ice blue eyes highlight a private battle with insomnia. She checks the mental picture for a bag, a briefcase. She recalls nothing of the sort.

Maybe he’s a dad, she thinks.

She rests her elbows on the table top, cups her chin in her hands and imagines an expensive plastic dolly wrapped in pink paper and ribbons hidden inside the faded brown fabric. Her imagination swims with images of a golden-haired princess on a summer day. Cake and chocolate are smeared around her mouth. In the background a bright red bouncy castle sways and bulges under the force of childish adventure. She sees Mr Suit walk up the path. Exhaustion still rides his expression, but there’s a smile on his face that shows his love for the girl as clear and as bright as the afternoon sun.

“No,” Jenny mutters, remember Mr Suit’s perpetual scowl, his hard eyes and flattened knuckles that and nose.She remembers his aura of menace, a demeanor that kept the other passengers a good six inches away at all times despite the cramped and crowded bus.

“Oh God.”

Jenny snatches for her water, soothes the dry tightness in her through and pushes away memories from a hundred or more action-thrillers that rattle through her mind. She wants to believe the guy’s a bouncer or a boxer or anything but a psycho hit man carrying tools, weapons or worse in the bag. She tries not to imagine severed body parts, but she’s as successful at that as she is keeping her eyes from the rust-red blotch scarring the brown fabric.

Fighting the tidal wave of panic crushing her chest, she walks to a cupboard and reaches for a half-bottle of Shiraz tucked behind pasta and beans. She pours herself a large glass, allowing herself the luxury of noticing the tremor in her fingers. She uses them as an excuse to pour wine to the brim but the tremble makes her spill thick red liquid onto her hand. She licks her finger clean of the sharp fluid, pauses with a digit in her mouth as the mental copy of Mr Suit returns to her imagination, grinning as he licks clean the bloody blade of a vicious Bowie knife.

She empties the glass with one long swallow before refilling. Fear and tension nip at her calves and lower back. Moving around her kitchen with short, sharp steps focuses her on the passengers, searching for options that won’t reveal the tools or grisly trophies of murderous intent.

She focuses on salt-and-pepper hair. Wrinkles crease a pair of eyes peering at the world from behind dark spectacles. A light tine competes with the bus’ engine as the old woman hums away her journey. Jenny takes another, smaller, hit of her wine. Tugging the lobe of her left ear, she glides back into her sear. Her laugh is the sound of wind chimes and a summer breeze as she reaches for darkened and cracked leather. She can see balls of wool and long, blunt needles tucked away for ease of transport.
“You’re a ditzy blonde, Jenny Wade,” she says, taking a sip of Shiraz and forcing herself to remember Granny tucking knitting into her bag and pushing it next to Jen’s.

Jenny places her glass on a coaster. Her chest is light and the first touch of vino is maker her brain swim. She can feel a little concern and sadness creeping into her thoughts. She’d hate not to find any identifying information among the needles and yarn.

Lips turned down at the corners, she grabs the handles and pulls the bag toward her. Plastic studs on its bottom scratch up the table top. Its cumbersome weight hints that it contains something heavier than the light-weight tools of an old lady’s past-time. A crease appears on the bridge of Jen’s nose as she catches an acrid and not entirely unknown stench from the disturbed fabric. Maybe it’s the wine, maybe the evening’s stress, but Jen drops the handles, reaches for her glass and steps away.

She tastes nothing when she finishes her wine in a single gulp. She’s too aware of the smell she remembers from college parties and her university dorm. Cool sweat breaks on her temple, the slow trickle in direct opposition to the hammering in her chest. Her mind pulls images from TV broadcasters and tabloid headlines reporting the increase of golden-years dealers supplementing their paltry pensions. She throws a look to the worn bag, switches her gaze to the empty bottle on her worktop then to the iphone on her table. She clears her throat, presses a finger to the hollow of her neck just to feel her panicked heart thrash.

“This is ridiculous.”

Her voice is a whisper, partly because of the gravel in her throat but mostly because she’s unsure whether she’s talking about the thought process or how she’s going to explain a sports bag stuffed full of weed on her kitchen table. She stands for a moment, stillness and silence enveloping her body. She draws on the moment, fixtes on the sensation of peace. She lets it guide her hands toward the brass zipper, allows it to weigh down her eyelids as metal teeth purr and separate.

For a long moment, she stands with eyes closed and hands forcing open the bag’s mouth. She breathes deep, counts ten more clicks of the clock’s tick-tick-tick. She inhales, forces her eyelids open and finally forces herself to uncover the receptacle’s secret.

“No,” she screams, her voice a tight gurgle.

“Please god, no!”

END

See, told you it’s a pack of shite. I guess that means I owe you all a good one.