The Pamlico Writers’ Group hosts a monthly, one-thousand word challenge. The month of April, the picture was donated by photographer, Tammy Cooper, a night over the water, drenched in blue. I enjoy attempting to write a story to match the pictures. For me, the challenge offers an opportunity to experiment with my writing. This story is a play on words, using poetry to help me create emotion and tell a story. I’d appreciate your feedback. What do you think? What do you feel? If you’d like to try your hand at the 1K challenge, check out http://www.pamlicowritersgroup.org/writingchallenge.
The sky aglow with azure light. Millions of stars shining in a velvet night, sparkle in the reflection of the river below. His face blurs in the ripples of the water, a truer portrait than the image in his mirror.
Sounds of waves and cicadas fill the night with song. People lost in their own stories, pass him on the boardwalk, oblivious to the pain, the shame, the blues pouring out of his soul as he strums his guitar. Fingers pluck the truth from the strings, giving sound to the words he cannot speak. The apologies he cannot make. The song, deep, and dark and blue, shimmers on the tip of starlight, a fragile bubble against the wind.
His eyes, dry, the tears long past, he strums his guitar as the stars wink out. One by one they fade into the darkening sky as he sings the words that mock his pain. Lost in the music that fills the night, a troubadour on the crowded streets. Couples stop to listen, arms entwined they allow the music to bathe their senses. A coin, a dollar, dropped in his guitar case, the price of a bottle, the price of a dream. He collects their pity and packs away his pain, tomorrow is another day, but for tonight the demons rest.
Alone, he turns his collar up against the cold, the wind off the river chills his soul, and portents a future dark and bleak. Shuffling down city streets, dingy and gray in the fading light, his eyes roam neither left nor right. Head down, he counts the foot falls to the faded door. He’s not been here since before. With hands trembling, he fumbles the brass from his pocket. The key jambs in the lock, he jiggles it until the door opens. The hinges creak as he shoves it past the debris and memories gathered behind.
Air blows through the broken glass, swirling leaves and dirt about him in a cyclone of emotions. Faded memories dance in the moonlight, picking their way in the teasing nimbus. Oppressive darkness descends, suffocating, as clouds cover the moon. His feet move of their own volition, familiar with the path, filled with contrition. Stumbling over years of detritus, he visits each room, haunted by his former life.
The laughter and warmth filter through dust covered walls. Long forgotten songs mingle with scenes from the past. In the distance a dog howls, a saxophone lifts its mournful tune, a truck passes loose panes rattle, each sound a reminder this is his reality, now. A present bereft of their song.
Closing eyes, itchy and dry, his tears have all been shed. He leans against the door jamb, his portal to the past. Their room, the master, their haven from children and strife, the place they loved, and where they dreamed their arms and thoughts entwined. He yearns once more to step into time, a time before, when dreams could still come true. An old familiar love song tickles his memories, the sound so sweet he can almost taste the salt upon her skin. Her laughter and Bulgari Rose, teases and beckons to him. He hungers to go, aches to know, the touch and taste and feel of loving her again. With eyes wide open, he thrusts, futilely against the wooden barrier, swollen by time and damp. Aching shoulders sag, once more defeated he turns to go. A rush of wind, powerful and true chills him in his place. A pop of sound, a whoosh of air, like the releasing of a break, the door swings open, on hinges heavy with rust.
The room is a temple. The altar, her dresser shrouded in dust. The vessels and urns, powders and perfumes lay scattered upon the surface. A photo, faded and stained with time, of the two of them, arms entangled, a vacation somewhere, he cannot recall. A time before it all, lay derelict and lost.
His memories all gather, crowded into one. Too many to name, they jumble, like people on a bus. He cannot divine their story from the others in his mind. Only their last night together, plays clear and strong. Her anger, his teasing, her pleas, his promise. They’d stayed too long, the party too wild. It was past the time to retrieve their youngest child. They battled over who would drive. He was high–on life, on booze, on her. “It’ll be okay,” he promised. His last words a lie. How he wishes he could retrieve them, shove them back into his mouth. How he wishes he’d not betrayed her with his music and his lies.
Vanity, man’s vanity, his masculinity and desire. Shoving away the people who give his world measure, for meaningless money and fame. A terrible husband, and negligent father, convinced and conceited, he toiled in strife, to give his family a better life. Life, better or worse is all they wanted. One more moment to treasure, one more laugh, one more song.
“Daddy? Why are you here?”
The child, so like her mother, had forgiven him all. A boon he did not deserve or desire. Her love and kindness, salt to a wound.
“What are you doing here? Come home.”
“I am home,” he whispers, holding onto the memories, holding fast to the pain.
Blinking back tears, she nods. “She’s gone pops.”
He sighs and shakes his head. “Not when I’m here.”
Patting his arm, she leads him from the house, the mausoleum. From their old life, to the new. There is nothing left but ghosts here. Specters and regrets, they follow him, a constant reminder of the promise he failed to keep.
The moon pushes through the clouds, electric and blue, as a guitar strums a final tune. The old man whispers, “I’ll be joining you soon.”