Friday, July 20, 2012

Old Short Story

Here's a story that I wrote when I was very young. I found it on an old floppy disk. I never sold it, but I recall sending it out a few times.

“It's Not a Blessing, She Said”
James Robert Smith
"I have a hole
in my soul"

     It was the only part of an old poem Ty had kept. He'd written lots of them, when he thought that he might actually be good at it. But, when he viewed them, really held them up to the light that glittered off of lines worked by truly talented poets, he gave it up. In fact, he had bundled them all in brown grocery bags and had burnt the lot in the bed of a kid's American Flyer red wagon. Afterwards, he'd felt bad about it because there had been a great black spot in the floor of the wagon. He'd painted it over and had even slapped down a coat of lacquer, but the damage had been done. Ah, well.
     Ty was good, however, at picking out the rising stars, even if he was just a cold lump of stone, himself. If he had a talent, it had been in choosing the gems out of the piles of lesser rocks that littered the artistic landscape in the city. Had he not singled out the work of most of the finest artists who had risen out of their various scenes in the past ten years? Yes, as a matter of fact, he had. He had, after all, a hole. In his soul.
     That's what you do when you have a big, gaping space in yourself. You try to fill it up. Ty had done his best to fill it with whatever he'd ached to do. The poetry, yes, because he thought it would be easy to lay the words down into something pretty, something ugly, something...well...alive. But they'd been cool lumps, lukewarm duds, uninteresting bits. So.
     He'd tried his hand at any number of things. When he had thought he could do anything, he had haunted schools, enrolling in classes for drawing, for painting. He couldn't draw a convincing line, and he had no eye for color, nor for composition. But he had yelled the loudest and pointed accurately at that Clark fellow who was now all the rage everywhere. Clark thanked Ty often for that initial acknowledgement and publicity.
     The local theatre was once something more than a place to sit before and watch. He'd tried his hand at acting, and had found his pacing dull, his emoting convincing no one, least of all himself. Dance: his movement was clumsy. Other students had actually laughed at him, and he'd laughed with them, for he was an oaf, wasn't he?
     When he had turned his hand to clay, he knew at the first touch that all it would ever be to his own hands was just that: clay. He was thirty years old by then, old enough to know he was just fooling himself. Why bother? His column was read in a growing number of newspapers, and he was well received in all of the city's artistic circles. Some feared him, though few, for he was kind to those who, like himself, had no talent. It was a rule with him to say nothing when nothing of good could be said.
     He had a hole in his soul, and he filled it with art. But the ache was still there, and there was nothing to soothe it, which was what he had always feared.
     And then he met Allegra.
     He noticed her at a midnight showing of paintings by that amazing fellow, Hauer. They were dark paintings, and the midnight showing made their impact all the greater. Ty admired that kind of thinking in an artist; a perception that went beyond the first art and transcended it. He had to admire such a move on the part of the young man. And Hauer had even salted the premiere with a number of his friends: people whose appearance was unsettling enough to further effect the emotions of the viewers; dark little people who oozed among everyone, moaning--it was a nice touch.
     In the back of the crowd, he'd seen Allegra. She all but merged with the shadows, it seemed, fading in and out, her white face a small disc where her eyes were sunken thumbprints gouged in pale clay. She'd noticed him staring at her, to the point that he was almost ignoring the paintings, and so Ty had gone to Hauer, to ask.

     "Who is she?"
     The young artist looked to where the critic indicated, a corner where the low lighting did not reach, where two canvases hung, further pointing the way to where the lady slouched in her gypsy shawl. "Oh." Hauer's lips curled into that sly smile of his. "I only just met her. Allegra's her name. Cousins, I think. Yes, Cousins. She hangs about the clubs, and comes to some of the shows. Vance knows her better than I do." Someone else was tugging for Hauer's attentions and he had turned to leave.
     "Er," he said. "Would you like to be introduced?"
     And so it was.
     After they had met, Ty invited Allegra to go out, to have a drink in one of his haunts. She had agreed, and the two of them left the gallery, Ty pausing only long enough to let Hauer know that he approved of the gallery showing and that everyone who read his column would soon know of this approval.
     That night, leaving the dim glow of the exhibit hall, Ty had put his hand at Allegra's elbow, ushering her out. There in what light there was before they descended into the night, he took a long look at her face. For a moment, he examined her features, trying to decipher the strange puzzle of his sudden attraction. She wasn't beautiful in any conventional sense; but Ty's friends had often kidded him about his taste in lovers. He had often been attracted to people many others thought were plain, or even ugly. Allegra had a round face, large black eyes, thin lips below a long, straight nose. Her hair was black, and not that full, but it shined as the door closed. Outside, there had been a gust of wind, and he had smelled her, and he had ached with wanting her.
     "Have you been in town for very long," he asked her.
     "Oh, yes. A very long time," she said, her voice almost as quiet as a whisper.
     "You said you'd heard of me. You must read my column."
     "I didn't say I'd heard of you. I said I'd heard you. I've been hearing you for years, now, getting louder and louder."
     "What do you mean?" He could see his breath puffing out, illuminated by the streetlights just on the far side of the campus; colder than he'd thought.
     Allegra drew her right hand out of the black shawl wrapped loosely about her shoulders, her white cotton blouse bright there in the night, only a little less pale than her skin. She pointed and slowly brought her index finger down on Ty's chest, poking with her sharp nail. "You have a hole," she whispered. "In your soul."
     Ty froze. His breath stuck in his throat. His heart, it seemed, stopped beating, and the bottom fell out of his stomach. Before he could ask her how she knew of his little poem, she spoke.
     "I've heard you calling for a long time, I told you. I have what you need."
      He didn't take her out, then. He took her home with him, to his townhouse in a renovated mill building, and of course there was no debate, and of course they made love. At first, she had felt cold to his touch, but in the end she was hot: their sexual performance was grand, the finest Ty had ever received and the most passionate he had ever given. He couldn't recall the orgasms, but there must have been many, he decided when he awoke late, late in the following day. The sun, through drawn curtains and closed blinds, was already rusty with its waning. When Ty had reached out to touch Allegra, where she lay bundled beneath thick blankets, she called out and pulled him down. "Fuck me," she said. The sun closed its great eye and night came and Ty lay exhausted, amazed.
     "Where did you come from, Allegra? I've lived in this city all of my life. It's not that large a city. I know I would've heard of you, would've seen you somewhere in some gallery or at a play. Somewhere. You can't have always lived here." He watched her now as she rose and padded to the bathroom where she started the shower, water hissing down on the porcelain.
     "I'm telling you the truth, Ty. I've always lived here, it seems. I've haunted this place for many, many years. But I only came out when I heard you calling." She stood there in the doorway, shadow making her face a black mask.
     "Are you here to plug the hole in my soul?"
     "No. I'm here to lift the veil from my own." She turned and entered the stall, and Ty followed her, wanting more, wanting answers to her puzzles.
     A little angry, he drew back the door to the stall and stepped in, expecting hot water, at least warm water, but finding the shower blasting cold down on him. He gasped and tried to step away, but Allegra already had him by the wrist and her grip was strong, inhumanly powerful, and she drew him in, the breath going out of his chest with the shock of the cold water. His other wrist was then in the vise of her fingers and she pulled him down to her, close to her, in toward her gaping mouth.
     And she bit him. What else could she have done?
     She bit him, and there was an icy pain, and she drank deep of him. For Ty, there was only an instant of terror, and then it was like the sex; it was cold at first, and then warm building to an imagined heat that burned out of him and into her and back to him until he enjoyed it beyond anything he had known. He fainted.
     When he woke, she was with him, still. For some reason, he had thought she would have left him. Her face hovering over his, she saw the question in his fading eyes.
     "No, Ty. I wouldn't leave you. Not yet. Not now."
     "Am I going to die?" Now it was his voice like a whisper.
     "You are going to leave behind your life and start over."
     "Why are you doing this to me?"
     Again, she pointed to his chest, touching down with that hard, laguered nail above his heart. "There. I heard it calling out to me. I've been here for so very long, and I cannot leave until I hear just such a call as you have made."
     "Leave? You are going to leave me!" He tried to sit up, but found he hadn't the strength for it. She didn't even have to restrain him.
     "Yes, I am going to leave. Just as the one who made me left me so many years ago. I'm going to remake you so that you can go on haunting this place as I have."
     "Do you love me?" he asked.
     "There is no love in us. There's only desire. Once, I had the same desire that burns in you. A hunger for something beyond my ability to do or possess. When I heard your hunger, I listened, and I waited until I knew it was coming from you.
     "In a while, when I have done with you, I am going to give you this thing that I have. You know what I am. Understand: you will outlive all you now know. You will forget them, in fact. You will exist for so long that everyone who is familiar to you now will be forgotten by you. There will only be you and the desire, yourself and a new hunger."
     "Where will you be, Allegra? Where will you be?"
     Her lips were brushing his neck again. Soft. "I will be gone forever." She licked him. "It will be good for me," she said.
     Allegra squeezed him like a ripe berry, taking his life and giving back something else. Her last words were like a hollow echo to him. "It's not a blessing," she said. He died. He awoke.
     Allegra was gone.
     He lay there cold and alone for two days. His phone rang. Once, someone knocked. Ty recognized the presence on the far side of the redwood door as someone who had been a friend not so many hours before. Now it was just a human being over there, and he was not so interested in it.
     Ty didn't try to find Allegra. It was just as she had said. She was gone, gone.
     His editor phoned him from the syndicate to ask where the new column was. Ty informed him that there would be no further columns. There was no point in it.
     Hauer's exhibit was still up, of course. Ty went there, to see, to confirm what he suspected. The canvases were blank. They were not white, nor black, nor grey. They were blind spots beyond which he could not see: mysteries for him, never to be solved. He went to the theatre where Vance, a director and old friend was preparing a new play. Musicians were in the well, and he could see them working at their instruments, puffing, sawing away, manipulating damned things with light fingers: he heard nothing save the wheezing of their lungs, the scraping of their chairs on the floor.
     "No. No."
     "It's not a blessing, she had said."
     He had had a hole. In his soul.
     Now, he had a hole.
     And he waited...

No comments: