Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Gray Marble Stories

It's time, once again, for story time. Yes, the exiled Hyperion has been in touch with yours truly, and has pitched yet another co-writing experience. Who am I to say no?

As always, we picked out a picture for inspiration and wrote a story of our own choosing from it. We had something like 24 hours to turn the stories around, a small luxury all things considered.

Hyperion's story (which I have not yet read) is posted here. I'm intrigued by the title, because it's all Latin-y and demi-obscure. For sure his story is better than mine, just on that alone.

My story is below, and while it may not be a thing of wonder, it is, at least, a thing. I did NOT adhere to my heretofore self-inflicted 500-word limit, so get ready for the wordy. Feel free to leave your comments, particularly those of a constructive nature, because, well, I said you could.


"Getting an Answer"

Ah, God, the pain. Tight muscles loosening, uncramping, stretching, stinging with the force of a posture too long held. The fire of the nerves coming alive, a pop of joint and crack of ligament as the pose is allowed to relax. So hard to just let go, to let the earth take her down to the resting place, to not fight to weight of her body.

Sharon focused her breathing on her gut, on a low chakra, the seat of her warmth, forcing herself to believe that opening her personal vivid red spot would actually draw strength to her sexual self. Hell, she’s take drawing strength to her gosh-darned bladder if it would take the pain away from the pose release. Stupid yoga.

Even after a year of practicing the art, Sharon knew she had a lifetime of "practice" before she got even nearly close to good. The teacher, plump and limber, could crow and crane at the drop of a hat, and yet Sharon was struggling with a perfect down dog and still swayed when in mountain pose. Something to do with her disease, with the stiff joints of arthritis that plagued her like cement in her elbows and knees. She longed to be supple, to bend like a willow in a breeze, to sway like a reed. But no, she was stuck fast to the earth, fighting her own creaking body’s arc toward rigidity.

No matter, the thrice-weekly sessions kept her one step ahead of her disease, and that was good enough. After the OM-ing that always ended the class, Sharon showered, blotted her wet hair, and walked back out into the noisy streets of the city, feeling more limber than when she entered the gym, grateful for the change.

Breathing the fumes of buses and cars and people and hot dog carts and street vendors, she smiled deeply, striding toward her office. Her office was one block up and one block over from the gym, a short distance that took her past the church with the tiny grotto, an incongruous landmark in this modern place. Sharon loved to pause at the hidden well and watch the last of the city’s artesian springs drip its mysteries into the shallow shell-shaped pool, above which the Holy Mother floated as beatifically as the Venus did on arising from the ocean. So damp and cool, so feminine and private, it was a place of luxurious secrecy in the anxious bustle only a few feet away. Sharon would breathe her few regular prayers and cross herself furtively as she observed her personal church. The wet air suffused her with an ancient energy, or so she liked to think.

Church over, and the office gained, the work of the day took her thoughts and mind far from the peace of the morning. The regular cycle was launched. Coffee, headache. Lunchtime, stiff joints. 2 o’clock meeting, creaking spine. 5 o’clock, popping neck, aching feet. Just like usual.

Sharon pushed the file drawers shut, locked them, dropped the key into the top drawer of the desk, shut off her computer, pressed herself out of her chair with a groan, and was headed toward the door by 5:15. Her mind was racing far ahead of her body while she plodded down the four flights of stairs, thinking about her date. What does one order at a wine bar? What does one DO at a wine bar? How does on tell one’s date that one is so very much hoping it works out with him because every other man one has dated has cut and run when they leared of one’s disease?

It wasn’t like she wasn’t pretty or smart or successful, because looking at herself she could tell she was almost beautiful, and knew the degrees she’d earned from Brown were proof of her intelligence, and certainly having a job that paid enough to support all her needs was a measure of success. No, until the men found out about the arthritis, and its projected course, they were plenty interested. Sharon wondered when she was going to meet someone who would accept her for her, and not for what might possibly someday be.

She’d met tonight’s “wine bar guy” online, on a dating service for people with disabilities. At first Sharon had balked at the idea that she had a disability, but what could she do? For sure all the men who’d run from her were an indication that something was indeed wrong with her; her own creaking body was reminder enough that she wasn’t exactly in the pink of health. A few more years and her joints would become even more immobile, and she’d be disabled for real. This evening’s fellow had accepted her explanation of her disease readily, countering that his case of mild cerebral palsy would make them quite the odd pair. CP notwithstanding, he seemed almost too good to be real; their IM chats were long and full of good humor, his phone voice was rich and deep. He had an archaic way of expressing himself that she thought sexy; he blamed it on learning English from elderly nuns. Sharon was more excited about this date than she’d been in a good long while, and held out hope that her fervent prayers at the grotto would be answered.

During the cab ride over, she fixed up her lipstick and finger-combed her thick dark hair, loosening it little for a romantic effect. A quick spritz of scent and she was there in sprirt and in flesh. The bar was dark, cave-like, with smoky jazz playing quietly under the clink of glasses and the occasional outburst of laughter from the groups of well-dressed young people lounging in leather club chairs and long banquettes. Sharon seated herself at the long copper bar, and very quickly felt a tap on her shoulder and a low mention of her name. To say her spine tingled at his voice would have been an understatement, for the resulting bolt of electricity started deep at its base and shot through her brain in an instant, a fine sensation if ever there was one. She turned to him, meeting his eyes and falling instantly in love.

Throughout the long evening they talked and ate, first stealing glances, then offering a touch of the hand, then sliding close to one another in a back booth, sharing their dreams and politics and religion and opinions, not able to get enough of one another, not wanting the night to end. They closed the bar, both a little drunk, caught a taxi back to his apartment, and made supple sweaty love on his enormous bed. After, he brought her ice water and rubbed her hands, whispering of all the things they would do together, of the mysterious great good fortune that had brought them together, of the future they had, of his instant deep love and need for her. As he drifted off to sleep, she studied him, memorizing him, and she wept quietly, thankfully, to the Virgin of the Grotto for hearing her prayers at last.

Long years went by, which they spent in a rich exhaustion of life. They traveled, married, got a dog, read great books, bought art, drank fine wines, learned the crow and crane together, and fought growing old before their time. He was the first to go; a mere 30 years after they’d first met. Sharon’s grief was immense, earth-shattering. She was bereaved and helpless. The void was tremendous.

Her sisters moved her out of the apartment and into a rest home to quiet her nerves and help heal her mourning mind. There was no consoling her until the day she found the spring at the back edge of the lawn. Cool water, a statue of the Virgin, a small sunny place hidden among overgrown boxwoods, easy to get to in the wheelchair. She went there every morning, crossed herself shakily and said her few prayers.

The nurse found her there a year later, kneeling by a section of low wall that had been uncovered when an ancient boxwood had died. Sharon’s lifeless body was rigid, her eyes toward heaven, a smile on her face, her fingers on a marble plaque of two adoring lovers. As the orderlies removed Sharon’s body, the nurse remarked to them that she had never seen that plaque before, and thought it strange and a little tasteless that it should be right next to the Holy Mother. One of the orderlies said she should read the inscription, and take her faith more gently. Leaning close, she touched the loose stone hair of the female figure, warm in the afternoon sun, and read:

“Prayers are answered for those who truly believe.”

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