Friday, 13 June 2014

'Don't They Know' - A Short Story


A little something different from normal services. Here's a short story I wrote today (the title was inspired by this song but I'm not set on it), do let me know what you think. Mucho Love,

Vicky xoxo



He took his time walking through the door. He knew what would be waiting for him on the other side. His shoes squeaked softly with the alternating pressure of his frame as he put one foot in front of the other. With a gentle push, the door swung open and there she was - laid out, exactly as he expected. His pulse quickened. He knew what lay underneath that thin sheet, but he couldn't allow himself to be overwhelmed right now. He forced himself to concentrate on her face.

                                                                          ******

Nearly a decade had passed since he first saw her. He was in the bar with his friend, grabbing a beer between classes. Summer had not only come early, it arrived with intensity. Being from the North-West, he wasn't prepared for the white-hot heat. He sweated from places he didn't think it was possible to perspire from. Walking anywhere for longer than ten minutes made you feel like you were wading knee-deep through mud. The air-conditioned bar and refreshing chill of his drink were a survival necessity.

He didn't notice her until she stood up on the bar, and then everyone noticed her. She held a poster in one hand, a megaphone in the other, and an angry look etched across her face.

“Fellow students, I request your attention but for a moment” -  her voice, deep as the ocean, dripping with a southern twang. A hush fell over the place as attention was directed to this random girl; standing atop of her beer-washed, peanut-shell crusted, makeshift podium.

“As y'all have already seen, our student union is running a ‘Miss Freshman’ 1999 competition.”

There were a few appreciative whoops from the back and a call of “You’ve got my vote, legs!”. A look of disgust flashed across her face before she carried on.

“This is not only a cheap excuse for them to serve you flat beer in bargain pitchers - it's an affront to the female gender. The encouragement to objectify your fellow classmates and then judge them based on their physical appearance is not harmless - it actively encourages the beast of sexism!”

By this point, the crowd had begun to boo her. His buddy, sitting across from him, mumbled “Fucking bra-burner’s” before focusing on his beer. The barman, who had been standing by with idle boredom until she got to the bit about objectifying women, was now actively trying to get rid of her. Because the microphone was still on, he could hear her outraged response of “But I’m not finished! There is such thing as freedom of speech y’know!” and the barman responding “Yeah, not on top of my bar. Get going before I call security.”

As she jumped down, he heard her say “Fucking Facist” and he snorted into the froth of his beer.

“Who is that?” he asked as his friend built a house of cards with the soggy beermats littered across the table.

“That chick? Louisa Something. One of those women-studies weirdos, I think” he replied.

Lousia. He rolled her name in his head. He had to find out more
.

                                                                 ******

Her face wasn't angry now. There was a quiet stillness to it. Time had lined it since she had jumped up on that bar - full of conviction and spirit - but not much. His gaze swept over the smooth surface of her skin, the dusting of freckles down the slope of her nose; spreading out to meet the arc of her cheekbones. Unadorned of make-up, he was reminded of her natural beauty, the pinkness of her lips; and the first time he touched her.


                                                                  ******


He couldn't stop thinking about her. Not just her legs (which were pretty impeccable), or the way her long brown hair swept down her curved back. He had never seen someone who cared that much, about anything. He came from an apathetic town, in an apathetic state, to get an education with students that by and large, were apathetic too. Him and his friends didn't talk about beliefs and passions - they talked about what classes sucked the most and where you could get the best weed. But this girl, full of fire, not only had beliefs, she was willing to be ridiculed for them.  

The easy part was finding out where he could run into her. Ten minutes spent in the admin building later that day looking at course information, he found out her full name (Louisa-Mae Swanters), and that one of her classes ended at 11am every Thursday in the Maddock Building.

So that was how he found himself outside that Thursday, in the treacherous heat, with a cold can of Dr Pepper and Coca-Cola. He waited for her to come out of the lecture. She was one of the last ones out, still trying to fit her notebook and textbooks back into her bulging bag.

He slipped the cans into his back jean pockets and asked “Can I carry that for you?”, gesturing to her backpack.

She looked behind her, but there was nobody else around. “Are you talking to me?” she asked with surprise as she scooped her hair into a ponytail, her face flushed with the heat.

“Yeah, it looks kinda heavy and your shoulders are pretty small” he replied with, what he thought, was charming sincerity.

Laughing, she shook her head and said “Nah, my shoulders can handle it” before striding on ahead of him. Shit he thought. Maybe I should’ve just opened with ‘hi’..

Taking the drinks out of his pockets, he jogged to keep pace with her. Jumping in front, he ran backwards so she wouldn’t steamroll over him. “Would you like something to drink? They’re still cold.”

She gave him a quizzical look before stopping in her tracks. “Isn’t it a bit late in the year for a welcome-wagon?” she asked, but there was a smile across her face that hadn’t been there before.

“Dr Pepper or Coke?” he asked, holding the two cans up, slick with condensation.

“I’ll take the Dr Pepper” she said, offering him an open palm.

“Good. I don’t like Dr Pepper” he replied, placing the drink in her hand. His fingers brushed over her wrist and he was taken-aback by the softness of her skin.

She laughed as she popped the tab - an unbridled, loud, infectious laugh.“Then why buy it?”

“Because I had a feeling you would like it” he replied honestly.

She gave him an intense stare. “Who in blue-blazes are you?” she asked before taking a lengthy guzzle.

“I’m hoping, your date for Friday night.”

She snorted before laughing, again. That laugh. It was geeky and irresistible. 

“How about you start by walking me to my next class?


                                                                    ******

The sheet was pulled up over her chest and tucked under her arms. He could see the sun-burn on her shoulders that she had got last week. It had yet to turn brown, it’s pink-glow a contrast to her natural tone. Moving closer, he could just make out the faint silver scar under her chin. She got that about six months after they started dating.

                                                                     ******

He had brought her home to meet his family and show her where he was from, in all it’s limited glory. It was just after Christmas and the local ice-rink was one of the few seasonal attractions he enjoyed. Confronted with a mass of frozen water, It was the first time he ever saw her scared of anything.

He went to pick up their skates and when he came back, she turned to face him, abject terror on her face.

“I don’t think this is such a good idea, David” she said, her eyes wide and mouth drawn. With his free hand, he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close to him before turning them towards the rink.

He kissed the top of her head and said “You’ll be fine, babe. Once you get out there and get the hang of it, you’ll be skating circles around me.” She looked up at him and was reassured by the confidence reflected in his eyes. As she switched her gaze to the rink in front of them, he leaned down and whispered “You’re Louisa-Mae Swanters. There is nothing you can’t do.”

He was rewarded with her wide smile and the familiar glitter of mischief, never far from her eyes. “You’re on” she replied determinedly before grabbing his chin to pull his mouth to hers, kissing him with all her passion and energy. His breath caught in his chest as he lost himself to her, barely remembering to hold onto their skates.

After, as she sat at the sidelines, maneuvering her double-socked foot (she was not built for the winters up here) into the skate, he fought the urge to tell her he loved her. He had for sometime, but he worried; about when was the right time to say it, where to say it, how he would say it.

From the moment he first saw her, he knew this girl was something. But he didn't realise she was going to change his life. Six months in and she already had; she gave him the confidence and encouragement to switch majors - abandoning a business degree in favour of the criminal law one he really wanted to study. She was the first person he had ever told his dreams to. She didn’t just tell him they could be more than dreams, she helped make them and shape them into reality.

Where everyone else saw how the world is, she saw how the world could be - her eyes and mind filled with endless possibilities. She believed in the opportunities to make the world a better place and she pursued every one of them. She was a tough nut to crack; it wasn't easy to penetrate the protective walls she had built around herself. But he had and as a result, had taught her that to let another share your life was not a weakness.

While not a natural on the ice, she applied herself with the same steely determination with which she handled any other challenge in life. After twenty minutes, he was impressed with her balance and wobbly grace. They paused briefly by the barrier at the side and she told him to skate to the center and she would meet him there. She wanted to try it solo.

He watched her make her first moves on her own. She reminded him of a baby chick emerging from its shell for the very first time; jerky, uncertain angling of limbs unaccustomed to such movement. “Come on Louisa, you can do it!” he called to her. Straightening her back, she began to glide on the sparkling ice, picking up in pace, a grin of achievement spread across her face.

Clapping and whooping, he delighted in her success as she upped her speed to get to him faster. Then she tripped over her own feet and he could only watch in horror as she fell.

He rushed over to where she lay flat on the ice, her body trembling. He began to panic. Brushing her tangled hair off her face, he pulled her across to the side. It was only when they got there did he notice the blood on her jeans. “Oh my God, Louisa, where are you bleeding from?”

Sitting upright now, one hand clasped to her chin, she opened her eyes and looked at him. He then realised that her trembling wasn't from pain, she was trying not to laugh. The look on his face must have been comical, for it set her off, convulsing with giggles; opening the gash on her chin, blood dripping over her clothes.

“Stop laughing, you’re hurt!” he said, while laughing himself. People skated by, giving them funny looks - this injured girl maniacally laughing and her idiot boyfriend joining in. They composed themselves for a moment, before being overcome by laughter once again, tears streaming down their faces.

                                                                 ******

Looking at the scar, he remembered taking her to the hospital  so that she could be stitched up. As they sat in A&E, he started feeling guilty about the whole thing. In a jumbled mess of non-stop sentences, he apologised for bringing them ice-skating, for making her go, for letting her try skate on her own. When he finally took a breath, she sat there in their silence for a moment, before meeting his eyes and saying “I love you.”

When they married two years later, she told the wedding guests that she realised he was the one the night she split her chin open. “I knew there was never going to be anybody else in this world that could make me so happy, even when I was hurt.”

                                                                ******


Although the years rolled by, Louisa remained a constant marvel to him. She was one of those rare beauties who were oft talked about but rarely spotted; her appeal rippled from the inside out. There were times - usually when she was getting ready in the mornings or slipping into their bed at night - when he wondered if she truly knew the extent of the effect she had on him.

He would observe this magnificent creature and feel himself smile to know she was his, and his alone. It was the way her nose crinkled before she sneezed. It was because she tap-danced in the kitchen when making the spaghetti. It was how the dawn-light fell on the rise of her naked hip, a Cheshire cat smile across her face as she told him to come closer.


                                                                  ******
For their honeymoon, they spent a year trekking the globe. They sank their toes in the hot sand of the Sahara desert and pretended they were Aztecs in Peru. They tried (and failed) to get boomerang’s to return to them in Australia and went cliff diving in Thailand.

David had never given much thought to what one human heart could contain. But with each day and each adventure, he fell more in love with her, and was surprised at the ever growing swell of his heart. At night, they would settle down into whatever shelter they had beneath the stars and he would listen as Louisa extracted value and insight from their travels. There was a position in a foundation that she would fill on their return. He would get work in the DA’s office, with a view to one day running his own practice. In a few years, they would have children.

It wasn’t just a plan, it was a road-map of their destiny - their entwined lives laid out as it was meant to be. They had given each other all and in return, got everything.


                                                                  ******

He heard the door behind him swing open and the cop walked around to the other side of the slab - opposite David, Louisa in between. 

“Is this Lousia-Mae Remnick, sir?” he asked him. 

David held Lousia’s cold hand in his warm one and only noticed he was crying when the tears splashed off his palm. Gasps of sobs like a feral animal rose out of his chest as he broke down. Closing his eyes, he wrapped both his hands around hers, shaking and crying.

“Sir, I need you to say this is your wife. Is this Louisa-Mae Remnick?” the cop asked again.

He nodded and choked out a “Yes” before shaking his head, overcome with grief. He abandoned his attempts to keep it together. His body heaving, he shook his head at it all; her lying dead before him, the loss that was making it difficult for him to breath - the certain knowledge that his shattered life would never be the same again.

They say life flashes before your eyes in the moments before your death. Standing there, confronted with the death of his other half, the images and moments of their life flashed through David's mind. They played out of sequence, their speed making the blood rush to his head; his ears filled with a roar as his mind filled with her. The memories.

It was the map of their lives, the map of their love. It spanned time and space, plotted and signposted, irreparably changing the landscape.

                                                                   ******

He kissed her forehead and turned on his squeaking shoes to head out the door. An uncertain world awaited his arrival outside that room. It was full of questions, but no answers. The only thing he knew for certain was that the world, his world, their world, no longer existed. He had the map, but there was no longer a destination.

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