before tucking him into bed, Marie taped Jackson's right eye closed.
“There,” she said, rubbing his sealed eye with her thumb. “All
you.” Jackson Byrd wasn't a medical doctor, of course. Ever since
successfully defending his dissertation nine months ago, he'd
insisted upon the title. Indeed, he wore his doctorate like a bauble
round his neck.
truth be told, was getting a bit tired of it. “You're welcome.”
curled up on his side and drew his knees inward while Marie pulled
the covers up to his neck. “Maybe tomorrow...”
need to be patient.” She patted his good cheek, the cheek that he
could still move properly. The cheek that still lifted when he
smiled. “The doctor said you're getting better every week.”
depressing, though.” Jackson looked at his dresser as he spoke. The
drawer pulls looked like eyes staring into the dimness of the room.
“I see the way people look at me when I smile.”
a handsome man, Jackson.”
spilled my coffee down the front of my shirt today. Right in the
middle of class.” Jackson pictured his words floating from his
mouth half-formed and lopsided. He missed the sharpness of his
speech, the crisp precision fully functioning lips and teeth and
tongue allowed him.
of people spill coffee.” Marie looked distractedly around the
bedroom for the soiled shirt; wondered if it was too late to coax out
aren't interested in flawed individuals. They only want perfection.”
in another person remind people of their own. That frightens them.”
just want to get on with my life.”
watched him for a moment before bending down and presenting him her
cheek, which he kissed somewhat sloppily and completely
perfunctorarily. She crawled into bed beside him and kissed the back
of his head. “Jackson?” She wrapped her left arm around his body.
wanted to sleep. He just wanted to sleep and wake up to normal.
you believe in ghosts?”
studied the ripples in the sleeves of the fuzzy pink housecoat his
mother had bought Marie as a wedding gift. Marie hated that
housecoat. Jackson knew that. But Marie was still bound up in shoulds
and oughts. She hadn't yet found her own two feet to stand upon. In
fact, Marie was downright malleable. “You said you were going to
give all that up, Marie.” It surprised him, actually. Their
relationship. He was a numbers guy. Marie was...
heard something. After you left for work this morning. When the
contractors were ripping out the drywall.”
mouse,” he suggested. “It's an old house, Marie.”
sighed. Jackson had met Marie in Philadelphia two years ago. Back
then, she was Madame Marie, sitting in a South Philly storefront,
adorned with the tools of the trade. He stood on Schley, watching her
shuffle a worn deck of tarot cards, her long red fingernails
flashing. And it was then, perhaps that he'd fallen in love. “Do
you remember,” he said now, “Sedona?”
She laughed. “People didn't find me strange there. There were
people like me all around.”
nodded. They'd gone to Sedona for their honeymoon. Place was full of
nuts. Under pretence of a job interview, he'd cut the honeymoon
short. He'd promised her Paris, once he received his doctorate. “I
believe in numbers, Marie. I believe in proofs and theorems.” He
rolled over to face her. “I believe in Euclid and Pythagoras and
all dead.” She offered that mysterious smile
he'd grown to dread. “So you do believe in ghosts.”
believe in their work. Their words. Their legacy. What they have left
sighed. “I hate it here.”
won't be long.” Another of his promises unkept. They'd moved into
an old ramshackle house close to Temple so that they wouldn't have
the added expense of a commute. “I'll move up quickly. Do some
research. Publish something. Then we can move. Wherever you like.”
numbers?” she asked, rekindling the old argument.
societies have been built upon numbers.”
up with words,” she amended.
and your numbers. You don't see half of what I see.”
see nothing,” Jackson said. “No more talk of ghosts. Ghosts,”
he went on, breaking his own mandate, “are merely manifestations of
your own mind.”
for what purpose?”
issues. Guilt, perhaps at something done or not done.”
was a man yesterday, sitting on the curb just outside the house. He
exposed himself to everyone who walked by.”
pervert. Did you call the cops?”
he just wanted to be seen, Jackson.”
of your New Age junk.”
you want to be seen? I mean, really, really noticed?” She
held his eyes and he felt an accusation in her stare; felt as if she
were seeing clear through to his soul. “Each of us wants to be seen
for who we really are,” she whispered. “We just go about it in
shook his head. He was surprised that he'd married Marie. Even
embarrassed, he supposed. His colleagues' spouses were all
well-educated. Marie was...He felt himself flush. At last week's
holiday gathering, Marie had pulled a pack of Tarot cards from her
bra and begun shuffling them, right in front of the department chair.
you should get a job, Marie.”
Marie didn't respond. She'd fallen asleep.
rolled back over and allowed himself to drift off too.
awoke to a scent. Chocolate and peppermint layered with vanilla. The
room felt suddenly cold and still. Who was there? What was
there? Without even breathing, he opened his eye just enough to peer
through the veil of his eyelashes. The silence was terrible.
moved his good eye about the room. A person—no, a figure, clothed
in white—stood at his dresser, silently rifling through his
paperwork: papers to grade; his doctoral certificate; his latest
research project. He opened the eye a bit more, felt the strain of
the other eyelid struggling to open beneath the medical tape.
He whispered, poking her back, feeling the solidity of his wife
through her pink housecoat. He reached up and tore the tape from his
eye. Wide-eyed in the dark. “Honey?”
figure looked at Jackson before turning towards the door and
disappearing down the hallway.
following morning, after her husband had left for the college, Marie
stepped outside of the house and sat on the curb. Eventually, a man
appeared, the same man, in fact who spent his days exposing himself
to passersby. “Here's your key,” he said, tossing it to her.
Marie took a long drag from her cigarette and balanced it upon the
curb. She reached into her bra and brought out her tarot cards.
think it worked?”
chuckled and began shuffling. “He called the agent today. House
goes on the market tomorrow.”
think I can stop pretending to be a pervert now, Marie?”
leaned forward and kissed her brother on the forehead. “Thanks,
David. You can go now.”
David stood and faded off into the distance and was never seen in
those parts again.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Jordan at http://thepuddingnyc.blogspot.com gave me this prompt: Without even breathing, he opened his eye just enough to peer through the veil of his eyelashes. The silence was terrible.
Labels: flash fiction, scriptic.org