Hand-me-downs / Behind the Wall -- Chapter One + Two
Hello. I've recently been very sick, for the second time this fall, woo-to-the-fucking-hoo, so I haven't really been able to do anything else except write. And guess what? I have! My writer's block seems to have slipped away for good =D I recently posted a PROLOGUE to a novel I am writing. I have now done some editing to the text in the post, and well, I know the content will be changing over time. I won't be making a new version of it yet though. I thought, however, that I would share some material with you and see what you thought =) Basically, not reading the prologue doesn't leave you clueless when you start reading. I don't really like to call it a prologue anyway, just a flash of the end (or the beginning), which (I sure hope) makes the reader one curious little thing and makes them want to flip the page and read more.
It was a Monday that I saw her, I think. It could have been any other day but it just sounds about right. I was so tired, so dizzy, leaning onto my elbows as I stood sleepily by the counter. She walked inside with her arms around a large black hardcover book, her fingers stroking the spine as though it were breathing. Sunglasses covered her eyes, light gray lines running down the sides of her face.
“April!” Gerry spat against my neck in his morning grumble.
I nudged myself back to life, eyeing the pile of self-help books spread before me like a bunch of pink logs. “Just a second,” I murmured after him, slowly picking them up one by one.
Awakening from my morning daze I could feel the cold storage room air etch into the sides of my jersey, sending a tremor across my ribs and up my neck. I bit at the inside of my left cheek as I gazed through the wide doorway, finding her still at the first shelves, her stare switching languidly from one title to another. She was crying, wasn’t she?
I’d always bit on my cheeks. I suppose it was my way of expressing curiosity, or confusion. My face appears slightly lopsided whenever I concentrate on anything. I think it’s because of the way I tilt my head to the left; it makes me look like my right cheek is higher than the other. My grandmother had once said I had the face of a doll because of the way it made me purse my lips, biting into my cheek.
So there I was in full puppy-head-tilt mode, only barely concentrating on the books I was placing on the metal shelves, my eyes too busy tracing along the edges of her body as I kept arguing with myself whether it was the rain or tears that had damaged her make-up. But her head was turned away. I strode to the small tower of cardboard boxes standing at the doorway, blinking slowly as I zoomed in on her heels. White, with navy blue soles.
I flinched as I heard Gerry’s voice, gabbing in his professional tone as he asked across the shelf if he could be of any assistance. She said no, clutching the black book to her chest, her voice deep and husky. It had to be the tears. Gerry looked her up and down before backing away, glancing angrily at the mass of cardboard boxes swaying by the door. I grabbed the topmost box by the corners, causing the little tower to heave to the left.
“April,” Gerry whispered, suddenly behind me. His voice was calmer, curious. “Did that woman over there have that book when she came in?”
I swallowed, setting the brown box down on the counter. “I think so, yes.” I kept my focus on her as she moved to the next shelf, nearly out of sight. “Why?”
“Just wondering. Don’t want her stealing anything, do we?” he said, his lips curling into a smile. It froze by the corners. He always did that. “She was asking for you.”
I let my eyes skim along the shelves, finding her at the fourth. I could see her shoes but not her face. Her heels clacked on the plastic floor with a slight echo. I turned around to face Gerry, my mouth opening.
“She knew your last name.”
“Really?” I could feel the room grow colder, stinging at my sides as I glanced at her over my shoulder. If only she would take the glasses off. “Did she say why?”
From the corner of my eye I could see him shake his head and hold his hands to the back of his neck. “She just said she was looking for April Gray,” he said, leaning in to my ear. “She keeps staring at you. She’s not an angry ex, is she? I don’t want a scene in my shop.”
I let out a painful laugh. “Don’t worry. We won’t drive away any customers.”
“So you know her?”
“No,” I shook my head, “I don’t. I’ve never seen her before.”
“Go talk to her, then,” he insisted, sticking a finger into my side.
I slapped his hand away. “No!”
The clacking stopped as she stood by the end of the shelf, half of her face in my vision as I stole a glimpse at her through the open door. She grabbed her glasses by the frame, pushing them up over her forehead. Blue eyes, slightly tear-stained as they gawked back at me. I slapped at Gerry’s hand again as he held back his laughter, my feet glued to the floor.
“Okay, now you have to go talk to her,” he murmured while placing the pink books in piles of five and seven. I could tell by the noises.
“No, no.” I shook my head, closing my eyes, opening them. She was still there. “Can’t you just—“ I stammered.
“Like, tell her to leave? It’s closing-time,” I snapped, taking a pile of books from his arms.
“Not until another fifteen minutes.”
“Tell her we’re closing early. There’s nobody else here,” I pleaded, looking him in the eyes. “Please? I’ll buy you coffee tomorrow.” I bit at my cheek, looking at her. She’d put her glasses back on, her dark brown hair a bit of a mess from where the frame had been. Her lips were still halfway smiling as she turned her back to us, running her fingers along the discount signs. I turned my gaze back to Gerry, letting go of my cheek as I was beginning to taste blood.
He glanced at the woman and then back at me, pursing his lips. “It better be a latte. And not a small one like last time”
“I’ll get you an extra large one. With whipped cream and cinnamon. Just tell her we’re closing.”
She was wearing a black pencil skirt with a light blue top tucked inside, a white button-down sweater. No tights. Her hair went down to the middle of her spine, slightly in curls from the humid air outside. Her shoes weren’t wet even though it was pouring rain.
He laughed, shaking his head. “Okay, fine,” he said, pointing his finger at me while squinting his eyes. “You owe me.”
“Thank you,” I mouthed slowly as he started walking toward her.
“And don’t forget the coffee!” he whispered, smiling at me.
I faked a grin as he strode in her direction, rubbing his hands together. My eyes were icing over with tears as I continued placing piles of books in various boxes, taping each of them closed. I could see the two of them from the corner of my eye but pretended she wasn’t there, drawing all my focus into writing correct addresses on the cardboard.
I walked through town with my eyes mostly cast to my feet, hoping the slight drizzle would disguise my tears. The shop windows gleamed in the fading light of the streetlamps, reflecting an orangey glow upon the clouds gathering above. The air seemed electric as the gray clumps leaned into and over each other as though changing position whilst asleep.
I dove into my pocket; fishing out the last cigarette I had in the pack I’d bought the previous morning and sat down under the cover of the bus stop to light it in an attempt to safeguard the flame from the wetness. I breathed out to my left so that the little boy sitting by my side wouldn’t have to contaminate his lungs because of me, smiling sadly as the smoke played with the light rain, distorted, fading in a millisecond.
I curled my fingers tightly around the handles of my bag, a somewhat fake Gucci I’d bought in Taiwan around two years before, shutting my eyes from the bleeps coming from game the boy was playing on his cell phone.
I didn’t even know why I was crying.
The bus came soon, half-empty tires dragging along the worn asphalt. I paid for the ticket with the change I had, resulting in a near soundless grumble coming from the driver as the coins clanged down onto the plastic. I sat myself at the back of the bus, waving goodbye to the boy who, even though entranced by his game, lifted his hand for me.
Resting my forehead against the cold glass I pawed at my pockets in hope of finding one last cigarette to smoke while walking home. But the pack was empty and so were all my pockets. Might as well quit. But it was a safe, dull habit I’d gotten used to during the last few years. And it filled some gaps. And it warmed me up in the winter. And—
Okay. Enough excuses. I really needed to quit.
It made me feel like a bad mother.
I tried not to recoil as the bus drove past shiny, freshly polished suburbs; the white and beige deluxe accommodations of the rich and semi-rich coming across to me as nothing more than oversized dollhouses. My ex-husband lived in a dollhouse. A pink one, actually. I always told myself it was the house and pool with which he had managed to win over the heart of our four-year-old daughter and not the cuddly Daddy-character he put on whenever his new wife was around. My Jenny knows better than that.
At least I get her for two weekends a month — and on Christmas.
I held my bag to my chest as I exited the bus, nearly falling over on the wet sidewalk. It was moments like these that I told myself to try and remember what it was like to have a car, to be able to drive that car to wherever I wanted, and to be able to travel from one place to the next without waiting for tens of minutes on a crowded bus stop. It was fine on a sunny day, sure. But when it was all gray and wet, I could have sold my soul to be sitting in a nice, warm, not to mention dry, car.
The trees had their branches hanging lower from the weight of the rain, their leaves stretched down till breaking point as I strode beneath them, gasping each time a drop of cold liquid dropped on my shoulder. It’s funny how much a child can brighten up a day. If Jenny had been there with me I’d have had all the colors of the rainbow accompanying my journey home, painted into her rubber boots as she jumped from one puddle to the next. But without her, and fully without colors, I skipped past all the slightly wet spots of the asphalt and even then had my sneakers soaked through. The worst part was that I cared. I cared that I worked eight to ten hours a day at Gerry’s bookshop slash badly stationed café slash something not nearly as popular as the Barnes and Noble across the street, I cared that my picture-perfect ex-husband turned my life into a complete mindfuck in only a matter of two years, I cared that the woman I loved was eight years younger than me and that she actually was a woman, and I cared that I could never walk my daughter home from kindergarten, never to mention when it was her time to start school.
I ran up the steps, fumbling for the keys as the clouds conjoined in a crash of thunder, thick walls of rain streaming down almost vertically. The wooden door had swollen from the sides so it took me tens of seconds to squeak it open, crashing against the wall with it when it finally swung free. The hallway lamps had gone out again except for the one by the end so I sneaked my way along the slippery tiles, probably leaving a watery trail behind me.
The steps in the stairs seemed to have multiplied as I climbed my way up, three flights of them in total, my calves burning by the time I’d reached my door. Before I could plunge my key into the lock the door opened — Marcus was home, after all.
“Hey,” I said, twisting my face at him as I reached down to rub my calves. “Could you please stop calling me that? It makes me feel like I’m made of porcelain and you know what happens to porcelain when you throw it down the stairs.”
He laughed, leaning down to grab my bag. “Who said I was throwing you down the stairs?”
“My head,” I grimaced, swaying.
“Whoa,” he murmured as he scooped me up from the landing, just about dragging me indoors. “Rough day, huh?”
I groaned in response as I collapsed on the carpet, holding my hands to my forehead as he pulled the door closed, the loud thud making me jump. I leaned my head back, watching the ceiling as I felt him sit down beside me.
“Yes. I noticed.” I grabbed the seams of my jersey, squeezing at them till most of the water had dripped to the floor. I managed a half-smile as I turned my head to look at him. “How was your day?”
He sighed, tapping at his knees with his forefingers. “It was okay, considering the fact that Denny called out again.”
“Yeah, I know. Three weeks without a drummer.” He lifted his hands to the air for a dramatized effect, folding them behind his head. “Disaster. I’ve been trying to get it into Alec’s head that we should just—“
He held his breath, grinning. “Yep. That’s not exactly how I phrased it but—“
“I get it,” I murmured, resting my head on his shoulder. “Has Trey called?”
“Did you pick up?”
“On the third time, yes. He’s bringing Jenny over at eleven tomorrow morning.” He ran his fingers through my hair, laughing quietly. “Apparently she hasn’t gone a single day without black lipstick since her birthday last week. Said she was playing Mommy on Halloween.”
“Oh God, no,” I murmured, holding my hands to my face.
“Where did she even get that?”
I raised one hand in the air while keeping the other held to my cheek. “Me. I made the mistake of getting her a Barbie. She wanted an action figure, Spider Man to be exact, so I soothed the tantrum with the lipstick. Still had it in my purse.”
“Tantrum-soother or not, you are in trouble. Trey was furious,” he said, faking a bit of seriousness into his tone even though I knew he was grinning. “Not to mention Jean.”
“Don’t even mention her name to me, okay?”
“She’s hid the thing a million times but Jen just seems to find it.”
I laughed, stretching out to grab a pillow from the couch. I hugged it to my chest, laying my head down on Marcus’s thigh. “I have the Spider Man now. It’s this metallic statuette. Cost me thirty dollars, so it better cut it.”
“How did you—?“
“Gerry,” I sighed, hugging the pillow tighter. “I’ll have to buy him cinnamon lattes for the rest of my life. And bring Jenny over more often, of course.” I smiled, suddenly freezing in place.
The woman at the shop…
I sat up, throwing the pillow aside. “Something weird happened today.”
“Don’t tell me yet,” he said, suddenly standing up and scrambling towards the kitchen.
“What are you doing?”
“Call me crazy,” he murmured, blowing on the mug he was holding. “But I made you coffee.”
I grimaced a little, holding my hands out for the mug. It burned my fingertips. “Coffee? You hate coffee.” I held the mug to my chest, the warmth slowly creeping through my wet clothes.
“And you hate tea and are allergic to chocolate,” he laughed, running back to the kitchen to fetch what smelled like hot cocoa. “So I thought I’d make some since it was raining. I messed up the first time but I think that one’s okay.”
I smiled, leaning my nose down to the rim. Seemed normal enough. “Wow. I’m impressed.”
He placed the cocoa by his side on the carpet, leaning back on his hands. “You were saying?”
“Oh! Right.” I stared down at the dark brown liquid, blowing into it slowly. “This woman came to the shop today, asking for me,” I said quietly, glancing up at Marcus to find his eyebrows crunched together in confusion. “I didn’t know her. She seemed to know me, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“She knew my full name and she looked at me like—“
“I don’t know. Someone you care about.”
Marcus grabbed his mug from the floor, taking a sip.