Table for Two

Hi everyone! I would like to apologize for my lack of activity positing recently! Senior year is in full swing, this means minimal time for writing! Hopefully I’ll be able to post more once things get a little less chaotic, enjoy! 

I am sitting alone at a table for two. Directly across from me is a dining booth, clad in red worn down leather. I am picturing the man who will occupy this empty space; I find myself doing this often. He tells me in a cloudy accent that he’s an architect and he orders a $1.75 Cafe Americano. He has the voice of a lover, this I notice. The stiff white collared shirt he wears clashes with his gentle features, doe like brown eyes and a rounded nose. I want to touch his hand, it’s resting on the table, pinning down the paper menu. I will tell my mother about this man, he will give me purpose. He will have the hands of an architect, knuckles carefully thought out and placed with intention. Almost as if they had corresponding blueprints laying around his office. He will hang my high school portraits in his office and polaroids of us vacationing in Ibiza and Mallorca. There are no bumbling or hanging silences. Our conversations are the most riveting; which in my opinion is a wonderful sign for our first encounter. Possibly my soulmate.

I tell him about what we were taught in my philosophy class last semester. How before the earth was all cement and billboards, it was speckled in flowers and light. Humans had a single head with two painted faces. Four arms and four legs too. That given detail will make him laugh. One storm ridden day, Zeus had become enraged and maddened with human’s self pride and arrogance. As I mention these words, his eyes will soften, because he knows far too well what I am referring to, the monstrosity of man. As punishment, Zeus threw down his lightning rod, piercing the Earth and it’s every occupant, splitting the humans in two. Two arms and two legs, one face too. Humans would have to spend their entireties searching for their other half. He will then tell me that what he’s feeling deep down in his stomach makes sense to him now; this makes my smile beam and my cheeks blush. His breath does not have the strong undertone of gin and he does not slip a single profanity. We would make a great couple.

His name will be plain and simple to remember, something like John or James. James tells me that I have beautiful teeth and girls who look like me shouldn’t smoke. That’s exactly what my mother told me to look for in a lover, someone who sees the stars in my eyes and the poetry written on my skin. I cannot wait to tell her about James, I imagine myself gushing to her over the phone, words pouring out like water from the grand rapids. I make a mental note that we will have to visit Grand Rapids Michigan, bring the kids with us. He then will ask me if I’d like a milkshake, but I say no because I’m watching my figure. I need to be, after all, how can I expect to fit into one of those lace wedding gowns? I can picture myself sitting with James for hours, discussing the balcony he will build me, how our sons will play football just like he did. He is a true gentleman.

I am suddenly brought back. The red of the empty seat across from me is now stinging my eyes. I tap my nails nervously atop the white laminate table top, creating nonsensical and frenzied rhythms. People come and go, laughter echoes through the diner and halts at my table. A nice looking waitress with a plump smile asks me if I am ready to order, I tell her I am still waiting on someone. She gives me a nod and walks away, grasping tightly to a metal tray. I am sitting alone at a table for two.

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Wheeler & the Warbler: Part 3

The conclusion of my three part short story. Thank you to everyone who has been reading! 

 

I remained awake once more when night slipped over my rooftop. It was routine almost. I guess the warbler’s presence had sharpened my senses. I began to notice the inaudible sounds, the way the winds hummed and the leaves whispered. I didn’t know what they were gabbing on about though. I was able to feel the slight twitch of my right arm spasm, and the glares held in the eyes of strangers. I could feel like thumping of my heart, pumping reds throughout me. I could feel the zeep zeep zeeps. Yes, my senses became sharper. I was able to hear the straining of Mary Bate’s cheeks when she smiled. Though, I couldn’t recall the amount of hours I had slept the past five nights. The feeling of my head, sinking unhurriedly into my blue coated pillow, was a dreadful feeling. I wish it hadn’t been to tell you the truth. My skin was now dull grey, like the feathers of the warbler. The warbler was no longer a bird; the warbler was the weight I had carried. Until now, the weight had been manageable. Today, my knees collapsed and I had hit the floor. The warbler waited for me beyond the window pane. His small unproportionate body rocking back and forth, teetering atop the flimsy branch of my being. The warbler’s eyes bore gaping holes into my face, exposing bones and soft pink flesh. I stood to my feet, the house creaked below me, groaning and wailing, and abandoned my bedroom.

 

The air was raw and depraved, gnawing at my forehead, the blades of grass stung below my bare feet. It was damn cold out. I stood beneath the birch tree in my backyard. When I was a child my father and I built a birdhouse to hang on that birch tree. It was flimsy due to the fact he had let me hammer in most of the nails, small veiny cracks branched up the wood. He kept correcting my grip on the hammer and wouldn’t let me paint it after. Three weeks later it fell apart in a windstorm.
Darkness encroached the warbler and I, staining both my skin and his feathers. My glassy and tired eyes adjusted to the blackness and I was able to make out the shadow sitting in the tree. To tell you the truth, I didn’t care if I were to wake the neighbors, if I were to disturb Mrs. Bate’s tulips. The warbler no longer controlled me. I told him that. I screamed. I screamed until my jaw felt it were to disconnect and my throat bled. The warbler grew uneasy, I saw it in his eyes. My neck strained, blood vessels popping and veins pumping. I became dizzy. The sky let out a screech, ear piercing and throbbing. It was not the sky. From under a veil of black, a lonely falcon dived into the birch tree. Yolk colored talons snatched the warbler from the branch. I did not hear the familiar zeep zeeps from the warbler, but now a feeble croak. The warbler no longer controlled me, for I was made of dark grey steel and not glass. The falcon let another cry pour out from his beak, the warbler strung from his claws, crumped and defeated, and soared into the star spotted canopy above. I swear I watched the life seep from the warblers hollow body. My shaky hand grappled with the doorknob, the cool brass burned my tired skin. My bare feet dragged up the crooked staircase and I found my bedroom door slightly opened, cool air slipped from my open window and into the hallway. Walking into my room, I closed that window for the last time, submerged myself back under my covers, a sea of blue, and fell asleep.

Wheeler & the Warbler: Part 2

          I spotted the warbler again, staring through the window of my second block calculus class, concealed in the bushes. I dug lead into the parchment hard and tried to find meaning in the numbers and printed lines, but I couldn’t. The paint of my yellow number two bled onto my palms. The pencil splintered. My fingers grew stiff and my mind wandered from integrals and equations to two prying eyes that watched me from outside. I wished somebody else would notice that damn bird, I really did. The faint noise, the zeep zeep zeeps, could be heard through the thick glass. To my right sat Mary Bates, crouched over her worn down and clumsy red notebook. I liked Mary Bates. She had straight pearl teeth that were easy to talk to and the way she looped her Y’s made everything feel a tad bit better. She was also my neighbor. The Bate’s lived in a crumbly beige house surrounded by rows of tulips. I had always admired her mother, who had spent many hours of her weeks dirtying her pant legs, tending to her lovely mauve and pink painted flowers. One afternoon she had even heard my parents yelling at each other while she was in that garden. She asked Mary to check in with me, sweet lady.

 

          I reached out my shaky jaundiced fingers and lightly brushed the shoulder of her olive sweater. My touch startled her, her head snapped up from her work, hair moving wildly, curly antique couch springs. Her posture uncoiled after the realization that the tap was not from an apparition, but of a classmate. “Look outside the window,” I asked, pointing one bony finger off into oblivion.

“What is it?”

“See that bird?” As I asked, she squinted her eyes, attempting to make sense of the sooty figure, crouched amongst the earth. Mary laughed, her giggles were a flower bed.

“Well that’s odd,” she offered, balancing her pen between two gaunt fingers, “funny almost.”

“Wanna hear somethin’ even funnier?”

“Of course,” I could tell I had Mary’s attention now, surely. Her black pen fell from her fingers to her wooden desk, and she shifted her bruised knees in my direction.

“That little guy’s been following me around,” Mary’s eyebrows raised in confusion, “Past couple night’s he’s been screamin’ out at my window,” I laughed, “even followed me to school!” My words were veiled with humor, I wasn’t too keen on letting Mary Bates know how the warbler made me feel anxious and unnerved and all.

“You don’t think it could be another bird?”

“No, it’s him,” I spoke. This made Mary Bates laugh. Soon our focus on the bird wavered away and we both fell back into the humdrum of formulas and functions. It was nice to have a friend, to have something other than a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. The flecks of ivory in Mary Bates’ teeth gave me something to focus on besides the black, besides the black throated grey warbler. The seeming friendship of Mary Bates was the antidote, encased in a glass vile like in those movies, so easily shattered.

 

 

          When the clock’s calloused hands grazed 2:00, the red brick schoolhouse expelled students in all directions, spitting them out like a child would broccoli. There were many hues, dots and people in this wave, a tsunami of hair and sweaters and backpacks and commotion. This Monday mirrored any other Monday. Students itching, until their skin was left raw, to go home. The sound of heavy footprints colliding onto pavement still rung in my ears and so did the sound of popping pink bubble gum. I overheard Bobby Metz tell Charlie Woods, the quarterback, he was going to ask Sylvia Freeman to go steady with him. This is a secret I had kept and this was something that would never happen. In the crowd, I began to search for the warbler. I could tell he was watching; he was always watching. The zeeps had been drowned out by an orchestra of voices but I knew they were there, a steady metronome. I could tell, the way my palms had began to shake like an addict’s and that pit in my stomach arose once more, growing again exponentially. Exponential growth and decay, second block calculus, Mary Bates. He was always there.

          I turned onto Hanover street on the walk home. Attempting to dodge cracks and breaks in the cement, I wished not to harm my mother though at times it felt as if she wished to harm me. This was a habit I had picked up at six, compulsion clung to my shoulders like freckles would, all of my remembered life. Mary Bates was only a few paces ahead of me. With each step, her curls bounced. The warbler was nowhere in sight. I needed to get her attention, I needed Mary Bates.  I yelled. “Mary!” My voice startled her, she turned her neck, hair whirling, squinting over the shoulder of her olive sweater.

“Hey Wheeler,” her strides slowed until I caught up with her. We walked besides each other in silence for a few moments, exchanging only the sound of breaths falling and rising.

“How’d you do on that test Friday?” I asked.

“I think I did well, not my best, but well” Mary smiled, “What about yourself?”

“I wish I could say the same,” I laughed, with the laughter I felt slight weight remove itself from atop my ribcage.

“Have you seen that oddball bird again today?” I was glad Mary remembered.

“I saw him sixth block too, not since then though. He’ll turn up soon.” Mary bit at her thin pink lips in confusion.

“Why’d you say that?” Her pitch skewed itself until her voice spilled out from her chapped lips sweetly, with the consistency of honey.

“I can just tell- I feel all weird when he shows up,”

“Try scarin’ him or something, you know, frighten him. Clap your hands loud and look real big, maybe he’ll just fly away,” she giggled and her cheeks became spotted the color of the flowers occupying Mrs. Bate’s tulip garden.

“I thought that’s what you’d do if a bear came up to you,”

“It’s only an idea, Wheeler. Take it or leave it.”

“Well, Mary Bates,” I looked her in the eyes, “that is one grand idea.”

About Tabitha Paine

Boy, was she pretty, and she damn near scared me, too. She wasn’t the kind of pretty they advertise in those Sears catalogs, the ones that featured those girls with all that long blonde stringy hair and porcelain skin. Tabitha Paine looked like she hadn’t slept in days and always smelt like stale smoke. I couldn’t exactly figure out why I found that so intriguing, but I did. She just about killed me.

I watched her from the back right corner, the one beside the window of Ms. Keller’s dimly lit classroom. My eyes focused, not on the movie projected onto the board about the First World War, or whatever, but on her. The way she bit at her lips and tapped her bony fingers on the wooden desktop. I liked the way her curls looked like an antique collection of old metal couch springs, and how her collar bones protruded from her chest, reaching out to grab me.

The first time we spoke was when she forgot to bring a pencil into history. Her voice was low and raspy. I always have a few spare number two pencils living in the bottom of my book bag. When I handed one to her, our skin touched just for a moment. Her palm was slightly dry, but that sure as hell didn’t matter to me. After school, on the walk home, I contemplated talking to her a second time. Just the thought of striking up a casual conversation about the way the sky looked made me shake in my penny loafers, like a skinny birch tree caught up in a windstorm. Tabitha Paine was that windstorm, but I was too yellow to talk her then.

I got my chance next on a Thursday, and Tabitha was wearing that green sweater, the one that made her skin look dull. Truthfully, she looked best in purple, but not lilac-like, a deep purple. I had been looking at her all of that day and I think she saw me. I didn’t know whether that was a good or bad thing, to tell the truth. I know it frightened the hell out of me, though. Her eyes looked more calico than they usually did–I think it was that sweater. I felt like a creep and all, spending most of history eyeing her. She had that effect on me.

At lunchtime, I saw Tabitha sitting on the concrete steps, crouched over a cigarette. It kind of bothered me, seeing her like that and all, with death teetering between her raw lips. I mean, it was in the designated smoking area, but it got to me, her sitting there smoking like that. She looked up from the ground and met my eyes. I just stood there for a minute. To tell you the truth, I froze. For seven seconds (I counted each one), we stared at each other. She spoke first. Her voice was gravel.

“Watcha lookin’ at?”

I shuffled my feet. “You know.” My voice shook like a tambourine, but I went on. “I heard that smoking isn’t all that good for you. Causes cancer and all those other crummy diseases people get.”

To tell the truth, I can’t tell why the hell I said that. It sounded like something my mother would say. Without breaking our gaze, she brought death back to her lips and inhaled the smoke.

I don’t know what goddamn thing inside of me made me walk over to her, but I found myself sitting right besides Tabitha Paine then. I didn’t say anything more, though. I just watched her, like always. Tabitha held the cigarette in her spindly fingers, making Hades himself look graceful. Boy, I envied it almost. The way she hugged it in the crevice of her fingers, her knuckles peeking out at me. They clung tight to her bones, creating pink and fleshy nebulas. She tilted her head to look at me and her chapped lips smirked.

“You want one?” The words broke from her teeth and sent electricity down my spine. My mother lectured me about this peer pressure thing all the time, and I guess I’d never experienced a situation like this before. Also, I guess my mother didn’t drill it into my head enough, because I went for it.

“Sure.”

“You ever had one before?”

“Yeah,” I lied. “All the time.”

“You don’t strike me as the type.” She squinted and smirked some more. Before I knew it I found the cigarette between my fingers, shaking like a madman when I put it up to my lips. I wanted to impress Tabitha, make her think we had something in common, and all. As soon as I inhaled, I knew she knew we had nothing in common. The smoke branched through my lungs, and clawed into my throat. I let out a cough and my eyes watered. How the hell did Tabitha Paine do this every damn minute of the day?

It has been about three weeks since that second conversation with Tabitha, and three weeks since I smoked my first cigarette. Everyday at lunch now, we sat on that tiny step. It was barely wide enough to fit the both of us, and I sat more toward the edge so she had enough room. I was just balancing there, same as usual, when Tabitha Paine told me she was gonna come see me that night. She said it in that low tone she always spoke in. She said that she had something to tell me. At first, I expected her to confess her undying love to me or something crazy like that, but it only happens that way in those damn Cukor films. She told me to meet her out by the metal stairs leading up to the balcony of the apartment building next to mine.

I got there a couple minutes early, just to make sure she didn’t have to wait around for me to show up in the cold. The waiting made my hands shake and my nose turn pink. Ten minutes felt like damn near ten hours.

When I saw her walking toward me, I couldn’t help but notice she was wearing a purple winter jacket. It was that deep purple, the one that made her look good. She always spoke first.

“How long ya been waiting for me?”

“Oh, I just got out here a minute ago, that’s all.” I always lied, it seemed, talking to her.

“I gotta tell you something.” Her eyes met mine, though I couldn’t tell what they were saying to me. The moon wasn’t too bright. “I’m goin’ away.”

“Whaddaya mean? Going on a trip?”

“No, I mean, yeah, kinda.” She reached into the deep pockets of that purple jacket and handed me a crumpled up piece of paper. I did my best unfolding it. It had a few stains on it, but I could read the scribbles.

“What’s this?”

“A map, to Florida.”

“Why the hell do you want to go to Florida? You got family there or something?” My brows furrowed. By this time, my eyes had nearly adjusted to the darkness and I saw something in her eyes.

“No, I’m not goin’ with my family. I’m goin’ by myself, for good.”

I didn’t say anything, partly because I didn’t know what to say and partly because my stomach got all knotted up.

“Can’t stand it here anymore. It’s too damn depressing and cold. They call Florida the sunshine state—did ya know that?”

I didn’t say anything this time around either. I just watched my breath whirl in the air like her cigarette smoke always did.

“I just wanna start over, that’s all.”

I tried to reason with Tabitha, but she stuck with that gut feeling of hers. In the beginning, I liked that about her. That night, though, it tore me up. I watched her walk back home, or wherever she was headed. The way her curls bounced when her sneakers kissed the pavement. I wanted to call back to her, maybe tell her how I felt about her—the way she gave me those damn butterflies and made me nervous. But I never did. I never told Tabitha Paine I cared about her.

I care about Tabitha Paine. The words bounced in my head, vibrating and ringing. Sometimes they were sharp and stung at my forehead. I couldn’t stand it. If only I could have choked out or coughed up the words onto the asphalt below us, Tabitha Paine could have stayed. She would still be wearing that purple jacket and she would still be paying the guy who sits on the corner to go into the convenient store to buy her those damn cigarettes.

***

The next time I saw Tabitha Paine’s face my stomach felt funny. Not because of those butterflies, but because I felt sick. The next time that I saw Tabitha Paine’s face it was on the television. It was an old picture, from a couple years before I’d gotten to know her. She hadn’t changed much, I saw. She’d gotten a little taller and was more bruised looking, maybe more yellow from the cigarettes, and all. The word “missing” flashed from the television screen to my memory, back and forth. She wasn’t wearing her purple jacket on the television.

It got around school. She’d written a note to her mother, telling her what she’d told me by the stairs. Her crossed “t”s were shaky and the looped “l”s quivered, covered in lead. In chemistry class I listened in on the conversations that engulfed me. Margaret Greene told her friends that the letter had more than three “I love you”s. Thomas Foster whispered back that the letter had more than three “I hate you”s. It got home, too. I heard my mother’s voice echo off the kitchen wallpaper, talking about what a shame it was—a local tragedy, and all. The thing was, not too many runaways came back, she said.

In the beginning, the search parties went to innocent places: the bowling alley, the record store, all of her favorite spots around town. Then it got dark. After a few weeks, they moved off into the swamps and ditches along the highways. They posted her image everywhere around town, especially all over the lampposts. Sometimes three of four of them stuck on a single pole, and she blew in all directions at once. About a month in, nobody thought she would come back, with all those bad people out there—except for her mother, who wanted her hunted for clear down the coastline. The story was that she tried to hitchhike her way down to the Sunshine State. That made me feel sick all over again.

***

It was Tuesday, and at lunch I sat alone on the concrete step. I still sat on the edge, leaving room for Tabitha Paine. Classmates clad in plaid and khakis, cigarettes hanging from their teeth, gathered in their small circles over ham sandwiches and milk cartons. They were talking about her in a different way now. I didn’t eat, I couldn’t eat. I still had that queasy feeling lying down in the bottom of my stomach and throat. I tapped my fingers hard onto the step, my nails crashed into the grey and the little pain there made me focus less on whatever I was feeling, and more on the little bits of blood staining the leather of my shoe.

I watched her from the back right corner, the chair beside the window, of Allen Funeral Home. I was sorta shifting in my seat, since my mother made me wear my stiff church suit. The black casket was closed, for everyone’s sake. I hoped they had dressed her in purple, not black. She wore a black turtleneck one Friday, the day in history class when we took notes on the French Revolution. Tabitha Paine had bit at the tip of her pencil (one of her bad habits), a sunny yellow number two. Small shreds of pink alighted on the black cotton.

God, what I would give to see Tabitha Paine one more time. To see her curly hair, and to hear her words dance in my ears. I would never get that chance again. I couldn’t focus on the depressing stories being told about her as a child. I just couldn’t. I tried to listen, but it was damn next to impossible. My head was only consumed in that ringing noise—the sound I wanted her to hear: I care about Tabitha Paine.

The thing I hate the most about life, is that it won’t stop moving forward. Tabitha Paine dies, and nobody bats an eyelash. The bus still comes every morning at 7:15, and I still watch the kid across from me finish his breakfast sandwich every Tuesday on that bus. In my English class, Susan Taylor still complains to Jessica Knox about how we didn’t get enough time to finish our reading assignment. And every goddamn day in history class, Ms. Keller still calls for the girl with the curly hair who sat in the third row to the left, in front of David Spinelli and behind Bailey Adams, and only then realizes that she has made a mistake.

an excerpt from: Going Through the Spectrum

 Darkness surrounded him. These nightly fits were sure to mean something. Pain in his nose started to swell. First a shooting, razor sharp pain, then an itch. Oliver’s hand darted out to his night stand. In the cluttered mess of study sheets, day old tissues and medication bottles he snatched a tissue from its box. He brought the tissue to his nose. The boy let out a gigantic, painful sneeze. A sound that could only be mimicked by that of a howling wolf escaped the boy’s open mouth. Pain branched and crackled throughout his lungs. In all of this pain he’d somehow forgotten about the heartbreak that had taken place only ten hours ago. In curiosity, Oliver glanced at the tissue his shaking hands held in front of him. What he held in his hands was a tissue, spotted and smeared with black. Oliver’s eyebrows furrowed. He took his quivering index finger to the edge of his nose and lightly dabbed above his lip. His finger looked like it had been blotted in sky black ink. Before the boy could scream or run to face his own reflection, his bony knees gave out and he lay on the floor, unconscious.

White. The four walls surrounding Oliver were white. White, white, white. His mind and memory were fuzzy. It felt like the black and white static on a television screen. White was a word that kept reappearing back into the boy’s mind. The walls were white. His sheets were white. The sky was white. The tiles beneath him were even white. Oliver looked down into his thin, pale arms. IV tubes branched into them, and clear fluids sunk into his veins. He watched with intent as they flowed.

Oliver was alone. His mind was empty. White? Not only in the frost colored hospital room, but everywhere. He felt loneliness sink into his heart. Elsie, what he needed was the girl who had spent six years by his side. The girl who would laugh along with him to nothing. The girl who could comfort him without any words escaping her narrow lips. The girl who had fire for hair. Once again, Oliver fell into a deep sleep, this time caused by medication, not a tissue soaked in death.

Three hours had passed when Oliver found himself sitting up in the hospital bed. His ears led him to a nasally voice coming from a corner of the room. “Yes Mrs. Owens, Oliver is awake.” The lady dressed in white projected her voice through the phone. “You can come during our visiting hours, he’s in a stable condition. Not yet, we’re planning on running some more tests,” Tests? Oliver grew uneasy. That same lump in his throat surfaced itself against the boy’s translucent skin. Surely it was a clump of nothingness this time, there was no doubt.

The lady hung up the phone and advanced towards Oliver. The small white name tag fastened onto her uniform spelled out Nurse Lawson. “How are you holding up, Oliver?” Nurse Lawson spoke. The boy couldn’t reply; it was that lump again. Oliver could only nod his head. She let out a smirk, “You’ll be back to normal in time.” Nurse Lawson turned on her white heels and continued out of the blank room, and Oliver was left with the white noise.

Oliver sat in the silence; it devoured his frail teenage body. Tick tock. Tick tock .The clock overlooking his bed screamed out. He turned his head to the window and observed the outside world. The sky was white horse grey. Puffy clouds hugged each other and swirled into the nothingness that hung above. Tiny snowflakes danced in the heavens. Oliver could almost hear the sorrows of the wind clawing and scratching at the rain spotted window, if it wasn’t for that terrible ticking noise.

Red. When Oliver opened his weary eyes all he could see was red. The fiery shade fused into his white emptiness. The white pillows were now red. The white sheets were now red. The white tiles were now red. His eyes were bloodshot, maroon branched and crackled to his pupils. The room was no longer stark white. Fragments of blazing color interrupted the desolation. The amount of redness did not frighten Oliver, he had seen it once before: In the locks of Elsie. Oliver welcomed the crimson with open arms, it was all he had left of the girl.Was it all he had left at all?

Oliver’s insides were obsidian like the night sky. His blood flowed dark through his fragile veins. His lungs were spattered black with nothingness. Oliver’s being was an empty hull bobbing among the swells. The world surrounding Oliver leaked white. The clouds that swirled above were blank, an empty canvas that had shown no desire for color. Dull white snow fell and crowded around his shoes. Oliver’s world was painted black and white; what he needed was red.