Icarus

May 16, 2012
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“She looks awful pale now, doesn’t she?”


I turn to face him but he still hasn’t pulled his eyes away from the open casket. The silence is overpowering, holding my mouth closed the way her corpse holds his gaze. A minute passes and I feel the phrase forming on my tongue.



“Pallor mortis.”



“What?” He looks up at me now, maybe because he barely heard me. Maybe because I haven’t spoken in days. His gaze is too intense, too despairing, so I let the magnetic force of her cold body pull in my eyes and whisper to her instead.



“Pallor mortis. Paleness of death. Settles in rather quickly, particularly if the person is fair. Followed by an immediate drop in temperature, algor mortis. Then rigor mortis, the stiffening of the joints due to-”



“Viola.” I know he is looking at me. I feel his gaze just as keenly as I hear the emotion in his voice. And now I am enveloped in his embrace as he lets the tears fall, whispering comforting words to me. As if I am the one who needs them. But I am turned observant now and my mind is shut up behind my eyes, viewing things as if from a distance. His hug feels far away, like I am watching him give it to me.



A wind I cannot feel comes in through a window and stirs her pale hair.

***



All I see is blonde. Blonde and red and bright blue, in her eyes and in her dress. The colors are harsh, unnatural. Her lipstick is smudged at the corners, the bright cherry red making its way past the natural borders of her mouth.



“Isn’t it just a dream?” she shrieks, pulling me into a quick, girlish hug. She moves away and fluffs her chin length perm, the soft finger waves in stark contrast with the harsh peroxide blonde of her hair. “I look just exactly like Mae West in Night After Night, don’t you think? I do declare, the minute a casting director sets eyes on me I am just sure I’ll be the next big thing!” She smiles at me now, and the lipstick smudges shift.



“You look,” I say flatly, “like a child in a woman’s clothes.” Her face immediately falls, the smile turning into a scowl. I regret what I said but it was not me who spoke really. It was the bitterness, that hot biting cynicism that settles behind my eyes whenever she opens her mouth. It is not because I am envious. It is because she is my best friend and a glittering depiction ofall I despise in the world.



“Harriet,” I begin, but I am cut off by her manicured hand just inches away from my face.



“Viola, how many times do I have to tell you not to call me that silly name any longer? My name is Lola Daye. That’s what the picture credits will say and it will be printed in all the magazines. And don’t bother trying to intimidate me with your snide comments. You know as well as I that you are just jealous. After all, no director would touch you with a ten foot pole. I wonder what he thinks of your attitude.”



“Don’t talk about him. You don’t know him.”

***

“I didn’t love her you know.”



I set the dahlias by the headstone and look at him. He repeats himself and I am silent.



“I know,” I say finally. “I know you didn’t love her.”



“How?”



“Because I just knew. I just know.” He tells me I’m lying. I tell him I wouldn’t care either way.

***

He stares at her like he’s never seen a girl before.

“This is Harriet, the one I was telling you about.”

He makes a motion as if he is going to shake her hand, but he is unsure of himself so instead it hangs limply in the air between them. He cuts a sad picture, his shirt half tucked in, one suspender beginning to slide off of his shoulder. His jeans are dirty and I begin to worry that introducing them wasn’t such a good idea. To her endless credit, she immediately takes a hint and fills the gap with chatter, shaking his hand vigorously.

“Oh, Vi speaks of you so often and I am just delighted to make your acquaintance. But I don’t go by Harriet these days. Just call me Lola, Sugar. Do you really hop freight trains and carry a bindle and live in one of those camps?” I could hit her for calling him “Sugar” and being so blunt but he just gives her a sheepish half-smile.

“Yes’m, I’ve hopped a couple of freight trains though I don’t carry a bindle. And I don’t live in a camp either; I live in the old house up on Wisteria Lane.”

“All by your lonesome up there in that old abandoned mansion? It must get frightfully quiet at night.” I’ve seen her practice that face in the mirror. She calls it “innocent tragedy,” and from the blush on his cheeks I see she’s gotten very good.

“Yes’m, but Viola spends all of her time up there with me, doing homework and that sort of thing.” She laughs and places her hand on his shoulder flirtatiously.

“I’m surprised she hasn’t graduated thrice over, all the work she does. Why, I bet the library’s got a chair with her name on it.” She laughs dramatically and he grins as they share this moment, her feigned sweetness complimenting his self-consciousness to a tee. He thinks she is beautiful. He thinks I am beautiful too, but he never looks at me that way. AndI never put him fully at ease.

I feel the observance creeping over me, shutting down every part of me that isn’t rational. I become a spectator and they are the film. Lola is the star.

She shoots me a furtive glance. She’s grinning.

***

“She didn’t love you,” I say. “She just thought you were poor white trash.” I don’t mean to say it but it falls out anyways, because even after she is dead I am still bitter.



“I know,” he replies. But he is hesitant and I doubt him. “She didn’t love anyone really. Not you, not me. Not herself.” The silence threatens to overtake the conversation so I read the headstone.



“Harriet Eileen Nolan. Do you think it should have said-”



“No,” he interrupts, “She was born Harriet and she died Harriet. Lola’s the one who-” He stops himself and I see the picture flash behind his eyes like a still frame taken from a motion picture, the rope strung high and her dress flapping with the breeze. A wind from the open window, I wind I cannot feel.



“Do you think anyone ever contacted her mother?”



“I guess not. I didn’t even think she had a mother.”



“She didn’t,” I say quickly, “Not really. She just had a poor substitute.”



“It wasn’t your fault. It was his fault for using her and her fault for looking to be used. And maybe both of our faults together for letting her go on like she did. But never just your fault alone.”



“I know.”



“You’re lying again.”



“No, I’m not. I know a lot of things, a lot more things than you do. I’m brilliant. She was beautiful and a dreamer and you were steady and determined and I was brilliant and detached. Because someone had to have their feet on the ground. Someone always has to have their feet on the ground.”

***



I know it is her the minute I see the figure through the drugstore window pane. I enter in, shaking the rain from my slicker. Her backside is turned to me and her hair is soaked, stringy yellow waves dripping onto her back. She is sipping a cherry coke delicately with a straw. When the bell rings she turns towards me on her stool, a weak attempt at a smile on her face. Mascara runs in long black rivers down her cheeks.



“I got the part,” she says shakily. She begins to sob and I forget everything I dislike about her, putting my coat on her and running her home. She cries all the way.



She doesn’t say what happened. But I see the finger-shaped bruises on her neck, smell the cigarette clinging to her hair. I know.



I help her burn her clothes.





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vintage32 said...
May 26, 2012 at 3:56 pm
Excellent story! Really interesting presentation of time.
 
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