Each month, I team up with Emilio Pasquale – he gives me a photo and I write a story inspired by it. What follows is the photo he chose- FOR MAY! (yes, I am that far behind), and then my story. His photography is impressive, so if you haven’t checked out his site, you really should 🙂
Someone Else’s Dream
She leaned her bare elbows on the iron railing. The still-warm metal transferred a day’s worth of heat to her skin. The sun had set about an hour ago; she’d watched it sink below the horizon.
“She comes out here every night.”
Ingrid heard the whispers behind her, annoying like gnats swarming in dusk air.
“It’s like she thinks he’s coming back.”
She closed her eyes and bowed her head. They didn’t know what they spoke of, but she let them think what they wanted. Her momma had always told her that gossip was like a raging wildfire. Truth only fanned the flames until all that remained were embers glowing among the ashes of destroyed lives.
“It’s sad, really. At her age, to be tossed aside like that; I heard he found someone else.”
Ingrid turned to face the women behind her. “Sadness… joy… life brings some of both, doesn’t it?” Ingrid smiled as their eyes widened. The yellow glow of the lamplights did nothing to conceal their reddened cheeks. At least they had the decency to be embarrassed, even though it wasn’t because of what they said, but rather, that she’d confronted them. She gained some satisfaction in their discomfort as she watched them scurry like roaches seeking a dark corner.
Alone again, Ingrid returned her attention to the canal below. Specifically, the boat tethered to the railing. That boat wasn’t much to look at on the surface, but it held the answers to many of her life’s questions. She felt that if she spent enough time in the presence of the boat bearing her name, mysteries of life would be revealed to her.
As a young woman, she’d dreamed of a simple life spent on the countryside. She’d imagined growing her own produce, maybe even a small vineyard where she could practice the art of making wine. When she first met Gary, she thought he’d shared her dreams. She later realized he had his own dreams of owning a boat and living on the water.
Fifteen years ago, he bought a canal boat and named her Ingrid’s Sunset.
“You bought a boat? Without talking to me about it first?”
He’d held her hands in his. “But honey, she’s perfect, just like you.”
She shook her head. “The wood needs refinished, the leather seat is weather-beaten, and it’s taking on water. It’s a wonder the thing floats.”
Gary grinned. “Give me time and you’ll see the beauty too.”
His excitement had softened her toward the dilapidated vessel. For a few years, he did work on the boat in his spare time. The leather seat had been replaced and the leaks plugged where the floor boards remained dry. His attention drifted, though, to bigger, more elaborate boats. He wanted to travel the ocean and knew the canal boat would never get him there.
Ingrid stared down at Ingrid’s Sunset, the irony, bitter in her throat. Like the boat named after her, she could only carry him so far before he realized he needed more. Like the boat, she had been nurtured and cared for in the beginning. Without thought, she’d let go of her countryside dreams and adopted his dream as her own. She’d believed him when he told her she’d always be his co-captain.
She closed her eyes to the grit carried on the warm breeze. She despised this place. It served as a constant reminder that she was trapped in the nightmare of living in someone else’s dream. For nearly two years, she’d spent her evenings with Ingrid’s Sunset looking for answers, searching for direction. Abandoned, she lingered in the purgatory of realization… unable to let go of his dream, yet unable to pursue her own.
“It’s getting dark.”
Ingrid didn’t turn toward the voice behind her. “It’s been dark for some time.”
“I have to go home soon so I can make sure mother gets her nighttime meds.”
“Sarah, you can go. I can see myself in just fine.”
“You know I can’t do that,” she whispered.
Annoyance filled the wrinkles scrunched between Ingrid’s frowned eyebrows. She knew the rules and had no regard for them. However, Sarah was no longer bound by them. For six months after Ingrid’s breakdown, Sarah had been the caseworker assigned to monitor her re-acclimation, or whatever it was they called it. Basically, Sarah hovered to make sure Ingrid didn’t go off the deep end again. After six months, the state department of mental health services deemed Ingrid able to live on her own in society with medication. But Sarah continued to check on her every day.
“Why do you still come here?” Ingrid asked; gaze fixed on the tethered canal boat bobbing in the water below.
“The water calls to you.”
Ingrid glanced over her shoulder. “What do you mean?”
“You come out here every night, as if you are waiting for him to return. Even though you know he isn’t coming back, I fear you’ll answer the water’s call.”
Ingrid studied the deep creases that spanned the length Sarah’s forehead. Under the street lamps, the pale skin stretched across her cheekbones looked thinner, almost crinkly- like wadded tissue paper. She suspected painful stories settled in each of the furrows. “You think I’m going to drown myself?”
Sarah shrugged. “Maybe not intentionally, but once the water wraps itself around you, I’m certain it will suffocate you. I’ve been left before and I know the lure of needing to know why.”
Turning back to the canal, Ingrid looked into the murky water. Instead of her reflection, she could only make out mottled patches of reflected light. “I used to dream of the countryside.”
“You should go there.”
Several minutes were swallowed in silence before Ingrid broke her grip on the railing and took one step back. “You keep saying that. I’m thinking maybe you’re right; maybe it’s time to move on.” She turned to Sarah and noticed her eyes glistening with unshed tears. “You want to come in for a snack before you go?”
Sarah shook her head and glanced at the watch strapped to her wrist. “I have some things I need to do yet tonight.”
She didn’t ask the time, but suspected it was later than she thought, as the canal walk had grown deserted. “Goodnight then.” Ingrid smiled. “Thank you for everything.” She felt Sarah watching her as she strode away from the canal. Once she passed through the archway to the gardens, she stepped aside and ducked behind a flowering Texas Ranger shrub. Peeking through the space between clustered branches, Ingrid watched as Sarah kneeled down at the railing. Even before the first rope slithered from between the rails and dropped into the canal, she knew what was happening. Ingrid could have stopped her, but didn’t. When the third and final rope disappeared, a lengthy exhale escaped.
Sarah stood and brushed her knees off before reaching into her pocket. Ingrid squinted but still couldn’t make out what she held in her hands. She gasped when she saw the first flames flicker. Again, she could have intervened, but watched in silence as Sarah tossed the flaming object over the railing.
“Goodbye, Gary.” The words slipped from between parched lips, like a breeze whistling between bare branches.
Ingrid stared, transfixed, as the first tendrils of smoke drifted skyward. In the periphery of her consciousness, she sensed that Sarah had disappeared into the darkness outside the lamp-lit walkway. A hint of a smile tugged at the corner of her lips as the wisps grew into billows of black smoke. She knew this would be her last visit to the canal; the hold on her now broken.
Just as leaves bud in the spring, Ingrid felt the first stirring of life in her once-dormant soul.
When I started this story back in May, I stopped writing just before where Sarah was introduced. I finally realized my hesitation with the story – the ending I had in my mind was too obvious. That’s where Sarah came in. Instead of Ingrid coming to the conclusion of letting go and moving on herself, Sarah helped her along. A part of me thinks that Gary might actually have been stored in that canal boat, possibly under the seat (hmm… perhaps I’ve thought about this waaaaay too much!) but I left that open… Ingrid’s goodbye to Gary could have figurative or literal, depending on how you- the reader- choose to see it.
Thanks so much for reading!
Emilio – you want to try another photo for September? Hey, I could have a story by Christmas, haha! Seriously though – I’ve missed writing for your photos 🙂