The Space Between (Fiction) – Emilio Pasquale Photo

For August, Emilio Pasquale provided the following photo that I used as inspiration for a story.  If you haven’t already, you should check out his blog – he knows how to edit photos (I, on the other hand, do not!)    The story begins after the photo…

International truck - Copy

Ramona Schmidt dragged her index finger through the inches-thick layer of snow on the truck’s hood. Like her heart, the snow had frozen, thawed, and been refrozen so many times. Like her soul, that rusty truck held enough memories to haunt several lifetimes.

“Mama, won’t you come inside?”

Ramona didn’t respond.

“She’s been standing out there for over an hour,” Paula said to her husband.

“Maybe she just needs some time.”

“She’ll freeze to death. It must be twenty degrees out there.”

“She’s wearing a coat.”

Paula scowled. “There’s no talking to her.”

Ramona frowned. Since her husband, Davy, had turned up missing sometime after the leaves colored and before the naked trees stood stark on the horizon, her daughter and son-in-law came to live with her. Whispers of dementia carried through thin walls; slow words delivered by raised voices. The way they talked about her like she wasn’t there infuriated her. She slipped a cigarette from the pack stowed in her right coat pocket. With her left hand she clicked the lighter and brought the flame to the tip of the cigarette pressed between her lips, taking in a long drag as the tobacco smoldered.

“Mama, I think you should come inside.” Paula draped an arm over her mom’s bony shoulders. She glanced at her husband- he nodded and headed toward the house.

Exhaled smoke escaped in tendrils. “I’m fine here.” Ramona fought the urge to shrug off her daughter’s condescending touch.

“The man is coming to look at the truck in about an hour.”

Ramona brushed her fingers along the exposed rust. That truck was already several years old when Davy brought it home. She’d never forget how he showed up that evening and said he wanted to take a mining job in Idaho.   She didn’t understand why he couldn’t just mine copper in Arizona.

“If you’ve changed your mind about selling it, I can let him know.”

Ramona pursed her lips. “Winds change, minds don’t.” Eyes closed, she lifted her chin. As if on cue, another gust whipped a layer of fallen snow into the air. Her wrinkled cheeks, a topographical map of her years, stung from the latest assault. Her skin had grown dry from the hours spent outdoors at the mercy of an unforgiving winter. “My heart has gone dry from years of neglect.”   She flicked her spent cigarette filter and ground it into the frozen hay with the toe of her fur-lined leather slipper.

“What?” Her daughter leaned closer. “What do you mean?”

“Thy will be done,” Ramona said with a shrug. She didn’t realize her ideas had translated to spoken words. She stayed immersed in the space between, where memories and new thoughts commingled in her brain. More and more, it became difficult to differentiate between real and manufactured history. The permeable line separating thoughts and words diminished with each passing day. She giggled. “Incontinence of the mind.”

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Lost and Found (Fiction)

06-30 Ocean Sunset

“When did you know you were lost?” he asked.

Rochelle gazed into the golden-hued waves, tinted by the sun which had just dipped below the horizon. “I simply woke up one day and didn’t know who I was anymore.”

The man who’d introduced himself as ‘Jason’ gave her a sideways glance.

Silence disrupted her trance. “Oh, you meant here, in Ensenada, didn’t you?” She let out a nervous giggle, hopeful the approaching evening disguised her blush. “Turns out I need to brush up on my Spanish. I went izquierda when I should have gone derecha, I guess.”

He laughed. “I’ve lived here for two years and I still get lost.”

“Where did you live before that?”

“Cornville, Arizona.”

“It’s not too far from Sedona, if I remember correctly.” She exhaled a wistful sigh that would’ve betrayed her angst, had he known her better. “I’m glad we met and you knew how to get to this beach. The sunset was beautiful.”

“Estero Beach can be touristy, but it’s a nice place.”

Her gaze drifted to the rhythmic surf. The scents of fish tacos and her new friend’s after shave hung in the periphery of her consciousness; the pull not strong enough to break the oceanic trance. Each wave tumbled onto the sand and slipped back out to the Pacific, only to stretch farther onto shore the next time. She felt as if she could rediscover her soul if she searched the foam soaking into the sand carefully enough.

“Have you found yourself?”

“Excuse me?”

“You said you didn’t know who you were. If you can’t find yourself in a Mexican sunset, I don’t know where else to look.”

Rochelle pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I’m figuring out how to close the gap between the person I left behind and who I want to be.” She glanced at the man beside her, surprised his gaze rested on her rather than the surf. The attention made her a little uneasy. “So what brought you to Ensenada?”

“I wanted to lose myself.”

She furrowed her brow while contemplating the irony of their situations. “Why?”

He traced a finger in the sand, making an incoherent doodle. “I kind of messed up my life and needed a new start.”

“Ah, there’s the story. ”

“Not really.”

“Had to be love or money.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Every conflict known to man can be tied to those two things.”

“What about Hitler’s occupation of Nazi Germany? That wasn’t a conflict driven by love.”

“Actually, it was,” she said, pointing her index finger toward the darkening sky. “It was his love of the master race that drove him to commit atrocities against the rest of society.”

“Conflict didn’t bring me here.”

Rochelle rolled her eyes. “People don’t usually run to another country if life is perfect.”

“So what’s your story?

“My story?”

He laughed. “Repeating the question to stall for an answer is the oldest trick in the book.”

“I suppose you could say it was love gone wrong.”

“I enjoy a good jilted lover story.”

She shook her head. “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.” She smiled to take the edge off her words.

“So you came here alone?”

She nodded. “I needed to get away on my schedule.”

He inched toward her, closing the appropriate gap between them.

She edged away, plagued by another flicker of uncertainty. “I’d better get back to my hotel.”

“Which hotel?

“I appreciate your kindness, but I have to go.” Rochelle reached for her sandals.

Jason held her wrist. “It can be a dangerous place at night.”

His ominous tone prickled the hairs on the back of her neck. She broke his grip. “I can handle myself.” She scrambled to her feet and jogged toward the main road, urged on by the sound of his footfalls closing in behind her.

He hooked his elbow around her neck. “I robbed an armored truck and killed the driver,” he said in her ear. “America’s Most Wanted couldn’t even find me.”

She clawed his arm, panicked memories triggering her fight response. She shoved him off balance and fell on top of him, knocking the air from his lungs. She straddled his body, his arms pinned beneath her.

His eyes bulged when her fingers encircled his neck.

“I killed a man with my bare hands.” She leaned forward, her thumbs collapsing his airway. “I can hide another body.”

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is just shy of the limit) and (1) use “When did you know you were lost?” he asked. as the first sentence AND (2) make some reference to the photo prompt given on the Speakeasy site (I didn’t post it here.)

The last couple weeks, I did love stories, but this week, I decided to bring twisted back.  Ah, feels like I’m home, haha 🙂

The challenge is open to anyone, so if you’re inspired, adventurous, or just curious, click the badge below to check it out!

Price of Silence

A Short Story by JannaTWrites:

Cory Humboldt knew that on the outside, he was the epitome of the American Dream.  At forty-six years old, it was a well-crafted image that he had spent the better part of his life building.  He owned a house and two cars.  He had a loving wife, one dog, one cat and 2.5 kids.  Well, two children with the third due to be born in three months. 

In his office, Cory whittled his unread emails down to eighteen.  He was deleting an online seminar advertisement when his phone rang.  Make that seventeen messages to go.

“Yes, Susan?”

“There’s a visitor at the front desk waiting to see you.”

Cory checked his desk clock: 8:07 AM.  “Mr. Yamachi isn’t supposed to be here until nine-thirty.”

“It’s not Mr. Yamachi,” Susan whispered.

“Tell whoever it is to schedule an appointment.  My time is valuable.”

“She told me you would say that.”

“Really?”  Cory asked, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.

Susan sighed.  “She wanted me to tell you to get your tail out here right now or you’d be sorry, young man.”

“Geez.  I’ll be there in a minute.”  Cory slammed the phone down on its cradle, mumbling to himself.  As he stomped down the hallway, he practiced the deep breaths and exhales that his therapist had taught him.  By the time he reached the front desk, his bubbling anger had dissipated into a fog of resentment. 

In the lobby, he saw a woman sitting in a leather wing chair wearing a snug-fitting jade dress, black pumps and a smirk on her barely wrinkled face.  He wasn’t about to tell her that her neck couldn’t keep a secret.  “Mother,” he said in a crisp tone.

“Hi, dear.  I’m sorry to bother you at work, but I’m worried about Kevin.”

Cory stiffened.  “I told you not to ever talk about him in public,” he said in a hushed voice.  He shot a glance at Susan, who shifted her eyes down, feigning interest in papers on her desk.

“Please.”   She grabbed his hands and her tear-filled hazel eyes begged him to listen.

He couldn’t bring himself to tell her to go.  Her eyes may have been the last remaining genuine parts of her body; untouched by botox or surgery.  They were the one bond he still had with his mother.  He slid his hands out of her grasp.  “Fine.  Follow me.” 

Cory led her out of the lobby.  The Chanel perfume cloud and the echo of her clicking footsteps on the tile behind him signaled that she kept his pace.  He made a mental note to ask his therapist why he still caved to his mother.  Down a long hallway, he made a quick left.  He flipped on the lights in a small conference room and gestured for her to enter.  He followed her in and latched the door behind him.  She sat in the high-backed chair at the head of the table.

To maintain some of his power, Cory chose the chair at the other end of the ten-foot long table.  He ignored the look from his mother.  He suspected it was meant to be a raised eyebrow, only her eyebrow didn’t raise – her eyes just opened wider.

“Well, what’s so important?”

“You know Kevin thinks the world of you-“

“He barely knows me.  He was six when I moved out.”  Cory folded his arms across his chest.  “That’s what happens when there’s a thirteen year age difference between siblings.”

“We didn’t plan it that way.”  She looked down at her hands clasped on the table.

“Yeah, I know.  He was the menopausal gift from God.”

“You don’t have to be sarcastic.”

“I just get tired of you acting like we’re best friends or something.”

“You may have heard that Kevin is back in jail.”  She looked at Cory, but when he didn’t respond, she continued.  “He seems really depressed.  I’m scared he’s going to die there.”

Cory laughed.  “Don’t you think you’re being dramatic?  He knows the ins and outs of jail; he’s an old pro.”

His mother shook her head.  “This is different.”

“What’d he do this time?”

“He’s accused of…” she took a deep breath and exhaled.  “Murder.”

“So what does this have to do with me?”

“When he called me last night, he begged me to get you to go see him.  He wants to patch things up with you.  I think you should see him now, if you can get away.”

“There’s nothing to patch up,” Cory said. 

“Please, Cory.”

“Not this time, mother.  Kevin is dead to me.”

She gasped.  “Don’t.  Please don’t say that.”  She began to cry.

Cory closed his eyes and turned away.  He couldn’t allow his mother to guilt him into reconciliation.

“I know he almost bankrupt you when he stole your identity, but you’ve more than recovered.  Why can’t you let it go?”

“You don’t understand,” Cory said through clenched teeth.  He concentrated on deep breathing and slow exhales.  His therapist insisted it reduced angry outbursts, but he wasn’t so sure.

“I want to understand.”  His mother stood up and walked toward Cory, sliding into the seat next to him and took his hand in hers.  “Your anger is poison.”

He pulled his hand away.  “I’m sorry.  You need to go.”

“Oh.”

Cory felt awful because his mother looked stunned, as if he’d just slapped her, but knowing the truth about Kevin would devastate her.  His mother could never know that his dad – her husband – died because of Kevin.  Witness accounts produced a sketch of one of the perpetrators who looked a lot like Kevin’s buddy, Rojo.  The way Kevin practically spent his twenty-five percent share of the insurance money before he got it was another sign.  Cory knew it, but he couldn’t prove it.

His mother walked to the door.  When she reached it, she paused and turned around, “I wish you’d consider talking to him, before it’s too late.”  She let herself out and headed down the narrow hallway to the lobby.

Cory watched her leave and wondered if dad’s life insurance bought her calf enhancements, too.  How did I let myself become the keeper of dirty family secrets? He wondered. 

———-

At one-thirty, Cory returned to the office after his solo lunch at Sassie’s, the best burger place in Scottsdale.  The waitresses in low-cut t-shirts didn’t hurt, either.  He thought about the conversation with his mother and decided he would visit his brother after work.  Not for reconciliation, but to free the poison and save himself.

“Good afternoon, Susan,” he said to the receptionist as he strode past the front desk.

She held up her hand.  “Cory, wait.”

He backed up a couple steps.  “What’s up?”

“A call came for you while you were at lunch.  I think it was your mother.”

“Did she say what she wanted?”

“No.  She started crying before I could offer to take a message.”

Cory’s heart dropped and settled on the half-pound burger he just ate.  “Thanks.  I’ll give her a call in my office.”

Susan nodded, her forehead creased with concern.

Cory tried three times before his fingers pressed the correct sequence of numbers.

“Cory!”  His mother answered on the second ring.

“Did you try to call me?”

“Kevin’s dead!”  She blurted and then burst into tears.

Cory exhaled a sigh and rested his forehead in his hand.  His mother’s words, before it’s too late, echoed in his mind. Now he worried that the unburdened secret would tear at his insides, eroding his soul to a bitter shell.  He felt a burn in his throat and decided that if regret had a taste, it would be cheeseburger with extra onions and fries.