RM Skill: Beginner
The Man with the Golden Arms A Short Story by M.Egemba aka Heroic_Spirit_G.E.M.I.N.I.
“Wanna go for a walk?”
It's said that insanity is taking the same actions over and over and expecting different results each time. I never understood that definition. I grew up in a time where being crazy meant going chop happy with an ax, or having conversations with your own shadow, or selling used cars for low low prices. The way this night was going, however, I started to understand that meaning.
“To where?” I asked. She cocked her head to the side and her entire being seemed to go on pause.
“I don't know...” She said in a sing-song tone with a flick of her hazelnut hair and a flash of her tongue. I couldn't tell if she was flirting with me, teasing me, or being sincere. Maybe it was all three; it largely depended on her comprehension of the past hours that made up our little rendezvous. A more coherent person would have seen my attire, an unfamiliar, almost formal dress shirt and jeans that sounded too crisp with each step to be casual wear, and know that tonight was to be more than just a light outing between friends. That person probably wouldn't have spent our meal feeding me information about her most recent fling and force me to swallow my own feelings to comfort her own.
“Very well then,” I said, raising my hands in defeat. Alice's evergreen eyes shimmered for an instant as a large smile usurped her usual pout.
“Great! Let's go.” She took me by the hand and pointed towards the back roads behind my apartment. It was a dry November evening, but winter seemed to have jumped the gun, and snow began to fall at a somber pace as we stepped out into the night together.
“Which way?” I asked Alice as we reached and intersection. The safe cobblestone road that paved the path to my house had been replaced with concrete sidewalks, cracked asunder and left with a threatening sheen as years of snow trickled down, melted, and froze once more. The student apartments that pocked our view had dissolved and been replaced with row after row of meager townhouses, squat and wretched in their appearances, many of the buildings seemingly devoid of light save for the sickly yellow glow of the few working street lamps that were scattered along the way. “Alice?”
Alice snapped her head to the left while her hand drifted up right.
“Let's go this way. I guess.” She gave me a smile, but turned away as her thin pink lips began to tremble. She started moving on the right path but stopped with the annoyance of a shopper who had left their wallet in the car. “Well, you coming?”
I opened my mouth but all that saw fit to venture out was a wisp of steam. I slid my hand into my pocket and pulled out a single cigarette, using the thin white stick as an excuse. Searching myself with a series of light taps, I found my lighter and lit up, letting the flame linger in the frigid wind awhile before the amber dancer was snuffed out by the snowfall.
“Aren't you cold?” Alice asked as we walked down Spooner Street.
“What?” I took a long drag on the cigarette but did not exhale.
“Look.” Her creamy hands slithered up my arm and towards my shoulder, brushing away the flakes that had accumulated on the single layer of fabric that separated my bare skin from the world. As I turned to look down at her I only saw myself, a reflection in the lenses of her black, thick framed glasses. All three of us seemed to be shivering.
“A little,” I lied. She smiled and drew close to me, sharing her warmth in exchange for my cigarette, which she plucked from my lips and nestled between her own. She rested her head against my shoulder and I felt thin fingers creep towards my palm, her touch like lit birthday candles against my worn skin. The fingers curled, however, and became a fist, which then fled back to the confines of her jacket pocket. “Sorry.”
“Travis.” I finally said his name for the first time that night. She had said it dozens of times but I always seemed to replace his name with “him”. The word felt awkward on my tongue and stumbled clumsily from my lips.
“Let's go left.” The path before us, to the right of us, to the left of us, and behind us were indistinguishable from one another. The same houses, the same flickering streetlights, the same stray cats, the same trash cans, cracked sidewalks, and mounds of snow.
“What's to the left?”
“Let's go right then.” Her tone was akin to an overworked clerk calling for a price check. I took the cigarette from her mouth and pulled on it until it's end was as bright red as her flushed cheeks.
“Left is fine,” I exhaled.
“Issac,” she said my name and I met her with a toothy grin. “Left is fine.”
The snow had finally ceased by the time we reached Clover Road. Alice's pace was slightly faster than my own, but she seemed to stop every few steps, sometimes to ask me a question or tell a joke, other times to play with something that caught her eye on the many lawns we crossed. We raised the plastic flags on barren mailboxes, danced around lonely traffic cones, jumped in the oceanic puddles that had formed in the potholes that littered the streets. We were like a pair of children, giggling and singing and exploring the alien world between the intersections, without a care for the roads that came before or the streets that would come after.
Alice drew close to me once more as we reached the corner, but her hands circumvented my arms and wrapped tightly across my chest, clinging to me like a frightened child rather than a romantic embrace. I draped my arm around her shoulders and questioned her actions, but a shadow dancing in the corner of my eye took the focus away from her answer.
I smelled what frightened Alice long before I clearly saw it. It was a stench of human filth with a hint of rotting plants, or perhaps an fruit a few weeks too ripe. The first thing I could clearly see was an arm, pathetically frail and the color of spoiled milk save for the web of violet-blue veins that bulged and throbbed around dozens of ruddy abrasions that stretched from the shoulder to the wrist. It writhed on the concrete like a starving snake while the other pawed at the melting snow that drifted past it and fell into the gutter.
The man, if he could be called that, seemed to ignore the painful sensation, apparently lost in another. His thin, scraggly mop of hair bounced to and fro as his head nodded every way with a staggered staccato. His eyes and the skin around them drooped and seemed to be losing a fight to keep open, closing as he brought his head down only to snap open as his face changed direction. He seemed to be propped against a streetlight, but as we drew closer I could see a small orange shape on the ground, a pumpkin, most likely from Halloween. It greeted us with a toothless, festering smile, and although the candle inside had long since gone out, the light of the lamp above reflected off the slick rock below and gave the lantern a haunting glow.
“Is he dangerous? Should we call the cops? What the hell is his problem?” Alice whispered this questions at a rapid pace, pressing her face into my jacket and covering her bare cheek, as if the junkie would see into her mind if she turned to face him. I said nothing, thought nothing as my gaze remained fixed on the man as Alice and I. We were not so far apart now.
“What if he tries to attack us? Or rob us? Or something?”
We passed by the man just as his head landed from another slow descent. For a second it felt like our eyes met before they drifted to Alice, gripping on tight to my arm. The man gave a smile just a fetid as his pumpkin's and drifted back into his little world, once again unaware of our existence.
“Do you think he's cold?” Alice asked, referring to the man's attire, nothing more than a pair of tattered jeans and a tee shirt. Printed across the chest in bold was a simple smiley face, the mouth worn away by the elements.
“Probably not,” I said before bidding the man a silent farewell.
I couldn't tell if we had walked for only a few hours or a few years by the time the snow had begun once again. The sights had begun to blend together and at times seemed familiar and yet so alien, like I had seen them before but in a dream I long ago tried to forget. Alice had left my arms and walked at a deliberate pace ahead of me, stopping only when she had reached a house with a single light on within.
“Where are we?” I asked. She said nothing, but the warm tears that streamed down her face candidly answered. I bit my lip as I grit my teeth and stood waiting for some sort of explanation. She instead took a step towards the door. As her left foot lifted again she paused and went rigid.
“What are you doing?” she asked in a tone that could not decide whether she was upset or relieved. I had my arms around her once more, this time around her waist.
“Issac, let me go.” she began to struggle. Although she couldn't release my grip she continued to rebel, digging her nails into my bare skin, once at the wrist, and again at the elbow.
“Just let me go.” the pain was getting to me but I just tightened my grip on her.
“I can't.” I repeated the words and closed my eyes as the wind howled and snow began to accumulate on our heads.
“Why can't you just let me go?” the ice in her voice melted away and her words became a soupy mess as her struggle finally ceased. I could have told her that I didn't want her to make a fool of herself. I could have said I didn't want her to get hurt once again. I could have even told her that I had feelings for her and didn't want to lose her to another. But again, the only thoughts I could put into words were “I can't.” Alice said something I couldn't hear through the wind as it gave a dying bay and the snowing ceased. She turned towards me and embraced me, her warmth doing little to remove the chill that had collected within my soaked clothing.
Alice and I returned to my apartment and got changed before going to bed together. I hadn't said a word since we had left his house. As I laid next to my sleeping companion, I thought about the man on the corner of Clover Street, lying out in the cold with nothing to keep him warm but the poison in his arms. I wondered if he'd eventually learn from his mistakes or if he'd simply continue his habit until he completely wasted away. It wasn't until Alice had turned over and laid her hand on one of the freshly made wounds on my wrist that I broke from my thoughts and finally drifted off to sleep.
Comments/Critiques are appreciated. Thank you for reading.
I'm interested to know where this story will go. I'm not sure if the junkie mentioned has more meaning than he did, or how things will end up between two characters. Great storytelling so far~
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...If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails....