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Thread: Tigers (a work in progress.)

  1. #1
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    Jun 2009

    Tigers (a work in progress.)

    I rarely write short stories anymore, so this is a bit of a rarity. But I figured I would post it here and see what people think.



    The morning light was golden and your name felt golden too. Penny. Was anyone named Penny anymore? You had stepped out of the 1970s with a name like that, like Penny. People don't name children after coins anymore, I said, and you said yeah, they name them after fruits and computer companies, and we both laughed. When you were 7, before the jokes and the name-calling started, you brought a penny into show-and-tell and said, in a very authoritative manner, "Here is me." You told me this with your head resting gently on my chest. It was 6:12 in the morning.

    - - -

    The lamp was old; that much was obvious to anyone. It looked almost Victorian in design, elegant to a fault, fragile. It was my mother's, and her mother's before that, passed through the generations endlessly from an origin no one can recall. Origins didn't matter; it was The Lamp. It sat on the living room table for as long as I can remember, never once being lit, but always being looked upon. Once, when I was 10, I asked my mother what would happen to the lamp. She told me it would be passed from generation to generation until the return of the Messiah, when we would no longer have any need for lamps, and God's light would shine through everyone. I could see in her eyes that she believed it. I wanted to believe it too.

    And then came the night that my mother took out the Subaru, and my father got that call from the State Trooper, and his throat made a sound I had never heard before.

    - - -

    "Your car is gone."
    You were standing at the edge of the bed, wearing a bathrobe and looking flustered. Your face looked irregular, corroded by the midday light. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and sat up, feeling like death, or death's second cousin.
    "How much did I drink last night?"
    "Your car is gone," you said again, with a hint of impatience. "I went outside to get the paper and I noticed it wasn't there anymore."
    "You think it's stolen?"
    "Someone probably towed it. I checked the street signs and you weren't allowed to park there."
    I fell back into the bed and stared at the ceiling. There were a few glow-in-the-dark stars hanging weakly, the adhesive dried out and nearly useless. For a moment my mind wandered, looking for constellations.
    "Are you gonna lie there all day or are we gonna go get your car?"
    "I'm sorry," I mumbled sheepishly, dragging my legs over the edge of the bed and sitting up. "How long do you think this'll take? I'm supposed to meet with someone at 4 PM, about an hour from here."
    "I don't know, I've never had my car towed before. Just get dressed and let's get out of here."
    You grabbed your car keys off the dresser.
    "I guess I'm driving," you said.

    - - -

    After my mother's death, we lost interest in the lamp. It was heavy, ugly in the room, out of place. It wasn't even functional. My mother had been an only child, so there were no brothers or sisters to hand it off to. We tried giving it to relatives on my dad's side, but nobody wanted a dead woman's lamp. Understandable. It had to be sold.
    Eventually we found a buyer, a man up in Massachusetts who had a substantial antique lamp collection. He was prepared to pay a hefty sum, and we were prepared to take it. Together, my dad and I carefully lifted the lamp off the living room table and placed it in the padded container. There was still a remnant of the lamp on the surface of the table, a dark shadow in the wood where the light had yet to bleach. It felt eerie, like the footprint of a ghost.
    I drove up to Boston with the lamp securely in the trunk, stayed with a few friends I knew from college. We drank and traded stories of our time at school, which, in that lushly decorated apartment, felt an eternity removed from us. There were old girlfriends whose names we could barely remember, and nights we swore we would never forget, nights which we inevitably did.
    "I think those four years of my life were some sort of collective hallucination," one friend said, and we all laughed. Another turned to me.
    "So listen, there's a party across town that a few of us are heading to," he said. "You should come along. There's this girl I know who you really gotta meet."

    - - -

    In the car, you were strangely quiet. There was a tenseness about your silence that unnerved me.
    "Are you okay?" I asked you. "You seem out of it."
    "Yeah, I'm fine," you answered, your gaze never shifting from the road. "I get quiet sometimes."
    We drove onward, listening to nothing but the noise of engines and traffic. Finally, I broke the silence.
    "So yeah, I had a really great time last night," I said.
    "Me too," you replied after a moment, your voice soft and tentative. Again, more silence.
    And again, breaking it: "So, you know, do you ever come down to New York?"
    "Not really, no."
    I looked down at my hands, aimlessly examined the creases in my skin. My mind flashed back randomly to the night before: the small talk at the party, the nervousness bordering on nausea when you invited me back to your place, the hours watching TV on your couch, the kiss which was inevitable but felt like it would never come. Your neck, your eyes, your smile. Your sweat.
    "You know," I said, "I could come up to Boston sometimes. It's really not that bad of a drive. And the train is even faster."
    "Cool," you said, your voice barely betraying any emotion. "If you want." Silence.
    Finally: "Well, do you want me to come up?"
    You: "I don't know."
    Me: "What does that mean?"
    There was a long pause. Finally, you spoke.
    "Listen, It's not you or anything. It's hard to expl-"
    Then a loud sound, metal against metal, and everything was darkness.

    The police report says the truck hit us on the driver's side at around 70 miles per hour. He hadn't seen the light changing, or we hadn't, I don't remember. I don't even remember seeing the truck. When I awoke I was in your car, upside down and still buckled in. There was a lot of broken glass. And there was pain, so much pain. I looked over and you were covered in blood, not making a sound, not moving. I heard myself screaming. I screamed forever. And then, at last, the sound of distant sirens, quiet at first but slowly rising.

    - - -

    Let me tell you about the tigers.
    One night, I dreamt that my mother's friend lost her sons in a terrible fire. The fire destroyed part of their house, and killed other children as well. It was a macabre scene, that house, and we had to go there to give our condolences to the bereaved parents. Everyone was indescribably sad; death filled the house like a noxious gas. We could see the bodies laid out, a viewing of the dead, their faces lifeless and staring. After some time, the adults locked me in a room so I wouldn't see, and set fire to the forests around their home. Then, after every tree had burned to ash, they took tigers and slaughtered them one by one, laying them out in rows across the barren wasteland. When they let me out, and I looked upon this sea of tigers and ash, somehow I understood. This was their revenge against death, against a power that would allow their children to be destroyed. It felt like the only appropriate answer to something so inexplicable.
    I don't always dream about death, you know. Once I dreamt that everyone lived forever. Once, when I kissed you, I opened my eyes to watch you with yours closed.

    - - -

    After a couple days in the hospital, I had recovered enough to attend your funeral. I wore a borrowed suit and tried to be invisible, but that's hard when you're the one who survived. People kept coming up to me and asking how I knew you, and I said we were friends that met at a party once, and I suppose that was true, though it felt strangely like a lie. But I was your friend, and I guess I always will be, and maybe that's what you were trying to tell me, back when we were in the car. I don't know.
    I get angry sometimes, of course. Driving home after your funeral, I felt like I had been abandoned twice: once by you in life, and then again in death. But I suppose I should blame the latter on the truck driver, or a higher power, or whoever's in charge of arrivals and departures. I get angry at myself too, for thinking too much about the feeling of your head on my chest, and what two people together could mean. But already I can feel the anger beginning to subside, the sharp pain turning slowly to a dull ache. That's probably what saddens me the most, that all of this is fading into bland acceptance. Soon you'll merely be another footnote of grief.
    As for the lamp, I never sold it. I apologized to the buyer and drove home with the box still in my trunk. When my father saw me moving it into the basement, he understood. I needed to keep it, to pass it on to my children. And one day, they would ask me what would happen to the lamp, and I would tell them how it would be passed from generation to generation, from fathers to sons and mothers to daughters, on and on until the return of the Messiah, when we would no longer have any need for lamps, and God's light would shine through everyone, and the living would make peace with the dead, and the dead with each other.

    - 6/4/09
    Last edited by arthurjay; 06-04-2009 at 09:06 PM.

  2. #2
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    any thoughts?

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