Friday, June 11, 2010

Red Glow
(a work in progress)

The red glow from the neon sign filtered through the slats of the hotel room blinds. She lay awake on crumpled sheets and watched the unsteady illuminations gambol across the ceiling. She was exhausted, yet she could not sleep. Her body hurt, her head throbbed. Was she crazy? Did it really happen? She couldn’t make her mind stop reeling through jumbled scenes of the night before. She had come here to get away – to brace herself for things to come. They would be looking for her by now, but no one would find her here in this part of town. At least not for awhile.

Pulling a sheet around her shoulders, she padded slowly across the threadbare carpet to the window. Staring down to the empty street, she watched the red light turn puddles into crimson pools. What had she done? What would she do now? No undoing it. What’s done is done. In the beginning he said nothing else mattered in his life except her. Liar! She had loved him and he was enough for her, but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted more. As time went by, her illusions of happiness washed away like a sand castle with the evening tide. Waves rolled in and lapped at it, grain by grain, until the castle crumbled, collapsed, and disappeared. Things were so good in the beginning, and then he had to go and ruin it all.

* * *

It was a rainy November evening when she first met Andrew. Red light from the signs of the corner restaurant shone on the wet street and sidewalk. She raised her arm to hail a cab, but the driver sped past her as if she were invisible. “Asshole!” she yelled even though the driver could not hear her. Huddled under a big black umbrella, and cursing the rain, she started walking angrily toward home. She was almost soaked to the skin when Joe Gibbons pulled up at the curb in his rusted-out BMW and asked if she wanted a lift. He already had a passenger. “Oh thanks so much! Can never get a cab when you need one!” she said as a tall man jumped out and hurried into the back seat so that she could sit up front.

“This is my friend, Andrew, Andrew -- Sienna,“ said Joe. “Andrew’s from Houston and he’s here in town on business for a few days.”

“Nice to meet you,“ she said as she looked over her shoulder at the ruggedly handsome face in the backseat.

“You, too.” He and Sienna eyed each other for several seconds without saying a word.

“Do you have to get home right away, Sien?” asked Joe, breaking the spell. “We were on our way over to Tony’s if you want to come along for a drink.”

“I really need to get home and change out of these wet clothes.”

“I’ll tell you what, we’ll drop you off at home to change and we’ll wait for you if you want to come along. I’ll even drive you back home.”

“I’m pretty tired, but . . . ok. I don’t want to be out late though. I have to be at work early tomorrow.”

“I’ll get you back nice and early.”

She glanced at Andrew again as Joe eased the rumbling BMW up alongside the curb in front of her apartment building. As she jumped out of the car she shouted over her shoulder, “I’ll only be a minute!” and ran through the rain not bothering to open her umbrella.

Twenty minutes passed till she finally came running back to the car wearing a raincoat, the hood pulled far down over her head. “Ahh, that feels better. I was soaked!” she said as she plopped into the ratty-gray passenger seat with a sigh of relief.

“Anyone I know going to be there, Joe?” she asked.

“Only Lou and Alana so far as I know.”

As they headed towards 18th street, she could feel Andrew staring at the back of her head. She tried to think of something to say to him. Instead, she fiddled with the zipper on her coat as the two men talked about the previous night’s Eagles’ game.

Tony’s was packed, but Joe quickly found Lou Cavallo by following the sound of his laugh. On the telephone, Lou’s voice was deceiving. One expected to meet a burly man, when in fact, he was a short fellow with a large potbelly. Lou loved food, and he loved booze even more. He was already pretty well plastered.

“Well, you finally made it, Joe! Did’ja get lost? We were about to give up on you. You brought Sienna . . . great!” Lou hugged her and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.

“Hi Lou, hi Alana.” Sienna scooted into the red vinyl u-shaped booth next to Lou’s dark-haired wife. She was better looking than he was.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Lou said as he put his hand out to shake Andrew’s. “Lou Cavallo, and this is my wife Alana. And you are?”

“Andrew Bennett, a good friend of Joe’s. Nice to meet you.”

“One of you grab a chair! Sit down, sit down!” ordered Lou. He always played the charming host no matter where the party.

Andrew quickly squeezed in next to Sienna and Joe grabbed a chair from the next table and sat in the aisle. A bedraggled-looking waitress came and took their order for drinks.

“Killian’s” said Andrew.

“‘nother Scotch on the rocks, ok baby?” slurred Lou.

“Don’tcha’ think you’ve had enough?” The waitress said as she shook her head. Lou just grinned at her and raised his eyebrows and looked back at Andrew. Andrew had an amused expression on his face. Everyone else was used to ignoring Lou when he was drunk.

Joe ordered a Michelob Light and Alana declined a refill of her gin and tonic. Sienna ordered a Bloody Mary. The waitress sauntered away.

“So, where you from? What brings you to Philadelphia?” Lou asked Andrew.

“ I’m here on business. I live in Houston.”

“You don’t sound like a Texan. You don’t have the ac-cent.” Lou said in his best cowboy voice. He was always nosing around other people’s business and Sienna was glad for that tonight. She wanted to know more about this handsome friend of a friend.

“I’m originally from Chicago,” Andrew replied. “ After high school, I won a scholarship to Rice. Joe and I were roommates for a year. I was accepted for an internship with a company in Houston while I was still an undergrad. After graduation they hired me for full-time, and I’ve been there ever since.”

“Wife, kids?” You could count on Lou to get the complete nitty-gritty on anyone.

“No, afraid not.”

“Girlfriend?”

“Not really.” Andrew squirmed a bit in his seat and changed the subject. “So, Lou, what about that Eagles’ game last night? You think they’ll make the playoffs?”

The waitress brought their drinks and as they talked and laughed, Sienna studied Andrew closely. His hair was sandy, his eyes deep blue. As he talked with the others, she noticed he had a dimple on his right cheek that deepened when he laughed. She was captivated by his every word. She couldn’t take her eyes off him as she listened to his jokes and stories while sipping her Bloody Mary. She was going to marry him someday. He would be hers and only hers! And at that moment, as if reading her mind, he turned and looked into her eyes and smiled.

When the bartender announced the last call for drinks, Joe realized how late it was. “Oh, my! I didn’t realize how late it is getting! Sorry, Sien, better get you home!”

“You don’t have to, Joe. I can call a cab.”

“I promised I would get you home and I will. “

“Sienna and I can share a cab, “ said Andrew. “If you don’t mind, Sienna.”

“I don’t mind at all.”

By the time the taxi arrived, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. A city that never sleeps, Philadelphia was busy with people and traffic in the wee hours. Red taillights flashed on the wet pavement. Horns blared at pedestrians running across the road against the stoplight, or at some other driver for some imagined offense.

“What is it with Philadelphia and horn-blowing?” muttered Andrew.

“It’s tension relief – habit, “ she said.

“I’m glad you decided to come along tonight. I’d like to see you again.”

“I’d like that, too . . .very much.”

The cab pulled up in front of her apartment. Andrew asked the driver to wait for a minute while he walked her to the door.

“Mind if I kiss you goodnight?”

“Not at all.”

He kissed her softly as the drizzle fell around them.

* * *

His company sent him to Philadelphia often during the next several months, and he eventually received a transfer. He moved into Sienna’s tiny apartment at her insistence. Her one-bedroom flat was depressingly dark with the livingroom drapes always drawn closed to keep the neighbors in the next building from seeing in. She demanded they spend every minute together and wanted him all to herself. He hardly saw his friends at all. He would say Joe or Lou wanted them to meet up at Tony’s for a few drinks. The gang was going to be there. She always had a reason not to go. Either she had planned to make him a special dinner, or rented a video he had to see, or she would say she wasn’t feeling very well or simply too tired to go out. If he suggested they have people in, she’d say “It’s much nicer being home alone with you,” and she would distract him with sex to make him forget about everyone else.

The phone rang one evening and Andrew answered. Sienna was taking a bath. Or so he thought. She carefully lifted the receiver of the bedroom phone and put it to her ear. It was Lou wanting to know why Andrew was avoiding his friends.

“You’re pussy-whippedLou teased. “She’s got the old ball and chain on you already!”

“I love her.” He said defensively against Lou’s crass remarks. “ I plan to ask her to marry me.”

“Andy, are you sure about this? She seems like a tyrant! Kind of nutty the way she never lets you out of the house!”

“She doesn’t control me, Lou. I can do what I want!”

“When is the last time you’ve been out with friends, or even alone?”

“I told you, I can go out whenever I want. She has no hold on me that way.”

“Then come out with us tomorrow night after work. Come have a few drinks at Tony’s with the gang.”

“Well . . . let me see . . . All right, but just for a couple of drinks.”

“Ok, see you at Tony’s around seven. . . if the little woman will let you!”

Let me! I told you, she doesn’t tell me what I can and can’t do. I wouldn’t put up with a leech!”

Sienna put the receiver back in the cradle and couldn’t breathe. Leech! Not put up with a leech? What did he mean by that? Would he leave her? After regaining her composure, she put on a blue robe and came out of the bedroom brushing her auburn hair.

“Who was that on the phone just now?”

“Oh, just Lou.”

“What did he want?” She could hardly contain her sarcasm.

“Just wanted to say hello, is all.”

“He never calls just to say hello. He had to have wanted something.”

“He wanted me to come out for a drink, but I told him it was too late.”

She went to the bathroom, seething. How dare he lie to her! She took out the razor to shave her legs, then took the blade out of the shaver and looked at it. So shiny. So sharp. Sitting on the edge of the tub, she began to cry.

After work the next night, he met up with the Lou, Joe and a few other friends. He hadn’t bothered to call her. She would have only given him a hard time or made an excuse for him to come home. He felt good to be out with other people. He was enjoying himself so much, he lost track of time.

She paced back and forth in the livingroom and furiously talked to herself. He was never this late! How dare he! Why hadn’t he called? She could have strangled Lou! He should have been home by now! Home with her! He should have called! Now dinner was ruined! She went to the kitchen and threw the cold pot roast and vegetables into the trashcan. As she was washing the dishes, she picked up the carving knife at the wrong end and felt the blade slice through her skin. Blood oozed into the dishwater in little swirls of red. She picked up the knife and stabbed the counter-top violently. “Son-of-a-bitch, son-of-a-bitch, bastard!” she shrieked as she shrank to the floor. A sick moan came from deep inside her.

It was around midnight when she finally heard the key turn in the lock. He was startled when he saw her standing there in the shadows with arms folded, wild-eyed and accusing. “I was so worried about you! I didn’t know where you were . . . why didn’t you call?” she sobbed.

“I was with Lou, Joe and the gang. We met at Tony’s for a drink. What’s your problem? Can’t I even go out for a drink with the guys?”

“Why didn’t you call and ask me to come along?”

“It was just the guys. And besides, you never want to go anywhere. I needed some time alone with my friends, that’s all.”

“So, I bore you now? I’m not enough for you anymore?” she said as tears ran down her face.

“Sien, we’re here night after night and every weekend together. I miss the guys! I miss my friends!”

“It’s just that I hate sharing you. I love you and want to be with you every minute.”

“We do need a break from each other now and then. You should make some friends. Go out shopping with the girls or something.”

“I don’t need friends, I only need you!”

She hugged him and pushed her wet face into his chest, smelling the barroom smoke that clung to his shirt and jacket. She held onto him as if she would never let go.

“You should have called me, you know?” she whispered.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be out so late. I lost track of time. I promise I will call you from now on if I’m not coming right home.”

“Please, don’t ever leave me.” she begged. “Promise me you will never leave me. Promise me that nothing or no one will ever come between us!”

“I promise . . .now stop crying. Calm down.” He held her tight and was afraid.

* * *

Allowing him a little time with his friends once in awhile made him happier, though she hated it when he went to Tony’s or wherever he went after work. She tried to convince herself that all men weren’t like her father who disappeared without a word one day when she was only ten-years-old. Rumor had it that he had left for California with a woman named Carolyn, but her mother never talked about it. She still didn’t know if he was alive or dead. Her mother died a couple of years after he left. Suicide -- or so the coroner’s office said. Since she had no family to care for her, she was placed in one foster family after another until she was old enough to take care of herself. Then there was that brief stay in the institution after a woman she was living with accused her of injuring one her children. How she still hated that bitch for that! But that was in the past. Over with. Done. She had moved on. She was lonely for so long and then Andrew came into her life. She wanted him so badly and was so afraid of losing him. She felt so crazy-jealous all the time! If only she could trust him.

She didn’t want to drive him away from her, so kept her complaints to herself. Her sacrifice of losing some time with him finally paid off when he proposed to her one sunny afternoon on a bench in Rittenhouse Square, in the midst of blooming flowers and budding leaves. She was then the happiest woman on Earth. ”Nothing else matters in this life as long as I have you” he said as he placed the diamond ring on her finger and kissed her right there in front of the whole world.

The wedding took place a few weeks later at a little chapel on Woodland Avenue. It was a small non-denominational affair, with only close friends and Andrew’s immediate family in attendance. Joe was the best man and Alana was matron of honor. Two enormous arrangements of red roses, white chrysanthemums and baby’s breath decorated the altar, filling the tiny chapel with an overpowering floral scent. Soft piano music drifted in from an unseen source as guests craned their necks, watching for the grand entrance of the bride. Andrew stood at the altar beaming when she finally made her appearance. She was beautiful in her simple, strapless, white satin gown. Carrying a bouquet of long-stemmed, dark red roses, she seemed to float slowly down the aisle. Baby’s breath crowned her upswept hair. She wore pearl earrings and a matching necklace encircled her neck. She looked at the smiling faces and wished her parents were there to see this day. It was bittersweet. This was supposed to be the happiest day of her life, yet there was no father to give her away, no mother to weep tears of joy. No family members to attend.

Shaking away sad memories, she steadied herself and focused on Andrew as she walked up the red-carpeted aisle. Tears glistened in her eyes as she promised to love, cherish and care for him for all the days of her life, keeping only unto him. He in return promised to forsake all others, cleaving only unto her. The forsaking all others was etched in her memory. She would let no one come between them.

* * *

They moved to a brownstone on Pine Street, which was within walking distance to almost everything. It had three bedrooms, one of which she made into a studio for herself. She quit her job to do freelance work at home so she could be there when he got home. Their first anniversary passed, then the second, then the third. With each passing year, she became more possessive of him, and his job helped to keep him home at night. He was usually too tired from the long hours at work to go out, so they stayed in, night after night, weekend after weekend. Joe and Lou finally gave up trying to convince him that he was hen-pecked. He repeatedly reassured them that was not the case at all, and he insisted he was perfectly happy to stay home with his lovely wife. And she was very happy and satisfied to spend all of her free time with him. Then, out of the blue one day, he upset her state of contentedness and started talking about having a baby.

“I’m not ready for a child yet. I am not ready to share you yet,” she protested.

“You’ll still have me, and a child will be something special between us. A little person that we created out of love.”

She felt panic swell inside her. No! She didn’t want a baby! She wasn’t ready to be a mother, and she might never be ready. But he was persistent in the matter. He brought the subject up every chance he got. “I want to be a father. I want a son to take to baseball games, or a daughter to dote on. I want to be a father before I am too old to enjoy it!”

“We’re not that old yet,” she countered. “Lots of people are having kids later in life. Why can’t we just spend a few years just the two of us. There’s time enough for children.”

“We’re already in our thirties, Sien; we will be giving our kids rides in our Scooties if we wait much longer!”

“People don’t age like they used to. People are staying younger longer,” she argued.

“Please, Sienna . . . this means the world to me. I thought we were in agreement about having children. I thought that is what you wanted too. I want a family with you!”

His pleadings became more intense. He begged, and then during a couple of their arguments about the matter he threatened to leave. She gave in and came off the pill. She became pregnant within a couple of months. She briefly considered getting rid of it, then recalled his saying he would leave her if she ever had an abortion. She was plagued with panic that alternated with overwhelming dread. He was so ecstatic when he found out she was carrying his child that he didn’t even notice her despair. The larger the baby grew inside her, the deeper her anguish became. Soon she would be forced to do what she swore she wouldn’t. She would be compelled to share.

* * *

Though she was told she would have no trouble delivering the child naturally, she wanted a nice, tidy birth with no pain, and no recollection of the blessed event. She found a doctor who agreed to perform a Caesarean section. On a rainy morning in early November, Andrea Rose was born. She had no interest in naming the child, so the matter was left to Andrew. The doctors said she was suffering from severe postpartum depression which would go away as her hormones stabilized. She refused to hold the child, refused to nurse her, and even refused to use the breast pump to provide mother’s nourishment for her. The pediatrician prescribed a formula for the infant and Andrew took charge of feeding his baby girl. She stayed in her robe all day and all night, never bathing or bothering to brush her tangled hair. He hired a middle-aged nanny to take care of Andrea Rose while he was at work and a housekeeper to do the cooking and cleaning. Her condition continued to deteriorate. She didn’t care. She just didn’t care. Finally, exasperated and exhausted, Andrew consulted with doctors who recommended she be sent away to a hospital for treatment. One evening she overheard him telling Joe about it on the telephone. “Yeah, Joe. She’s not getting any better. No, no improvement . . . she’s getting worse. No, there is nothing you can do, but thanks anyway Joe. I know women can get all crazy after being pregnant and giving birth, but I am afraid this isn’t just a common postpartum depression. She’s completely wigged out! I’m going to have to send her to the hospital for help. An ambulance is picking her up in the morning.”

He wanted her out of the way! He had his child – her replacement! She couldn’t sleep after hearing that she was being sent away! How could he! How could he just dispose of her just like that! She lay there thinking, thinking, thinking . . .then she got up from where she was lying beside Andrew and went to child’s room and stared at her daughter for a long time. She wished she had secretly aborted her. She began to sob quietly and then was overcome with rage. But why should it be she who was sent away? He was her’s first! Her’s! She spoke evenly: “Now he will be alone with the one who came to take my place!” She walked into the bathroom and took a razor from the medicine chest. She considered its silver edge and how it would feel to slice her wrists open and let the crimson roll down her hands and onto the white tile floor. He would be so sorry to find her in a pool of blood when he awoke. He would be sorry then! No! He would be glad to be rid of her! Get her out of the way! There was only one thing to do to repay him for his betrayal of broken promises and his lies. Only one way to really hurt him. She walked calmly back into the child’s room with the glistening razor in hand.

* * *

Rain drizzled and every now and then a crack of thunder disturbed the silence as lightning briefly revealed hidden things in the darkness. Crimson droplets trickled down the window as the neon light glimmered and danced in everything she saw. She didn’t intend for this to happen. But he gave her no choice, did he? Everything was a blur, surreal. Maybe it hadn’t happened! But there was the evidence piled in the corner of the dreary room.

2 comments:

Michelle Pendergrass said...

Creepy!! I didn't like her from the beginning, you did a great job with characterization!

You involved all my senses, too. (oh and I'm partial to cowboys, so that was a nice touch!) :) I imagined him in a cowboy hat, don't ruin it for me, k? ;)

Stardust said...

Thanks Michelle! Sienna is a psychotic bitch, isn't she? LOL!

You can imagine Andrew any way you want to. :-)

When I was writing Lou, imagined him to look like Danny DeVito. :-S I could hear the same voice, same build...etc.