The International Writers
It was later that same
evening of her farewell graduation party. I searched my knapsack and found
a copy of First Impressions, a story Id been writing and re-writing
since the first day of her English class. Ms. Opal returned to the living
room and sat opposite from where I was sitting. Falling now under my attention
was the barely perceptible heave of her chest. Under the faint flicker
of the candles, I cleared my throat, looked down at the papers in my hand,
and began to read.
Sam Nortey, Jr.
An excerpt from his literary fiction novel, Thumbwars
I turned around to change the radio station, Ms. Opal said, "Im
going to turn off the music. When I come back, I want to hear the
end of your story."
"I know. I know. I know." Ms. Opal said, with the surprise of
a detective who finally discovers his most helpful witness during a long,
drawn-out murder investigation is the murderer himself.
Betraying the stern, upright posture she usually assumed at her school
desk, Ms. Opal reclined comfortably on her red plush settee. The manner
in which she sprawled herself over the sofa reminded me of pictures Id
seen of Cleopatra sitting on an Egyptian palanquin. Still, despite Ms.
Opals air of serenity, it was her looks that drove men to war.
With her blue eyes, she now looked intently into my own as the subtle
tick of her grandfather clock continued to signal the passing of what
seemed a timeless moment.
Now staring at the overturned, empty bottle of Chateau Neuf du Pape red
wine beside her, I asked inquisitively, "What do you know?"
"I know who she is. The woman in your story the boy falls in love
with. The woman he calls beautiful even though her smiles fake.
I was wrong to say she was made-up. Shes real and I know her name,"
Ms. Opal said with satisfaction.
"How can you be so sure? " I asked, shifting my eyes toward
the mahogany bookcase.
There seemed to be a zillion books. I could tell shed read all of
them because of the bookmarks jutting out from virtually each one. Opposite
the bookcase was a huge window with off-white silk drapes. Against the
wall, perpendicular to the bookcase and the window, was the beautiful
ruby red plush cushioned settee upon which Ms. Opal sat. Above the settee
was a large mirror; flanking each side of the mirror was a sparkling crystal
sconce, from which a candle burned. To the left of the settee were a huge
grandfather clock and a Turkish tapestry with red and gold ornamentation
set off by the darkly stained oak walls. Opposite the settee was a Biedermeier
Austrian walnut chair upon which I sat. Each article of furniture, with
the exception of one, seemed to have been carefully selected and contributed
to create an almost perfect replica of an eighteenth century neoclassical
Beside the walnut chair was a silver-colored, metal-framed chair fitted
with simple singular strips of brown leather for the seat and backrest.
"Stop. You dont have to play games any more. Youre no
longer my student. Since last Friday, Im no longer your teacher.
I now know the name of the woman youre in love with. To be honest,
I think its charming."
"Youre wrong. This isnt about me," I retorted with
"Oh, whore you kidding? This story has been about you since
the beginning," she said with a smug smile.
"Well, how can you be so sure if I havent finished the story
yet? Let me at least finish." I said, looking at the grandfather
clock. In the nearly complete darkness, I could see it was eleven oclock.
"Oh dont worry, my child. Nights young. After all, got
all the time in the world. Now, be a dear and make me a drink," Ms.
Opal said with an unusual air of familiarity.
"What kind?" I said upon seeing her shapely legs dangle over
the edge of the settee and wrinkle her black, sleeveless, satin, A-line,
Jackie-O dinner dress.
"Oh, Im not too particular this evening. Richard, make whatever
youre feeling at the moment," she said nonchalantly.
"Uh. All right," I said half-assuredly.
I moved to the liquor cabinet, withdrew several bottles, and poured her
a little shot of gin with tonic and a slice of lime. However, adding a
third ice cube to her glass did hardly anything to cool the one part fear,
one part-desire currently stirring within me.
Still with my back towards her, I made one for myself, still apprehensive
that shed disapprove of the drink Id made her.
I resumed my position just opposite her. However, unlike before, our gazes
were so perfectly aligned that one could draw a straight line connecting
"Love, thanks for the drink. Just how I like it. Now tell me, why
you chose that chair instead of the other one you were just in?"
"I dont know. Is there a problem?"
"No, child. Its fine. I never really liked the chair youre
sitting in. All the leather and metal."
"Looks pretty modern," I said.
"Its a Wassily chair by Marcel Breuer. All part of that Bauhaus
movement. You know, where an objects function rather than its form
makes it beautiful.
"Well, as you can see, it doesnt fit in with the classical
look I was aiming for. Disrupts the overall harmony created by the other
pieces. Funny though, with you sitting there, love, you help to bring
back that lost unity and harmony," Ms. Opal said.
"How?" I said genuinely interested.
"Silly, when youre sitting in the chair, its almost like
it doesnt exist. Even though I know its there, I cant
see it. You and the chair become inseparable. Always wanted to get rid
of it, but could never get myself to part with it. Oh, if you couldve
seen the fit I went into when Charlie gave it to me."
"Because it didnt fit the décor?" I asked somewhat
"Well, yes. Charlie said with all of my classical tastes, I was trying
to avoid dealing with, well, how should I say this? My savage needs and
primitive desires. There, I said it. Cant take it back.
"Charlie said I wanted beauty at the expense of how it made me feel.
To him, even though the chair wasnt beautiful, it felt
good and was comfortable. Much more than the beautiful chairs
in my apartment. He said the way the chair made him feel was more important
than its beauty. You know what?"
"Id never on my fathers grave ever admit this to him,
but there was some truth to what he was saying. All this talk about him
makes me remember how he was with me. I shouldnt say what Im
about to say, but with all thats happened this year... What a year
Youll see after you turn twenty, the years come and go so quickly.
Hope they move more slowly in my forties than in my thirties.
"Already weve come to the end of the school year and I feel
as though I could tell you anything. Youre like a friend Ive
known my entire life. Listening to you this year. Listening to you read
your story. Havent even let you finish it, But, I see the person
youve become, the person youre becoming. And you know what?
I just know I could ask you anything. "
"Ms. Opal, you trust me that much?"
"Of course, Child. You trust me, dont you? What a silly question.
Richard, I want you to feel you can ask or tell me anything. Anything,
"Okay," I said.
"Where was I?" Ms. Opal questioned.
"You were telling me how he was with you."
"Yeah, well what he did with me was barbaric, passionate, and unimaginable,
all at the same time. Even though what we did was never described in the
novels Id read or soap operas Id watched, he knew how to fulfill
one of my desires. It was the very thing I needed, perhaps the most important
of all. He knew how to make me feel good. Since my childhood, it was a
feeling I needed to have again."
"Anyone who can make you feel that way is someone you should never
let go of. You must still be with him." I asserted.
"Long gone and short-lived. He and that feeling," she sighed.
"Hell," she said with a renewed animation, "this drink
is strong. Making me forget to tell you what initially attracted me to
him. It was his looks. How good a looker he was. As cute as they come.
Looked like a Kennedy. Hell, he probably was. Certainly was a real beauty."
"There mustve been others," I said jealously.
"Of course, there were. Lets see, there was my favorite, Austin.
He was from Tennessee. Reminded me of Hemingway, his stoicism on life.
There was Philip. He reminded me of Louis XV. I was his Madame de Pompadour.
How Philip loved life. You see this ring on my finger. No diamonds or
anything, but just look at how she shines in the dark. Nothing beats eighteen-carat
gold from Cartier. Ever since he gave me this, never taken it off. That
day, thought he was going to marry me. Philip loved to lavish me with
expensive things, but, in the end, he loved his wife more. One day, I
saw itd always be that way.
Oh, there was also this guy who reminded me of Robert Redford. Ill
tell you about him sometime. He was quite a character."
"Ms. Opal," I said, "all these men remind you of someone
other than who they are. Can you tell me who they are without comparing
"Before I answer that," she said, "Pour me another drink,
I went to make her another drink and then resumed my place.
"Well Richard, thats a tough question. Dunno if I could do
that. Hell, in the sack, dont think I ever saw any of their faces
or heard their voices clearly. Their faces were people I wanted them to
be. Their voices were the ones I wanted to hear.
Looking at her closely, I began "Well, how then do you see yourself?"
Guzzling down her sixth shot of gin, she drawled, "Depends on the
day of the week. On Mondays, Im Marlene Dietrich. Tuesdays, Grace
Kelly. Wednesdays Madonna. Thursdays, Marilyn Monroe. You get the picture."
"Well, when are you ever yourself?"
"Hell, havent you been listening to me?" she quickly fired
Instantly becoming calm again, she continued, "Child, dunno what
its like to be myself. Ever since I was born, people always told
me I looked or sounded like this or that person. Hell, my own father would
come into my room, climb into my bed, and fall on top of me in the dark.
Hed always say I wasnt as beautiful as my mom, but that I
reminded him of some nameless blond in a porno magazine.
"See why I cant tell you who I am. Given up on that question.
Leave it to someone who claims to know me better than myself."
"The three-hundred dollar-a-week shrink Ive been seeing every
week for as long as youve probably been alive. Damn, with this last
minute graduation party, cant remember if I took my pills or not.
Wouldnt be the only thing I forgot today. I mean, its no wonder
all the kids were looking at me so strangely tonight. Remembered my lipstick,"
she said smacking her lips for validation, "but forgot to powder
my face. Good thing its dark so you cant see me up close."
"Ms. Opal, can I ask you something?"
"Dont know. Can you? Its not can I but may
I ask you something? Force of habit. Grammar rules I know by heart.
Beginning to think theyre all this old maid English teacher will
ever have to fill her empty heart. Oh my God. What am I saying, Child?
You were going to ask me something, right?"
"Is everything all right?" I asked.
"Sure," Ms. Opal said with an unusually calm expressionless
look on her face.
"Ms. Opal, may I ask you something?" I began.
"Thats better, child," she said with a smile that cracked
the solemn and cold concrete expression on her face.
"Go ahead," Ms. Opal continued, "Anything, long as its
not about me. I can see all this talk about me and my dark past is scaring
"No, not at all. Uhh. What I have to ask isnt about you."
"Then, Im all ears," she said, having served herself another
shot of gin.
"You just said, a couple of minutes ago you couldnt tell me
who you were, but that someone who knew you well enough could."
"Who knows what I just said, but if you say I said that, then I did."
"Well, like you were saying, with all thats happened this year,
Id say you know me pretty well."
Giggling unexpectedly and then raising her hand to clear the drool, she
said, "Yeah, Id say so. Whats your question?"
"Never mind," I said despondently with an undertone of anger.
"What? Im sorry. Whats your question?" she said,
showing concern in her eyes.
"Ms. Opal, I need you to be honest with me," I said with slight
"Havent I always been? Believe it or not, tonight Im
obliged to be honest,"
"Yes, dont you know that old Latin saying, in vino veritas?
With wine comes truth. As you can see, the wines flowing. Go ahead.
I promise to be honest. Scouts honor," she said raising left
hand as though she were swearing before a court of law.
Somehow authenticated by reciting that old Latin phrase, Ms. Opal regained
my belief in her.
Less nervous than before, I began, " Like I was saying before, with
all Ive written for you, with all the stories Ive told you,
Id say you probably know me better than most people. Who knows?
Even better than I know myself. The last time you said you couldnt
do it, but I need you to do it this time."
"Will you just ask me whats on your mind?" she said becoming
"Ms. Opal, who do you see when you look at me?"
I noticed how pale Ms. Opal had become. I could see beads of sweat beginning
to form on the arch of her brow.
Distant and withdrawn, she said in a matter of fact tone, "Well,
its hard to say exactly. Hmm
Child, you were so natural when
you let out that little laugh
And your face now, so serious with
that innocent school-boyish smile. Its a face you couldnt
put on and take off. Its like James Deans been sitting here
talking to me this whole evening.
"Why, Child, when I see your face I picture the face of James Dean.
I see his beautiful face. It all becomes so clear then. Your life now,
the future, all of it, so bright and then poof. Dark. Suddenly, it all
goes dark. Everythings faded to black. I cant see you anymore.
Your face is black. Dunno why, but I cant picture the face I saw
just a second ago. Your face is black. What a shame. Child, you couldve
been so great. Your life couldve been great. But hell thats
I looked at her and didnt know what expression she saw upon my face.
Shed just told me what those boys in the hall had told me several
days prior. Did Ms. Opal really believe what those boys said to be true?
Could she have meant something else? If only I flip a light switch and
escape my fear of the answers to these questions.
With a confused look, Ms. Opal hurriedly placed her hand to her mouth
as she turned away from me.
Immediately breaking the silence, Ms. Opal began, "Daddy, were you
just talking to me? Was I talking to myself? Oh my God, Richard, was I
just talking to you? Im sorry
Daddy, Im sorry...Richard, Im sorry
In a faltering voice, she continued, "Child, we all couldve
been great, if
if only we were beautiful
if only you could
love me and no one else."
Now facing me directly, Ms. Opal quickly flashed a smile. I felt it was
the first genuine one Id ever seen from her.
She then said, "I love you. From the beginning, was you I loved with
all my heart."
"Ding, Dong, Ding, Dong, Ding, Dong," chimed Ms. Opals
Nortey Jr July 2007
Chapter Two here
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