The International Writers
With the final swing
of Ms. Opals clocks pendulum, the chime ended and I thought
that what I was feeling, that what I had just felt, would at last come
to an end. Naïve.
Sam Nortey, Jr.
An excerpt from his literary fiction novel, Thumbwars
Chimes make such distinct sounds. From the onset, the sound seems
interminable, or endless, and just when one begins to accept it
as part of the background, it stops.
On the contrary, the first time someone tells you they love you, is never
the last. Over and over again, the words continue to be repeated. With
each repetition, the magical and seemingly chance combination of circumstances
defining that moment is recalled and revisited. The person, situation,
time, and place defining that moment will forever lead us down an imaginary
aisle in our minds.
My mind continually bears witness to a marriage between the unchanging
sound and ever-changing significance of the words Ms. Opal was the first
to ever tell me.
Those three words were a gun that fired and commenced a race with no finish
or end in sight. In that dark place inside me, the measured stride and
the slow trot of a horse, upon which my emotions firmly reined, suddenly
became a fast, furious, uneven, giddy, gallop. That horse charged to the
top of a mountain. High up there, on that mythical mountain, I experienced
transports of pure ecstasy, joy, and happiness Id never known.
To remain forever in the place where those words took me was probably
too much to expect, but just the memory of that paradise wouldve
been all I needed. However, it simply wasnt to be. Id be dragged
down and yanked from that mountain by the same string of words that had
led me there.
Forever, the announcement of her love would coincide with the shattering
of the picture image she held of me.
The sound of her voice would evoke a searing sensation of pain thatd
be quickly substituted by what Id come to feel for her. It was a
feeling, that for so long, Id never been able to announce. There
seemed to be no escape from this situation, for its recurring nature was
just like Ms. Opals antique grandfather clock.
At twelve oclock, everyday, the chime would sound and the pendulum
would swing. For the next twelve hours, the sound of the chime would stop
and the pendulum would cease to swing.
Ding. Dong. Swing. Stop. Twelve Hours. Ding. Dong. Swing. Stop. Twelve
Hours. Ad Infinitum.
"Its 12:01! I gotta go! My dadll kill me," I told
In slurred and syncopated speech she began, "Come over here. Gotta
tell you something."
Pointing her finger at me and shaking her head, she began with a strained
conviction, "You can love and hate him at the same time. One day,
I said no more. I heard my voice and it told me to scream."
While giggling and raising her glass, Ms. Opal said, "Gotta toast.
To life. To our lives. Together. Forever. Oh, how could I forget? To love.
I raised my glass, replaced it on the floor beside my chair, and then
slowly moved towards her. Her breath smelled of alcohol. Her hair was
slightly disheveled and her lipstick was slightly smeared at the corner
of her mouth. I moved closer to her, nervous about what would happen next.
We were about an inch apart. Our eyes engaged. I saw the pale blue of
her dilated pupils. They reflected a calm that mesmerized me.
Under the flickering light of the burning candle, she inhaled deeply.
Amidst the dark, dizzy, alcohol-induced disruption of my forming thoughts,
I saw her for a tiny moment. Under her usual make-up mask, I pieced together
her eyes, nose, and mouth into a symmetry I couldve only imagined
Immediately, she smiled and exhaled at the same time. A rush of blood
immediately colored her pale cheeks and the deceptively timeless snapshot
of perfection before my eyes disappeared just like a scene lost forever
under the closing of dark stage curtains.
Then, coming from nowhere and without warning, her lips gently engulfed
mine. When I looked at her, I believed myself to be seeing the faces of
Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Madonna, Marlene Dietrich, and others.
My chapped lower lip now began to sting with gin from the Tom Collins
cocktail shed taught me to make earlier that evening.
My eyes quickly darted to the mirror above us. I could see only a face.
It was that of a dead man I now hoped to become. James Dean.
Recollecting her face once more, I withdrew, unlocking her pursed lips
Preparing to leave, I took another look at her now open eyes and found
an inconsolable sorrow. My fearful eyes began to trace the outer circumference
of her iris. All at once, their light blue hue darkened. It was the same
shade as the ink from my Mont Blanc fountain pen, a recent graduation
gift from my father.
This immense blue then became a blinding myriad of colors, sparkling almost
like an iridescent rhinestone found on a ball gown. In addition to their
changing color, her eyes took on a glossy quality, like glass marbles.
As I collected my things, Ms. Opal moved towards the window. Numb to all
that had happened, I finally made my way to the door.
As I unlocked it, Ms. Opal said tearfully, "Richard, dont go.
Even its only for tonight, I beg you not to be like the others.
Stay. Dont turn around, open that door, and walk away from me. Please
dont. I need you."
However, amidst her sob-muffled words, the slight tremor of fear in her
voice made me turn around. Her calling my name and saying she needed me
rung like a loud siren driving my heart mad with an odd, irregular throbbing
of joy, confusion, and obligation.
Hypnotized by her fear, I forgot my own. I moved towards the black lacquer
commode in the vestibule. A telephone and an empty red and gold carton
of Dunhill cigarettes were lying on it. I rested my left hand on the edge
of the black table as I picked up the phone with my right hand.
Hoping to get a better hold of the black commode, I placed more of my
weight upon it. My left hand then suddenly slipped from the shiny, slick,
slippery surface. If it hadnt been for fancy foot maneuvering, Ive
fallen. Managing to maintain a somewhat insecure balance, I dialed, with
difficulty, a phone number children much younger than Id memorized
"Hello," I said.
In a highly concerned tone, she asked, "Richard, where have you been?
We hadnt heard from you since this morning. When are you coming
home? Are you all right?"
Before I responded, I wanted to turn around and read the answers to these
questions in Ms. Opals eyes.
Never turning around, I nervously responded, "Ma, Im fine.
Theres no need to worry. Im feeling good. Im at a friends
Interrupting my sentence, my mother began, "Your fathers been
worried. What should I tell him? Richard, when are you coming home?"
"Ma, tell him Im staying with a friend and I wont be
coming home tonight."
Answering that final question, I placed the receiver down, as my mother
asked where I was or how she could reach me. I couldnt give them
because, in earnest, I didnt know, at that moment, where I really
was. I repeatedly asked myself how Id gotten to this place.
Coming behind me and taking my hand more gently than before, Ms. Opal
led me from the dark. I followed her shaking shadow projected upon a wall
to the left of the banister railing. At the top of the staircase, we left
our shadows behind as we stepped into the candlelight.
The candelabra rested upon what seemed an ostentatious bronze Roman imitation
of a three-legged round table found in Greece during its height, the Hellenistic
The positioning of the light, although at an appreciable height, was slightly
below my eyes, forcing me to always look down towards it. Grabbing hold
of a knob next to the round table, she pushed open the door.
I waited, thinking shed walk in before me. Her body was splayed
upon the door.
I looked at her face. A streak of cherry red lipstick extended from the
corner of her mouth as though a child had colored outside the curved outline
of her lips. Besides this, I continued to focus on her lips for another
She smiled that strange smile Id seen after class when shed
first asked me to recount my story. I turned away and walked inside.
Ms. Opal closed the door behind her. As it creaked and circled through
its half-revolution, the tranquility I just rediscovered in the clear
blue of her eyes became increasingly turbulent as every degree of light
soon became eclipsed by a corresponding degree of darkness.
As the bolt of the door slipped, I stood motionless as a bead of sweat
slowly rolled from the bridge of my nose to the ridge of my lips.
It was then that I knew where I was. It was there, in her bedroom, face-to-
face, in the silence, locked away from the light, with only the darkness
Years later, I believe that Ms. Opal saw more than the alcohol-laced perspiration
that dripped from my face that night so long ago.
In fact, standing here today in the New York blistering heat, dripping
with perspiration, Im more than convinced she saw me. In her dark
bedroom on that night, having torn passed the peculiar smile that clung
tightly to her lips, I know I saw her.
That night, even in our drunken haze, one thing was certain. Ms. Opal
and I both experienced a miraculous moment of lucidity that forced us
to see one another. Only, it was in the names of other people that we
saw each other.
Some things, however, continue to remain uncertain. Could I, for example,
love a person who saw someone else when they were looking at me? Was it
possible to love only one person and no one else? Did I even know then
what it meant to love somebody? Do I know now?
© Sam Nortey Jr July 2007
Chapter One here
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