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Dreamscapes Fiction


Improper Strangers
Joseph Grant
He thought of the heat of that one summer and how it was when they had met and how quickly they had fallen in love.

He had wanted her from the very first time he laid eyes on her. He was impressed with her finely structured face and how it held such delicate, almost European features. He was also equally impressed by her broad but non-aquiline nose beset by a pair of dark and brooding eyes that beheld years of mystery and his eyes shifted slightly downward to the pair of beautifully swollen lips that would never reveal that mystery. Encircling her beauty was a solid and healthy head of flowing chestnut brown hair that reminded him of the kind Raphaelite models had probably worn.

Although slightly older than he, she was his ideal of how a woman should look. Not impairing himself to appearance alone, he was held by the grace with which she approached life on that hot, August night. Try as he might, he could not take his eyes off of her as she sat across from him. It was only after a brief while that she gracefully stood, walked over to him and introduced herself. It was a move that put him ill at ease, as he had not anticipated this approach.

Before he had a chance to recover or say anything much of consequence, she removed herself from the proximity of his dumbfounded stare with a sly smile and into the convenience of a second act by disappearing into the small and crowded air-conditioned bar. The hunt, he knew, had begun.

When he caught up with her, she was sitting at a table by herself, how she managed this on such a crowded and busy night he knew not, but he sat down at the table without a word as she explained to him her past.
Without a word of interruption from him, she told him of her life in the South of France away at school and how at the tender age of sixteen she had involved herself in a scandalous affair with a rich businessman and his mistress. She went on to say that she had been married once but was now divorced and was now living on the other side of the world now on Central Park West and was also the completely bored wife of a surgeon who worked and practically lived at Cornell. She then proceeded to order the first of many bottles of Merlot.
He spoke to her of how he was a writer and how he had managed to scrape a meager living from it, if not altogether happy existence. He was doing what he wanted to do, but the pieces had not come together just yet. Her eyes fired at this moment and she explained to him how she had met a couple of acquaintances at a party a few weeks ago who ran a small literary review Uptown. They had asked her if she knew of anyone who could contribute, but at the time she did not. Now, she smiled, she did.

He was wary of her offer. He told her how most literary journals of that type were in the habit of publishing only the friends of the editors and those of the biggest money contributors. Perhaps those were the contributors they had been referring to, he said. She told him he was being far too cynical and he explained that as a writer he had to be cynical. That was the only way he could keep his edge, he said. He then wondered out loud what it was that she was doing all the way down in Greenwich Village of all places and not with her haughty friends on the Upper West Side. He was getting drunk and she knew it. She said they should both leave. They did.
Thinking back now, he could not remember where they went that night, but he did remember that they ended back at her place for the night and most of the next morning. It was all right, she said, her husband would not be home. Was practically never home, she said. She was right. Until he filed for divorce. Then she was never home. She got most of his money.

He thought back on that initial meeting now on this cold and dead winter's night. The hunt, he knew, had been long over, but he still found himself with her. What had between them had been lost somewhere along the line and he had no idea where to find it or even if he wanted to find it again.

The emptiness was there when he opened his eyes in the morning and it was there in the night when he could not sleep. It was there when he saw her during the day, sometimes for lunch Uptown, for dinner at Le Cirque and those late nights alone. It was there in the white oblivion of the pages he did not write upon anymore. It was there when he looked at the faces of the pretty young college girls near NYU.

He hated himself for falling prey to one of the oldest tricks in the book; loneliness. He hated the way she kept him and showed him off to friends. It was true that she had gotten him published in her friend's literary journal and that he went from a literary tyro to someone to be reckoned with as a result of their partnership. He despised the fact that he was her plaything and several had joked about him being "a kept-artist". And those were his friends. Those of whom considered themselves serious and dedicated artists and writers considered him something of a laughing stock. He would attend parties and hear the little chuckles after leaving a conversation. It bothered him that some were saying his good stories were now behind him. The emptiness now surged inside of him as he thought back on how it all had been.

He thought of the heat of that one summer and how it was when they had met and how quickly they had fallen in love. He recalled how in the beginning she would point out the little things, the beauty of a sunset, the way the breeze touched his hair, the manner in which the tide caressed the sands, the way the leaves shimmered in the trees. She no longer took the time to do these things. With the coming of the seasons, he alone began to notice how the quickly the sun set each passing day, the way the wind messed at his recently graying strands and how the leaves had gradually changed.

He lay in bed thinking about the change. Change was not always good; especially in a relationship. Whereas he had once enjoyed her cunning nature, it now seemed desperately aimed at him. She bitched at him for the little things and blamed him for as many faults as he saw in her. He was well aware now that the hunt was indeed over and did not much care for the feeling of the gilded cage.

He listened intently to the snow that was falling against the window outside. She lay next to him. He listened to the snow crackle against the window as the wind gusted. It was good to be inside on such a raw night in bed with a woman, he thought, even if the emptiness was all that the two shared.

He rose from the bed and went over to the window to look at the falling snow. He could distinguish the darkness of the room fading, giving way to an early-lighted brilliance from the reflection of the streetlight below. He could see as his breath fogged at the window that the entire Village was covered with the cascading white flurry while they had lain together. It was not lost to him that scene outside was a perfect metaphor of his life. In that, his life had once been a series of things of beauty that had been delicately held together for a brief time only to melt away. His life and his writing had been tranquil and untouched at one point but all one had to do was look at where and what he was in the light of day to find that appearances were deceiving. The purity of the past had already begun to erode and the surface had now become soiled and the thin layer of dirt replaced all that had been good and right. The dirty layer would soon envelop all that was underneath and within time, it would all fade away, leaving nothing. The thought frightened the hell out of him.

He wandered back to bed and lay down on the cold sheets next to her, searching, reaching for something that had been there a long time ago. He watched her as she slept and noticed the manner in which she slept and how it was all wrong. Even in repose, her body was tense and not at all relaxed. He wondered if behind that thin veil she was aware of the doubts that plagued him. With her body contorted and wracked, he thought she slept like a Picasso.

He touched her hair and ran the back of his hand down the nape of her neck. His eyes caught a glimpse of the surgery scar she had behind her ear. It made him wince. He studied her for reasons that they had never spoken of in the daylight hours and became morose. Her skin was shiny and almost gave off a marbled appearance, he thought. He could see the tiny blue arteries that veined that once exquisite marble. He did not recognize the woman he had once fallen in love with, but only a thin disguise. A stranger lay before him. He knew it was then that he did not love her anymore. The emptiness was all around him now.

He was sensitive to the fact that she still loved him. The past few weeks of quiet contemplation had been the most difficult of his life. He did not want to hurt her. He had loved her once. His eyes shot to the clock and he smiled perversely. It was 4:03 in the morning. Another night had been wasted trying to get to sleep. Another night trying to sleep with her.

He rose again and went to the window. He wondered what it was that he was looking for out there. In the pale of the early morning, the snow appeared sky-blue and he could see his black footprints from earlier still legible in the snow.

He turned and looked back over his shoulder at her silhouetted in the darkness. A lousy feeling came over him as he what it was he must do. He knew that truth would come to her quickly, more so than it had come to him.
It would be morning soon. Mornings had always been her favorite time of the day. Now morning would separate them forever. And in time, she would learn to curse the growing sanguine dawn.

© Joseph Grant May 2003
JPG8820@aol.com

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