Friday, July 23, 2010

Charlie

A car backfires. A flinch. Perspiration beads and soaks a visible V on the front of his dark T-shirt. His skin effervesces and prickles. He begins to itch. She stands behind him on the sidewalk and places two firm hands upon his shoulders and grounds him.  "Lofty? You OK?" She whispers into the back of his neck, brushing its nape with her warm breath. The big man turns to face her and lies, “Yeh. I’m fine, just made me jump a little.”  Inside his heart is arrhythmic, the adrenalin courses with terminal velocity from his toes to his fingertips. Her touch helps him relax and he begins to breathe.

They walk arm in arm but there’s not the closeness of the past.  His hands are in his pockets. It's she who craves the contact. He retreats when she tries to kiss and trades the gesture for a gentle index finger, bent and brushed gently against her cheek. Yet, he loves her, he always has and always will. She is his sweet Lorraine.
 
He towers above Lorraine. An attractive and imposing man, he's easily noticed but quietly spoken.  He's carrying a little weight these days but not so much that you'd notice. "The good life catching up," he says dismissively. She loves the fact that he has a slight pot belly, it's his only flaw.  Grey locks are distinguished, kind eyes hide a secret but he has a smile to melt the soul. The traces of a handsome youth are still perceptible on his barely-lined, clean-shaven face.  He is her gentle giant and she loves him to distraction.

He's been a good husband and provider despite a painful past and she knows women find him handsome and desirable. God knows there are enough 40 'somethings' out there to tempt. They stare and coo and tilt, giggle like schoolgirls when they meet him with desire on their lips and infidelity in their hearts. Oh yes, he's quite the catch, even in his latter years. That kind of attention, she can do without.  She'll have nothing of the cougars, he's her man and that is that.

Lorraine is a ‘pocket rocket' with a big mouth and nasal twang which belie her country origins. The Grafton girl inside, now all citied up and living in the burbs. She's looked after herself, stayed slim, well groomed and subtley fashionable. The woman can talk but since he is a quiet man, she fills the gaps, punctuates his pregnant pauses and leaves him with his thoughts. No need to talk while she’s on a roll. Can't get a word in edge ways.  Except lately.  These days she struggles to form the words. These days she’s not sure she wants to know the answers to the questions yet unspoken but milling in her mind. 

Lorraine is sick with worry.  Her intuition is acute and while she can't quite put her finger on it, all is not well with Lofty. He’s distant, uncommunicative. Often absent even when he’s present. He's dispassionate, secretive, edgy, agitated. He has nightmares and hallucinations, he drinks too much, stays up too late.  On the rare occasions they make love, he no longer takes the time to explore her petite form with his large but gentle hands or to lavish  her with languid kisses and sexual caress.  Lofty is definitely off his game and she's afraid. She’s afraid he’s seeing someone else. The dream invader lurks while night envelopes and she lies awake pondering his infidelity and wondering how she couldn’t know or tell.

There’s no smell of woman on him, surely she'd know if he were having an affair. But this unspoken divide, this gaping space between them is widening in slow motion, leaving her stranded on the leeward side and pushing him further asunder. 

They lie together but with no intimacy, a warm breeze billowing the curtain lace. Their bodies visible beneath just sheets, whilst unwanted blankets fall in gentle folds at the bottom of the bed, landing in luxurient piles upon the polished floor.  She turns to face him pillowside,  “Why don’t we make love so much any more?” She softly quizzes. He is oblivious to her carnal preparations and looks past the fact that she is naked, ripe for the plucking,  “Awe love, it’s not you, it’s me. Just not in the mood tonight”  he whispers, then pats her on the hip as any man would a beloved pet and rolls to face away. His eyes avoiding hers, his eyes avoiding sleep, his eyes welling with silent tears of guilt. They both lie there with their forms connected but not entwined.  It's praying on her mind and unhinging his.

Lofty has a secret. One he’s not yet prepared to tell. He's tried everything to sever these ties using reason and persuasion but it will not end. His companion is inextricably entwined and will not release him, ever. He's tried to shake this shackle but the other will not be discouraged and even lunged toward him with a blade not so long ago, inflicting a three inch vertical gash into his wrists that pumped red until he fainted.  Lorraine deemed this self-harm and forced  him into therapy.  He'd complied since he could not tell her the truth. He held his secret fast, although he desired to be wanted to be a better man, to be reunited in his wife's affections, to be a faithful husband, a diligent lover, the man that she once knew.  But she would never understand and divulging his indiscretion would mean the death knell for his marriage.

He makes his clandestine rendezvous without stirring  his wife. Tip toes across the polished floor with silent steps and through the partly opened door. She sleeps the sleep of angels whilst Lofty isn't there, unaware that next to her is just the indentation of his body, a stray silver hair upon his pillow.  As morning light filters through and REM sleep stirs her dreams, he slides cautiously between the sheets before she wakes to see him there, oblivious to his wonderings.

Things are bad some nights.  Prone in the dark, basking in the heat, beads of sweat trickle from his furling brow, racing bizarrely down his temple before dropping to the pink pillow case and staining it magenta. His head spins with the drone of bugs and the rhythmic circulation of the ceiling fan. When he can resist no more, he drifts. Heavy reluctant lids blink slowly then close and white noise intensifies as sleep takes hold. He dreams the dream he dreads. He dreams of his secret.  He tosses and turns, he groans, shouts and sobs until her gentle hand touches his shoulder once again and the normally strident banshee gently whispers, "Lofty honey, it's OK, I'm here, Shhh, shhh."  He turns towards her body and submits to an unconscious embrace.   At least his secret drives her husband into her arms on such occasions and for this she is eternally grateful. Eventually the noises in his head subside, he spoons her tight but feels the presence of the other waiting in the wings, peering through the cracks, jealous of the moment. He thinks about the pistol in his bedside drawer. His secret doesn't know it's there. Neither does Lorraine.

 "Lofty, this has to stop" she chides as the night terrors take hold once again. Her lack of empathy embitters but he understands. His hands begin to tremble and he's developed a nervous tick.  He can't divulge his secret, he can't confess his sin, he can't let it and fears he's going insane.  Lorraine will see him committed, or his secret will see him dead, such is his paranoia. If Lorraine knew, she'd harangue him about psychiatrists who'd probe his inner sanctum and expose what lay within and this he would not permit, not for love or money.  He will not be judged, drugged up or locked up so he keeps it all inside, seething under the surface, raging with a smile. But his secret won't be silenced and knows the truth. It sees, it teases, it provokes and is becoming impatient with its life in the shadows its existence unacknowledged.

This night it is becoming unbearable, his secret wants out. The voice in his head become intense. The panic and taste of bile rise in his throat as his secret whispers a name, 'Charlie' and begs to be divulged.

It's Charlie who is the subject of his infidelity and midnight wonderings. It's Charlie who brings the devil and his hoards incarnate when he dreams.  It's Charlie who's whispers are constant. It's Charlie who reminds him of the gunships, agent orange and who laughs while pointing out the twisted and dismembered bodies on the ground, the battle-scarred and bleeding, the broken and the wailing.  Children scorched with napalm, forests stripped of foliage, entrails on the trail, the incessant thud of rotors and the cacophany noise as they do their dastardly work.

 It's Charlie who steals his time and makes him flinch. It's Charlie who will not let go and wants him in a body bag. It's Charlie who peers between the door jamb and watches him make love. It's Charlie who makes him jump with a car's backfire. It's Charlie who wants his life.  An epiphany emerges. Charlie wants his wife.  His marauding hands upon her breasts, his thin lips  upon her neck. It's Charlie who wants him out of the way so he can own Lorraine, his last vestige of normality.

Lofty is determined, cold rationality takes hold and he is totally in control. The white noise ceases, the voices are silenced. No secrets, no lies, it must end. He's going to kill tonight. He extends a tanned and muscled arm to the bedside table, silently opens the drawer, slowly winds his fingers around the grip and pulls out the pistol . . .



Posted as a Tenth Daughter of Memory contribution to "The Morning After"
Also for Magpie Tales 24

10 comments:

  1. Word. The edits were worth it. There are phrases, such as "... then pats her on the hip as any man would a beloved pet and rolls to face away," that are a writer's gold.

    Of course, there are typos, such as "This night it is becoming unbearable, he's secret wants out," that need fixing. Heheh.

    Very nice.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow. Very powerful. This poor guy is haunted. My first thought was that his "secret" had crouched on a jungle floor in a place called Mi Lai for decades, waiting to spring.

    ReplyDelete
  3. WOW! Brilliant, just brilliant!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I loved this!! My favorite line? "He is her gentle giant and she loves him to distraction."

    ReplyDelete
  5. This was amazing. So richly written, vivid, and oh so real. Bravo!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Pins and needles the whole time! Loved it!

    ReplyDelete