Happy Friday, wonderful citizens of the internet, and welcome to the Open Mic!
I’m so pleased to welcome back today’s guest writer, the incomparable Ré Harris. Ré used one of my writing prompts, orange, to introduce us to a character I personally would love to get to know better. 😉 Take it away, Ré!
The Last of Orange, Ré Harris
Clichés happen. You can’t tell a story without at least one. We can’t escape them because we are all more common than we think, and few things happen only once. Our feelings, actions, the way we think are all branches of the same tree. It may be a huge redwood sort, but the tangled limbs are fed from the same roots.
I dream of writing a bestseller without the clichés you hate so much. I want to make a ton of dough, and sit on a beach somewhere crafting more exciting reams of make believe to take you away from the ways you’re like everyone else. I know you want to hear about things that could never happen to you, so you can dream or, better yet, turn them over and see the dirtiness that you’d never let never weave itself into your own life. You’ll thank your clichéd stars that you’re smarter than the protagonist, because in retrospect, you will have seen it coming. You knew the grapes would be sour and it triggers your Schadenfreude to see the star-crossed lovers crossed. What you want walks the same path as the dreaded cliché, whether you see it or not, so fear of ridicule won’t stop me telling this exactly as it happened. I’ve taken lumps all my life, in all its unremarkable turns, and if telling the truth will earn me a few more, I’m still ready to tell this my way, leading with my chin, my cast iron chin.
I don’t write for a living. Most writers make little money. I’m an unpaid novelist, but I eat and pay my rent with skills I learned from my dad. “Do the sticky things that have to be done,” he would say. “Clear your mind and get your hands into the things that really scare people and you’ll always have a job.” He couldn’t teach me how to make strangers buy my books, but he made it clear that almost everything else is closer than most people think.
It says “Private Investigator” on my office door, but that’s to keep my profile low and above board. Beneath that it says, “I get it done.” It catches the eye before clients walk in and see me looking like a high class businessman waiting to give them what they want. It gives them a sense of security as they come in to tell their tales of woe. I listen as they pour out their hearts, waiting as long as it takes them to spell out the problem at hand, the deed that won’t get done without my particular skills, the ones I don’t advertise. They find me through other clients who know: I make things happen.
Her appointment was yesterday at five o’clock. She read my door after she opened it. I’ve never had a secretary, so the door between my office and the outer office was wide open. She wasn’t late, but I’d been waiting for her like a dog nudging an empty bowl around his corner of the kitchen, wishing it was full. Her voice on the phone the day before, had been like rain in the desert. I wanted to watch her walk in. I wanted her to look like she sounded.
In profile, gathering strength from my slogan I supposed, she was sunlit without proximity to a window. She wore a fitted, pale green suit, her loose golden curls around her shoulders and down her back, trailing from a real face, not a mask of cosmetics department magic, or botox. Her dewy red lips struck me as a perfect touch of embellishment. It’s not often you see a woman in L.A. without a tan, without tacky long lashes that have nothing to do with what god gave her. Especially not if she expects to come anywhere near a man with power. Any kind of power. Men learn that if you don’t have money, your weight in your own little sphere gets your foot through their door. You can be attractive to them if you’re a cobblestone closer to whatever it is they want, and they paint their picture well to draw you in. I sensed none of that from her. Her skirt actually came down to her knees.
I’d been keeping my eye out for the right woman, the beautiful one in my dreams who would appreciate me as I learned her language, the one who wanted to learn mine, but that dream woman was like my novels — another of the few things my work skills don’t address. As she turned and walked toward me in slow motion, late afternoon shone in from the western windows behind me, and proved me right. Her beauty increased with each step, hair refracting like a gold colored prism, thighs molding her pencil skirt perfectly with each forward movement. I fell hard.
I forgot about making a cool first impression, and shot up from my chair, holding out my hand to her as I went around my desk. She smiled and gazed down at my hand as she shook it. I admired her firm handshake. I want to love a strong woman. I vowed to myself that I would take care of her problem as quickly as possible, so she could get back to who she was without the encumbrance that had brought her to me. I prayed that it wasn’t a husband, even though that was one of the things I could definitely take care of. I noticed the way she looked at me when she sat down. Maybe she was surprised not to see a middle aged, barrel-chested ruffian across from her. I hoped she was pleasantly surprised to see a reasonably handsome gentleman around her own age, in a stylishly simple office and an immaculate suit.
“It’s good to meet you Ms. Atherton,” I said as I looked at the fingers in her lap. I was heartened to see only an emerald cut peridot on her right hand. “Would you like something to drink?”
Her eyes were moist. I knew it wasn’t the sun because there was a building across the street that blocked it directly while letting it’s glow permeate my office. It lit her face softly. I suspected she was trying not to cry. She said, “I would like some water, please.”
I keep filtered, chilled water on hand and got her a glass, handing it to her while resisting the urge to brush her fingertips with mine. She took a sip and I sat down. “What can I do for you?” I asked.
She melted my heart further as she gathered her thoughts, tossing the curls off her right shoulder, exposing more of her delicate features. Her décolletage showed that there wasn’t a blouse underneath the suit, but even with the perfect roundness of her curves visible, she was subtle. I wanted her to talk, to speak to me and make me love her more. It would be a welcome ache.
“Mr. Jones …” she began, and instantly I wished she knew my real name, but there would be time for that later, when I knew I could trust her to know the real me, “I’ve been having a very difficult time of late with a certain matter. You’ve helped a friend of mine with something delicate. I’ve heard a lot about what you can do. I hope you can help me with this.”
“Of course,” I said. “Start at the beginning, and give me as many details as you can. We’ll sort this out.”
She closed her eyes and let out a breath as though she’d been holding it in for days. “Thank you. You’re my last hope. If you can’t help, I’ve no where else to turn. This has begun to affect my career. It may be time for a change, but …” She reached into her purse and took out a business sized envelope, holding it in both hands as she appeared to ponder its contents. I felt her distress and wanted to destroy whatever was inside it. I needed to know my opponent, but I wouldn’t have pushed her for the world. I held my tongue as she searched for the words to express her situation.
After a few moments she spoke. “Ever since I was a child, I’ve known it was wrong. I would try to tell my parents, but they didn’t believe me. At first, they would say everything was fine, then they stopped listening. No one would listen. Other relatives, teachers at school, everyone I’ve turned to for help, has let me down. I’ve tried to do something about this on my own, but I’m at a loss. Sometimes I’ve just closed my eyes and pretended things were all right, but how could they be with this … this … awfulness that no one wants to acknowledge. How can I live a fulfilling life with my eyes closed? How can I continue to pretend that I don’t see? I need to put an end to this. I need you to put an end to this. Please help me.”
My heart was breaking for her. I was ready to take care of it that night. She just had to point me in the right direction. I ventured a guess. “This is someone you’ve known since childhood …?”
“No,” she said, “not a person. I’m not talking about a person. Um, how do I put this …?”
I was so glad I didn’t have to break anyone’s neck. I would have, of course, to protect her, but I prefer that to be the last resort whenever possible. I was just glad it wasn’t what I thought. I didn’t want her to have been hurt by anyone. Ever. “It’s going to be all right,” I said. “Don’t worry, just tell me. I’ve heard it all before. You can tell me straight.”
I saw her face lighten as she took my words to heart. She actually smiled as she leaned forward and handed over the envelope. “It’s in there. You’ll see when you open it.”
She looked away as I ran a finger under the seal and took out a few long, folded pieces of card stock. I held them and waited for her to explain.
“You see them don’t you?”
In my hands, I held what must have been all the shades of orange she had found in a painter’s fan deck. “Yes,” I said. “But what do they mean?”
“They give them different names, all the time different names as if that changes what they are, but how can it? They’re all the same thing. I need you to put a stop to it. I can’t spend my life trying to avoid it any longer. It’s so horrible! How do people stand it?”
Maybe you think she’s strange. Or it’s too soon for me to love a woman as much as I love her, but I do. It doesn’t matter that orange is a perfectly respectable color that I happen to like. All that matters is that I have to find a way to get it out of her world. I thought about that secluded piece of property I’ve had my eye on, and a top notch gardener I know who could make sure there are no orange surprises in our yard. Maybe there’s a kind of lens she could wear when we venture out into the world … I know she could love me if I approach this from the right angle. My problem is figuring how to start.
I’m still trying to work it out. It may be futile, but I have to try.
Copyright © 2011 Kathleen (Ré) Harris, All Rights Reserved
Ré Harris has been thinking up stories since she was very young. This year she has worked more intensely to get better at it, and has shared some of that journey on her blog, sparksinshadow.wordpress.com — especially in the post “A Few Lessons Learned.” Her Twitter page says, “I write, sharing creative works and articles at Sparks In Shadow. You’ll find lucidity there, but I’m also fluent in diversion — sorry Mr. Macy!” She hopes this story fits in nicely under diversion. Ré would love to know what you think of it, so she definitely welcomes feedback.
Thank you, Ré! As for the rest of you… the comments are open. I’ll see you there.