#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: To Rewind Time

I remember that he’s married now, so I ask about his wife.

“Pregnant,” he says.

I wait for details, but he only adds, “Very pregnant.”

Out of decency, I think to congratulate him, recite some drivel about how happy I am for him, how I wish him nothing but the best—all lies.

“How’ve you been?” he asks. Such a generic question, but there’s a hint of genuine concern in his voice, as if he’s picked up on my misery. I make no effort to hide it, and he had always been empathetic toward my feelings, even when he was the cause of my grief.

I look up into his eyes, and their weariness makes me feel safe. Reason would convince me that his visible tiredness is because of a demanding wife who, big with child, has driven him to take extra shifts—ringing up chips and smokes for night owls and runaways like me would be less strenuous than whatever hormonal crisis is unfolding at home—but I hold on to hope that seeing me again for the first time in five years has brought him to hate his own life, as I do mine.

“I’m being stalked by my boyfriend,” I tell him.

He laughs at what he thinks is an obvious joke, and a customer I don’t hear approach from behind taps my shoulder. His touch sends a surge down my arm as if I’ve just been electrocuted, and I feel I could literally jumped out of my own skin. I drop my bag of nabs along with the liter bottle of water onto the floor and curse under my breath for allowing myself to get distracted.

“Excuse me, ma’am, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he says. He bends down to help me, but I shoo him away and quickly gather my things—I’ve stayed too long. What good will it do me to explain to an ex—one who’s happily married—that I’ve continued making bad choices, even after he was out of my life? I’d only be giving Craig more time to find me and force me back into his bed. I’ve wasted enough time; I must leave.

But I make the mistake of turning back before I exit the door, and he stares at me as he takes cash from the other customer.

I am still frozen by the door when the man brushes past, giving me a faint smile as he exists, and we are again left alone in this silent gas station convenience store save for the hum of the coolers on the back wall to remind us that we are still being watched.

“Why don’t you call the police?” he asks.

I’ve tried. Even as they promote campaigns to end domestic violence, to look for the signs, to pay closer attention to the most subtle ones, they don’t believe me. The absence of physical scars doesn’t help, and the fact that they know Craig further discredits my case.

“He is the police,” I say.

“Damn.” He drums his fingertips against the counter. I notice the nails are clipped too close to his skin, and I wonder if he still makes a habit of chewing them. He turns his head toward the short-circuit television, which displays the security camera footage in the store, and I step back, just out of shot, as another customer walks in, drawing the air conditioning outside with a draft. The bell above the door jingles, and I glance down at the time on my wrist watch. Fifteen minutes and counting.

“Hey.” He comes from behind the counter, and in two strides he is inches from me. I can feel his warm, steady breath blow just above my forehead. I forget how tall he is. He towers over me. I remember how he frightened me at times, even more when we argued. Now his eyes show a fierce anger, the deep amber in his irises pops out as in those of a predator, and all I want to do is fall into his arms like a damsel.

“I get off at eleven. Will you wait?” he asks.

I know I shouldn’t, and it’s selfish of me to keep him from his growing family, to worry him with my own feeble problems, especially when I’ve done this to myself. My eyes roll closed, and I imagine how different my life would be if five years ago I had only said those four simple words he was desperate to hear come back to him as he cradled the velvet ring box behind his back.

Original posted on May 31, 2017.

“Hiding in Bathrooms” — An Excerpt from Love Poetry

Now she really had to go to the bathroom. She pushed her way into the narrow stall directly behind her, hiked up her skirt, dropped her panties to her knees and fell into a squat over the too short toilet, suitable more for kids than anyone over five feet, despite being in a facility requiring an eighteen-year age minimum. She held her phone away from her ear and let herself go, hoping the sound of her peeing would deter him, but either he didn’t hear it or he chose to ignore it because he continued to talk. 

“If you had answered any of my earlier phone calls–“ 

“What do you want, Whitmore?” Jessica repeated more sternly, speaking over the automatic flush of the toilet.  

There was a long pause; he must have heard it this time, contemplating whether or not to continue with the conversation, Jessica having no more respect for him than to wait until they were off the phone before she decided to use the bathroom. But there was also the possibility that it flattered him, that she valued their relationship so much that she would stay with him on the phone, even while having to relieve bodily urges. Bile rose at the back of her throat. Please don’t let it be the latter. She didn’t want to give him any more hope that this relationship could be saved. As far as she was concerned, it was over. There was no coming back from the invasion of her privacy, even if he suspected her of cheating. Confront her like a normal person and break things off. But she knew Whitmore could never do that. He was too desperate to be loved, even if it meant forcing a relationship with a women who didn’t love him back. 

“I just want to apologize for this morning.” 

“You can’t even say what you did.” Which told Jessica he didn’t think what he did was wrong, and if he in anyway tried to justify himself, she would hang up. 

“But you’ve got to understand my point of view.” 

Hang up, Jessica. 

“I didn’t know where you were, and I kept thinking about what happened with Layla.” 

Hang up, Jessica. 

“She was cheating right under my nose, and I was too stupid and naïve to see it.” 

Hang up, Jessica. 

“It killed me, and I couldn’t help but go back to that dark place when you–“ 

Finally she hung up. Pressed her thump firmly on the end key. She wasn’t listening to that sob story again. How he attempted suicide the night Layla finally called it quits, took half a bottle of sleeping pills and washed it down with vodka. Whitmore was the type of person to threaten with self-harm to guilt a woman in to submission, but not for a second did Jessica believe he actually went through with it. And she wasn’t going to let his little pity part keep her hostage in this bathroom another second.  

It was times like this, when she wished they were still in the flip phone age of cell phones, she would slam the top down with such emphasis. Or if she had a landline she would slam that handset back on the switch hook, knowing surely he would hear the force behind it, at it loudly collided with different parts of the base before at last connecting with the hook, sounding the final dial tone to solidify her complete annoyance and frustration in having to speak with him at all, leaving no doubt in his mind that the conversation was over and that she wanted to hear nothing more from him that night. 

The touch screen hang up was too soft, easily misinterpreted for a weak signal, a dropped call, and inadvertent swiping of the face which ended in an accidental disconnect. It would prompt him to call back, innocently asking questions like “What happened?” and “Are you still there?” 

Not wanting to give him the chance, Jessica quickly pressed the power button until the screen faded to black. If there was any question behind why she hung up, going straight to voicemail would give him his answer. At the very least she could finish this night without further distractions. 

She shoved the door open, clouds of smoke engulfing her. She was greeted by a shower of applause. Not good. Out of habit she checked her phone for the time, and groaned at the black screen. She cursed Whitmore under her breath, then sped walked down the corridor. Seeing the shadow of someone standing at the end, she assumed it’s Yolanda, and fabricated some excuse for why she missed her own deadline. Emergency on the phone, that time of the month, duty calls? She looked to the stage, Jamie Marie already at the mic, preparing to perform her first piece to the background music of the string bass and piano. Behind her a whisper in her ear. 

“Hey there. Still hiding in bathrooms, are we?” 

She turned and met the wide gaze of Bruce. The color of his eyes looked even darker under the haze of the hookah bar.  

“Very funny,” she said. She tried to hide her phone behind her and subtly drop it into her purse, but he caught her, literally. She suddenly felt his arms around her waist, under her jacket, the tips of his fingers on her hip, too close to skin. Fire ignited deep within her, and it’s as if she could exhale smoke. 

She broke away, if only to catch her breath from the sudden sexual tension between them, but his demeanor didn’t seem to change. He leaned back, one foot and the opposite shoulder propped against the wall.  He faced the stage but his eyes were still on her. It reminded her of the way Whitmore looked at her whenever he was trying to catch her in a lie, though not at all as invasive or exposing. Mostly endearing, admiring, like looking at fine art. Thank God she’s wearing something she’s comfortable in, something that’s definitely her. 

She wanted to spin for him, give him the full effect. Better yet she wanted to undress for him. Imagining Whitmore as Bruce did her no favors last night, not now that she has seen where his hands have been, those lips, that tongue. She glanced below his belt then quickly looked away. Not here. Not in front of all these people, and her boss, standing at the bottom of the stage, a scolding look in her eyes. She should probably try to explain herself, but she felt the heat rising again, Bruce had snuck up on her, she turned her head and their lips were mere inches apart, a continuation of how their date ended last night. Before this night is over, she will kiss him, can’t stand the teasing anymore. 

© Nortina Simmons


Just a P..S.A., these excerpts are roughly edited, and I’m still struggling to decide if I want the novella to be in past or present tense, so if it reads kind of crazy, please go easy on me! 😉

#LyricalFictionFriday: Impromptu

“Can I shoot you?”

Not the pickup line I was expecting from the guy who, for the last three drinks, has been eyeing me from the opposite end of the bar.

He raises the Nikon strapped around his neck, aims the lens at me, and before I can take the compact out of my clutch for a last minute lip gloss adjustment, I’m blinded by flashing lights.

In your eyes I’ve found the missing pieces,” he says, and when he pauses long enough for my vision to return, I start to see the missing pieces of my life finally come together between the shutters. He circles me like a predator.

“Are you a photographer for a magazine?” I ask, flipping my short hair frayed by split ends, but he doesn’t seem to notice. An ex once told me I could be a model. I can imagine his face now when he sees me on the cover of Vogue. Bet he’d wish he did more than cook me box mac and cheese like he was some Michelin star chef and make me watch gory slasher films on his roommate’s dirty couch.

“No, no, no!” he says. “You belong on a thirteen-year-old boy’s bedroom wall!”

Not sure how I should take that, but everyone in the club is staring, and it’s not because I’m sloppy drunk for once, so I strut in place like I’m on the catwalk. Poke out my hip, arch my back, pose for the camera, feign a pout—is the duck face still a thing? I smize, smile with my eyes, the way Tyra teaches the girls on ANTM. I could be on ANTM.

“Oh, no. You’re better than them. You can win the whole thing.”

He’s too obvious, stroking my ego. Does he expect a tip? I’ve got none. Does he want me to buy the prints? How ’bout Instagram? Will he invite me to his studio downtown? Nothing inside but the lights and a place for me to take off my clothes. Because you’re not a true model until you pose naked. That’s it, he wants to see me naked. I hike up my thrift store miniskirt a little too high to give him a tease, and his eyes widen. He clicks more frantically now. How far am I willing to go, he’s wondering. As far as he’ll take me. Nothing holding me back. Lead me to your car, and I’ll claim the driver’s seat.

—Nortina


Photo by @SNAPAVELLI from nappy.co

 

Joining Marquessa’s song lyric challenge for Fiction Fridays. Today’s lyrical prompt is: In your eyes I’ve found the missing pieces…

“Morning Run” — An Excerpt from Love Poetry

Whitmore pulls the comforter to his chin, and she snatches her hand back as he rolls over to face the wall, stretching his feet to the end of the bed before drawing them back into the fetal position. Jessica lies stiff until his breathing returns to a steady rhythm, and then she dashes out of the bed, sprints toward the window where her little friend has long since flown away, and the room feels deafeningly silent, as if it’s not yet morning, as if the sun hasn’t risen, as if she is back in last night and Whitmore is still breathing down her neck, pressuring her to sleep with him, refusing to take no for an answer, already in the process of laying his claim.

She spins around and watches Whitmore’s chest rise and fall. She looks down at her breasts, goosebumps rising under the spinning ceiling fan above her. Suddenly the room feels too small and Whitmore too close. It’s the last place she wants to be when he finally does wake up, standing at the foot of the bed, fully naked, nipples harden from the chill in the air.

She bends over the dresser, feeling exposed, quickly puts on a pair of sweats, tames her breasts with a bra, throws on the first t-shirt she sees, Wrightsville Beach splayed across the chest. She reaches under her bed for the worn pumas, the only tennis shoes she owns, and steps into them, no thought about socks. She creeps out the door, closing it behind her, down the hall a little faster now, picking up pace, as she grabs the keys and her phone off the kitchen counter, where she left them last night, on her way out front door.

By the time she reaches the stairway she’s running. And when she gets to the bottom, she’s sprinting through the parking lot, dodging Whitmore’s Sonata, parked crookedly in the space reserved for her. She continues to the sidewalk that forms a semicircle around the back of the next building in her complex, turns to run parallel to the road for a quarter of a mile, before veering off into the scenic greenway leading into the heart of town. She runs the whole time and doesn’t stop until she can no longer see her apartment jetting out above the trees when she turns to look over her shoulder.

When she stops, she wants to collapse. She plants her hands on her knees, puts her face between her legs and gulps in sharp inhales of breath. Her heart is breaking through her chest, her lungs on fire, she’s never run like this before. In fact, she can’t remember ever having to run, except in required gym class in high school, and twice she tripped over her own feet, and dove face first into the hardwood floor, sliding across the court, the high squeak echoing in her ear as her skin on her cheeks tore.

How pathetic is she that’s she’s let Whitmore run her out of her own damn apartment? She looks back, then takes off again, a bench in sight. When she gets there, the thought crosses her mind that teenagers could have had sex here, homeless men could have masturbated here—the trees surrounding them, extensive branches heavy with leaves overhead to cover their secrets—bugs crawling in and out of the cracks, bird droppings in hidden places. But she’s too tired to care. So  she falls onto the bench, spreads her legs, throws her head over the back, waiting for all of her feeling to come back to her.

When a real jogger passes by, she folds into faux stretches, but the woman barely notices, eyes on the path, ears plugged in. Maybe that’s what Jessica needs to relax herself too. She takes out her phone and turns on the FM radio station app. She finds herself tuning to 107.1. The sound is fuzzy coming in, because she doesn’t have headphones to work as an antenna, but she turns the volume up, holds the phone to her ear, and lies back on the bench, listening to the croons of Shawn Mendez push through the static, and the soulful melancholic cries of Sam Smith, and when she begins to drift, a familiar name comes to her ear.

“Good morning, good morning, Triad! You’re listening to 107.1 the B.E.A.T. The time is 10:21 AM. I’m your boy, D.J. Ronnie G, and I’m here with our host . . .”

Jessica perks up when she hears his voice, low and nonchalant like last night, slightly muffled from his lips being too close to the microphone. Like a drum roll, he mumbles, “The Girlfriend Whisperer.”

Bruce.

© Nortina Simmons

Spawning

The thunderous roar of the rushing water captures everyone’s attention. Waterfalls have a knack for drawing in large crowds.

No one bothers to look upstream, where the salmon spawn. Where Rick and I undress, neatly fold our clothes and lie them on the dampened boulders that line the banks.

The water is warmer than I expect. But then I’m burning with impatience, and I’m numb below my waist, eager only for his touch.

He slowly approaches, and I drop to me knees, as gracefully as I can, splashing the shallow water, sinking into the sediment and broken-up rocks, hoping not to disturb the female laying her eggs next to me.

His everything in my face, I open my mouth and let him in, and it’s as if everything in this dense Alaskan rainforest—one hundred years ago buried under sheets of ice—goes silent. Watching.

A drop on my forehead, and then a drizzle. We hear the patter of feet as waterfall spectators race back to the shelter. No one veering off the path, where the shrubs part, to climb down the steep hill and catch a glimpse of mother nature doing her best work.

The ripples in the water multiple as we lie midstream, the surface barely covering his back. The rain picks up, urging him on, and with each draw back and thrust forward, he creates tiny waves that crash against the back of my thighs as we copulate alongside the salmon in a place reserved for wildlife, letting our primal instincts loose.

—Nortina

Total Eclipse

She stares afar off, as if in a trance.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” he says, curls a lock of hair behind her ear.

She tries, but doesn’t know. Thinks, but her mind is empty. She likes it when everything is blank. When the anger and the hatred of the world can’t touch her. When all she has is the blue in the sky, the green in the grass, as she imagines them. And him, lightly pecking the bone of her shoulders with his soft butter lips.

“I love you,” he whispers. She’s waited thirty years to hear those words, since the last time she’s looked at the sun. Though she can’t see his eyes, she pictures them as they were at fifteen, pools of aquamarine, dripping with affection.

She turns her head and finds his mouth. Sends her tongue searching as the silence descends, as the air cools.

“Look up,” she breathes, kissing the lids of his bare eyes. “Look up and see me.”

—Nortina

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Red Sky, Ghost Cries

I glance out the window at the red sky. It’s just the way the setting sun hits the cumulonimbus clouds, I tell myself. But when a sudden clap of thunder rattles the legs of my bed against the hardwood floor, I wait for it to rain blood.

Suiting for the time we live in. A live-action horror film. When cars speed through crowds, crush the skulls of babies. When aged statues are brought down on their worshipers’ heads.

I plug in my ear buds, play a track from my deceased father’s rock band. Lately I’ve had the desire to listen to his ghost. Sing to me about the power of love. Overcoming political corruption, separation by race, pointless fighting in streets. When the world will know peace.

I play it over the thunder, nearly deaf after three repeats. When the song ends, I turn everything off. The house silent, the storm passed. I hide under the covers, knowing I’m alone. But my bedroom door is slightly ajar, and after lying still for over an hour, unable to fall asleep, I hear a light tapping on the other side.

Now I know the dead have done more than turn over in their graves. Our callousness has brought them back, absorbing energy from the uncanny storm to manifest.

I only pray this one sings to me.

—Nortina

“Asking All Them Questions” — An Excerpt from Love Poetry

“I was with Alex.” She said it without thinking, surprising herself at how naturally the lie flowed from her lips. Technically, Alex was the reason she was out with Bruce, and she was with her earlier that day, so it wasn’t a total lie, but she still felt guilty for trying to deceive him. Maybe she was more like Layla than she wanted to admit. She spun around, took three steps to her right toward the kitchen, and flung the Styrofoam to-go box in the trash. Her rumbling stomach filled the silence between them, but she wouldn’t touch that lumpy mush that place had the audacity to call authentic risotto. She absently opened the refrigerator and considered the leftover Chinese food from two nights ago, but remembering that Whitmore was still there, promptly shut it, turned around and drummed her fingers on the edge of the island counter.  

“Dressed like that?” Whitmore pointed at the dress under her cardigan. He stared at her—she hated when he stared—his eyes shifting back and forth as the scenarios played out. He analyzed everything—her dress, the style of her hair, the light makeup on her face, the gait in her walk, the sway in her hips, anything to indicate she was anywhere other than where she had said. 

“We were going through her closet,” Jessica said. “This is hers.”  

“And you went to eat like that?”  

“Yes.” She kept her answer short. Any further explanation would cloud the lie. With less information for him to over-analyze, maybe he would believe her.  

His eyes were on the trashcan now, the smell of lobster rising from the lemon-scented bag. It wasn’t fresh; that’s why it looked like rubber. She would have to take it to the dumpster before her whole floor started to smell like a fish market. She wondered if Whitmore would take it out for her, on his way out the door, to his car, and back to his own apartment.  

But now Whitmore was next to her behind the counter. Whitmore was only a breath taller than Jessica, but despite having such short legs, he moved quickly. Before she could react, he clasped her face in his hands and pulled her in for a long, drawn out kiss, until her lips were almost raw. He pulled her hard, putting tension on her neck and she tried to break away. But he wouldn’t let go for anything, as if he were afraid he would lose her for good if he did. He pressured his nose into hers, making it harder to breath. She opened her mouth for air and received his tongue instead, pushing deep inside until their teeth knocked, and the saliva dripped from his glands onto her bottom lip. He backed her into the stove, peeled the cardigan off her shoulders, and feeling how naked she was underneath, he stepped back and further examined her. 

“Why did Alex give you that?” 

“Good question.” Without letting him speak, she took him by the wrist and dragged him down the hallway. He would keep asking questions until she gave him what he wanted. This was their routine now. Whitmore’s persistent prodding, his insecurities and suspicions mounting with each evasive answer she gave until finally she caved, frustrated with always having to explain herself, desperate to do anything to shut him up…

© Nortina Simmons

 

Z is for Zucchini #AtoZChallenge

As I said in yesterday’s post, “Love Poetry” has a very different ending. Still on a high note, because what is a romance novel without a happy ending?  But in keeping with the title, it will end with a love poem instead of a zucchini. You’ll see soon enough. 😉


It started with the breathing exercises.

“Sometimes, all you need is to exhale,” the yoga instructor whispered.

Spread your feet equally apart. Stand erect, stretching your spine. Relax your shoulders. Place your palms on your abdomen. Inhale. Take a deep breath through your nose. Expand your diaphragm. Hold it. Hold it. Release. Exhale through your mouth. Form a circle with your lips and push the air out. Contract your diaphragm. Press your palms into your abdomen.

“Do you feel it? Do you feel it leaving you? Breathe in again.”

Jessica breathed in deeply, inhaling the last 36 hours. The fear. The feeling of entrapment. Whitmore’s attempt to force her into marriage and motherhood. Dancing light on her feet to jazz music. Her sexual liberation with Bruce. The echoing sound of death ricocheting off her walls just as the bullet ricocheted within Whitmore’s skull. The rotten fresh spurted just across the threshold into her apartment. The ghostly image of Whitmore trying to drive her down into his hellish nightmare.

She drew everything into her. Let the particles deposit on her lungs. And just as swiftly, she breathed it all out. Pushed it from deep within her gut. She could feel herself gaining control as she relieved herself of all the extra weight and baggage. By the time they began to transition to the poses, she felt light as a feather. When she bent over for the downward facing dog, her head floated above the mat, no blood rush, no weight of guilt or shame, only the air filled her.

***

“I just wanna say your skin looks ten times brighter than it did this morning!” Alex said, skipping around Jessica to stand in front of her.

“I feel better,” Jessica said with a smile.

“No more thoughts about Whitmore?”

Jessica curled her lips in thought. “I mean, I know it wasn’t my fault, but—”

“No but. It wasn’t your fault. Whitmore was a disturbed person, and it wasn’t your job to fix him.”

“I just wish I knew why.”

“You can’t ask people like that why. They don’t even know why themselves,” Alex said. “There are people out there who’d rather hurt and live off the pain, and they’ll blame everyone else but themselves for that pain because they don’t want to admit that they’re enjoying it, that they’re the ones causing it.”

“Misery loves company,” Jessica sighed.

“Yep, but it can’t have yours!” Alex said. She took her phone out of her purse. “Now, are we good, because Mr. Girlfriend Whisper just texted me and said he’s cooking his signature zucchini and chicken stir-fry for dinner, and he wants you to come.”

“OK,” Jessica said, a bounce in her voice.

“OK? Does that mean it’s a date, or you’re gonna let ol’ Whitty’s ghost possess you and stab Bruce in the back with the knife he used to cut the raw chicken?”

Jessica threw her head back and laughed, her cackles vibrating her chest.

“There’s my girl,” Alex said. “C’mon.” She put her arm around Jessica’s shoulders. “You can take a shower at my place.”

—Nortina

Y is for Yoga

Originally published April 29, 2015 for the A to Z Challenge. This and tomorrow’s post was the originally ending for “Love Poetry.” Since then, it has drastically changed, and I can’t wait for you to read it… eventually. 😉


“So, Bruce is in the dog house, huh?” Alex yanked the blinds on the window open, allowing the sunshine to pour in and brighten the room. “Wake up. It’s almost noon.”

Jessica winced at the sudden light and pulled the comforter over her head. “Who are you, my mother?”

“If I have to be.” Alex snatched the covers back. She took Jessica by the wrist and jerked her out of bed. “I’ve been watching you kick and punch the air for the last hour. You wanna tell me what’s going on?”

Jessica swayed in place, temporarily losing her vision, and fell back onto the bed. She pressed her palms against her forehead and sighed. “I keep seeing him.”

“Who?”

“Whitmore. I think he’s haunting me.”

“That’s your reason for being cold to Bruce?” Alex asked, placing her hands on her hips.

“He’s the reason Whitmore killed himself.”

“Whitmore killed himself because he’s a fool!”

“How can you be so insensitive?”

Alex sat next to Jessica and rubbed the middle of her back. “Whitmore was being selfish,” she said softly. “He killed himself because he knew you would eventually leave him. He wanted to make sure that even when you move on, he’ll always be there in your mind as the boyfriend who committed suicide because of you. It was his way of ensuring his legacy with you anyway, and you’re letting him!”

“No I’m not!” Jessica protested.

“Yes you are. Your nightmares. This thing about him haunting you. Bruce said he thought he saw you choking yourself at your apartment. Are you gonna tell me that was Whitmore too?”

“It was—”

“Come on. You have to pull yourself together, Jess. Exorcise this demon.” Alex stood, pulling Jessica to her feet with her. She guided Jessica to the bathroom across the hall. “Freshen up,” she said, tapping Jessica on the behind.

“Why? Where are we going?”

“There’s a yoga studio down the street. The next class is in fifteen minutes. We’re getting rid of this tension once and for all.”

—Nortina