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A Successful Failure

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     The whispers carried messages of despair and dismay.  A single word could change her mood.  She could feel the city crumbling in on itself imploding as a Red Giant folds under its own weight into a Black Hole.  The ornate architecture and steel monuments only earnest attempts to hide the insanity within.   Elizabeth Handel walked briskly through the halls of Grand Central Terminal, just off the number 7 train.  She caught fragments of conversations as she went: ‘Market’s down,’ ‘Hemingway knew,’ ‘My period.’  She cursed the tremendous acoustics.    

     Elizabeth saw the voices as a form of assault, unwanted guests prying eagerly at the threads of her mind, the half-secrets that violated her soul.  She was sure that if words could kill, the countless voices were low-grade poisons eating away from within.  Some people wondered why there was so much violence and murder in the city.  Elizabeth wondered why there was not more.

     The wind blew down 42nd street, perused the litter of leaflets and newspapers and then discarded the debris in gutters and corners.  The wind vied with Elizabeth for access through the pedestrian traffic, the fast moving locals who knew where they were going and the map-wielding tourists who did not. A gust tried to steal her breath.

     Elizabeth had wanted to be part of the Myth Factory for as long as memory allowed.  She had longed to be in a place where the present was cast into history as often as it dissolved into the past.  At the age of consent, she had peeled off from her familial orbit, not far from the banks of the Mississippi, and allowed herself to be captured by the larger body’s irresistible pull.  The densely packed island off the coast of New Jersey had enveloped her like a fountain absorbs a coin.  She had lain at the bottom of the pool since, waiting for a chance to take a breath, and now that she had found an opportunity she realized she would be late.

     There was constant movement, drowned in neon light, never time for reflection, only reaction.  In Times Square’s shadows, the sin and the sadness hung low to the ground like a fog.  Elizabeth tried her best to be too busy to notice the whirl around her, looking around and through people rather than at them.  It was easier this way.

     The pull of negative air pressure lifted her skirt, as she passed through the vacuum of the revolving door.  There was an energy emanating from the mid-town hotel’s lobby bar that Elizabeth could feel.  This was the place of deals, the place of rendezvous and clandestine encounters.  This was the world simplified to its component parts: accents and dialects, bows and handshakes.  Even the prices suggested something important, isolated from the rest of reality.

     “You realize the job is based at our headquarters?”

     They had gotten past the apologies and introductions, past the small talk that vaporized the moment it touched air.  The interview was repayment for a favor done long ago.  Mr. Deerfield had graduated a year after her father and remembered his fraternity brother with a fondness that was apparently greater than Elizabeth’s own.  The job offer, however, had come as a surprise.

     “Not your New York office?”

     “No, can’t afford to staff the position here.  Still interested?”

     “That depends,” Elizabeth wondered whether her pupils were dilating; whether her breathing or involuntary movements were revealing some unconscious tell.

     “Depends on what?” 

     “On the trade-off,”

     “From what I hear, it wouldn’t be much to give up.”  Mr. Deerfield chuckled, until the vibrations ran down his arm and caused a minor seismic event in his Manhattan.

     Elizabeth rode the subway back to Queens, as unblinking as a lidless asp.  She popped the three deadbolts and flipped the single overhead light in her efficiency.  The sudden illumination startled a lone cockroach, which disappeared in a blur into a crack behind an electric outlet.  She made no effort to give chase.  Years of urban communal living in aged buildings had taught her that you were only as clean as your filthiest neighbor.     

     She folded her director’s chair and pulled the Murphy bed from the wall.  She changed into an over-sized, peeling Rams jersey, climbed into bed and pulled a chenille blanket over her legs. 

     She tried to remember what she had done.  A blank place existed in her life, from the end of Mr. Deerfield’s laughter until somewhere near the Hunters Point stop.  Two conflicting images vied to fill the void. 

     In one, she had hoisted a laugh from the well of civility, brushing off his remark like a pesky fly from her arm.  She had accepted the job on the spot and arranged to call Mr. Deerfield’s secretary for further instructions.  She had promised to send regards to her father.  They shook hands, and it was over.

     In the other, Elizabeth had gone to the well and found it dry.  Rage emanated from her core, a plutonium rod suddenly deprived of liquid coolant.  In the midst of her meltdown, she had taken the object nearest to her, a plastic cocktail skewer complete with a Roquefort stuffed olive, and had driven it into the meat of Mr. Deerfield’s liver-spotted hand.  A man’s shriek deadened all conversation in the lounge.  Heads turned.  The skewer stood upright in the mottled flesh, a bulbous green flag planted in uncharted territory.

     Either way, Elizabeth felt trapped. If she had accepted the job offer, it was an admission of defeat.  It meant the dissolution of her dreams, the end of everything she had ever planned for her life in New York City.  If she had stabbed her father’s college friend, she had cut the last string tethering her to the world of propriety.  She had become a savage, a deviant, or worse, a feral animal incapable of rational responses to unwanted stimulii.

     A knock at her door sent Elizabeth flying from bed.  The police, or worse, Mr. Deerfield himself.  Instead, it was Celia, her neighbor from down the hall.

     “Hey Liz, sorry to bother you, but I need a AAA battery.  Don’t want to go out to the bodega in the rain.”

     “I don’t think so, but let me check.” 

     Elizabeth picked her way through the contents of her junk drawer.  It was a journey through forgotten history, an assortment of artifacts, odds and ends that potentially held future value, but were presently nothing more than clutter.

     “How did the interview go?”

     “I’m not sure.”

     “Yeah, I always have a hard time picking up a vibe.  I’m always so focused on my last answer and the next one that I miss the big picture.”

     “Found one.  Who knows if it works though?”

     Elizabeth unwound a length of speaker wire from around the battery and held it out in her palm.  Celia accepted the battery with a thank you.  Her eyes lingered on Elizabeth’s fingers.  She grabbed Elizabeth’s hand lightly, turning it over to inspect it further.

     “Hey Liz?”  Celia paused for a moment.  “This is going to sound weird, but is that blood on your hand?”

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

This is why I love short stories. You put me in Elizabeth's world and make me see and feel what she does. But more importantly, you illustrate a deeper, fundamental truth. Well done!

Joshua Hennen
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thank you Joshua. I appreciate both the feedback and the site you've created.

Randy Kohl
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