out of the ashes

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Short story

Gee, the old year is over and the new is a few hours away. Where did the year rush away to?

Three years ago Jim urged me to write some short stories, and so I did. I came up with one that I particularly loved at exactly this time--just before the New Year arrived. Here it is; hope you like it. I'm resurrecting it and sending it back out.

Patrick Sean Lee 2,440 words










Graciella
by
Patrick Sean Lee


It is December 23rd. Graciella stands beside me in the doorway of Garimendi’s, one of the finest restaurants in downtown Denver. I’ve brought her here to impress her, to win her—though in truth I know I must redeem myself.
The pedestrian traffic along the street is heavy this evening, but it moves with the consistency and order of a finely choreographed pageant. Frozen breaths. Overcoated torsos dancing like skaters up and down the icy sidewalks. Somehow in love themselves with every trapping of the season thrown across the arc of wires above; drapes of silver and gold, crimson and green. Lights. Lights by the million, blinking like jewels scattered across the heavens by God. And music everywhere.
I am in love with Graciella.

I first saw her last spring, in the small park near the capitol building a few blocks away from the restaurant. She entered from the north end across the broad concrete walkway bordered on either side by beds of dazzling May flowers. I happened to be sitting beneath a tree nearby, reading—I don’t recall what it was. It might have been a novel, “The Sea House”, perhaps—but I glanced up for some unknown reason as she passed. Maybe I’d gotten to the end of a chapter, or maybe it was something far more providential. How unimportant, now. I fell in love with her immediately, though. That sounds crazy, certainly. Nobody falls instantly into the arms, the eyes, the soul of another person. Not without first hearing the music of their voice or feeling the soft skin of their body. Yet, there I was, instantly in freefall.
She wore a black skirt, I remember vividly. It moved with the same grace as her body, a body as perfect and elegant as Chinese silk. Her hair—strikingly deep auburn. I wasn’t sure, as I sifted my eyes through it, if I had fastened them onto an angel of God, or if God had simply slapped me out of a twenty-five year stupor. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! It fell to her lithe shoulders, passing the edge of her eyes as though the great master Raphael had been walking beside her, adjusting every strand, parting it to allow filaments of sunlight passage. She, too, carried a small book in her hand, and stopped momentarily to look across the flowers and the grass directly at me. I blushed and raised the book I held just slightly so that she couldn’t see that I was grinning like an imbecile, but I couldn’t take my eyes off her. For a brief instant I thought she intended to say something to me. I saw her lips purse slightly, the gentle beginning, I vainly imagined, of “I love you, too”. I was mistaken. She turned her head and continued on as though I were merely another part of the tree; a gnarled root, the severed stump of a branch. Something inconsequential. I wasn’t surprised.
I am ugly. Not homely or plain or cursed with a feature, which any vain and wealthy person would on a whim, have altered by a plastic surgeon. It goes deeper than that. Had I been born with two noses and a single eye I would have been more handsome—at least I’ve been told so. I learned early on in life, in great spasms of pain and feelings of self-loathing, to live with my abhorrence. I accepted the brutality of it. In my adolescence I quickly realized that those creatures who pierced my heart with their beauty were as unattainable as the gold in Fort Knox. Yes, I accepted it—until she walked by that morning.
“No more. I will make her love me if I have to live forever to do it!” I murmured through lips fit only to touch those of a beast. She turned, twenty feet beyond, and shot a glance back at me. I knew she had somehow heard me. I was certain of it. But she continued on and I mercifully lost sight of her beyond a downward-sloping turn in the path.
Each day I returned to the same spot beneath the tree, took my seat, and waited in great anticipation, hoping to see her again. I suffered for two weeks this way before she finally appeared again, book in hand. This time I smiled at her, though I instantly regretted having done so. Such an act of presumption, a foolish telegraphing of the drums smashing inside my chest! I prayed she hadn’t noticed, but this was merely another of my foolish notions. She had. For a moment she offered no reaction, but then she smiled in return. A very slight, enigmatic curve of her lips. Instead of moving on she stepped off the walkway, over the flowers (which swooned, I swear, as she passed over them), and walked toward me.
Let me become part of this tree. Dear God, let me disappear! She is too…
“Hello,” she said.
Her single word of greeting devastated me. It was music, unlike anything I’d ever heard. I had been in love up to my ears before she uttered that one word, but now I was slain by its timbre. Her eyes, as luminous and lovely as her hair, seemed a part of that utterance, and I found myself unable to act rationally. To sit, or stand, or even think. I dropped the book to my lap and muttered something meaningless. My eyes fell in embarrassment.
She stopped a foot away from me and laughed. “My name is Graciella,” she said holding her hand out to me. I was unable to answer. I wanted to run.
“And you are…?” she asked.
“Mar…Martin. I’m sorry I was staring at you. I didn’t mean to,” I finally managed to answer in a voice that sounded to me like it had been beaten on an anvil.
“That’s ok. I wasn’t offended. Were you staring? I thought you were just reading as usual. I’ve seen you sitting here many times with your book, you know. What is it?”
My book? I had no idea. She waited patiently for me to answer a question that might as well have been, “How many stars are there in the universe?” God only knows. The book. I looked down at it as though I were a simpleton. Fun With Dick and Jane? Barney Meets Mothra? Dear God, why was I so hideous looking. Why was I so stupid?
“Um...War and Peace. No, no. Winter’s Tale, maybe. I’m not sure,” I said shaking, unable to gather my wits and just look at the cover. Goddammit! Why didn’t I just nail a sign onto my forehead stating, “Its title is, I Am Hopelessly in Love With…Graciella.”
“Let me see,” she said as she knelt down beside me, so close I caught the sweet scent of her intoxicating perfume. I sighed and handed her the book with trembling fingers.
“One Hundred Years of Solitude. Wonderful! I loved it. Do you read many of the Latin authors? I think they’re absolutely drowning in lyricism,” she said, handing the book back to me.
“Oh, yes. Dickens and Proust. All of them,” I replied.
That inanity made her laugh again. I closed my eyes, wondering if her mission in life was to humor stupid people. Perhaps she was a nun. I learned in the following weeks that, indeed, she was not a nun. She was twenty-five, she told me. Three years younger than myself. Her apartment was close by, the upper floor in one of the beautiful old turn of the century houses that had survived the madness of the high-rise developers on Capitol Hill. Her parents had been devout Catholics, but they were both dead. She worked in the Main Library across the street from the park…
I learned many other things about her in the following weeks, and dwelled on them each evening until sleep inevitably overcame me, and then I would dream of her. Far away in unheard of, enchanted lands with stately mansions gracing tall, green hills. Graciella was always there and never failed to overlook my ugliness. Always invited me into her arms as though my face meant nothing at all to her. As though her lovely eyes could see to the very center of my heart.
I began to forget what I was, more so with each casual visit beneath the tree where she chattered like a finch this moment, sat quietly beside me the next, or read aloud from one of her books. Beside me. Every day, now. But why? What could she possibly see in me?
Each morning as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror to dress, the image staring back at me lost a tiny bit more of its repulsiveness. The twisted nose, the too-heavy brow—the ghastly ears pasted flat against my skull. Could it be…
My eyes overclouded with the blinding strength of hope, and I tried to discover exactly what it was that made my Graciella look past the ink spot of misshapen features. Was I mistaken about myself? I finally gave up these ridiculous mental inquiries and allowed myself to stumble ever farther into her flawless beauty. I imagined she, too, felt something of what I was consumed by—that her heart also beat rapidly in those infinitely sublime moments of our encounters.

Fall descended onto the city in a slow, disarming enchantment.
...
(c) Patrick Sean Lee 2006




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