Snow

Roseanne’s office was always cold.

When I had first started going to her for counseling she would apologize and frequently rub her hands up and down her arms as if to make sure I was aware that she was suffering as well and to not blame her for the frigid climate. I had assured her that I didn’t mind the cold. This was, in fact, true. If the office was cold then I had a perfect excuse to keep my jacket on and enjoy the false sense of security it gave me to have it wrapped around my shoulders. My survivalist brain also registered that it would be easier to make a hasty retreat if I didn’t have to search for a jacket hung somewhere on an obscure hook. I allowed that a jacket could be sacrificed if a situation required it but I rather liked the jacket–a leather one with the Led Zeppelin Icarus painted on the back–and I decided that I would put it in as little sacrificial danger as possible.

After a year of seeing her for therapy, the temperature in Roseanne’s office continued to hover around “Arctic” though her performance had changed from apologies and arm-rubbing to complaints and eye-rolling.

“I don’t know how many times I have to tell the super to raise the heat in this building,” she snarled as she pulled a sweater from her closet.

I didn’t know either so I remained silent.

“With how much I pay them in rent it’s the least that they could do. And I’ve told them that I’ve had clients complain about how cold it is.”

I shrugged. “I don’t mind.”

Roseanne’s face convulsed between a series of dirty looks as she tried to decided if I was being obstinately contrary in expressing an opinion which disagreed with hers, or if I was being ridiculously polite and protecting the sensibilities of an inept superintendent.

“How can you not mind?” she finally challenged me.

I would have done some eye-rolling of my own except that this would have indicated what I was thinking and I had long since decided that I wasn’t going to let Roseanne know what was really going in my head. Mind you, this wasn’t a personal reflection of Roseanne, though her personality was in perfect harmony with the temperature of her office, but rather a rule in general when it came to counselors. I had seen several over the years and after a disastrous experience with my first counselor I realized that no amount of psychological training could prepare another creature to wade through the fucked up kettle of fish that swam in my head.

“I’m only in here for forty-five minutes,” I told her which was both a deliberate barb in regard to what was supposed to be an hour long session, and a satisfactory answer to her question which revealed nothing. I adjusted my jacket and leaned back into the couch.

Roseanne drew the line of unprofessional between dirty looks and talking about financials so she gave a dismissive sniff and opened up the folder which contained all of the secrets I had let her discover about my person.

“Let’s see, Kat, where did we leave off last week?” she murmured looking through her notes.

I cringed inwardly as I always did when she used my nickname. This was another common characteristic I had found in counselors in that they always ask what your friends and family called you and then used that name profusely. It helped them to create the illusion that they are friends listening to your problems because they care rather than uninterested third parties whose time you have bought. When it came down to it counseling is really just prostitution without the STDs.

“I don’t remember,” I told her.

“Well, then what happened this week?” she asked completely oblivious to my lack of enthusiasm.

“My former brother-in-law, Ronald, called my mother and said that he found some things of mine that my ex didn’t burn and was going to drop them off,” I offered.

“What was it he found?” Roseanne asked.

“I don’t know. I think it was a tote of some old toys that my grandmother made me get out of her basement when she was cleaning. They probably survived because my ex most likely thought that they were my niece’s old toys. When Ron heard that I was moving he also offered to bring up some of the kitchen and bathroom stuff that I had bought. But I’d rather he not bring that all,” I added.

“Why not? If you bought those things then they belong to you,” she told me.

“They don’t matter. I told you about the night that I left and all I cared about taking with me was Kira, and my old “Wonder Woman” comics if I could, and that’s how I still feel. The rest were things. Things don’t matter.”

Things are expensive though,” she insisted. “Those things can help you as you move into your own little nest.”

I wrinkled my nose before I could stop myself. If there was one thing that I was not building it was a “little nest”. Nests are for newlyweds and adorable birds just out of college. The least that you could accuse a feline such as me of building would be a den, though a dungeon would probably be closer to the mark in my particular case.

“I’ll either make do without them or I will buy them myself when I can afford them,” I replied as soon as my nose had returned to smoother state.

“That’s absurd. There’s no taint of your former marriage on your kitchen things,” Roseanne said.

“There is if my ex has peed in them.”

“What?” To Roseanne’s credit she processed this declaration with little more than a slight cocking of the head.

“I’m pretty sure that my ex has peed in my Kitchen-Aid by now,” I said.

Actually, for all for all of his flaws, my ex appreciated fine mixing equipment almost as much as I did and I was confident that my Kitchen-Aid had not been molested, however Roseanne had called me “absurd” so I felt the need to live up to that accusation.

And she had also come dangerously close to uncovering a truth so it was serendipitous that my conventional method of diversion was to say something inane. I’ve become so excellent at this skill that it’s a reflex rather than a reaction now. In much the way that a leg kicks up when it encounters a strike to the knee, my inanity kicks up when it encounters a strike to my brain.

I sat waiting for Roseanne’s response. I hoped that it would be another dirty look since I was creating a mental catalog of all of her annoyed facial tics. She would be a brilliant curmudgeon in a future novel.

Roseanne gave me a deadpan expression. “Then wash it before you use it,” she said.

I was so delighted by this spontaneous drollery that I almost considered taking off my jacket for the rest of the session.

Instead I told her about the time that my ex left me at a rest stop as punishment for telling him to get off at the wrong exit, because sharing a horrible experience with a counselor is akin to leaving an extra five bucks on the motel nightstand.

As was the case whenever I told her a tale of my recent former life, Roseanne listened raptly making up for my monotonous intonation with her own grimaces and colorful commentary.

“He is a horrible!” “What a jerk!” “Are you sure that he did not have some sort of mental deficiency? Because no adult male should behave like that!”

She was never so pleased with herself as when she implied that my ex suffered some sort of malignant mental malady and she, through her astute listening and brilliant deduction had diagnosed him without even a personal consultation. I let her enjoy the moment because I was still amused by her remark about washing the Kitchen-Aid, but I found myself experiencing the empty feeling that comes when a hilarious joke is no longer funny.

Despite my glaringly obvious contempt for counseling, I had entered therapy with genuine intentions of talking about my problems and attempting “to get better”–if there even existed such a state for someone like me–only had I planned on doing this is the most clinical and sterile manner possible, without the messy display of emotion that usually erupts from one’s eyes and nose during a counseling session. I expected this to be a challenge, after all I had been through some very traumatic experience, however I as shared each of the mauvais quart d’heure which were to blame for my sorry state I realized that it was quite simple to keep my emotions in check, namely because I was not feeling any. Initially I thought that it was because I was so loathe to reveal emotion in front of other people that my brain wouldn’t even attempt to access them knowing that I wouldn’t indulge the feelings anyway, but I found that even in the lone safety of my bedroom I could not feel anything. I replayed my most painful memories over and over and I could not even muster a sniffle. I squished up my face and hyperventilated and rapidly blinked my eyes but I could not convince myself to cry. To be honest I didn’t truly want to cry but I felt like I should want to cry, and furthermore I would like the option to be able to cry if the notion should strike me, but it was impossible. All of my tears were gone, or washed away, or dried up leaving behind less salty residue than it would take to thaw an icy patch of sidewalk.

If my lack of emotion wasn’t puzzling enough already I was surprised to find that their absence did not seem to bother Roseanne in the least. Even my rudimentary knowledge of psychology told me that this was likely a problem, and I anticipated a lecture from her about dealing with my feelings, but much like my tears, castigation remained absent. I wondered about her lack of concern regarding my phlegmatic state but I finally decided that she was simply grateful for a client who wasn’t constantly plucking at the requisite box of tissues which all counselors keep within arm’s length. I would have cancelled any further appointments with her at that point but by then she was comfortable enough with me to drop her professional manners and so thoroughly verbally thrashing my ex-husband that I decided to continue therapy for the entertainment alone.

But as I sat on Roseanne’s couch that day, idly twisting the chenille tassel of a of the chintz pillow between my trembling fingers and recounting the details of the trip that will forever make me averse to visiting Florida, I decided that I had had enough of this game. It had been gratifying to hear someone regard my ex with the venom that I could no longer muster, but this mock therapy was not helping me to feel any better about myself, in fact I felt worse than I had a year before. While the pain and anger I’d felt then had been unpleasant at least there had been something inside me, some kind of fire in my belly to make me live if for no other reason than to spite the ex who had assured me that he had been too instrumental in making me who I was to live without him. Now I felt nothing. I felt nothing, and I wanted nothing and I was, indeed, nothing. If I’d had any emotions I probably would have been terrified at that moment but instead there was only the tiniest of twinges like a candle being snuffed out with a pinch.

If Roseanne had asked what I was thinking at that moment I would have answered her from my broken soul for once. Instead she made an errant scribble in the folder containing my married name written in black Sharpie marker and looked up. “Well I guess that will do for today.”

I looked at the clock.

4:40.

“Same time next week?” she asked brightly.

“Yeah, that’s fine.” I gave her the check for my $20 copay and left the office.

On the day of my appointment the following week it began to snow. There was a healthy two inches on the ground by the afternoon–a veritable blizzard by southern New Jersey standards, so I wasn’t surprised when Roseanne called me cancel my appointment.

“What day do you want to come in instead?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t have my calender with me so I’ll call you back and reschedule,” I replied.

Of course I never did.

snow, woman

Photo by Mike Wood

The Butterfly

I try to keep my October posts all for my Halloween-palooza, however my brain was locked up and every time I tried to write any of the posts that I had outlined, they sounded like shit. The reason for this lockdown? It’s because my brain had been hijacked by what I’m now going to call an RLF, which stands for Rude Little Fuck. An RLF is a story that I don’t want to think about, don’t want to write about and don’t even have fucking time to write about, but will just not go away until I write it. And the really irritating thing? It’s never a happy story about The Adventures of Happy Puppy Cuppy Cake and Cherry Merry Muffin, it’s always some downer shit that I could really do without having bouncing in my brain space. There’s nothing to be done for it though, so here it is, and y’know what? As soon as I wrote it, I was able to blast out a typically brilliant(?) and inane Kat post for later.

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The Butterfly

As my husband brooded silently, ignoring my attempts at conversation save for the occasional icy glare, it occurred to me that this must be how a condemned man feels as he is strapped into the electric chair. Your stomach drops and you start to feel dizzy. Your hands go cold and become slick with sweat. The nubs of your bitten fingernails press into your palms, and your breath becomes more rapid and shallow. It’s no wonder that the dizziness becomes worse to the point that you feel as though your head is floating above your shoulders. A silent, nervous giggle struggles in your throat as you imagine your head as a balloon, rising and floating away. The cold glance of the executioner silences you, and sadly you realize that you could never float away for as light as your head feels, your heart is like lead, keeping you firmly tethered to your fate.

You know it’s coming. You know that at any moment the switch will flip and electricity will rip through your body, your teeth will clench and sparks will explode behind your eyes. It’s coming and there’s no stopping it. Pleading, explaining, cajoling, none of them will save you. The wait become overwhelming, the panic rises like vomit in your throat, the terror shatters your nerves and you finally want to scream, “Just get it the fuck over with!”

I couldn’t figure out why he was so angry with me. We had been having so much fun at the comic convention and I couldn’t understand what had happened. I had been admiring the work of an aspiring comic artist when I felt his fingers dig into the soft flesh of my upper arm and jerk me around. The pain radiated up to my shoulder but what startled me the most was the fury in my husband’s black eyes.

“We are leaving,” he snarled at me.
I felt my head shrinking down, attempting to disappear into my shoulders. “But why? We…we didn’t even finish Artists Alley yet.”
Mark released my arm with a shove. “Fine! Finish!”
I didn’t move.
“Go!” he made a dismissive motion with his hand.
“You don’t want to come, too?” I asked meekly. “You always like to look at the sketches.”
He gave me a disgusted look. “No. I’ll sit here and wait.” Mark dropped onto a bench, crossed his arms over his lean chest and began glaring at the floor.

I didn’t want to go back to Artist Alley anymore, but I knew if I didn’t it would make Mark even angrier. Instead I walked away slowly and kept glancing behind me to see if Mark had changed his mind. When I rounded a corner and was out of Mark’s sight, I pulled my phone out of my bag and began to text my friend, Jerry.

Jerry was a fellow comic nerd and had met us at the convention. He had gone off to do his own thing when Mark and I started in Artist Alley, but I had to let him know that we were leaving.
“Something came up and we gotta go,” I texted him. “Sorry to leave so soon.”
Jerry immediately texted back. “Are you still in Artist Alley? I’m in the next aisle over. Be there in 30 seconds.”
I was in the middle of texting Jerry back when he appeared in front of me.
“Mark’s not feeling so well, so we’re going to head out,” I told him.
“Oh that sucks,” Jerry frowned. “Where is he?”
I gestured around the corner. “Sitting on a bench resting.”
Jerry glanced around the corner. “Oh I see him.” And before I could stop him, Jerry was en route to Mark.

Mark had his elbow resting on the arm of the bench and his head leaning laying on it. He appeared to be sleeping and I was reluctant to wake him.
“He didn’t sleep well last night and he has a headache,” I told Jerry.
Mark opened his eyes at the sound of my voice. I had hoped that the rest had cured him of his anger but his eyes were still hard and cold when they fell on me.
“Jerry wanted to say goodbye,” I mumbled.
“It was nice to meet you,” Jerry smiled warmly and held his hand out to shake Mark’s.
“Yeah. You, too,” Mark grunted. He stood up and dutifully shook Jerry’s hand.
“I guess I’ll see you on the comic forum later, Kate!” he waved at me.
“I’m sure you will!” I replied with false cheer. Mark had already started to stalk away. I threw a quick smile and wave back to Jerry and scurried to catch up.

During the two hour drive from Baltimore back to Philadelphia I did my best to fill the silence with meaningless talk about the comics and vendors we had seen. Mark would occasionally reply with a “yeah” or a nod, but never looked at me.
“Mark,” I finally started quietly, “please tell me what’s wrong.”
He regarded me with the same expression as when he had stepped in a pile of dog crap and then shook his head and turned his attention back to the road.
“I just don’t understand what I did. I’m sorry,” my voice was laced with the hurt I always felt whenever he looked at me like that.
Mark clenched his jaw and shook his head again. “You really don’t know anything, do you?”
“Not if you don’t tell me,” I said timidly.
He didn’t deem to give me a response and I resigned myself to the frigid silence for the rest of the drive home.

Mark jumped out of the car as soon as we parked in the driveway and stalked up to the front door without waiting for me. I gathered up the few bags from the convention and followed him inside.

“Mark,” I tried again as I followed him to the room that was his bedroom before we were married. He stopped and turned so quickly that I nearly walked into him.
“Just leave me alone right now,” he said jerking the bedroom door open.
I felt my eyes tingle with the threat of tears. “Do…do you…?” My tongue felt too thick to form words.
Mark gave that look again. The same face that had once beamed and promised to love me forever when I accepted his marriage proposal was twisted into a mask of revolution, something that resembled pure hatred burned in his eyes. It was almost a relief when he slammed the bedroom door in my face.

I sniffled hard to try and keep the tears from coming but a few managed to seep from my eyes. I went into the bathroom and reached for the tissues. As I did I noticed the marks on my arm from where Mark had grabbed me. I looked in the huge bathroom mirror that spanned the length of the double sink and lifted the short sleeve of my shirt to examine my arm. There was a row of four black circles like the segmented body of a caterpillar where the tips of Mark’s fingers had dug into my bicep. I pulled my sleeve down and covered the bruises as best I could. My father-in-law was home and I didn’t want him to see.

Mark slept in his old bedroom that night. This was not very unusual because he had taken to sleeping in there more and more over the previous five months as he seemed to become angry with me more and more often. At first I had tried to convince him of the old adage of “never go to bed angry”, but it wasn’t long before I realized that “let sleeping dog lie” applied to him better.

It was early morning when I rolled onto my bruised arm and the resulting stab of pain woke me up. I had worn a long sleeve shirt to sleep and had to roll it up to examine the bruise. The bruise had spread through the night. There was a black line where Mark’s fingers had dug into my skin but now purple was fanning out on either side like wings.

“Butterfly,” I mumbled tracing the injured skin.

I heard my dog growl softly in her crate to let me know that she was awake. I hated having my dog sleep in a crate but Mark insisted. I crouched down and opened the latch to open her crate, and was nearly knocked over as my dog bounded out and jumped to lick my face. I kissed the top of her soft, furry head.

“We’re going to get out of here,” I whispered to her. “Mumma just has to get a few more things in order and then we’re never coming back here again.”

And though it took five more months, I did get us out of there. I took one suitcase of clothing and two of my dog’s favorite toys, and left the rest behind. I had wanted to take more so that I didn’t have to completely start over, but when it came down to it, possessions could be replaced, but my life could not.

purple biutterfy, just when the caterpiller thought that the world was over

 

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Okay, so in closing, you may not know this but October is not only Breast Cancer Awareness month, but it’s also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Very quickly I’m going to give you the basic three things about domestic abuse to be aware of: 1-If you know someone who is being abused, don’t judge them for not leaving immediately. It’s not easy on any level including a financial level and an emotional one. 2-If you are being abused, get the fuck away from the asshole! I just admitted that it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible, and you cannot afford to stay. There is help out there. 3-If you are an abuser, then do not think for a minute that you are safe. You are a fucking bully and you know what they say about bullies–there’s always a bigger one around the corner. Prepare to meet yours someday. You won’t like it.

If You Have Ever Had a Guy or Girl Treat You Like Shit Then This One’s For You

busted, you know what you didSTORY TIEMZ!!

And FYI, a writer’s brain is never their own.  It’s owned by whatever tale has hijacked them.  I wasn’t planning on writing this story, but since it keeps cropping up as I’m trying to get other shit done, then I guess I’m birthing the rude little fuck.

***

As much of a badass bitch as I am, there is some part of me that still wants to believe the best of people. I really want to believe that people don’t set out to hurt each other on purpose, and that even if they do that they are still capable of true remorse. It’s because of this belief that I didn’t tell Phil to go fuck himself when he approached me as I was reading on the eliptical machine.

“Could I talk to you for a minute?” he asked nervously.

Phil and I had a “relationship” based on the understanding that we weren’t going to be introducing each other to our families or picking out china together any time soon.  He had broken up with a longtime girlfriend a week before we had met, and I was still dealing with an overzealous admirer stalker, so neither of us were in a place to start anything serious.  Still, our pseudo-relationship ended when he would break dates ten minutes before we were supposed to get together, when he would say that he was going to call and wouldn’t, but most of all, when he would treat me like he didn’t know who I was when we ran into each other at the gym where we both worked out. The kicker was that he would act like an inconsiderate asshole at the gym and then call me to get together as if everything was peachy. The last time that he had called, I did get together with him but it was only to make sure that he knew that I’d had enough.

“Sure.” I closed my book but didn’t break my stride on my machine.

He paused for a moment and then got on the machine next to me. “Okay, I guess I’ll try to keep up with you,” he said grinning.

I mentally rolled my eyes thinking that I wasn’t rising to that bait to begin a flirtaion.

“So how have you been?” Phil asked as he started on the machine without bothering to actually select a workout.

“Brilliant,” I replied.

When I didn’t elaborate, he cleared his throat to fill the silence.
“I just…well, I think I owe you an apology,” he said. “I know I was an asshole, and I’m sorry.  I…at the time I wasn’t right.  Up in here.” He tapped his temple.

Something about his apology actually sounded sincere, so I shook my head slightly. “Don’t worry about it. I just let it go. I’m not a psycho chick like that.”

“I know you’re not, and that’s why I’m sorry.”

The elliptical beeped that my workout had ended so I finally stopped and gave him my full attention. “Well, thank you for the apology.  I really do appreciate it,” I told him. And because of that side of me that tries to be nice, I asked him how he was doing and we made chit-chat for a few minutes before I took off.

Over the next few months, Phil and I would talk here and there when we saw each other at the gym, and while I wouldn’t call us friends, I’d say that we were at least friendly. It even turned out that his mother was one of my patients at the optometry office where I worked. She was a very nice woman who showed me pictures of the wedding that the entire family had attended the previous week. There were several pictures of Phil dancing it up and snuggling a very tan, very blonde woman. Phil’s mother went on to say how much she adored Phil’s girlfriend and how it looked like they would be the next couple to be married, and I can honestly say that I was happy for all parties involved.

About a week later, I was leaving the gym when I saw Phil pulling into a parking spot. I gave a wave and continued walking down the sidewalk toward my house. Phil gave a shout as he got out of his car and trotted after me. He smiled as he approached and looked me up and down.
Alarms immediately started going off in my head.

“Hey,” he said leaning close to me.
I stepped back. “Hey. I met your mother last week.”
“Really?  Where at?”
“At my office.  She’s really nice.”
“Yeah, she is.” He looked me up and down again which would have annoyed me if I didn’t find it a bit amusing that he was eyeing up someone who look like as much of a sweaty mess as I did.
“Uh huh. Well, take it easy.” I turned to leave, but he grabbed my arm.
He must have felt my muscles stiffen because he let go and laughed.
“Preparing to spar me again?”
“No, but you know that I don’t like to be grabbed.”
“Maybe you should remind me.” He stroked my cheek and leaned in.
I snapped my hand up against his chest to keep him from coming closer. My eyes narrowed in the bright sun and I knew that they were fading from brown to hazel green as they did whenever I was angry.
“I thought that you said that you were sorry,” I hissed.
He cocked his head. “What do you mean?”
“You had apologized for being an asshole before, so why are you doing it again?”
“I’m not. I just thought that you might want to hang out again.” He smiled. “We had a lot of fun, didn’t we?”
“Go have fun with your girlfriend,” I told him.
The briefest flicker of surprise registered in his blue eyes, and then it was replaced by indignant confusion.
“What girlfriend?”

I’d had enough. There was something that I had always suspected when we were seeing each other and it was time to find out. I snatched his keys from his hand and skipped back a step.

“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m going to ask you two questions. If you lie to me then I’m taking your keys and you can walk home. Savy, boyo?”
He rolled his eyes, “Um, no.  How about you give me my keys and just walk away?”
“Um no,” I mimicked his bored drawl. “The truth is the least that you own me, and I’ll have either that or your keys.
His face twisted in fury. “What the fuck? Give me me keys!”
He stepped toward me, and I immediately dropped into a fight stance with my left leg forward.
“Stay the fuck away from me, Phil, or I’ll make that last trouncing that I gave you when we sparred look like your birthday spanks.”
That halted him, for which I was very grateful for since I’d been injured since we had last spared and I wasn’t as fully confident that I could take him as I had been before.
“Now take three steps back and I promise to throw your keys back after you tell me what I want to know,” I told him.
He obliged and then crossed his arms and glared at me.
“You have a girlfriend, don’t you?” I asked him.
Phil glared even harder at me. “Fine,” he finally admitted, “Yeah, I do.”
“Very good. See how easy this is? And you had a girlfriend last year when we were fooling around, didn’t you?”
The shock on his face was evident, but he still began to protest. “We had broke up!”
I turned and began walking. “I guess I just got myself a new set of keys.”
“Fine, fine! Yes, I had a girlfriend back then, too!”
I stopped and turned back. “Is it the same one?”
“Does it matter?” Phil sneered.
“Not really. Whether you cheated on one woman or two you’re still an asshole.”
“What-the-fuck-ever,” he snorted. “Now give me my fucking keys.”
“Of course.”

Phil still stood back where I had told him to move: exactly in front of the storm drain. I threw the keys toward him in an underhanded arc that flew just below his outstretched hand. They clattered against the bars of the drain and then dropped with a resounding splash into the water below.
“What the fuck!” Phil screamed. “What the fucking fuck!”
“Gee, Phil I guess I owe you an apology.” I shook my head, “I’m a terrible throw.”
“Fuck you! You did that on purpose!” he snarled.
I shrugged, “Maybe I did.  But then I’m not feeling right-” I tapped my temple, “-up here.”

Nope. Like All My Short Stories, I’ve Not A Clue What to Title This

For those of ya’all who are new up in here, I occasionally get the urge to write something “serious”.

I know, I know.

This is not what you signed up for when you jumped on the crazy train that is Kat O’ Nine Tales, but the good news is that I don’t do it often, and I always give a warning right up front so you can get your ticket punched and leap from the car before I begin.  Don’t worry, I’ll loop right around and pick you up on the trip back to what-the-fuckery in the next post.  In the mean time, here’s some juice boxes and a few comic books to keep you busy until I get back.  Keep an eye on your little sister, and don’t talk to strangers.

So, background for this bit.  I started it way back in the beginning of February when I’d just started packing for The Move–hence the “home” theme–but never got around to finishing it.  I might have left this story in the pot since I moved up the projected finish date for my book, but then my hand was hurting like a bitch on Thursday night and I decided to use the pain to finish–hence the length.  I’m gonna blame it on the paaaaaain, yeah yeaaaaah…

*ahem*

Off we go then.

UPDATE: I finally named my “child” and it’s “Borne in Armor”.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At sunset the ocean turned the colour of fire and blood, a morbid reflection of the battle which had just ended.

The knight stepped out onto the sand, the wet ground immediately sagging under the weight of heavy armour, and then she dropped to her knees.

“I’m so tired,” she murmured, her voice barely loud enough to carry above the crash of waves.  She removed her helm and let her chin fall on her breastplate.

“It was a long battle, my lady,” her elderly squire moved to retrieve the helm from where it had fallen from his lady’s fingers, “and an even longer war.  But your enemy’s host has finally been crushed. You will be able to rest now.”

A clash of metal interrupted him as a pair of swords crossed over a prize looted from one of many corpses littering the field.

The squire turned back to his lady and shuttered as the victor ended his opponent’s life in a flash of sliver and a spurt of crimson.

“Let us leave this place, my lady. Let us go home.”

The knight pulled the metal gauntlets from her hands and then dropped forward so that her fingers clawed into the sand.

“Home? And where would home be, dear squire?”

“The land of your birth of course, my lady.”

The knight laughed bitterly as her head continued to hang low.

“The land of my birth? Surely you do not mean that place many leagues from here, where the hills doze in sleepy emerald waves with blankets of tiny purple flowers? Where cherry trees blossom and perfume the air so richly that you can taste their sweetness? Where Autumn mists creep through the Beechnut tree forest like leashes of silver foxes?”

She raised her head to look at the squire with grey eyes that were as hard and cold as her armour.

“Surely you do not mean that place.”

The squire scoured his mind for the correct answer to his lady’s peculiar speech.

“I do not understand, my lady,” he was finally forced to admit.

The knight stood up, “Assist me in removing the rest of my suit.”

“My lady that is unwise.  There may yet be enemies lurking at hand.”

“I am your knight and you will assist me,” her flinty eyes sliced into the squire.

“Yes, my lady,” he said quietly and began unfastening the knight’s breastplate.  He was loathe to place it on the damp sand yet did not have a choice.

“Do remember the first time that you helped me don this armour?” the knight asked as another piece of fitted metal fell to the sand.

“I remember, my lady.  You were fourteen, barely flowered, when you insisted that you would not become a spoil of war, that you would take your fate into your own hands and fight your family’s enemy.  And so your father humoured you, and gave you this armour, never expecting that you actively use it.”

A note of pride entered the squire’s voice as he continued his work, “How could any of us have known the conqueror that you would become?  How you would crush your enemies at every turn, destroy them in battle, and slaughter all who dared engage you.

He examined the gorget in his hands, “Truly my lady thrived in this armour.”

His eyes pleaded as he looked up, “And I would once again advise that my lady continue to wear it for her protection.”

“Counsel which was not requested of you, squire.  Continue your work,” the knight looked out into the ocean, “I would do this final task unburdened.”

A strange chill ran through the squire and his hands remained still, “My lady?”

The knight continued to stare at the burning water, “You claim that your lady thrived in this armour.  You are mistaken.  Your lady died in this armour.  And became something else.”

She turned to face him again, teeth clenched in anger, “I commanded you to continue your work.”

The squire slowly raised his hands, but then moved with deft, efficient motions until the knight’s entire suit lay in a pile on the sand and she stood before him wearing only a thin shift stained with sweat and blood.

“Is the land of my birth truly my home, squire?” she asked softly.

The ocean breeze combed through the lady’s long red hair and the squire was reminded of the little girl who would weave flowers into her braids.

“Yes, my lady,” the squire’s voice was heavy with urgency, “Yes, always.”

She smiled sadly, “Then I am to remain here.”

“There,” she said gesturing to the smoking battlefield with a bare arm, “That is the land of my birth, squire.”

The squire looked onto the field.  The remains of those who had fallen in sacrifice of his lady’s victory were being carted away for proper burial, but the bodies of the enemy would remain to rot and feed whatever carrion would find them.

“There is no home to be found there, dear squire,” she finished and turned back to the rolling waves.

“And now you understand why I needed to be free of my false armour,” the lady began walking toward the surf.

The squire felt the tide of panic rise as he realized his lady’s purpose.

“No!  My lady!  Do not do this!”

She did not respond but continued to the water.

“My lady, please!”

Her feet had just met the water’s edge when she paused a moment but did not turn.  The ocean foamed around her and up the shore from her back like the long lacy wedding veil the lady might have worn in a different life.  And then she was gone beneath the waves.

Tears were running freely down the old man’s wrinkled cheeks as the last gasp of sunlight was swallowed by the horizon.  He could not choke back his sobs at the bitter irony that, while he did understand his lady’s need to rid herself of her armour, she would have drown quicker had she kept it on.

red ocean sunset