Optical Meltdown - short short story
This is an attempt at keeping under a certain word count. I think 1500 words - though I could be
slightly over. I was going to enter it in a contest but I was past the due date. Plus it might've
been too weird. Every contest winner always seems to deal with death, or war, or something
deep and searching. Everytime, I have a deep thought it transmogrifies. Oh, well. * there's a bit
of language in this but not much. *
Heard this fractured homily once, everybody is cut from the same sheet, like paper dolls. Don’t break the link. Be swingers in a chain, ditto, colorless voids. Sounds about right only this outline of mine begs “Fill me up. Use those blank nameless shades you’ve been given. Christen them like Adam with his bestial whoozits.” But I’m not Eden-born. I can not conceive a name from scratch. I can only find a symbiotic link to hook them to. Silver rain shimmers the night. A celestial theme: Comet Zoom, Star wink, Mars glow? Screw it. Nobody is interested in outer-space anymore. I watch the moonlit-rain stream down the windshield, following it’s sensuous sweep through the gutters. Another night, another rain, a final outline washed away. The car eased to a stop at the intersection and the let up allows a panoramic view in pointillism. The burning eye of a traffic light mottles over the pink stipple from a flashing neon sign. That’s been done hasn’t it? A young girl painting her nails in a Douglas Sirk movie. What color, traffic stop or traffic light? It won’t do anyway. Nobody wants a stoplight, they want a come-on; Go-man-go green.
“You haven’t said a word all night Redmond.” Bibi looks first in the rearview mirror at her husband John, asleep in the back before sliding a glance at me. “Should I turn around and we can go home, forget the whole thing? I mean if you’re going to be like this.”
“Just drive.” I said, frowning. What a harpy.
“Such a sweetheart.”
“I got a lot on my mind.”
“And I don’t.” Oh, how wounded she sounds.
“I got twenty six colors to name by Friday. Twenty six.” I open the cardboard portfolio on my lap and turn it for her perusal. “Twelve reds to be named without using the word red. No classic red, no rose red, not even Baboon-ass red.”
“Shorten it to Baboon-ass, I’m sure it’d make a killer lipstick.”
“It’s green.” I should’ve known I’d get no sympathy from my sister. Slapping the portfolio shut, I toss out my hand in scorn. “You can drive now.”
“Shall we stop and put flowers on Elena’s grave?”
A shaft of lightening bolts through me, illuminating what a cadaverous husk I’ve become. The hunger begins to gnaw at me. Starve it, master it. Shall I bring up the blood on my arm with a rake of nails and brighten my void. They dig in, waiting.
“Flowers for the dead now there’s a color.”
“Damn you Redmond. Don’t do that,” she’s pissed.
“No, seriously, it could be a new line to go with our decayed youth. Zombie Rot, Atrophy, Funeral Rites, Rigor Mortis.”
She relaxes, even smiles. I’ll yank that smile out from under her.
“Road Kill, Chalk Outline, D.O.A.”
“Stop! Redmond. Just..” Good, now she can just R.I.P, with her flowers for the dead.
Close your eyes to the funereal night, Redmond to it’s darkness, it’s shade wet, nodding silhouettes. Because the color names that spring to mind are hopeless, anyhow.
* * *
Every time I drift off and awaken, a new world awaits me. Gone is the windshield and the night
and morning. I catch a dead pheasant’s eye who couldn’t be more embarrassed had he been, me, caught asleep, as is it’s embarrassing enough to be the centerpiece for Anderson’s midnight feast. It or me. Does it really matter? I haven’t slept in ages.
“We can’t keep you awake, can we Redmond?” It’s that ass Anderson. Everyone seated around the table laughs on cue at his so-called quip.
“You certainly can’t.” Emphasis on the you.
My bloodbath of borscht had been replaced by a tiny pillow of ravioli - not enough to sate an appetite or a need to hibernate.
“Bibi tells me you ...name” Yes, draw it out for humors sake. “colors for lipsticks. I didn’t know that was an actual job. Don’t they just net a group of pansies?”
“Sounds right up yours, why don’t you drop ‘em a line.”
Some laughs. Not as many as Anderson got. They’re afraid of offending the host. And though he gives a touche smirk he’ll even the score. He signals a tuxedoed djinni , who responds as if this moment had been prearranged and my train-case of samples, and portfolio are handed off to Anderson, seated at the head of the table. I glare at Bibi through an opaque moon-spray of Lunaria annua. She takes a sip of claret wine and ignores me.
A troupe of immaculate staff comes in to take our plates and replace them with our amuse bouche. Four little spoonfuls. Such bullshit.
Anderson is opening the portfolio like a menu. The murmur of conversation dies off waiting for this moment.
“Let’s help Redmond with his homework. So tell us, do we try this stuff on for inspiration?” His lover seated next to him gives his hand a behave-yourself slap only goading further acid. “Seriously, I’m intrigued. Most of my acquaintances have such dour, dull positions. Lawyers, stock brokers, plastic surgeons,”
“Hey, hey, hey!” some jovial fool objects with a lift of his glass. Chuckles abound.
“Will you wait until tomorrow and walk through a dewy meadow for inspiration or
head to the beach and fondle a sea shell?”
“That would be pointless. That kind of poetic shit doesn’t sell anymore.”
A nice little jab as Anderson is full of poetic shit, one of those writers that churn out the high grade bull. He doesn’t sell much but is praised by all.
“I bow to your powers of prismatic intuition.” he says with both arms waving in mock-grovel.
This ass is really asking for it.
The amuse bouche is swapped for an aquatic tower topped with bubbles of green spit. Murmurs of delight rise up, but I can only curl my lip at this dog vomit.
“What does sell than?” He asks.
“What always sells. Food and sex .” I use my fork to pull down the tower, a prawn swirls into the foam. “It’s what women want - to be stuffed, either orally or otherly. ” Bibi gives me a look that supposed to send my smirk back into hiding.
Anderson throws back his head and laughs.
“Why not Bend Ochre?” I begin. “Or... Ogle Me Peaches? Spank-me Scarlet? Lewd and Nude? Put-Your-Thrust-in-Me -”
“Don’t stop him.”Anderson is practically in tears, he’s laughing so hard.
Other’s began calling out options but the finesse is gone, dirty words are dredged up. And the braying begins to grate on my nerves. There’s a ringing in my head. Not here , not now! My heart limps, as everything strobes; winks from the overhead crystals whose tintinnabulation sing down like charms, a revolving wheel of candlelight reflected in the claret, an upside down face in the bowl of a spoon, all these funhouse horrors. A
guest shaking his wolf mane while aqua iris’ rise above the metallic shimmer of peacock feathers sprouting from a crystal bowl. Cavernous mouths chewing, swallowing, gulping, never a second to feel the void. Everything is quenched. Empty plates are whisked away. Color is squandered. And at its center that beautiful dead pheasant.
An attentive waiter tries to refill my wine glass, I cover it with my hand. Droplets seep.
“A whiskey.” I say.
He brings it.
I stand trembling and pour the whiskey over the dead pheasant. Then I dip a candle flame to the liquor. There’s a literal poof as fire explodes.
“Viking Funeral.” I tell a bewildered Anderson tapping a smudge of color on the portfolio. “Make a note of that.”
Wild commotion erupts as a errant napkin bridges the flames to tablecloth. Anderson is yelling for a fire extinguisher.
I snatch my train case, take the stairs to the guest room. I sit on the bed outside the glow of a single lamp. Taking out the white lipstick, Chalk Outline, I set it down on the mirrored bureau and begin to undress. I see Elena baring a false flush from the road flares. Not far, a drunk is made to walk a yellow line. When they take Elena away, she is pale and cold. Only her chalk outline remains, the waste sheet of a paper doll broken from its chain. I take the white lipstick and I drag it across the underside of my foot right up over my body through to scalp. My outline. Nobody draws it for me. I flick the caps off the rest of the colors from DUI to Lacerated Soul. And finally Transmogrification. With these I color myself. I fill in the chalk line. I will not go out pale and fading. This dolly will not be one of the many voids, whose silhouette dissolves in the rain. I rub the lipstick over every inch. Till there is nothing left and no space left to fill. Twenty-six colors, this year’s colors.
Heading off now to join Elena. What a sight I’ll be.
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