Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chiaroscuro by River Jordan

(part of a submission being considered for publication in an anthology)

Moonlight shines through the window panes down upon the girl, Necie, reflecting the squares of light divided by shadowed lines.  Dark hair surrounds her face in a soft halo, her lips tipped up in a slight smile.  Underneath her closed eyelids, her eyes dance back and forth, as if enjoying a dream. She lies curled on one end of a powder blue couch, her knees pulled up to her chin.  Not far from her on the other end of the couch lies her sister Sue stretched out haphazardly, all knees and elbows akimbo.  The room around them lies in darkness. 


In her dream, Necie stands in the living room facing floor to ceiling windows that look out upon the backyard, admiring her handiwork of window washing; the rag clutched in one hand the window cleaner in the other.  Her smile widens as she hears a vehicle pulling up the driveway.  Hurriedly she packs away the rag and window cleaner.

“Sue, Daddy’s home, hurry!” she calls out. 

“Give me a second to finish setting the table!” Sue replies.  They each take the edge of the table cloth and fluff it up on the air, pausing to watch it come down, mesmerized by the happy sight; remembering summer days when their mother would fluff the sheets over them before nap time.  Baby powder scented sheets floating softly down upon them as they giggled and squirmed; the stark white sheet like a magical cloud.
In just a few minutes the table is perfect; a vase filled with Mom’s prized pink roses as the centerpiece. 

“Okay, I’ll get Mom,” Necie exclaims, running out of the room.

Necie walks through to her mother’s room, the open bedroom windows let the breeze run through, the bed made up with Mom's favorite royal blue bedding.  She sees that her Mom is wearing her favorite yellow dress and brushing through her long auburn hair.  Her face is radiant; lips so pink they could have lipstick on them, but they don’t. 

“Mom, Daddy’s home,” Necie says, the breeze ruffling her hair.  Smiling brightly at Necie, she lifts her into her arms and kisses her nose.

“Wonderful, just in time,” Mom responds.  “Wash up and change for supper, he’ll be very hungry!”
Running to her room, Necie dresses in her Sunday best; pale pink skirt and matching blouse.  She calls out to her sister to hurry as she slips on her sandals.
Sue is dressed in her Sunday best, as well; tan slacks with a pearly white blouse and heels.  A shiny silver barrette holds her hair back from her face.

Both girls rush into the hallway simultaneously, almost tripping on each other, but laughing.  Sue reaches over and straightens Necie’s collar, Necie brushes a stray strand of hair back from her sister’s face.  They hug impulsively and continue on to the living room to await their father’s arrival.

As they enter the living room they see that Mom is just walking to the door to open it for Daddy, the smell of his favorite supper of fried chicken, creamy mashed potatoes, green beans cooked with bacon, and corn on the cob permeating the air. 

The girls hold hands and smile because their mother must stand on tip toe to look out of the peep hole.  Mom straightens her dress and opens the door wide, a smile on her face.  From where the girls stand, the light shining through the doorway is brilliant and they squint slightly until Daddy steps through and Mom shuts the door behind him.

“Daddy!” the girls call out, “we missed you!”

The girls and their mother circle Dad and hug him a warm greeting.  Daddy kisses them each on the forehead, but kisses Mom on each cheek.  Giggling, the girls turn away, blushing happily.

In the dining room, Dad sits at the head of the table, Mom opposite him; the girls on either side of them.  After Dad says grace they pass around the food, Dad exclaiming at how perfect it all is.  All are unable to control their smiles as they eat the supper that Mom had lovingly made.  When supper ends Sue and Necie clean the table while Mom and Dad wash the dishes. 

They make their way to the living room, Mom turning the console stereo on.  The sound of Chubby Checker’s The Twist filling the room.  Necie runs to Dad, Sue to Mom.  Dad sets Necie’s feet upon his own as they dance away in circles.  Mom and Sue twist their hips to the music, one toe pointing out.  When the song ends they make their way laughingly and out of breath to the couch.  Their laughs quiet as they lay their heads back.

Necie jumps up with a start, a smile spreading across her mouth that she is the first to waken.  But then her smile freezes in confusion as she notices it is nighttime; the darkness in the room blinding her temporarily.  As her vision returns, her heart skips a beat, tears instantly coming to her eyes.  The room she looks out upon is dilapidated and filthy; the carpet threadbare.  Rude graffiti covers the boarded-up wall of windows.  The walls themselves are water stained and moldy, dark soot framing everything.

Then, she remembers; the fire, Dad leaving, Mom breaking down, Sue crying and crying.  Tears stream down her face, low moans escaping her lips in a steady chant of no, no, no

“A dream, it was all just a dream.”  She whimpers, circling her arms around her middle.

For the first time she notices her clothes, her pale pink Sunday clothes.  Surprise and confusion fills her as she looks down at her beautifully clean crisp outfit, her shining sandals and beautiful tanned skin that seems to glow with health. 

Looking up again to the tumbledown room, she notices a soft ray of moonlight cutting across the room.  A piece of the board covering the windows had fallen away, letting in the moonlight.  Her gaze follows the moonbeam down to a child lying on the couch.  Her cries temporarily forgotten, she steps over to the child.  Reaching out gently she brushes aside the dark lanky hair so that she may see the child’s face. 

She feels as if she will faint, her blood pounding in her body as she realizes that the face she uncovers is her own; ashen and thin, with lines of chalky residue trailing down from the corners of the eyes, disappearing into the folds of dark hair. 

Necie falls to the filthy carpet, crying outright.

“Necie!  Come on Necie!” She hears Sue calling her and lifts her head.  Sue is there shining with health in her Sunday best, reaching out a hand to help her up.

“Sue, what’s happening?” she croaks.

“It’s okay, baby sister, Mom and Dad are waiting for us,” she whispers.

Sue takes Necie by the hand, leading her into the light; leaving the two emaciated children on the couch, the children they once were.

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