In a flickering frame of neon lights, a broken man holds wrists wrapped in reddened ribbons. Blue snakes crawl up his bleached arms and a single tear traces a wrinkled path. In the next room, shadows stalk the light and a scream fractures the air. A chair collapses to the floor and two brown shoes dangle but do not dance.
The crescent moon whispers from behind an ink black cloud – this night has taken day, and life.
Nelson had woken, that bleak Wednesday in May, to the dull tick of a dripping tap and a particularly dry throat. In the sky, the sun hung like a wet cotton shirt on a washing line. Nelson avoided the confrontation with an itchy face in the looking glass and staggered out of his front door, into the street.
It is known in that town, that on that Wednesday, the grocery store had opened at approximately 9.30 a.m. and the line of oak trees in the main street had shed the last of Autumn’s golden coats.
It is known by a scattering of lives, that on that day, a father held the crumpled figure of his daughter whilst his wife twisted a tissue and whispered ‘Amen’.
It is known by the barren trees that the girl’s ballet shoes were buried in a graveyard of leaves.
And it is known by the lovers that dying is not lonely.
“Todd’s Grocery-Store” was a red flash in a washed-out sky and glass doors swung open, gliding frames and reflections. From across the road a man with a prickly beard frowned at his striding feet.
A woman and man walked hand-in-hand behind a little girl who stretched out her arms for balance as she practiced dancing along the pavement. Pink silk twirled in her thoughts and a fluttering of pearly ribbon dangled from her backpack. The jingle of lunch money was a symphony in her mind as one foot followed the next. The fallen leaves sang praise from the gutters. With one last skip and a final twirl, the little girl would imagine herself in centre stage. Above her lively figure, the PEDESTRIANS CROSSING sign flashed green with envy.
Nelson rubbed at his throat and scratched at the sleep in his eyes. His breath still carried the smell of last night’s Scotch and sin. Kneading his temples, he followed the shadow of a dancing child across the street.
A gust of wind sent shivers through the fallen leaves. Suddenly, the roar of a car’s engine shook the air. The leaves scattered in terror as the sedan skidded through the changing traffic lights. A ballerina was painting the air with pirouettes. A child was lost in imagination when a rusted blue car rushed along the road and a man saw eternity in an instant.
Nelson blinked blindly as the reflection of a windscreen caught his eye. Then he saw the car; the imminent dark shadow and the dancing child. Without a thought, he grabbed at the blur of the backpacked ballerina; his hands pulled at the jingling bag and his fingers wrapped around ribbon. Car brakes shrieked in vain regret. A mother’s heart froze in terror as her husband choked on his breath. Nelson tugged at the backpack and the little girl’s figure flew towards him.
Time was suspended. Each object and colour hung in the air as if placed precisely there by an omniscient artist. The grey prickling in Nelson’s throat. The damp white sky. The streak of pink ribbon that wrote an ancient word in the air. The neglected blue of the smoking car. The red glow of letters on the wall. The absolute silence of chaos.
Suddenly, colour and noise and movement reset the scene. Satin ballet shoes burst into the air, and coins clattered to the street. A little girl stumbled onto the pavement; a torn backpack was in the hands of a man with an itchy beard. A mother’s hands clung to a tissue and prayers swam in her mind. A father lunged forward; he caught the falling child as her legs buckled and her balance failed. The leaves in the gutter breathed relief and a car ripped around a corner.
The roar of the sedan’s engine continued down the street and eventually came to a sputtering stop outside a tired apartment building. A pair of leather shoes stepped out of the car. The crunching gravel replied to a rustling plastic packet. Razors and rope clung to each other; and a grocery store receipt lingered to judge the affair. A key twisted in a lock and a groaning wooden door opened. Brown shoes leaped towards leather shoes and lovers shared a kiss. The door closed and Time was, once again, nothing more than a flash of blue.
The clouds collected the sins of the city, drawing in all the grey bitterness and the desperate prayers of the day. The sky was folded into the horizon and the heavens hung empty and bare. Somewhere, a mother was reading a bedtime story to a ballerina who had lost her shoes and a father was packing a lunchbox into a broken backpack. Somewhere, Nelson was searching for his reflection in the shattered crystal of a whisky glass. Somewhere, the neon lights of a grocery store flickered and glass doors silently closed.
In a bleak apartment building, a man stands in an empty room. A bloodied army of razors lies around him like the fallen leaves of a great oak tree. Red branches trace themselves on his skin and the streetlight stains his pale figure blue. He looks through the doorway.
There, two brown shoes step onto a chair. A ring of rope makes a final promise. A fallen chair watches two brown shoes and, in the other room, sees the fate of a single tear.
This story was also published in Ja, edition 4 16 August 2015