Wednesday 3 April 2013

FLASH FICTION AT FIVE: Last Train to Omaha by Ann-Whitely Gillen

Martin puts his fork down. “So there’s no real attachment? No real value to the relationship?” She’s about to reply but he forges on. “Your heart and soul aren’t being exercised? Is any self-exploration or growth happening? Do you know who the other person really is or, more importantly, what they can be?”
            Rebecca’s mouth is partially open. “Uh, yeah. Isn’t that cut and dry, or, uh … black and white?”
            Martin huffs. “Sounds more like chaos gone mad to me.”
            Rebecca laughs. “What are you getting at?”
            “In order for one to feel life, shouldn’t one experience life and not just go through it?” he asks.
            “I don’t think anyone wants to go through life experiencing chaos,” she states skeptically.
            Martin’s eyes widen. “Have you ever seen Charles Allen Gilbert’s black and white illustration, All Is Vanity?”
            Rebecca looks dumbfounded. “ It sounds familiar.”
            Martin describes the image. “It depicts a grinning skull, but looking at it closely, you can see a beautiful young girl gazing at her own reflection in the mirror.”
            “Yes!” Rebecca recalls. “I remember that drawing as a kid.”
            “It became one of the most commercially successful marketing images of its time,” explains Martin.
            Rebecca laughs. “So, what’s your point?”
            Martin tries to be patient. “The point is the illustration is merely an optical illusion. From one perspective you find the symbol of youth and beauty, but from another, you’re warned of life’s brevity and looming death.”
            Rebecca shrugs her shoulders. “So?”
            “So what I’m trying to say is sometimes the elements in life that appear simple and obvious turn out to be difficult and complex. It all depends on how you look at it.”
            “Is this about James?” she asks suspiciously.
            Martin looks into her eyes. “I don’t know. Is it?”
            Rebecca’s eyes narrow. “Why do you have a document with Stephen Pike’s name on it, Martin?”
            “Because, I’m looking to have a similar chat with our mutual friend James.”
            “Why do you care so much about him?” she asks.
            “Don’t be exclusive, my dear. I also care about you, his mother, Kitty and Lynn. You’re all affected by his inability to see himself as he truly is. When he sees himself, it’s like he’s looking at the vanity illustration. He is, in a sense, chaos gone mad.”
            A brief silence settles over the small kitchen table. “Lynn told me about your friend Frank,” Rebecca finally says. “I can’t even imagine …”
            “No, but Jimmy can. He not only imagines it, he lives it in his heart every day, and the older he gets, the closer to perpetual darkness he gets.” Martin looks up. “If you want to help, don’t turn your back. Give him time.” Martin knows this is not the response she’s looking for. “I know this is hard on you, Rebecca, but trust me on this.”
            “Sure,” she replies sadly. “Until then, I’ll just keep waiting.”           


It starts to rain as Rebecca leaves the hospital. Shoot. She remembers she has to stop at the library to get a book on Russian ballet for Miesha’s project. Rebecca enters the city’s central library for the first time since moving to this part of the city. She wanders around, finds a computer, and types in the name of the book. The information pops right up—The History of Russian Ballet by Mikela Balk. Rebecca scribbles down the information and turns to look for the book.
            Walking down the aisles of the performance arts section, Rebecca marvels at the beautiful books. Why don’t I ever come here? Before she can proceed to the next aisle she finds herself nose to nose with a familiar face.
Rebecca swallows hard. “Hello, James.” She is stupefied and feels the need to explain why she’s there. “I’m picking up a book for Miesha,” she says, her voice shaking. “On ballet.”
            James doesn’t seem to know what to do or say, either. He catches her eye but immediately looks away. Rebecca looks down, feeling defeated. He can’t even look at me, she realizes. “Well, goodbye. It was nice to see you again,” she says before walking  away.
                “The Ballerina!” James suddenly calls out.
            Rebecca turns around. “Pardon?”
            “The Ballerina. It’s a book by Richard Austin. It’s about the greatest dancers of all time. Um … Pavlova, Spessivtzeva, Fonteyn, Makarova—you know, all the famous ones.”
            “Really?” A light goes on in Rebecca’s heart. She shows James the scribble on the paper. “She told me to get this one.”
            He moves in to read the title. He smells of exotic woods and orchids mixed together. “Yeah, that’s a good one too, if you want a history of the art. But The Ballerina will give her some really good insight into the actual dancers themselves. Maybe you could get both.” He begins to look more comfortable in her presence as he takes on the professorial role. “Come on, it’s over here.”
            Rebecca trails behind as he walks down the row, running his fingers along the spines of the books. Rebecca’s heart melts as she watches his hands. He stops and pulls a hardcover off the shelf. “See? Take a look at the table of contents. This is more of a living history than an encyclopedia of facts.”
            Rebecca reaches out to take the book and her hand graces his. Instantly she notices a flutter in her stomach and remembers Martin’s words. If you want to help, don’t turn your back on him. She moves closer and finds herself kissing him in the quietness of the performing arts section of the library. She wraps her arms around his neck and, for that moment, she knows nothing else except that she loves him.
            He slowly pulls away from her. She opens her eyes and sees his mouth open to say something, but no words come out. He hands her the book and moves quickly out of her space, then disappears through the maze of library rows.
            Chaos gone mad, Rebecca thinks to herself.

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous read, great characters. Highly recommended.