it seems the freebie has ended but there were over 700 downloads while it lasted. I do hope y’all enjoy the short story and look for longer length from me. The style is the same, even if the genre isn’t. grin.
Just this morning I discovered 84 sales of God in the Machine: a little short story I put up on Amazon that they are offering now for FREE (thus the 84 sales)
I would love it if you could pass it on. It’s free, I think, everywhere throughout Amazon (uk, us, it, es, fr, de) so please please tweet and share. It’s a bit dark in places, but then, all my writing is. grin.
It’s got 5 stars on Smashwords at the moment.
I stand naked in my darkened living room, my sanctuary of the ordinary. Without the identity provided by attire, I feel vulnerable, heavy breasts tilting nipples to the floor, sagging stomach pulled in. My toes dip into the carpet, foraging for the weave of burlap and deeper to the soft core of underlay.
My tripod in the corner is loaded with camera, the camera loaded with film, and I, unconscionably nude, am loaded with tequila.
Strange, I think, as I thumb the remote release, how light is so often the subject of composition. Painters, photographers, any visual artist is obsessed with it. It should be darkness, shadows, shade; they are really the fleeting stars. Without darkness could there be light? Without benefit of shadow, would illumination truly be beautiful?
I clench the plunger between sweating thumb and itching finger. In daylight the release is black. Black with a white button. Normally my tripod is white metal. Earlier, I’d Tremcladded every shining bit and left it to sit in the sun while I prepared my studio. It took three hours for the thing to dry.
Your mother is dying.
“Yeah, dying,” I’d said to the doctor before walking away. “She’s always on the verge, always waiting for the big one. She had her first heart attack when I was nine. Did you know that? Dad left Friday after supper to visit his mistress and Mom just gripped her chest and fell to the floor. I was terrified, you know.”
Emma, Emma, watch your sisters for me. Emma, do you hear?
Could I hear? For years it’s all I heard: in my dreams, in my mind, in between the ears that grew tumors when I was two. I still hear it.
My mother is dying.
She’s always dying. My sisters and I, we’re always careful. No stress. No bad news. For God’s sake don’t get her upset. The collapse when her baby brought home her first boyfriend, the hospital stint when my father had his first child by his mistress, anything could invoke the pain. We learned to avoid.
And now I’m about to take a picture of nothing.
I try to consider how long the shutter will have to stay open during the session. Indefinitely, I’m sure. It’s trained to respond to light, to catch it, hold it, and use it to record things as they are in that moment. In the absence of suitable light, I must provide it artificially, or override the shutter’s senses. I’ve set my camera to manual.
After painting my tripod, I taped black Bristol Board to the windows, and electrical taped every crack. I was dressed then, in my Sunday best. Still fresh-from-church looking, but I wasn’t fresh from church. I’d stopped to see Mom on my way home. She’d been lying on the floor watching a rerun of the Waltons. Picture perfect family. Lots of kids. Father still home. Loving the mother. Mother…
Mother is dying.
Dying. Dying. Lying on the floor watching…
She shouldn’t be lying on the floor. Her housecoat gapes open at the chest. I can see the Frankenstein tracks from throat to belly, left over marks from staples pinching flesh together. Her legs are splayed open. She looks victimized, and for a second, I think it is all staged.
I close my eyes in the obsidian, insidious darkness of my own living room. It’s no blacker with them shut, but at least the vision disappears. I’m mercifully alone again, and I force myself to smell things: the aroma of fabric softener drifting from where I’d thrown my clothes on the sofa behind me, the stink of my own sweat threatening to force me to stumble to the bathroom and wash, the fragrance of mom’s perfume still in my hair from when I’d rolled her to her back…
She lies there, eyes open, letting me pump her chest, pump her chest, pump her chest. The sound of an ambulance cutting through my counting… one one thousand… two one thousand… seeing the phone dangling from the table edge as my eyes fleet over the room scouring the air for the medical technicians.
I open my eyes. Everything is ready. The tripod steadies the camera. The camera waits for me to press the button. I’m posing ridiculously model-perfect poses for a snapshot that will show nothing. The aperture is even set to full open, the film at 1600.
What is the good of taking a picture of darkness, even if the model is in that blackness somewhere. And she is there. Will be there. If the shutter manages to close again, the machine will record the secret. A lumpy, imperfect 40-year-old will be there in that void. She’ll be womb-naked, her total and embarrassing glory stamped into the underlay of film’s black carpeting. So it will not be a picture of nothing. Not in the end.
And I will know that.
My mother is dying. She’s always dying. She uses her death to manage the lives of those around her. Look after your sisters, Emma. Emma, do you hear? a panicked eleven-year-old thinking she’s seeing a last breath again, thinking she’ll be alone, have to become mom to a eight-year-old and a five-year-old. Should she tell Dad? Should she tell Dad? Should I tell Dad? And then a miracle and he comes into the house. He sees mother and falls on her crying. The tears revive her for now. Hallelujah, cry the angels. Glory, glory and all is well.
And God said let there be light.
Oh, he knows what he’s doing. From light darkness always runs scared. It peels off every filthy thing and leaves bared to vision all those imperfections. The better the light, the better the view. But sometimes things are better left unseen. I didn’t go into the hospital room this time. I couldn’t. The rooms are always too white, too reflective. A picture could be taken in one of those rooms without flash; the white walls would easily reflect the light onto any subject. Mom would be the subject, surely, the center of attention. The raison d’etre.
I walked away, instead, without going in and heard behind me the doctor’s voice saying, “But she’s dying. Don’t you want to see her?”
“She’s been dying for 30 years,” I called back over my shoulder. My sisters weren’t following me; they weren’t even in her room, weren’t there at all, although they’d been called. We’ve been here before. Through this before. We’ve seen it all.
I imagine the doctor shaking his head, but he can’t possibly understand. He hasn’t been there, in the dark, waiting for light. He hasn’t bared himself to the black, and waited, praying the light would only scare it away, not reveal things that the darkness protected.
I didn’t bother to wait for the specialist to question me. I simply walked past the hospital room without peeking in at her and pushed myself behind the wheel of my Echo. The nurses knew her by name, they gave her the same bed every time she came in. I didn’t need to see her; I’ve seen it before.
I click the shutter release finally. A metallic click carries notification from the corner to my ear that the shutter is open. The camera waits to gather enough light to capture an image. It waits. It waits.
My mother is dying, and the shutter will not close.