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(Grayscale) Chapter 4

The street was lined with cars, parked so close together that barely a body could slip between them to reach the sidewalk. It was like nearly every other street, parked cars, one behind the other, obscuring the view. If not for the parked cars, more of the nuances of the cityscape and its inhabitants could be seen. Instead, it was like looking at a jigsaw puzzle with several pieces missing.

Quinton sat on the cold, concrete steps in front of his building with Allison’s writings opened to the first page, thinking about the words that he would undoubtedly delve deeper into as he surveyed the street and tried to determine what his eyes were missing behind the parked cars. At least it was assumed that the book Quinton held on his lap was the work of Allison because it was found concealed in her dresser drawer. Nowhere in the book was there a name to confirm ownership.

The streetlight a few feet away provided some support for reading, enough to make out what was on the page yet too dim to see it all, to decipher the handwriting of a stranger. He shined the flashlight from his phone toward the page and the first entry.

Initially, Quinton was looking more at the handwriting than the actual words. Allison had a style that was flowing with big loops and curves. It felt old fashioned, from a time when penmanship was important because there was no other option for communication.

When they first met, Jonathon Thomas referred to the book as a diary and Quinton immediately accepted that assessment. After all, the book was handwritten and the cover was clearly marked by the company that manufactured it as Journal, the sort of item one would buy for the purpose of cataloguing one’s experiences and musings. Perhaps the collection of words was autobiographical. It was hard to tell.

From what Quinton had gathered from skimming the pages the first few times he handled the book, it could have easily been a work of fiction. Perhaps it was a rough draft of what would eventually become a more structured and cogent story. Allison’s husband was a poet, so why wouldn’t someone who was attracted to such a man have a similar fire inside for the written word. Diaries were typically written in first person. The stream of thought on Quinton’s lap was written in third person. The people in the book were identified in ways that would suggest fiction as it would be strange to refer to kinship in that way. There was the Girl, the Man, the Admirer and the Solace

The more Quinton considered the book, the more he was convinced it was not a diary, that Jonathon’s insistence was merely wishful thinking.

Quinton returned to the first entry and began to read.

A tiny blue dot trapped underneath the skin. A spot of ink. A tattoo, small and unassuming. Harmless. A permanent mark in the center of the palm, too insignificant to notice. Just a spot of ink, underneath the skin, forever trapped.

A stain. A blue stain. A beautiful flaw. Pain, an abrupt awakening.

The Girl welcomed it and let it sink in and warm her body. Was she awakened from a deep slumber? Was she lifted from the emptiness that swept over? Pain. The Girl breathed it in. She swallowed it. She let it burrow under the skin, into the tissue.

“Pain is the instrument that bridges the senses and confirms human existence,” the Man told her once when they discussed a poem she was fond of. It was from a poet who seemed to, as the Man put it, “excavate words of pain from the very bowels to depict the ugliness.”

Pain makes everything real.

The dull point was buried into the flesh. Blue corruption - blue surge - violent and deliberate.

Pain. A sweet, naked throbbing. It was hot and took hold of the Girl who sat all alone in the house and tore the quiet apart.

She pulled the Man’s fountain pen from the hole. She cupped her hand to stop the tiny blood streams from diving to the carpet.

Blue corruption. Blue surge. Violent and deliberate.

The pain continued to dig its way through the Girl and excited her. Dare she feel aroused by this pain, by the utter violation. She smiled.

The pain hummed. She laughed. How in sync it was with her own pulse. Her body was a song. She opened the window and looked to the bright sky. Blue like the ink.

In one week, the Man will return to the house. The Girl will sit by the window and listen for the car’s engine. She will wait for the Man to walk to the front step and she will scurry to take her place where the Man expects her to be standing whenever he returns. She will stand tall, back straight, shoulders even, hands against her sides. Was she a statue? Humorous thoughts. The Girl will smile because the Man expects her to smile. Misleading thoughts.

He will say, “Let me get a look at you, my perfect thing.”

Is she frozen in time? Never a flaw? The Man tells the Girl that her skin is like porcelain, like a porcelain doll. Does he want her perched on a shelf? On display?

They will walk together to the dining room where she will serve him dinner. They will sit together. The Girl will listen to the Man talk about his trip and she will have nothing to say because all she has done is wait for him, in his house alone, out of reach. Deceptive thoughts.

After dinner, the Man will lean forward and take the Girl’s hand the way he always does and gently rub his fingers against her palm. He will notice the blue mark. The tiny insignificant spot of ink. Barely a freckle on her palm. To the Man, it will be repulsive. She will not be perfect anymore. Inquisitive thoughts.

Will he lick his fingers and rub the mark? Try to erase it? Humorous man. Will he yell and bang his fists on the table? Childish man.

A flaw to last forever.

Quinton rubbed his tired eyes and images of Allison flashed like stills interspersed between frames of black on a film reel. Her hair was familiar to him from another time he could not forget. It was long, soft, chestnut in color, and it laid over her shoulders. Quinton supposed that it was probably pulled back most of the time, perhaps as a quick convenience, some strands escaping and touching the young woman’s face – another familiar vision.

Quinton rubbed his eyes again. He was so tired. The act of reading brought about a drowsiness that often ended in slumber. That was the reason most read at bedtime. It had been two nights since he had slept, each night reading helped to bring about the drowsiness, but could not deliver the slumber.

The description of the fountain pen incident in Allison’s diary, or fiction, made Quinton think of his own wound secured in a fresh gauze wrap. The doctor at the hospital had given him three stitches, the kind that dissolve after a few weeks and they were almost completely gone. The doctor was surprised that Quinton simply placed his hand in a satchel and received a gash from a hairpin deep enough to require stitches. Quinton was surprised that after two weeks, the pain was still so intense. He was given a prescription for painkillers, which he threw away. What was it Allison had written about pain?

Quinton stared out into the street, trying to see beyond the parked cars blocking his view and thought about the idea of a perfect thing. He remembered how taken he was with Allison’s skin when first viewing the photos that Jonathon had provided in the satchel – so fair it seemed to glow, like porcelain. 

He closed the book and started inside, and for the fourth time or more in as many weeks, that song he had managed to keep from burrowing inside for so long, had eaten its way in again, and he gave up trying to push it out.

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