By Richard M. O’Donnell.
I languish in the attic until you pull off my drape. The dust of a hundred years whips into your eyes and you blink, missing the dance of motes as they linger in the sunbeams filtering through the windows shaped like crucifixes.
My melancholy weeps. You are not her.
To my left, the Gothic settee, where I proposed to her on Decoration Day, rots, its rose cushion mildewed and faded to pink. To my right is her rococo, hand-carved writing desk with a mirrored top above serpentine-shaped drawers and the writing area that should rest on four cabriole legs, but instead lies flat upon the bare wood floor, covered in grime.
Is there nothing left of me? I strain my eyes and search.
In the mirror atop the desk, I glimpse the edge of the gilded frame of a portrait I know all too well. My father commissioned the work after I graduated from Harvard and I joined the family firm. He assumed I would wear his old dark frock coat and trousers, decorated with a watch chain, wide Ascot tie, square-toed shoes, and a top hat. However, she would have none of that, not even from him. She bundled up his castoffs and shooed him from the studio. Then she dressed me in a blue, modish double-breasted jacket with the wide collar, “To be more modern.”
The partners called me a ‘young man of promise,’ but the faro banker, who ran the game in the basement of the dormitory, once said I had the look of Penny Dreadful. Myself, I think I am the perfect match to any buckaroo Remington painted. She, however, studied the classics at Vassar and called me her Orpheus, “because you charm the very stones and wild beasts,” a nod to my ability to lure the squirrels in Central Park onto my lap with whispers.
At last, you rub the dust from your eyes and look at me… with her eyes! Eyes I never thought to see again. Eyes I last beheld as she fell into the abyss. I read your lips as you say to me, “Hello, Great-Grandfather.”
Impossible! No one could have survived that fall, not her, not the unborn child in her womb, not even me. For how could I live without her? She was my heart and soul, my Eurydice. So I leapt after her and fell and fell and lingered in the dark, reaching for her in vain until you pulled off my drape.
“I Am Not Your Grandfather!” I try to scream, but the artist pursed my lips shut. I rage and oil paint about my face boils as if my canvas were the surface of the Lake of the Fire in Hell.
No! Don’t go! I didn’t mean to scare you. Please, show me those eyes! I must see those eyes one more time.
You turn at the stairs. The horror in your eyes is exactly hers as I held her over the edge. Oh, that power of life and death in my fingertips as I pushed that unfaithful bitch baring his bastard AWAY! You flee, but your foot catches the leg of an empty easel standing by the steps. Your hands flay in the air just as hers had. For a half a second, you catch your balance… only to tumble downward out of sight.
Slowly, the easel, stained with the castoff colors of the artist’s brush, totters on its tri-legs to a stop.
I watch time pass as a sunbeam shaped like a crucifix crosses the attic floor until it eclipses at the forefoot of the easel. The bare stand of the artist lurks in a perpetual shadow like a lecher waiting for the next virgin canvas to mount it. As if by its own volition, the drape rises off the floor and covers me. Once again, I leap into the darkness in search of you.
RICHARD M. O’DONNELL MFA, is a freelance writer from Oberlin. He is co-founder of the Oberlin Writers’ Group (2003) and the founder of the Infinite Monkey Sci-fi/Fantasy Writers group (2014). His works have appeared in many venues including, a chapbook, Special Watch, by Crisis Chronicle Publisher (2016), a story collection on floppy disc, Rice Wine, Guernica Editions (1984), and stories or poems in Every Day Fiction, Every Day Poets, A Long Story Short and the North Coast Review to name a few. He has earned two Ohio Arts Councils awards for his fiction. For more information, go to www.wormsview.com