By Lynn Nicholas.
When they began, Max called her his muse. Her energy fed him. Her light inspired him to finish his novel. But her light soon faded, or so he said. Max turned moody and demanding. She tried to shine brighter, to envelop him in luminosity, but his anger extinguished her flame. And then—with slammed doors and recriminations hurled with lightning-bolt force—they ended.
He asked for tea. She placed the steaming mug within reach. He didn’t look up. She nibbled on her thumbnail and picked a splintered fragment off her tongue before speaking. Her voice was low, cautious. She wondered if he remembered that the submission deadline was midnight.
He growled like a pissed-off pit bull, pushed himself out of his chair, and swept the mug off his desk. The scalding tea splashed across her thigh, raising blisters. Max showed no remorse. His pattern was exasperation, then anger, followed by bombastic blame—a tantrum that ended only with her apologetic tears and needy makeup sex.
But today there were no tears. A coil of repression released a sound that cannonballed up her throat, exploding from her open mouth. It vibrated through her skull, drowning out all rational thought. She snatched-up the mug and sent it crashing against the mantle. A framed photograph of them entwined on a beach clattered to its untimely death on the stone hearth.
He thundered that she was killing his creativity. How could he meet deadlines with constant interruptions? He couldn’t write in this disruptive atmosphere. She shrieked that he couldn’t write under the best of circumstances. She tore into his stack of manuscript pages and tossed them towards the ceiling fan. They spiraled down in slow motion. He slammed his fist on the oak desktop and called her an undermining bitch. He asked if she’d lost her goddamn mind? She said, “No. I think I’ve just found it you pretentious, no-talent hack.”
He stopped moving—almost stopped breathing. In controlled increments of centimeters he turned towards the balcony. He paused. She watched his shoulders rise as his diaphragm filled with air. With a rush of energy and a Karate ke iye, he pulled open the French doors and threw her favorite potted orchid over the balcony.
She slammed the bedroom door. Dresser drawers hung open as she riffled through their contents. Clothes, ripped from hangers, were strewn on the floor. She tossed the tea-stained shorts into a corner and pulled on a soft, cotton skirt. With shaking hands she stuffed a faded army duffle bag. He could send the rest.
She thumped the canvas duffle down the stairs. Gloomy skies and grit-filled wind greeted her on the sidewalk. Pent-up rainclouds released their burden as lightening flashed in the distance. Hair drooping, she hailed a cab. Cheek pressed against the rain-spattered window she mumbled, “Airport please.” She had no plan except to catch the first puddle-jumper to Chicago. She could decide later which spoke in the Chicago hub to follow. It was the getting there that mattered. It was the getting away that mattered more. The sun retreated, and the afternoon light masqueraded as evening dusk.
The take-off was rough. The small American Eagle picked up speed as rain teemed from the underbellies of hostile clouds. She switched off the overhead light. The gloom of the unlit cabin matched her mood. The droning hum of the engines was not soothing; neither was the captain’s order to keep seat-belts fastened. Turbulence jolted her sideways, knocking her forehead against the chilly cabin window. Her head felt thick, and she swallowed hard to clear her ears. She wished she’d bought gum.
The adrenaline rush of her spontaneous emancipation faded, replaced by misery and uncertainty. Her heart skittered in her chest. The intercom crackled, filling the cabin with the confident sound of the captain’s voice. She cocked her head towards the speaker, as though the string of words was a lifeline to composure. The captain would pick his way around the wide storm cell. Passengers should “hang tight and expect a bumpy ride until they were above the weather.” She sank into the solitude of her window seat, craving a vodka tonic.
Flashes of lightening flared-out from deep inside a mass of blue-black. The sky’s doomsday landscape was illuminated with an eerie glow. Visible voltage momentarily whitened the edges of ominous silhouettes until percussive thunder stopped the show. She held her breath as the shapes retreated back into the dense cloud-bank. Life after death was no longer an abstract concept. Was God open to deals? What could she promise as her side of the bargain? She closed her eyes against the fear that whirled within and the ferocity that whirled without.
She must have dozed. The cabin was quiet except for the subtle shifting of other passengers and the gentle hum of a smooth flight. Her right hand rested on her diaphragm, rising and falling with relaxed, even breathing. The glass porthole transferred welcome warmth to her cheek, and sunlight teased her translucent eyelids open. She blinked—twice, hard—pushed unruly curls away out of her eyes, and twisted towards the window. She had forgotten to make her bargain with God, but perhaps the captain had a direct line and aced the deal for all of them.
They were flying in the golden light of late afternoon, skimming the topsides of whipped cream clouds. She pressed her face to the glass, transfixed. Sparkling white drifts blended into rippled mountains, one rolling lazily on top of the other against the backdrop of a cerulean sky. Wizard of Oz ice castles towered at the edge of the horizon, and frosty-cone swirls spiraled into blue infinity. As the sun began its descent into evening, angled streams of sunlight collided with random ice crystals, and the shifting cloud-scape reflected the iridescent hues of an emerging rainbow.
LYNN NICHOLAS writes out of Arizona, supervised by two dog friends, a supportive husband, and a black cat who keeps everyone in line. Flash fiction publications include: Every Day Fiction, A Long Story Short,Wow! (Women on Writing), Gay Fiction, and The Rose City Sisters. Lynn is a member of the Society of Southwestern Authors.