Short Story: Facades and Falls, Part I

This is an excerpt of a short story that I began last year. Please let me know what you think.


Facades and Falls

Anderson froze as he heard the gentle sweep of the bathroom door, the staccato tapping of her feet, and the groan of the mattress surrendering to her presence. He grimaced as a draft of cold air assaulted his back; it seemed to take her an eternity to lift the covers and slide next to him. He opened his eyes to stare beyond the opposing wall, his shallow, uneasy breaths parching his lips. It seemed colder with her in bed than it did with her outside of it. He could have sworn he saw his breath as it chattered through his teeth, but maybe he was just being paranoid.

Paranoid.He hated that word and what it represented — weakness and fear. Despite his overwhelming effort to keep it out of his life, that loaded, eight-letter word left him shattered and shivering in the corner of his marriage bed.

Anderson, for all his height and breadth, was as neurotic as a poodle in a socialite’s handbag. Even as he held thunder in his hands, drilling into a substance harder than bone, his fragile pith would instantly feel the judging eyes of passersby. He heard warning whispers from mothers to their spawn – This is why you must study. This is why you listen to the teacher. This is why you can’t be as dumb as he is.

He felt as if everyone could see through his muscled facade and right into his dilapidated psyche. Well, not everyone.His wife never looked through him the way strangers did. She loved him, truly loved him, and it confused and confounded him.

He remembered the day he saw first her. She instantly caught his eye – there wasn’t a pound of fat where it shouldn’t be, yet the curve of her hip would stop most men in their tracks. Her mountainous hair coiled into a soft, jet-black halo around her face, which was worth framing. She had the type of face that wasn’t chiseled out of stone but molded out of clay – soft, youthful and full. The way she nervously chewed her gum showed off deep dimples. He suddenly wanted her to smile and to smile only for him.

“Miss,” he said, “Excuse me beautiful.”

She had been trying to avoid him. She was almost in the street as she passed the worksite, walking along the thin yellow lip of the curb – away from the lustful stares of men who were only there to destroy and demolish. He thought she would walk away and out of his life forever when it happened.

As she reached the rubble at the end of the sidewalk, her heel caught on one of the stones that  ricocheted from his jackhammer. She teetered and tottered for an eternity before slamming butt down on the concrete. For as long as it took her to fall, her contact with the pavement was brief – she sprang back on her feet like nothing had happened, but the damage was done.

Hoots, hollers and jeers polluted the air. He didn’t join in – his eyes were only on her and the contents of her purse rolling towards the storm drain. He dropped the jackhammer to the side and captured the lipgloss, the lotion and two nickles as if they were irreplaceable. This was his only chance.

“Miss,” he said again, “Excuse me beautiful.”

As she looked up at him, he noticed a smattering of freckles on her brown cheeks – God’s wood grain, he thought as his heart caught in his throat. As he finally reached her eyes, he saw something there. Beauty, sure, but something else. Fear. Nervousness. Perhaps a bit of loneliness and lust.

She was too good for him, but not in her own mind. It was why he knew she’d take his number, despite her nearly tumbling into traffic to get away from him.

He handed the angel her change, determined to change her life.

“I think this is yours.” he said. “Sorry it’s all jacked up over here, but it’ll be fixed after while. I hate to hold this Carmex and Jergens for ransom, but I can’t let you leave without telling me your name.”

It was bold and risky – a little lame too, if he was being honest. She could think she was a creep, another one of the lecherous louts on the corner.

The angel paused. He could sense her fighting temptation as she nervously rubbed the nickels together in her palms.

“It’s Mallory,” she said with a small, yet winsome, smile.

 

© 2021 Muses and Moonlight — Jessica Hodge

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