Small Town, Big City (part four)

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Both Neely and Clara are at the breaking point over their personal demons- with Joss caught right in the middle

Submitted: February 16, 2019

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Submitted: February 16, 2019

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Why did it seem so long ago when Clara sat before that very mirror with her mother, as the older woman lovingly stroked those strawberry blond locks, which were so similar to her own?  Done so with a long-handled hairbrush of sterling silver, and heralded engraved monograms in incomprehensible swirls.  She would always take it from next to an empty perfume bottle of lead crystal, not Waterford, but what afforded her in a privileged life before Chase Burns, when she could fill it with something other than toilet water. 

Such keepsakes positioned on her nightstand in a storybook understanding of the way rich ladies lived.  Even if only a naive fantasy Mommy had of cultured women who were the sole beneficiaries of French perfume bottles, strands of lustrous pearls, and pure gold bangles.  Maybe it was just the Hollywood version of wealth, if not hers.  To sit at vanities before bedtime, brushing their long hair until it shone.

"We must make one hundred strokes," She said to Clara, "and no cheating."

Even though, Ginny opted for love rather than money, through the glass of their mirror, she became that grand dame at the movie vanity; a great lady in a great house, surrounded by beautiful bottles of real crystal, full of heavy and fragrant perfumes from Paris.

"You are such a pretty little girl," Mommy boasted about her perfect child as well, which must have been true since everybody said they were the perfect double-image of Ginny's billowing curls, alabaster skin, and sapphire eyes.  The contrast of Chase's boorish, bristly face next to all that beauty made even his own daughter wonder what the attraction ever was.

"You must not be so hard on your father," Virginia Burns would tell Clara after each argument that sent her to cosmetics jar of much greater use than other grooming aids to hide blacks eyes, or adorn long sleeves and colorful stockings to also conceal what was on limbs.  "Dad only acts so ugly because he is afraid of anything beautiful.  His parents and childhood, an entire life before us just too ugly; it's all he knows, I'm sorry to say."

"Then, why must we stay with him?"  Clara sought answers in the mirror along with her mother.

Ginny always the one who found some there.  "So that we can show him not everyone in the world is ugly, Dear.  If we love him enough, maybe he will see."

So Ginny loved and loved, while her husband continued to hit, until one day he stole all the beauty she had.  Though buried in a closed casket, Clara suspected what damage to such a comely appearance looked like because she presently stared at it.  The golden red waves in stringy knots against a bloody scalp, due to his having pulled and torn at them.  Smooth skin punched until it had the texture of bruised, rotting fruit, and black mixed with darkest blue eyes swelled shut.  Was it also a shared attribute for Clara to commit suicide like Mommy, too?

Peering at what was left of her through tears mixed with blood, and the hate mixed with fear, that girl grazed her hair with the same brush Ginny used.  Oblivious of the matted clumps of sanguinary scalp coming away with each stroke as she counted, "Ninety-eight ninety-nine, and one-hundred."

Mother's image shimmered through the glass like liquid gold in lamplight, suffusing Clara's bedroom with richest orange tones of ensuing daybreak.  In the light of new morning, it was a reflection of her the girl never quite saw before; happy, whole, and finally getting everything ever wanted or deserved, becoming at long last the woman she always wished to be.  Ginny stood up from the other side of that vanity, and smiled at the daughter who made her so proud, even though she was just a meager shadow of the glowing representation, which extended arms through glass to make one final embrace.  As Clara reached back still clutching their precious hairbrush, she shattered the mirror along with her illusion into a dozen bloody fragments, but not before Mommy told her what she must do...

*

Broad Avenue Manor's basement renovation was the blank slate Joss Whelan had been looking for.  At the moment, no one's home, but possibilities endless for a well-ordered mind, which could still go crazy trying to find comforting imagery in freshly painted white with no horizon but beige carpet, and landscapes barren of manmade luxuries.  Rather than rubber walls to go loony in, he saw a fresh, clean blanket to wrap himself with, after the difficult birth imagined in cold stainless steel and hard metal edges that was a place like St. Damien's.

Certainly no salesman of hope and dreams himself, Neely inherited the chattel for easy living four flights above them.  Walls, floors, and ceiling as interchangeable as any game cube purchased to match colors, or some secret pattern from the history of those goods. 

His interior design was haphazard like pieces of abstract art, so did not want to sell Joss on the idea one way or another except to say, "You know, a guy such as myself can go out and spend a small fortune on decorating, and still be admiring it all alone.  This time of year has something to do with it; not even Halloween yet, and department stores are already setting up their Christmas displays.  I really try to get a wee sort of satisfaction at how commercialized it's become, like maybe there's no reason to even celebrate except buying expensive presents for someone.  I remember one year on the twenty-fifth, I slept right through until three in the afternoon, only to get awakened by the telephone.  It turned out to be a wrong number, but the dope wished me a merry Christmas, anyway."

"hello, you have been specially selected to take part in our national survey..."

The electronically generated voice joined Etta's in his head, but truly typical night sounds of that house, like fluorescent lighting in basement, a hiss by nearby water heater, and whatever slight scurrying associated with life in close quarters.  Humans, bugs, and mice, but always something else Neely attributed to past lives who lingered near those who had loved, feared, or reviled them.  Possibly, what sole power the dead held over animation, and continue to draw energy from whatever emotion they sought most.

"Yeah, but you and your family must have celebrated, right?"  Joss asked during a quick synapse of time, when the lights blinked, and even he was back in the world of color that was Neely's face.  So alive and substantial, he almost remembered cherishing another mortal soul instead of those departed, only to be encrypted through the void on white walls, or a power surge.

"Well, my father died when I was only seven, so it was really like not having one at all.  Mom tried to compensate with lavish birthday parties and the holidays, but they were what little comforts could be provided living in a jail cell.  She was actually nothing more than my keeper," Neely's voice wandered off like a distant reverberation whose source was his family home just one mile into the suburbs surrounding town.

Only with minimal concentration, could the man conjure smells of her full Porto-potty and smeared linens, hear the dribble from an overflowing bedpan.  To imagine the bleary eyes and lack of sleep from spending so much time with Joss and Lynnette in the present, really caused by another full night answering call after call, hour after hour back then.

"Neely, I need a drink of water."

"Oh, Neely, would you please make me a snack?"

"Neely... Neely, why aren't you answering me?"

Why was Etta's voice coming out of Joss' mouth?  "It sounds like your bogeyman is female. Why not, considering mine is a twelve year-old bully name Clease.  The mark of that beast we fear can be on our parents, kids in a playground, and even members of the clergy.  Forget everything you ever heard about nuns; the ones who helped raise me in that group home give the term, 'Twisted Sister', a whole new meaning.  Priests were more like, 'Johns', exchanging school privileges for sex, and I told you about those games I played with classmates like Clease.  I sure don't need anyone to tell me all the reasons not to trust them, but its when we no longer have a choice in the matter, which hurts the most.  Clease took that away from me, and now I want it back."

Unlike with Lynnette, Neely did not desire to look under the rug and see what Joss had swept under it.  There were enough marks on walls, soiled carpeting, along with plenty of clutter in the upper levels of Broad Avenue Manor, and the teenager had plenty of time to mess things up again downstairs without any outside assistance.  They both knew it was simply a means of escape for him to run and get some toiletries and bedding, so his guest would be more comfortable.

Taking four fights at every other step, oblivious of five other doors that led to others, Neely slammed his own shut so he could feel safe again in barren life brimming with effects.  It might actually mean a lot if all he cared about were things rather than people.  In exchange for adoring parents, Neely possessed the ornately carved headboard, which embellished his twin-sized bed.  Instead of real-life brothers and sisters, perhaps he used the beautiful drop-fronted desk and its ottoman of matching detail to their finish, as siblings without rivalry.  Friends provided by that velvet settee, giant armoire, and windowed hutch, all done up in rich tones of honey oak to complete the perfect family unit.

Understanding there was no inanimate object to keep him company, the man could only think about that flesh and blood teen with nothing but a backpack and the clothing he wore.  To look upon his own adolescence, it scared Neely having thought he was the only gay kid who lived in the neighborhood, much less an entire township.  Then, he went away to college and found sex with other undergraduate men was something done in public restrooms or parking lots.  If all an alternate lifestyle meant was feeling less of himself, he never needed anybody else but Etta.

"No one will ever love you like me..."

The first rays of sun set off frenzied sparks of pink, lavender, and rose in the intricately patterned stained-glass panes of Neely's windows, and it reminded him of another time when caught in a flasher's glow.  Somewhere down on the street he expected to see that same emergency vehicle about to drive away without its charge.  She was no longer in the room at 49 Quayle Lane, maybe not even in his own head anymore, and he wanted to bang on their colorful casements for those paramedics to come get her before she fully materialized as something undead in the attic apartment of 66 Broad Avenue.  Neely raised his hands to do so- unaware glass was breaking elsewhere in the sprawling residence.

 

Look out for the final installment coming soon!


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