The Balcony

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Short story of an old couple.

Submitted: January 28, 2008

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Submitted: January 28, 2008

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Catherine Yarrow
The Balcony
It was a strange place to live. It was located just off the west coast of America, only a few hours away from Canada. Lummi Island was home to the most eccentric characters possible. Everybody in every house had a far from conventional story to their life,  yet they all had somehow found themselves settling down on a tiny island away from their chaotic histories. Some of the most famous “islanders” included: the man who had spent every day of his life driving around the island looking at views, the couple who seemed to continually switch genders and the owner of the coffee shop who was 56 years old but believed she was still in her 20s. To them Lummi was half way between an escape from reality and a prison.
The latest addition to the group was the old woman. Like the rest of the “Islanders” she had a story to tell. It mainly consisted of men, which had resulted in five children. She had previously been married three times: the first husband was now in rehab, the second was in jail and the third had passed away. She was on her fourth, who she had only known for six weeks before they got married and moved to Lummi. The old woman immediately gained “islander status”. Though she often appeared normal and even plain for an islander they could not deny an islander’s words: “She’s got, well, she’s just got charisma.”
The snow had been persisting for weeks and the old woman had retreated into her house; she just couldn’t stand the cold. However her husband persistently remained at the garden’s threshold standing his ground against the looming clouds. The old woman called out from their offensively purple house;
“Sweet heart it’s four; it’s wine time.”
Like a pet or some overly obedient child Jerry reluctantly came in from the garden. He followed her to the table where she was as usual entertaining a guest. At the head of the table sat a precisely three quarter full glass of wine, a folded napkin and tin of pineapples. Jerry had once made the mistake of mentioning that he was particularly partial to pineapples and now he found he could not enter the house without a tin of pineapples sitting at his designated place on the table; he dared not mention that he found tinned fruit nothing short of repulsive.
“Jerry good to see you old chap”
“You too dude”
Jerry made sure he put a particular emphasis on the “dude”. He could never stand too much company and was a quiet sort of guy but if he took one pleasure from the daily visits of neighbours it was finding the visitors’ “buttons” and pressing them as many times as he possibly could until the clock struck seven and it was end of entertainment time. The particular visitor today was the undeniably hansom jeweller, who seemed convinced he was an aristocratic Brit. There were two things he could not stand: being treated like an American and being treated as if he belonged to the “vulgar modern generation.” The word dude was an offender on both fronts. Jerry mentally gave himself brownie points at the look on his guest’s face he had managed to achieve in just three words.
The old woman gave Jerry such a forceful glare that, despite how pleased with himself he felt, made him look down in a reluctant repentance and quietly take his place at the table. He knew what would follow and scrunched his face in anticipation as the old woman perched herself on the arm of his chair. She then began to stroke his bald head. He could feel her dry peeling skin scrape and scratch across his smooth shiny scalp. He shuddered a little as her chapped lips followed her dry hands to find themselves pushing against his head. Finally, as she retreated from him, he felt himself grimacing in an uneasy relief.
In order to avoid this unpleasant experience, for a while, he had taken up wearing a hat, although slightly reluctantly as he had grown proud of the shiny surface of his head. At first this had deterred the old woman, however it was not long until she took up removing the hat with her jagged nails, an even more unpleasant experience. After this he had abandoned any further attempts to deter her. He always felt like a pet being stroked by an over powering owner and soon found himself actually sympathising with their cat.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say Jerry regretted the marriage; it was rushed and confusing and he was lonely. The old woman was so beautiful for her age and had this power over men. Jerry now perceived her as a chameleon; he did not appear to have a personality of her own but to compensate she would adopt any man’s personality. This would cause them to be entranced and even blinded, much like Jerry was when he married her. Of course it was the old woman who proposed; she was the kind of woman who always liked to be in complete control. 
Jerry was pulled into reality by the radio turning on and playing the 7 o’clock news. He knew what this meant: end of entertainment time. Sure enough Jerry found himself witnessing the old woman ushering her guest out the door and lingering far too long at his car. Jerry had a particular dislike for the guest. He distracted the old woman a great deal; in fact he felt that if they weren’t so old he would suspect the old woman of having an affair. Of course by their age those issues long since raised their heads into their lives before drifting away along with their youth.
The old woman slowly returned to the house and led Jerry up the stairs to the inside balcony that they slept in over the living room. Jerry had criticised this situation over and over again; it was the one battle he would ever pick with the old woman. He couldn’t remember how many times he had been through his speech:
“Not only is the whole principle unsafe but you chose to have it built in wood! Wood I tell you and not only that, not only, but you have it built directly above the kitchen! Does the word fire-hazard mean nothing to you! It’s illogical as well anybody we have stay in the main room can hear us and us them!”
The balcony was the only passionate conversation Jerry would ever have with the old woman; he felt vulnerable whilst he was asleep, a feeling he had harboured since childhood, and did not want to be exposed to any unnecessary danger whilst in bed.
Jerry always thought his arguing would surprise the old woman but she never batted an eyelid. It was something she could understand about Jerry that he could never see: he liked to have control too or had he forgotten she was, after all, a chameleon and the desire for control was all his.
The old woman never took long to get ready for bed; she simply washed her face, put on her white Victorian nightgown and got into the bed on the left side moving over to the right. This frustrated Jerry that she would crawl over his side of the bed before getting into hers. She had many routines, almost rituals. He thought of course it’s natural to have little “things” like a side of the bed or a place on the table but he felt the old woman had far more than should be expected.
Jerry was never in bed until after the old woman; it was the one peaceful time of his day. He moved up and down the stairs collected this and that for another hour or so before he would finally get into bed, by which time the old woman was asleep. Jerry liked this. He liked being able to go to bed without being bothered by the old woman. In bed Jerry could admire her beauty without any worries of guests or routines or any other shackles had been placed on his life since he vowed to merge his with the old woman’s.
However tonight was different. Jerry made very little preparation before bed this night; he was tired and frustrated and his life was getting to him more each day. Jerry simply wanted to curl up into bed and his mind to leave the island, which was progressively becoming more of a prison than an escape. Of course the old woman noticed this change in him and was thrown back, even possibly a little unnerved.
“What wrong sweetheart? Did I upset you? Do you want to talk? You seem awfully down.” She cooed over him patronisingly.
“Nothing, I just, well I’m not feeling too well.” Illness was nothing new to a woman of her age and of course she sympathised. For another five minutes there was an awkward silence as they lay next to each other.
“Did you turn off the stove sweetheart? I think I may have left it on by accident.” The old woman said nervously into the silence. Of course this was far from out of the ordinary; the old woman was rather senile and had a tendency to forget simple things. One time she left the bath on and nearly flooded the whole house. From then on it was Jerry’s duty to regularly check that everything was in his words “as it should be.”
“Don’t worry it’s all taken care of.” Jerry assured her.
Listening to the rasping snores next to him, Jerry watched the hours slowly tick away as he lay unable to settle his mind and go to sleep. Every day he was becoming plagued more and more by an unbearable insomnia. As he lay, counting sheep as in his mind they jumped over fences, something snapped in his head. He sat up abruptly enough to wake most sleepers, of course the old woman was a particularly heavy sleeper; they would often joke that she could probably sleep though an earthquake.
He slowly padded downstairs feeling led by something new, a part of him that had been dormant for so long he could barely remember it was there. With it came rush feelings like a herd racing towards him so fast he could barely breathe in fear of what would follow. Taken over, in a daze, he walked up to the top right hand drawer of the kitchen cabinets. He reached out with his hand fumbling and trembling with his new found masterdom. His insides were in chaos but he calmly drew out the tiny box of matches.
The buzz of the excitement of possibilities took over. He lit a match flitching at the sound the head made as it scarped across the box. He then skilfully set fire to the stairs. He sat at the head of the table and began to eat his tin of pineapples watching the flames enclose the balcony and the kitchen below. He sat there, at the head of the table, eating and waiting. Finally he heard a high pitched screech from the flames and saw the burning figure of the old woman run over the banister and fall, burning, through the air from the balcony and, with a thud, landing barely a metre away from the table. As her body writhed and crumpled in the heat and pain he set down his tin of pineapples. He gazed at the expression on her face that had mostly avoided the fire. He admired her movement and delicateness of her figure as the orange flames consumed her. Her body was twisted and bent into impossible positions. He watched as screaming she took her last breath from the ashen air and choking fell limp. He smoothed the flames that were licking her body with a blanket and dragged her corpse out of the house, gasping in the fumes of burning flesh. He did not wish for her beauty to be spoiled any further
The fire alarm began to ring. A neighbour rang 911. The island sirens began. He stood outside. He began to scream. The islanders came to his aid. They didn’t realise he was screaming with joy. He was screaming with power, control and freedom. The chaos from inside of him had escaped and had begun to consume the island.
The fire engine took an hour to get from main land onto the island by which time the hideously purple house was blackened and scorched with ash and smoke, barely standing. The neighbours all offered their deepest sympathies towards this man who they had never cared to know. The police concluded that the fire was caused by a stove, which the old woman in her forgetfulness had left on.
The funeral had a strange air about it. Jerry could not mourn for what he did not love. He had an open casket so for one last time he could admire the beauty of the sleeping old woman. As he looked down at her frail body he let his wrinkly hands disturb what was left of her glistening hair stroking it as if stroking his cat. He slowly let his peeling lips lower down to find themselves pressing against her shiny hair. In the end she was just a chameleon and the desire for control was all his.


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