Contrasts

Being off on my own has not only enhanced my sense of direction, but it has also proven to me that am brave. I used to think I lacked a sense of adventure. As a child, I was the one who stayed close to the teacher during field trips because I didn’t want to get lost. The others ran off, exploring and having a grand time, while I only saw what the teacher saw—never learning anything on my own. Shyness crippled me into an appendage of the teacher. I might as well have been her clipboard.

Years of adulting pushed some of that introversion out. It had to. How else was I going to eat if I didn’t go to the grocery store? It’s difficult to cross the checkout line without speaking, but I found it can be done. Despite this bold move to nourish myself, reticence for being out and about amongst people I didn’t know was still terrifying.

Going back to school a few years ago was a big move. My body felt like a ragdoll bouncing along the pavement as I walked to my first class. Terrified, is the word. I thought about turning around a million times. I’m not quite sure what kept me moving forward, but I’m glad it did. Taking those steps propelled me to where I am now—being in London.

And today, I wandered off on my own again. All by myself, I left the group after our walking tour and went to The National Gallery. I saw many wonderful works by artists such as Rubens, Botticelli, van Gogh, and Rembrandt. They were all magnificent. But the one I was drawn to most, was by an unknown artist.

Scholars and critics used to think this particular painting was part of Rembrandt’s work, but that is no longer the case. The image intrigued me because of the contrast between the dark and the light. I studied it for a long time, from many angles and distances. The room attendant must have thought me strange for how long I was obsessed with this painting.

When I was little, I spent a lot of time by myself, reading. Like the man in the painting, I was in the dark. Not because of reading—that opened up whole worlds to me—but because I chose to be alone out of fear. But I don’t do things based in fear anymore. The light in the painting appealed to this new part of me.

Upon leaving the gallery, dusk was beginning and I had no idea where the rest of my group was or where the nearest Tube station might be. So I walked, stopping periodically when a street performer caught my eye or ear. One group of three gentlemen had an enthralling presence around them and I listened for a long time. I enjoyed it so much I dropped a few quid in the open guitar case.

By the time they finished their set, it was definitely getting dark, but the music made me happy, so I wasn’t scared. I could have asked someone, but providence intervened. I looked up and there, contrasted against the darkening sky was a sign for the Underground twenty feet away.

A Man seated reading at a Table in a Lofty Room

Image: “A Man seated reading at a Table in a Lofty Room”
Courtesy of The National Gallery – London, England.

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Picture Perfect

“I’m taking you out to dinner, my love.” His fingers brushed a wayward strand of Ginny’s hair back into place. “Alejandro’s. Wear the green dress.” Richard smiled, the polar blue of his eyes glinting like crystals. Ginny wondered at the occasion, but didn’t ask. Opting for gratefulness, she hurried off to change.

The restaurant was a little fancier than she preferred, but he enjoyed opulence and show. Ginny didn’t mind too much. The food was excellent. Drinks were ordered and he began to talk about a new contract he was working on. Ginny nodded and asked the appropriate questions. The conversation was pleasant and she began to relax.

Halfway through their entrées, Richard cleared his throat as one might before approaching a wounded animal. “There’s something I’d like to discuss with you, my love.” His hand reached inside the tailored jacket, pulling out a brochure with a beautiful young woman on the front. Ginny couldn’t see the title, but thought maybe it was for a cruise as the woman was wearing a swimsuit. She smiled happily at her husband.

“I’ve been speaking to Ste-Miss Briggs and this is the place she had hers done. I’d like you to call them tomorrow.” He slid the pamphlet across the table.

Breast Augmentation and You.

Ginny glanced from the paper in front of her to him and back again. She stared at it in silence for a while. “You’ve been talking to your secretary about my chest?”

Underneath the table, Ginny played with the ring on her left hand. “I see. You really want me to do this?”

“You’re always talking about how you want to look better. This will help.” He was so nonchalant, it was hard to disbelieve. “You’ve been enjoying that gym membership I purchased for you. Now might be time for some medical intervention.”

She kept blinking at the leaflet and was almost relieved when his phone lit up. Stephanie Briggs’ name flashed on the screen. Richard murmured a polite excuse and left the table.

Ginny pushed the brochure under her plate and glanced around the room. An older couple sitting on the same side of the table held hands while their food got cold. Several children played a game of tic-tac-toe on napkins while their parents discussed the week’s schedule. A handsome, probably younger, single man standing at the bar, caught Ginny’s eye. He turned, saw her and grinned. The corners of her mouth began to respond, but she hesitated and glanced over her shoulder first.

A definitely younger women with a permanent sultry smile tilted her glass towards the bar. She didn’t seem to care that her date was only momentarily distracted with the menu.

Of course. He hadn’t been looking at Ginny. Embarrassment pulled her gaze back and she picked up her fork, but didn’t do more than push her pasta around in circles.

The waitress approached to ask about dessert just as Richard returned.

“No,” he replied. “My wife is watching her weight.”

LKT © 2015

The Croup

A violently ill dog would have made less of an eruption than my cough. The murderous intent with which it broke from my chest had me in tears. Inner elbows were no longer sufficient. I had taken to carrying handkerchiefs whenever I went out. They were only good for three uses—once, fold in half, again, and fold, last time. After that they were too saturated and had to be burned. The microbes that had invaded my body were resilient little bastards.

Doctors of the finest reputation had done all they could. The death rattle remained. My body continued to twist in a macabre dance at the end of a frayed and unraveling rope. Tonight’s effort was a last ditch grab a life ring on a boat far out of reach. The quack I saw two days ago seemed sympathetic as opposed to greedy. He gave me the number of one E. Crane Fullerton. Mr. Fullerton was not a medical professional. But I was told he could get rid of unwanted things. At this point, I was willing to give up one of my five senses if only the cough could be banished.

At the park entrance I leaned against the railing. Immediately regretting it. Rimy metal rolled against the denim covering my hip. The motion shuddered, like shifting tectonic plates deep beneath the surface. A frisson of ice lacerated through my veins, pulsing its way to weakened lungs, tormenting them once more.

After, when the cough had subsided but still hovered like a meddling biddy, I checked my watch. At the sound of boot heels on concrete, I looked up for the first time in weeks. He was taller than I expected—most quacks were hunched over from years of counting their ill-gotten coins. His lips were off center, with his philtrum directly under his left nostril. But I considered his high forehead to be a sign of intelligence. E. Crane Fullerton approached in a swath of leather and black fog.

He was right on time. Hopefully.

LKT © 2015