~ torn ~ 7

29 Feb

(previous chapters can be accessed through the ARCHIVES calendar)

*****

A saxophone played softly in the distance.
Julia floated to wakefulness. Head thick with the cobwebs and flotsam of dissipating dreams.
Finally realized that she was home. Alone.
And didn’t want that. Being alone.

Julia kicked the covers away. Sat up. Twisted and stretched. Glanced at the floor and chuckled. Dream Girl may have been all undone, but there were Julia’s slippers. Right where she left them.

Julia shuffled across the bedroom bleary-eyed.
Into the dim bathroom.
Turned on the shower. Stared at the running water. Mesmerized. Warm mist quickly filled the tub enclosure. Billowed out from around the shower curtain.
Julia backtracked to the doorway.
Faced the mirror. Held her breath. Flicked the light switch.
The the reflective surface glowed with shower fog.

Julia padded to the sink. Palmed a swath across the mirror. Regarded her reflection. It copied her every move. Without hesitation or deviation.
She lightly pulled down each of her puffy eyelids. Inspected the bloodshot whites. Stood back and smirked.

“Good morning, you beautiful thing.”

The bedside clock radio came alive.
Big Band Swing drifted into the bathroom.
Julia picked up the beat. Rhythmically snapped her fingers.
It seemed like there was nothing wrong with her—mind or body—that couldn’t be cured by a nice hot shower.

Julia slipped out of her T-shirt. Panties.
Eased around the soft, clear vinyl curtain.
Stepped into the steamy enclosure.
The shower jets instantly soothed her.
She doused her head and face.
Turned so the pulsing water could massage back and shoulders.
Watched hot rivulets trace the contours of her body.
Lathered with fragrant soap. Neck. Collarbone. Breasts.
julia tubThumbs. Flicked. Nipples.
One hand went to the wall tiles inside the warm rain.
One hand between legs.
Slipping. Up. Down.
Caressing. Fondling. Dripping.
Trembling. Panting. Quivering.
Rigid. Moaning. Release.

Julia remained in the torrent. For a long time.
Finally turned off the water. Stood quietly a few moments.
Slowly pulled the curtain open. Tiptoed onto the bathmat.
Reached for her neatly hung towel. A fluffy cozy wrap-up.
Her hand recoiled from clammy terrycloth. Grabbed the adjoining towel. Repulsive.

…selfish son-of-a-bitch…

The shower-instilled warmth evaporated from her body. She ripped the first damp towel from the rack. Rubbed vigorously until nearly-dry. Wadded the sodden blue thing. Tossed it toward the sink. Hit the wall with a damp thud. Slid to the floor.

Jerked her robe off the door hook. Wrapped up in it.
Twisted her wet feet into slippers. Bitching. Squalling.

Then Julia stopped short. Inhaled through taut o-shaped lips. Exhaled completely.

…don’t let this ruin your day…slow down…start over if you have to…

She grabbed the other towel and wiped the mirror.
Tossed that souvenir of Ron’s thoughtlessness toward the tub.
A piece of a dream flashed across her mind.
Julia leaned in. Examined her upper lip. Stood up straight and sent a defiant look to her reflection.

“I don’t need to bleach my lip, you dumb bitch.”

The cocksure face looking back at her made her laugh.

“See…” she reached into her makeup bag perched on the edge of the sink, “you stand up for yourself and you get a little respect around here.”

Julia’s cosmetic needs were minimal. High cheekbones and clear skin were more attractive the less adorned. She concentrated on her eyes. Masked the fatigue. Quickly finished the ministrations.

Back in the bedroom. A pause at the second story window to check the weather. Visibility ended at the yard-edge dark treetops. Mornings had been that way for weeks.

…fog again…remind me why I moved to the Pacific Northwest…

But she didn’t need a reminder.
Knowing lay burned in her memory.
Scarred over.
Blunt.
Ever-present like some repulsive exoskeleton of a dead insect that had burrowed into her psyche.

A wave of loneliness and isolation swept over Julia. Broke against the rocks of her survival instincts. Then receded.

…it’ll burn off soon enough…it always does.

A vintage dance ballad caught Julia’s ear. She placed one hand on tummy. Extended her other arm. Swayed and sashayed over to the closet.
She pulled the double doors open. Peered inside.
Today would be a perfect day for her favorite suit. The sleek gray wool tweed with brown flecks.

A thorough search of the hangers on the rod and the hooks on the doors proved unsuccessful. Puzzled and frustrated, Julia stepped back.
Arms akimbo she surveyed the closet like a cat looking for a mouse.
A Duke Ellington Latin club number wafted from the radio.
Julia shimmied and spun a slow circle. Just like the girl singers in the old movies. Halfway around she froze.
Her favorite suit lay draped on the back of the overstuffed chair on the other side of the room. Memory failed her. She quickly plugged the hole

…guess I laid that out last night…

Julia shed her robe. Reached in the closet. Hung it on a hook.
Caught her image in the door’s dressing mirror. Caught her breath.
Puzzled at the silk slip. Matching bra. Bone-colored heels. And pantyhose she wore.
Confusion flared like a struck match. Dangled precariously above a tinderbox of panic.
Julia closed her eyes, breathed evenly like Dr. Simmons had taught her and repeated his reassuring words aloud.

“Its alright…these gaps can happen…just finish getting dressed…”

She exhaled. Opened her eyes. Gasped.
Slowly turned and admired herself in the mirror.
The wool suit looked great on her. Just like always.

“It’s alright,” she said to the attractive woman in the mirror. “I can play it like this if I have to. And if I’m only dreaming, I’ll just go with it…until I wake up.”

Julia adjusted the suit, smoothed her hair and closed the closet door. Switched off the clock radio. Heard voices and rustling. In the kitchen. A clunk. A coffee mug hitting the counter.
She called down the stairs.

“Ron. Are you still here?”

Beneath the blanket of murmuring voices came the muffled report of the big front door closing.
She called louder.

“Ron. Is that you?”

Julia hurried down the stairs. Rounded the bottom banister.
Went to the kitchen. Found the small TV on the counter running a chatty infomercial about some cheesy exercise contraption. Picked up the remote. Punched the off button. Noticed the coffee machine. One last cup in the pot. Steaming into pitch. One bitter cup better than none.

Her favorite mug sat at the ready. White ceramic. JAVA emblazoned in bold black lettering. It crossed her mind. Maybe Ron had put the mug out knowing she’d need coffee. But the piddling amount left in the pot belied that fairy tale.

Julia slid the empty mug closer. Poured the dregs of the pot. Raised it to her lips. Stopped halfway. Stared at the mug. Lipstick on the rim. She ran a thumb across the imprint. The fresh gloss smeared easily.

“When in doubt,” Dr. Simmons had suggested, “check a nearby clock to get your bearings.”

She looked from the mug to the coffeepot’s digital display. Blinking.
On Off. On Off. On Off. On Off. On Off. On Off. On Off. On Off. On Off. On Of.
—3:00 AM—3:00 AM—3:00 AM—3:00AM—3:00AM—3:00AM—3:00AM—

Outside the sliding glass doors and beyond the spacious patio the world lay black and still.

A cold fire rippled up Julia’s spine.
The mug slipped from her hand.
Hit the counter and shattered.

Julia stared with detachment at a small dark stream that slowly wended its way toward her from underjulia mug the ceramic shards. The viscous black liquid pooled at the edge of the counter. Drops fell to the floor in slow motion. Each one echoed a muffled splat as it hit the kitchen tiles. Mental chaos distilled down to the brown splatters collecting on her light colored shoes. A voice spoke out loud to no one in particular.

“I need to leave. I need to leave now.”

She quavered down the short hallway. Toward the foyer. Kept her panic confined to a purpose. Getting out of the damned house. At the front door. Purse and briefcase sat waiting on the butler’s chair.

…alright, that makes sense…now my raincoat…

Julia touched the closet knob. Stared at her arm. The sleeve of her trench coat.
The dangling match fell to the tinderbox. Wild flames leapt up inside her.
She shouldered her purse. Picked up her briefcase.

…it’s this house…not me…I’ve got to get out of here…

One last look in the entryway mirror.
Julia leaned forward. Flicked away a stray piece of mascara with a trembling hand.
Swallowed hard. Choked back tears.
Closed her eyes. Took a long slow breath.
Opened her eyes. Smiled thinly to her reflection.
Her reflection responded with a thin smile.
Then turned and walked away into the looking-glass room.

Julia stared after dumbfounded.
Her doppelganger calmly removed car keys from purse.
Hit the light switch.
Opened. Stepped through. Closed the front door.
At the sound of keys in the lock behind her the fire spread out of control.

Julia wheeled. Lunged at the front door. Clutched at the knob.
It wouldn’t turn. Wouldn’t move. Like grabbing at a picture in a book.
She pushed at the curtain on the front door sidelight.
Just like the doorknob. A perfect form with no substance.
A reflection.
She faced the mirror again. What she knew would be there.
The face throbbed. Eyes pleading. Mouth open. Begging for release.

Julia’s body went slack. Briefcase slipped from her hand. Thudded on the floor.
Bile rose in her throat. Liquid flame.
Julia put a fist to her mouth. Pushed on it with the other hand.
The scream came up fast. Like a raging river.
She bit on her knuckle. Warm blood trickled down her wrist.
A surge of terror flooded Julia’s head.
Not strong enough to contain it.
Die if she tried.
Overwhelmed.
Surrender.
Fist flew away from her mouth.

She screamed.
And screamed.
And screamed.
And screamed.
And screamed.

*****

©2016 JEFITZGERALD

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