Shattered Illusions Excerpt, #2
Hear ye! Hear ye! The second excerpt of Shattered Illusions has been released! You can check it out below or over at Indie Reviews, where I also gave an interview about Shattered Illusions and the my experience in publishing.
Well, here we are again. I’ve reached a point where I no longer know if I am confessing to something or merely conversing with the demons that make themselves at home in my head. I am unsure what all of this means. When you consider the fact that I’ve bared my soul for the entire world, I feel that maybe I should hide away. I have become a portrait of imperfection, hanging all too straight on a white wall, on display for all to decode. I suddenly feel the need to compare myself to Édouard Manet’s Devant la Glace. There is, however, one major difference between me and the woman in the blue Manet canvas. She is facing a frosted mirror, making it impossible to see her face, only her back. It is as if Manet wished to hide her beauty. Imagine me up on a canvas neighboring the Manet, trapped inside my own creation with my image spread across the thick white paper, my body convulsed in frozen fury. My bleeding hands rip through the white fabric that so distastefully covers the flaky, chapped skin on my chest. My bloody fingerprints touch the edge of the outside world. Do you see that girl in the canvas? Can you identify with her at all? Do you understand the terrorized look in her eyes, the dead expression on her pale lips? You should most definitely be able to. How could you not, if she is in fact a mirror image of yourself? Beyond the artist’s border is your reflection. Indeed, it is an awful picture to paint, but, dare I say it, it’s truth beyond the barrier of control. You and I are up on the wall, where we rightfully belong.
This day is going by so slowly. It has only just begun, yet I feel myself aging with every passing minute, though it seems to take an hour to roll by, drags on slower and slower. By the time I begin to focus, the day will already be over and a new one will give life to new ideas, achievements, hopes. Eventually, that new day will lapse as well. Maybe it’s only when tragedy strikes that time loses its significance. Maybe it’s the heartbreak of life that puts a hold on time, a pause on reality. With the strike of the clock, life stops and molds itself into present tense, refusing to move either backward or forward.
Refusing to believe that change can occur at any moment is one of the worst of human failings. Everything can change, fluctuate, go into reverse. They strike without much warning, if any at all. It is the curse of the human mind, convincing us that we live in a bubble safe from change. Time is self- absorbed, takes what it wants and doesn’t return the favor. It is greedy, its pockets full of the lives of those left behind. It is a magician and a thief. It’s too early in the morning for me to think straight. I haven’t had a decent cup of coffee, and all I want to do is crawl back into bed, pull the blankets over my head, and let the serene black envelope me in slumber. The residents of this town are early risers; we have been here since six o’ clock this morning. Everyone looks as dead-tired as I do except for Marco, who is as bright-eyed and hyper as I usually am after my third cup of coffee. Today is not a good day. I am here for painful reasons—although, when I think of it, why would I be here for a happy reason? No one comes to a police department to report happy news. It’s only the bitterness of life that engages this building, these men and women who daily fight for justice in the world.
The world lost someone, let this man go and send him to a different, maybe a better, place. Maybe it was his time to go, maybe not. He is the reason I sit here today, for it is the crime that was committed against him that I have come to solve. He was a friend to all, a kind human being who deserved no less than a beautiful life that was so quickly taken from him. He did not deserve to die. One of us should have gone in his place.
It has been five days. His body is still fresh under the ground. Five days ago, I was in the cafe, getting my usual morning cup of coffee. We didn’t say much to each other, at least not as
much as we usually did. The cafe was packed for a Sunday morning in Rolland County, and as usual Sam was busy taking people’s orders with a smile and a kind gesture. He had the kind of smile that could be spotted from miles away, the kindness you could recognize through thick clouds of despair. The line was impossibly long, and I tried not to let my impatience get to me as I got on the back of it. As I did, I realized that I was right behind my mother. I had not seen her since the day of my arrival in Rolland nearly a month before. I hoped to G-d that she would not notice me. I was not that lucky. She turned around to glance at the line continuously forming behind her and saw me. Her face dropped in confusion. “Ella?” she asked, a painful expression of disbelief on her face. “What are you doing here?”
She was dressed to the nines, on the way to work in the city. She had taken on a small company in New Orleans specializing in kitchen equipment. If there was one thing she knew all too well, it was kitchen equipment. Her shaitel was pinned back slightly, exposing her real, slightly graying hair underneath. She looked different from the last time I had seen her, calmer, more serene. I noticed however, that this demeanor changed upon looking at me. The creases and wrinkles in her face returned, and she began to take the form of the ghost who was once my mother.
“What do you mean? I’ve been in town for a month,” I said. “Oh, is that so?” She was obviously puzzled. How had she had no idea? I had seen her neighbors several times; surely they must have told her. I could not begin to understand how she didn’t know. I had stayed for her, and she didn’t even know I existed. Ironically, it was almost as if I was getting what I wanted—only, now that I had her indifference, I wanted her attention. “Oh, that’s nice,” she said rather calmly. “Do you come here often?” Was she honestly making small-town small talk with me? Why wasn’t she exploding as she usually did? “Almost every day,” I answered. We were having a civilized conversation: How bizarre. Without another word, she turned to face the front of the line, moved several spots closer to the counter. When she was called, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “It was good to see you, Ella. Enjoy your day.” She approached the counter, ordered, and within moments she was out of my life again. When Sam called me, I was in a complete daze again. “G’morning, Ella. The usual, I presume?” He flashed his award-winning smile, his smoke-stained teeth peeking through sun-chapped lips. I noticed that he had an Ace bandage wrapped loosely around his left arm, running all the way up to right below his elbow.
“What happened?” I asked, pointing at it with my chin. “Nothing. I spilled coffee on myself this morning as I was opening up.”. “It doesn’t look like nothing!” I exclaimed, and took a hard look at the welts underneath his bandage. “Are you sure you should be working?” “What are you, my mother?” he joked. “Ella, I’m fine. Now, what do you want to drink?” I ordered my usual regular with soy milk. “No problem. Have that ready for you in just a moment. That’ll be two fifty,” he said. As I dug around in my purse for my wallet, I felt his eyes on me. “How do you know Chava?” he asked. “Excuse me?” I asked, shocked. “Chava, you know, the woman in front of you. She seemed to know you.” “Oh, she’s. . .just an old family friend of my moms, no one exciting.” Sam had no idea that I had come to Rolland to find her. He was under the impression that Rolland was a short pit stop for me on a road trip, but that, once I showed up, I’d decided to extend my visit for an entire month. It was partially the truth. After my encounter with my mother, something had pulled me to stay put. There was no way that I could go home and face the people and the lives that I had ruined. There was nowhere else for me to go and no better
time to begin reinventing myself. Nothing else made sense except to stay in a town where the only person who knew me was my estranged mother who did not even know that I had been there for an entire month. Staying in Rolland County gave me a chance to establish a new identity, to start from scratch where people did not judge me based on my past behavior, about which they knew nothing.
“Huh,” he said, as he handed me my coffee cup. “What?” I asked. “For family friends, you guys looked an awful lot alike.” My heart dropped into my stomach. “What?” I asked, almost unable to form the word. He looked at me, studying my features the way an artist studies a blank
canvas. “Maybe I was just imagining it,” he concluded.
“Could be! Well, thanks for the coffee, Sam. See ya tomorrow!” I said, suddenly cheerful.
“No, you won’t,” he said.
“I’m going away for a few days. I have to get to a big city before I die from small-town charm syndrome.”
“Ah. Well, then, have a safe trip,” I said. “Thanks, El!” He waved, symbolically. I inhaled the Deep South summer air, allowing the pressure of the outside world to pull at my heartstrings. El. I shuddered at that nickname, which I had come to hate passionately. Only one person in my life had ever called me El. He was about to become engaged to someone else.
As I walked down the block away from the coffee shop, I was essentially closing off another part of my life. Who would have known, that at that moment, I would be walking away from someone who, within a few hours, would be dead?