The Final Acquiescence of Stanley Sprout

Submitted into Contest #153 in response to: Write a story about a character learning to stand up for themselves.... view prompt

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Fiction Mystery Suspense

Inside the violin case was a bottle of champagne with a faded label, two dusty flutes, a key, and a slim stack of letters that Stanley Sprout had all but worn through. On the outside, the case showed spots of soft, beige skin through its black leather belly and spine. The kitsch stickers from trips to different cities randomly placed over it had all peeled up in the corners. Stanley had the habit of flipping them with his fingers, usually during an argument, only making them worse. He wanted to laminate them to preserve the memories, but Justine always opposed. It was originally her violin case. One she played in grade school. It took years of begging for Stanley to finally be able to convert it into a secret champagne picnic getaway case. It was the only thing Stanley could ever remember convincing Justine to do. They brought it everywhere with them, but never opened it up.

The case was snug to Stanley’s lap. His bowling pin arms were folded on top and his broad back bent over them securing the case in place like a vice. The subway car rocked side to side four times which for any seasoned rider meant hold the hell on because a heart wrenching turn was coming up fast. Stanley already burned through the rolodex of tragic outcomes.  They ran uncontrolled through his mind the moment he stepped foot outside his apartment. The last rendition involved a gangly man losing his grasp on a handrail and slamming hard into Stanley’s side which knocked the violin case from his lap. The case opened on impact with the floor and the champagne bottle catapulted up and brained the closest rider. That in turn fired the cork off like a missile through the cabin blinding eyes in a gruesome ricochet scene. Screams intensified as children somehow exploded through the train cabin windows. Stanley didn’t exactly know how. They just did. Out they went, backpacks and all, whipping into the dark tunnel where a colony of diseased rats surely roamed. Finally, a ball of fire ripped down the far end of the tunnel. It flash-fried the rats, the kids, the darkness, and turned the subway car into a giant panini press, melting down whoever and whatever was left alive inside. Stanley vanished from the cabin, but like a double outer body experience, became a bystander, safely standing on a platform. He stood next to a train conductor who also managed the great escape. The train conductor said, “How many of my trains gotta burn, Stan?”

“It wasn’t me,” Stanley said, “it was an overdose.” The conductor toed the dirt, gave Stanley a pat on the back, and disappeared like smoke. Then Stanley woke up.

He had survived the turn and the violin case was still in his hold. A bead of sweat curled around the tip of his nose. He could feel it jittering there. Could even see it if he squinted his eyes and crossed them. It amazed him that something so small was able to send an electric tension through his body. He wanted to reach up and save it, but there was no way he’d loosen his grip on the violin case.  Inside that bead of sweat was the universe he once inhabited. His past life. Before all of this. This mad run. Inside that bead of sweat was a home he would never know again. He made a desperate sniff to save it, but all he managed to do was set it free. Down it fell, heading for a small dark splash on the top of his dirty brown loafers, but at the last second his tongue shot out like a jungle frog and dabbed the bead mid-air, then recoiled back into his mouth. Everyone must have seen it. Everyone had to be looking, mesmerized. The bead dissolved quickly into his tastebuds like nothing and then Stanley swallowed dry.

Justine had been dead for eleven weeks. It was an overdose. When people asked, Stanley delivered a calm, flat toned reply, “It was an overdose.” And usually that was the end of that. He replied to only three people in real life but had practiced it thousands of times with himself and the train conductor, when he appeared. He’d gotten it to a really polished place. The tone, the resonance, his body language, and the way his eyes would drift down to the left. If he didn’t know himself better, he’d believe it was natural. But each time he said it a sickness would creep up from the bottom of his throat and start tapping on the back side of his teeth. Tap, tap, tap. He could feel them vibrate. He'd wait nervously for the big wind up and swing. But his teeth held firm and whatever was down there stayed.

Justine developed phantom allergies every year. More and more those allergies created a noose that tightened ever so slowly around the neck of their social life until it was only the two of them left in their apartment, watching a handful of movies on repeat, and dining on only a select few cuts of meat. All of them cooked medium well, of the unseasoned variety. Calls from friends went unanswered. Trips became inhumane to even suggest. Stanley dragged himself through it all waiting for the switch to flip and their old life to resume. He was losing hope. Justine was adrift. He was a phantom.

           Then one day the switch flipped. The switched flipped and the breaker blew, and like that Stanley was disposed. He was a voided check. A warranty that expired years ago and someone finally took the time to read the fine print. She left him for another man. She told him this to his face then moved out, and not soon after that she died. Stanley had the hardest time remembering if he was involved in her death or not. She died of an overdose he knew that for certain, not because he had spoken it into certainty, but it had to be certain. He just didn’t remember the details. Was he there when she died? Was she in the hospital?  The street?  Was she buried? He simply did not know. He could not get those pieces back. What he did know was he reached a point in his apartment excavation that led him to the violin case, and within that, the stack of letters. Of course the bottle and glasses were piercing reminders too of a wedding present never properly appreciated. No occasion ever fit the bill. Let’s drink it now, Stanley would say at the slightest piece of good news. No, Justine would say, let’s save it for later, for something really special. So, it sat there in the case because nothing special enough ever arrived. The letters though, they were torture. Love letters between her and this other. Written back and forth with the fevered delusions and cheap romance of a high school crush. They were trite. A cruelty. The last letter though was addressed to Stanley. The handwriting was panicked but could only be Justine’s. It was only one line. It read, “I’m leaving you for a man with all the money in the world.”

He read it and read it and read it a hundred times more and would close tight the violin case, trying to incinerate it in his hands.  Only to open it up again, gently, and put everything back into its proper place.  How many of those eleven weeks passed like this? He didn’t know. This other man. In the letters she only called him the banker, or my handsome banker, or my ravishing banker. His calling card was the key left with the letters. The key was engraved with the name of his bank on one side and the number of a safety deposit box on the other. This banker had pushed aside the flimsy partition of Stanley’s dying relationship and flicked him away like a bug from the cuff of a shirt. A neatly pressed shirt of a banker.  Stanley could only handle so much.

When he woke again, he was no longer on the train. He was in a bank lobby. Which bank he did not know. But he knew. There could be no other bank. The deposit box key was in his hand rubbed raw between his thumb and fingers. His brown loafers were soaked, his feet numb from the cold. It was winter. The seasons had shifted while he was stuck inside with his mind. Then he saw Salas. A mutual friend of his and Justine’s that they had met years ago, before the onset of allergies began. The bank was at low capacity. There was only one person, an older lady, petit and impatient, in line waiting at the concierge desk that Salas manned. Stanley loomed behind her, letting his presence grow wide, feeding into her restlessness. It worked. She suddenly had a change of heart and instead needed to speak to a teller. 

           Salas greeted Stanley like a stranger. That was completely fine, Stanley thought. Salas meant nothing and Stanley meant nothing too, so they were comrades in nothingness together. So be it. He looked a little like the train conductor from his daydreams, a man only capable of standing in profile. They walked together down the hallway to the elevator that took them to the safety deposit box vault. Stanley’s wet loafers squeaking along the way.

           “Do you play?” Salas asked, gesturing to the violin case.

           “It was an overdose,” Stanley replied, and a hint of laughter emitted from inside followed by a tap of teeth.

           “Sorry?”

           “As a child,” Stanley began more confidently, a lost fraudulent version of himself striding forth, pulling from stories Justine shared with him when they first met. “I was tortured by this thing daily, an obsession of my parents that left me with no physical scars, but I do have some nights where my fingers and eyes won’t stop twitching. Felt like I overdosed on it as a child. Time for me to put it away for a while.”

           “It’s a little big for the deposit boxes.”

           “No, this isn’t for the deposit box, it’s for a friend.”

           “Ah.”

           The rest of walk went quickly and in silence aside from the squeaking of loafers.

           Salas keyed through the outer gate and passed Stanley over to the banker. 

           “A deposit?” the banker asked.

           “An inventory at least,” Salas replied and looked to Stanley who nodded.

           “Of course,” the banker said. “Follow me.” The banker keyed into the inner vault, then rotated through his massive ring of keys producing one identical to Stanley's. They both inserted their keys into the respective client/bank locks of the deposit box and turned in unison. The box clicked forward, far enough for Stanley’s fingers to find a groove and slide it out. The banker stepped back allowing Stanley room to pivot and place the box on the middle table, next to where he rested his violin case. Stanley stood there staring down at both items, deciding which one to choose. His hand shaking, he reached out and opened the violin case. He removed the bottle and glasses but left the letters inside. The banker seemed amused, but not surprised. Stanley popped the cork, which had no metal setting to undo and didn’t even really pop but more squeaked loose. He poured two glasses with barely a bubble, handing one to the banker and placing the other on top the deposit box.

           “What are we toasting to?” the banker asked.

           “To Justine.” Stanley said and looked up into the banker’s eyes for the truth. Ah, and there it was. There it was in his smug, privileged eyes like a small, thieving boy, caught but unafraid. You should be afraid though, Stanley thought, and lifted his glass, tipping it back and draining the drink to the bottom. It tasted soft and dull, not like champagne at all but more like cold tears. Whatever it was it warmed him instantly. The banker took a sniff then set his glass down on the table and pushed it towards Stanley.

           “I’ll pass,” the banker said.

           The warmth Stanley first felt began to intensify, like small workers in his body were shoveling coal and a fire was growing wild. He grabbed the deposit box and stumbled back a few steps.

           “What’s happening?” Stanley asked, searching for a change in the banker’s eyes.

           “Well, I needed you here and I couldn’t exactly extend a formal invitation,” the banker said. “Needed someone who could legally turn the key to get me back into her box. I didn’t think you’d ever make it.”

           “What is this? What did I drink?” Stanley hit the back wall of deposit boxes hard and slid down fast, chaffing his back on the metal grooves until he hit the floor.

           “Same thing Justine drank months ago.” The banker walked over, smoothly pocketed the top letter from the pile, the one addressed to Stanley, and squatted down to his eye level.

“May I?” he asked, reaching for the deposit box that was beginning to dip from Stanley’s grasp.

           Stanley looked down at where the box would have been if he could see, finally understanding what was inside. Knowing and no longer caring because what was the point? He leaned his head back and like that his vision went full black. “Take it,” he said and closed his eyes. From far in the darkness the train conductor walked toward him and together they stood on the empty platform and waited for the next train.

July 08, 2022 22:47

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1 comment

Charlotte Larson
06:35 Jul 16, 2022

"the train conductor from his daydreams, a man only capable of standing in profile." I can't get your story out of my head! The train conductor suggests this story hasn't ended. I hope that's the case. I'm not ready to leave Stanley.

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