Fiction Speculative Suspense

I think what I really want to do is explain to you why things are so different now. It’s not fair to leave you in the dark forever. You deserve better than that. So please, try to understand- I’m being stretched in ways people don’t stretch, and if I don’t break first, you may never recognize me again.

I’ve always wanted to be a very alive girl, but you know that. To live vividly and shamelessly, flaunting my vivacity over a dull and tiresome world. It has made me many friends, but you and I have not always seen eye to eye. Even a mother’s love cannot be so blinded to her daughter's idiosyncrasies... I’ve seen the rising redness in your face at my inability to say the right thing at dinner parties, or the way you rub your eyes as I regale you with yet another reason why that month-long trip to Malaysia was once again absolutely essential. But you endure it well, and I love you for that.

It was a rather strange experience, even for me. I’ve never been a skittish person. Fear does nothing but hold us back from the new and the unknown. But after everything that’s happened, I feel like the best thing I can do is leave a written record of my affairs, in case anything comes of it. If all goes well, you will never get this letter.

It started out pretty normally. I had just finished one of my elaborate excursions, this time to Canada. Normally I don’t go for the cold, but I’d heard it was great for whale watching, and I couldn’t let that pass by. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had any luck, due to faulty planning on my part. I had gone during a bad time of the year. But the idyllic wilderness still soothed and awakened me in a way I had desperately needed. 

Home life always seemed bland in comparison. There was very little that I looked forward to, other than making a spectacle of myself. That always seemed to spice things up. Being an obscurely famous internet star would have been a dream come true for me. As it was, I was between jobs. It was right before I was hired by that big tech company to help out with the design of their rebranding process. Man, I hated that job. 

But with the little bit of freedom I had at the time, I was relatively happy. I job hunted a couple hours each morning, but other than that the day was my own. It was a peaceful time for me.

I had been in the city that day, when I had seen it for the first time. I had just finished a job interview that had gone the worst possible way, and was reliving the ridiculousness of it all, when I was snapped out of my reminiscence. It was the color that first caught my eye: a beautiful, deep, velvety maroon. Only upon closer inspection could I see the faint pattern overlaid delicately in a slightly darker shade, curling into graceful shapes suggestive of flowers and wind. They seemed to shimmer and move, though I never discovered how. You could tell this beautiful fabric had been shaped into a bag, although that was likely not its original purpose. I finally allowed my eyes to be torn from the object of my admiration to its owner, gazing up the leather straps of the handbag, pausing briefly on the withered hands that clung to it, and then suddenly finding myself staring at possibly the oldest person I had ever seen. Everything about her sagged. It was as if all the life had been drained from her, leaving nothing but an empty, flimsy shell of a woman. She had the definite look of someone in surrender. But her eyes… her eyes are what haunt me. There was no weakness or age in them. They told stories I could not understand.

I lost sight of the woman shortly after. Not sure what became of her, and I don’t care to find out. There was something ruthless and uncontrollable about her. But the bag inspired me. I love beautiful things and the things I could create with a fabric of that quality could take me, dramatically and vividly, to places I never could have imagined. 

I began my search, unsuccessfully, to unwrap the mystery of the velvet handbag. You know how I do love mysteries! There was nothing like it that I could find. The sources I connected with were incredulous at my obsession with a measure of old cloth. I looked in countless places, hoped for it, prayed for it, worked for it… but to no avail. My special connection to the bag was broken, and I would likely never see it again. After years of searching, I put my project on hold. My friends had missed me. And you needed me… when I finally returned from my mission, it seemed a light had gone out of you. And all that time I never noticed! I still feel badly about that, but I did my best to make things right, and you seemed to recover, though a bit of your old sparkle never really came back.

We decided to take a trip to Florida, to let you heal in the heat. It was to be a short one, since I had a life full of things demanding my attention back home. And it was there I saw it again, in unexpected splendor.

We had visited a gaudy little cafe one morning to meet with a few of your friends, you remember? It was a typical Miami hotspot: glowing with neon through a polluted, smoky haze, even in the bright sunlight. There was something sticky sweet about the the door, the tables and chairs… no matter how vigarously it was cleaned, the surfaces held the memories of every patron who had visited that crowded little corner of the world. 

The cafe was refreshingly empty that morning, and we were the last of your friends to arrive. Hurriedly we entered the dimly lit building, making our way to the table. We were luckily seated by a window, but it wasn’t the hustle of Miami life that caught my attention, risky and exuberant though it was. I held back a sudden rush of emotion - and I’m quite sure you noticed it- at a outlandishly luxurious set of deep velvet drapes, hanging heavily and intoxicatingly out of reach, a few feet from our table. I had found it again, and the pattern was just the same. A naturalistic, impossible pattern that curled impassivley across a blood red canvas. I didn’t look away. It captivated me. I’m sure you noticed, you had to have noticed- and maybe you even understand? Nothing anyone had to say seemed quite as important as the marvel I saw before me. I wanted to tear the drapes from the rod, to unravel the secrets of the pattern, to separate a childish piece of fabric from this inexplicable and violent reaction I felt towards it. 

As you all walked out, I paused by the drapes. I took a moment to appreciate them. Breathe them in. I held the fabric in my hands- it was lighter than I expected, as though there was a transience to it. As if it might disappear…

I hurried after you, into the sunlight. I was smiling and laughing, and doubt you saw the dark, torn corner of material in my hand.

On the plane ride back I turned it back and forth between my hands. It shimmered and seemed more alive than ever, scintillating as if it would break free. All I could do was pass it between my two hands. Back and forth… what was in it? Where could it have come from? Back and forth… It wasn’t enough to hold it, I need to solve it. To discover why it captivated and repulsed me. Back and forth…

I tore myself away. I was still on the plane. I leaned back, breathing for the first time in hours. But it couldn’t have been hours. You were asleep next to me, and for the first time I looked down the aisle in the opposite direction. I froze. I had seen those eyes before. There was a middle aged man, watching some show. He was focused, headphones in. On his lap was a briefcase, and while I had never seen it before, it breathed in an unmistakable way. I quickly looked down, hoping I hadn’t been seen. Those were the eyes of the old woman, the one who I thought of late at night, when every noise in my house was amplified by the heavy silence of 2 AM. I feel crazy. I know it’s not possible. But his eyes were her eyes, and his case was her bag. I still don’t know what it means.

I’ve seen her a lot since then. Always in a different form. A mindless commuter, a helpful grocer. But most terrifyingly, I’ve seen her in you. 

It’s that scarf you always wear, I don’t know how I never noticed it before. The deep red that hung about your neck. Had it always moved like that? It was nauseating. You told me that it had been past down from your mother. That you liked the look of it. But honestly, how could you really? Your skin was becoming leathery and yellow. There were folds were there hadn’t been. And the way the scarf draped across your fragile neck like a gash-

I didn’t see you much after that. I don’t think things will be the same again. Your scarf went missing… I wear it now. Every day. That dark twisting pattern was so putrifiying on you, but I think it rather suits me. People stare more than ever now. I think they can sense it, something about the scarf that’s bigger than their little problems, their petty lives. It belongs with me. I can compliment it, complete it. All those years the pattern flitted around, finding it’s perfect match, and now it’s mine. 

Sometimes I have strange thoughts. It doesn’t surprise me anymore. You always said I had an overactive imagination, and that my thoughts have turned darker isn't shocking. It comes with age and maturity. I see the world more clearly now. My strength and vitality haven’t changed. I’m not an old maid withering away. In fact, I doubt I will ever die.

But this morning I looked in the mirror, straightened my scarf, and collapsed. My heart was racing, and I determined I had to write you this. There’s an inexplicable clarity about this to me, but I’m curious to hear your take on it. However I’m afraid we won’t be talking for a while; I’m taking a grand trip, somewhere you can’t follow. Not now. It’s really kind of funny, a big joke that you’re not quite in on yet, but I promise to explain soon. But I guess, the crux of the matter is this: I discovered what was wrong with those eyes, all those years ago. Please, try to understand... those eyes-

They were my own.

July 23, 2021 01:36

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