The Road to Greek Tragedy

Submitted into Contest #110 in response to: Write about a couple who fall out on the road.... view prompt

17 comments

Thriller Romance Suspense

Ludus: to describe those who see love as a desiring to want to have fun with each other, the acquisition of love and attention itself may be part of the game. The color blue.


Gregory placed the weight of his leathery hand on the column shifter of his car. Valerie sat shotgun, in a navy-colored a-line dress. Her legs together but not crossed pointed toward Gregory’s tweed pants. The positioning was a suggestion, one he had been no stranger to in the past.


“Where to Valerie? Do you have somewhere in mind?” Gregory eased the car from the sidewalk where his Plymouth was often parked in the parallel position on campus. His eyes glancing with care between the oncoming traffic and the gorgeous woman beside him.


“Do you remember this dress, Gregory? It was the dress I wore the first day of class.” Her half-cocked gleam teased Gregory’s memory. How could he have forgotten that day she sashayed into his auditorium where he taught Romance in History: Writing the Next Great Love Story. The blue dress hugged Valerie’s body now the same way it did at the beginning of their union. The sight made Gregory close his eyes with a vigorous squeeze that produced luminous floating stars amid the darkness of midnight blue. He shook them away hoping that Valerie didn’t notice that her mere presence illuminated phosphenes within his eyesight. 

She nodded down the road, “Let’s take a drive to our favorite lookout like old times Gregory. It’ll be fun.”


Eros: a passionate physical and emotional love of wanting to satisfy, create sexual contentment, security, and aesthetic enjoyment for each other. The color red.


The car was handled evenly under the control of Gregory’s capable hands. He had an affection for a fine automobile as it often mimicked that of a fine woman; Curvy, powerful, and something he could drive. The interior of his car was immaculate and sleek with no evidence that anyone but Gregory occupied the space. Gregory could think of no other place than his car to set the scene for complete passion. The red leather bench seat with white stitching guarded romps between Valerie and Professor Gregory VanKamp of which there were many. It was Valerie’s red-stained lips, and silk head scarf tied neatly in a bow upon the crown of her head that caught his attention.


“Gregory, do you remember that first day in class? What you said about the greatest romances?” Valerie didn’t stare much at the road as she focused her red-lipped pout in Gregory’s direction. Her hand stroked the top of his thigh prompting the professor to shudder in pleasure. 


He’d taught the class for over a decade now and he knew exactly what Valerie spoke of, he could recite his first-day speech with his eyes closed. Gregory pressed down gradually on the gas pedal, moving the car onto the highway into the darkness slowing only for the stop sign. The sign was a motion to bring things to a full stop, even as it blazed in bright red from the shine of his headlights. Gregory rolled through never braking.


Valerie clutched his thigh. “Go on Professor VanKamp, give me your speech. You know what it does to me.”


“The greatest romances of history are just that—history. What readers want to know now, to take away from the pain of the world they are in, is that love can still be passionate and cause the blood to elevate. To allow the crimson flush to climb up their necks to the apples of their cheeks. By writing about the touch of a hand on the side of someone’s waist you create a wanting that burns fiery in their subconscious.”


Valerie’s eyes flounced and sparkled in remembrance. “I always did love this drive with you, Gregory. We have so many memories.” The light from the oncoming car swept across the interior building the heat of the red between the two of them.


Pragma: the most practical type of love, not necessarily derived out of true romantic love, a convenient type of love. The color green.


Fridays after lecture Gregory would wait until Valerie was finished at her typing job to pick her up behind campus for a drive. Gregory grew accustomed to their easy joyrides, like an end-of-the-week drink, driving helped him to relax. It was the same drive every time, simple and pragmatic as they each knew what to expect.


Tonight’s drive felt the same as all the others except for the pack of cigarettes that Valerie pulled from her purse. The crinkle of the plastic wrapping covered in green branding caught Gregory’s attention. It seemed too early for her to have a cigarette just yet. A cigarette always came after the reassembling of clothes to their bodies at the overlook. They’d roll the windows down and allow the smell of smoke to drift into the night with the trees and the grass. Inhaling a twist of nicotine and oxygen was a sensible end to the tangling of their bodies.


Sensing his confusion and distaste Valerie cranked the window down at the intersection.


“Oh, don’t look at me like that Gregory.”

The light flashed green.


Storge: growing slowly out of friendship and based more on similar interests and a commitment to one another rather than on passion. The color yellow.


Gregory thought of this drive and how he had moments where he thought maybe Valerie was a little different than the others, more mature and sensible. He thought perhaps he could make something official with her but all of that changed a month ago when she arrived disheveled at his lecture room window inebriated, weeping, and clenching a small pile of yellow papers. It was the only time he’d seen Valerie’s golden hair mussy and unbrushed, the sun on her like a spotlight for the entirety of campus to see. Breaking things off during the quarterly trysts with women from his classes never caused much of an issue. With the brush of his pen, he’d give the student an ‘A’ and that was enough to quell the schoolgirl crush without further gossip among campus. He saw that things might be different with Valerie, not as easy to shake.


The Plymouth’s tires edged the double yellow lines. He heard a slight fussing of papers in her hands that caused him to pull a bit too heavily on the steering wheel. Pulling the car across the yellow lines abruptly he managed to right the vehicle once he reminded himself that eyes on the road mattered more than eyes on the person next to him. The papers torn from a yellow legal pad were covered in Valerie’s handwriting. 


“Gregory darling. Mind the road won’t you?” She was so casual and at ease, Gregory believed for a moment that things might turn out fine if he let her down gently.


The yellow lines transitioned allowing for more movement on the road.


“I kept these notes from your class. Can I read them to you?”

Gregory released his brassy cuff links from his shirt and tossed them into the ashtray. He aimed to slow things down, and if he could present himself as relaxed Valerie might take the news better. 


“You said that the idea of romance is nothing special. That our readers already know what they want undying love to look like. Our job, and we had only one, is to trick the reader into falling in love with our idea of balancing devotion with indifference. As writers, it is about creating an ideal image of what true undying romantic love seems to look like. You asked us to get comfortable with presenting love in a way that the average person would have a healthy dose of doubt and distrust of our main characters. I'll never forget the last thing you said, is that we had to make it seem real.”


A double yellow line crossed could prove dangerous.


“Gregory, is that what you’ve done here between you and me? I wonder, are you devoted or indifferent? Aren’t we more than just friends?”


Mania: This type of love tends to lead a partner into a type of madness and obsessiveness. The color purple.


“You never loved me, did you, Gregory?” Valerie’s eyes hardened like the color of an amethyst stone. The hand that once grazed Gregory’s thigh before now waved in a frenzy around the interior of the car.


“I saw you with all of them. I watched you for such a long time, and I’m so stupid that I didn’t see it before. Of course, I wasn’t the only one.”


The switchbacks began to elongate allowing for acceleration, the wind whipped Valerie’s hair wildly around her face. It took all of Gregory’s attention to keep the car safely on the road. He knew if he could get them both to the overlook he’d be able to interject, maybe even talk some sense into her. 


Valerie popped the glove box open ripping through the contents looking for evidence of the other women. A satin glove, or a brooch, something that would prove she wasn't crazy. Her voice erupted into a screeching demand.


“Where is it, Gregory? It’s not in here. Is it under here? What about in the back seat?” 


The raving was only overshadowed by the chaotic movements she made about the car searching for the item she’d yet to name. With one hand on the wheel and the other grappling to grab hold of Valerie’s errant arms, Gregory made contact with her wrist. 


“Stop it, Valerie, you’re acting deranged. Take a breath won’t you?! Your face is damn near violet!" 


Valerie broke, the sobs ravaging her body. For the first time on the entire drive, Valerie looked at the road ahead as if she’d known all along where this relationship between the two of them might end up, at a dead end. 


“Romeo and Juliet. Paris and Helen. Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Were they crazy too?”


Gregory loathed when his teachings were used against him. Anger filled him at the whiplash Valerie emitted. 


“Romeo and Juliet fell in love just to realize they should kill themselves. Paris and Helen fell in love and set off an epic war. Anne and Henry?? Ended with a beheading!! Beheadings and self-sacrificing lovers, that’s not love. That’s a performance, and no one likes a circus, Valerie.”


Valerie lunged at the wheel, yanking it toward the passenger door.


Agape: the purest form of love, based in altruism, goodwill, and benevolence. The color orange.


The front end of the car buckled into the guard rail, teetering off the edge of the lookout where Gregory and Valerie spent many passion-filled nights. The dust curled itself around the broken headlights turning the aura around the car orange. 


Valerie’s body sprawled across the red leather seat appearing lifeless. Gregory’s head showed distress, as blood leaked down his head dripping onto his tweed pants. The seat belt kept the rest of his body anchored, his door flung open to the expanse of the outlook.


“Valerie? Valerie?!?” He was desperate to wake her for fear she had died upon impact. Explaining a dead student in his car to the Dean might prove difficult.


“Gregory…what does this mean for our love story?” 


The Plymouth groaned at the sound of Valerie’s voice moving through the car. 


“Shh! Stop, you’re going to push this car over the ledge."


It seemed an ironic time to laugh, but Valerie could think of nothing better to do. 


“Gregory, when I write about our love story I’ll remember the cynic. The cynic screams this kind of love does not exist."


Confusion passed over Gregory’s battered face. Valerie decided at that moment that it was a goodwill to let Gregory go.


“What are you doing Valerie? No, we can talk about this.”


Valerie’s fingers made their way to the safety belt buckle. 


“I’m releasing you from the circus Gregory.” Click.

September 10, 2021 05:00

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17 comments

K. Antonio
16:10 Sep 10, 2021

I liked how the title has a lot to the with the story. The way the "colors" are used for breaks was pretty neat. I enjoyed the prose a lot, the progression, the dialogue. I think sometimes we have to experiment a bit just for the fun of it and to see if whether or not we can pull something different off. I think this story feels nuanced, not what I normally see from your writing, yet the prose, the pacing, the attention to details feels very much you. I definitely felt this was a romance from the beginning. Half-way through I started g...

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Shea West
16:15 Sep 10, 2021

Apparently there's some Color Wheel of Love Theory, that each of these Greek words for Love have a color attached to them- That really captured my attention in a way that I felt I could use it. (I should have mentioned that after I posted the story itself.) I smiled a bit when you said "It feels very much you." I suspect because it makes me feel like I have a specific voice in my writing, and that tells me I've maybe developed a writing muscle...something I never thought I'd have? Anyhow. I imagined Alfred Hitchcock a bit while writing t...

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Ananya Voss
21:02 Sep 17, 2021

Excellent. Very gripping. Loved it

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Shea West
00:03 Sep 18, 2021

Thank you for stopping by!

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John K Adams
22:11 Sep 15, 2021

I really enjoyed the humor provided by the formal and distancing style breaking the flow with definitions. You took what might have been a kind of cliched story about a prof and his student mistress and transformed it into a comic tour de force while also giving us a tutorial of sorts on romance writing. I am your newest fan.

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Shea West
00:09 Sep 16, 2021

What a rad compliment thank you John!

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John K Adams
00:40 Sep 16, 2021

My pleasure!

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Beth Connor
00:13 Sep 11, 2021

Shea, this was amazing! I loved the format and the transition of the story. So creative.

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Shea West
01:08 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you Beth!!!

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Scott Skinner
23:09 Sep 10, 2021

Wow. This was an amazing read. I really bought into the format you used; defining the Greek words and then giving the color was super creative and worked perfectly for what you created. I liked that you tied both the theme of the definition and the color into each section of the story. I think Storge was my favorite section, but I loved when Gregory told Valerie that her face was damn near purple at the end lol I also liked the attraction that was alluded to in Eros. After reading that, if I didn't know the prompt, I might not think there ...

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Shea West
23:28 Sep 10, 2021

Thank you Scott! Your feedback is the kind that really leaves me feeling encouraged to keep trying, so thank you for that. I figured the format of defining and such would be cool seeing as Gregory was a college professor. I'd hoped to make it seem like these two were on good terms for a bit, a normal car ride between lovers. Storge was simply a peek into the crazy she was about to bring ;) Thanks again for reading :)

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Jon Casper
14:38 Sep 10, 2021

Inventive framework. I think you pulled it off beautifully. The dialogue and prose are both top notch. Excellent work!

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Shea West
15:21 Sep 10, 2021

Thank you Jon! You always have super kind things to say, it's appreciated.

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Bruce Friedman
13:11 Sep 10, 2021

Wildly inventive. I will return to read a few more times. Just reading it once is exhausting. Keep 'em coming.

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Shea West
15:20 Sep 10, 2021

Hey thanks for the read Bruce..... Not entirely sure how to receive the fact that you feel exhausted after reading. Maybe drink a Gatorade next time, and stretch your hamstrings prior. I'm kidding, I'm kidding......But really, stay hydrated ;)

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Shea West
05:02 Sep 10, 2021

Okay, have at it. I worked really hard on this one...to make it make sense, and I'm hoping that it does. Tried a new genre- Suspense. Really pushed myself here!

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Dustin Gillham
20:13 Sep 20, 2021

Hey Shea, I just tried to be silly on this new piece I wrote. It took me forever. Normally I'm all about the sci-fi and horror. You're a great reader. Could you read this new one I wrote about the first rain and be super critical about it? 90's Hip-Hop, Spiders and Amazon packages. Thanks so much shea.

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