Love and the Madman

Submitted into Contest #127 in response to: Write a story about a problem with no good solutions.... view prompt

28 comments

Fiction Contemporary Drama

The cold weather comes, and it all ends. Noel hasn’t been out of town in months. She speaks of getting a job. She drinks, and they argue. When Nathan watches her, he can’t think straight. Something about her impetuous need to continually move against the grain of life. The way her delicate mannerisms always unhinge into something peculiar and unpredictable. 

Noel knew the power she had over him, but the way it happens is never intentional. How she hides a part of herself until the boiling temperature is reached, and then a new version of her spills forth in a dramatic deluge. She’s taken with what seems a kind of fit. She screams at Nathan half coherently. She makes weird gestures in the air. Some of them are threatening, and some of them are absurd. 

She slaps him repeatedly across the face and says stuff like, “you aren’t even real, so how can you say you love me?” She then slaps herself a few times and says, “But for me, I’m real, right? I wouldn’t have felt that stinging pain.” She slaps herself again and emphasizes, “right there, the burn and tingle of it all.” 

He cannot restrain her arms, and every time he comes close to grabbing her wrists, she kicks violently at his shins and screams, “Don’t you dare touch me, Mr. invisible! Don’t you dare put your fake ghost hands on me! You’re not even really here!”

Another overarching strike lands at the bridge of Nathan’s nose, and this time she has her fist closed. His world fades through a squall of tears, and he tastes the copper from a bloody nose. He squints and snorts and lunges to grasp Noel in a bear hug before she can get in another punch.

“Noel Marie! Stop this madness, you hear me? Just stop it!” 

Nathan sneezes, and Noel’s face is spritzed with speckled red dots. The echoing thud running through his frontal lobe pushes his demeanor into a wave of cold anger. Noel laughs and licks her lips, and after swallowing the moist discharge, she says.

“Nathan… Nemo! That’s your name. Mr. Nemo. Not here. Nobody.” She chuckles with insane glee. He tries to get her in the car, and it has rained, and they slide about. All the men watch. Gawking at the areas she exposes while flailing about.

“I didn’t know they had dancing here,” one of them says sarcastically, and the other men whistle and laugh and follow suit, insulting her.

He gets her in the car, feet globed with mud and snow. They swerve out of the driveway over deep ribbons of dirt. They get on the mud-stained solemn road, and she sits silent and grave. There’s an occasional eerie smile that cracks her lips. They are driving towards town when she grabs the gear stick. She tries to force it in reverse, and the motor whines with gears ratcheted unmeshed with a thin squawk. He grabs her wrist and holds it while she tries to kick the knobs of the radio. 

“Stop. Stop it! You’re being crazy,” he says. 

She slumps in the seat for leverage and kicks out with both feet. The right-hand windshield goes blind white. She kicks again, and it falls out onto the hood, and it slides off onto the street. He wheels into the curb, and she screams at him something senseless.

“You’ve gone dizzy!” He says.

She gazes at him almost soberly. 

“It’s just a car,” she says. “It can be fixed.”

Across the street, there are faces through windows watching. Nathan stares at the twisted stumps of radio knobs and the windshield wiper hanging inside across the dashboard. 

“You’re a pain,” he says. 

She raises her foot like a giant petulant child and kicks the rearview mirror askew. He grabs her ankle.

“Quit it,” he says.

She sobs drunkenly. 

“You bastard. You couldn’t say… it’s okay, honey. Or say something like… say, say. I guess you’re so perfect! Damn you anyway.”

A police car pulls up without a sound. Two officers get out, one from either side. 

“What’s the trouble here,” says Nathan to himself as they approach. 

He wishes a fissure would open up beneath them and swallow them all. The officers look down at Nathan and Noel. 

“What’s the trouble here?”

Nathan gestures helplessly. 

“She got mad. Kicked out the windshield,” Nathan says.

One of the officers was leaning on the roof. Nathan can see the shape of his elbow and the canvas inches above his head. The other officer is standing with his arms folded. Both said nothing. Nathan is silent also. All of them seem to be waiting for another party to arrive. 

Finally, the officer leaning on the roof says, “You got papers on this car?”

Nathan leans and opens the little vinyl glove box door. He shuffles through papers and hands a title to the officer. 

“Let me see your license,” says the policeman. 

Nathan gets out his billfold and offers the little card up. The officer inspects the documents and hands them back, and straightens up. 

“Is that the windshield back there?”

Nathan sticks his head out of the window.

“Yessir,” he says. 

“Get that glass off the street and get out of here.”

“Yessir. I will.”

They glanced at the car and shook their heads, and they got into their cruiser and pulled away. 

Nathan goes up the street and grabs the windshield where it lay limp and shattered in the gutter. He brings it back and puts it in the trunk. He gets back in the car and starts the motor. They are going down sixth street towards the freeway ramp when she begins to tear up the money. Nathan heard a handful of it rip and looked to find it swirling away like green confetti in a slipstream. 

“Dammit,” he says.

He catches the wheel and goes gliding into a filling station. In the Sunday morning boredom, old men watch through the plate glass window, waiting for something to occur. Here comes an exotic automobile that coasts in with tattered greenbacks blowing from the window and fluttering in the street. Whole handfuls of it. Who knows what denominations. 

She sits there and rips it up and cries and says that this money would never do anybody any good. Their old faces press up against the glass with flat bloodless noses. Two small boys come from across the street at a dead run. Nathan goes out and receives pieces of tens and twenties from the paving. She climbs from the car and sways with her hair disarranged, and she smiles slightly. The boys scramble in the gutter and watch them like cats. 

Nathan goes around and takes the keys from the car, and starts to close the door. Then he stops, puts the keys back in the car, and walks across the tarmac and into the street. Noel begins to shout at him some half-drunken imprecations, and all he can make out is his name. He seems to have heard it all before, and he keeps going. 

It snows more during the night. The cold violet light softly projects the irregular flakes. Piles and small mounds lay down the avenue. Snow in the street nestles to branches and twigs like pale frosting. The silence is heavy and thin, and occasionally he stops to listen. A nameless crow flies, and Nathan looks up at the night. 

The snowflakes come dodging out of the blackness beyond the lamps to settle on his lashes. Snow falls down over Portland, sifting down over the Pearl District, hiding the dents in the roofing and draping the window panes. It frosts the parking lots and the ticket validation machines surrounded by potholed concrete. It covers the sludge, dirt, and craggy gutter ways and lays white lattice on the sewer grates. The snow hides the garbage, the bum camps, the packing crates, and the gaudy rings of truck tires. 

The flakes impinge with a delicate and momentary whisper on the soft surface, then are gone. The white light of a car headlamp bores down the grey warehouses and boutique businesses in a vivid phosphorus tunnel in which the snow falls ever so innocently. 

It’s dawn when Nathan makes his way down a steep path by the ruins of an old wall. Some ancient city was overgrown here. In a seer field, worn clothes the wind has tattered hangs from a wooden cross. Down there, the litter of silt-stained rocks, the paving and sprouted growths of the rusted iron rods. 

Nathan goes down concrete steps with a mangled iron handrail, and he passes old brick cisterns filled with rubble. He moves past the stone bridge on an earlier river, the last ramshackle house, and the brown curbstones that once lined the main street. 

The old cobblestones, paving brick, and blackened beams with their axed flats. All this slid from the city on the hill. He passes the madman’s house without regard. The old man reaches the street before he hears him cry a disturbing monologue. 

“Agh, he’s back. God spare his blackened soul. Another hero home from the whores comes to cool his heels in the river with the rest of the sewage. Back for the fishing, are you? God himself doesn’t look too close on what lies on the river bottom. Fit enough for the likes of you. He knows it’s Sunday. He’s drunker than normal. It’ll take more from you than helping blind men across the street for the hell you’ll soon inhabit.”

Nathan goes on towards the street with his fingers in his ears. His used shoes creek in the dried chalk-like snow, and he stops to consider the problem of love, the revelation of the madman, and what all’s gone wrong. In a moment of reflection, he begins to sob. He bites his lower lip and rubs his eyes. Nathan gathers his wits and moves on.

January 01, 2022 00:09

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28 comments

K. Antonio
00:51 Jan 01, 2022

Dustin, I'm commenting as I read: - I really enjoyed the prose in the first two paragraphs, the narrative style works really well. - 5th paragraph and I'm already asking questions. Is she schizo? Is this dude invisible? It was really interesting. - I liked the details you embedded in the story. Like the watchers, Nathan's view of the police officers from where he's positioned. I really enjoyed the prose, and how Nathan questions himself. I felt kind of bad for him, and at the same time I wanted to know why put up with Noel at all. Love ...

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Dustin Gillham
01:08 Jan 01, 2022

She's totally nuts. But it makes you question after the foreboding pronouncements of the madman, who is the crazy one and what is love? I'm totally stoked you liked this one as well.

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K. Antonio
01:16 Jan 01, 2022

Oddly enough, I wasn't following you before, consider it remedied. ANYWAY, your last story was very memorable, this one was fun because for some reason I found myself wanting to know what Nathan was going to do. I often find complex relationships the most interesting to read about. If I were to say anything constructive it would be something like, "Why does he put up with it?" Or maybe I don't need that answer but am simply curious to know why. Have you ever read "Giovanni's Room?" This had a feel, especially the descriptions, similar to...

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Dustin Gillham
01:23 Jan 01, 2022

As I wrote it I was merely trying to say that Love is often a crazy problem that can't be remedied. I have no idea why Nathan put up with it either. At the end he is just done with it.

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John Atlas
20:41 Jan 01, 2022

I really enjoy your writing style. Gripping from start to finish.

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Dustin Gillham
21:34 Jan 01, 2022

Thank you so much John. I'm grateful for you taking the time to read my work. Happy New Year my friend.

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Graham Kinross
07:46 Feb 26, 2022

The psychology in this story is really interesting. As soon as you start dealing with characters who are outside what we are used to seeing around us you get really intense interesting stuff. Well done.

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Dustin Gillham
21:21 Feb 26, 2022

Thanks, my friend.

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Eric D.
04:34 Jan 13, 2022

Great way to set the mood by using the weather to convey certain story elements and compliment the narrative throughout. Its very consistently used and subtle such as with the snow and flakes for example. Excellent descriptions!

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Dustin Gillham
22:09 Jan 14, 2022

Thank you, Eric. I'm finding that there are a lot of challenges writing short stories. I have a habit of telling too much rather than showing. I'm honored you took the time to read and comment.

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Adam El Nabli
09:01 Jan 11, 2022

Really like it. Your writing style allowed me to very clearly visualize every minor detail of the characters' surroundings and the associated gloominess. I sort of assigned faces to the characters while reading, but I wonder how you imagined the characters' physical features. How did this relationship affect Nathan physically? Are his eyes black from lack of sleep? Is he underweight from loss of appetite? Or Noel, does she even remember to eat? In any case, I really loved the story, Dustin. The tension of the scenario was infectious and t...

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Dustin Gillham
19:07 Jan 11, 2022

Thank you so much, Adam. The truth is, Nathan is a mess on behalf of Noel, and the story portrays that he is insane as the yelling madman at the end. I suppose there are times in all of our lives where the best thing to do is stop trying and walk away. I'm honored you took the time to read Love and the Madman. Please read further submissions. Blessings, Dustin

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Faith Ogedegbe
03:40 Jan 10, 2022

Good job, Dustin.

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Dustin Gillham
18:29 Jan 10, 2022

Thank you Faith. I’m both glad and honored you took the time to read my work. I hope you’re having a wonderful new year.

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Stevie B
14:24 Jan 08, 2022

Dustin, this was crazy cool to read. Well paced, some surprising twists and turns, and a thought provoking resolution at the end.

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Dustin Gillham
17:43 Jan 08, 2022

Thank you, Stevie. I'm so glad you enjoyed the read. I am honored you took the time to respond. Please look to future submissions. I'm trying to get better with each and every prompt.

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Stevie B
19:12 Jan 08, 2022

You're welcome and I will.

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Michelle Colpo
05:15 Jan 07, 2022

It's amazing seeing Nathan's patience for Noel through her fits. The falling snow is a nice reflection of the hardship he is undoubtedly facing. Love has its ugly moments-particularly in this situation. Makes me wonder if he stuck around waiting for the better moments to catch up, and in doing so realized maybe the scales have tipped unfavorably for him. I enjoyed this haunting read, and hope Nathan discovers the will to love himself!

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Dustin Gillham
17:47 Jan 08, 2022

I have a sneaking suspicion it will take Nathan a while to recover before his next relationship! Thank you for reading. I am trying to get better and better.

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18:02 Jan 03, 2022

The utter pain in this story really comes through. And the snow…covering all the ugliness and sanitizing a very bleak mess…if only for a minute, even if it’s still underneath and will be visible again. Powerful images. I liked how you described the rubble and trash as he moved down the steep path. “All this slid from the city on the hill.” What a great line. I like your writing style. Another great read!

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Dustin Gillham
20:59 Jan 03, 2022

Heather, you made my day. I am incredibly grateful you took the time to read it. I keep trying to improve with each promt. Blessings, Heather.

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12:15 Jan 03, 2022

Wonderfully written. I was wondering what he would do in the end. Started to think he might commit suicide or something.

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Calm Shark
23:22 Jan 02, 2022

This is a well-written story like always! The plot and setting are eery and depressing which matches the mood between Nathan and Noel.

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08:04 Jan 01, 2022

Powerfully written ! Noel is drunk I get that but obviously more than that; Quite mad. I love your style.

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Rachel Smith
06:58 Jan 01, 2022

I feel so sorry for him! But at the same time, why doesn't he just leave her? I've met couples like this. I enjoy your prose too, particularly the paragraph near the end beginning with "the flakes impinge..." Beautiful. One time, a couple I know from the village, they had a fight in the street outside the pub and she got in her car and ran him over. The next night, they came in the pub, arm in arm, all in love. I can't even put them in a story because noone would believe it! 😂😂 Happy New year!

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Dustin Gillham
19:05 Jan 01, 2022

Oh my gosh, Rachel. I love the story, and oddly, I can believe it happened! I'm so honored and grateful you took the time to read it. Now I'm thinking Nolan should have just got in the car and ran her over! Happy Happy New Year to you too!

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Felice Noelle
04:31 Jan 01, 2022

Dustin: Wow, this reads like some of us have lived life with troubled loved ones. The starkness of the setting was powerful. I can relate to the confusion and dichotomy of feelings. My ex had a PhD in history and philosophy of science and went from nihilism to becoming Jesus Christ during his manic suicidal phases. And my bipolar sister is usually the Bride of Christ when manic, but scared half to death of religion when she's medicated. You got it correct when you depict how difficult it is to share their space. My ex thought I was M...

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Dustin Gillham
19:10 Jan 01, 2022

This is wonderful, Maureen. Thank you for both reading the story and for sharing your own experience. I've been in a few crazy ones, for sure. Yes, there is a reflection in my own experience in "Love and the Madman." Glad those days are over. Yes, get some reading glasses. I peruse and read on Reedsy for about an hour a day. I am amazed over the quality of writers that we get on this site. We are pretty lucky to have this. I read a lot outside too but Reedsy is where my heart is. Excited to see what you write next Maureen. I alway...

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