Contest #119 winner 🏆

74 comments

Fiction

Suzanne

Inspired by Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” 

I first saw her at a party sitting among the bohemian crowd, all skinny, all smoking, all intense with their words. She leaned forward with a glass of red wine in one hand, a cigarette in the other. She spoke as if in secret, telling them everything she knew of social injustice and political corruption, all the wrongs that they were certain in their hash-filled haze they could set right.

Stewart came from his bedroom, hugged me, took my suitcase and ragged coat before sitting softly beside her on the couch. His arm hung loosely around her shoulder as he watched her speak. This was the girl he had told me about. The one, he said. Suzanne

They took me in for several weeks and their two became three. We talked feverishly into the morning until the last drop of alcohol. He was a well-funded writer. She was trying to make it as a painter. I had been crashing with friends trying to finish my manuscript, but mostly I was drinking too much and running out of money.  She was neither coy nor hesitant like girls I had known. The ones who pretended to know less than they did. Who sat with perfect legs pointing toward garrulous unkempt boys, quietly waiting for the moment one would want to take her home.  

Stewart and Suzanne glided into the bedroom, arms around each other’s waists, her lips like flower petals against his ears. I ached for her. 

I slid under the blanket on the old plaid couch. I couldn’t sleep. I lit a cigarette. I thought of them together until I drifted into a drunken sleep. 

She was beautiful in the morning, boiling water for coffee and making eggs, taking drags from a joint at perfect intervals. Without Stewart I was speechless in her presence. I wrote in my notebook with a heavy head and waited for him to wake. She placed the coffee and eggs before me. Her slender  brown fingers touched everything with a tenderness my heart could not bear. 

I wrote about her. 

Six months after I first saw her we were standing at the train station waving goodbye to Stewart. He was leaving for Paris for a month to write. A graduation gift from a father he barely knew. 

“Be good,” he said to Suzanne brushing her soft black curls behind her ears. 

“I’ll be back,” he said to me with a wink and a pat on the shoulder. 

Suzanne invited me to stay in her family’s home on the coast of Maine to finish my manuscript. 

“You can write,” she said. “I can paint. I won’t bother you.” 

The small white house stood at the shore. Wooden stairs led to a deck which gazed at the ocean. As I followed her up the stairs the wind forced waves to crash against rocks, showering us as Suzanne turned the key. Our shoes clacked against the wooden floor. I welcomed the silence after several nights of going away parties for Stewart. She showed me to my room, a perfectly tiny space with a twin bed and desk. Her room was right next door, our beds on opposite sides of the same wall. 

The kitchen cabinet was filled with wine and liquor. Suzanne pulled out two coffee mugs and filled them with bourbon. 

“Welcome,” she said, raising her mug to mine. 

The wind calmed, the clouds danced apart and the sunlight stretched its way into the kitchen where we sat on stools, sipping, smiling, silent. The bourbon warmed my tongue and melted its way down my throat, settling in my belly. 

She watched me for what felt like eternity, and I was desperate to find anything worth saying. I shooed away every worthless thought in my mind and felt relieved when she walked toward the record player. 

The back of her dress scooped low to her waist, and I fell in love with her back. I wanted to go to her and touch the back of her neck, running my fingers all the way down. I wanted to drop to my knees and kiss the small of her back. I wanted to make her forget Stewart.  I swallowed the bourbon whole. 

She put on a Miles Davis record and swayed her hips. Snapping her long fingers, her thrift store gems sparkled in the sunlight.  I lit a cigarette and poured more bourbon. 

“Dance with me,” she said as she swirled in my direction. 

“I can’t,” I took a long pull from my cigarette and my bourbon. 

I tapped my foot to the beat and she danced her bare feet toward me. She finished off her bourbon and took a pull straight from the bottle. She wrapped her feathered scarf around my neck and laughed. Her perfect teeth. Her perfect eyes. My body weakened against her gentle tug and she pulled me up to my feet. 

We danced and I was lost. There was no house, no ocean, no floor beneath my feet. There was only us. Our foreheads pressed together. I closed my eyes, never wanting to look up. I pulled her close and she let me. Her head rested against the deafening beat of my heart. I let my fingers get lost in her hair and she looked up at me and stared. We swayed until after the record stopped. The house returned, and the wooden floor creaked with every movement. I moved to the kitchen table and lit another cigarette. 

“I’m drunk,” she laughed and swirled to the sound of wind and waves. 

I smiled and looked into my mug.  

She flipped the record over and slouched onto the couch. Sitting with her feet outstretched, she painted her toenails burgundy. I tried to write but it was all useless drivel. I should not have come, I thought. 

“Why have you been friends with Stewart for you so long?” she asked as she painted her smallest toe. 

“I don’t know. We’ve been friends since we were kids. I’ve never really thought about not being friends with him I suppose.”  

“He told me that you were the smartest person he knows.” 

“I suppose Stewart needs more friends.” My attempted joke was met with silence. 

She sat upright and patted the seat next to her and like a dog I moved without thought, only sheer delight that she wanted me near her. 

We finished off the bottle and she told me about her family - her parents’ divorce and her older brother who died in the war. She leaned her head on my shoulder as we passed the bottle back and forth. The muted trumpet sang to the ache of this moment and I wondered how it knew. I brushed back a lonely hair that rested on her forehead. She smelled of tangerines and bourbon and nail polish and everything I could love forever. 

It was still dark when I awoke.  Her sleepy head rested on my chest. I had to go to the bathroom, but I stayed still, staring at the softness of her hair, her skin, taking in every inch of a moment I did not deserve. 

She woke as the sun entered and walked to the bathroom, smoothing her dress and yawning. I made coffee, setting out a mug for each of us. I took my coffee and throbbing skull to my room to write. I pissed in a jug periodically so as not to have to face the pain of her beauty. 

We worked all day. She painted at her easel by the window facing the sea. I wrote in my room. In the evenings we ate and drank. She showed me her work. I read to her the bits I was not afraid to share. She was a compassionate reader with a talent for showing me where I had written too much or too little. She had the same disdain for useless words that I did though it did not seem as excruciating to her. 

When we sat close I could smell the oil paints she sat painstakingly with all day. Painting the red and orange and pink sunset, the moment that typically marked the end of our work. 

At sunset we cooked together and sat like husband and wife at the dinner table. And we danced. Every night we danced. She did not need to ask anymore. It became my role and I accepted the part. 

Our last night in the house I could not sleep. I thought of Suzanne and the love I could not give to her. Stewart would come home. He would ask her to marry him. She would say yes. They would have children. Our lives would drift apart. I would visit at Christmas and comment on how big their children were growing, how beautiful Suzanne’s expecting belly looked. I would congratulate Stewart. A job well done. 

She was packing her paints and easel when I came out of the room.  I placed my suitcase by the door. The sun was barely winning its fight against the darkening clouds. 

We walked to the shore and sat with legs stretched toward the sea. The gulls mewed and circled the ocean. Suzanne wrapped herself in her paisley shawl, taking a drag from a joint. 

“It’s so beautiful,” she said, passing the joint to me. 

“It is,” I said, taking a long pull, squinting my eyes toward the ocean, and waiting for the rain.  

November 12, 2021 20:46

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74 comments

Jon Casper
11:06 Nov 16, 2021

Well not only do I adore that song, now I adore this story. What a heartache of poetry you have wrought here. "She smelled of tangerines and bourbon and nail polish and everything I could love forever." God, I am almost speechless. Such great work, Rachel.

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12:53 Nov 16, 2021

Wow! Thank you so much for the kind words. I have not written in sometime and have been trying to get back into it. This comment means a lot.

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Swan Anderson
01:04 Nov 17, 2021

Your prose is as beautiful as the song, rich with imagery and emotion. You've captured Suzanne in a way that would make Leonard Cohen proud!

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11:17 Nov 17, 2021

Thank you!

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Renda Brooks
17:46 Nov 19, 2021

The song takes me to certain places whenever I hear it, your story did the same but almost more eloquently. I could just see them as they experienced their short time and ended with an ocean view and impending rain. Congratulations on your well deserved win.

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17:21 Nov 21, 2021

Thank you!

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Renda Brooks
01:32 Nov 22, 2021

You're welcome.

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Lorna Carruthers
15:56 Nov 19, 2021

This is lovely, what beautiful descriptions, I felt I was there too!

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16:22 Nov 19, 2021

Thank you!

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Keya Jadav
13:20 Nov 30, 2021

Wow! This left me speechless. The relation between the protagonist and Suzanne is a weird tangle of threads but you pulled it off so amazingly! The plot has been well built intriguing the readers from the very start. I am happy to see it got the recognition it deserved. Looking forward to more stories from you!

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16:56 Nov 30, 2021

Thank you so much!

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01:17 Nov 26, 2021

Your descriptive words of Suzanne are wonderful. I know the song, so I could sense the mood and get into it immediately. I think it could have been kicked up a notch if the climax was a bit more....climatic. You have a very strong descriptive talent when sharing your characters. I was impressed. I hope to see more.

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16:27 Nov 26, 2021

Thank you so much. I greatly appreciate the feedback :)

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Bruce Thomas
14:02 Nov 24, 2021

There was no house, no ocean, no floor beneath my feet. Really enjoyed reading your work, and just wanted to thank you for not letting them kiss, that is the power of this piece for me. It makes me ache. :D

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17:41 Nov 24, 2021

Thank you :)

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Ben Leatham
21:38 Nov 19, 2021

Rachel, this was incredible well written - I couldn't stop reading it! I'm in awe of how you've crafted a story full of emotion and detail. I went and listened to the song straight afterwards. Any top tips would be much appreciated!

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22:41 Nov 19, 2021

Thank you so much!

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Shea West
20:24 Nov 19, 2021

Rachel- Welcome to Reedsy! Congratulations on your win! I'll admit, I'd never heard this song before so I played it as I read. I'm not sure if that was your hope for readers or not, but I'm glad that I did. It put me into the story far better if I had not. This was all so visceral and layered with the energy of the beatniks. I love that it wasn't a HEA. (Even though I'm a damn sucker for a HEA.) I think ending it the way you did was realistic and honest, that love doesn't always show up the way we plan it to nor do we get to act on it. ...

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20:27 Nov 19, 2021

Thank you so much! This was my first story on Reedsy, and the first I've written in some time. I'll be posting more for sure, and I look forward to reading yours as well.

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Amanda Lieser
19:01 Nov 19, 2021

Hi Rachel, I listened to the song, then read the story, and relistened. I was so happy to see the winner wrote to this prompt. You did a beautiful job of capturing a love story in this piece. I really loved how you painted their story with incredible imagery and detailed language. This was a well deserved win. Thank you for writing this story and congratulations!

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Khushbu Jiwani
18:24 Nov 19, 2021

amazing

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Arnika Ranjan
16:21 Dec 04, 2021

I would say I was lost in this story as he was lost in her beauty. That's an amazing story. I wish it had a longer version so I could read what happened in the end.

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Theodora Simões
10:38 Dec 02, 2021

This is so beautiful.

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Heather C
22:44 Dec 01, 2021

That opening line! I was captivated from the beginning!

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Maria M
12:28 Nov 29, 2021

Wow, great story. But I was hoping of another finish. Thank you.

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Clair Whitmer
22:04 Nov 27, 2021

Sentence that made me jealous: She smelled of tangerines and bourbon and nail polish and everything I could love forever.

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Angela Govender
20:04 Nov 27, 2021

Beautifully written!

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Howard Seeley
04:46 Nov 27, 2021

Great effort. Keep up the good work!

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Fazlullah Md
19:13 Nov 26, 2021

Then I asked her a question, " how often do you smoke a joint ? " , it could result in pregnancy problem when you plan to have children with Stewart. " Oh no no no " , she said, you assume a lot. And Then, I looked at her In the eye and said," Maybe because I massage a lot of women on weekends, look at my palms, my hands, they have touched the skins and flesh more than anyone can Imagine. The fragrance, of Geranium and lavenders made a permanent stay in my life."Lucky Bast*rd", was my last compliment, I received from one of my female clients...

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Asal Asadivand
19:36 Nov 23, 2021

I couldn't stop re-reading certain lines over and over again because you described them so beautifully! This is amazing. You describe Suzanne in a way in which she was standing right in front of me.

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11:58 Nov 24, 2021

Thank yo so much! I appreciate the kind words.

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