I wrote this story based off of real life events and of course added some embellishments to provide color and depth, but the essence of the message is sadly true. I hope you enjoy the story…
Written by: Frank Cormier
The parlor was dark and shadowy even though it was a sunny Saturday afternoon. The shades were drawn except for the curtain covering the glass sliding doors. One half of the curtain was wedged between the couch and the wall to allow a bit of sunlight into the room. The glass sliding door was ajar letting in the moist summer air.
Threadbare furniture filled out most of the living spaces in the tiny one bedroom in-law apartment, and many sundry knickknacks cluttered any available horizontal surfaces. Blanche, a sixty-five year old graying woman, was filled with compunction and not able to throw anything away. She attempted it before in the past and just broke down and cried. All of the women’s interest magazines she collected over the years were randomly stacked in one corner of the kitchenette surrounding the waste basket. It was a fire hazard but she convinced herself that they were okay where they lay because she was going to read them all… one day.
A boxy television droned on as she quietly sat in a rocking chair in front of the opened door with the cat on her lap. She gripped the cat tightly, holding it in place while she petted her. The cat was tense and as soon as Blanche relaxed her grip, it jumped from her lap and bolted out of the sliding door. “Go ahead run away,” she bawled at the cat. “You’re just like everyone else! I don’t even know why I try.” She then adjusted the shawl draped over her shoulders as a compulsory move more than one of necessity and continued to rock. No matter the temperature she was either bundled in a shawl or blanket or wore a sweater.
Another peculiar habit she had was to always dress in black, not so much that she was in mourning, she believed that it made her feel skinny. She was not grotesquely overweight but was always on a diet. Whatever the latest diet fad was, she was on it and “none of them ever worked.” She would adjust parts of the diet to her liking because it was impossible to survive otherwise. Part of her adjustment included indulging her sweet tooth. “I see nothing wrong with eating a little bit of sweets,” she said triumphantly to her shadow. “They aren’t that bad for you once in a while.” She had a different time scale than most people operated by. “Once in a while” could mean right then and there (and typically did when it came to sweets) or it could encompass a whole year or longer (especially if it involved a task requiring her to get out of her comfort zone). The truth of her reality was always relative to what she witnessed or believed in at the time.
Her life was uncomplicated for the most part: run errands, watch television, nap, eat, read the local newspaper, sleep, wake, and do it all over again, scarcely leaving the apartment. Her primary reason for staying at home these days was that she believed she was agoraphobic; some time ago she had watched an afternoon talk show about the topic and decided that she had all of the symptoms. “No need for a doctor,” she said proudly to her reflection on the television screen. “No one knows me better than myself.” On a different program about arachnophobia she called an exterminator right away to ask how much it would cost to fumigate her home. She balked at the price and hung up. “I’ll just pick up some Raid and do it myself,” she scolded the phone.
She spied the cat as it crept along the weed encrusted slope of yard just off of the deck. The cat stopped and readied itself in a crouched position to pounce on some hapless prey. Blanche studied the scene from her rocking chair trying to determine what the cat was up to. Once she realized, she sprang to her feet and ran out on to the deck, stamped her feet, and yelled at the cat, “Shoo! Get out of there you horrible beast!” The cat undeterred snatched a baby chipmunk from the weeds and snapped its neck in one fell swoop. The lifeless prey hung from its mouth as she jumped up on the deck and presented the kill to her master. “Are you fucking kidding me,” she screamed at the rogue. “I can’t believe you just fucking did that! You’re horrible!” She spun around and quickly went back in the apartment and slammed the screen door closed to prevent the cat from following.
The shadows in the apartment had grown longer and more portentous which caught her attention as she dialed the phone. The eeriness of their shape caused her to hang up before someone answered. A full ten minutes went by with her motionless, captivated by the shadows. The cat meowed at the door and begged for admittance, when suddenly Blanche burst into tears and crumpled in place to the floor. “Why is my life so shitty?” she blurted out between sobs. “I’ve done nothing wrong to deserve a life like this. I’m not the one who cheated on the marriage. I’m not the one who got drunk every day. I went to church every Sunday,” she cried, “And because he just goes up and dies on me, I get stuck in this miserable life!” She wept uncontrollably for the next half hour before falling asleep where she lay.
As she came to, she realized where she was and slowly and with great effort stood up, then walked over to a framed picture of her husband with an obituary printed next to it and studied the frame. Edward had died over fifteen years ago. “Why did you have to cheat on me and then die?” she asked the picture. “I was supposed to go first. Only the good die young and I’m still here and you’re gone. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.” The picture offered no response though she believed it should.
It was now close to supper time and she began the mundane task of preparing a meal. She always made enough for two and usually ate both portions. A pot of water boiled on the stove as she fanned in some spaghetti. The days of making her own tomato sauce had been replaced by bottled sauce, and all she had to do now was warm it up. The framed picture of her husband sat on the tiny round dining table as she supped in quiet. During the meal she concentrated on the shadows and glanced every so often at the picture with bitterness in her eyes.
One shadow in particular caused her much discontent. A small statuette of Jesus with his arms spread and head slightly tilted to one side, stood on the entertainment console, cast an ominous shadow. A single beam of sunlight entered through the small opening of the screen and glass sliding doors and danced about the statuette’s head creating a halo at one moment and horns the next. The illusion was caused by a butterfly that had landed on the screen door in the direct path of the ray of light. Each time it spread its wings the horns would appear, conversely, when it folded its wings the halo appeared. Blanche was not able to discern the cause from where she sat; she only knew it upset her and it must be a sign. She was always looking for signs that her life was going to get better.
Once finished with her meal she cleaned up while keeping an eye on the shadow. After several minutes the illusion went away as the angle of the sun ray shifted. The butterfly remained on the door. The dishes were cleaned and stowed and she dutifully took her place on the rocking chair. As she rocked her attention was drawn to the butterfly. The butterfly had beautiful blue colored wings with small ivory circles resembling eyes on its wings. A gift from God she thought, maybe this was the sign she had been looking for all this time. She let her heart and mind fill with the hope that everything was going to be all right. All grew quiet as she internalized a prayer for a better life and gazed ardently at the butterfly.
Without warning, the cat pounced on the butterfly and knocked it to the deck. The speed and accuracy with which the cat took out her prey was uncanny. The shock and surprise of the attack was too much to handle. Blanche gasped deeply and started to choke on her breath, fell out of the chair, and helplessly flailed her arms. At that same moment, the butterfly weakly fluttered its wings in a last desperate attempt to cling to life before it succumbed to its wounds. The cat licked her paw, meowed, looked inside, and then wandered off into the oncoming darkness.
Copyright (C) 2015 by Frank Cormier. All rights reserved.