Time for a little flash fiction, started one particularly miserable night in The Bay. A dominant theme that threaded through, like an insidious vine, the whole co-habitation experience. Misery. It takes two. Months later, returning to Mount Rhodes to move the last of my possessions, the beautiful artifice still held trauma, a domestic concentration camp…
The day Esmeralda died was a Tuesday like any other. Nothing exceptional could be discerned from the sky, cloud formation, seismic activity or the bearing of Mars on Pluto. A stock-standard Tuesday – you couldn’t have forecast a thing had you been loaded – or sober. And Esmeralda Nickletin was very definitively sober. She didn’t drink much – a quiet librarian type who got a strange kick out of washing the after dinner cutlery. Even she failed to notice a shift in the air, or the water – or anything else for that matter. But. She did know that at a particular moment, EVERTHING of consequence changed. The clock ticked – per normal. The birds chirped obliviously in the trees. Everything looked identical to how it had the day before (‘just another manic Monday’) only, if you knew enough to look below the surface you would’ve seen something was most definitely “different”. Oh, it was subtle, alright. It would’ve taken a team of high-brow scientists an age to gauge the exact calibration of the change – we’re taking milli-metres, nano-seconds, teeny tiny increments of no real consequence of all. Except. Except, of course, if you were Esmeralda.
Changes are often missed by the very people who should be on the lookout for them. It’s a sad human irony that it’s usually those very people, off on their own tangents, buried beneath wounds and pain and self pity that miss the near-silent click of a train changing track. The very people whose lives are moments from becoming a monumental train wreck fail to heed the signs. Because trains change track swiftly, with only the barest warning, like the slick snip of Zeus’ scissors. And then there’s no going back. This was one of those times.
Esmeralda was a stoic woman. She went about her business without fuss – preferring to ‘get it done’ and not bother with office politics and the convoluted concerns of more neurotic folk. And she got things done – effectively and sans hoopla. So, just an ordinary day, this Tuesday. She got dressed, poured herself a stiff cup of coffee and headed for the foreshore. She dressed as she conducted her business and life in general – in severe, no nonsense pinstripes. She was not the kind of woman you tried talk ‘creative’ accounting or ‘invoice avoidance’ to – she did it by the book, the full book and nothing but the book. There was, quite simply, no other way. Which was great if you worked for the Military. Not so great if you worked anywhere else. And Esmeralda worked for The Man. Which is not to say that The Man didn’t work for Esmeralda. She drove bargains harder than the south pole drives snow – there was no wool to be pulled over her bright green eyes. Even the proverbial Tax Man played it straight with her – she entertained no other option.
But she died on Tuesday. And went to work, business as normal, on Wednesday. She was that good. Even Death could not overcome her. None of the clerks noticed anything wrong with the unconquerable Ms Nickletin. The partners on a couple of her bigger engagements noted the slightest decline in general ‘determination’ for client closure but anyone worth half their salt would’ve attributed that to the latest IFRS update. Hell, half of them were taking out second mortgages and signing hefty professional indemnity policies so they understood the nuances of temporary demotivation. But still, she was cool, calm and 100% professional – she got the job done. And you don’t fuck with a model like that.
Of course, the one person who really should’ve noticed something was amiss was her husband. After sharing a home with Esmeralda for nearly 10 years, one would certainly be forgiven for thinking that he, of all people, would recognize the somewhat sinister shift. And that was all it was – as seemingly insignificant as that. Perhaps, a bystander might have noticed the dark discs of her pupils dilate to draw in a little more light, one last time. Perhaps, a sentient being might’ve recognized the pal seeping through her skin. Perhaps. Sadly, the fact remains: no one did. So Esmeralda died, aged 32 and two thirds, at 22h43 as the moon rose, waning through an empty sky.
How can I say for sure that she died? It’s easy enough – if you know what to look for. There’re clear signs of a soul’s silent swan song. First, the irises leech of vitality, fading until they become flat, opaque pools of nothing. Stare into these eyes as long as you want, all you’ll find is an echo endlessly reflected back. Next, the muscles lose their suppleness, the face slackens as animation flees from nerve endings. Expressions become laboured, ill fitting masks; voice tone drops an octave, flattens out and dies; reflexes grow tired. The heart starts to slow as defeat creeps through the ventricles, straggling hope. Oh sure, the body continues to functions well enough, but the spirit is broken and the mind is numb. Which is what happened to Esmeralda that Tuesday: she finally gave up hope and broke beneath the cruel hands of a man who claimed to love her.
And it wasn’t until well after a month that this vile wart noticed something had changed in his wife. His regular slew of obscenities and snide underminings met no resistance, spoiling his sport some. Esmeralda who once looked as scared and hyper vigilant as a march hare bound for the pot, begun to beam beatifically. When struck, she smiled. When cursed, when kicked. When he threw his dinner to the floor, broke her favourite vase, throttled her beloved cat – Esmeralda continued to smile. Thwarted, he flew into a murderous rage and attempted to beat the insolence out of her. Blood seeped from rough wounds the length of her body, both eyes black and several teeth broken, he paused for breath – and found her smiling still.
Frustrated, he drove her to the asylum.
“This woman is mad” he professed.
The doctor raised a learned brow: “Why? Because she beat herself?”
“No, fool” spat the lecherous newt “I did that. The problem is – she won’t stop smiling!”
“I see you tried valiantly to solve that for her” noted the physician.
“I did indeed” agreed the toad “So much so, I’m exhausted. I think she’d be better off here.”
“Well” mused the doctor “It so happens, a room’s become available. Complimentary white jacket with back zips. Follow me, my man, and we’ll see if it meets your needs.”
Esmeralda sat, waiting, and smiled through her swollen lips. Presently a nurse arrived, ushered her into a stark room where she took a series of photographs and started to gently bathe her wounds. The doctor returned, silently surveying the carnage before stitching the worst.
“My dear” he began, eventually “I’ve locked that weasel of a husband in a tight, padded cell where the only harm he can inflict is on his own twisted mind. With photographs of this ‘love’ he’s routinely showered on you to accompany my affidavit, the police will keep him there for what remains of his sorry life. You, in a word, are free.”
Shakily Esmeralda found her feet, hugged the white coated physician and his kindly nurse and walked out the asylum doors. The old spark returned to her deep green eyes as she lengthened her gait and life coursed anew in her veins. Some say it takes a princely kiss to wake the sleeping damsel. I’d like to believe all it takes is strong antiseptic and a couple of well placed stitches.