Saturday, March 19, 2016

Shadow and Invisible Friend, Katy Comber

The Dream House Chronicles, Part 3: Shadow and Bright
By Katy Comber 

“Shadow!” Maggie felt Bright’s presence before he shouted across the cafe. The nickname made her cringe. Heads swerved in wonder at who could attract such an exuberant response from the man with the radiant smile. Disappointment and vague curiosity hung in the air when several pairs of eyes swept over to view a gaunt lady in dripping snow boots and a heavy cable knit sweater. The round-faced, perfectly styled, brunette behind the counter eyed the girl and thought, must be his cousin. She sniffed warily as the gorgeous man swept the woman into a generous hug and beamed down at her. The woman’s bashful returning grin made the barista second guess the relationship between the couple that caused such a stir in the otherwise quiet cafe. A writer in the corner cleared his throat and pulled on an extra large pair of headphones with contempt of the interruption. The other three customers smirked in empathy with the writer, but the two in the center of the cafe paid them no attention. 

“Shadow’s a name for a dog.” Maggie grumbled into Bright’s leather coat and breathed in his familiar scent of peppermint and expensive cologne. 
“Shadow’s the name your brother gave you for following us everywhere. I can’t help but love it.” Bright chuckled back into Maggie’s freshly washed hair. At least she showered. He couldn’t help the relief as the thought raced through his mind. 
“I’m buying you lunch.” Bright Fulton jaunted over to the counter to order before his friend could utter any objection. 

Much to the barista’s discouragement, the attractive man ignored her fluttering lashes and perfected pout. His eyes only left his oldest friend to scan the specials scribbled colorfully on a chalkboard and there they planted as he read his order to a disgruntled barista. As he waited for the food, he leaned back on the bar and made obnoxious facial expressions at the amused girl he hadn’t seen in years. The dark circles under her dim hazel eyes and the wispy hair tied in a careless knot on top of Maggie’s head, took Bright by surprise when he first eyed her in the window moments before. It’s no wonder. Bright thought grimly on the conversation he’d had with Maggie’s brother the day before. 

“She’s worse, Bright. Please. You have to see her. Cheer her up? You know how much she would love to see you.” Fred whispered into the phone as his sister lay in the darkness of the only room in their house without glaring and glorious natural light; the bathtub, clawfooted, deep, and unworking, had served as Maggie’s retreat for days. “Davis. He--” 
“I know. I'll be in town by morning. Get her to that pretentious hipster cafe on Main St. for lunch?” 
“If it’s so pretentious, why in the world would you eat there?” Fred laughed. 
“Maggie likes their pickles.”
“You remember the strangest things, man. Okay. Lunch it is. She hasn’t left the house since… but she’ll get there to see you. I know it.” 

 And here they were. Eating sandwiches called The Faulkner and The Will Smith with a complimentary tea cup of pickled cucumbers, peppers, and carrots. A tea cup. That is not enough. As the idea dawned to Bright, a sly grin crossed his face. The dark cloud that had begun to settle with the thought of the previous weeks’ struggles dissipated. Bright whipped around and startled the barista behind him.
“Could I let you in on a secret?” he whispered, conspiring with the starry-eyed girl behind the counter. She giggled and pushed his wildly gesturing hands away from a bright glass jar of artisanal pickles before it tipped over. Then pressing a finger to her perfectly-glossed lips, she agreed to her role in the plot, got to work.   
As he brought over their lunch, and Maggie wondered at the number of baskets and when Bright placed them down, she chuckled her first sincere laugh since, well, for a long time. One of the baskets was brimming with pickles. 

“That sound. I’ve missed that.” 
I have too. Maggie thought. 
“I’ve missed you.” Maggie said. Maggie’s smile brightened and the inquisitive eyes of the barista took in the woman’s transformation. Plain old Maggie had lit up the room. She radiated with beauty. The barista looked away from the couple then and focused on the irritated and mousy looking gentleman attempting to order a coffee, tea, something. 

Bright looked on as the Maggie he’d always adored appeared before him. His breath caught. Then, something, cracked. Maggie’s smile wobbled a bit. Maggie’s smile disappeared. 
“Shad-Maggie, hey, hey. Mags--” Bright started as the flash of the old Maggie struck him like lightening and just as suddenly went back into hiding. The sight infuriated Bright. Selfish bastard. He thought of Davis. The boy who had charmed every heart in their small town including a majority of the girls’ lacrosse team and one, Bright Fulton.   

“He’s gone, Bright.” Maggie shuddered. “I haven’t said that yet. Not out loud. First step is admitting it. Right?” Maggie’s lip curled in an half attempt of a sarcastic grin. The result was simultaneously endearing and awful. Bright grabbed his friend’s trembling hand and wondered at the last time she ate. 
“Let’s talk about that later. Right now. Food. That is our objective. Your obscene amount of pickles are waiting.”  

When the first shock of vinegar hit her palate, Maggie shivered and wondered about the last time she ate. Fred had been so patient with her, but the twenty year old’s culinary abilities only extended as far as an experimental dish featuring Ramen and peanut butter, and barbeque sauce on Kraft Mac N Cheese. As his older sister by five years and only parental figure after Daphne and River left to establish an artist commune, Maggie knew that Fred was trying and that the role-reversal of third child taking care of first child had been awkward for him. It would have been awkward for Maggie too had she been half-aware of the days that flew by while she sat in the dark and coffin-like structure of her parents old tub. Was it dark for you, Davis? 

 Bright saw the girl shudder. He looked over her limp hair and frail arms. The circles under her eyes grew darker. Purple. The lines around her mouth creased as she chewed. Her skin was so pale. How long had she been lying in darkness? How long had she resisted sunshine? She used to have pigtails and climb trees better than any boy in the neighborhood. She was the girl to whom I confessed everything. My keeper of secrets. My beloved and most trusted friend. She would step into a room and everyone would wonder how someone like me got to hang out with someone like her. Now she’s… no, don’t go there. Bright quaked slightly as the word thundered in his mind, a skeleton. Without Davis, Maggie was attempting nothingness. 

Maggie and Davis Gibson, born 21 minutes apart, had been inseparable for nearly 21 years. When Maggie graduated from their college and moved back home a year early, Davis would text her pictures of her favorite spots on campus and send her coded messages in a language that drove their brother Fred wild with envy. One day Davis called, left a breathless message about a fantasy French girl he’d met on the R5, and that was it. Davis disappeared. 

Two weeks later, a postcard from Matchmaker Realty: Your Dreams Are Never Too Good To Be True came in the mail. Neatly scribbled under the note: Sorry for your loss. was the name Frida Starling. Fred noticed it first. As the postcard grazed his fingers he knew two things: Davis was dead and one day he would live in a house with a porch swing and wine barrel flooring. Fred wouldn’t let his sister touch the postcard, but he gripped it before her widening eyes and asked questions neither of them could answer. 

When they attempted to call Matchmaker Realty an automated message stated the their call would be answered in 476 days, 13 hours, and 2 minutes. They laughed and then wept over the obvious prank. This began the days that passed for Maggie in the darkness of the master bathroom. This began the days of consuming wonder. This began the days of Maggie’s deterioration.

Fred hung up the phone from his call with Bright. Maggie overheard the entire conversation. Bright’s voice over the speaker in the office adjacent to the bathroom lulled Maggie into a deep sleep. In her dreams she saw Bright’s radiant smile. His bear hugs and his concern. His crazy faces. She dreamt of a basket of her favorite pickles and Bright cracking jokes and flirting with an oblivious barista. She dreamt of sitting with Bright one last time and then, when the realization struck her oldest friend that he was lunching with a corpse, Maggie felt something hook inside her chest and pull upward. Maggie felt herself lifting into the sky. Maggie dreamt of flying. 


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