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(Reprinted from The Storyside)
By Ursula Wong
“Velume,” murmured Andre. “How can I live without you?” Even from the shadows where he lurked at the back of the room, Velume’s face glowed with an unworldly beauty. Lying in the coffin, her expression was sublime, as if she had learned a great truth by dying.
Figures dressed in black entered, stayed for a time, then left, their eyes piercing the dimness where Andre stood. Velume’s husband, that dog, slid to the floor near the coffin, melting into a pool of tears. Hands lifted him, carrying him past Andre toward the door.
“Why are you here?” asked a voice, its bearer disappearing before Andre could answer.
He was there because he heard her laugh in the rustle of the leaves. He was there because his heart paused each time she looked at him. He was there because he couldn’t be anywhere else.
He remembered waiting beside the giant shrub in front of Velume’s house, longing for a glimpse of her. She’d finally appeared. She’d gasped when he’d joined her. As they’d walked, Velume kept looking back. “I love you,” he’d said. She’d looked at him fearfully before turning abruptly into the street. Tires had squealed. Her body had made a dull thud as it collided with red metal.
Soon, she would be in the earth, separated from him once again, in a place where he couldn’t see her, couldn’t talk with her, and couldn’t tell her how sorry he was that he had caused her to step in front of that car.
As the last mourner left, Andre moved to the coffin. He pulled scissors from his pocket and clipped an inch of her hair.
Even Velume’s hands, folded neatly on her chest, were white like marble, perfect in death. Andre reached into his pocket for another tool and clipped again. He adjusted the lace of Velume’s sleeve. As he quickly walked through the doorway and into the street, he caressed the skin of Velume’s finger that would be with him forever; forever together.
By Ursula Wong
Teresa sat on the dock, stretching her toes into the water, trying to imagine herself as a teacher, a politician, a wife, a businesswoman, a . She had just graduated college, and the indecision of what to do next felt like a curse. She hadn’t been happy in weeks.
Gulls flew up singing their cul-cul-cul song as a woman came down the dock, looking scruffy in old sneakers, jeans, and a faded denim shirt. Her gray hair was loosely piled on top of her head. “Hello,” she said.
Teresa smiled and nodded, hoping the woman would keep on walking and let her get back to worrying about the rest of her life.
“I’ve lived in Gloucester for a long time,” said the woman.
Teresa suppressed a moan. This is going to take forever.
“My husband died a few months ago.” The woman brushed away a tear.
Teresa shifted uncomfortably, but motioned the woman to sit down.
She said her name was Mary, and she talked about running barefoot through the village in Sicily where she was born, taking the first steps of love with a man who would become her companion for the next 60 years, and then settling in Gloucester, where her husband had relatives. She spoke of the little darlings who were her children, for she had been a teacher.
“You knew you wanted to be all those things?”
“It was an arranged marriage. I didn’t have a say. As for teaching, it was the only job I could get up here at the time.” Mary looked out over the sea. “I had to learn to love many things in my life. You’re lucky to have choices. I always wanted to be an artist, but never had the chance.”
Teresa smiled. Maybe she was lucky.
Jen crossed the floor and put another piece of wood into the pot belly stove that radiated warmth and the feeling of comfort. Uncle Alex had lived a long life in the old house with its rafters that smelled like time itself. He had never owned a TV or even a radio. He had even cooked his meals in a cast iron skillet on that stove.
She turned back to the job of sorting his papers. Uncle Alex had stored everything in boxes. Jen opened one and pulled out cancelled checks, a pile of old family photographs, and a discarded sock. In the bottom lay an envelope with her name on it. The note inside read simply, Be nice to Christopher.
She had wanted him to move in with her during those last years, but he had refused, saying he’d miss his friend Christopher too much. Jen had never met Christopher and didn’t know how to contact him, so she had been the only mourner at Uncle Alex’s funeral. She wondered why Uncle Alex had felt the need to tell her to be nice to his friend. She wished she knew how to get in touch.
She missed Uncle Alex with his stories and laughter that had filled every crevasse. She hummed a few bars of an old ditty she had learned in grade school so she wouldn’t feel so lonely.
Someone was singing with her.
“Who’s there?” she called as she picked up the scissors and clutched them in her hand as a weapon. She sprang to her feet.
Uncle Alex had always said there was a ghost in the house. He hadn’t told her it could sing. Who else but Uncle Alex would have a singing ghost. Jen chuckled at the thought.
She hummed a few more bars. No voice joined her this time, and oddly, she felt disappointed. The house seemed colder and lonelier; somehow emptier. Uncle Alex had lived alone there, but had often mentioned how he had never felt lonely. Then, Jen knew why.
“Will you join me, Christopher?” said Jen.
She hummed some more, and there was the voice again. Jen smiled. It was good to have company.
The Yellow Butterfly
In the dim light of a room that smelled of disinfectant, a priest I didn’t know murmured a prayer, his hand covering the yellow rosary beads entwined around Mom’s fingers. Her lifetime of prayer shouldn’t have led to this. Her diligence on sore knees should have stopped the inevitable from happening. But it hadn’t.
He asked if I needed anything. I shook my head.
“She was a lovely woman,” he said.
“You get sick and you die. That’s all there is. Faith is a waste. Prayer is for fools.”
I went to the window, raised the shades, and opened the sash. A yellow butterfly hovered over the ledge, just out of reach. When I stepped back, it flew inside.
I forgot my anger as I watched it circle the room and land on the rosary beads. Yellow had been Mom’s favorite color.
“I don’t believe in God or coincidence, but I’m beginning to believe in butterflies.”
“It’s a start,” said the priest.
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By Ursula Wong
Betty opened the door. “Get out of here!”
As soon as Stanley stepped over the threshold and onto the front porch, she slammed the door shut. She waited, counting the seconds. “Twenty-one, twenty-two.” It was a rough neighborhood and he wasn’t supposed to wait this long. Perhaps he was planning something more than their usual make-up-sex. She felt a tingle run up her spine. Oh how she loved that man. She opened the door and peeked out.
No one was there. Leaving the door ajar, she walked down the steps, half-expecting him to jump out from behind the bushes. What was he planning?
“Stanley, are you there?” She curled her toes. This is going to be good.
The wind stirred the leaves, but Stanley didn’t answer.
She went around the side of the house and even looked in the backyard. Her elusive lover had vanished. Had he run out for some whipped cream?
Annoyed, Betty stomped back inside. Two can play this game. Who does he think he is making me wait? As she walked down the hallway, an arm grabbed her around the waist.
This is it! Sex with a burglar. “Oh Stanley,” she cooed.
A gloved hand covered her mouth. Her eyes filled with the look of terror. This isn’t Stanley.
Janine’s Cherry Pie
Janine slammed the bowl down with such force she thought it had cracked. She had just hung up the phone with Gary. He was going to be late. Again. Even on Valentine’s Day. She sighed and continued with the pie she had promised him. After all, there was nothing to do but wait.
She added two cups of flour to the bowl, a pinch of salt, and a cup of vegetable shortening. As she worked the ingredients together, she wished she had used lard instead to clog his arteries. She added cold water and formed the dough into a ball. She tossed some flour onto the granite counter and turned out the dough. She took out the rolling pin and absentmindedly slapped in the palm of her hand thinking of other ways to put it to good use.
She cut the dough in half and rolled out two circles. She put one into the pie pan. Then Janine opened a can of cherries. She grated in the rind of a lemon and added a little of the juice to cut the sweetness. She poured it into the crust, added the top, crimped the edge and slid it into the oven.
The kitchen smelled like a bakery when she pulled the pie out. The crust was golden brown and a bit of cherry juice bubbled out the steam holes. She glanced at the clock. Six o’clock and he’s still not home. She considered dumping the pie in the trash, but remembered how hungry she was. She cut a slice. “Mmmmm.” Janine was into her third piece when the front door opened.
“Honey, I’m home,” Gary called.
Smiling, Janine balanced what was left of the pie in her hand as she went to the door, full well aware of what she was going to do with this.
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Jack quietly pressed against the door until the lock clicked shut. He took off his camel hair coat and sniffed, noticing a trace of her Chanel, and remembering the explosion of satisfaction that still filled him. He hung the coat up next to Mary’s, sure that she wouldn’t notice the scent. Sadly, she never noticed anything anymore. Still, he kicked off his shoes soundlessly, and crossed the floor to the stairs.
Jack froze at a voice coming from inside the bedroom. He pressed his ear against the door and listened.
“He was out ‘till after midnight a few days last week, too.” Mary’s voice.
She noticed I was gone. She missed me, thought Jack. She still cares. A second passed.
“Okay. But I need to be home before Jack gets in.”
Jack grinned. She wanted to be home so she could wait up for him. He felt warm and loved. He realized how much he had missed that feeling. He had been so stupid. She loved him after all. He resolved to be true to her this time. Only her.
“I suppose you’re right. Jack won’t even notice if I’m gone. If he does, he deserves a little pain. He’s given me enough.”
His smile faded.
“I love you, too,” said Mary. “Sweet dreams.”
Jack closed his eyes to a feeling of utter emptiness. When he opened the door, the room was dark and Mary’s form lay still on the bed. He undressed in the bathroom and quietly crawled in next to her. He put his hands behind his head and fell asleep wondering how it had all come to this.