15 June 2012

#fridayflash: gold

In the morning he said that next time it would be with a knife. She just acted as if he had mentioned the weather — there was no confronting him if he was in one of those moods — and walked to the washroom. There weren't any bruises, but her nose felt crunchy if she pressed it on the damaged side.

In this space it was damp and grey and too cold for regular indoor clothes, which meant the furnace was acting up again. Inside her head, every time she closed her eyes, she could see gold, see it and hear it as this amazing piece of French horn music that Philip Glass had never written. She wished she knew how to write it down, or sing it. She concocted a scene in her head where she sang what she was hearing into an MP3 file and sent it to Philip Glass, and while of course the piece he did compose sounded nothing like the fantastic French horn in her mind's ear right now, it would prove that she had been on the right track. She was right that the music in her head was beautiful, even if she didn't know how to write it down or sing or play anything.

She went to the living room and started tidying up. There were no further sounds from the bedroom, no further evidence of the abundance of tin and lead in the grey air. She cautiously sang a few notes, realised they didn't match what she was hearing in her head, and tried the same phrase again. It was closer. She would have to be louder to match the tones exactly, and that wasn't a good idea.

She listened. Maybe there was more than one French horn playing at once. There wasn't any harmony, but she wasn't sure what successions of notes were physically possible. She wasn't even sure it was a French horn, but from what she could remember from music class in elementary school, that seemed like the best fit. Inside her head it was playing at a loud but pleasant volume.

The cleaning supplies were under the sink in the kitchen. She went down the hall to get them.

Sounds that resolved to "Make me a coffee, would you?" floated out of the bedroom. She froze in mid-step. The French horns vanished.

"Regular or espresso?" she said. Her nose had started hurting again.

"Espresso would be nice. Since it's the weekend."

The espresso maker was one of those tiny Italian coffee-pots that were too little to fit in the centre of the burner. She filled it with coffee and water, almost putting the coffee in the water reservoir, but catching herself just in time. She screwed the reservoir onto the bottom of the pot and set it on the stove, double-checking that she set the right burner on.

Still no movement from the bedroom. The doorway was dull and dripping.

She'd been going to the kitchen for something else before she made the espresso... something to do with the sink. The sink was full of dirty dishes, but she couldn't run any hot water until he decided whether or not he wanted to take a shower first thing, and he wasn't out of bed yet.

She realised she was staring at the cupboards under the sink, so she gingerly opened one of the doors, making as little noise as possible. There was nothing under there but the garbage can and cleaning supplies. Dusting was a quiet thing to do, so she took the dusting spray and a rag out and checked the espresso maker once before padding to the living room.

The coffee table's knick-knacks were all sitting on the couch, and she realised that she must have been planning to dust earlier. It was a lucky break she'd made the same decision over again. She shook the dusting spray cannister and gave the coffee table a light coating of cleaning chemicals. He didn't like it when the smell was too strong, but he liked it to be there.

The dusting spray smelled like orange oil, and as she wiped down the table she thought of Spanish oranges in her Christmas stocking, and of very bright sunlight on a very cold winter's day. French horns. She'd heard French horns in her head when she woke up this morning. They were astonishing, calm and pure and golden like sunlight itself. She could imagine one still playing, far away, directly under the sun, like a coda. She started putting the knick-knacks back on the table.

From the kitchen came the smell of cooking coffee. It precipitated to the taste of old blood on her tongue, and her abdominal muscles cramped, once. Right, her period would come in a day or two on top of everything else. She put the rag and the can of dusting spray on the bookshelf and went back to the kitchen to check on the coffee.

The coffee-pot sounded like the water reservoir was almost boiled dry. She took the pot off the stove and poured the coffee into a cup, making sure that she had turned the burner off. He hadn't got up yet, so she grabbed a cloth napkin and brought the coffee into the bedrooom. She set it on the nightstand without looking at him, using the napkin as a coaster.

"Stay away from me today," he said.

"I'm going to go grocery shopping." She got some clean clothes out of her side of the closet and pulled them on.

"The coffee's good," he said. "Did you clean out the espresso pot?"

"It's still too hot," she said. She headed to the front door and slipped her shoes on.

"Could you do it when you get back?" he said, but she was dragging the bundle buggy down the stairs and checking she had her money and keys on her at the same time, so she didn't hear.

Outside it was a sunny day, and much warmer than she expected. By the time she had walked one block she had her jacket open. By the time she got to the market she had taken her jacket off and put it in the bottom of the bundle buggy.

She ran into a friend of theirs and the two of them chatted about the weather. "It's wonderful out today," she said. "The air is positively golden."


  1. This is an absolutely riveting piece of writing.

    It is a brilliant capture of the way she escapes the reality and fears of her abusive relationship inside her mind, she takes her small pleasures where she can find them, and the music she can hear helps her to deal with her problems.
    Beautifully written.

    It is a very saddening fact that relationships like these are the reality of many unfortunate peoples' lives.

    1. Thank you! This week's writing task was "use synaesthesia as much as possible and see what happens."

      It is a sad fact, and it's scary how much it's misunderstood in pop culture. Headspace stuff doesn't make for good TV scenes, I guess.

  2. I felt so sorry for her, and wonder why she just didn't leave him, but then she did in a kinda way didn't she? She escaped into her mind.

    Very nicely written!

    1. The infamous "why doesn't she just leave" question... from what I've researched, heard, and experienced, the important thing to note is that long before things get to "abusive" the person is completely convinced that not only can they not leave, but that they are better off being with the abuser. And then the situation reinforces it. The abuser keeps pointing out wrong things the other person has done or neglected to do, and they keep getting convinced that they actually need all this interfering control. It's insidious.

      The bit about forgetting that she was going to dust when the new task of making coffee was presented is based on an actual case. If you're so worn down that keeping that straight is a difficult task, the idea of filling a suitcase and walking out the door is monumental.

  3. The psychological characterization of an abused mind is well portrayed here and unfortunately a very real slice of life. I like the bits of poetic/surreal style metaphor, esp. "The doorway was dull and dripping." Good one.

    1. Thank you!

      I have synaesthesia (the neurological quirk, not the writing device) in real life, and that's how I perceive/classify silences: dull/damp for uncomfortable ones or bright/dry for comfortable ones.

    2. Interesting. My son is autistic and I'm just out there! Between us we have quite a repertoire of skills! thanks for dropping by my blog and following back on Twitter. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  4. Wow, another great one, Katherine. Held my attention as fast as any #fridayflash I read this weekend, and had both menace and some absurd whimsy to it.

    1. Thank you! I think there always is an absurd aspect to these relationships -- I mean, if a disinterested third party were to catch the abuser in a candid moment and say, "so you cracked her nose because the coffee table was dusty? seriously?", even they might even be able to see how over-the-top they were, at least for that particular incident.

  5. Oh crud, I thought I'd already commented on Friday. Probably did, then hit Done on my phone instead of Publish.

    A sad peek into a sadder life and relationship. I think it would be tough to write… at least for me. Well done.

    1. It wasn't tough to write -- only took about half an hour, plus maybe twenty minutes of light editing. Having said that, I just figured everyone would hate it because of the subject matter, and because there's so much description (which I've always been taught is a bad thing).

      Thanks for coming back to comment.

  6. I have synaesthesia too so I tend to ascribe colours to things - which made reading this an absolute joy.

    1. Oh cool! I was wondering how the colourscape would read to someone with a different sensory association set. Thank you for mentioning!


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