Short Story: They Live in Between the Pages

| Magical Realism | 5 Minute Read

The room, stuffy with the smell of decay, maintains a steady eighty-some degree temp. The sunshine illuminates the small room with a glare of gold through the small corner window. Partially covering that window, curtains produce an amber rose hue that falls across the mechanical bed sitting in the corner. The skeletal figure under the covers moans softly in a broken cacophony of tones, like a scratched record, as the nurse gently turns her murmuring to her faintly, so low I barely hear.

I stand at the doorway to the room, my body stiff, my emotions numb, watching events unravel. Mom remains on the opposite side at the edge of the bed, mouth running nonstop. What she’s saying, I haven’t a clue. She bungles around each subject like bumper cars through a crowd. Her emotions mutate on the levels of her stress. I assist when and where I can, but these passages through grief she’ll need to take on her own.  

I walk to the next bedroom and grab a book on Langston Hughes poetry and an empty comic book—untitled, blank and bound—from a plain wooden pine box under the futon where I sleep. By the time I return, the room has vacated besides the atrophied old woman under the sheet on the bed. Her pale figure has dissolved slowly over time into dust that settles on the chest of drawers, the end table, and in shadowy hushed corners of the room and the small house. A shattered body, once so strong, now ready to move on, to seek peace from the pain of a life lived.

I hear mom still babbling, chasing the poor nurse out the front door, yearning for any kind of surrogate—a connection and ear to listen to her self-flagellation. She’ll be out there for at least half an hour holding the unfortunate woman hostage, which will give me time to do what I need.

“‘The sea is deep …’” Standing above her, I whisper, waving the comic over her fading body. Words appear on pages in a small yellow font across an indigo blue nightscape. Silver flecks dot the paper sky as a darker shade emerges beveled on the endless horizon. A giant red orb hangs in the backdrop. Calm waters lap at the pages. I feel the warm salty ocean around my legs inching up my body as I wade unbroken towards the island. A buoyant stage floats deep beneath my feet. I bring myself back stumbling over more words and images to focus on the spell.

I turn the page.

Rumbles from outside the window, on the veranda, as two of mom’s sisters relax and ramble on. Taking a break from their bedside vigil, they await the last moments of the woman on the bed, their mother. I ignore them, like always, and continue building a world.

The twilight dawn throws a blush of pink and sunflower yellow across an azure sky and sea. The rush of water crashes my ears and I hear nothing but the sound of waves and weather as I continue the journey towards the end and beginning, pushing thoughts into words across pages and images into a chaos of colors and serene emotions. Relegating the gloom to the despotic prophets of destiny just outside the window, I release the sorrow and angst holding hope and artistry high in regards.

A man waits on the white beach. His elbows rest casually on his bare knees. His blond hair flutters like the breath of salty air caressing his body. His light blue eyes sparkle like catch lights and pools of flight break away from him towards me. Expressionless, his face holds calm and seizes the speck of me. He knows I prepare her. He knows she comes.

Standing on the water, I linger and direct fire and force onto the page watching the world spin anew before me as green thickets grow on bluffs and blooms of blossoms flower across meadows.

“‘A knife is sharp …’” I cut the words into Earth as timber and spark unfold and life evolves.

“‘And a poison acid burns—’” I pursue the words scratching them into fragile stock. The gloss of cover washes spreading over panoramas in vivid colors.

She starts to twitch and whimper. Her head inches back, mouth open, inhalation comes infrequently, like the winds of a wraith hovering over, withdrawing and ceding life into the enchantment of my pen.

“‘But they all bring rest, …’” The hut erects behind the man. Dark chestnut straw-like structures ascend from the sandy ground to wind and canopy. Breezy palm trees oscillate with the ocean’s sigh.

Pages spin in a whirl of clarity and illustrations build … and the spell, cut short, as her last breath shakes the room, and words and pictures spill across the final page.

Rest. No return.

I lay the comic down and place my hand on her chest. I feel her ribs, like speed bumps through her thin paper-like skin. I search and find only the vibrations of my own fast beating heart. The absence of sound and beat bounce off the echoes of stillness in the room. Mom stands still in the doorway watching me. The quiver of lip and widening of eyes translates and she disappears to convey the news. Moments later, I hear the thudding of feet along with moans of ‘no’ and screams of grief. They run into the room and I leave allowing them their mourning.

I stand outside the room waiting, leaning against the wall listening to the sounds of sorrow. I return when all but the weeping has dissipated. My hands behind my back, shoulders high and tense, I watch them shake and tears run. I ask if they need anything; their terse negative answers drop harshly on the laminate wood flooring.

I pick up the comic and turn to the last page. Two sets of footprints fade into the sand and scene and into the thin edge of a descending sun. The sea erases the impressions.

Rest. No return.

I place the comic in a plastic protective sleeve and store it back in the plain wooden pine box beneath the futon. As I exit the room, I stop and turn and listen to the sounds of the ocean and seagulls and grandma and grandpa whispering their goodbyes.

Dedicated to my mawmaw & pawpaw. In honor of Langston Hughes. 

© 2018 Pamela Gay Mullins

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