Short Story Break

Men of a Certain Stature

by Rochelle Campbell

Traipsing down the aisle, she smiled and finger waved at her friends sitting in the pews.  She felt beautiful in her teal monstrosity that had an onerous 12 ounces of tulle that make her feel like she should be somewhere on the bride’s cake.  However, her bouquet was exquisite.  Tons of Dendrobium orchids dyed in violet, teal and light blue with artfully placed sprays of baby’s breath.  The chapel smelled like a spring garden.

Veronica managed to get down the rose petal laced central aisle within 10 seconds of her rehearsal time.  She even managed to keep tall and straight in the dyed teal satin five inch stilettos Cammie made them wear.  Plastering a smile on her face, she pivoted and took her place next to the maid of honor.

The other four bridesmaids marched down the aisle and took their places as well.  Five minutes later, the organist began the opening notes that they were all waiting for.  The audience stood.  Cammie stood in the foyer waiting to enter the chapel, her veil in place over her face.  Her gown shimmering with seed pearls, gossamer silk with a lovely embossed brocade accentuating her slim waist.  The up-do was stunning on her.  At 5’ 10”, Cammie caught eyes no matter what she wore but today was her day.

Cammie moved on the second movement into the chapel.  She smiled broadly but it was focused on one person at the front of the church – Sampson, her soon-to-be-husband.  Cammie shifted her eyes and wondered for the thousandth time what her childhood friend saw in the 5’6” man with an already receding hairline.  He was a banker; yes, manager of the bank, but a banker nonetheless.  He wasn’t overweight.  He was, in fact, fastidious about his appearance and worked out regularly.  At 36 years old, Sampson wasn’t old either.  Not exactly.  But then, Cammie was 26.

Veronica shifted her eyes back to her friend.  She wished for a crystal ball to peer into so she could see Cammie’s reasons for the marriage.  For all their decades of friendship, Cammie had not confided in Veronica about this particular man.  Magpie Cammie was as silent as a naked mole rat about Sampson Ivers.  After only 20 months of dating, he had popped the question.  And, she had immediately accepted, or so Veronica had been told.

Cammie refocused and realized that the organist has stopped.  Family and friends were all seated.  The actual proceedings were about to be underway.  Supressing a sigh, Veronica brightened her smile and braced herself for the long written avowals of love from both of them.

* * *

“Thank you!  You looked beautiful, Ronnie.  It went off without a hitch!  And you were worried about the shoes,” Cammie said playfully tapping her friend’s forearm.

“It was a beautiful wedding – you look amazing in that dress.  I couldn’t visualize how it would come together but you saw it, sketched it and made it your wedding day reality.  Goregeous!”

“Always were a doubting Thomas, you know that?  That’s why you’re not married yet.  You’re waiting for perfection.  You won’t find it, Ronnie.  You won’t.  So stop trying, okay?  Let go and have some fun.  Look for a guy who you enjoy being with – no matter the external trappings, the passion for – whatever you’re into these days – just let loose, be you.”

A bit shocked, Veronica merely blinked.  “Wow, I think that is the most you’ve ever said to me in one sitting in the last five years.”  Her lips firmed more than she wanted them to but she couldn’t hold that one in.

Cammie bit her lip and glanced around the almost full luxurious lounge area in front of the marble, chrome and glass perfection of the ladies’ bathroom wing.

“I guess I could have chosen a better moment, huh?”

“Possibly.  What’s done is done.  I get your point.  I’m a stuck up, selfish, opinionated brat that is looking for Mr. Perfectly Right.  That about sum it up?”  Veronica’s eyes narrowed as she crossed her arms across her chest.

Looking anxious, Cammie raised her hands and said, “Stop.  This is not what I meant on my wedding day – to have a fight with you.  You’re one of my oldest friends – “

“Yet, you didn’t choose me to be the maid of honor.”

There.  It was said.  Finally.

Twin high pink circles flamed on Cammie’s fair cheeks within seconds.  She opened her mouth.  Closed it.  Then, tried again as she cleared her throat.  “All, I’m going to say about that is, I had my reasons.  One of which I just talked about.  I’m going back to my husband.”

She walked off, head high, back straight.

Veronica knew in that instant their friendship was effectively over.  Sighing, she left the lounge area and walked listlessly into the reception hall.  She grabbed a glass of the lightly spiked punch from the fountain and leaned against one of the eight pillars towards the back of the vast room.  She stared about with the look of a growing thunder cloud ready to release its floodgate of rain, wind and furious lighting on anyone that dared approach.

“You look as if you could kill, but then you’re killing me already in that dress.”

Veronica rolled her eyes and turned to see what moron she had to blow off.  She turned to her left and then looked down to find Sampson’s friend, a dapper, equally short man, with dancing hazel eyes ensconced behind trendy Hermes tortoise shell eyewear.

“You’re…”

“Eli – Eli Channing.  Friend of the groom’s.  We work at the same bank but I’m in marketing focused on the social media end.  And you’re the bride’s friend, Veronica Sellers.  Am I right?”

She bit back a retort.  This man did not deserve her bad mood.  It was a wedding, after all.  She nodded to buy more time.

“You look beautiful, by the way.  The dress color does suit you, even if the style is – over the top, bottom, and sides.”  His eyes twinkled so much she could almost hear his unreleased laughter.

She cracked a teeny smile then stuck out her hand, “Pleased to meet you.”

“No, you’re not.  I saw you eyeing the 74-inch guy at four o’clock,” Eli gave her a sly look.  “But, he didn’t walk over here and start a conversation, even though he was eyeing you back, now did he?”

She pressed her lips into a firm line wanting to be mad but not finding the strength, or the desire.  She risked a glance at him.

He caught her gaze and waggled his well-groomed eyebrows.

She snickered.

“I usually save this for further down the line but I think you should know now,” he paused to take a sip of his drink.

Veronica furrowed her brow.  “Know what?”

“You don’t want to know.  Don’t think you’re ready for it,” he began to walk off.

Annoyed she stared after him for a moment and then followed.  “Know what?!”

He stopped at an empty table and pulled out the dainty metal chair topped with a white satin beaded cushion.  He dipped into the slightest bow as he gestured for her to sit.

Her mouth quirked but she sat gracefully while trying not to be flattered.  She fiddled with the white long stemmed rose on the table as he took the seat to her left.

“That short men, those under 67 inches tall, have marriages that last; i.e., they don’t get divorced.  Interesting factoid from The Huffington Post back from the summer of 2014, if you care to check my veracity,” he took another liberal sip of his drink and broke eye contact with her.

Veronica blinked once, then once again.  This was not going as she envisioned.  He was supposed to leave with his tail between his legs leaving the field open to –

She stopped herself just in time.  Veronica had stumbled into a truth that was not who she thought she was, making Cammie’s soliloquy more pertinent.

“ – you see, men of a certain…stature have advantages our fellow comrades simply don’t possess.  So, you can think on it at length before deciding to call me.”

She turned back to Eli.  Eyes wide.  She had missed whatever had come first.

“What?”

“Date?  You and me?  Number?  On the napkin.  Figured you might not have your phone,” he smiled as he glanced down at her exposed cleavage in the teal monstrosity.  “If there is one redeeming quality of that dress it’s the frontal view.”  He smiled a bright sunny thing that included every single tooth in mouth.

Veronica colored prettily but didn’t move to take the number.

“Thanks, Eli.  I’ll give it some thought.”

He took one last neat sip and finished his drink.  He placed the crystal goblet in front of him and smiled a bit less brightly.  He stood, nodded and sauntered off into the crowd.  She lost sight of him completely when he was three tables away.

Glancing down she wondered what she would do.

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Chambray Curtain Blowing in the Wind

by Rochelle Campbell

This story was published by Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine in January 2009.  It is also one of the four stories in my short story collection, Leaping Out on Faith available on Amazon.

This story is about a young woman who has hidden scars.  She’s older now; wiser.  However, she is still bruised emotionally.  How does she know she is?  Because, one day her past comes back to haunt her.

You can click here and read the story for free on Bartleby Snopes’ website.  Or, you can read it right here.  Either way, enjoy.

Please note: There are challenging scenes in this story that deal with incest and domestic violence.  If this subject matter is offensive to you, please do not read any further.  Skip Chambray Curtains and go straight to Wormholes.

 

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Sally was in the kitchen humming tunelessly to herself as she put together her favorite cake from scratch.  She had just added the eggs to the other ingredients in the bowl when she heard heavy purposeful steps coming towards her trailer.  Sally shrugged her slim shoulders and began whipping the batter that would turn out to be a big moist sour cream cake.  MMM!  She couldn’t wait!

Only when the already half open front door was flung open, banging against the side of the trailer, did the panic set in.  The white plastic bowl fell onto the counter from the crook of her arm and the wire whisk went with it making a small thud.

“Where are ‘ya, Sally?” thundered a half-forgotten voice.  The heavy steps slowly came further into the modest sized mobile home.

“Come and greet ‘yer long lost uncle,” he said with a sneer in his voice.  Sally froze by the stove.

Junius?  Oh, God.

“Okay.  I’ll come and find ‘ya,” he said.  She heard his slow, slightly uneven tread advance into her home.  Only a few yards more and he would be at the kitchen’s entrance.  Sally tugged at an errant wisp of fine yellow hair as her eyes darted around the room in search of the big knife with the worn forest green handle.

Bruno, her husband of one year, had given it to her for her birthday earlier this year and said, “I want you to learn to use this.  To protect ‘yaself if I ain’t ’round ‘ya.”

Bruno even taught her to throw the big knife – not well, but passable enough to stop someone from bothering her.  But could she throw it now?  In the midst of her rising panic?

“Why don’t ‘ya make it easy on yaself and come on out?”  Junius asked, “All I want to do is talk wit ya.”

Sally drew a sharp breath, and forced her brain to not speed backwards in time.  She forced herself to not recall the unmentionable moment.  She was only 23, but Sally knew that reliving that black past time would only lead to trouble today.

“You was always so damn high strung.  Could never get you to settle down and play nice wit ya paw and me.”  Sally started shaking her head forcing the flooding memories back – refusing to feel the pain…again.

Junius’ footsteps stopped in front of the closed bedroom door, which was only six feet from the kitchen door.

Sally took a deep breath and remembered that she was no longer a killer.  She spent 6 months in a psychiatric clinic for evaluation and 3 ½ years in protective child services for killing her father.  After that, she was released to a work study program that supervised her for another two years.  Sally was told this was to ensure that no lingering murderous tendencies surfaced.  She learned from the myriad of psychiatrists, counselors and therapists that she had dealt with over the years that she had to work through her pain and fear and assert her own will.

Easier said than done but what would Dr. Vincent or Counselor Primanger do now!

Sally’s feet begged her to flee but she ignored the impulse.  The only way out was where Junius had come in, the front door.

What about the window?  I can squeeze through it, can’t I?

Sally ignored that errant thought as well and snatched up the knife and hurried into their bedroom which was off on the right opposite the entryway into the kitchen.  She closed the bedroom door quietly and locked it.  She whirled around and grabbed the phone and dialed the only three numbers that could save her life.

“911 Operator.  Where’s the emergency?”

“354 Laurel Drive.  Hurry!  A man’s here tryin’ to come and hurt me,” Sally said in a hoarse whisper.  “Come now.”

Something in Sally’s voice touched a nerve in the operator and Sally heard a thud and heard the woman screaming for a unit to get to Laurel Drive.  Sally dropped the phone in fright when Junius turned the knob on the bedroom door.

“Just the right place for you to be…” Sally heard him bark a wet raspy laugh.

“I knows ya in there, Sally,” he said.  With a loud splintering, the birch door gave way and Junius strode into the room, his footsteps muted by the fallen door.

NOW! screamed a voice in Sally’s head.  Junius had stopped to leer at her. “You’ve filled out nice and right there, little girl.”

Sally languidly lifted her aim, sighted the way Bruno taught her.  She knew better than to aim for the chest.  An overabundance of conditioned psycho-babble phrases made sure of that; she aimed for the inside of Bruno’s thigh.

The knife whizzed across the pale blue linoleum floor making a slight whistling sound as it went.

“Here I come – uuhfff,” Junius’ laugh was cut short.  Sally heard a dull thud and a brighter sound as the knife hit bone.  She was still in position and slowly put her hand down and drew her right foot back so it was in line with her left.

The knife was sticking out of his right thigh and Junius was staring down at his leg.  Sally stared too for a long moment.  The knife had hit home but she still didn’t feel safe.  She didn’t feel like she had when she stopped her father from ever hurting her again.  The maw was still open.  Junius’ heart was still beating and she was not safe.  A panic rose within her and she yearned to make herself feel safe she wanted to go and get the gun Bruno kept under the bed she took a step towards the bed but snapped herself out of it and swiftly turned around and faced the tall narrow window near instead.  She had to trust that dialing those 3 numbers would make her safe; that’s what she’d been told over and over again.

The pretty chambray curtains blew inward, gently caressing her face.

Sally had fallen in love with them at first sight and bought them at full price.  They reminded her of her mother’s eyes.  Those sweet gentle eyes were the same shade as the chambray curtains.  Those eyes were always so caring even when they were surrounded by purple-green marks from Daddy’s fists.

Sally brushed a single tear away.  Mama was dead because she didn’t fight back.  Sally fought back too hard last time; this time she fought smart.

Sally heard a heavy thud that shook the trailer.  She glanced back quickly and saw blood seeping out from around the knife which was still in his thigh, but Junius was on his left knee holding his back and the side of his injured thigh.  A strangled gurgling sound was coming from his throat.

Sally moved the curtains and raised her foot to the window ledge.  She was about to slip out the window when she heard his voice sounding like thunder 10 miles away.

“I’m gonna kill you for this!  You bloody wench!  You’re just like that simpering mother a ‘yours but worse!  At least she could take it without retaliatin’ –  “He stopped short when he heard the sound.

In the distance – a police siren.

Junius tried to stand now but he slipped on his own blood that was freely flowing now and went down hard.  He barely averted falling onto the knife.  He caught himself on the wall and he swore a blue streak.  Sally looked away and glided out the window and landed lightly on the dirt outside and jogged towards the oncoming siren sound.

Just then, a loud report rang out and a zooming wind raced past her left ear.

Sally screamed and ducked and began running faster in a zigzag pattern.  She began crying even as her feet started running towards Tricia’s trailer fifteen yards to her right.  Instinctively she kept low.

“I’m gonna kill you, ya evil little witch!  Where are you?”

Sally heard him bellow.  She kept running, refusing to look back.

The police cruiser screeched to a halt several paces from her and she darted behind it.

“Where is he, Ma’am?”

She pointed and screamed just as another bullet rang out.

“Where are you!!  I’m gonna — You!  I see you!  All of you! No damn cops scare me!  You can’t get away, Sally!  I seee you!”

“Sir!  I’m a police officer!  I suggest you put down the gun and place your hands on your head.  We can still sort this out.”

“Who’s ever you are, I ain’t got no trouble wit you.  I jus wants my niece, Sally.”

“I’m a police officer!  Put down your weapon!”

In answer, another shot rang out.

“Officer, I hurt him.  He’s got a butcher knife sticking outta his leg.  He can’t move too fast.”

“Good girl.  Stay here.”

The officer went to the left and stayed low and got into the bushes.  Sally couldn’t see him anymore.

The next thing she heard was the officer shouting, “Put the gun down, Sir!  I just want to talk to you!”

“The hell you do!”

Sally heard muffled scuffling and then a shot rang out loud and clear then a heavy thud.  A moment later the officer appeared in the window.

“He’s down.  Hurt pretty bad but I think he’ll live.  I’m gonna call for backup and an ambulance,” he ducked back inside and Sally cocked her head and heard some muffled talking from inside the house.

It was over.  It was finally all over.

Sally heard a sound and didn’t recognize it; it was her own breath releasing itself.   She was finally safe.  They were right.  The doctors and counselors and housemothers were all right.  She didn’t have to kill to make herself safe.

She slid down the side of the police cruiser slowly and plopped on the moist ground.   She tried to cry, but no tears came.  The fear and the anger were gone leaving her empty, voided out.

Sally looked over towards her home and saw the chambray curtains.  They were blowing in the wind.  Those eyes were smiling.  The bruises were gone.  Mama’s eyes were clear and bright just like her heart.

Sally looked up.  The sun was setting.  But she kept seeing Mama’s eyes.  They looked free…

Something inside of Sally withered and died under that steady gaze, and the first seedlings of peace began to grow in its place.

 

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Wormholes

by Rochelle Campbell

@ Copyright 2008

Patricia sat looking at her geology professor, with a deep scowl on her face.

“Earthworm activity counteracts leaching by bringing up nutrients from deep in the soil and depositing them on the soil’s surface as castings.  The burrows also allow roots to easily go down deeper into the soil and get nutrients they could not ordinarily reach,” the professor intoned.

Holes in the earth could be helpful, but why would you want a hole in your heart?

Patricia slouched even further in her seat her gaze drifting towards the tall windows to the beautiful landscaping around her.

“Twenty-five earthworms per square foot of soil equal 1 million earthworms per acre.  Studies in England have shown that in healthy soil forty tons of castings per acre pass through earthworms bodies daily.  A new USA study indicates 1 ½ million worms per acre move 20 tons of earth each year.  Castings make nutrients more available to plants so they can absorb the nutrients readily.  Earthworms also remove litter from the soil surface which helps compost residues and waste products…”

In essence, the worm is mightier than geological science.  I get it.  I get it!

Patricia grunted in frustration audibly causing her nearest neighbor, 2 rows ahead to look back at her and put her finger in front of her mouth.  Patricia took some deep breaths and refrained from giving Aleesa the finger; they were lab partners, after all.  Instead, Patricia collected her books and left the lecture heading outdoors towards the earthworm-rich lawns.

She plunked down against an aged oak rested her head on the trunk and closed her eyes gratefully.  She tried to will the pounding in her head to slither away like an earthworm leaving an emotional casting that would nurture her soul however, it didn’t work.

She felt a shadow fall upon her.  She stifled a sigh already knowing who it would be.  She opened her eyes and focused downward starting at his boots.

They were rugged black with thick soles.  The black jeans were tucked hastily into the top and the belt was thick, had silver spikes and a slim ornate buckle.  The shirt was stretched across his broad rippling chest and met equally wide shoulders with the bulging arms were a perfect match for the chest.  Patricia paused at the throat.  A nerve jumped there.  She wondered why.  He had done the damage, not her.  She took a breath and looked up into the stormy grey eyes topped by dark blond wind-tousled hair.  The sunglasses were nowhere to be seen.  The craggy planes of his face were more angular than she recalled and more thrilling.

She sighed breathing through her nose and closed her eyes again.  He brushed his booted foot against her sneaker-clad one and waited.  Patricia refused to be roused.

“I brought you something,” he said when she didn’t reopen her eyes.

She ignored him.

She felt him hunker down beside her because this big man moved as sinuous and graceful as a cat.  He made no sound except for the warm musk-filled breath she felt on her ear a moment later.

“I never completely understood why you were so enamored with this one, but I bought it for you anyway.”

Patricia, curious, opened one eye.  It was a brown velvet box.  He was kissing distance away yet he pulled back and placed the box between them.  It was a ring box.  She remembered the day she had stopped by Kay Jewelers at the mall and drooled over a heart-shaped solitaire.  Her heart leaped and she felt hot jolt ignite the cold pit of her stomach.  With a sickening lurch, she forced the joy aside.

“I don’t take gifts – of any kind – from liars and cheaters,” she got up with her books and walked away leaving him squatting and staring after her with his mouth slightly ajar.

*  *  *

3 Months ago…

“Patricia, we’ve been together a long time.  I don’t see why you feel we should change anything,” Calvin said.

She looked up from their shared bed as he pulled on one of his ubiquitous black jeans.  She was 21 and was in her last year of college.  Patricia couldn’t understand how much more time he needed.

“Why don’t you graduate and we’ll see.  We’ve been fine for the past four years, haven’t we?”

“Six years.”

“Right.  That’s what I meant.”

She just stared at him.  She had sacrificed so much to be with him.  Her friends and their carefree teenage life.  Her father’s love…all to be with Calvin.

As she looked at him she saw him clearly for the first time.  She saw an aging man whose dreams were being carried out by a young woman that he desperately wished he could become.  But he could – wouldn’t – change who he was.  She could see that now.  At 52, he was still devilishly handsome but he was still a construction worker with a high school diploma and bereft of his own hopes and dreams – except through her.

It had all came in a flash.  In one single moment of clarity she knew that her father had been right.  It had only taken more than half a decade for her to get it.

After he left, Patricia packed her things and called her father for the first time since she’d left home.

*  *  *

Walking stiffly away from him, Patricia knew that if she even thought of looking back she’d run back to him, re-invite him to her graduation and take the ring she was dying to put on her feverish little finger.  But she had a job offer in Kalamazoo.  It was as far away from everything as she could get and she knew but she could be happy there.  She would be working at an oil and gas exploration and production company, traveling to distant places to see if she could find new sources of energy for the company and the country.  It was her passion, finding things in the earth.

Calvin knew nothing of passion for anything other than the sexual kind – which he knew well.

She still felt him watching her.

Remembering today’s lecture about earthworms creating holes and leaving castings that nourish both soil and plants she wondered if there was an equivalent in the human psyche.  Was there a special type of molecule that could do the same thing for the soul?

She got to the building that the lecture was being held opened the door but paused before and going in.  She risked one little look back.  He was still there watching her…waiting for her.

Patricia felt a tingle.  The tables had turned.  He was waiting for her.  She was no longer up at 3am looking at the clock wondering why he didn’t pick up on his cell.

She didn’t wave.  She didn’t smile.  She simply looked back at him.

She had never said good-bye to him.  He had just come home to find her and all of her things gone.  Even the pictures of them together were gone.  She erased herself from his life.  She wanted him to have nothing of her but his own memories.

She looked away and went back into the lecture.  With the closing of the heavy university door she knew that the door between her and Calvin had closed forever.  She hoped the worms would be kind to his carcass when that day came for him but knew they wouldn’t.

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