Chapter 1: Amaryllis
Leaning over the counter, Faye tapped her fingertip on the words scribbled in the mole-skin notebook. The handwriting was hers and it was narrow and cursive--the kind that makes you feel breathless. The words went on and on, colliding, mingling and fighting for space.
Her lips moved slowly.
‘I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret,
between the shadow and the soul.’
It was her favorite stanza from Pablo Neruda’s poem.
She’d first chanced upon his work in an old book store. The poetry book was tucked beneath a volume of world encyclopedia and was dusty with loose pages. Still, she’d bought it out of curiosity. The cover was pretty- bottle green marble paper. She’d opened the book then and there, and the simple string of words had moved her heart. She held the book to her chest. Her love for poems took root in that moment.
“I don’t pay you to daydream, Charles.”
Her eyes quickly lifted from the page to the scowling face of the manager, Ethan Knowell. He was scratching at the small patch of stubble on his cheek and half of that irritation was cast out to her. She did not like conflicts. Faye started closing the notebook but he put his palm on the page.
“What do you keep writing about anyway?”he asked, eyes narrowed in an effort to read the scrawling.
“It’s my journal,”she said, freeing it from his hand. It was tucked under the counter. “Nothing interesting.”
He shrugged and turned as if to leave, but she felt his eyes on her. As always, Faye kept her head lowered, pretending she didn’t see him. She knew he watched her every now and then, and sometime soon, she’d be offered a date, and if she refused, he’d make sure she had no job that summer.
“The glass outside has gathered dust. Ever think of wiping it?”he said, before disappearing in the small room inside. There, he harassed people in chat rooms and managed online orders which were never more than four a week.
Faye went around the counter, gathered a rag and a bucket, and stepped out. It was a humid day, and a bright, technicolor one at that. A blue bottomed cloud hung in the sky, reflecting white light everywhere. A gentle breeze blew, touching her sweaty forehead and making the uneven ends of her french bob sway.
She dunked the rag into the water, gave it a twist and started swiping it over the glass. She had washed the panes that very morning but arguing with Ethan always put her in a vile mood. The soapy water spilled on her old Mary Janes. She slapped the cloth against the glass with a scrunched up nose.
If not for her Ma’s self destructive habits , she wouldn’t be here. She would’ve been in college, just like her friends. With the cost of the alcohol, the occasional cigarettes, rent, food and medicines, Faye was often left with a meagre amount at the end of the month. Despite working all day, leaping at the menial odd jobs, she was nowhere close to achieving her dream of going to college. Her scrubbing became harsh. She would’ve scratched the glass, perhaps broken it, but a sound of heavy footfalls close to her, cut the string of her thoughts.
Her gaze lifted. Overlayed with her reflection in the wet glass, was the blurry image of a man. She turned, one hand still laid on the glass. Her lips parted a little, brows scrunched together because just at that unfortunate moment, a sud of soap had jumped into her eyes. She blinked away the tears and saw the man as nothing more than a constellation of colored dots in her watery vision.
A hint of clean lemony perfume reached her through the noisome of phenol and soap and the dirty rag. He’d offered her a handkerchief.
“Thank you,”she whispered, unsure of the gesture, unsure whether she should accept. But her eyes was still smarting and had grown red rimmed. She took it and dabbed her eyes. As if the tears had washed away the dust, the man now appeared with deeper colors. She realized it was because he’d stepped back into the sun, where the shade of the canopy stopped. His back was turned to her. He was already leaving.
“Mister,”she breathed, stepping after, but a car appeared from around the bend. A shining black BMW stopped next to him. He got in, slammed the door shut. She only caught the beige of his jacket and the dark clump of hair on his head, before he disappeared down the road. The neatly pressed handkerchief was soft against her cheek.
Faye lived in one of those old, brown bricked buildings with perpetual plumbing problems. The pipes froze in winter, leaked in summer. The walls had a moldy smell, and whenever she looked up, the strange damp spot on the ceiling seemed to grow. With her hands slipped inside the pockets of her once white but now yellowed hoodie, Faye climbed the staircase to her apartment on the third floor. She knew what to expect but it irked her nonetheless.
A man with a narrow pointed nose, who didn’t look much older than herself, stumbled out of her apartment. He barely glanced her way as he hurried downstairs, two steps at a time. She frowned. When she stepped inside, her mother was looking into the mirror, putting on a fresh coat of lipstick. Her eyes were wet.
Melissa, her Ma, was beautiful. Much more than Faye could ever be. Her face was delicate, touched only by a few lines of age, but Faye had picked most of her features from her father. She had his dark brown eyes, his squarish jaw and high cheekbones. He was a good man who was taken away too soon by something as inconspicuous as a fall in the bathroom. She was five then.
“Faye? Faye, darling? Have you got some spare coins?”
She realized her Ma was shaking her by the arm.
“Ma,”she sighed, putting away her bag. “I just bought you a pack yesterday. You smoked all of it in a day?”
“I was stressed, alright?That stupid manager keeps getting on my nerves. He always has a problem with what I do. I don’t want to work in that goddamned store anymore, Faye.”
“You talk as if it’s a choice. It pays good, doesn’t it?”
All of a sudden her Ma’s eyes pricked with tears. “I was supposed to be an actress, you know. But then you-- I chose you over every dream of mine. I was nineteen then. Nineteen. And you were born.”
Faye looked away, struck by guilt, as if it was her fault that she came into the world. “Alright… But you mustn’t smoke so much. It’s bad for you.”
Her Ma wiped the tears and wrapped her arms around Faye who only sighed, shedding all anger that had gathered throughout the day, and returned the embrace. This was all she had for a family after all.
“You’re just like your Dad.” Ma said, “There’s the leftover pasta for dinner. Warm it up and eat, okay?”
Faye saw her mother grab the coat hanging by the peg. “Alright. You have fun, I guess.”
“You guess?” Melissa raised a brow, tapped her foot to get the heels in place. “Jealous I have a man?”
Faye grinned at her mother, darted to the door and playfully nudged her out. “Come home before midnight! That’s your curfew, old lady.”
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