Friday, September 12, 2014

750 Words Fiction: Her Name is Berenice

She reminds me of a squirrel. A little bit in the twitching, barely there. A lot more in the way that her eyes move. It's like she's watching out for something. But she doesn't want to tip it off. She's being watched, but she can't let it know she knows.


It's coming down. It's coming after her. As soon as it notices that she's out of place.

She doesn't belong.

She drinks coffee with me every morning. Coffee and cigarettes and sometimes half a waffle.

"It hurts to eat," she told me once.

"Then why do you eat?"

"To blend in."

I saw her scream once, but I've never heard it. She doesn't make sounds when that kind of thing happens. She goes silent. Dead silent.

Heh. It shouldn't be funny but a part of me thinks it is anyway. If I chuckle, she doesn't notice. If she notices, she doesn't know why I made that sound.

Literally and absolutely. She asked me once why people laugh. She laughed before, too, but reminding her of this didn't help her out.

She's got on some zebra-stripe dress with hoop earrings and a baseball cap today. Nobody notices. I don't think even she does. It's odd, but she's gone past caring about that kind of thing anymore. She's gone past noticing it. Like she's color blind, but not for colors.

There's a touch of makeup around her eyes, shade of cinnabar wonder.

And yesterday she was wearing purple glasses, the kind with the really thick rims. The clothing passes in, it passes out. The world is comprised of so much driftwood, and she grasps it for a second or a day before she grabs the next piece. I don't know if even she's sure where it comes from or where it goes.

I don't know how aware she is of the whole thing at all.

"Tell me about Paris," she says, and then she dips a cigarette in her coffee and swirls it around. "It helps me keep the coffee down," she told me once.

I tell her about Paris. I went there once, and I think that she remembers this. Or perhaps it was an aimless statement, plucked out of the ether without regard for its origin just like her clothing and her pencils and however much money she does or doesn't have on her today. But regardless of the reasons, I tell her.

We talk about the French Resistance. About René Char and the library that was not on fire, though neither were in Paris proper. The color of the Louvre at night, my walk along the railway of the small belt, the taste of wine there and the shops and cafes.

I do not mention Pere Lachaise Cemetery. I come close to mentioning the catacombs beneath of the streets, though, and this would be a far worse mistake to make.

I divert us into trivia about the Eiffel Tower that I learned while I was there. It has been a long time, and I have to fudge some forgotten numbers and may have made up more than half of some facts, but that is not the point of saying these things.

Through it all, she never sheds her anxiety. If I am meant to distract her, then I am doing a poor job of it. But maybe it's a good thing that she's not distracted.

"You don't know what it's like. I can't go back," she told me once.

"Do you ever sleep?"

"I don't need to."

And perhaps she doesn't need it, but it would do her a world of good. She's tired. She hasn't slept a wink for months if she's told me the truth, and I can see every waking hour on her face, no matter how much makeup she does or doesn't randomly put on that day.

I think that she was a plumber once. It scares me to say that. "I think." It tells me that there are things drifting away from me too. Not of myself but of her. Will there come a day when she's as foreign to me as she is to everyone else in this shop?

The waiter comes by and fills up our cups again. I make a request, and in a couple minutes he comes back with another pack of cigarettes. I hand them to her, and she nods her head in gratitude.

Does he see her at all, or does he wonder why I am drinking two cups of coffee at a time and asking for cigarettes without seeming to use even one of them?

"Is it there?" I asked her once.

"It's always there. Hiding in the crowd. Waiting."

"For you?"

She shook her head in response to that. "For everyone else. But it's always watching. And it'll grab me if it notices I don't belong."

I never ask her, and she never volunteers to tell, but I always wonder. What it looks like. Death.

Later, we leave the coffee-shop. We take the long way around, and do not pass by the cemetery where she was buried.

Word count: 852
Time: 2 minutes (research), 32 minutes (writing)

Whether it's inside a collapsed mine, deep within a cavern, or, worst of all, in a grave, few things are as terrifying as being buried alive.

Unless it's being haunted by the ghosts of those who were buried alive. Today, show your character as they have just such an encounter.

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