Prompt: First line, “She looked up from her glass and smiled.” ; last line, “And then, finally, they all looked at her.”
She looked up from her glass and smiled. Inhaled the cedar-flavored heat of the fire. Pulled a hand through her hair, thick like a horse’s tail her father used to say. At some point, the comparison to a horse’s rear would displease her, but as a child, she loved her father and loved horses and so she would kick up her heels, fling her head about and whinny in reply.
The fire consumed the last log. She’d coated it with lighter fluid as it was not yet dry and the thought of going outside to fetch more wood wearied her. She knew she was supposed to take from the far stack while the near dried, but what kind of stupid system was that? Once this log burned, the house would turn cold. She should rise from the table now, slip into bed before the sheets turned from silk to ice. Silk. Ridiculous, in hindsight. But she was the daughter of a poor man, so once she came into money, all she knew was the clichéd purchases from the romance novels she’d sneak into her room as a teenager.
Now, now she would choose flannel. Something soft, yet practical, warm. Warmth was paramount. Her heart may stay cold, she mused, but at least her body would feel the pleasure of heat. Sometimes that meant another body, one moving against hers in the darkness, but lately it had meant stoking the fire more literally.
The flames flickered behind the glass, smudged with the smoke of a hundred fires. I should clean that, she mused, for the hundredth time. Meanwhile the computer screen sat bare, not a word laid down. She would not go to bed until she’d filled at least one page, she swore. Immediately a ringing seared the air. Her phone. She’d left it on, what a mistake. She should ignore it and write. It pattered again, the cheery ringtone reminding her of a friend’s black lab who used to slobber on her arm every time she attended a dinner party. “Oh, Snooky Wooky wuvs you!” her friend would enthuse.
She hadn’t attended a dinner party for a while.
She snatched up the phone to make the ringing stop and in doing so, answered the call.
“Marissa?” a man’s voice asked.
“Tell her she must come over!” a woman nagged in the background.
“Hello?” Marissa said.
“Marissa! Hello! It’s Michael. I’m having a little dinner thing and we realized you aren’t here. Why aren’t you here? Or rather, forget the why and just get here! We’re not taking no for an answer.”
“No,” Marissa tested.
Michael sighed. “Marissa. Please. If you don’t show up, Daisy will label me a failure. I can’t have that. Please, just come for a bit?”
Marissa’s temple throbbed. She could feel the pain kick in, just below the hairline and to the side of her eyebrow. Just on the right side. She lifted a hand to press against her face.
“Marissa?” Michael asked.
“Okay,” she sighed. “I’ll be on my way in a few minutes.”
The fire smoldered, nothing but embers. A smart person would add a log, stoke the flames, ensure the warmth would continue through the night, Marissa thought as she rose, slipped on her coat, picked up her keys and walked out the door.
Michael’s apartment spilled onto the street. Music raced out the opened balcony door and fell to the street, crashing around Marissa as she stepped out of her car. Laughter echoed off the neighboring buildings. The fact that Michael could have parties like this on a regular basis and not wind up evicted testified, she thought, to either his charm or his foresight in always inviting the neighbors, no matter how weird or boring they were.
The rug man, for example. No one knew what to call him, despite introductions going round at every party. He sold rugs, he said, and he talked about selling rugs without pause, so that his name evaporated and all that was left was the memory of “the rug man.”
Marissa rang the bell instead of texting “here.” She rang again. And again. Finally Michael answered. “Marissa! Why didn’t you just text? Come in!” Marissa shrugged as the buzzer sounded, pushed open the door, climbed the steps to the third floor and let herself into Michael’s apartment.
There was Daisy, the nagging voice. There was Frankie, Michael’s theater friend. There were Levi and Inga, a couple whose situation Marissa could never fully suss out. Married? Dating? Traveling? Friends? Every time she thought she knew, they’d surprise her by kissing or not kissing, talking about plans together and trips taken apart.
There were the rest of the people, Marissa noted, too tired to catalog or identify them all. She observed her shoulders drooping, noted the scent of pot in the air, heard the distant sirens of emergency vehicles flinging themselves to causes greater than hers.
For what was she, she thought, wine glass in hand, herself now perched on a sofa arm, her face thrown back in laughter over something said, what was she? One more writer scribbling down the details, one more writer driven to prove her voice mattered, even if only to herself.
“You’re so clinical,” he’d said before leaving her. “You’re never really present.” Whether sex or fighting, he said, only part of her attended to what was actually happening. “The real you, the part that matters, the part that I would kill to get hold of” – he could be a bit melodramatic, Marissa thought – “that part is hovering somewhere above it all, taking notes on the smells” – nicotine and sweat, she noted – “and the sounds” – his voice loud about the tumbling dryer – “and the taste” – she almost leaned forward to dart her tongue along his salt-flavored neck – “and you are not even listening to me now!” Marissa had started to defend herself, but shrugged instead. He was right. She was writing the story of them and the ending had written itself.
Marissa laughed. “To endings!” she announced, lifting her arms, wine bloodying the sides of the glass, splashing onto her hand, a red river tumbling over her knuckles and falling onto the, thankfully, brown carpet. Brown was the new white, Michael had joked when moving in. “To endings!” Marissa said again. “The expected and the not-so.” Her hand clenched, the wine glass snapped, the blood was suddenly hers. “Shit!” Marissa exclaimed. And then, finally, they all looked at her.