Standing on quicksand, p.1
STANDING ON QUICKSAND
A SERIES OF SHORT STORIES
CONJURED BY RIC BATTAGLIA
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Dedicated to those who continue to seek what lies beyond the unseen.
Special thanks to early proof readers who provided valuable comments and opinions on some early versions of some of the stories including; Melissa at the Burrito cart, Michael Palucki, Dave Hulsman, and Bruce Danziger.
Self-published and bound by:
In the pages that follow there is a gathering of vignettes and small windows into a series of fictional worlds, some could be in present day others in a distant future. They unconsciously gesture to the fact that the world around us is not always as it appears. Other influences outside our perspective control the situation far more often than we perceive. We encounter enigmas every day to which we are oblivious and as a result must be more malleable of the mind and accepting of the unseen.
She glanced over her shoulder again to reassure herself that no one was following. This was the third time in the past few minutes that the uneasy feeling had overtaken her. She stopped again a short ways on, glancing obliquely through strands of her blond hair. It was hard to tell on the crowded downtown sidewalks if her feeling could be confirmed or denied one way or another. The level of anxiety had ratcheted up in the past three weeks until now she felt like she was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. It hadn't started out this way. It had started out rather exciting, downright titillating, on occasion. It was a glorious adventure in the middle of her rather humdrum life. She hadn't been looking for such a frolic, at least that's what she told herself.
She said to herself, “Carol, you were just being nice, that's all. No one can blame you as to where it led and what happened.”
She remembered fondly that occasion when she had been doing the grocery shopping in the middle of the week, just past noon. She liked this time because the shelves had been restocked after sales earlier in the week and, it wasn't very crowded, she could take her time. After all, it seemed all she had was time. That fateful day she had just turned her shopping cart down an aisle when she noticed him standing, almost posing, half way down the aisle examining products on the shelf. His skin was a smooth caramel, his dark hair wasn't long exactly, but was about four weeks past the need of a haircut. She remembered he had been wearing a loose button-down white shirt, tight fitting jeans, and the worn cowboy boots she had come to like so much. As she slowly rolled down the aisle forcing her attention elsewhere, he glanced over and then half-turned to her.
“Excuse me, could I ask for your aid?” His voice sounded as a babbling Spanish brook.
“I’ll certainly try.” she stuttered obviously flustered. He gave off an overt sexuality that seemed infectious.
“An amigo, a friend, has told me that there is this American delicacy which I simply must try.” His eyebrows flared exposing deep blue pools.
“Good heavens, we have so many, which could he possibly be referring to” her hand drifted up to conceal a grin.
“There is an apple pie delicacy, what is this?” he stated
“Oh, you can get those all over. As a matter of fact, they might have some on sale here.” Glancing over to where she knew the bakery was.
“I think there is a non-understanding, he was quite clear that it must be made from pieces.”
She giggled at his mis-use of English words. “No I think you mean 'made from scratch'.” He smiled back, pearl whites glistening in the bright florescent lighting of the market.
Well this was a coincidence, she was an unstated believer that fortune is not something you just find haphazardly, but must recognize in small signs. Opportunities present themselves to people all the time, but they are often too distracted or too blind, to recognize them. She had a feeling, a tingling on the back of her neck that this might just be such a coincidence.
“Well it just so happens that I am quite good at baking apple pies, if I do say so myself.” She attempted to stifle a smile, but it peeked out at the edges. “I usually make them for the holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and such. I'm told they are quite tasty.”
“That is wonderful. Perhaps you could help me with choice of parts?” Referring to the shelves “I have no idea which to choose.”
She glanced at the canned goods he was standing in front of. “Well I can tell you that the best apple pies come from fresh apples not canned ones.” She paused, being moved to help further. “But, I'll do you one better after I help pick the ingredients. Why don't I get you my recipe?”
“That would also be so wonderful.”
“I’m just trying to be helpful.” grinning to herself.
That is how it had started all those weeks ago. Rather innocently enough, she thought. Her plan had been to not only drop off a copy of the recipe, but also one of her fresh pies. His name was Reynaldo and he was an artist living in a downtown loft. He had only been in the country for about nine weeks, and was working hard to get a series of paintings ready for a show he had been promised by a local gallery based on his current portfolio. This artwork had intrigued her and she decided she had to see it so the plan had changed to physically delivering the recipe with a fully-cooked pie to his loft. She had actually baked two pies, one to deliver and one to have after dinner that night. She didn't want her husband getting suspicious with a house full of baked apple pie scent and nothing to show for it.
Now, three weeks since the encounter at the grocery market an uneasy feeling had begun settling in. She stopped at a street corner waiting for the cross signal. It gave her a brief chance to assuage her anxiety once more by glancing around for potential tails.
“Calm down Carol. There is no one who looks suspicious” she whispered under her breath. She stayed at the corner even after the cross-walk signal had changed pretending to look in her purse, while she let the people who were waiting beside her to go ahead before proceeding herself. She then followed. The entrance to Brinkman's Department Store was coming up and a ‘Nancy Drew thought’ came to her. “I could duck in the door, move fast and can surely lose anyone in there. It's my home turf after all.”
She had been worried the last few weeks that her husband might have hired a private investigator to have her followed. There hadn't exactly been anything in particular about his comments, mood, or actions that raised her suspicions. Perhaps, it was woman’s intuition. As she stationed herself, partially concealed in amongst some tall women’s clothes racks on the upper floor so she could keep an eye on the top of the escalators, her mind began to drift a little.
“Come to think of it things at home had been fairly pleasant recently” she told herself. Perhaps that is what had heightened her suspicion. Since her encounter with Reynaldo, she found herself changed in a positive way, happier. No, that's not the right word, content would be more appropriate. She'd even been able to reduce her intake of an anti-depressant drug she'd been on for years. There had been less fights and arguing with her husband. Her temper didn’t seem to spike as high or as frequently and she was all around more pleasant.
No one suspicious had come up the escalators since she'd been spying, but just t
“At this rate, I'll be parking half-way home soon” she giggled to herself. She strode more briskly the last two blocks thinking that maybe she should have bought something at Brinkman's, something to have given her a reason to be downtown. “Too late now” pursing her lips. She arrived at Reynaldo's building and pressed the buzzer. She was soon buzzed in and climbed the stairs to the fourth floor quickly in anticipation of an afternoon of pleasurable release.
Afterwards the car ride home was slow, but her fulfillment pushed the tedium aside. Her mind once again wandered to her second encounter with Reynaldo, when she had delivered the apple pie. She had been understandably nervous, but a happy nervous, giddy was more like it.
“Giddy as a school girl as the saying goes” she smiled.
“Welcome in, this is such a surprise. Look at what a tasty treat you have brought to me?” Sprang from his Spanish tongue as he ushered her in.
He lived in a studio with high windows facing northwest. It was sparsely furnished with canvases, racks and a small kitchenette. Adjacent to the window was a bed with sheets and covers in a state of repose, as if they too were modeling for a still life.
“Please, have a sit down on the bed and I will get us something to enjoy this delight.” He took the pie and retreated to the kitchenette corner leaving her to look around.
The studio was cramped by her standards, but cozy. Littered about were paint cans, brushes, canvases and other art debris. She could see only about a half-dozen of the paintings because most were in racks or leaning against one another. There were some cityscapes splattered with grit and grime, as well as a realistic nude female with an abstract background that reminded her of the artist Gustav Klimt.
`“Here we are” presenting several pieces of the pie and handing her a plate with fork before seating himself. “Let us taste this wonderful creation” enveloping a giant fork full of pie into his mouth.
`“MMMM” He tilted his head up and closed his eyes, breathing in through his nose. “It is like biting a piece of forbidden fruit.”
“Why thank you, I think” she smiled.
A sigh escaped his lips as his gaze turned towards an empty canvas on a nearby easel. “I think I have found inspiracion” raising his plate.
“What the pie? Are you going to paint with apple pie?” she giggled. It was infectious and he began to laugh like a little boy, uncontrollably at the image of smashing the pie into the canvas.
“No, no, you are the muse” he smiled. “Although that apples may make a very interesting medium.”
After they had finished the pie, he took the plates to the sink. She got up to look at the exposed paintings, especially the nude. But after a short time, she noticed him watching her with tilted head.
`“What is it?” she shifted uncomfortably.
“I sometimes get struck by inspiracion, seeing your shape has done just that to me.” Sometimes she forgot how strikingly honest Europeans can be with total strangers. He stepped closer until they were quite close, well within each other’s personal space. “The curve of your hips” he placed a gentle hand on her hip and she didn't flinch. Their faces were less than six inches apart. “Could I ask an inquiry?”
“Certainly” she whispered softly, her voice quivering ever so slightly an octave too high.
“Would you model for me, for one of my paintings?” He paused, “It would make me so glad.”
She hesitated, what would her husband think or more importantly would he find out? She needed to feel beautiful after all and there had not been a lot of opportunities for that lately. She hesitated, but in the end the offer was too irresistible. Shedding of her clothes was somewhat liberating, the cool air licking her skin was unfamiliar and yet refreshing. She felt bad, but in a good way. Of course, it was only a short matter of time before the separation between model and artist shrank and the two became one.
While stopped at a traffic signal around the corner from her neighborhood, she checked herself in the rear view mirror to verify there was nothing out of place. Her eyes flicked to the dark colored sedan waiting behind. A woman wearing sunglasses was driving. “Had that car been behind her since downtown? Was she being followed?” It had never occurred to her that a private detective could just as easily be a middle-aged woman as a man in a trench coat and fedora, as traditionally pictured.
“Perhaps I should stop someplace to check” she whispered. In the end, suspicion was too convincing and she pulled over to the curb pretending to look in her purse. The sedan continued on past and disappeared in traffic.
”Okay, get a grip Carol. There is no way he could have found out. You've been too careful” she sighed. “Perhaps I'm just being over-sensitive” she mused. “I might need to up my anti-anxiety medicine again” The rest of the drive was uneventful and she arrived home. There were two hours before her husband was expected, so that was more than enough time to get a nice dinner ready.
There was a time not too long before she began her affair with Reynaldo that she had suspected her husband was having an affair. There had not been anything particularly incriminating, like lipstick on his collar or sexting, that had let her draw this conclusion. It was just that he had been traveling a lot recently for business. When he was at home, they always seemed to be arguing. He would give some banal or superficial reason to be out of the house for hours on end. She'd even hinted at divorce a few times, although she doubted she would ever be able to follow-through with such a threat. They had already known too many other couples who had destroyed their lives butting their heads against the process leaving them embittered shells of who they once were. No, that was not a road she wanted to go down. She would much rather hang on to some semblance of sanity. For the time being at least, she wanted to have a hint of happiness with her Reynaldo interlude. Presently content for the time being was just fine.
Her husband arrived home a little late, kissed her on the cheek and poured himself a glass of wine. What followed was pleasant conversation. “What were the exciting happenings today” he asked.
“Oh the usual; cleaning a little in the morning, lunch with the girls downtown at that New Brazilian Restaurant and then afterward I literally got lost in Brinkman's.”
“Well that must have been nice. It's quite a place to get lost in.”
It followed along those lines throughout dinner, at the end of which her husband excused himself. He went to his office to wrap up some planning and paperwork for a business trip the following week. She watched some TV and stepped in to say goodnight to her husband as she retreated upstairs to bed. She had just drifted off to sleep when the phone rang. By mechanical instinct she reached her arm over and picked up the receiver just after the second ring.
“Hello, it is you” she heard. Her eyes shot open as if jolted by electrical shock. She recognized the low toned voice instantly as that of Reynaldo. What was he doing calling here? How had he gotten this unlisted number? What should she say? These and many more questions flooded her head and kept her paralyzed. Instinctively her hand started moving he receiver back to it's cradle as if the potential problem was all a bad dream. Then she heard... “What are you doing calling here? I told you and I was quite clear that you should never use this number?” Her husband's voice unexpectedly scolded through the ear piece as she returned the receiver to her ear, not daring to even breath.
“I know, but I could not get in touch with you at one of the other numbers for days and I must speak with you.” She was hoping that she was mistaken regarding the initial words she had heard, that it had not been Reynaldo. Now there was no doubt. The accentuation and consonants, plus the misuse of words was distinctive.
“What is it then, can't it wait until tomorro
“I cannot be able to doing this anymore.”
“What are you talking about; I paid you good money to seduce her and this is going so well. You can't just quit on me now.” Her eyes finally flickered as she realized she hadn't been breathing. It was other worldly, like she'd been separated from her physical body, like it was someone else listening.
“It is not that it is most enjoyable, but I have been contacted by a famous gallery in Espana and I must return. It es an opportunities I cannot pass by.”
“Just when things were going so well.” The tone of resignation was present. “When will you tell her?”
“I can break the news next week at our rendezvous.”
“That will be fine. We can talk more later and your usual payment will be deposited tomorrow.” her husband and Reynaldo both hung up and the line went dead. She found herself sucking in and out abbreviated breaths. She managed to set the receiver back in the cradle and lay back down in the darkened room. She wasn't sure what to make of this. Thoughts were swimming as she heard footsteps coming up the stairs.
There are many individuals who yearn for something extraordinary to happen in their lives, as if life itself were not extraordinary enough or the fact that they were doing so little with such a great gift.
Standing on Quicksand by Ric battaglia / History & Fiction have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on33 votes