The Wretched’s Grace: The Meeting

I was lucky enough to have a 4-day weekend this past weekend and as such, I used all day Tuesday to work on my current WIP: The Deliverance of a Sorrowful Man (which, henceforth, will be shortened to the acronym : TDSM because this current title is a ridiculous mouthful and needs to be reworked badly.) Anyway, it snowed here all day on Tuesday, so I was so thankful that all I had to do was sit at my desk and type away while I watched the world become covered in a fresh blanket of white. Here’s a little bit of what I was working on. It’s 1922, Omaha. My main character, William, is at an illegal speakeasy when he meets a woman who is about to change his life in ways he never expected.

With her gaze averted, William took his time evaluating her. The subtle changes that had occurred in the last few years still shocked and awed him. Where women had once stayed home with the children, they were now found making a living for for themselves and spending their time at places like this. It was difficult for William to pin an age on her, but if he had to guess, he’d have said she was near his own age of forty-five. Give or take a few years based on the wrinkles that creased her upper lip when she drew on the cigarette.

From the cloche velvet hat that was covered in thin black netting to the tips of her t-strap heels, she wore all black. Even the stockings that covered her thickening calves bore a thick black seam. William lifted his gaze and found that she had turned back to him in the time had spent looking at her. The words left his mouth before he could stop them. “Why all the black? Someone pass away?”

Her eyes stayed on his without blinking and he felt uncomfortable beneath their heavy gaze. Trapped, cornered, he glanced away from the weight of it. From the corner of his eye he saw her cigarette glow as she drew heavily upon it before answering. “Haven’t we all?” She took one last drag before snuffing it out on the plate that served as an ashtray.

William felt something stir deep within himself. Something that felt as if it were coming alive for the first time in years. Talking with this strange woman, William felt more connected to a person than he had since Myrtle’s passing. He was about to open his mouth, to try and put those thoughts and feelings into words, but as he struggled to string a sentence together, the woman took a drink from her glass and continued.

“The truth is, my husband abandoned us,my son and I, when I was seventeen. With help from my parents, I moved to Omaha in 1910 with my son for a fresh start. They told me that I should dress in black for a year. Make people believe that my husband had died, rather than tell people that he had deserted us.”

Her eyes dropped as she dug around her small satchel, retrieving a gold case. She opened it, removed a fresh cigarette and a reached over the bar for the book of matches. She tore the match free, pinched it beneath a pointed fingernail, and struck it across the back. It fired and she touched it’s flame to the cigarette. She held out the case to William and he removed one of the cigarettes and she passed him the book of matches.

“A year passed, my father died, and I remained in black,” she took a heavy drag, held the smoke for a moment, and released it in a steady stream that hung like a gray cloud above both their heads. “And then my mother followed in 1917.” She shrugged and tapped the cigarette against the plate. “I guess I liked how I feel when I wear it. People assume you’re grieving and leave you be.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that grief is like a disease to people. No one wants to get too close to those who are grieving because it opens up unpleasant doors in themselves.” She took another drag on the cigarette before she lifted her eyes to William’s. “It’s easier if you simply lock it away, and go on with your life, pretending that there isn’t a wave constantly beating against that locked door, threatening to break free at any time.” Her cat eyes searched William’s, unblinking as she sucked hard upon the cigarette. “Do you ever feel that way?”

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