1997 was a bad year for love
Ancient and predictable. Rising in defiance to the dewy quiet darkness. Unfettered in its promises.
Promises that pierced through a cloudless sky right to Claudia’s eyes.
She squinted at its persistence. Welcomed into another August day. Is there hope at all?
Claudia’s senses, awoken from the sweat combed around her hairline. The rising heat made her skin itch. The bed, now uncomfortable, lifted Claudia up from her solemness. She needed coffee.
He promised to call. She’d waited so long to hear his voice. Soft and low, monotone and certain. As certain as the train roared by her house every two hours. It rattled the windows and shook glasses in the sink. It honked it’s horn, and soared past. As shiny as a grey bullet.
It was eleven o’clock.
It’s been so long since she’d seen other people. People still existed, but Claudia was on hold. People were still living their lives, going about their tiny worlds. Claudia just wasn’t one of them.
She walked down to the living room and stared at the yellow wall phone. Nowhere to go. Claudia waited for his call. She didn’t even have a call waiting, and she wasn’t going to miss it. She carefully thumbed through her record albums until she saw the familiar blue faded cover. Joni’s Mitchell’s face, young and exposed. She put the needle right on “The Case of You.”
“Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling
And I would still be on my feet” Joni Mitchell
She slipped down into the cushions of the couch and stared at the walls. They were stripped down and lingered with their memories of Greg pulling plaster off the ceiling. The constant metronome of the sledgehammer as he opened up the kitchen. Over and over. As the sledgehammer came down and released plaster from it’s prison, tiny particles reflected in the sun beams from the floor to ceiling windows.
The beautiful original parlor doors, all intact. The spiral staircase in the kitchen, and the parquet hardwood floors under the shabby dark green carpet. Wasted as fish oil supplements melted and caked in the medicine cabinet.
Greg left her alone. Took his heart and gave it to Helena, then flew her to Italy, and France. Regret. Forgiveness. Claudia knew it would be hard to take him back into her arms. She could wait a little longer.
Greg reassured her Helena was a moment, a phase of unloving himself. Distance, and his demanding work schedule.
The coffee grew cold in Claudia’s mug. A picture of her with Greg both wrapped in each other rattled on the fireplace mantel. A minor shake, like a far away boom. Seconds later the train roared through, the sound drowning out Joni Mitchell. Drowning out everything, even Claudia’s thoughts.
It was one o’clock.
Claudia worked the clay into a wedge and threw it hard on the center of the wheel. She looked up at the picture on the fireplace mantel. Greg and Claudia, smiled into the camera. She slammed the clay onto the center of the wheel and pressed the wedge into a rounded, softer shape.
Unfocused, she kept centering the clay and knocking it askew on purpose, dipping her hands in the nearby water bowl. The clay moved as she made it, holding her hands strong to force the shape into alignment.
Claudia loved the feeling of the clay caked on her hands. Covered in the cool and thick grey mush was an acquired delicacy. Similar to a love for anchovies, or cheap wine.
She remembered how Greg toasted her on cheap wine the night she earned her MFA in ceramics.
Claudia’s hands shook slightly as the train went by, shifting her focus. She looked up at the yellow wall phone, indignantly silent. She took the clay off the wheel and threw it at the couch.
No call. She waited, bitterly now.
It was three o’clock.
Claudia sighed. She bent down to pick up the wet clay, and noticed one of Greg’s black notebooks under the couch. He had several of these, thick with the dreams of architecture, and sketches of buildings. Just dreams fulfilled now. Talking about wild Italy, and demure France with adorable Helena at his new architecture firm. She grabbed the notebook and put it on the kitchen table.
Thumbing through the notebook left Claudia to wanderlust in its beauty. She poured wine into a giant Mason jar from the kitchen. Looking at the phone from the kitchen sink she took a giant gulp of wine. Squinting her face as it burned into her stomach. Patience, she reassured herself.
Greg’s notebook pages were thick from black sharpies pressed firmly into the page void. Each page a new yearning for knowledge of complexity, human connection. Solutions to the world’s problems yielded their way. Greg’s curiosity, privilege, and ego. A simpler time when Claudia could count on love. Faith undistilled.
The dull colors of black and grey, an architect’s perspective. Void of color, the design stood for what it was worth. Claudia pressed her colored pencils into the drawings. Giving them lightness, lust, and desire. She could feel the rattle of the train. It passed the time.
It was five o’clock.
She turned on the water and began washing the cups in the sink, letting the cool water run down her hands. Turning them upside down on a towel to dry. They left an aroma of coffee and vodka, swirling the sadness like a lonesome desperado outlier.
The train was the rattle of reminders that people still exist. People still worked, and loved, and took vacations to Italy and France. She had a pale yellow phone stuck to her wall above the sink. It’s betrayal rocked her heart. Maybe someone was trying to call, but the yellow phone took on a conscience.
It’s been a whole month, only a month. Claudia dared tell anyone for their pity and sorrowful faces that faked understanding and empathy. A world swallowed up by lost love so proverbial for an artist. Her friends would eye roll and talk about their work life balance, their new babies sleep schedules.
On the cusp of technological death, analog signals burst the senses in evenly timed fashion. Predictable and comforting for the known. The safety of sameness. A place of faked reaction to their interruption. Digital was the future. It didn’t pay attention to time, moving forward into unknown reactions, and haunting sensory experiences.
Claudia gulped another glass of sour, dry wine and stared at the notebook on the table. She turned her head sideways, and glared at the tiny words written at the bottom. “For You.” It was not Greg’s handwriting. Signed, “Helena.” Claudia turned the thick pages, and saw “Helena” was not just an insignificant phase. A presence. It turned the tables on who was the mistress.
The glasses rattled on the counter as the train roared its way through the damaged house with the damaged girl inside. Losing her patience.
It was seven o’clock.
A little tipsy, Claudia took a shower and let the clay from the wheel run down her legs. The tepid water meant to cool down a summer day without air conditioning felt good. Claudia’s long blonde hair filthy from sweat. Claudia stepped out of the shower and stared at her face in the mirror. Asking herself what the hell she was doing.
She stared at her face until it felt unrecognizable as she slowly brushed the knots out of her hair.
She gulped the lump in her throat. She looked up at the bathroom light. It’s flicker of dim loveless light cast an almost putrid shadow of despair and hollowness.
Tears rolled down Claudia’s face. She became engulfed in cries of an end. Something she was too scared to accept, too comfortable to understand. Too stubborn and willful to believe. Greg, his mystery, his words. His empty words that forced her to sign away their lives together.
He said he would call. He said he wanted to work it out. He never meant a word.
The train rolled by in its final act. Its lights cast shadows against the wall in the setting summer sun. Claudia knew her next move.
She picked up the phone, and for the first time in a month, dialed. Claudia was sick of staring and waiting.
The sun sets just as predictable as it’s rise, setting down roots in an orange and purple sky, taking inventory. A slow burn, either from glamorous Paris, France, or Chicago, Illinois.
“Just before our love got lost you said,
I am as constant as a northern star
And I said, “Constantly in the darkness,
Where’s that at?” Joni Mitchell
Claudia went room to room, and turned off all the lights. Each light an act of goodbye. She dragged her suitcases into the back seat of her car. She took the CD player and CD’s. She left the record player, the sound of the train, the yellow phone, the broken down walls. She left the picture on the mantel.
Claudia reached into her pocket, and removed the house key from the ring and threw it on the table. Sighing, she shut off the light in the entryway and started to make her way out of the old brick house.
She looked through her purse and found the check she crumpled in a ball, and straightened it out. A transfer of equity, Greg bought her out of the mortgage. Twenty thousand dollars. A statement of her worth. How much Greg was willing to pay to get her out of his life.
Before she closed the door for good, Claudia stopped. She Looked back at the kitchen table. Greg’s black notebook casually tossed. The feeling of the thick pages, turning each one slowly to reveal only what one could possibly imagine. The pages begging for color. She sighed, She wasn’t ready for digital.
In a digital life, analog still matters. The tactile, the raw emotions of human life, and creative curiosity.
She went back inside and picked up the black notebook off the table. She walked back outside, and shut the door. Claudia got into her car, and drove away.
Joy Ellen Sauter is a freelance writer. An east coaster living in Seattle with her partner, Nathan, two teenage boys, and two cuddly pit bulls. She writes about mental health, popular culture, history, Ableism, the foster care system, and human rights. She is the Editor of TURNED UP, a publication about Cultural Theory. Joy’s work has appeared in Mamamia, Scary Mommy, and YourTango.
I entered this micro-fiction into a contest I lost, but I fell in love with Claudia and decided to make her a series. Follow me for more…