Fiction

The Empty Azurite

By: B. A. Varghese

When the crystal glassware fell out of Mr. Swede’s hand, it became a secret omen that things would not go well from here on out. All of time seemed to slow down to a crawl, and I watched the glass float with grace and tilt to its side, spilling and splashing Cognac into the air. Both the glass and the spirit danced around each other like forbidden lovers who knew that their downward waltz would soon come to an end. They twisted with ferocity and heat against the pull of gravity, spinning until the liquid could no longer keep its form. The Cognac fragmented into smaller liquid bubbles and splattered when the glass crashed into the white Persian rug. The glass lay empty, its soulmate lost, and Mr. Swede hurried to pick it up, hoping it and the rug were not ruined. He didn’t realize that across the room, Melvin, the host of the party, watched and shook his head. Such a waste of Cognac. Mr. Swede should have held his glass firm for the sake of what was poured in it.

Looking past Mr. Swede, Melvin’s attention fell on Charles’ wife, Eleonora, who sat on the rosewood chair. She sipped her wine and looked at Mr. Swede fumbling with his spilled drink. Quiet and always smiling, she didn’t seem to fit in at any social gathering, but she always accompanied her husband to every party. Her head swayed back and forth in small motions, almost unnoticeable, and her soft lips mouthed the words to the song almost in unison with The Everly Brothers; dream, dream, dream. She wore a navy sheath dress which hugged her hips and hung below her smooth knees. Often, Melvin enjoyed watching her from a distance for she had such black sleek hair and her eyes were like orbs of the most brilliant brown with a depth like an ocean. Only a single silver necklace graced her soft white neck unlike the other ladies at the party who flashed their jewelry, their custom dresses, and their other assets. But she was Charles’ wife, and that was where Melvin left it. He was almost sorry she had to suffer through what was about to happen.

 Melvin stared into his wine glass and noticed that it was empty. He looked around for William who was busy tending to the guests. The room bustled with acquaintances whom he had always known and who were close to his heart. He once considered it pure joy to have them around and spared no expense to have his soul filled with their laughter and their merriment. On arriving after every trip, he longed to rush together a party and be surrounded by these people. But now, it seemed, things had changed. The rare objects in the room—the five-foot ivory vase hand-carved in Zambia, the 16th century Samurai iron tsuba behind the glass case, the French silk tapestry along the east wall—all grew pale along with his guests. Their merriment now sounded like cackles and screeches that echoed off the walls. Mrs. Wilson walked across the room pointing and instructing Mr. Swede, who was on the other side cleaning the spill. Her chest bounced, swaying to the motion of her body, which flowed like liquid as if her soft flesh was only held back by her red chiffon dress. In the past, the sight would have widened Melvin’s eyes, but not today. It did not stir within him anything. His thoughts were on more pressing matters. For one, his glass was empty.

“Delightful party,” Charles said, coming up from behind. Melvin remained motionless and wasn’t startled by Charles’ sudden presence. “I mean, you didn’t hold back on this one. The spread for dinner was too much. It must have been one heck of a trip.”

“Charles. My dear Charles,” Melvin said. He continued his blank stare at Mrs. Wilson, bending and kneeling by the rug in her attempts to help Mr. Swede. “Yes. The trip was different. Very different.”

“You seem off this evening, Mel. Usually, you’re so excited about your exotic visits. You’re all smiles and laughs, but tonight you’re so serious.”

“Am I?”

“Yes,” Charles said.

“You’re probably the only one who noticed.”

“Did something happen? Are you feeling okay?”

“Actually, I’m not feeling anything at all. I should—”

“Yes?”

“I should be happier, but I don’t know. These things usually go fine with or without me.”

“What?” Charles said. He swung in front of Melvin, and a lock of Charles’ raven hair fell forward, covering one eye. He pushed his hair back, and it was then that Melvin noticed that Charles’ eyes were hazel-blue and worried. “Now come on, I’ve never seen you like this. You’re the reason why we come. You’re the life of this party with your stories and adventures.”

“You know I enjoy all the company, and you’re all good folks, but I often feel I don’t fit in with their circles.” Melvin remained calm and talked in a tone of neither sentiment nor agitation.

“Nonsense, Mel. You’re one of us.”

“Am I?”

“Yes.”

“No matter what I do, I still feel out of reach.”

“Listen,” Charles said. “Not your fault.”

“And what is?”

“It’s hard for us American men. You’re an adventurous single Englishman, and you may spin the tale to our wives of a foreign love, but we know. We live vicariously through the absence of your more interesting details. Oh, if I could only have one night of the many you’ve had. Well, we find it fun and such until we catch you looking in the direction of our wives.”

“Interesting. I would never, Charles. You know—”

“Yes, I know you are a true gentleman, but the others, it just makes them uncomfortable.”

“But not uncomfortable enough. They still come to my parties.” Melvin looked down on his empty glass.

“They do consider you a good friend, and we try not to let it bother us.”

“Don’t worry. That’s all in the past. I feel nothing now. Nothing at all, but I need to know for sure.”

“What are you talking about? What the hell happened?”

 William finally came back into the room. His wispy white hair flowed from his head and rested like snow on his worn black jacket. He had served Melvin’s family for three generations and had been first employed by his grandfather back in England. When Melvin’s father moved to New York for business, William accompanied him only under the condition that upon death, his body would be returned and buried in London, William’s birth city. He had always thought that Melvin would one day squander the vast wealth that his family had worked so hard for. He even believed that he would live to see the day of Melvin’s great fall when the estate would be sold to cover all the expenses of a casual lifestyle of aimlessness. That never happened, yet William still waited and remained loyal. It may have been all he knew.

“William!” Melvin called out and stepped away from Charles.

 William walked over and said, “Yes, sir.”

“It might be a long night with my guests, so you and the rest of the help are dismissed for the night. Please inform the others.”

“Are you sure, sir?” William moistened his mouth and licked his dry lips.

“Yes, William. I am absolutely sure.”

“And the guests will serve the desserts themselves?”

“Leave them on the dining room table with plates. I believe we can manage in serving ourselves with no problems.”

“Indeed.”

“Good night, William.”

“Good night, sir,” William said and left the room.

 Melvin watched the antique ormolu clock on his mantel and noted the passing of twenty minutes. It was time. He walked and dimmed the lights. His guests knew the routine that dimming lights meant a story was about to begin. Melvin opened the mahogany cellarette and grabbed the bottle of Amontillado which he had been saving for this moment. He placed it on the bamboo side table and sat down on the dark brown leather club chair next to it. Melvin could not help but think about the six couples, his friends, who gathered around and sat on the leather couches in front of him.

His thoughts first fell on Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, who believed themselves to be from noble descent, from a family whose imaginative temperament had at times rendered them to be remarkable throughout history. Because of their inherited fortunes and their family’s business ventures, they both had an abundance of time dedicated for leisure. Whether through curiosity or from pure boredom, both their individual interests had at times bordered on promiscuity.

To describe Dr. and Mrs. Bedlow was to describe night and day. Mrs. Bedlow was short and full-bodied with plump rosy cheeks. She exhibited prim and proper manners in all things and often, helpful or not, explained how one should hold a glass of wine. The doctor, on the other hand, was tall, thin, with a slight hunch, yet his face was large with a broad forehead. For a doctor, he looked unhealthy, almost emaciated with his bloodless complexion, and his mouth was filled with wide and uneven teeth. It was a known fact that the doctor found his daily duties of diagnosing the sick unbearable without the use of morphine, which he would swallow in great quantity along with his morning coffee.

Mr. Parker was a short portly man and a retired naval officer. Once, he was forced into resignation when he was suspected to be part of a mutiny but was then cleared of charges when evidence presented to his accusers proved that he had lost a finger, during the skirmish, to a mutineer who had bit it off. The nurse on duty had bandaged his hand and saved it from further bleeding. She also testified to the events and cleared his name. She saved him twice. Then, she became Mrs. Parker.

Mr. Valdemar was the well-known author of “The Forensics Bible” and lived happily with his wife on their hundred acre-estate in upstate New York. The most striking part of Mr. Valdemar was the whiteness of his whiskers which was in absolute contrast to the blackness of his hair. At times, others would mistake his hair for a wig, but the error would be corrected in haste by Mrs. Valdemar, a petite and sharp-witted woman, who gave her word to its authenticity.

Melvin knew little of Mr. and Mrs. Swede since they had been his friends for less than two years. But he did know that Mrs. Swede was superstitious almost to a fault and had learned that she saw, on occasions, apparitions everywhere, even one emerging from a mere bowl of cereal. Everyone knew that Mr. Swede had been a survivor of a shipwreck, but as to why the shipwreck occurred, the name of the ship, what he was doing on the ship, or if there were other survivors, he himself could not remember. At times, this would unsettle Mrs. Swede who felt she had married a ghost.

And then there were the two who were closest to his heart, Charles and Eleonora.

“You know why I’ve invited you here, why I always invite you,” Melvin said.

“Come on, Melvin,” Mrs. Valdemar said. “Stop with the melodrama and tell us where you’ve been.”

“Shanghai?” Mr. Wilson said. “Peru? Moscow? Thailand? I hear the women there are beautiful.”

“Oh, come now,” Mrs. Parker said.  “Is that all you want to hear about? Emily, you should really have a word with your husband.”

“Now, now,” Charles said. “Mel will tell us his great adventure, but first I just want to say how thankful we are for inviting us. We do enjoy ourselves at your parties, am I right?”

“Yes, definitely,” Mrs. Parker said.

“Then before he begins,” Charles said. “Might I suggest a toast? Here, take some.” He grabbed the bottle of Amontillado from the side table and passed it around. Everyone took a half glass full.

“To the great traveler, Melvin Atman,” Charles said. “May his glass always be full, and his adventures always be, oh, adventurous.”

They all toasted their glasses and drank.

“Wait, Melvin’s glass is empty,” Mrs. Valdemar said, and they all roared in laughter.

 Melvin attempted to smile to humor them, but felt no emotion stirring, only giving a mere display of teeth. He looked at the glass in his hand. They gave him the bottle, but he told them that he preferred some Chardonnay which he had forgotten to ask William to bring.

“Before I begin my tale,” Melvin said. “Let me pose this question to you. What if a man loses his soul?”

“Oh God, have you gone Christian on us?” Mrs. Wilson questioned.

“Let me rephrase that,” Melvin said. “What if a man’s soul is taken from him? Not in a way like the stories of Doctor Faustus—paying with a soul for a favor—no, I mean, what if it was ripped from you? Torn from inside and separated from your flesh. A man walking with no soul.”

“What are you talking about? How is that even possible?” Mrs. Parker said.

“What if a man had no soul?” Melvin questioned again.

“I guess he would be dead wouldn’t he?” Mr. Wilson said.

“Oh please,” Mrs. Wilson interrupted. “Use your common sense. He’s talking about a ghost.”

“No,” Mr. Swede said. “A ghost is a lost soul after a person dies. The body is dead, but the soul doesn’t know where to go. He’s talking about the living dead. Oh, what do children call it? Oh, zombies?”

“I’m confused,” Mrs. Valdemar said. “Why are we talking about ghosts and the living dead?”

“Wait,” Dr. Bedloe said. “Isn’t a zombie just the dead coming back to life? Melvin, is that what you’re talking about? I don’t think there’s a soul involved there.”

“This is ridiculous,” Mrs. Bedloe said. “Melvin, you have been on one trip too many. Did you smoke something you shouldn’t have? Did someone drug you?”

“No. No. No,” Melvin said. “No ghosts. No zombies. And no drugs. What I’m talking about is a living man with his soul removed. This might be hard to understand, but I believe it has happened to me.”

 The room became silent. Everyone stared at Melvin, and no one knew what to say next. Charles stood up and chuckled.

“You’re joking, right?” he said. “This is just a joke. You can’t be serious.”

Melvin said nothing but gave Charles a long look. Charles stared into his eyes and sat back into his seat. The room remained silent. They looked back and forth at each other talking only with the language of eyes and gestures. Melvin sat motionless before them, and the silence broke with small whispers fizzing like poured champagne. The glass in Melvin’s hand felt heavy and with no Chardonnay in it, he placed it down on the side table. He looked toward the open window and saw that there were no clouds, no stars in the black sky as if the darkness swallowed them whole. The wind blew and pushed its invisible hand against the window panes. The night looked cold and was unlike the night when he wandered down the mountain in the heat with a burn that it was gone like losing one’s flesh, yet still feeling it there, but knowing that it was absent, missing, never to return. He looked back, and his guests appeared uneasy in their seats. They were tortured between the thoughts of leaving and the burn of curiosity.

“Let me begin my story,” Melvin said. “I cannot remember when, for the length of time has escaped me, but I, with the assistance of my friend, pilot Mason, without whom these travels would be an arduous undertaking, left London in his monoplane to arrive in Dar es Salaam, a beautiful city in Tanganyika. After a few days of leisure, on one outing, I was browsing the local merchant shops when a small item caught my eye. It was a strange necklace. The shop, from where the necklace hung, was nothing to look at—clay-mud steps, old wooden posts that held up a wooden roof frame, thin brown clay tiles acting like a roof, an empty opening where the front window should be—but the necklace itself seemed out of place with all the other items the shop was selling. When I walked closer, I noticed that the necklace was composed of many small black gems circling a center gem fastened together in a web-like fashion. The center gem was much larger and of the most brilliant deep blue around the edges. The blue turned pure black toward the center where the thickness of the gem increased. It was not a gem I had ever seen before, and its appearance closely resembled gems made of azurite, but this one was far darker in its shade of blue. While I stood still and examined the necklace, a fly flew in front of my face and landed on the center gem. It raced back and forth across the surface until I shooed it away with my hand. But then a most peculiar thing occurred. My hand had grazed the large gem, and for an instant, I thought I saw the gem become white like snow. I thought that the heat of this country was finally wearing upon me until I reached out and touched the necklace. The center gem lost all its blue color in a swirl as if it was poured out and the gem became white. When I removed my hands, the color of dark blue was restored. Such a strange quality. I touched numerous times, and with each touch, only the center gem would empty itself, turning pure white and then would fill up with a dark blue color when I removed my fingers from its surface. The shop keeper noticed my curiosity with his necklace, and when he approached me, I asked him about it. He said the necklace was not for sale and that it was hung there to attract buyers to his shop. I inquired further, and he said that the technique of fashioning this necklace did not originate from Tanganyika, but from India. I was intrigued, so I asked him to continue.”

“The shop keeper, at first, was busy and he asked me to purchase something. I told him that I would like to purchase the story of the necklace. Seeing that I was not going to leave without the story and that I could pay a good price for it, he sat me down on the clay-mud steps. He spoke in Swahili, and to the best of my knowledge, he said, ‘My father had left me the shop before he died and I have been selling wooden carvings and metal trinkets to foreigners in order to feed my family. He had given me a handful of those necklaces and that, hanging there, is the last one. My father told me that during the First World War, the British had occupied this territory, what is now Tanganyika, after beating the German armies. British merchant ships from India had brought over indentured workers, who they called Kulis, and were made to work as merchants, servants, and craftsmen for the British stationed here. We lived near one family that came from the southern west region of India and who were brought to fashion jewelry. My father became good friends with the man of the family. I do not remember what his name was for I was young at the time and it was so long ago, but he was a kind man who had the most generous wife and three young sons who helped their father in the trade. After the Second World War, the man completed his term of indenture and was no longer in debt to British service, yet he remained here with his family and continued to make and sell their jewelry. After a few years, India became independent from British rule, and the man felt it was time to return to their native land. Before leaving, the man gave my father a bag of necklaces for all the help my father had given his family over the years. The man told him that they were special and unlike the ones he would fashion for the British. My father was instructed not to sell them, but to use them if our family ever needed help. We did not fully understand, and my father saw that the necklaces were much like the other ones but with the strange center gem. Feeling that they may have been costly, he only sold a few and only at a high price. The rest he gave me and told me this story before he died. This is my last one, and I cannot sell it.’”

“After the shop keeper’s story, he extended his hand and I handed over some money for his telling of the tale. I was intrigued by the strange gem, but when pressed, the storekeeper could only tell me that the center gem was like azurite. But how it was made or any further secrets, he did not know. Even though I was only to be in Tanganyika for a few weeks, after which I would return home, I thought that a delay of a few more weeks would be worth it to find the answer to this puzzle. I made an offer to the shop keeper that I knew was impossible to refuse. I told him that in trade of the necklace, I would ensure that his children get the best education in England. I could see that my words startled him for he just stood there looking at me. I reasserted that I had connections in London and that my trusted friend, Mason the pilot, would make the proper arrangements for his children, no matter how many he had, to start English schooling once they reached the proper age. I told him that his children would not need to sell trinkets in a shop when they grew up, but be doctors or lawyers in England. He talked to his wife, and they both agreed, handing over the necklace. I radioed Mason and asked him to make arrangements and assured him that it was a small price to pay for such a great mystery. After a few days, we left Dar es Salaam airport and flew toward India.”

“After a stop at Colombo in Ceylon for refueling, we landed in Trivandrum airport in Kerala, the southern west region of India. During the flight, my obsession over the necklace grew. I had never visited this land but was not interested in anything else but to find how the gem emptied itself when touched and what material it was made of. I asked the locals, but no one knew anything. I searched through all of the shops in the nearby towns as well as the remote villages. But after weeks of fruitless searches, I gave up. I thought the mystery of this necklace was meant to remain just that; a mystery. It was then that I finally decided to not let the trip go to waste and enjoy the country. I radioed Mason and told him I would only be here for one more week. In all my haste over a necklace, I had forgotten how beautiful my surroundings were; orange-tiled houses peeking through the groves of lush green coconut trees along the mountain sides, lines of little children, laughing, singing, walking to school in their blue and gray uniforms, deep green paddy fields swaying in the warm wind as if the wheat heard music unknown to the rest, the smell of fried sweet bananas from the local eatery huts, rhythmic chants from worshipers holding bright flowers and incense in front of ornate gold temples, the parade of noisy majestic elephants bathing in the clear blue river. I had wasted so much time. Maybe the real gem was this country.”

“I stopped by a local eatery in Pathanamthitta, a town seventy miles north of the Trivandrum airport. Tired from a long day of exploring, I decided to sit down and enjoy some good south Indian cooking. Places like these had no menus, so you usually just get whatever the cook was making that day. While waiting for the food to come out, I listened to the locals’ chat. With the many weeks of roaming the southern parts of India, I learned to converse and understand the different languages as well as some of the distinct regional dialects.  Looking toward the entrance of the eatery, I noticed this small lady staring at me from across the room. When she noticed that I was looking at her, she motioned for me to come over. I assumed from her appearance that she was a street beggar wanting some money. Kindness and respect to the elderly were important in this culture, so I grabbed a few rupees from my pocket and walked over to the beggar lady. When I offered her the money, she pointed at the azurite necklace, which was around my neck, and asked me where I had obtained it. I insisted she take the money for I was not about to give up my necklace. Then she asked me if I knew what became of the family that had made the necklace. I startled at this discovery. Fate brought the answer to me. I wanted, no, I needed to know and pressed her for the answer. But there was a cost. She wanted my necklace. I resisted at first, but the spark of curiosity grew into a fire within me and was unquenchable. I needed to know its secrets and its source. I untied the necklace and gave it to the strange lady. She held it in her hand, smiled, and then ripped the bigger center gem from the necklace. She handed me the rest of the necklace and then she spoke. At first, I had difficulty in understanding because I was only still learning to distinguish different dialects and for she spoke Malayalam with a slight lisp. But the more she spoke, the more I became accustomed to the way her tongue moved and was able to recognize familiar words. She said, ‘The merchant family that was taken away by the British army returned when Gandhiji made our people one. The father became wealthy working for the British, but years later, after his death, the family fell because of the curse of greed. The older sons squabbled over the family wealth, and when they finally agreed on a proper division, they left a small portion to the youngest son and almost nothing to the mother. With a broken heart, the mother became sick, and only the youngest son cared for her.  After the mother died, the youngest son stayed furious at his brothers and not wanting to fall to the same greed himself, left his remaining wealth to an orphanage and disappeared from the world. Some believe he became a swami, living on the top of Chuttipara, a mountain just east of this town. Some believe he became a spirit of protection. There are even some who have seen him, from a distance, sitting by a crag, meditating for a whole day’s length and then becoming a shadow, disappearing into the night.’”

“The old lady’s story fascinated me, and I was elated that the son, the one who could possibly answer questions about the strange gem and its properties, may still be alive. I was eager to find this mountain, but then the old lady grabbed my arm and shook her head, warning, ‘No. Never. Never travel on Chuttipara at sandhya, a time when it is neither day nor night, a time when demons come out and roam around. There on the mountain is a great demon and only the youngest son, the swami, has the power not only to resist it but fight it off. But for others, the demon would devour their souls.’”

“This is ridiculous!” shouted Mrs. Bedloe, “Do you really expect us to believe that a demon from India stole your soul, Melvin? Come now!”

 Melvin heard the slow uproar of his guests but continued with his calm explanation. “I didn’t heed her warning. I was too engrossed in my desires for the gem’s secret, and I went up on that mountain.”

“I can’t believe this,” Dr. Bedloe said. “He really thinks his soul was stolen.”

“I went up at the wrong time. I went up during dusk,” Melvin said.

“This can’t be true,” Mrs. Wilson said. “Is this a joke? Did you even go on this trip at all? Are you lying to us?”

“And halfway up the mountain, I looked up and about a furlong away, I saw its eyes, like that of a tiger, but glowing red. And then, it froze in mid-stride when it saw me.”

“Listen, everyone,” Charles said. “Maybe Melvin is acting this way because of the way we all are treating him.”

“What are you talking about?” Mr. Valdemar said. “We always enjoy Melvin’s company, but this has gone too far.”

“Our eyes locked,” Melvin said. “And it moved with great speed, almost like the wind, pushing the air itself against me. Its teeth swung like serrated knives dripping with saliva, and its hunched leathery body pulsated with every heavy breath. Its footfalls struck like the clopping of iron hooves against stone. It was hideous. I just couldn’t move, and I stared into its red orb-like eyes, which grew bigger and brighter as it approached me.”

“Charles, what are you getting at?” Mrs. Parker said. “He’s a gentleman to us and a friend. But this is just too much.”

“Have you ever notice how he looks at all you women?” Mr. Valdemar said.

“Well, of course we have. It is quite flattering,” Mrs. Wilson said.

“And why shouldn’t he notice us. What is wrong with that?” Mrs. Valdemar said.

“We are his friends,” Charles said. “Yet, don’t you think we may have kept him at arms distance.”

“So,” Mr. Swede said. “Because of this, he made his story all up? This is such a waste of my time.”

“And then, it lunged toward me, its mouth opened wide, much wider than a mouth should open, and it consumed me. There was total darkness, and then everything was back to normal. It was gone as if it disappeared when I blinked, like a fleeting dream upon my awakening.”

“Melvin, is this true?” Charles said. “Did you make this all up because of how you feel about us?”

 Melvin turned to them and stared at their faces. “Feel? I don’t feel anything. I don’t feel love. I don’t feel anger. I don’t feel. Joy, sadness, passion are but memories. I feel hollow. Nothing stirs within me.”

“Melvin,” Charles said. “I’m not saying your story is not true, but I think you need to get some help. It seems that this trip has hurt you in a way that none of us can explain.”

“God turns his face, and Satan does not bother when you have no soul to struggle over.”

“You cannot talk like that,” Mrs. Swede said.

“I spent weeks wandering the streets like a beggar until Mason found me and flew me to London. It was on those streets that I had heard stories of the swami, the youngest son of the merchant. He was protected. He learned the art of protecting his soul from his father. It was the gem that protected him.”

“Melvin, this is not you.”

“I was wrong. The gem did not empty itself when touched, it filled up. It filled up with your soul. Death will not come for me. It has no soul to gather.”

“He’s gone mad,” Mr. Wilson said.

“Please, let us help you,” Charles said. “We can discuss your story in length, but we first must have Dr. Bedloe examine you.”

“After that,” Melvin said. “Nothing mattered anymore, and I finally came home.”

“This is too much for me,” Dr. Bedloe said. “Charles, stop humoring him, it’s not healthy.”

“Oh my, I feel faint,” Mrs. Swede said.

“This is wearing on all of us,” Mr. Parker said. “Look, Mrs. Swede feels faint, and Mrs. Valdemar has already fainted on the couch from all this excitement.”

“It’s not from excitement. It’s from the poison,” Melvin said.

“What?” Mrs. Wilson said.

“The cyanide in the Amontillado,” Melvin said. “I’m sorry. I had to be sure.”

All of time stopped as the knowledge of what Melvin had done seeped, with sluggish speed, into the minds of those still standing. It seemed like an eternity of motionlessness caused by unbelief and horror, broken only by the slow crawl of movement which began toward Melvin. Tense bodies with clenched fists pulsated with neuron electricity into action, coming to life, like a dance, leaping, swinging, grabbing Melvin from all directions. Knowing that the waltz would soon come to an end, they twisted with ferocity toward the pull of anger and revenge, with the first punch from Mr. Valdemar crashing into Melvin’s cheek. Mr. Valdemar, moving too quickly, tripped and crashed face forward into the side table. Mrs. Wilson screamed, jumping upward from the couch and falling behind it. Mr. Parker jumped toward Melvin, clutching his hands around Melvin’s throat. Charles, trying still to defend Melvin, pulled on Mr. Parker’s right hand. Dr. Bedloe reached in and cracked Melvin in the nose. Melvin grabbed both of Charles’ hands by the wrist and held them up in the air. Charles looked him in the eyes, but Melvin shook his head as if he did not want Charles to stop them. Melvin found it hard to breathe but managed a gasp of air despite Mr. Parker’s fingers, which dug deep in an attempt to cave in Melvin’s throat. Dr. Bedloe cocked his arm back for another punch but stopped mid-air when he heard his wife yelp out his name for the last time. He ran to her, cradled his wife, and then fell on top of her. The Wilsons held each other with tears in their eyes, regretting all that they brought between them, wanting nothing more but a few moments of locked lips and love, knowing that when they closed their eyes, they would enter death’s embrace as lovers. Melvin gasped again for air when Mr. Parker could no longer keep his grip and felt his arms too heavy. Mr. Parker turned around and slid onto the floor, his gaze resting straight at Mrs. Parker who sat still at the foot of the couch. At the end of the room, Mr. Swede’s body lay still against the base of the wall as if he, with great effort to escape, tried to pass through the window above him, but failed.

Melvin sensed that Charles’ arms were growing weak and lowered them, lessening his grip. Charles looked at Melvin like he’d lost a dear friend, then tried to turn to look over at his wife, but Melvin brought him closer, pressing Charles’ head toward his chest. Melvin looked over to see her. Eleonora looked at them from her seat with such sorrowful eyes. She still held her glass for she was a sipper and did not gulp down her drink like the rest. Melvin watched her chest move up and down in slow movements and then watched her when she raised her glass to her lips and in one gulp drank the rest. She smiled as if she forgave him, but he knew that she wanted nothing more than to be with her husband. They sat there in the quiet and after a while, Melvin witnessed the life behind her eyes fade, and her mouth motioned her last silent word. Why?

Melvin wondered the same thing when he wandered those streets of Kerala but received no answer during the sleepless nights. It all seemed like a bad dream, but he neither had fear nor shock, unlike Mason during the rescue, who was terrified and who could not explain the reason how he sensed an absence in Melvin. It was as if Melvin was like a flat line alive, with no peaks and valleys of the heart’s rhythm, yet beating and breathing. He looked down at the ones who were once close to his heart; motionless, contorted, arms twisted, legs coiled against bodies, like statues of flesh in tribute to pain and suffering, an image that should have horrified him, an image that should have jolted him alive with regret like flesh jump-started by electricity. Yet, he remained calm, sitting back in his chair with now a proof to his dark suspicions. He picked up his wine glass from the floor and held it up in the air. It was at that moment, I walked over to Melvin. I had come for the rest, but he was empty.

###

B. A. Varghese graduated from Polytechnic University (New York) with a degree in Electrical Engineering and is currently working in the Information Technology field. Inspired to explore his literary side, he has earned a B.A. in English from the University of South Florida. His works have appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Apalachee Review, FRIGG, and other literary journals.

Categories: Fiction

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