I wrote this short story from March to May. It was for the Student’s Creative and Research Session at my university. I won Second Place, for this as well as for a research on mythology in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. It was a nice contest and the other presentations were really awesome too. Now, I shall go on with the story. All I politely ask is not to reproduce or copy any part or any idea from here unless you ask me and I agree first. Thank you!
And here’s a little something to listen to while reading: The Mono Jacks- Come Back Girl
The Way You Sit in the Corner
Julie got out of her apartment block to a roar of heavy rain. The sky had apparently chosen that exact moment to pour water over the city. It fell with force and determination. Her sight was blurred and her ears tingled and she had no umbrella. Under the canopy of the Antiquities Shop near her a man and a woman were talking- almost screaming- over the rain. Julie checked the clock on her phone: 8:43. She had exactly seventeen minutes to get to the library.
The girl-Julie waved and a taxi stops in front of her. She ran towards it in the pouring rain. But before she could realize, ahead of her there’s the man, covering his head with the morning newspaper, opening the taxi door. The door closed two seconds later and the yellow car was gone before she could argue with anyone. She looked back to the shop. The woman, who was now inside, gave her a pitiful look through the window. Already soaked, Julie looked for another taxi, but there was no patch of yellow visible through the water curtain. Julie checked the time again- there were still fifteen minutes left to get to work and there was no use in waiting for another taxi here. She walked in the rain. She couldn’t get any wetter than this anyway…
Julie arrived at the bookstore half an hour late. She was wet through and through and from her forehead big water drops got into her eyes. As she opened the shop’s door, a familiar smell of dust and paper welcomed her. Julie wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
The old book store was rather big for such a shop, and very neat. The books were arranged in parallel rows on the shelves, first by category, then by size. It was all her work and Julie was very proud of her system. There was little light in the shop, the way it always is in the morning. The yellow ceiling spot lights cast dark shadows of the shelves.
“You’re late.” Nate said from the back door “what’s happened?”
Nate was her boss. He was a tall man in his late twenties. He wore his short blond hair spiked up and Julie sometimes found herself wondering if he put his fingers in the socket every morning to achieve this look. He wore thick, black framed glasses and he sometimes looked like a school boy. But one would never treat him like a school boy.
“Sorry.” she said, taking off her jacket “There was no taxi.”
Nate went back inside and Julie could hear French music singing from inside his office.
“Still no call?” Nate asked when she entered to leave her jacket.
“Still.” She didn’t look at him but she felt the pity in his voice.
“You are all soaked. You should turn on the heater before you catch a cold” he said instead of anything. She didn’t say anything and went back to her front desk. She turned on the heat, as Nate said and unwillingly sat down.
Julie wouldn’t let her mind wander to the last weekend and its events, but it still did, for the heart never listens to the mind, but is its own master.
Not wanting so, her mind went back to her parents’ home, that Friday. She saw again her mother hugging her, happy. Her father was reserved in expressing his emotions, but Julie knew he was glad as well. He hugged her briefly. The house smelled like childhood, a combination of fresh basil and her father’s perfume. She let her bag down and followed her mother into the kitchen.
“What are you cooking?” Julie asked. It smelled strange. She sat down at the table and her mom brought her a plate of spinach and eggs.
“Umm, mom?” she started.
Her mother continued to put the plates on the table, “Yes?”
“Remember I don’t eat spinach?” Julie said in a low voice.
And that’s all it took to ignite the fire. Of course explaining that she only despised spinach was useless. Then they argued about how she hadn’t gotten married yet and how after the age of 25 girls are not so good to marry anymore, and how she shouldn’t wait for “the right person” because there is no “right person”. Midnight caught them fighting over her low pay and how she didn’t want to finish college. She tried, endless times, to just get up and leave the cold dinner untouched on the table, but she couldn’t until her mother rose and stormed out the room after Julie yelled at her “You have no authority in my life anymore.”
Saturday was slow and they barely talked. On Sunday, when she left, Julie couldn’t be happier. She only missed her dad, who talked to her and who hugged her goodbye in the train station. Sometimes she thought her mother would, long ago, have divorced her dad, if only they didn’t believe in the sacred nature of marriage. But there was nothing sacred still left in their marriage.
The sky was cloudy and the air was humid and stale in the rail station, it had rained during the night and it started to drizzle when she got in the train. In Baltimore she was sure it was already raining, the weather was always worse there. But it didn’t matter as long as it was far away from this. Her father waved her goodbye, the train finally left and she was relieved to have left her hometown once more.
The car smelled of dust, and sweat, and mud, and wet dog. She walked to the emptiest side of it, and sat at the window. The balance of the rails made her sleepy and she permitted herself to close her eyes. She relaxed in the soft seat.
Julie emptied her mind of everything- the past weekend, the past month, the past five years since she left her parents. She opened her eyes and looked out the window through the raindrops on the pane. Fields ran past her in a blurry green haze. She looked up and gazed at the aisle and for a split-second, she locked eyes with someone walking towards her. He was medium-height, blondish and pale, and resembled annoyingly well with someone she knew; only she could not take a grasp of who it was. He walked steadily and confident, despite the sway of the train. When he met her gaze, his mouth spread into a wide crooked smile and his eyes lit. Julie looked away and tried really hard to look out the window. She examined the rain drops on the glass and the specks of dust, but when she looked up again, against her will, he was approaching her seat with what seemed to be determination. Only it was just in her head. Julie turned her sight away.
“Is this taken?” a melodious voice asked. She looked at him, all radiant and young and blond and pale and smiling.
“No” she mumbled and her voice was barely audible over the sound of the train. But he sat across her, nevertheless.
Julie looked out the window again. The rain from last night made the green look brighter. It seemed, somehow, alive.
“Nice weather, huh?” He looked like Bon Jovi in his good days. He smiled at her with genuine interest.
“Do you like this?” she asked, pointing to the window. How could someone like the rain? It’s wet and cold and it soaks your socks.
“Of course I do. Rain is the best season of all.” And in saying this he showed the greatest, widest smile. She noticed his teeth were a little crooked. But rain is not a season, Julie wanted to comment. Instead, in such a harsh tone that it even surprised herself, she said: “I hate it.”
He shrugged. “Your loss.”
Like she was losing something because she didn’t like the rain! She turned back to watching the passing fields and minutes passed before Bon Jovi spoke again.
“Do you want to hear a story?”
“Sorry?” and she couldn’t stop the mockery in her voice.
“There was once a priest who was also a drunk”, he started. Julie raised an eyebrow. Really? “Once, he went to the inn and drank a lot all night. And then he did some other bad things. And he shouldn’t have attended the mass anymore. But he kept doing it every Sunday.” His voice became husky as he continued. “Once, while he was in the altar, an angel came to him and told him he shouldn’t deliver service anymore. But the priest cursed the angel and his wings fell.” Julie couldn’t but stare at him.
“But the priest continued his life as it has been until then. Some time after that people found out that he had sinned with another woman, and ashamed, he left, and went to be a priest in another village, far from this one. After a while his wife died. He continued to live and deliver service in that village. Until the bishop invited him to the celebration of a holy day. After the liturgy, all the priests gathered and ate together and they talked about the saint they were celebrating.
The priest interrupted the discussion and said: “That is not true. The saint was my neighbor. Let me tell you how that happened.” “But, that is not possible” the archbishop said “The saint lived more than 300 years ago. That cannot be possible.” “I tell you it is true.” The archbishop took him aside and the priest told him everything, about how the angel’s wings fell. And he hadn’t died since”
“You are bound with the angel’s curse” the archbishop said, “You should go in the church and offer forgiveness to the angel.”
And they went back to that old village, but there was a forest in the place where the church used to be, and in the altar’s site, the priest found the wingless angel wandering.
“Angel, I cannot die, I have to give you forgiveness in order to die,” the man tried.
“But you bound me with your curse, so you are bond with mine too. You shall forgive me first, then I’ll forgive you and we shall both be free.”
“But if I give you forgiveness first, then you will have your wings back and you’ll fly away, and I’ll stay here forever”
“God is never a deceiver. You shall trust me” the angel responded.
The father sighed “Very well then, angel. I forgive you”
And then the angel regained his wings of light and rose into the air. “You shall have my forgiveness too, father!”
The archbishop witnessed how in that moment the priest fell on the ground, and there was nothing there but bones and dust. Before the angel left, the bishop cried: “Angel, please, before you fly away, sing me something you sing to God, there in Heaven.”
“That is not something given for the ears of men to hear.”
“Please angel.” He tried again, “So we can sing to God, what you sing to him”
“Very well then, but I shall rise to the third Heaven, and only then should I sing”
And the luminous angel rose and the bishop waited, and then the angel sang.”
“And the archbishop had never heard anything so beautiful before, and never heard it
afterward. The angel sang what we now sing Alleluia, and there is no translation to that, in any language— the end,” he said abruptly and then smiled.
“Are you the angel?” Julie said and she covered her mouth. But the words were out already. The boy laughed, like someone who knew the answer to a very important question:
“Am I?” What was that supposed to mean? Julie realized she had been leaning towards him and that they were now very close. She sat back in her seat and crossed her arms. The boy leaned back in his chair as well.
“That was all? What happened to the priest? Did he just die?”
The boy shrugged.
“What about the archbishop? Or the angel? They can’t just go away like that”
He shrugged once more, raising his squared shoulders just the right angle of carelessness.
“You’re incredible!” she gestured. “You can’t just start stories and leave them hanging in midair like that!”
“Yes I can” he said, and his calm voice somehow sounded reassuring to Julie’s ears, “I just did.” He smiled, wicked, with only one corner of his mouth.
“Pff!” Julie pouted and turned her back on him. What was he trying to prove, coming to her in all his blond glory and telling her angel stories? Maybe he was one of those Jehovah’s Witnesses. They always sent the cutest boys. And then, with the corner of her eye she saw his shadow coming closer. She looked at him. He had his right arm extended toward her.
“Hi. I’m Toph.” Julie looked at him increduously. “Julie” she said, without moving.
“You know, it’s not polite to leave someone with his hand out like that” his smile was reassuring and confident.
Julie looked from his pale face down to his equally pale hand, then back up. He was still smiling, expectantly. She put out her hand and he took it. His was warm and smooth and felt nice over her frozen skin.
“Nice to meet you.” he held her hand in his for a little more than necessary, and then she took it back, uncomfortable.
“So” Julie started, trying to seem only mildly interested, “why are you telling me stories about fallen angels anyway?”
“Not fallen” he, Toph, corrected “he was cursed.”
“How do you know?” Toph shrugged and looked at her sideways. He was standing with his back at the window, one arm rested on the backrest. “Then why are you telling me such things?”
“Because it’s a beautiful story. People don’t listen to enough stories anymore.
Julie didn’t answer. The train ran fast and the wheels made a soft rhythmic sound. Clack-clack! Clack-clack! It made her sleepy. Outside, she could see it was barely raining but the clouds were still heavy above the world. She closed her eyes and thought of nothing, but in her head, the train’s rattle sounded like the battling of wings. There was a great light coming towards her. The man, for she knew in her head it was a man, came closer. She could see the feathers of his attached wings, every white, shiny feather.
“So, where are you going to?” his voice interrupted her dream. She wondered what the angel would have said to her.
“Baltimore” Julie said sleepy, and immediately regretted it.
“Cool, so we’ve got time.” He smiled.
“Time for what?” her curiosity kicked in, like a light bulb that’s flashing.
“Stories, that’s what this is all about”
“ You know what? Just… just stop talking to me.”
The blond boy leaned back in his seat, as if taking a better look at her.
“Hmm, why don’t you tell me your story, then, Julie?”
She didn’t like the way he uttered her name, like she was some kind of a sweet, some candy he could use at his own will. Julie responded in the bitterest tone she was capable of: “I don’t talk to strangers”
“But Julie, I am not a stranger, I am Toph, I told you a story, now it’s your turn to tell me one.”
Now she was annoyed.
”If I told you a story would you stop talking, then?”
“If you want me to…”
Julie sat back in her seat, her back to the window, mirroring the boy’s position.
He had a box of Skittles in his hand and laboriously threw one candy into his mouth. That distracted her.
“Do you want Skittles?” He offered her the box.
“Aren’t those for children?” the colored pack looked strange in his hand.
“They aren’t if I eat them” Toph said and took another candy.
The fade light of the rainy day outside made his hair look silver and his teeth white while he was chewing the Skittles, one after another.
“How old are you anyway?” she wondered aloud.
“Twenty three. But that is no reason for not telling me a story. People are never too old for these things.”
He was two years younger than her. Not that she cared. Toph’s face was all excitement, like she was some famous storyteller and was about to tell the greatest story ever told.
She wondered then if a simple story like Snow-White or Cinderella could make him go away. It most probably wouldn’t.
“There were once a girl and a boy” she started. Toph’s face was set. “They were both six and they were best friends. He was the only one she loved. He died at sixteen – the end.”
Julie ended the story when she realized what she was saying. Why hadn’t she invented a story? A simple, easy, happy-ending one?
She looked at the boy facing her. He had swallowed the candy and was now looking at her as if analyzing the complicated layers of the story.
“Your story sucks!” he finally said, the aura of mystery suddenly vanishing.
“Wow, thanks!” Julie crossed her arms.
Toph threw another jelly in his mouth. “Well, you totally suck at telling stories” he said, chewing. “Try again, put some details in”
Julie knew resistance was futile. She sighed. ”They played together all the time, spent every second together; when they fought, they were terrible, they screamed and hit… their parents couldn’t understand the way their friendship worked…” she stopped and looked up at Toph, he was still waiting for more.
Sighing again, she continued: “They had their first kiss when she was 14 and seven months older than him. They were lying on the lawn before her house, looking up at the cloudy sky. It wasn’t at all warm but the grass smelled like summer and they liked it. It was the last day before school started. Her mother called for the girl to come inside.
She rose on her elbows, he did so too.
“See you tomorrow” she said, and then he leaned in and kissed her. She was also taller than him at that time.”
“What is the boy’s name” Toph interrupted. Julie thought for a while “Joshua.”
“I am very sorry for your loss” his tone was serious, his face sad.
Julie jumped at his words. “Who said it’s a true story? It’s just a story.”
“But no story is made of just lies, they all have truth in it, be it a real truth, or one set only in the heart”
“If it’s imaginary, then it’s not the truth” she argued.
A thunder rolled and covered his answer. Julie followed his lips as they moved, but she did not see the words they formed. Toph smiled, as if he heard his favorite song and for a while, still looking at his lips, Julie’s breath refused to go out.
Toph’s voice broke the eerie as he announced: “It’s time”
Julie exhaled and her voice came out a whisper: “Time for what?”
“Baltimore, our station”
It sounded strange for something to be theirs, but even so, she liked that they had something to share. Even a train station. How did time pass so quickly?
They got off the train and Toph helped her with her bag. She noticed he didn’t have any luggage.
The train station was wet as they got out and it was still raining. That slow, light and annoying rain she hated the most.
Toph looked up: “Do you have an umbrella?”
“No” Julie said, hugging herself tighter. “It’s my way of saying “no” to the rain.”
He laughed “And how’s that working out for you?”
“Not so well” Julie sighed and made her way to the end of the tracks.
He laughed again “You are so strange…”
She laughed too “Look who’s talking!”
“I could walk you home if you want.” he said, finally, and her heart beat so slowly that it hurt.
“Okay.” she barely mumbled.
They walked through the rainy streets of Baltimore in silence, like all the stories in the world died in that train and now there was none to tell. Finally, he spoke again.
“So, do all your stories end in death and loss?”
Julie didn’t answer and neither did she look up at him for that matter. His voice echoed in her head.
“Did you love him?” he said again.
“Who?” But she knew very well who he was talking about.
“Joshua. And don’t tell me it’s just a story because we both know it’s not.”
Julie stopped in front of her apartment block and looked up at him. The rain got into her eyes.
Toph raised his hand to her face and wiped the water from under her eyes with his thumb. He wasn’t much taller than her. His once spiky hair was now stuck to his forehead, dark blonde to his pale face. She avoided his eyes and looked aside.
“Look at me.” his hand was hot on her face. She didn’t move her eyes. “Look at me, Julie!” She did. The color of his eyes startled her, she shivered. They were green with darker edges, a shade of green she could not name.
“What do you want?” she said, looking in his eyes.
Toph shrugged and made Julie’s blood rose in her cheeks. She shoved his hand aside and stepped back. She didn’t care about the hurt face he made.
“So you come and sit near me in the train, you tell me stories with angels and curses, you offer me skittles and walk me home when I’m sure Baltimore isn’t even your station, and you won’t even tell me what you want?” she shouted over the damp sound of the rain.
“Will you invite me up for a cup of coffee?” he said, as if that was the right answer to her question.
“God, no!” Julie took her bag from his hands and stomped her way up to the door.
“Okay then” she heard him say from behind her “I have your number!”
Julie turned around but couldn’t see him anymore.
Three days later it was still raining in Baltimore, heavier, louder and wetter. Julie still didn’t have an umbrella, or a call from a strange beautiful blond boy she met on the train. She had promised herself not to tell anyone about what’s happened. As usual, she could not keep the word to herself. Her boss, Nate, was kind enough to listen, and cared enough to ask her each morning if Toph had called.
Wednesday morning, clothes all soaked, nose running, Julie stopped waiting for his call, or for anything special from life, really. It was almost lunch and few people had entered the bookshop. Most of them probably just to get away from the rain, for they didn’t buy anything. Who goes out on a day like this, even to buy books?
The door bell rang again but she didn’t look up from her psychology book. She could hear no steps on the carpet. Probably it was an usual customer who knew what he wanted.
“Close your eyes” his voice said and it startled her. Julie fought the urge to look up.
“What do you want?” she demanded.
From the corner of her eye, Julie saw him come around the desk and stop near her. She closed her eyes, not thinking that she probably wanted him to touch her.
“How did you know I work here?” her voice was shaking.
“Keep your eyes closed.” His voice was so close to her ear that she could feel his breath on her face. It was sweet, like Skittles.
“How did you find me? Why didn’t you call?” She was rambling and she was aware of that.
“Shut up!” His tone was just a little bit harsh. “Imagine the sea” he said in his story-telling voice and she did, unwillingly. “Feel the lazy waves on your feet, coming slowly to the shore, one after another, after another. The water feels cold at first, but it becomes warm. And everything is silent. The wind is soft and doesn’t make a sound. Stay there, in the middle of the ocean. Do not tell me what you see.”
Julie stood straight in her imaginary perfect sea. Her hair tickled her back in the wind, and the warmth was pleasant to her cold skin. Her otherwise perfect sky was covered in gray clouds, and, in the distance, there was a shadow.
Her heart skipped a beat and she knew it was him. Tears streamed out of her eyes before she could stop them. “Josh!” she sobbed, and then she was hugging the shadow which was now her best friend. He hugged her back really tight and it felt real. “What are you doing to yourself, Jules?” “But I love you”, she said, in her mind. “And I will always love you.”
Joshua let her go, kissing her forehead. “Look, the sky has cleared out” Julie smiled, sad. It had, actually, and now the sun set over the sea, making the sky red and green and purple. Bloody sky. Like an angel without wings. “Just the way you like it” he added. When she looked back down, she was alone. “Goodbye” she heard him in her mind and one hotter tear crossed down her cheek.
Julie opened her eyes and she was standing, in somebody’s arms. He smelled foreign, but pleasant. Julie stepped back from the embrace to see the blonde Toph look at her with interest.
“Sorry” she mumbled “I didn’t realize what I was doing.” She wiped her wet eyes with her still damp sleeve.
“It’s okay. Are you alright?’ He looked worried.
“I believe so…” Julie remembered the Joshua in her head: young, just as he was when they were both sixteen.
“Do you want to go somewhere for a cup of coffee?”
“Hot chocolate, please.” she smiled. It was the best proposition she had heard for days. She shivered and remembered her damp clothes. “Wait a second.”
Julie went in the back room where Nate was playing on his PSP. He hid it in his pocket when Julie entered.
“I’m going to lunch, and then I’m going to take the rest of the day free, please” she said in a hurry.
Nate’s eyes widened: “Did he finally call?”
“No.” Julie already had her coat on. “He’s here!” and she got out as fast as she came in. Behind her, Nate probably said something more. She didn’t hear.
In the shop, Toph was waiting for her near a shelf, examining a blue book.
“Sherlock Holmes?” she asked, smiling, and he put it back.
“Was it?” he smiled in his crooked way. “Shall we go?” He offered his hand and Julie took it. It was warm and soft.
“Yes. To my place first, please. I gotta change.”
And how could I forget? In my trip to Jerusalem, I found this Russian guy who happens to look just like a younger version of Toph. He looks kind of 17, so at 23 he would be a bit taller and with shorter hair. I do not have a clearer image, for the picture was taken in a church, but I took out the people in the background so it could be just him.