Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Spring (the season) (07/23/09)
- TITLE: Pickled slug in velvet
By Sharon Kane
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It was the hardest winter of all the years of my degeneration. The sun rose lazily in the mornings, shuffled around listlessly in bath robe and slippers, and took to bed early. My fellow human beings rushed to and fro, squeezing into six hours of daylight tasks that ought to take fifteen. I shuffled aimlessly. From street corner to bus station, to subway, to park bench. A pathetic figure, an amorphous shape; trodden on, tripped over, spat upon.
implored the torn-off cardboard sign at my feet.
The coppers accumulated pitifully slowly in my tin can. Nor could I blame people for withholding their charity. My bloodshot eyes, pinched cheeks, tremulous hands, all gave silent testimony to what I was. A burned-out addict, a spent whore. No semblance remained of the woman who had once stood proudly at the side of a great man.
A hard frost came down in mid-March. Any benefactors dissipated into heated malls and warm motorcars. I sat wrapped in the blanket I had stolen the previous year from the Salvation Army shelter. Once lilac-coloured and fluffy, now threadbare and a miserable grey colour, it stank of earthy animal odours and was stiff with grease and grime. Still my blue fingers pulled it more tightly around my shaking shoulders. My feet in the gutter were imperceptibly warmed by the up-draft from the subway.
As the night wore on my endurance wore out. Emaciated from weeks of near starvation, I had neither the reserves to keep warm, nor the strength to sit upright. I lay down in the gutter. Drifting in and out of consciousness, my dreams were traumatic, my waking thoughts torture. I was paralysed by shame. I recalled the vows made to be broken. I saw blurred images of hundreds of faces that had breathed into mine in shadowy places. Now they merged into one nameless visage that leered and laughed. Oh to turn the clock back! But I had made my choices, and now I faced the fallout. Surely this was to be my last winter. And the world would be better for my passing.
During the night a warmer breeze blew in from the south. And come morning the gentle two-tone song of the cuckoo drifted on that wind. Survival lay within my grasp! Suddenly loath to face yet another wretched year, I pulled the near-solid blanket over my head and willed death to claim me.
At first I thought it was a policeman moving me on, but the touch was gentle. And the person rousing me was kneeling. Yes, kneeling in the gutter, and singing. Singing softly in my ear. Softly so that I alone could hear. Could hear the song he had sung to me on our wedding day.
"Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land....” *
Tears coursed down my cheeks as my estranged husband pulled me close.
“Gerald, I don't deserve...”
“Hush, precious. I've waited seven years for this moment. Don't spoil it.”
“But, you... moving in such exalted circles. And I, so wretched. Your friends, colleagues, what will they say when they see us together? You'll never bear the shame!”
“Shame? My love covered that long ago.”
He cradled me in his strong arms as the chauffeur drove us to our country house.
He bathed me, massaging soothing lavender oil into my bruised skin.
He clothed me in a full length gown of rich turquoise velvet.
He put soft white fur slippers on my blistered feet.
He trimmed my matted hair, brushed it smooth and pinned it up on my head.
He lead me downstairs. We stopped before the gleaming mirror in the hallway. He stood behind me, his arms encircling my waist. I gazed at my feet, but he chided me, “Light of my eyes, look! Spring has truly come. The land is brimming with new life, and you are the centrepiece of the renaissance!”
The whore was gone. Gazing from the glass was a princess, made beautiful by her husband's love.
* Song of Solomon 2:10-12 (NIV)
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