Gladys Collins by John Pace
A handsome woman, unlike her male counterpart, isn’t likely to grace a magazine cover, unless it’s one devoted to accounting or classical piano. At middle age and unmarried, she may be lanky, her face a bit mannish, a cat her closest companion. Her loneliness is well concealed, like the scars from sleeping under bridges each time her mother escaped an abusive relationship. Everyone agreed: Gladys Collins was a handsome woman.
The day her life imploded did not begin like every other day. That would be too trite. It was early spring, and the steady drizzle had unleashed the scent of birth, growth, life itself. She fed Willows, her clownish tabby, scratched him under one side of his chin and then the other, feeling guilty as she did every morning before work, hoping he would forgive her once more. She laced up the sneakers she’d waterproofed for just such occasions, donned a rain slicker over her dress, and stowed sensible flats in just the sort of backpack a handsome woman might carry. Lastly, she cued her iPod to Chopin’s piano concerto number 1 in E minor, opus 11 — harmonious company for a brisk, if damp, walk to work, some two miles from her comfy Queen Anne, nestled in a historic district near downtown. She removed a trike from the sidewalk, in whose red metal seat a puddle had collected, and began the familiar, relaxing trek.
She smiled through the storefront window of a pastry shop she occasionally frequented; the proprietor and a regular waved back. The same occurred at an espresso bar, bagel shop, and the small café, a block and a half before the office. This was her place, her time, just as spring fits between winter and summer.
Gladys was far from the only person walking along the busy downtown street at nearly nine that Monday morning, just a half-block from her office. Yet, she was the only one that a demon suddenly leapt at from between brownstones, tearing Gladys from her aural cocoon, ripping the buds from her ears, and pricking her with the sharp edge of mortality. The stranger may have been young or old, slight or bulky — who could tell under such an assemblage of unwashed rags? If she was anything at all, it was a raw glare, and an energy, not so much a palpable force, but rather a vigor more subtle, one not unlike the first putrid scent of death that sets one’s guts churning.
Gladys jumped back, her hands raised in defense, and only then realized the woman wasn’t armed. She was, however, steadily advancing, growing nearer, arms outstretched, almost within reach, probing red eyes framed in dark shadows. This was not a panhandler; it was an assailant, a thief bent upon stealing a part of Gladys so safely concealed that it never showed in a mirror.
“Give it to me,” the eyes said.
Still retreating, Gladys unshouldered the pack, ready to swing it in defense. “Look, just back off, I’ll see what I’ve got to spare. Back off.”
“I want nothing of yours. Only what you stole from me. Give it.”
“But — ”
“Hand it over.”
“Who are you?”
“I am Abrihet. We met once, but were never properly introduced. You thought I had stolen something from you, and that is when you stole it — everything — from me.”
Gladys had never seen such a woman, even in the largest foreign cities of her travels, where, on some streets, the inhabitants breathed only desperation and the stench of human waste. She had certainly not seen this woman, and could not place her accent. She wanted — needed — to be rid of her, preferably without escalating their inexplicable clash.
The Line of Fate
No Sleep till Deadtown
Pigs Fry; Pigs Fly
Ripples From The Weather Aggregator
[ Back to June ]