Flight (a short story)

Continuing on with my self-indulgent week I’ve decided to share a short story/excerpt that I was once very self-conscious of. I submitted it to one magazine whose editor asked for change after change after change. By the time I had done what he had asked the story was not the one I had originally submitted, and he decided he didn’t actually like it. The joys of trying to sell your work! That was the moment I decided I would fix things for editors, but massive changes like the ones he asked for were out of the question.

What I like about this piece (and what he didn’t) is the ambiguity, though I’m not sure that’s there any more. He wanted back story, purpose. I like subtext, imagination. Anyway, it’s here for you to decide for yourself. Feedback for this piece would be really appreciated.

“Excuse me Ma’am, the museum will be closing in twenty minutes.”
Jane looked up from her sketchbook in alarm, nervous under the security guard’s gaze. They stared at each other for a long moment. Finally she managed a curt nod. The guard moved off, stopping to talk to the other visitors on his way back to his desk. Jane really began to worry now. Though her meeting had been arranged in haste she was certain she was in the right place at the right time. She cast her mind back.

“Jane, what are you doing? Do you know what would happen if you were caught in here?

She stepped out from her hiding place in the corner and crossed the room, softly shutting the door after checking the corridor outside was empty. The other woman dropped onto the edge of the bed and fought back tears.
“Hush, don’t cry,” Jane comforted, as she knelt at her feet. “Come on Bella, look at me, I’m fine.”
“When they took you…” She trailed off, not wanting to recall the moment. Jane raised Bella’s hands and softly kissed each palm. A ghost of a smile passed between them. “If they catch you doing that again…”
“It’s worth every lash,” Jane interrupted, “as are you.”Harsh knocking at the door brought them both to their feet. Bella motioned Jane to stay still.
“Who’s there?” she demanded.
“Your husband. Are you ok?”
“I’m fine, just fixing my face. I’ll be back down in a moment.”
A long silence. Finally his footsteps retreated down the corridor. The women relaxed. Bella took Jane’s hands again.
“We have to get away from here. You know what they do to…us.”
“You can say it Bella. We’re gay.” Jane’s words were bitter, tinged with anger at the society that banned them.
“Fine, gay. Whatever we are we’re not welcome here. But we can get away. I met a man who can get us documents, travel passes. Listen…”
Jane checked her watch again. Bella was supposed to be here forty minutes ago. Jane couldn’t afford to be found out after curfew. She was risking her life on a hope, on one last desperate prayer. Her thoughts careered about her head. Maybe Bella had changed her mind. Maybe she couldn’t do it. Maybe she’d been caught. A million scenarios coursed through her mind. No. That was it. She wasn’t coming.
As Jane stood up to leave a flash of red caught her eye. Over there, in the corner of the room. She risked a glance. Slender, dressed all in black except for the red shoes. And the book. She’d come!
Her breathing became heavier, her pulse quickened, her palms began to sweat as she started to cross the room. It took an eternity. Finally they stood together. A quick glance was all it took, the words a formality.
“Funny weather for this time of year.”
“Most peculiar indeed.”
They smiled and headed for the exit. Once outside they crossed the road and entered the park. They walked for several moments, until the sounds of traffic and the town were muffled by the surrounding trees. They paused under the boughs of the weeping willow. Finally they were alone, or as alone as one could be in a society such as theirs.
“Bella…”
“Don’t, I haven’t got much time. If they notice I’m gone we’re both finished. Here’s everything you need.”
From the depths of the coat she produced documents: a passport, visa, boarding pass, itinerary. They appeared only to disappear instantly between the pages of the sketchbook. Desperate fingers fighting with delicate pages. Jane looked around, conscious that it was now past curfew and they could be arrested if they were found. Two unchaperoned women, in the park at night, with forged documents. They had to hurry.
“If I’m not there…”
“Don’t say that!” Jane interjected.
Bella placed a finger on Jane’s trembling lips. It was a touch filled with equal longing and dread. Their imminent separation loomed above them both.
“Listen to me, dammit! If I’m not there, don’t wait for me. They may have already worked out what I’ve done. If they have then it’s too late for me but you still have a chance. Get off the boat and get to the address. Your new life will be waiting there for you.”
A moment of silence. Bella managed a tense smile.
“It will all work out. You’ll see.”
She turned to leave. Jane reached out for her hand, pulled her back, brought her close and kissed her.
The night disappeared. Their hearts beat together in one passionate, primal moment. Their breathing became one.
Bella broke the embrace, firmly taking a step back. They shared a small, somewhat awkward smile.
“Don’t let them get to you,” Jane warned. “They know what’s been happening, they’ll be watching the house.”
“I know how to play the dutiful housewife, don’t you worry about me.” The sound of dog’s barking brought them back to the present. “Go!”
Another small smile. A rushed, clumsy kiss, teeth knocking together.
“Until New York.”
And she was gone.

 

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