Sunday, December 22, 2013

Behold (A Short Story)

Connor Alexander


I felt his nose break against my fist. I hadn't hit anyone since Stanford. He'd been about to hit me though. I could see it in his eyes. There was fear there. And something more too. It scared me.

Phillip flailed backward, clutching at his nose and trying to maintain his balance. With a thump he landed on his ass. I thought he might try to get up and attack me, but instead, he crawled toward a closet on one elbow, one hand still pressed to his face. He was leaving a trail of thick dark blood on the wood floor.

I looked back at.Candace. Her red curls stood out in the dim light of the entryway. Her hand was to her mouth in shock, but her eyes were fixed in fascination. This had all gotten out of hand so quickly. She'd asked me to come here because she didn't feel safe alone with Phillip. It seemed routine. Who hasn't had to go back and pick something up from their ex? Without a second's hesitation I told her I'd come along.

Phillip opened the door. I'd been surprised by his reaction when he saw Candace. Was it relief? Was he still in love with her? He seemed almost confused. The moment she told him that we'd come for the portfolio though, he changed. His eyes went wild, his fists clenched, he stuttered. I saw him, or at least I think I saw him, start to cock his arm. So I hit him.

I stepped over and past him, toward the closet he was trying to get to. He made a feeble attempt to clutch at my ankle but it was as though my punch had done far more damage than just breaking his nose. He seemed broken of spirit.

The portfolio bag was big, almost four feet across, black and made of a fine leather. It looked old and I wondered if Candace's brother had inherited it. I picked it up and stepped back over Phillip. As I did, he whimpered and squeaked out a tiny, "Please." I walked to the door, grabbed Candace's hand. We left Phillip's and never returned.

I thought that day would mark the real beginning of my relationship with Candace. That whatever demons she had would be exorcised by getting that portfolio back. When we returned to my apartment we settled into the couch, each with a glass of Cabernet, and just sat quietly for awhile. "May I look?" The words just sort of leapt out of my mouth. I hadn't planned on saying them.

Candace's green eyes were shiny in the dim light of the fireplace. She smiled. "Of course. He would've liked you." I turned to the portfolio which was leaning against the side of the couch. "I still can't believe he's been gone four years now. That's really all I have left of him." Her voice was distant and somehow empty. She sipped at her wine and stared into the fire.

The art inside was brilliant, but jarring. Large, full scale colored pencil and ink drawings. He only had two subjects in all of his work. He drew Candace and he drew lizards. They were all fine pieces of work, all well done, but I found myself unsettled. None of the drawings involving Candace were nudes or in anyway explicitly erotic, yet I found myself aroused looking at them. There was something base in all of her expressions, something lurid in her eyes. He captured her curves, her hips, her voluminous breasts all perfectly. He even managed to replicate the tiny freckles on her otherwise pale skin. The fact that her brother had drawn these sent a small chill down my spine. The drawings of the lizards, of which there were all kinds, common garden lizards, geckos, a Komodo dragon, were all eating. Most were eating crickets or bugs, some mice. All of their eyes were lifeless and vacant.

I put the drawings back. I made passionate love to Candace that night, not once or twice, but three times. Each time became more violent and desperate than the last. Finally, we both collapsed in a pile of sweat and sex.

But that day didn't mark the beginning of the best of times for Candace and I. It marked the beginning of the end. We had sex less often. Our conversations were shorter, more trivial. What didn't change was my fascination with the portfolio and what I thought it might mean to Candace. It was always out, never put away, yet I never saw Candace actually look at the drawings herself. They were just out. And available. I found myself staring at them when she wasn't around, trying to parse out why they were so valuable to her and what was in her brother's mind when he drew them.

Then one day, she left me. It wasn't really a fight. But there was something in those green eyes of hers that were some place else. Or maybe with someone else. I tried to get it out of her, to understand where and when I'd lost her. She covered her eyes and ran out the door in a flourish. I didn't see her again for six months.


We pulled up in front of his house and I put my hand on top of Candace's. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

She nodded. "They're important. The rest of the stuff is just junk. But that portfolio..." It broke my heart to see her eyes fill with tears.

"Hey, hey. It's okay. I'm sure he still has them and I'm sure he'll be reasonable." I led her up to his house and knocked. I squeezed her hand while we waited and she squeezed back. The door opened.

"Candace?" The man almost whispered it. He was a handsome guy, but there was something in his eyes that made me nervous. He smiled at her and his gaze passed over me almost like I wasn't there. He said it again. "Candace? Is that you?" He blinked and smiled broadly.

"Yes, Aaron. I just came for the portfolio." Aaron's smile faded. He took a step back. "Please, Aaron. Don't make a scene. I don't want the rest of the stuff." Her voice took on a strange tone. "Just give me the portfolio." When I looked back at her, her dark blue eyes looked like a stormy ocean.

When I turned to face Aaron, I was surprised to see that he was trying to slam the door on me. I jammed my foot and shoulder into the entrance and managed to force my way in. "Get out!" he screamed at me, almost hysterical.

Two minutes later, we were in the car. I put the portfolio in the back seat. Candace was lighting up a cigarette, looking back at our spoils. Her hands were shaking. "Hey, it's okay." I rubbed my hand where the knuckles were sure to bruise up and swell. "I"m sure he'll be fine. I didn't do anything he'd need to go to the hospital for." I kissed her on the cheek and she smiled a strange smile that unnerved me a little.

When we got back to my apartment, we sat down on the couch, turned on the TV and popped a couple of beers. I nuzzled my nose into that thick black hair of hers and kissed her neck. "You mind if I look in the portfolio?"

Her blue eyes were dark and unknowable in that moment, but she nodded. "Sure. He would've liked you."
"Wow, your dad did some great work." I'd pulled up the small brown satchel and pulled the thick ream of papers from inside. Some of the art was yellowed with age, but he was just as good a cartoonist as Candace had said he was. She sipped at her beer and watched the TV, without comment. "Is this supposed to be you?" The main character in the cartoon strip was a young black haired girl with a pet lizard. She was oddly seductive looking for a comic strip girl. I found myself fascinated with the pages, flipping through them for the next hour.

That night I had the most amazing sex I'd ever had in my life. Candace was like a goddess and an animal, all carnal fire and razor sharp lust. I thought it was going to be the beginning of the most amazing romance of my life. But as it turns out, it was the beginning of the end.

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