He leaned against a lamppost on Eighth Avenue. Headlights glared in his eyes. The sun had just set yet there was still a sensation of light in the sky that drifted between peachy and hazy, as if a storm had just ended. To Richard the cars passed by quietly along the busy street as if he were embedded in a silent movie. The buildings reminded him of smudged charcoal. Everything from the sky to his shoes seemed like a memory. Then came a tap on his shoulder. It was her just like he remembered her.
The conversation began casually, as if time hadn’t passed, as if nothing had changed.
She said, “How long have you been standing there?”
“Seems like forever, Eve.”
“Remember, Richard we used to stand right by the phone booth just up ahead.”
“Yup, we used to smoke cigarettes and talk. We laughed the afternoons away. I miss it, you.”
She turned, smiled, and said “I miss you when I think of you.” Then a serious note rang across her face. She paused and stared at him and whispered, “You never should have given it to me.” And as the words escaped her lips her body dissolved into the night and the chalky pavement and the vague sky as if in a dream.
Richard stood unshaken as if nothing happened. It was just another memory he told himself and he pulled in his jacket and walked down the street. The click of his heels echoed against the blanched gray cement sidewalk. He paused for a moment and looked at the building across the street. In an old brownstone, six flights up, the lights were always burning. The odd thing was no matter how many times he spied at the window, white with light against darkened skies, he never saw a soul, not even a shadow of a soul.
He brushed the thought aside and continued his walk to the subway. While making his steps, another thought descended, another memory, and in his mind’s eye he leapt back to the night before he gave her the gift.
In a small room lit only by a single lamp on a table top, he stared at the brush he was going to give Eve. Eve, who spent her nights painting and her days in Chelsea sipping coffee in cafes, occasionally stepped out on the sidewalk for a cigarette. That was how they met. One afternoon she asked him for a smoke. She nervously laughed, and inside her laugh something brushed against his being, like warm waves he thought, something that told him she was his soul mate.
That night, the night before he gave her the gift, he sat starring at the brush he made for Eve. The gift was simple but special because it was a gift that would hopefully help mend their relationship following that awful fight they had after Eve left town. He didn’t know what else to do. He was desperate. He had to try something out of the box. Well, out of the box for Richard.
He fashioned the gift with his own hands. The brush was crafted from sable hair and a diamond he’d embedded into the handle. He whittled and shaped the handle from oak. He’d never even held a block of wood before, but he was trying. Richard was certain there was no other brush quite like it for many reasons, but mostly because the brush came to life through his thoughts.
They had fought before, but the fight they had that day was their worst. She’d left town to work on a commissioned mural for a bank in LA. She had expected to be gone for only a few months. So he had thought, but he suspected she was planning a longer stay. He imagined she had found someone new. There was something in her voice, a distance he sensed on the edge of her words. She’d become vague whenever he asked her when she’d be returning, or why she didn’t answer the phone when he called. He grew tired of leaving messages that went unanswered for hours, if not days. He began to call more often, leaving angry messages.
Finally, they had that terrible fight over the phone.
When she flew into New York that night she called Richard and warned him this would be his last chance. She actually warned him, like he was a child, and maybe he was from time to time, but at least he didn’t cheat on her. The following morning he gave her the brush he’d made just for her.
His mind released from the memory.
He found himself still walking to the subway. His eyes saw the railing outside the station and its metallic olive green hue. Drabber then he remembered. Then, casually, he checked his back pocket to make sure he had his Metro Card for the fare. He stepped on to the stairway that would lead him down to the train. But he couldn’t hear a sound, nor could he see the bright white electric lights that would normally surge through the station. He peered down the steps and beneath him all he saw was a fading white wall diffused with black and grey. And then suddenly, like a stark awakening, he realized he couldn’t go any further. He didn’t even know where he would go if he could go, or why he couldn’t go. He spied at the wall, like its presence was perfectly natural, like it should be there. Although, he had no idea why the wall should be there, or if it was really a wall, and not just another memory. If he could only turn back the clock. If only he wasn’t so possessive. If only she wasn’t such a liar. He turned around and made his way back to the lamppost.
As he walked, he passed by the lights of the café where Eve had spent most of her afternoons, and the phone booth where they’d met. Just ahead he could see the orange tones from the light from the lamppost blend with the bluish neon light from the café. If he could just spot a passerby—anyone. If he could just hear a breath, but the only other human he saw was the old man on the corner who seemed to always stand there with his tattered black garbage bag filled with cans.
He swore he didn’t hate her the day he made the brush. After all he made the brush with his thoughts.
Back at the lamppost he leaned into position. The glare of the headlights along Eighth Avenue filled his eyes again. On this side of the lamppost, the lights from the cafe seemed dimmer as he was directly under the street lamp, and there were those damn bright white headlights in his eyes. But the sky still looked like it was lost somewhere between night and day. He longed for a cigarette. And then he heard Eve’s voice.
“You deceive yourself, Richard.”
He had to know: where was this place where everything stood still, where everything looked familiar yet it wasn’t? He asked, “Where am I?”
“You’re at the lamppost, Richard. Where do you think you are?”
It’s the lamppost, but it isn’t. What about the gift? He cried out, “I made that gift for you.”
“For me, or for you, Richard?”
What did she mean? He wondered although he knew. Where was she? “Where are you?” he said.
“I’m right here.”
Where is here? Never mind, he wanted to know why she lied to him. He looked above at the pale moon and he cried, “Why did you lie to me?
“Never mind, Richard. I want to know why you made the gift?”
He made it because he loved her, of course; why was she asking? “Because I love you?”
She whispered, “But you don’t, do you?”
What did she mean he didn’t love her? Of course, he loved her. That’s why it hurt so much when she deceived him. Where was this place? Why were her questions so strange and direct? Where was she? He was certain any moment his eyelids would flutter and he’d awaken into bright stark reality, because where he was couldn’t be real. Did he love her? The night he made the brush he took the diamond he’d purchased—and for no small sum—he took it and he polished it. With each swipe, he was so desperate, he pled God to help them. He swore he would do anything it took to bring her back to him. Anything, as if there were a tidy, specific thing that could be done, like giving a gift. He prayed he had the strength to overlook what she did to him. He wished he had a face. A face and a name to place on the man she screwed around with in California, but he knew there was someone. There had to be a man. His instincts couldn’t be wrong. He polished that diamond hard and clean.
Why wasn’t he waking up? Where was she? Why was the moon always full? Why was there never a breeze?
Suddenly in the pastel sky he saw what appeared to be faint nub, a black nub that seemed to be part of the sky at first glance, until it began to slowly descend. Steadily, it streamed toward the ground.
What was it? Was the city under attack? He held his chest and he shouted beneath the lamppost, “What is that! Is anyone here? Eve!”
It moved in erratic strokes just touching the pavement in a blur and then it abruptly rose back disappearing into the sky. His eyes glued to it in disbelief and then he searched the ground where it landed. In its wake it left a piece of paper that appeared to be blowing down the street. And then he felt it.
Her voice came again. “There is your breeze, Richard.”
“What is going on? Please tell me I have lost my mind," he said, staring at the piece of paper that seemed to be suspended in midair. Would it always be there like the moon that never changes? He must have lost his mind.
“No Richard, you haven’t lost you mind. Tell me how you made the handle for the gift?”
The handle? How he made the handle? He whittled it from wood, of course. Why was she still asking questions she knew the answers to? “How do you think I made it, Eve, for crying out loud?”
“Humor me, Richard.”
“I whittled it from a piece of oak. You know that!”
“Describe it. Tell me how.”
What kind of game was this? Okay, he’d play along. Maybe it would help bring her back to him. “In my room, in my dark lonely room…”
“How sad, Richard. Sorry, continue.”
“Like I said I was in my room. I was thinking of us, thinking of a way to make you truly mine again.”
“Like a belonging?”
“No, not like that. You know what I mean, Eve.”
“I do. Go on, Richard.”
What was she getting at? Why the third degree about the handle? He didn’t mean mine as in a piece of property but in the way people say mine, as in mine only. The way lovers say it. Like in the songs, you belong to me. She belonged to him, until she broke the trust, broke the bond, 'til she fucked around in LA. But still she belonged to him, or no one. He loved her. She had to love him back. She was his because he needed her. She had to need him too.
“I grabbed the wood from the shelf and I grabbed the knife and I began chopping it down”
“You chopped hard, didn’t you?”
“It was hard wood. Yes, I chopped hard, and with each chop I thought of you in his arms. The more I thought of you the harder I chopped. I chopped hard, Eve!”
“You were very angry when you made the gift for me, weren’t you?”
‘”I was angry, but I was thinking of us, only us. And with each chop—with each stroke of the knife—I killed him. I tried to kill him, to remove him from us.”
What did she mean him who? The guy she was screwing in California, of course. If he only had a name. “You know who I’m talking about—the guy, Mr. Wonderful. Your new beau!”
“How do you know there was someone else?”
“There had to be. You never answered my calls.”
“Maybe I was busy working.”
”No one works that much, Eve.”
“You didn’t trust me, you didn’t respect me.”
Trust her? How could he trust her after she lied to him, but he’d make things better, he’d made her this wonderful gift and in time things would blow over and she’d love him again. “You lied to me, Eve. You deceived me.”
“Like I said, you deceived yourself. You hated me when you made that gift didn’t you, Richard?”
Hated her? He loved her! That’s why he went through all the pain. That’s why he was still going through the pain—because love is pain. Love is constant, unending pain. “I never hated you!”
“When you finished chopping the wood and you began to whittle the handle you cut yourself, didn’t you? You were so angry you nearly chopped off your hand.”
How did she know? “I told you I was angry, yes I whittled as hard as I chopped. I wanted him dead. I wanted you dead too. I carved that wood like a buzz -saw. I cut and I cut and I cut. I cut my damn finger off.”
“But I fixed it. Look at your hand, Richard. The glove you had covering it is gone and your hand is good as new.”
He looked down at his hand. The light shone from the streetlamp above him in still, bright orange-white light against the pasty sky. Then, out of the blue, he heard a sound, an actual sound! A maddening whistle, a whistle that wouldn’t stop careening through the pastel and the light and the charcoal and the frozen piece of paper and the headlights and the street. And, oh my god! “What is that sound, Eve?”
It became so loud he clenched his hands over his ears.
“I’m sorry, I forgot. It’s the tea kettle, Richard. I’ll be right back.”
What? A teakettle? How could it be a teakettle? Maybe it was Eve who’d lost her mind. Maybe they both had gone crazy. He was outside by a streetlamp near the phone booth where they’d met. How could he hear the whistle of a teakettle increasing rushing through the street as if he were in a room? Suddenly the sound broke off. Just like someone had turned the fire down on a stove.
For the love of god this had to stop. He shouted, “Where am I? God dammit, Eve! Where the hell do you have me?”
Her voice returned. “Calm down, Richard. You’ll know soon.”
Soon? Damn her. “I’m tired, Eve, I am so fucking tired. Give me his name. I want his name.”
“But Richard, you don’t even know if there was a him. You’ll never know, Richard, never.”
“You fucking bitch!”
“There you go. That’s better, Richard. You hate me don’t you? You don’t love me, but you can’t let me go, can you? Because I’m yours, right? And that gift, you made it with your thoughts, didn’t you? It comes alive through your thoughts, isn’t that right? ”
He swore he didn’t hate her. “No! I meant because I made it, it came to be through my thoughts, not that it really came to life. It’s just wood and hair and stone. Things! Things don’t come to life!”
“Careful the wish you make because they can, Richard. Your hatred is powerful. Look in the sky.”
His eyes swerved up and he saw the mysterious black nub return to the moonlit sky.
He held on to the lamppost and he screamed “Where am I, Eve? For the love of God where am I? Tell me now! What is that thing in the sky!”
“It’s the tip of the brush you gave me. You’re in this painting, Richard. I think next I’ll place you right under one of those damn bright headlights you’ve been complaining about. I think I’ll call this one Death on Lover’s Lane. Bye bye, Richard.”
Bio: Bruce Memblatt is a native New Yorker and has studied Business Administration at Pace University. In addition to writing he runs a website devoted to theater composer Stephen Sondheim, which he’s lovingly maintained since 1996. His stories have been featured in such magazines as Aphellion, Bewildering Stories, The Horror Zine, Bending Spoons ,Strange Weird and Wonderful, Static Movement, Danse Macarbe, SNM Horror Magazine,The Piker Press, A Golden Place, Eastown Fiction, Short Story Me! 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Necrology Shorts, Suspense Magazine, Gypsy Shadow Publishing, Black Lantern Publishing, Death Head Grin, The Cynic Online, The Feathertale Review, and Yellow Mama.