Paul Lee, author of Double Vision, has published short stories in Goats Milk Magazine, Black Petals Magazine, HST Magazine, and Grim & Gilded.
Steel glass towers lit the concrete jungle. Marco Baker opened the drapes to the panoramic window overlooking the neighboring apartment complex. The yellow glow amid its twenty-third floor seemed hypnotic. His eyes traced the panels, slid over the glass. He wanted inside.
Inside the room, inside of her.
The first time he saw her she was crossing the street and looking as hot as Death Valley’s heat. He’d gotten her address and mailed her a love letter, not having the grit to knock on her door. Besides, Marco was a man who liked to play adult versions of the game he had been partially named after. But when—or if—she wrote back, he was going to pay her a visit. And who could stop him? Nobody. He believed the last lines in his letter: The universe is calling. We’re meant to be together, baby.
The first time he saw her she was crossing the street and looking as hot as Death Valley’s heat.
The door creaked and shut. His wife Zelda walked into the dim-lit living room. Nothing but black panties and a bra covered her hourglass figure. Her red nails rapped the rum and Coke squeezed in her hand.
“What are you looking at?”
“Nothing,” he lied, unclenching the drapes. They swung into position like bloodred pendulums. “Just adjusting the drapes.”
She rotated the straw in her drink. Ice cubes jiggled in the quiet. “Good idea.”
“A clean home is a happy home. We might live in a dirty city, but our apartment will be the diamond sparkling in the junkyard.”
She smiled. “We are just a couple blocks away from the worst street in Los Angeles. At best we can be a ruby in the junkyard.”
She took a drink, then sat the glass beside their wedding photo on the piano cover and approached with outspread arms. “Rubies are more colorful.”
“They’re pretty like you.”
Their lips poked each other’s face, finding the mouth and then expanding. He imagined the lips of the girl across the street. The sweet pillow breasts, the thin stomach, the blonde hair, and the sapphire eyes. To hell with rubies. He wanted those special sapphires. The diamond would be beneficial, as well. He could gift her one. Zelda climbed his waist, pushing him onto the sofa. She lifted her bottom. He unbuttoned his pants and, sliding off her cotton panties, entered tightness. They moaned together. But it wasn’t Zelda he was making love to. It was twenty-year-old Heather Skylar. The girl was a six-karat ideal cut diamond fresh from the mine. Zelda was just a twenty-nine-year-old ruby.
She fell asleep on the sofa, her head resting on his lap. He shoved it off. She tossed but didn’t wake. Carefully, he removed the binoculars from under one of the cushions and went to the window.
The barrel chambers closed around his eyes. The light in Apartment 205 had not died. But where was the woman he loved? He hadn’t spotted her since Tuesday.
This was Friday night.
After a half hour of no luck, he laid on the sofa, using the ottoman to avoid leg contact with Zelda. In his mind, she wasn’t Heather Skylar until she had to be.
A woman screamed outside the panoramic window: someone below being mugged. A guy yelled. A trashcan clanged. Then she pleaded for mercy. The gunshot, however, spoke louder. Somehow, the explosion didn’t wake Zelda, and it served as the lullaby Marco needed to fall asleep.
The following day, while Zelda was waitressing, he received a letter addressed from his fantasy love. Butterflies flapped wings in his stomach as he read:
Our feelings are entwined. We’ve never met. But that’s okay. Because it’s proof the universe combined our hearts. I wanted to knock on your door. Oh, how I want you! But I know you’re married. That’s also okay. Marriage can’t stop what’s meant to be. We’re stronger than the world. We’re stronger than your unsatisfying wife.
The subtext of jealousy produced another swarm of stomach butterflies. It was substantial evidence verifying her love.
Come see me. Tonight.
P.S. Don’t bring flowers. You’re the only rose I’ll need.
Red lipstick was imprinted on the bottom of the page.
The binoculars went to his eyes. Out of the lenses he saw the empty dinning room on the twenty-third floor. He pulled up a chair and sat at the sill until midday.
Zelda, hair disheveled, entered the living room. The binoculars fell to the floor. He kicked them under the chair. She didn’t seem to notice.
He ambled to the fireplace mantel and poured a splash of whiskey from a bottle. “How was work?”
“Exhausting. I had to fill in for someone after my shift. Thankfully they found a replacement for this evening. I’m going out with some girlfriends.”
“Where to?” She was leaving more frequently these days and looking tired too often.
“To the pizzeria on Hangman Street. Should be home around 11 PM.”
This was perfect. He would have time.
“Here.” He dug into his wallet, gave her a Franklin.
“Aw, thanks, sweetness.” She removed the wad of tips stationed in her apron. “I’ve got it covered.”
“I insist. Save your hard-earned dough.”
“Well, I can’t refuse my man’s generosity.” She took the money, kissed his lips, then asked: “What are your plans?”
“I’m going to the office to catch up on paperwork.”
“Insurance agencies are so fun,” she said sarcastically.
They shared a laugh.
“Your sarcasm is another reason I love you.”
Her palm went to her heart. “It’s a loving sarcasm.”
Then she grabbed the purse next to the door.
“Well, it is after six o’ clock. The girls and I might go to the bar, afterward.”
“Okay, be careful.”
“I love you.” She blew a kiss.
“Love you, too.” He blew nothing but air.
Marco showered and found his finest attire. The thought of Heather Skylar never escaped his mind. He drove to the floral shop and purchased the most colorful bouquet. But he also planned to bring his heart. Yes. She would see that he was more than just a man in a window.
At 8:00 PM, he knocked on her apartment door.
Will she answer? What if someone else is with her?
The lock snapped open. “Come in,” her voice called from within.
She was wearing a silver silk gown in the kitchen. Her hair was a wavy ocean of gold, her face a beautiful landscape of angles and curves, her body a Michelangelo sculpting. The dim lighting braided a slightly older age into her skin. Here, she was even more like Zelda. But she was as beautiful and fresh as he had imagined. Zelda 2.0.
Her mouth gaped at his presence. “Aw, are those for little me?”
Without a word, he extended the flowers. She took the bouquet. He used the opportunity to kiss her lips. It was all so sudden. But the universe was spontaneous. Then she leaned away, her index finger pressed to his lips.
“Before we go further,” she started, “…I want you to promise you’ll be here for me. This won’t be a one-night fling?”
He stretched his smile. “Of course not. I’ll be here for you. Always.” His hand groped her breasts. “Let’s follow the universe, baby.”
They sailed galaxies in the darkness of the bedroom. Smooching her neck, he untied the knot to the gown. He sucked her nipples until they were as hard as meteors. Then his tongue traveled south, tasting her different dimensions.
In the end, their supernovas exploded.
“Feel guilty?” she asked.
“Not at all. I was a little nervous. Wasn’t sure how you’d receive me, but never guilty. My wife’s a bitch, anyway.”
“Maybe I’m the medicine you need to cure the sickness.”
“The sickness of a miserable marriage. The sickness of her.”
Marco sensed resentment in her tone.
His eyes drifted. “I need to leave her. I will leave her.” A light bulb moment suddenly brightened his demeanor. The savings she had cashed out were in the safe behind the framed painting of the city. The combination was easy. It was her birthdate.
Rubbing her back, he said, “You and me can put our dough together and get the hell out of dodge.”
Her voice was as soft as the silk gown crumpled on the bed. “You really mean it?”
“Of course.” He rubbed her ass. It felt like Zelda’s. A lot of her body resembled his wife’s. But sex with Heather was better. Newer.
“You’ve stolen my heart,” she said.
“I do love you.” He gazed into her sapphires. “We’ll leave the world in the wind. We’ll run away and get married.”
“You have to get a divorce, first.”
“I’m already working on it.”
They made love again.
He left at 10:00 PM. The moon was a silvery claw ripped into black fabric. The heavenly scent of her perfume massaged his nose, and a string of her golden strands was stuck to his collar.
Zelda Baker returned with a new look at 11:00 PM. Her hair had been cut to her shoulders, nails painted purple, eyebrows trimmed. He thought the change made her cuter, but less similar to Heather, which was okay.
“You didn’t tell me you were getting a makeover.”
“I wanted to surprise you. And judging by your expression, it’s a mission accomplished.”
“You look gorgeous,” he patronized.
“Thank you,” she said in a cute voice, then traversed the living room. “I need a shower, Mr. Handsome.”
“I’ll be here waiting.”
But she didn’t return. She simply toweled herself and headed to bed. Once he knew she was asleep, he opened the safe. The money was gone.
The sink water trickled as Zelda finished gargling mouthwash. Marco walked in and caressed her shoulders.
“I really love your new look,” he patronized.
“Mmm. Tonight, I want you to show me how much you mean it.”
“You’ll see,” he whispered, softly biting her earlobe.
“By the way, do you still have your savings?”
“Of course. It’s transferred to our bank account. It was in cash, you know, but I didn’t like the money being here. A woman was robbed and murdered the other day, below our apartment.” Her brow started crinkling.
To alleviate her growing suspension, he explained, “I was wanting to take us somewhere, like on a second honeymoon.”
“That’s sweet of you, babe. But we might need the money for bills. We don’t bring in what we used to. I don’t want you taking out any of it. And I’ll know if you do.”
“You have a point.” He paused, almost adding something, then said: “Anyway, I need to get to work. Have a good day, my love.”
Their lips touched. “You, too.”
Before he was in the hallway she added, “Hey, remember tonight.”
“Oh, I won’t forget.”
In the shaded back parking lot of the insurance building, Marco fed bullets to the chamber. Images of paradise with Heather Skylar puffed his mind. Between the bank account and the insurance money, they could take an extended honeymoon. The dreams, the possibilities, encompassed infinity.
Every employee but him had left the premises. He was waiting on the sky to turn black. Instead, it settled for an apocalyptic red. He grinned at the color transition.
Every apocalypse brings a new dawn. Our dawn starts today, baby.
He drove to his apartment. The clock read 7:06. The elevator played a broken record, and the light fixture started dancing to it.
Shitty city, shittier apartment. We’ll ditch this joint and ride on the back of the universe.
The sound system buzzed as the door squealed open.
One shot to the temple, he hoped. If not, two shots to vital organs. Then the room would be wrecked. A blotched robbery that had led to another death. Anxiety struck when the gloves went to his hands, their leather reminding him that this was no dream.
He hurried through the hall.
Reaching the door, he contemplated whether to knock or to us his key.
For Christ’s sake, hurry up! It’s meant to be.
The key freed the lock. Clenching the gun, he stepped into predominate darkness. The only illumination came from the red triangles of light bleeding out of the sky and into the panoramic window. Amid the red stood Heather Skylar. She was facing the glass, staring at the neighboring apartment building, perhaps fixating on her unit.
“Heather?” He whispered.
No response. He drew closer. His hand stroked the back of her hair. Then he rubbed her shoulders. They were stiff.
“You’re tense,” he whispered into her ear. His hand worked lower. Her back was a rock. “You don’t have to watch me kill. But you’d be my preferred audience member. Even accomplice, if you wish.”
Wrapping an arm around her waist, he gently turned her in his direction. Her head fell off, crashing to the carpet. His heart leaped at the high pitch of his scream. Recoiling, he ran nails along his cheeks, ripping flesh. The rest of her body collapsed. Thud-thud-thud. Dropping to his knees, he realized, with the help of the blood sky, that the corpse was a mannequin. Although its general features were identical to Heather’s.
The hall light breathed life. Zelda was leaned against the wall, sipping a rum and Coke. “This new hair dew really helped fit the wig. And the contacts—yeah, they were uncomfortable. But I always wanted blue eyes.”
Bewilderment locked his senses.
She continued. “I found your love letter before you mailed it. But I knew something you didn’t know: Heather Skylar relocated days ago. During our discussion, she admitted that you’d been spying on her, and a friend of hers who worked as a prison guard let her in on the not-so-secret fact you were incarcerated for stalking and molesting a woman. I learned more about you. About the games you played, Marco. So, I decided to get a bit creative to outplay the player.”
His mouth was a frozen oval. Rising, he collected his senses long enough to steady his pistol. However, before it could fire, her own cold steel barrel was pointed at his temple.
Anger roughened her voice. “I was Heather Skylar yesterday. You were too warped by the idea of someone else to notice the intricate differences a real lover would have noticed. Our marriage was nothing but sex to you. You’ll never get my money. You’ll never get your paradise. Things like you only belong in sewers and garbage dumps.”
Cheekbones flaring, he charged. She jumped closer to the window, then angled and fired. The lead pierced his chest, missing his heart by three inches. The glass shattered into giant shards as he fell out the window. While in freefall, his vision blurred.
Splashing onto the pavement, he became one with the blood sky.
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