running in circles. l.a noire. t for minor sexual references. 1,360 words.
marie phelps/cole phelps, marie phelps/stefan bekowsky.
She finds herself here once a year.
She finds herself here once a year.
When the autumn leaves fall and the light fades, she finds her footsteps retracing her path to this forsaken place that haunts her dreams and causes her head to turn. A woman of her wealth and stature surely has other places to wander; the market, the salon, the boutique. But it's here she dwells in the valley of the shadow of death.
The wind gusts like a winter song and her heels hammer leaf laden concrete. The scent of something sour and sweet fills her nostrils, like fresh flowers on a grave as she wipes the droplets falling from an open sky, her benediction. The sound of church bells slices the air and her eyes sharply look towards the source, the sound of revelry dancing with the bells. It's a wedding, she notes as the newlyweds descend the cobblestones rapidly, confetti and well wishes filling the air simultaneously. She continues on her march, counting her heartbeat in her head.
The names are as familiar to her as her children's faces and she passes by each one, counting steadily with anticipation rising in the trenches of her gut. She must look a fool, she thinks--a lone woman surrounded by none but the skeletons of times past, other people's lovers, friends and family beneath her feet as she searches for the plot she knows all too well. As she passes the familiar full plot of the Sheldon clan, she spots the stone she's been seeking and gazes upon it as though it could save her.
Cole Anthony Phelps
1920 - 1949
Loving father, husband and son.
Honored serviceman and policeman.
The plot had been his initial idea when he returned from the war, bruises poisoning his skin and wounds starking his body and scars carved deep in places she used to love. They purchased a family plot planted in the graveyard of his church while he still limped. She asked him one last time if he was positive that this was what he wanted, he merely replied that he escaped the jaws of death. She shivers at the thought.
Flowers seem too formal, she'd thought when she passed the florist store this morning in the torrential rain. Her hands are empty, fidgeting at her sides and she can feel the press of nervous fingers on her hips. She will never be beside him in death, she realizes quickly and her breath quickens. Cole's intentions with the plot were that the four of them--Cole, her and the girls--would descend or ascend into the afterlife and seek each other out, to be a family again. After his affair, however, such things seemed preposterous. The divorce favored her in the end with the full custody of their children and the house and half of their savings. The money she claimed was enough to give her a head start, and keep their lives stable for some time.
Standing here facing the miniature garden is enough to cause her eyes to water, blurring her sight. Laughing at herself, she furiously obliterates such foolishness.
hands take hers dutifully and nervously, a shaky chuckle dying in his throat. He's repeating the words the priest is nearly shouting so the audience can hear. "I, Cole, take thee Marie, to be my wedded wife and I do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be thy loving and faithful husband; in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live." Marie allows the joyous tears to wrack her to her very soul.
"Thought I'd find you here."
Marie turns as her heart pounds against her ribs.
"You know, I thought I'd find you somewhere that doesn't reek of death but no; I find you at the heart of it."
"How did you know where to find me?" she asks.
He shrugs. "You're never yourself this time of year, and it's never easy to contact you during it. I made a lucky guess, and here we are."
She sighs with guilt. "Stefan. . ."
Stefan shakes his head and steps forward, clasping her hands with his and rubbing her knuckles with his thumbs."You made a domestic man outta me, Marie," he says. "Didn't think you needed another one."
Marie wants to say something, anything to him to make him understand but she can't when she feels as though she's been unfaithful and has been caught in the act. Her mouth opens helplessly but he clamps one of his hands over it, smiling.
"I get that he was a big part of your life--hell, he was my friend--but I don't let that stand in the way of moving forward." He removes his hand, his smile deteriorating to a shrivel. "The girls need a mother, not a mourning widow."
It's a damaged little thing she knows very well, that her children don't need another ghost haunting their lives. Stefan plays the role of loving and doting to her children with tender care, avoiding all discussion of his predecessor and displaying his affection of Marie in small ways like kissing her before departing or calling her sweetheart or gorgeous. The girls would respond by pretending to vomit but at least they knew Stefan wasn't prone to unfaithfulness--ever since meeting him at that seedy bar god-knows-where in Wilshire, she's had this niggling feeling that he'd leave her for Elsa Lichtmann.
"You'll wear your hair down for a dead man but not for me?" he mockingly pouts but fingers the ends of her hair, enthralled.
Marie babbles her folly and meaningless apologies as she buries herself in the familiar fold of his arms, tearing herself from the phantom that keeps her heart hostage. Stefan smells of summer and sunlight and she breathes deeply, letting his sun melt away the snow.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she palavers, leaning away from him and willing the weeping to stop.
Stefan assists her, wiping the tears with his open palms and smiling affectionately, hands shifting to her shoulders.
"You don't ever have to be sorry, Marie," he tells her. "I'm just asking you cut me some slack. I'm here, and he's not. And to be completely blunt and honest with you? I just want you all to myself, I don't want to have to compete with a memory."
"You don't have to," she mutters, glancing downwards until his finger tips her head up. From her point of view, she can see the shining of blue eyes like a cloudy sky.
"That's not what I think," he says. "I fell in love with Marie Fletcher because guess what? She's amazing and didn't deserve to be cheated on with some junkie, German broad."
Her eyes snap up, her mouth open. "You never said you loved me before."
Stefan stutters over fragments of words and wrings his fingers together in loose knots. Marie would've kissed him if not for her dead husband's ever-lasting presence beneath the ground.
"Not the best place, huh?" He laughs hesitantly and rubs the back of his neck, looking down and clearing his throat.
Marie glimpses quickly at the taunting gravestone and the dead flowers attributed to it--to this day, she still doesn't know who leaves them--and sighs, a stream of memories tugging her towards the past.
Their first kiss; all bumping teeth and the collision of mouths but filled with the enthusiasm of young love. Their first date, when he brought her to that horrible restaurant and the food poisoning, afterword. Their first time; eager hands and lips exploring every inch of each other, the impatient rocking of bodies. His proposal; where she nearly choked on the ring he'd planted in her champagne. The photos she found in an official brown envelope, sealed by one Roy Earle. Her children's misunderstanding faces upon hearing about their father. The funeral, with an audibly blubbering Elsa Lichtmann in her ears.
She releases a deep breath, unburdening herself with all of it after so long a time. Marie walks and offers Stefan her hand, smiling. He accepts it and they both traipse from the graveyard, leaving the ghost of Cole Phelps behind.