At first glance, I would have described her smile as mysterious or haunting, but it was her eyes that made me think that. They were tunnels of ice-blue light ringed in shadow, arresting and unsettling in the way they gauged the depth and breadth of my soul. They were eyes that ferreted out pretenses and unearthed jealously-kept secrets.
Her eyes were haunting, yes, but her smile was self-satisfied.
I saw her in the underground subway tunnel, propped against the hand rail. The tunnel was empty, save us, and I had to pass her to catch the late train home. The incongruity of her there, small, alone, and seemingly fragile, slowed my approach. I was far bigger than she. I could have easily dashed her to the ground, broken her into jagged shards, but she raised my hackles and stilled my steps. Every instinct recoiled as if she were a snake or poisonous spider.
A red sign, cut in a saw-blade semicircle, was held above her head:
The words FREE and PLEASE, hastily scribbled in ballpoint pen, had been doubled back on and scribbled over: FREE PLEASE
There was something about the configuration of the words and the emphasis on the first two I didn’t like. A cold finger played down my spine and jangled discordant notes sang along my subconscious.
The woman’s steady gaze held mine as I stood, transfixed.
The one corner of her mouth, quirked just slightly upward, seemed to curl further in amusement. I see you, the smile implied, I know you.
The woman was blond, her hair pulled back into a bun or ponytail in the back; I couldn’t tell. Young. No older than thirty. Attractive in the slight, sickly, wan way of Eastern European models. The longer we stared at each other, the more I began to notice the yellowish-green hue surrounding her right eye. The less that coloring seemed a shadowed hollow. The more it revealed itself the remnants of a healing bruise.
Despite my every nerve clamoring warnings over this encounter, I leaned slightly forward to better take in the shadows of her face. Were the shadows to the right of her nose and along her cheek bruises as well? Were there stains of fingerprints below her right ear, riding her throat?
How could this fragile creature challenge me with that small, patient, curl of the lip? How could she brazenly hold my gaze and mock me with her Mona Lisa smirk? My gaze jerked back up. Her eyes were diamond bores, drilling past a polished marble exterior, deep into my psyche. I could feel them reverberating deeper, growing closer and closer to my darkest core.
I recoiled from the small pastel portrait sketch leaned up against the handrail and fled the tunnel toward the sound of an approaching train. At the platform I flung the catalogue I’d been holding into a nearby wastebasket and wiped that same shaking palm across my sweat-greased face.
The pages rustled open to a page visited most often as hot air rushed into the tunnel. The same delicate, blond Eastern European woman, her face circled in my red Sharpie, seemed to wink as the pages of Alone Angels fluttered wildly. I’d ripped off the mailing address from the front of the catalogue, but I’d missed my title and first name in my haste. ‘Dr. Haart’ flashed on the front.
Flutter. She winked. Flutter. Dr. Haart. Flutter. She winked. Flutter. Dr. Haart.
The train screeched to a stop and I, Dr. Haart Jekyll, fled into it, away from the accusatory stare and knowing smile of my chosen bride.
I wrote this in response to a post in Art Abandonment, a Facebook group I belong to. It was shared from another Facebook group called Weird Second Hand Finds that just need to be shared.
Maybe I haven’t written in a while and I needed to lance that growing boil or maybe this subject’s face just spoke to me, but the story came almost fully realized as soon as I saw it.