A Series of Famous Last Words

Foreward

The progress of a plot is a difficult one to follow. It starts out as an idea that ferments inside the head until the hand is ready to craft what has been brewing inside the consciousness. When I wrote down my first lines it was not a story that spilled from my pen, but a letter, followed by another one until words were formed, then sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and acts. Since I have forgotten at which point I incepted myself into this plot, I will share this instead. This is a beginning, this is the moment when you will be introduced to my world, and the characters that inhabit it. It’s only a fragment of the world that I have formed, and although it may not be fully finished to my liking (which it never will be), it is complete enough for you to experience it. So, for all that have been wondering what the heck I’ve been raving over for the last year, here is your chance to see. Without further ado, here is a chapter from my first novel, “A Series of Famous Last Words.”

 

House Arrest

In the frigid autumn of 1936, a barren piece of land was bought on the northern side of Victoria. The deed included 1.4 acres that stretched into a dense forest that resided on the fringes of the city. The evergreens and other trees were chopped down to be used as building material for the development of Victoria’s new residential area. One particular set of blueprints detailed a home with three bedrooms dispersed across two floors, a kitchen that included a gas line, an elongated foyer, and two bathrooms aside from the master. Construction on this foundation began in 1938, and it neared completion by 1939, however, due to a violent lightning storm the building was set ablaze on March 13, 1939. After the incident, the building company-whose name remains unknown-decided to abandon the project and leave the house unfinished. It remained incomplete until 1947, when a young soldier and his new wife purchased the property. The veteran, who had just served America in World War II, used his military pension to reconstruct and remodel the residence. A spare room was converted into an extra office, and garage unit was installed. The veteran and his wife completed the project but were unable enjoy the living quarters for long on account of the tension rising in Korea. He eventually left to defend his nation, but returned to find the house empty and his wife missing. Her disappearance was never solved, although a few neighbors claim she left with another man. The veteran lived out his days within the walls, spending his nights drinking and watching reruns of western television shows, until his death in 1985. The house was eventually placed back on the market, falling into the hands of a rookie real-estate agent. Unable to fully appreciate the value of the house, the realtor lost a quarter of the possible profit when David Knight became the title holder.

Thud. Thud. Thud. A pair of running shoes belonging to David clashed against the cracked pavement, establishing a rhythm for his morning jog. He wore a bright yellow short sleeve shirt, black jogging shorts with a ripped seam, and a fanny pack for storing his keys and his pager. Elise had purchased his running shoes to celebrate his promotion two years ago, and somehow the shoes had managed to stay hidden in the closet until recently. The man had always been physically fit, but running never seemed to be on his radar; he preferred rowing in the surrounding lakes, but the weather was too humid for that now. In light of this, he’d created a running routine that would take him at least thirty-eight minutes, if he established a steady pace. The last few exercises had taken him nearly forty-five minutes to complete; his grieving body was not yet adjusted to the regime. Today, though, he set out to break the mold and reach his personal goal while trekking across five miles.

David pushed his body forward against the morning wind, watching for any stray cars in the empty road. His set path carried him around his neighborhood, which was approximately 1.34 miles; afterward, he would turn right and run towards the Glass Mural, North Victoria’s local landmark. The mural was created in 1889, a time period where glass making was one of the leading industries in Victoria. A welding couple, under the name Purefoy, had been chosen by the mayor at the time to construct a symbol that reflected the current status of the growing city. The team took the mayor’s request literally and created a structure made of concrete and glass that contained hundreds of unique shards with their own opacities. It was later found out that the pieces used in the mural were all the remaining fragments from the couple’s failed attempts at creating a single construct, a decision that left a sour taste in the mayor’s mouth. “Beauty can only be realized through broken pieces,” was the inscription that was added to the mural in 1957.

Thud. David’s feet kicked up into the grass as he moved from the entrance of the neighborhood into the park containing the landmark. Sweat poured down his face, even though the sun had not yet fully arrived to greet the day. As he ran in the park he took mental pictures of his surroundings; the streetlights and signs all seemed to lead him farther away from his house. From Elise. From Charlie. David peered into the faint horizon and located the Glass Mural in the distance. The structure was his personal turning point, being the halfway mark in his jogging route. This particular morning proved to be the most difficult thus far, and the emotional strain was starting to take its toll on David’s legs. Reality was rubbing against him just like his shorts chafing his skin. Elise had been turning in her sleep the night before, which was common at this point, but in her dreamlike state, she muttered a name that made David remember their past and made falling back to sleep near impossible. There was also the matter settling the finances associated with the funeral and the money they had saved for Charlie’s education, which required the assistance of a lawyer. Elise had mentioned that she’d found one, but David remained skeptical after witnessing how lawyers use emergencies and traumatic experiences to make a quick buck.

He finally approached the Glass Mural and slowed down a bit, taking a moment to appreciate the cleanliness of the surrounding area.  His image twisted and contorted in the glass as he walked around the construct. Some reflections were plastered onto warmer colors, but he found them to be too fantastical, preferring to look at the cooler hues; they seemed to match his heart these days. David pressed his face against the chilly glass as an excessive amount of sweat poured down from his hair.

Sofia shrunk in front of the white columns erected at the main entrance of the house. The stains from years of rainfall and erosion had chipped away the paint, revealing patches of softened wood. The front yard was empty, save for the attempted garden located next to the stairs leading towards the door. Sofia imagined her mother spending her free time trying to revive these flowers, and wished she inherited her green thumb instead of her oily hair. The girl walked towards the establishment as if it were haunted, carrying her new essentials in hand: two pairs of latex gloves, a basket full of cleaning chemicals, and the lunch her mother had packed. Her hair was down, and she wore a pair of slip on canvas shoes she had purchased from her most recent beach trip (almost  three years ago). Upon reaching the front door, Sofia was greeted by a small beehive developing in the corner underneath the porch light. There were no drones present, but she instinctively knew there was a queen deep within the core of the hive. The doorbell chimed, and Sofia pressed her face against the rectangular window to peer inside. The glass was made from a unique material that prevented those outside from clearly seeing in, causing her to ring the doorbell once more. “This place is a dump. My mother surely knows how to pick her customers” she said sarcastically. She knocked on the door. After a few seconds, an obscure figure with feminine features appeared in the window. “Shit, it’s a woman. This must be the wrong house.” Her nerves tensed as she contemplated leaving the porch but it was too late; Sofia watched the doorknob turn, and a woman with deep circles under her eyes popped her head out. “Sorry, I think I have the wrong house,” Sofia apologized.

“Who are you looking for?” the woman inquired as she took a sip of her coffee.

“Um, a Mr. David Knight. Do you know where he lives?” she peeked at the numbers on the side of the home.

“He lives here, I’m his wife, Elise. What do you want? Are you selling something because if so I’m not interested in any of your wares, whatever they may be.” Elise said. Sofia immediately recognized an attitude in the woman’s voice.

“I’m with Garcia’s Guardians. We were…hired by Mr. Knight to care for this house.”

Elise turned back into the house and looked at the picture of David hanging in the foyer. “Asshole,” she muttered, loud enough for Sofia to hear.

“Umm…if this is a bad time then I can come back later.” Elise took a sip of her coffee and looked at Sofia. The young woman’s clothes were hanging off of her thin frame, and Elise could smell the metro on her. For a split second, Elise thought about slamming the door in her face and leaving her on the porch, but she knew that would only breed even more trouble between her and David.

“Come in, and take your shoes off at the door.”

David looked into the glass to find a memory of him standing with his son, Charlie. He watched as the boy counted the glass panels, “Twenty-two, twenty-free, twenty-four…” Charlie continued as David held his hand. When his son turned five, David noticed that he had developed a lisp. Elise mentioned that she wanted to take him to speech therapy to correct the issue, but David found his speech impediment unique, and wanted to keep it. “We should let him decide when he gets older.”

“No, the older he gets, the harder it will be for him to change. David, he’s about to start kindergarten and I want him to be prepared for it. Plus, you know how those kids can be in elementary school. They make fun of anything that is different, and Charlie would be no exception.” David silently nodded, knowing that his wife was telling the truth. He had given rides to a few teenagers with self-inflicted wounds, most of them blaming their misfortune on childhood bullying.

“You’re right. Why don’t you give me a chance to teach him before we take him to some doctor?” Even with all his medical experience, David still imagined himself more qualified to teach their son proper speech, simply because he was his father.

“Fine, but if nothing improves in a month, then we will take him to the doctor, of my choice.” David agreed. Twenty-nine days passed and Charlie still showed no signs of visible progress. In a last minute effort, David decided to take Charlie to the Glass Mural.

“Hey buddy, can you count how many times you see yourself?”

Charlie smiled, pointed his bony finger at the glass, and began counting. David watched his son as he moved from left to right. His hair was a messy blonde, which was odd because David had dark hair, while Elise was the originally blonde. He was short, just as Elise had been during her childhood. He also inherited his mother’s smile, a thin set of lips that curved just slightly to the left. It gave one the impression that he was winking at them. On this particular day, David decided to dress him up in denim overalls and a white tee-shirt. Standing in the wake of spring, Charlie looked like one of the farmers from his nursery book. “Now try and say twenty-three. Watch my lips” he brought his mouth close to his son’s eye level. “Twenty-three, three. You see how my tongue moves,” Charlie nodded.

“Twenty-free.” A wave of disappointment flushed across David’s face. His efforts hadn’t been enough to fix the boy’s speech. He looked into the twenty-third glass and failed to see a reflection of himself in it. The memory left as quick as it had arrived, David now unable to tell if it was sweat or tears that he was tasting.

Elise locked the door behind Sofia and motioned for the girl to enter the grand foyer. The walls were painted soft white that resembled a lavish beach house, but the bottom half of it was covered with marks and little fingerprints. All of the furniture belonged to a matching set, making the place look more like a showroom rather than a home. Sofia thought back to her mother’s apartment and how nearly all of their furniture had been given or purchased from the local flea markets.

“What’s your name?” Elise asked.

“Sofia. I’m working with my mo- with Mrs. Garcia, the other employee. We’ll be taking turns cleaning throughout the weeks.”

“I see,” she looked at the girl, “the truth is, I don’t really want you here, but you’ve already been paid so you might as well work. I still don’t understand why we need you. I told David that our house is okay the way it is, but he insisted on employing you.”

“We’re uh, we’re here to help you with the…healing,” Sofia sputtered the response her mother had trained her to give.

“Right, I’m sure you’ll be a big help in that area,” Elise scoffed. “Since you’re here, make yourself useful but let me establish a few rules: Don’t come up the stairs, don’t steal anything, and don’t bother me unless it’s an emergency. That’s all the instructions I have for you.” Sofia held her tongue against her wishes, seeing as this was her first day on the job. Her mother had warned her that most employees were either distant or unpleasant in the beginning, but Elise’s attitude was borderline disrespectful. And what would make her consider thievery?

Elise walked through the hallway, “You can set your belongings underneath the sink.” As she entered the room, Sofia realized that there were only two kinds of people in this world: those who have money, and those who don’t. This house was the only proof she needed to know that she belonged to the latter category. The expansive kitchen had granite countertops with maroon drawers, a black stove in the corner opposite of the chrome refrigerator and the rectangular glass table had a solitary plate sitting upon it.

“Are there any specific tasks that you need me to do? I’m here until 5:00 PM,” Sofia chimed. Elise lifted the coffee pot from the machine and poured herself another cup.

“Shouldn’t you have a set routine? I mean, that’s what we’re paying you for right?” Elise sneered.

Sofia examined her surroundings and figured the kitchen would be an ideal place to begin her shift, it was also the only room Elise had shown her thus far. She stared at the middle-aged woman, taking note of the thin bones hiding underneath her oversized knit sweater. “Start with the kitchen then just follow whatever mess you find, just don’t come upstairs.” Elise’s voice was adamant, and Sofia wondered if she would be hexed if she stepped into the forbidden zone. “If there’s nothing more to say, then get started,” Elise said as she made her way towards the stairwell in the foyer. “Oh, and one more thing, be a dear and clean the coffee pot. I’m afraid it’s blackened, and I need it spotless for tomorrow morning,” she disappeared around the corner, leaving Sofia standing alone on the hardwood floors. The echo of Elise’s footsteps receded, giving Sofia the courage to curse under her breath before she turned her attention to the empty kitchen.

David snapped away from the flashback and frantically began running along the pathway once more. An ache started to develop in his left knee, the same one he had surgery during his teenage years. The weakness of his scar tissue had been the main reason he’d picked up rowing as his activity. Determined to reach his house before his time was up, David decided to speed up his pace; but exhaustion was steadily rising along with the temperature. As he ran, he looked back over his left shoulder trying to capture one final look at the Glass Mural, and possibly his son. Suddenly, he found himself with his cheek pressed against the concrete and a severe pain radiating from his face. Bits of sediment embedded themselves in his hands, leaving erythemic marks along his palms. He achingly pulled himself up to his feet and dusted off his kneecaps. There was a reddish abrasion on his hand that looked as if blood wanted to ooze from the fresh wound. It took him another few seconds to realize that he had fallen, something he hadn’t done in years. Immediately, he began to trace the ground for any pot-holes or excessively large rocks to blame for his accident. A patch of raised concrete seemed suspicious, but it wasn’t enough to make him stumble as he had. David brought his hands to his face and examined the scratches.

“These hands, these damn hands. How many more must die in my arms? What good am I if I can’t save anyone?” he yelled into the empty street. A light came on in a nearby house, probably in response to his shouting. David shuffled along the concrete, attempting to relieve the pressure on his left leg. As he limped home, he remembered the last words the deacon had spoken to him.

“Prayer can help those who don’t have the momentum to move on…”

“When’s the last time prayer saved a life?” he said to himself as he looked up as the morning sky was painted with a series of vibrant brush strokes.

“How the hell am I supposed to know where things are if I didn’t get a tour?” Sofia scoffed. She walked around the kitchen, opening and closing the drawers in the process, to get a feel for the layout. “Okay, so silverware is in the drawer, and this is for dishes, and this is also for silverware too? What kind of setup is this? Who needs two drawers for forks and knives?” she slammed the last cabinet, hoping the sound would interrupt Elise from whatever she was doing. Sofia picked up the single plate from the table and placed it in the metallic sink. As she began scrubbing the dish, she thought about her new surroundings. These walls would become her new classroom, and she was forced to study the same skills her mother used. Sharpened pencils and notebooks were now replaced with toilet brushes and soggy sponges, and instead of wearing decent clothes, she was forced to don a raggedy t-shirt and her jeans from high school that barely fit. What good was cleaning compared to having a degree? She checked the clock, “Right now, I’d be sitting in my first class for the week, but instead I’m scrubbing dishes. I didn’t even eat off of this damn plate,” she muttered. Sofia placed the plate on the drying rack and wiped down the adjacent counter with her wipes. The moist sensation of the towel gave her a quick shudder, and Sofia soon realized that she’d forgotten to put her gloves on. The set of purple latex all purpose gloves were a gift from her mother. Sofia reached down into her basket and checked the wrists, noticing the “L” and “R” embedded into the rubber. Without hesitation, she donned the gloves along with the headphones attached to her CD player and began a thorough investigation of the kitchen.

Sofia walked over to the half-empty coffee pot and inspected the stained edges of the bowl. “Clean the coffee pot my ass,” she snapped. She dumped the liquid contents down into the drain and instead of pouring a drop of soap into the bowl, she spit into it. Grabbing the sponge she began to work her way around the bowl until a majority of the black smears were no longer visible, but the girl kept a few there to remind Elise that she wasn’t like her mother. However, as she looked down at her covered hands, she couldn’t help but feel a connection to the woman who’d taught her how to scrub away stains.

David removed his keys from his fanny pouch and entered through the garage door, passing a series of cardboard boxes sitting next to the steps. The pain from his knee was subsiding as he removed his shirt and shoes upon entering his residence. He was about five feet into the house when he heard the sound of water running in the kitchen. “Elise, are you up?” he inquired as he turned the corner before bumping into an oddly placed object. David was about to start shouting until he opened eyes and realized what, or rather who, he’d just run into. Standing in front of the sink was a young woman with a pair of purple headphones tucked between her shoulder length hair. She rung the yellow sponge into the basin and dried a glass cup in her gloved hands. The young woman turned to face David and dropped the dish onto the floor due to the shock.

“Jesus, I didn’t see you. I’m so sorry, I’ll clean that up,” she said as she frantically searched the kitchen for the broom. David pointed towards the pantry and Sofia did as instructed, finding the broom and dustpan in the corner. “Th-thank you, sir.”

“Are you Mrs. Olivia’s daughter?”

She nodded, “I’m Sofia Garcia. I promise I’m not this clumsy. I’m so sorry,” Sofia confessed while keeping her eyes low.

“You don’t have to look down or anything, I don’t deserve any extra respect.”

“You’re shirtless, sir.” Startled, David awkwardly laughed as he threw his sweaty top over his shoulder.

“Right, I’ll get out of your way soon,” he said.

David made his way to the refrigerator and removed a bottle of water while Sofia swept up the remaining fragments from the glass. The paramedic could feel the young woman’s eyes scanning him, trying to identify what kind of man he was. “I’m David by the way. I wanted to welcome you to the house, but it looks like my jog took longer than expected,” he said as he pressed the chilled bottle to his kneecap. Sofia shyly smiled as she dumped the contents of the dustpan into the black trash can. “If you need anything just let me know.” Sofia nodded as he made his way towards the stairwell, “also don’t worry about the cup, it’s just a small fracture,” he joked. The medical reference had flown over Sofia’s head and David realized that his joke failed, another reason for him to retreat upstairs.

His watch began ticking as he entered his bedroom, and fast asleep atop the snow white comforter was Elise. Her body was sprawled out in a strange position, legs on opposing ends of the bed and her back was curved stretching out her neck in a way that would’ve been uncomfortable for even the most flexible contortionist. Somehow in this layout she had found peace, or the medication had kicked in once again. He knew that Dr. White had given her a prescription to help her through this difficult time period, but lately her mood seemed to revolve around her dosage schedule. David crept into the bathroom and started the shower, giving himself five minutes to remove the sweat and dirt from his sore body. This morning had already been a challenge and work would be no different, he had to write a report on his actions surrounding the death of Deacon Hamilton. As the beads from the shower rained down on his face, David’s hands shook in the steam, remembering the feeling of Darnell’s strength fading as he passed away. David banged his fist against the glass, wishing that he could have held his son’s hand in a similar fashion.

When Sofia entered the garage to take out the trash at the end of her grueling first shift, she accidentally kicked a cardboard box full of unknown objects. Her bony legs were already feeling the effects of her labor, the constant circular scrubbing motion worked muscles that had been dormant in her body for years. The chilly garage was bleak, save for the blinking safety light in the corner. One car, a black luxury vehicle was parked in one of the spaces, and the rest of the area was being used as a storage space. As her eyes adjusted, Sofia examined the expansive interior, taking note of the piles of boxes that were waiting to be sealed. Crouching down, she toyed with the flap of one of the containers catching a glance of folded clothes, reminding the young woman of her suitcase and all the clothes that she had yet to finish unpacking. Curiosity continued to swirl in the young woman’s veins, leading Sofia to a closet situated in the corner of the garage. Inside the closet were shoes scattered across the bottom floor, bright yellow rain jackets, a stack of packaged toilet paper, and bin full of magazines that may or may not have been read. Hanging on the back wall was a dark leather briefcase and a slightly worn messenger bag with a medical symbol patch stitched onto it. On the adjacent hanger was a cherry red book bag with handwriting on its shoulder straps. After examining the bag, Sofia deduced that it was too cartoonish to be worn by adults. In fact, there were multiple objects in this house that would’ve made any child, if there was one, feel at home.

Sofia turned the book bag and discovered that the black scribbles were actually the signatures of children. Her fingers traced the names, reading them to herself as she listed half the incoming second-grade class at Turtletop Elementary. Seeing the signatures reminded Sofia of her tenure in elementary school, and how she and her classmates signed tee shirts on their final day. It was a way for the students to always remember their friends, even if they happened to forget them along the way. Sofia was unsuccessful in finding the name, among all the other names, of who the bag belonged to prompting her to leave it alone. She closed the door to the messy closet, grabbed her basket full of cleaning supplies, and hopped out the door into the afternoon sun. Sofia threw the trash away and headed back inside the house to grab her belongings, which were stored underneath the sink along with the cleaning supplies. As she walked down the driveway, she caught a glimpse of the neighborhood that was soon to become her habitat for the next few weeks.

The houses in the area were exquisite, many of them being at least two stories with finely crafted windows and color schemes. The one directly next to the Knight residence had a full-sized balcony on the second floor. Sofia pictured herself atop it, staring out at the skyline as the sun set across the horizon. With a house like this, it was senseless for anybody to feel miserable, she thought, as she plugged her headphones into the CD player. There were no oversized trash bags crowding their front lawn or the sounds of sirens screaming through the bedroom windows. There surely was enough space in each house so mothers and their daughters could snore without having to hear the other in the adjacent room. A rush of electricity ran through Sofia’s veins as she prepared to come home after her first day of work; what exactly was waiting for her inside that cramped apartment?

As she walked home, Sofia noted that this around the same time that she originally left her last class of the day and headed back to her dorm. Often she would grab a to-go meal from the dining hall, choosing to eat in the comfort of her room rather than braving the expansive cafeteria. The hall was filled with too many scattered conversations, and Sofia remained out of virtually all of them because she often ate alone and read her books instead. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad for her to share a meal with her mother, the two of them sitting down so Sofia could talk about her first day. Her body had started to ache beyond belief: is this what her mother experienced for the last ten years? Yet, she hadn’t heard Olivia complain once about her job. At what point was she willing to give her mother a chance, she thought to herself as the metro station came into view amongst the waves of mobile citizens.

As the city prepared for the summer night, the streetlights slowly illuminated the speckled sidewalks with a warming glow. Passengers along the transit system changed from local business owners and black nannies with white toddlers to carts full of sterile dress suits and sweating vagabonds who reeked of booze. Sidewalks became the escape routes for those who worked in the skyscrapers, while the sanitation crew prepared to start their evening shift. Just as she did in school, Sofia would take the journey alone, keeping her CD player handy the entire time. When she stood amongst the travelers on the train, (she often stood because people weren’t so forthcoming to offer her a seat), the music transported her mind to her personal paradise. Each song provided her with a different vibe, but they all harmonized to provide her with a melody able to keep her sanity in check after her hectic first day as an employee of Garcia’s Guardian.

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