This has now been re-edited and I am considering it to be complete.
Sometimes I dream in short stories. Tuesday night I had this particular dream – Jeff Goldblum was playing the lead in this scary little vignette. For all the lovers out there and all of those monsters we love – Happy Hallowe’en and enjoy!
Little shafts of light shot beneath the bedroom curtains lighting up his back. Irina reached out, resting her fingertips on them, following the light. Gavriel sighed heavy with sleep and comfort. His lips curved into a smile, eyes still closed. She was something else.
She pressed herself against his back and listened to his heart beat. “Remind me.”
He turned to face her and began his kiss on her neck just below her ear. “I’ll remind you.”
They had known each other forever and she never called him anything but Gav. No silly terms of endearment. No honey, sweetie, baby, lamby-pie. Irina was not one for fluffy words. She showed her love for him, her lifelong passion and encompassing connection to him in other ways. It was in her grace when handing him a cup of coffee. It was in her low, funny responses to his random statements. It was in the insane sweet warmth of her hand on his skin. And yes, like “The Shoop Shoop Song”, it was in her kiss. Gavriel Goldman was a lucky man.
Although Irina would say that she was the lucky one. “Gav is the standard by which all men are judged. He is always there to remind me.” She would half-smile and chalk the steady bliss of her heart up to a game of tag when they were children.
“Leave my girl alone!” Gav would say softly and wink at her.
He was 9 and she was 6. What started as a game of tag had turned into the bully boys cornering the new girl against a tree. They had called her out, started throwing rocks and dirt. Micky Brown had ripped at the hem of her bright orange dress. “Whatcha got so I don’t beat you, New girl?”
“Yeah, Peepants like you pay up in this neighborhood.” Tommy Carravik leaned in and yanked her blond braid.
“I don’t have anything. I have nothing to give you.” She spoke softly. But she did not cry and she did not cower from them. She stood solid, her back against the oak, looking them dead in the eye.
Micky gave her a quick jab in the stomach. She bent and then straightened herself, squared her shoulders, not crying. Gavriel had rounded the corner in time to see the punch.
“Leave my girl alone! Leave her alone or I will beat your filthy hides!” Gav raised his baseball bat above his head and ran toward them.
A few of the smaller boys fled, but Micky and Tommy didn’t move.
“I said NOTHING FOR YOU!” Irina kicked Micky hard in both shins and when he fell, she kicked his chin. A loose bottom tooth went flying. Tommy, stunned by her ferocity, was frozen until she grabbed his hair and yanked, ripping out a handful. She threw it in his face and launched at him with her full body weight. He went down, grabbing the new bald patch on the side of his head.
As little Irina stood up and brushed herself off, Gavriel noticed that Tommy had wet himself. He smiled. Then he smiled at this little girl who was part lion, part hurricane. She looked at him, appraising every aspect of this boy. His dark curly hair, olive skin, cleft chin, hands too big for the rest of him, and eyes that were staring back at her with wonder.
“I’m Gavriel. What’s your name, Hurricane?”
“Irina Reynard. Reynard means fox. And you have a chin butt.”
She did not shake the hand that he offered, but fell in step beside him as they headed north toward the same brick apartment building. She must be with the new family that came last week. He could think of nothing to say at first. She was six for Pete’s sake! Any quips about dolls or having a younger sister was out of the question. His sister Janice was seven, concerned with stuffed animal tea parties and whatnot. But Irina was a whole different creature.
“How am I your girl?” she finally said.
“I’m not sure you are a girl.” He moved his hand over the cleft in his chin self-consciously.
“Don’t hide your chin butt, Gav. It makes your face strong.”
They walked together, kicking rocks in front of them. She was gliding, completely owning herself and the economy of movement. Not a whisper of childlike clumsiness.
When they reached her door, she thanked him.
“I didn’t do anything. I just yelled.”
“You reminded me.” She shrugged a small shoulder.
“Is your mom going to be mad about your dress?”
“I only live with my dad. My mom died when I was born.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-“
“I didn’t know her. And he just calls her “the woman”, so…”
“Will he be mad then?”
“He doesn’t pay much attention as long as I’m quiet. I can fix it.” Irina shrugged and quietly went inside.
And so they struck up a kinship. No specific words exchanged, but they could talk about anything. They mapped the constellations, read books above their age group, endured crushes and notes being passed. They grew, they learned, they found a calm and reassurance within each other. His family was puzzled at first. Why is Gavriel spending him with a girl younger than Janice? But they warmed to her ability to calm him. They marveled at her wit and composure. His mother Iris loved to have his little friend help her in the kitchen because Irina’s sous-chef focus and drive inspired her.
She was simply good.
And Gavriel bloomed under her attention. He didn’t engage in the drama of growing up. While the kids in his class moved through cliques and power struggles and multiple broken hearts a week, he was steady, kind, smart and helpful. He began to love geometry and architecture. He and Irina would explore old buildings and take photographs. The ache and mythos and history would enter their world as a third person. He would measure and draw and she would press her hands to the stone and “feel the story in the bones of the place.”
And she loved mythos and lore and legend. The beautiful counterbalance to her no-nonsense way of moving through life. She began to paint and sketch. She would capture the light and shadow and explain to him the story of how twilight affected old places. The door in-between, she called it.
They were simply good.
And when they forgot who they were, the other would show up and say “Remind me.”
That was their “I love you.”
Dawn rose and the streaming sun caught the amber glint of her hazel eyes. He wanted to wrap her up in his arms, complete encompass her and contain her fierce beauty. Irina had grown, but had not aged. This close to her, possessing her, loving her, completely caught up in their passion – he still found himself looking for any small sign. Crow’s feet, a wrinkle, gray hairs, muscle weakness. But no, she was as she had been at 17, their first time. And now, on her 50th birthday, they were old hands at this love business. He marveled every time at her unchanging body. Something deep in his brain ached because time had begun to map his face and body. He was dying on her.
And yet, when she touched him, when she declared him her sole object of desire and affection, that idea and all its attachments vanished. He was there to remind her. And she reminded him.
Irina’s father never seemed to be home. Gavriel had heard his parents whispering late one night. They were nice people and would never pry, but Iris had finally seen Mr. Reynard hauling garbage to the trash chute. He was a stooped man with few hairs left, a bushy mustache and unkempt reddish beard covered his face. The sweater he was wearing was a dirty pale blue; like someone took a Polaroid of the sky and then spilled coffee over it. The man himself looked worn through, tired in his bones.
Iris had said hello in her reserved, friendly way. “You must be Irina’s father. I’m Iris Goldman. She’s a lovely girl.”
He grunted, “Thank you. You need anything? Money to feed her?”
“Oh. No. No, she’s no trouble.”
He signed deeply. “If you say so.” He sagged against the hallway. Iris noticed that his hand gripped a small doll. It looked relatively new. It looked a bit like Irina with golden braids and porcelain face. The body of the doll was squishy and soft muslin stuffed with cotton, but its limbs ended in delicate hands and bare feet. “Look, I know I don’t do so good for her. Her ma was…well, she was not well.”
“I’m sorry. Irina’s always welcome. If you’d like to come to dinner…”
“Nah. Oh no no. The less that girl sees me the better. That’s why I keep the door locked all the time. All the time.” He pushed past Iris toward the garbage chute. He threw the trash down. Suddenly, his face twisted and he swung the doll at the wall, cracking the face. He tossed it down after the trash.
Iris’s voice was shaking. Her heart broke for little Irina. Had the doll been a gift? Was she too old for it? Was it being destroyed as a punishment?
Iris would avoid Mr. Reynard from that night on. She made a place in her home for Irina.
Gavriel was just enough ahead of her in school to clear her way. Irina had proven that she could fight her own battles, but Gavriel knew that girls face different kinds of risks in high school than boys. Janice had already gained a reputation for being bitchy and easy. Ironically, Gavriel thought she was one of the most difficult people he knew.
Micky Brown, squat and burly, had started early on the Varsity wrestling team. He had long forgotten the flying baby tooth price of his early attempts at bullying Irina. Micky was always at the edge, always at the crossroads of raging puberty and impulsive stupidity. And at 15, Irina was just the sort of girl worthy of his attentions. She was alone that overcast spring afternoon. Gav had stayed late for graduation practice. Micky hunkered low behind the dumpsters outside her apartment building. He ran words through his head – what would intimidate her – mean, small, hurtful words.
“I hear you, Mouthbreather.” Irina called out. “What do you want?”
Micky sprang out and just missed knocking her over. “Where’s your little boyfriend? Not around? Next year, he’ll be long gone”
He reached up behind her hair, touching her ear. “You might get lonely.”
She stood still as ice.
He moved around her, circling, cutting off her path.
“I told you a long time ago. I have nothing for you.”
“Ooh come on, sure you do, Baby…” He made a grab for her breast.
She shot a hand under his t-shirt and grab a wad of fat on his stomach. Her hand became a fiery claw as she pinched and twisted. Micky jumped back. “Bitch!” he yelped.
“You stay away from me.” She did not raise her voice. She stood over him. “It doesn’t matter where Gav is. You’re disgusting. You’re a nasty fat little pig.”
Micky reached up, snatched at her dress trying to drag her down and pull himself up. His heel hit a plastic bag full of dog poop that had just missed the dumpster. His leg slid back in an involuntary split. “Fuuuuu-“ He grabbed his crotch and rolled on his side, one ankle covered in dog shit.
Irina was not done. The wild thing that lived in her – that was so still and pacified most of the time – began to kick. Her feet flew, connecting with Micky’s head and back.
Gavriel and Tommy Carravik appeared at the same time from different sides of the building.
“Irina! Irina stop!” Gavriel touched her lightly on the shoulder and she immediately grew quiet.
Tommy went over to help Micky up. Over the years, Tommy had begun to refer to him as his “stupid friend”. Once Micky had been his ringleader, but his track record for dumb choices and meanness had alienated him. “Damn, what’s that smell!”
“That’s Shitshoe Brown.” said Irina. “That’s his name now.” She did not break eye contact with Micky as Tommy got him to his feet.
Gav put his arm around her gingerly. “Let’s go home.”
She nodded. As soon as they were in the entry, she turned to Gav. Her pale face grew red and broke into a frightened mask. “I’m sorry. I am so sorry. Oh Gav-“
He held her. He would not move from this space as long as she needed him. For a long time, they said nothing. He could feel her heart still racing, her hands – the most gentle thing about her touch – rested lightly against his back. Even with her light tough, they felt sharp as if she had sprouted invisible claws. She was aching and she was scared of herself. He was unsure how to speak to her about the savagery he saw in her. It was so rare and only directed at those few who antagonized her. Micky did a stupid thing, but she could have blinded him or done some real damage. The nickname – Shitshoe Brown – would stick. Tommy would tell everyone. Micky would start receiving a measure of the bullying he had doled out up to this point.
She told him. But he wanted to know what happened to her in that moment. He had come around the building to see his girl transformed into a destructive force, without an ounce of humanity or sense of limit to the damage she may do. And he was a bit afraid – because she was part of his life – part of him – his safe place – his love.
“You weren’t there, Gav. He would have hurt me. I lost control.”
“I should have been there to remind you. I’m sorry.”
“You’re not responsible. I cannot hang that on you. It’s too heavy. You will have no life.“ She poured out excuses and reasons and doubt and apologies until she was exhausted.
Gavriel said nothing until she was finished.
“My life is with you. That won’t change. I have known this since I first saw you.”
“I was six. And I was a monster.”
“Yes. You are a monster. But you are my monster. I know who I am because of you. I also know who Shitshoe Brown is because of you.”
She smiled at him. Then her face grew shadowed, serious. “Then please, Gav. Please remind me of that. Remind me of the good in myself. Remind me to close the in-between door. Remind that I belong with you – no matter what I am. And I promise you, I will stay as good as I can and not change.”
He nodded. “I will.”
As he held her, he felt the bones beneath her skin soften. It was like she melted a bit, retracted the invisible claws. He loved her, but the image of her deep in her rage – he had seen something. As she had stood over Micky, her body had crystallized somehow. Shards and daggers of black glass shot out of her torso, radiating, gleaming. Her eyes had become icy gray holes. She was seeing them, all of them at once, all around her. She had seen Micky’s heartbeat and had almost willed it to stop.
Micky and Tommy must have seen it, but they did react if they did.
Gavriel looked at her now. Soft, quiet, beautiful and kind like always. Nearly always.
So they built a life together. Educated themselves. Opened a business. Built and restored a home. They each found a way to shine in their chosen work. Gavriel was well known and respected as a restoration architect. He loved bringing older buildings to life, making them functional and inviting. The more dilapidated a property was, the more love it needed. Rotting boards torn away from doors and window, new life breathed into it.
Irina’s mythos and art drew wealthy clients who preferred a loose interpretation of history and imagination. She would paint in black and white and greys and then color glazes. She laid bare the allegories of this world and others in effortless beauty. The work itself pacified her rage and his love never failed her.
They were partners, mutual muses, effortlessly elegant as a couple, equally devoted to each other and their passions. And true to her word, Irina did not change.
“Happy Birthday, old lady…” he muttered.
She was smiling at him softly, then her hands left him and covered her face.
He reached out, but she had started toward the bathroom. The bedroom door was open.
“Oh Gav!” She backed toward him. “Oh Gav! Shut the door!”
He decided to play her game. “What’s wrong?” He reached out pulling onto the bed with him.
“No! Please! You have to shut the in-between door. There’s a woman in the house!”
“Yes. There is…and she’s-“ What should he say; hot, cute, on fire?
“STOP! Please! Listen to me!” Her face wore an expression of abject terror.
As she had crossed their room, her eyes had glanced up the shadowed hallway. A woman, a demon, a nightmare half-formed was striding toward her. Focused and determined, it was coming. The skin of it, fluid in the general shape of the stretched, hungry body, was like a night sky smeared over broken glass. The eyes were empty holes of grey light.
Irina knew the face.
She was frozen. “Oh God, Gav. Please. Please remind me.”
He flew from the bed, wrapping himself around her, closing any space around her with his body. He pressed his forehead to hers and made her keep eye contact. Her amber pupils were liquid fire, bleeding idown her face. He gazed at her, willing every ounce of love and goodness he had into her protection.
The demon woman lurched into the room, melting the doorway. Gavriel staggered back from Irina as glass spikes shot from the core of her body. His chest and arms scattered with tiny cuts and punctures, Gavriel fell to his knees as parts of Irina’s body crashed to the floor, shattering.
The in-between door could not be shut/
The demon woman’s grey eyeholes focused on him. Her jutting glass face contorted into a grisly smile. He felt his heart fall inside him like pieces of a broken clock. Then the woman spoke.
“I kept my promise as long as I could, Gav.”