Carla Acheson

Author

Category: Short Stories

Yin Yang

Yin Yang

She was my mirror image.
My life in reverse.
We were the Moon and Stars. Yin and Yang. Light and Dark. Fire and Ice. Throw any damn cliché you like into the mix and that’s what we were.

Emmy was born two moments after me. This made me her big sister by practically nothing. I came out of my mother’s womb yelling and she came out grabbing my ankle. Apparently.

Mom says we always did everything in turn. When I ate, Emmy puked. When Emmy puked, I shat. When I didn’t cry Emmy bawled.. ad infinitum. We were difficult. No question.

Even when Emmy and I, (Sharlene by the way) grew to our teens we continued on that far flung vein of opposition. I passed English Language, she flunked it and passed Math instead. When I joined the Hockey Team she joined Junior Basketball. When we liked boys? No Problem! Because Emmy never liked the same boy as me. It just seemed like our differences were endless.

When Emmy died a year ago I thought my life would end two minutes later.
It didn’t.

It didn’t even end a week, or a month later. I continued to breathe whilst Emmy was buried in dirt where her lungs must have dried up and collapsed like crumbling rock. There are times I wish that I had died instead, or with her. I know that’s morbid, but Emmy and me, we belong together even though we are two separate people.

If I told you the whole story about Emmy and me, you’d think we were two peas in a different pod. I’ll let you decide on that anyway. I just need to get it down, out, where it doesn’t hurt me anymore.

In 2004 Emmy and I were watching different shows in different rooms on two different TV’s. See? We couldn’t even agree on watching the same show together. Then I heard a bang through the wall which sounded too much like skull knocking on hard floor. I jumped off my bed and ran from my olive bedroom to her deep purple one.

She was lying there, twisted, like someone had picked her up and dropped her from the ceiling. I can’t really remember what happened next but there was a lot of noise and just a few hours later Emmy was in the ITU fighting to live.
Whilst inside I was fighting to die.

She had contracted Meningitis. The disease went straight to her brain and we were told that the next twelve hours would be critical.

Well one decent thing I can say is that Emmy ‘mentally’ died watching her favourite stupid reality show. She also died in clean underwear which is something she used to worry about. The following morning after her death she was due to receive a badge of honour for helping primary care children with ‘special needs’ learn to read. Her badge was collected anyway and placed inside her coffin. I remember how much I wanted to tear out my heart and put it inside with her.

The most horrible thing about Emmy’s death is that I am still alive. And those things she left behind? Boy they really sting! Maybe you don’t need to know about them but I’m telling you anyway because it’s Emmy’s most final mark on the planet.

It’s a long long list that reads like ‘The Ending of Emmy.’

A half sucked lolly pop stuck to her pillow. Two paranormal books, dog-eared, scattered on her bed (subjects I hate, but finished for her.) A pair of new heels to collect for the prom. A prom dress to collect from the laundromat. A boy who can’t take her to the prom. (I’d go with him but, meh, he’s not my type.) A promise to me that she’d pay me back $5 (I forgave her for skipping out on that.) A half finished sketch of a horse (why did she love those stinky animals so much anyway?)

The one that hurts me most is that promise! Crazy?
A promise that we would never leave each other alone.
God, Emmy, you failed that one miserably.

So a few times over the course of that year I tried to end my life, but each time I tried I was saved or I was too freakin’ scared to go through with it. Then came the pills, they kept me awake and shivering at night and helped me to forget how to live during the day. But that wasn’t exactly kosher in the real world because the world only responds when you sit up and pay attention to it.
Live by the rules.

Anyway, I couldn’t get my act together afterwards, and fourteen months after Emmy’s death Mom had a nervous breakdown. Dad had an affair.
In the end I was a complete basket case, written off as Emmy’s ‘poor disturbed twin.’ Could I blame Emmy for all of that? Well, I could, but I don’t. I too kinda lost my life in a tragic way, but you know what really stings me the most?
The fact that I can’t join my sister.

And why?

Because Emmy would kick my ass on the other side. I couldn’t die because that would make us the same, and we never ever were. I would do anything to swap seats with Emmy. To leave her a damn list called ‘The Ending of Sharlene.’ She could finish my books, suck on my lolly pop and leave FIVE GODDAM DOLLARS INSIDE MY COFFIN!

But that wasn’t the script. And I know I shouldn’t be mad with her because she didn’t write it.

Emmy you suck but I love you from the bottom of my soul to the furthermost galaxy.

Let’s face it. We were always going to be opposites, she and I. Always. And perhaps my ending will be her new beginning.

I figured that the life of a twin is strange, but nothing can change that we are yin, we are yang.
We are fire and ice.
Light and dark.

My twin Emmy.

yinyang

The Darkest Secret

How could I complain about my life? He gave me three beautiful children and a roof over my head for the last twenty-four years. Where would I be without him? Who would I be without him?

We were sitting silently at the dining table. As usual I could feel nothing but passive tension between us; an invisible concrete wall. I gazed at his familiar forehead as he held the newspaper. I recalled how it was once smooth and evenly toned, but over the years deep lines had furrowed their way in. One beneath the other they symbolised the passage of time, as well as the declining years of our marriage.

I had so many doubts. But why was I so unsure? I just couldn’t put my finger on ‘us’. It was always so difficult to believe him when he said he would be staying late at the office. Was he really working on some unfinished project? Or tenderly loving another woman in her bed? Had I proof of an affair? Not really, there was none, other than my jangling nerves and constant insecurities. And then there were the times when I knew that I was loved and my mind would be soothed and calmed. The slight brush of his hand on my shoulder, or the warmth of a gentle kiss on my cheek before he left each morning for work. It was there, even if it was fleeting.

So I did it right here in front of him, I plucked up the courage and I blurted it out.

‘Carl do you love me?’

There was a pause and a shuffle of paper, but he did not avert his gaze.

‘Yes,’ came the reply.

The starkness of it made me flinch, and I felt moisture pool inside my eyes.

‘Do you really?’ I pressed again.

He sighed, then the concrete finally crumbled between us. He lowered his paper and stared at me with an intensity that almost made me want to kiss him.

‘What is this about Janet? What’s wrong with you today?’ he frowned, and I felt my throat tighten with annoyance.

Why was it always about me? My problem! My insecurities! My fault! I very nearly deflected then, sliding back into my own shell, but instead I rose above the voices in my head.

‘I’m fine. Really. It’s you.’ I paused for a second, allowing time for my next words to sting him.

‘I have to know the truth Carl.’

The statement didn’t appear to shock him. He flinched slightly and lowered his eyes, unable to meet the boldness of my gaze. Perhaps he was wondering how he could turn it all into my problem again.

Pushing his paper aside he stood up and walked across the room to the drinks cabinet. The familiar paunch of his stomach rested on top of it as he leaned over to pour whisky into a glass with an unsteady hand.
In truth, I was not quite ready for the next moment in what would probably become the last chapter of our lives together. It was that dreaded single moment when everything up to now would shatter into one incomprehensible unfinished jigsaw puzzle.

‘Her name is Caroline,’ he blurted out just before gulping down half of the liquid and staring blankly into space.

I stared at him incredulously.

This stranger who stood a few inches away was not the person I had shared a bed with for almost half of his existence. It was not the same man who always winked at me lovingly before chasing our three small children up the stairs and into their beds all those years ago. At the flick of a switch he was not the same man who had sat at my bedside tenderly dabbing at my forehead, as I lay sick and dying with pneumonia. It was not my husband who pledged to God that he would love me for better or for worse. Upon this realisation, something deep inside me snapped and I realised it was my conscience screaming ‘I told you all along.’ I shut the voice down quickly before it consumed me. I needed to be strong. I needed not to be needy. I had to be what a million other emotionally battered wives across the country would be in this very same position.

Indifferent. 

And then the nausea hit me and I felt pity for this vile middle-aged man. I had to get away from him before I lost control of my senses. I was already walking away when I heard his childlike plea.

‘I’m so sorry Janet. She took over my life, you have no idea!’

He threw the words at me, as though he expected me to understand. As if he required some sympathy. But nothing less than rage flooded my body as I snarled at him.

‘How long Carl, how bloody long has this gone on?’

He sat back onto the leather couch, spilling the rest of his drink down the crisp white shirt I had ironed perfectly for him the night before.

‘Nine years,’ he croaked clinging to an empty glass. ‘Nine bloody years and I can’t get away from her. She won’t let me go Janet, you don’t understand.’

‘What? What are you saying?

I shook with the desire to strangle him. What sort of life had he been leading without me? How many minutes, seconds, and years had I spent lying in my cold bed, whilst he had been secretly warming hers?

‘I will never forgive you.’ I hissed.

‘Please it’s not what you think?’ he cried after me. I knew then that we would soon have to go our separate ways. I couldn’t even cope being in the same room with this monster, let alone in the same house.

I heard him through the wall that night. His sobs reminded me of a wounded animal. Some of the time I wept silently; other times I laughed at him. What a poor pathetic man. I defied sleep in search of answers but none came. Nothing would help me escape the sudden abandonment I felt. I needed to know who she was, what she looked like, her favourite colour, food, dress. And yet, I wanted to know nothing about her at all.

The following morning I waited for him to leave. I caught a glimpse of him trudging across the driveway, still wearing the same whisky-stained shirt. I decided I would gather his belongings and move them into the garage, and then he would probably go to her that evening. Beyond that I couldn’t even contemplate. I walked into his study. A place I had never bothered to enter much before. It was his sanctuary. The harsh smell of his spicy cologne hit me. I felt the saturated essence of him inside the room, and anger twisted my stomach once again. I slumped over  his desk and wept, but I knew I had come in here  not to weep, but for another purpose.

For an hour I found nothing. I searched high and low in every dusty drawer and cupboard.. Then I reached high up into a crevice at the very back of the wall-to-wall filing cabinet. It was a simple black box really. Nothing to be alarmed about at first, but instinct told me that secrets were usually kept in the darkest of corners.

It  was only about the size of a shoe box and I deliberately opened it slowly; extending the calm before the storm. I expected some kind of a letter, an email or some  correspondence tightly bound by those tacky perfumed ribbons you see in films. Instead I felt the smooth gloss of a photograph. I reached in and grabbed a whole bundle, and held them up to the light. As I stared at her my brain froze. Shock rooted me to the ground. In every single photograph was a ‘woman’ called Caroline!

Caroline wearing a black negligee with red hearts on the front. I knew it well. It was the one Carl had bought for me on our silver wedding anniversary. I also recognised the ear-rings, they were a beautiful pair of sapphires that my eldest daughter had given to me on my fortieth birthday. I even recognised the hairy paunch of her stomach. It rested quite unattractively on her stockinged thigh as she leaned over her desk in a playful fashion, teasing the camera. The soft blonde curls of her fake wig cascaded over her stubbly legs.

There was the familiar wink too in one of the close ups, that almost sent me reeling as I noted how perfectly she had applied the glittery eyeshadow to set off the various blue tones in her eyes. The same eyes that had looked into mine for decades.

All in front of the backdrop of Carl’s night time office. For nine years the window blinds had been tightly closed to the rest of the world, and the wool cleverly pulled over my eyes.

So it was here Carl became Caroline. My husband the mistress, and I the fool.

A tear fell from my cheek and landed on Caroline’s provocative expression; stunned with the realisation that everything I had wanted to know about this woman I already knew, and yet I wished never to discover her existence at all.

THE END

The View From Inside

The View From InsideIn 2011 I put together a series of exploratory short stories which I had written throughout the last couple of years. Though not a big fan of the short story, I really would like to write a few more in the coming year.

These particular ones are a little ‘quirky’ and I like to call them a great ‘lunch-time read.’ Some are humorous, others thought-provoking. The interesting thing is that everybody has a different favourite.

Here is a little snippet of an introduction about each of them.

“The View From Inside” Short Story Collection is available at Amazon and priced at just 99 cents to download.

 

 

 

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A Homecoming

Drugs can lead people into uncomfortable places. Places that don’t make any sense but are still all too real.

 

The Devil Wears Jimmy Choo

“If I could just get my own back at that bitch my working life would be so much better. Or would it?”

 

Nefertiti’s Lover

How can we explain the way we can be drawn to a place we’ve never visited before? For some reasons we can’t quite fathom we feel at ease, content, as if we’d been there before, but have we?

 

The Midnight Ghost

Some people believe in ghosts, and some do not. But what if a ghost is so real you can’t tell the difference?

 

Forever Friends

We know who our true friends are, or do we? Alcohol loosens the tongue, where surprisingly even our enemies can become our new best friends.

 

The Bench

As we get older we tend to take ownership of things, habits, objects, even ways of thinking. But given a little leeway there is always an alternative option.

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Short Story: The Bench

The Bench is a short flash fiction story. Flash fiction is popular online these days as it consists of a minimum of 500 and a maximum of 1000 words.  Flashfictiononline. com is a good site dedicated to stories of this nature!

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After sitting on the same public bench for five years it was hardly surprising that he had memorised every ingrained crack and groove. As a painter he would have done a brilliant job at replicating it onto canvas; but he wasn’t. He was just a lonely old man, minding his own business day in and day out. He enjoyed his mornings watching the ducks glide past the shimmering lake. He bothered no-one, and usually no-one ever bothered him.

He liked it that way.

So it came as something of a shock one day when, out of the blue, someone else was sitting on his bench. She was fair-haired and appeared to be middle-aged, and very pretty in that sort of well kept and ‘lived-in’ kind of way. At first he was going to growl at her or walk away in disgust, but he didn’t. He sat at the other end and cast a few sheepish glances her way. Eventually she glanced back, and he caught a brief smile. It quickened the pace of his heart and seemed to upset his nervous system. He hadn’t been prepared for this, but then again, who is prepared for something like this?

He tried to see what he could of her in that hazy peripheral kind of way. It reminded him of his teenage years, and his lustful eagerness to eye up the girl beside him in the darkened Cinema. But that was long ago, and where he might have tried to touch a bare knee or shuffle closer back then, he knew it wasn’t something he would dare do now. In fact, he didn’t really know what to do at this sudden intrusion; it was as if she had just walked into his home and sat beside him on the settee. He couldn’t really handle having this lovely creature on his bench.

It all felt very awkward and so he took out his sandwich and chewed it more quietly than usual, whilst she simply stared at the lake with her hands loosely resting on her lap. He thought he could feel an aura of sadness around her and there was a terrible urge inside him to talk to her, to find out all the what, why’s and when’s. But all he could do was sit there silently and struggle over appropriate words. He didn’t want to scare her off by bothering her. 

Come on do it, he urged himself. Just a small hello. Then she stood up, and he felt a panic rise in his chest. He wanted to shout, ‘No please wait, don’t go yet.’  But instead he gave a respectful nod, and with a small smile she was gone.

Dull winter days passed and the bench didn’t feel quite the same again. Sitting on it made him feel even lonelier now and he thought it was odd how a brief incident like that could change things. He felt foolish because she had only been there for a few minutes after all.

When Christmas morning arrived he saw from his window a luscious carpet of snow, and it gave him a funny sort of idea in his head. He hurried to the bench hoping to see her imprint there, maybe a message or phone number scrawled into the ice. But there was nothing.

Then he got angry with himself and the bench, and decided to change his seating area completely. Perhaps that would make him forget about her, he thought. Hopefully he would forget her face, even though part of him didn’t want to. So that’s what he did. He began to sit on a different bench.

The new one faced the road, but it wasn’t as comfortable as the other, and it irked him that he’d have to learn all the new marks that were etched into it. The good thing about it was that he felt a little less lonely seeing the cars go by. In some silly way he felt as though he had moved house, even though he could still see the old abandoned bench. It bothered him too when a frivolous young couple came along and decided to move into it, so he couldn’t move back there even if he had wanted to.

Spring arrived and he returned to the lake one morning to find two little birds squabbling together on his old bench and no sign of that canoodling couple. But by now he had given up hope of her ever returning, so it didn’t matter which bench he sat on any longer.

‘Maybe I’ll just buy a newspaper today and go home,’ he thought to himself miserably.

Crossing the busy road, he walked around the corner to a newsagent. Picking a paper off the display, he fished about for change in his pocket, not noticing the soft face smiling at him as he approached the counter. ‘Sixty pence’ please the female voice asked. He looked up and their eyes locked.

“It’s you,” he blurted, without meaning to.

“Yes, hello” she replied.

“I hoped to see you again?” he said, then felt his cheeks flush.

“Sorry, um married,” she sort of whispered under her breath, as she counted the coins in her hand.

His face dropped. Of course! How could he have been so bloody….?’

“But not anymore,” she said looking up at him with soft twinkling blue eyes.

Somebody grumbled impatiently behind him. His heart beat rapidly.

“Look, erm that bench…” he told her, “come by anytime for a chat.”

She nodded shyly, “Ah yes the bench! That would be lovely.”

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