Northern exposure: Michael Stang enters our contest

The color of fire when love has been frozen in time

The compass of the heart that spins crazy in the tropics, holds fast and rigid when it finally leads us to true north, where age does not thaw easily into the passions of youth, and the heart pumps with slow deliberation: a lost love, an impossible chance encounter. Is it frozen, or just hibernating?

Literati,

We have had an assortment of approaches to this contest; here is one that remains true to the spirit of our guidelines. A chance encounter in the most remote circumstances. You found each other once; so why does it come as a surprise you find each other again?

The Beginning

By

Michael Stang

It wasn’t innocence or the uncovering that inflamed us. At eighteen, we seemed to know what to do and where to go. The trick of doing it to each other—there laid the revelations froth with libertine senses and revolutionary freedoms—but when our fast, indiscriminate bodies abandoned us filthy, we betrayed the pleasure dome, and each other, to go our separate ways.

Forty-two years later, standing in the middle of a blizzard waiting for the cross light to change in a city a million miles away from childhood, I smelled her close at my shoulder and whirled to catch a wisp of Nordic air disappear behind a corner building. Two days later, smug behind café windows, shot up on espresso cut with Russian chicory and sugar, the ghost came again.

This time, she had something to say.

She sat across from me and ordered something white, pulling a wool scarf loose and pushing a ski hat from the back of her head. I half expected her to talk about the weather but as always (As always? Forty-two years in absence is “as always?”), she shook her once jet-red hair and got straight to the point.

“Impossible, Ami,” her eyes finally met mine. “You haven’t changed a bit.” I pretended to follow her behind the joke.

“Nothing is impossible.” I tried to look like I knew more about this than anyone, but old age exposed my rotting teeth, and my hands shook. “Did you ever marry?”

“No, not for me.” She flourished as if deciding this for the first time. “But you have.”

“Twice.”

“And others?” Her impish smile reminded me of nights so violent we bled.

“A baker’s dozen—What are you doing here?” Her upper lip mustached with foam. She was slow to use the napkin.

“I live here, how about you?”

“Business. I leave for the States in the morning.”

“So what do we do, Ami, are we too old for one last fuck?” She laughed at the horror her language turned my face.

“Never! Although I expected the years would have brought temperance to that mouth … your eyes.” She laughed again. A hollow sound, something she is used to.

“You never loved me, did you, Ami?” she screamed and spilled the drink on her hand. “All those years we spent in each others’ pits, for what? For what?”

I pull my hands down my face weary of a life lived so long, every day remembering. “Of course I loved you how can you say that?”

“Of course? Of course, you fell in love with my body and what you did to it. Of course, you ran away. Of course, you bastard, even now you ignore how you left me.”

“As I recall it takes two.” Her deceit was suffocating.

“Speaking of which, she withered her cap in her hands and looked towards the door. “Take your business, Ami, and leave … there is a daughter you will never know.”

***

And here is fire by another name.

Bleak
Bleak

 

20 comments

  1. Monica Brinkman

    Resentment – contempt – well kept secrets – passion – it is all found within your tale. How bittersweet for this man to have won at lust but lost at love. Great story, Michael.

  2. Diane Cresswell says:

    Brilliant – raw – hate/love – beauty – resentment and a cut to the heart for the finish. A powerful rendition of what might have been but lost to fears, beliefs and fractured love. Truly written by a Master.

  3. Tracy Morgan says:

    Raw is a perfect description. From the first read, the whole relationship was raw, and the wounds are still there. It hurts to read it, but it’s cathartic….almost.

  4. Miryam says:

    Mr. Stang. This piece is so cold I can see my own breath as I read it.
    The location is precise. Right on point.
    Dialog is so real I felt like I was sitting in the next booth.
    The daughter he never knew was the heat that melted the ice…. WOW.
    Such a short yet strong story.
    Thanks again.

  5. Mike, you are incredibly adept at stringing words together and stringing readers from first to last word. I enjoyed this immensely. I could see it all unfold in my head, which I have always relied on to judge an excellent story. Bravo!

  6. Jon Tobias says:

    Talk about an ice breaker to end a story. My imagination is going crazy piecing together the story of these former lovers. Great stuff!

  7. Thornton Sully

    All of you folks visiting our site: Here is a reminder that our contest closes the 15th of March. If you have not yet entered the contest, here is the link to do so: https://awordwithyoupress.com/contest/at-last-a-new-contest-lost-love-it-is-valentines-day-after-all/
    Please help this community of writers grow by posting this on your website or FB, invite your friends to enter the contest and leave comments for all the entrants. You can enter up to three times: great news for the promiscuous among us who have more than one “first loves!” And you could win a mystery trophy and Nook or Kindle device… just sayin’.

  8. Tiffany says:

    It was really cool, suspending my disbelief for this one – so much so that I contemplated the gender of the protagonist up until the part about the daughter. And even then… Mike, you rock my stripeysocks!

  9. Laura G says:

    I especially like how you set up this story. From the start, it smarts with strong images and poetry: “laid the revelations froth,” “Russian chicory and sugar,” passion and hot coffee, cold snow and anger. And all the while, the reader suspects that there is love underneath.

  10. Mac Eagan says:

    The revelation of a daughter hit me as a reader as hard as I suspect it hit the protagonist. The snap from reunited lovers flirting to the hurling of accusations took my mind completely off of what might be coming next.

    Powerful work.

    • Michael Stang says:

      Thank you, Mac. Great to hear from you. It is the 16th as I write this and am saddened not to see your name attached to a story, but then Thorn keeps the best for last. I’m hopeful.

  11. Brian Howard says:

    Excellent! Wow, so cold my nipples stood out for fifteen minutes……Jet red hair, stung like a bee…..

  12. Grant Laurence says:

    Love your work Mr Stang. You manage to glue each paragraph, each line, together with ease…and yet underneath it all the master’s hands are weaving intricately! Wonderful work to be sure!! Thank you.

    • Michael Stang says:

      It is I who thank you, Grant, your praise makes this writer’s heart quicken. There is such a real line between what we write and how it is received.

      • Thornton Sully

        So here is a writer’s debate question open to the floor: Should we write to ourselves or to our audience. Anxious to hear what everyone has to say on the subject before I weigh in.

        • Michael Stang says:

          I seem to do both, and in the same body of work: I lean towards those who have influenced me, knowing (hoping) that what I say is understood to be for them, and appreciated. In the end however, the writing must bring me to a new understanding of myself.
          “Should” we write this or thus: A starving artist with loyal ethics–S. Bellow, A fan clown–J. Patterson (sorry fans)?
          I don’t know. I do know my heart sings whenever anyone throws me a bone.

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