She is, Ryan notices, as far from beautiful as a woman can get. She is shaped like a bell; her ass is immense, her waist lumpy, her shoulders strangely narrow. Her arms are thick with muscle. In it, there is a bottle of vodka. She takes a swig of this and holds the bottle toward him.
Squatter, he thinks, with a mixture of disgust and glee. The first secret to be stripped, the first boil to be lanced.
Elaina & The Bear
He knows how to deal with squatters. Ryan thinks about going for the police. But it is hot out there, burning and dry, and in here it is cool. So instead of leaving, he does something stupid. Something he knows he should not do. He halfway succeeds before she wrenches herself backward, pulling him off balance and sending him tumbling to the dirty floor. She moves quickly, coming up over him. With a balled fist, she punches down viciously, catching his chin. He puts up his arms, shields his face. The world is a confusion of movement and pain as she hits him. Her fists find his softest spots, unerringly, hard.
He closes his eyes. He gags, shoving her hand aside. He is lying on the floor. He wants to jump up, but he cannot; he is stiff and sore. He can barely move. She is sitting next to him, legs stretched out before her. In her hand, she has a long heavy piece of wood that looks like it came out of a ruined place in the wall. She is tapping the wood gently against her knee. He looks at her lap, stretched out beside him. It is vast, doughy, clad in worn-thin sweatpants. He tentatively reaches over a hand to touch it.
It is warm, like pudding encased in a heating blanket. Winnie says nothing, but takes a drink of the vodka. Then she hands it to him. He takes his hand off her leg and takes the bottle, drinking from it delicately. She offers him a cigarette. But he watches as she puts one in her mouth, lights it carefully, exhales the smoke in a thin stream.
She seems to find them humorous, but she does not smile; instead, she flares her nostrils. He limps down the stairs and out of the building, down to where his green Lexus is waiting.
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It is night, a thick hot summer night. Where did the whole day go? When he gets to his green Lexus he looks at his reflection in the rear-view mirror. First, he uses his cell phone to call the police.
He tells them about the crazy squatter in his building. He wants her cleared out. He is a man of substance, goddamn it! He has pumped millions into the local economy over the past decade. He is on a first-name basis with the mayor. Yes, he is willing to press charges for assault. He wants her locked up for life. Maybe in an insane asylum. Satisfied, he flips his phone shut. She is wearing green silk pajamas, and she looks as smooth and beautiful as fresh plaster. She looks at him blankly, without interest, without surprise, without anything.
She does not even comment on his battered face. In a flash of blackness, he shoves her to the ground and makes passionate, unpleasant love to her on the bleached oak floor of her entry hall. Then, sitting naked on her distressed leather couch, her black portable phone pressed to his ear, he calls every contractor he knows. The most brutal, the most efficient, the most pragmatic, the most no-nonsense.
Contractors tear out the old offices where Ryan was beaten, commenting on the drops of dried blood and the smell of spilt vodka. The police find no squatter. Ryan, however, is not satisfied with this sanguine pronouncement. Her eyes are lit with hatred and anger. After a month, the building is completely gutted and structural work can begin. It is then that Winnie really does reappear. Ryan is alone in a room one afternoon, looking at plans, when he smells honey and steel, sweet and fleeting. He looks up, alarmed, expecting to see her bearing down on him with the wood. She seems to have lost weight.
Her ass is smaller, and her legs seem skinnier. Her skin seems smoother. He regards her for a while, assessing danger. He flashes her a sandpaper grin. She looks paler, he notices. Slightly sick. There is a strange shimmer about her, as if he can see her bones superimposed upon her flesh, a luminous ghost-skeleton that moves as she moves. He blinks, trying to clear this odd vision from his eyes. He wants her to shut up, to do what she is told.
Winnie is silent for a few moments. She is standing at a place where a wall used to be. The wall is gone, only structural timbers remain. She stretches out a hand, strokes her fingers through the air that the wall used to occupy. He can see every bone in her hand set in angular contrast against the timbers and studs and beams. The stark intersecting lines are indescribably beautiful.
Ryan says nothing, watches her stroke the ghost-wall. The moment of adoration passes, giving way to critical dissatisfaction. Her movements are crisp, clumsy, machinelike. Inelegant, he thinks. She needs curves, smooth clean curves that please the eye. He makes a mental note to work with the architect on some streamlined walls for the entrance. He takes a step forward, then another, like an unwise park visitor approaching a seemingly tame bear. He reaches out a hand, and touches her face. Her skin is smoother, he notices with satisfaction.
With a ferocious snarl, she slaps his hand away. He jumps back, his heart thudding. A surprisingly pleasant thrill surges through him. Problems arise, one after another. Expensive problems. Seismic upgrades. Asbestos removal. Hazardous waste disposal from where old puddles of oil have polluted the ground. They even love him enough to give him a second. But the third one is difficult.
They shuffle their wingtips and cast glances back and forth. Ryan bullies them and gets the third loan, but there will not be another. It should be enough. That, added to some liquidated longer-term investments. She is his future. The contractors finish the framing. The smell of fresh pine is one of the best smells Ryan knows. Old ugly hidden things, invisible squirming vermin being scorched away, burned away, sterilized. He leaves behind a plate of bread and salt one night, which Ryan stumbles over. Its soul.
I thought to comfort her. If the domovoi likes it there. The contractors are putting in bamboo flooring and installing energy-efficient double-paned glass windows. The money is running thin, but Ryan will not cut corners. He runs up bills that he knows he will not pay. This does not concern him in the least.
Ryan is in a room that will become the master bedroom of the most expensive loft, eight thousand square feet of exposed concrete and thick hewn beams. The room is large and airy, with wiring for a ceiling fan and arched windows that look out over the street. She looks much thinner now, her face sleek and shining. Her hair is smoothed back from a soft, placid face. He looks her up and down, approvingly. A vague premonition of worry crosses his mind. What is the pain in his chest, what is the ineffable regret? He wants her to understand, he wants her to stop fighting.
He wants her to let him have her, to give him access and permission. It hurts, but it heals. Ryan smiles down at her sadly. He knows it, just knows it. You hate the idea of letting someone else help you.
I will take care of you. After six months, the renovation is complete. The Windsor Machine Works rehab is finished.
It is clean, sterile, perfect. There are no secrets left. Every item on the punch list has been checked off, and the Russians have been paid, even if there are other bills that never will be. There are five vast condo lofts on the top floor, each with a prime view of the surrounding neighborhood. Ryan has had a dozen calls from the real-estate agency he usually uses to broker his properties. They want nothing to do with marketing this one.
He enjoys listening to the voice mails, how they get progressively screechier. There is 15, square feet of retail space on the ground floor, lease ready. The blonde wood floors and cool white lighting are perfect for the Starbucks and the Gap and the Old Navy that will never come. Ryan takes one last walk through the building, but he does not enjoy it. He feels so strange. The familiar joy, the pride and feeling of completion, the post-orgasmic relaxation of tense energy pleasantly spent, is nowhere to be felt. Instead he feels keyed up, anxious and annoyed. He comes into the room where he last saw Winnie.
This is the display model; it has been decorated so that perky sales agents can inspire prospective residents with visions of the kind of life their exorbitantly high mortgage can purchase for them. The walls have been painted a soothing shade of mint green. There is a comfortable arrangement of camel-colored suede furniture in one corner.
One chair is draped with a fuzzy, avocado-hued chenille throw. Ryan tries to imagine getting comfortable in this room. The thought gives him a headache. There is also a large white bed, a cast-iron four-poster looped with gauze that Ryan knows from experience will have to be washed every goddamn week to keep from getting dusty.
More meaningless garniture. More curls of shaved beet. Imagines her yielding body, her blank eyes staring up at him. What is wrong with him? He presses his fingers to the bridge of his nose. These things sell. These are what people want. Why should they annoy him so? Why does he suddenly long for the smell of motor oil and rust and honey? The transformation is complete. She is slender and sylphlike, with a delicate face and vacant eyes. She is staring out the window, thinking unfathomable thoughts. She is perfect and perfectly self-contained. Burns it all down; the bamboo flooring, the soothing mint-green walls, the new plaster.
He storms through the dark virgin rooms with a five-gallon gasoline can. He lights the fire by putting a ripped piece of rag into the mouth of a bottle of vodka. Then he stands across the street and watches her burn, brilliant greens and oranges, deep mysterious flickers of blue, black billowing smoke that makes the sky weep. He sits across the street, watching the fire trucks cluster around like busy insects.
Dawn breaks, the sun rises, and no one notices him, no one knows who he is; he is just another man, sitting silently, watching something go up in flames. He waits until the firemen have gone, leaving behind nothing but yellow tape and the smell of death and her gray, hulking, empty skeleton, charred and angular. Crawling through the yellow tape, sneaking like an animal, he moves around at her feet, through her hot shadow. With a shaking hand, he fills a galvanized bucket with damp gray ash.
There are pieces of wood mixed in with it; wood like bone. He places both hands on the side of the bucket, closing his eyes. There is a warmth banked within, the warmth of pudding encased in a heating blanket, the warmth of rage and retribution and desire. They are surprised again, because he smells like smoke and his face is streaked with ash and tears. But they take his check gladly and issue him a receipt with a formal red stamp on it. And so he reclines with Winnie in the warehouse by the river. In the rain. On a stained mattress, drinking vodka from a bottle with a torn label.
How many layers of paint hide beneath there? I should strip that paint , he thinks. Expose the brick. People like exposed brick. As soon as the thought crosses his mind, pain sears through him, tearing his heart into little throbbing bits. He gasps for air. Ryan presses both palms flat against the sides of his head, as if he can press the pain out his ears. There is a long silence while she lets Ryan absorb the implications of what she has said. Then she looks at him with cool, unblinking, oil-colored eyes.
How could he not have seen it?
It is a secret he kept from himself, only now brought into the light to be scoured away. With a shaking hand, Ryan takes the bottle of vodka from her. He takes a long harsh swallow. He will sleep. He will sleep for a long time. He will dream her dreams. He will remember what he never knew. He will savor the exquisite beauty of acceptance. Reprinted by permission of the author. Enjoyed this story?
Hobson More by M. Hobson Share Spread the word! Her Nebula-nominated debut novel— The Native Star —is available at fine retailers everywhere. She invites you to visit her website, www. Queers Destroy Science Fiction! Women Destroy Science Fiction! Fiction Listen.
Just telling a story is not enough, in fact it's downright boring and I myself will put that book down fast. When you show me a story, i. This is especially true for creative nonfiction.
I've read some wonderful stories long and short that, to me, are excellent examples of the what the genre is all about. The book and her writing style are very contemporary examples of creative nonfiction. It's only words, but speaks volumes and paints pictures and images so beautiful they linger much longer in the memory than the words alone. Let's look a little deeper. One of my first forays into creative nonfiction was a short ebook called Hi, I'm Winnie.
Winnie is my very clever Labradoodle. She dictated the book to me and insisted it be written in her voice. For example:. First and foremost I need colourful and interesting characters with issues, who readers fall in love with or hate, and whose personalities evolve and enrich reader's imaginations.
There needs to be a plot which takes readers on a journey and has an ending, a theme which is engaging and page turning, and a setting vivid enough in print to bring images to mind. Then I like to use charming humour for these short stories because it's perfect for gorgeous fur-babies who've written their own books :.