White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
JULIAN CIRES
Julian Cires has been writing fiction from the age of thirteen. He is currently a creative writing student at Florida State University and expects to graduate spring, 2009. Aside from his creative writing endeavors, Julian also writes and performs for a musical project entitled Lavola.

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PIECE BY PEACE

Julian Cires

At the start of September, just as the autumn leaves began to take on their respective colors before death, Leonard Hansen’s right hand had disappeared. “It was an easy divorce,” he told Charlotte, the local florist.

“What do you mean!?” She stood behind the sales counter, staring at the empty space that occupied the right sleeve of his tweed suit jacket, her golden brown bangs partly obscuring her wide eyed bewilderment.

Leonard smiled. “It simply fell off. No blood, no mess. Just a dull thud as it landed in my breakfast bowl,” he said. “A clean break, if you will. Apart from the oatmeal.” Charlotte looked up from Leonard’s right sleeve, staring into his eyes. Her face, contorted and incredulous, moved Leonard’s heart. “After that, I buried it in my backyard. End of story, Char.”

“Now that’s just ridiculous, Leonard! No blood? What really happened? Did you see a doctor?”

 

Leonard hesitated. “Of course.” The store, nearing closing time, was empty save for a scrawny teenage boy traversing the aisles, fingering the hydrangeas. An oppressive silence permeated the room. “I can show you, if you want,” he said, avoiding Charlotte’s questioning gaze. “Where I buried it, that is.”

Behind him, he heard the store exit open, accompanied with a two note chime rattling the cheap plastic ceiling speakers as the outside wind slammed the door shut again. Growing anxious, Leonard went to brush the rogue strands of hair from his eyes only to poke his face with a handless nub. He swore under his breath and quickly stuffed both hands, the real and the imagined, in his pant pockets.

“You’re crazy, you know that?” Charlotte smirked as she went to lean her elbows on the counter, making sure not to break eye contact. “But that’s why I enjoy your company, I think.” Leonard felt yet again the beating of his heart heighten, the proverbial metronome accelerating to a pace that no musician could fathom. A comforting warmth spread from his chest, in sporadic waves, to the rest


of his body. Head to toe, the warmth enveloped him, beads of perspiration trickling down his crooked spine.

For nearly two years Leonard had been visiting the “Heaven and Earth” store just before it closed, buying a different flower for each visit. Formal exchanges eventually transitioned into an exercise in daily pleasantries between the two. Their conversation was Leonard’s only time outside of his home and he basked in every fleeting second. And each night afterwards, as he trudged the sidewalk of Waterford, littered with yesterday’s headlines and cigarette butts, her hazel green eyes, modest bust, and the way her faint voice dragged when she said his name, lingered in his mind and haunted his sleep. Oh, Leonaaard.

Well, I’m glad you feel that way,” Leonard replied, a smile returning in place between his blushing cheeks. “So do you want to see it?”

“Like, go to your house?”

“If you’re comfortable with that,” Leonard answered, starting to regret his invitation, the metronome skipping a beat. You Goddamned fool,

he thought. How could anyone ever love a hapless widower like me? I’m damaged goods… lacking a dominant hand, at that. Absurd! Just fucking absurd!

“That sounds fine,” she said, breaking the momentary silence that separated them. “I close at six this Friday. How about then?”

Taken aback and fumbling for the right words, Leonard managed an appropriate response for the most glorious of breakthroughs, the metronome accelerating once again to a deafening pulse: “Terrific.”


Lying awake and still fully dressed on his twin-sized mattress, Leonard stared at an indefinable spot in the ceiling, clutching a single rose like a child would a teddy bear or security blanket. The waning moon, with its relenting glow seeping through the open window, would soon be replaced by the faintest hints of dawn. His bedroom, barely big enough to walk around in, was littered with hundreds of flowers, the intruding wind teasing the petals. Petunias and chrysanthemums lay in heaps


by the foot of his bed while others were strewn about the dirt-stained carpet, most of them black and withered.

Over the past decade, Leonard had become the infamous recluse of Waterford, a stigma that he gradually became aware of, yet didn’t care to dispel. The townsmen gathered in “Mike’s Ale House,” attempting to deconstruct the enigma that was Leonard after the third or fourth pint. Some of the older men swore that he used to be a renowned wood worker, with the precision of a surgeon, while others on their sixth or seventh pint, declared that he was the antichrist, the contradicting stories pervading the barroom like the clouds of smoke hovering among them.

Still pressing the rose to his chest with his handless arm, Leonard, at last, fell asleep, just as the first sign of light entered his bedroom, casting away the phosphorescent glow and illuminating a detached ring finger lying on the nightstand beside him, an inkling of dried blood by the base.

 

Friday evening had finally arrived. Leonard had

not been to the “Heaven and Earth” flower shop since that past Tuesday, and over the course of three sleepless nights, he became convinced that Charlotte wouldn’t show up. But just as the hour hand of his grandfather’s clock crept up to seven, a faint knocking, barely audible over the clanging of the clock’s swaying pendulum, stirred his heart and roused him from the kitchen chair.

Charlotte, standing on the dark front porch, smiled at Leonard, her golden brown hair wrapped in a thick ponytail reaching down the base of her back. He offered to take her overcoat, but she refused. Together, they made their way through the narrow hall and straight to the backyard, Leonard hoping to avoid a tour request.

He led Charlotte to a leafless oak tree in the middle of the yard, its vast expanse and widespread overgrowth of grass and foliage lying in stark contrast with Leonard’s small and decrepit house. The evening twilight cast a subdued shade of violet onto the earth. Beneath the stretch of the tree’s deformed branches, Leonard and Charlotte stood, overlooking a gravestone in the shape of a cross, surrounded by a layer of dead leaves. Charlotte


opened her mouth, as if to say something, but uttered only a feeble murmur that faded into the cool breeze. Leonard pointed at the compacted mounds of dirt to the right of the gravestone. “This is where I buried them,” he said.

Charlotte turned from the patches of dirt to Leonard. “Them?” she asked, astonished. Leonard, meeting her eyes, pulled his left hand from his suit jacket pocket, revealing a missing pinky and ring finger. Charlotte gasped at the sight. “Oh, Leonaaard! What in heaven’s name happened!?”

“It’s just like I told you before, Char. I’m falling apart,” he said, looking at the spaces where his fingers used to exist. “I buried them last night and the night before that I buried a couple toes.”

“How is that even possible? What did the doctor say?”

Leonard looked back at the patches of dirt. “I have a confession,” he said, biting his lower lip. “I never went.”

“You never went to the doctor’s?” she asked, the exasperation in her voice growing. “Why would—”

“It doesn’t concern them,” he snapped.

Charlotte grew silent. She could feel thin droplets of rain land on her cheeks as she stepped closer towards the gravestone. The epitaph began with To Martha, yet the rest was of the engraving was too small for her to read.

“So what do you expect to happen?” Charlotte asked, looking up from the gravestone to the tree.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, do you expect to have a limb garden? Gardening fingers and toes? Charlotte laughed.

Leonard reciprocated a smile, feigning interest in her attempt to break the silence. He looked up to see Charlotte with her back leaning against the oak tree and her bangs being fanned by the breeze. “Why, yes actually,” he answered. “I’m going to run your flower shop out of business.” Charlotte smiled and returned her gaze to the gravestone in front of her.

“So when did it happen?” Charlotte asked. “When did she pass?”

 


“I’m sure you already know all about it,” he replied, staring at the dirt.

Charlotte hesitated for a moment. She noticed how he had not moved from his spot since they first went outside. “It’s true,” she said. “I heard about it a long time ago.”

Charlotte got up from the tree and walked back towards Leonard, taking her place by his left side and staring at the mounds. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

“You know, I lost my husband too.” Leonard did not know this. “We’re a lot alike, I think.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Charlotte replied. “Anyway, back to the limb garden.”

“I thought maybe we could say a few words on their behalf,” Leonard said, still staring at the dirt. “You know,” he paused. “Like the whole dearly beloved bit.”

Charlotte cleared her throat. “I think that’s for weddings, Leonard.”

“Oh.” A single drop of rain hit Leonard’s nose. “Well, you know what I mean. We need a funeral.”He paused. “To send them off.”

“Well maybe you should say a few words then. You knew them best, after all.” Charlotte went to wipe a bead of water trickling down her left cheek. “I think it’s starting to rain though.”

“I’ll be quick then.” Leonard looked over at Charlotte and then back at the buried limbs, the violet shade of twilight deepening. “All you little guys ever wanted was some love to take the pain away,” he began, his head bowed. “I’m sorry. I hope you guys found your peace without me.” From inside his suit jacket, Leonard pulled out a rose and placed it over the mound his right hand was buried under and with that, the light sprinkling turned into an outpour of rain.

 

Leonard walked Charlotte to the front door, her bangs matted to her forehead with beads of water dripping down like an icicle under the sun. “I’m sorry about you getting wet. It was my fault,” he said.


“Don’t be silly, Leonard.” She smiled, leaning her back against the closed door. Her smile was infectious. Leonard felt that familiar warmth circulate within his chest and spread throughout his body. “You’re blushing!” She laughed. “Leonard, look in the mirror! You’re blu—”

“I want to kiss you.” Charlotte’s smile quickly faded into an expressionless visage, yet the metronome pulsating in Leonard’s ears persisted. Taking two steps towards the door, he reached his left hand out and kissed Charlotte, cradling the nape of her neck with the only three fingers available to him. Her lips trembled against his pursed, chapped lips. For Leonard, circumstance and surroundings, the incessant ticking of the grandfather clock, the wet button down shirt sticking to his chest, became irrelevant. All that mattered was Charlotte, and the warmth he communicated to her. He kissed her lips a second time and then her forehead, before letting her go. Charlotte stood still, her face maintaining a blank expression. “Leonard, I—” She closed her eyes, as if to find the right words. “I had better go.”

Leonard could feel a concentrated weight bear down on his chest. “I love you Charlotte,” he

whispered. “You’re all I ev—”

“Leonard, please—”

“Are you happy, Char?”

“Please, Leonard. Don’t. I can’t,” she muttered, her voice teetering. “I can’t, please. I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry.” Leonard stepped back, looking down at the wood paneled floor. “You’re right. You had better go. It’s getting late.”

“Are you all right?”

He smiled. “Yeah, I’m fine. Really. Don’t worry about it.”

Charlotte reached behind her, feeling for the door handle. “I’ll see you Monday night then?”

“Sure,” he replied, his voice cracking. “Monday night.”

Charlotte opened the door and stepped onto the porch, the night consuming her. The rain pounded the tin porch roof. “I’ll be fine. I’m already soaked as it is,” she said before Leonard had the chance to offer an umbrella. “Please, Leonard. See the doctor.


I don’t know what’s really happening, but you should go soon.”

“Maybe so.”

“Well, goodnight then.” Charlotte turned around and walked half way down the porch steps into the rain before Leonard called out to her.

“Charlotte, wait. I forgot something.” She turned back around, standing on the porch steps as the rain hailed down on her. Leonard went into the house, out of her sight for a moment and then reappeared with what looked to Charlotte like a shoebox. He met her on the porch steps. “I think this’ll clear things up,” he said extending the box to her. “Goodnight.”

“What is it?”

“Open it when you get home.” Leonard walked back up towards the entrance and looked back at Charlotte still standing on the porch steps before shutting the door behind him.

 

Sitting by the kitchen table, Leonard sighed,

bringing a glass of Johnny Walker up to his lips. The alcohol provided him warmth that stirred within his body. Though not as pervasive as the kind that Charlotte evoked, it would suffice. Through the window above the kitchen sink Leonard could see the oak tree illuminated by a single moon beam. When the rain let up after Charlotte had left, he revisited the tree and inspected the branches, finding a halfway developed thumb growing from one of the stems. It was still premature, lacking a nail, so Leonard let it be. “I mean, do you expect to have a limb garden? Gardening fingers and toes?”

He brought the glass back to the table, his left hand shaking and stood up eyeing the benchtop table saw by the kitchen sink. He trudged over to the saw and wedged his left wrist underneath the blade. There will be a funeral tomorrow. He had already picked out a rose for the occasion.

 

 

 

Copyright © Julian Cires. White Whale Review, issue 1.1


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