Short Story: Epiphany
She had been waiting for a little over an hour, when a tall burly man with a red matted beard, and black glossy spectacles greeted her. He briskly shook her hand, and stared so deep in her eyes she thought he might fall in. she noticed the complete and gentle crispness of his white shirt, and wondered how it maintained its nearly perfect state as it laid beneath the man’s thick padded leather jacket. He wore his fitted cap with the utmost reverence, like an admiral of a fine fleet. Unfortunately, this was not the first time she had seen his pristine attire. She had met him once before in similar grim circumstances.
He nodded, and led her through to a series of winding hallways and stairwells decorated exclusively with pictures of missing children, and intricate blue crests. She approached a silver stainless steel door that after many moments of fumbling with his keys opened to reveal a small white room. He gestured for her to enter; she reluctantly did so. It was smaller than what she had imagined - much smaller. The clinical, white walls emphasized the nature of the occasion. A portion of the wall was polished glass, and beyond it was the ominous whizzing and whispering of indistinguishable figures.
Within the room was an ordinary four-legged table, accompanied by a man. His rough appearance made him look as though he had walked day and night through an unimaginable hell. His clothes were as limp and torn as his skin, which hung loosely on his face, badly bruised and blackened, as though he had a lifelong career as a coal miner. Despite his defeated, and weathered appearance, there remained the slightest spark of wicked mischief in his eyes. She took a seat, and heard the door “click” behind me. They sat in silence for too long; she eyed the perimeter of the room, cleared her throat, and spoke.
“I have never seen you like this,” she said. A large pearl of sweat ran down her temple only to be brushed away by her equally sweaty palm. She felt a cold breeze brush against the back of her neck, which sent shivers down her spine and set her hairs on end. The smell of lacquered oak reminded her of her dresser in Sister Constance’s Attic, a space that she had explored and slept in most of her childhood. She could still so vividly remember the smell of the decaying roof, the tar that held the floorboards together, and the sound children playing and bicycles whooshing by outside. Despite its size the attic had an alluring charm. She cannot remember all of its details, but some things she could still recall, like the Latin words “passibili inducit in salutem” loosely translated to “suffering brings about salvation” that were inscribed in glossy red paint above her bed. She had seen those words so often that they made their way past her eyes and into her heart. They have become a personal mantra of hers that she held. She had long wondered what had come of kind Sister Constance and her home. Oh kind Sister Constance, who had taken her under her wing with such enormous grace. I remember her generosity so clearly - on her birthday especially. Sister Constance would pretend to forget all about it, and go about as if the day was nothing special at all, causing the girl to mope around the attic reading and drawing pictures with a scowl upon her face. Just when she had given up all hope, she would hear Sister Constance calling her name. As tears of joy ran down her face, Sister Constance would surprise her with an assortment of small gifts and a rosy smile – the gifts usually consisted of a piping hot sweet bun and bundle of new candles for prayer. But those were all tokens of the past, cherished, painful memories of her childhood, which she had chosen to forget.
“I’ve been feeling out of sorts since last Friday, when I heard about your appeal,” she had began to say.
“Stop, I get it!” he exclaimed.
She paused and continued, “It’s not whether or not you get it,” she said
“It’s complicated, I don’t expect your people to understand,” he said with complete apathy.
“You ruined lives!” she exclaimed. “That isn’t something you can provide an explanation for,”. She took a deep breath and allowed the air to fill the chambers of her lungs. “Never mind this,” she said, “You know they have asked me to come so she can discuss what we are doing for the time being, until we can…”.
“You know how I feel about this,” he says, as he purses his lips until all that can be seen is a sliver of pink.
“Can we at least talk about this?” he asks with cheerful plea. “Listen” he says with a sense of distress, and deepening anger in his voice, “we both know already know what I’ve done, and there’s nothing we can do about it now – so you can bask in your hollow shell of self pity all you like and you can label me a tyrant, but know that in the past many among the highest society considered me a martyr. My deeds were meant to be noble, and for the greater good of humanity. I’ll have you know… ”
“Know what?!” she interrupt abruptly. She had heard enough. He immediately looked to the glass wall that stood two feet beside him. He paused, coughed, and hinged his body slowly and carefully towards hers attempting to meet her gaze. She couldn’t, or perhaps, refused to look up from her lap. She felt his silvery eyes were piercing her being with a vain coldness, anchoring themselves in me, weighing me down until I thought I could bear no more of his barbed scrutiny.
As his torso inched closer to her, she began to grow increasingly distressed. He proceeded to move his hand beneath the underside the table, and planted it onto her lap in what he considered to be a comforting manner. She did not take this action as the paternal gesture he had intended, rather she felt crushed beneath his hand, as Atlas had been while he held the weight of the Earth. Her thoughts became suddenly hazy with grief, as tears swelled and faintly bubbled in her eyes. She felt as though her mind had been ripped from every binding of her body, and even when tears finally broke away from her eyes and carefully ran down her cheeks, they did not feel like her own.
Her mind was transported to a more tranquil setting, in this case a nostalgic summertime afternoon, when she had ridden the train to visit a friend in the east. She often reflect on this picturesque scene and wonder if it had in fact really occurred, or was it only a playful illusion of her wandering adolescent mind? These illusions often blurred reality with the stories from her romantic novelettes - the unfortunate side effect of rigorously reading before bedtime. She continued to recall the faint impression of the view she had so passionately acclaimed. It consisted of what was once a vibrant and lively emerald pasture carefully divided by a wavering rivulet that ran far beyond a pair of rolling hills. She had always questioned the rivulet’s origin. Had it been a product of a runoff from the distant snowy mountain range? Or an underground spring that graciously spread its treasure across the field that lay before her? Whatever the explanation, she had paid little attention, as she was more concerned about her arrival at the journey’s destination.
She took a deep breath, and choked on her words as they came, “Don’t touch me,” she said softly with the remaining voice she had retained.
His ears perked up, “What was that, Amita?” he asked with the pose of a righteous man - something he was far from.
“Could you please lift your hand?” she said. His face became instantly red with anger, so ripe and swollen that it looked as though each vein would burst with even the slightest pinprick. While at first hesitating, he acquiesced and began to retract his hand until it was well rooted in the burrows of his pocket.
“You understand what situation I am in, Amita…”
“Yes of course I do, and for that I am giving you the opportunity to repent,”
“Repent!? Why the devil would I do that? I have done nothing but lay down her life to aid our nation. You are the true scourge of the land, those… people like you are why…”
However, he was unable to continue whatever he had intended to convey, interrupted by a stocky shadow that banged his fist against the glass from beyond the window. “Excuse me, but visitation time is now over,” said a figure behind the glass. She stood up immediately from her chair, unaware that she had knocked it back several feet, smashing it to the ground. “I have to go,” she said, as she turned disregarding the fallen chair. She walked to meet the man with the spectacles directing her to the door. All the while, the man sat in silence, and she could see in the corner of her eye him watching her with his cold eyes as she made her way back down the narrow hallway, his voice echoed from the room. She couldn’t understand what he was attempting to say. Profanities she had thought, but as she drew farther away, she sensed a disturbing cheeriness in his voice. She turned to meet his eyes one last time as the door clicked behind her. Had he completely disregarded the significance of their encounter? He had treated this interaction as though it was a casual conversation between two friends – which they once were. How could he feel that way? Had his mind been enveloped by that of a rabid animal? And even when he was hopelessly cornered he would still continue to thrash about and continue to bloody his claw. It had left her with an immense pain in her heart, and only when she had made her way home and laid in her bed examining her copy of A Beauty in The Eyes of None, that sat at her bedside table, did she realized that it was not pain that she felt for the old man, but a deep and hollow pity.