Monday, December 12, 2016

For Whom the Bell Tolls

“Class is not over yet.”  Scarlett loomed in front of the chalkboard, coldly staring at the dozen entitled Catholic girls she taught in her fourth period AP Language class.  The girls froze in their act of packing up their bright pink pens and purple binders, drooping. 
“But the St. Cecilia bell’s been ringing for the past twenty minutes!” Came a whine.
“And it can ring for the ten minutes more that we have class.  One more word of protest, Miss Miller, and you won’t be leaving with your friends to enjoy your half day.  Instead, you’ll be spending the next hour with me in detention.” Scarlett leveled the threat, arms crossed and eyebrows raised. 
There was silence in response. 
“Good choice.” She whipped around, writing furiously on the blackboard in sloppy, sharp letters.  “Now, what makes Oedipus a tragic hero…”
Scarlett shut the classroom door and sighed.  Finally.  That Professor Snape act is getting old.  At least this strange Catholic holiday means I get the rest of the week off.  She threw all of her grading into her backpack and scurried into the badly-peeling, beige-painted bathroom to change.
Thank God.  She burst out of the school’s double doors at a sprint, darted across Penny Lane, and trespassed between City Hardware and Pat’s to reach The Victorian in under 6 minutes flat.  Her boss called her on-the-run commute “unprofessional.”  Scarlett called it “necessary stress relief.”
She dropped her bag off underneath the grumpy concierge’s desk, itching to move.  Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.  Although I don’t think I’d get either from Ellen.
 Outside, her feet pounded the pavement rhythmically, in tune with her thoughts and the bell.  Wait, the bell? Her head lifted, as if to check that the spire of St. Cecilia’s was, indeed, still clanging, when a sudden cacophony of sound drowned out the hypnotizing tune.
“What the hell?” Scarlett exclaimed, abruptly stopping.  Just in time, too, for a garishly-clad woman she’d never seen before was less than two feet away from a full-on collision with Scarlett. 
Red on maroon on salmon on…is that burnt sienna? Jesus, I hate red.
The woman drifted closer, smiling eerily through the thickening fog. 
“Where do you find your peace?” She murmured, ethereal.
“Excuse me?”
The red woman just tilted her head and smiled again. “Where do you find it?”
Scarlett decided to take her literally.  “On runs. Or under the big oak tree – the mossiest one – in Howell Park.”
“Will you take me there?”
Scarlett assessed her, critical.  “Can you run in those shoes?”
“I do not need to run.  I float.”
“…Alrighty then.  Let’s go.” And they were off, scarlet hair and salmon scarf streaming side-by-side.  It was only as they slowed in front of the wrought-iron park gates that Scarlett realized she’d completely forgotten to investigate those gut-wrenching noises.  An accident, maybe? She shook it off.  I’ll find out later.
The ancient, rusting gates creaked as Scarlett pushed them open, but she ignored it.  With the woman by her side, she walked the gravel path inside by memory more than sight, the fog now the consistency of split pea soup. 
As her thinking tree rose in front of her like a pillar to Heaven, Scarlett slowly spun to the red woman, beginning in a hushed undertone, “This is—”
She was gone.
Scarlett completed her slow turn, looking for the woman in what she knew to be a vain effort.  Goosebumps rose on her skin.  She absently rubbed her arms, shook her head – that damn bell is still ringing – and jogged her way towards the edge of the park.  It is definitely time for me to go home. 
A flash of bright red and green in her peripheral vision, visible even through the fog, caught her attention.  She turned her head and met the strangely blank eyes of a grizzled old man, sitting on a patchwork blanket underneath a gingko tree.  He’s blind, she realized, and squirmed uncomfortably when he continued to unflinchingly hold her gaze. 
“The truth, with all its power, lives inside you.” It was his only comment, but Scarlett stood stock still for eons until he broke their eye contact.
Only when she was halfway home, on Blackbird Boulevard, did she dare ponder what he meant.
What truth?  Many truths? In me? In others?
“God, it’s been a weird day.”

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