Stitched Souls Inside the FireShawn Mihalik
(Editors Note: The following post is a short story by Asymmetrical author Robert Isaac Brown.)
Stitched Souls Inside the Fire
by Robert Isaac Brown
Isidore and Lori Dobson married seven years ago under a fiery sky in Honolulu, Hawaii, smiles wide, palms sweaty, eyes glued, hearts full. It drizzled that day, and everyone’s stylish clothes were ruined, including Lori Dobson’s hair, which was tied tight into a long braid which hung over her left shoulder. When the chubby priest said, “You may now kiss the bride,” Isidore kissed Lori long and hard while their parents, families, friends, and the priest looked on. A bridesmaid, Lori’s older sister by eleven years, told her that was enough. She told her to save some for the honeymoon.
Isidore and Lori honeymooned on Zakynthos Island. During the day, they sat and held each other in the livingroom of their beach house, watched the pale Greek children on the beach play-fight with wooden swords, and later in the evenings, when the trees hid the sun, they swayed in hammocks and listened to the seagulls’ cries. At night, after Isidore baked the fresh-water fish a local fisherman delivered to their beach house, he made love to Lori under a navy blue sky. Sometimes, children peeked in the bedroom window, and then they’d run off, laughing and screaming something the carefree newlyweds couldn’t understand.
Back home in their two-story house on Saint Charles Street, they opened wedding gifts. One nameless gift was a purple dildo that came with a note: To receive full ecstasy, utilize nightly. Lori recognized the small, trifling handwriting and knew the gift was from a co-worker who often used superfluous words in place of simpler ones. Isidore waved the long purple dildo in Lori’s face before he slapped her forehead with it. She wasn’t amused and her plump cheeks reddened. She yanked it from him and threw it across the room, where it bounced off of a wall and fell by a clay lion head that was next to the fireplace.
On a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, Isidore and Lori met Elizabeth Lang at Hilda Rossi’s Ristorante, the restaurant on the lower level of the four-deck Hanswell.
Elizabeth Lang held up Lori’s hand and examined it. “You look seventeen. Small diamond: newlyweds.” She twisted her black tagliatelle noodles with her fork, her eyes still on the diamond.
Lori looked down at the ring. For an instant, she despised the tiny diamond. Izzie, you cheap man, you could’ve done better, she thought. You want to splurge money on everything else but my ring. You could’ve done better.
Elizabeth Lang—a tall, blue-eyed African American woman with a fade haircut, a luscious caramel complexion, and a pair of hips that could make the Lord Himself stumble into sin—flirted with men and women on the cruise. A difficult woman to love, her husband divorced her after discovering a suede lavender box under their bed full of pictures of her naked in a Jacuzzi kissing another woman.
Elizabeth Lang enjoyed flirting with drunken husbands. She made all the moves at the bar, smiling and mesmerizing indecisive lovers, and she used her words to get them back into her room, where she gave those drunkards the time of their lives. The cheating men grinned with their eyes closed until the sex numbed them. Before the men left, she made sure to put on her rose-colored lipstick, and then she pecked one of their cheeks, marking her territory. Whether they wiped it off after leaving her room was of no importance. She was capable of seeing the lipstick on their faces days after.
Lori sat on a chair on the top deck of the cruise ship and looked at the water that blended with the dark sky. The slit in her lightweight white cotton dress rose to the top of her leg. Elizabeth Lang, sipping a glass of wine, watched from the door. She walked over to Lori, sat in the chair next to her, and put the empty glass on the deck.
Lori’s heartbeat sped up the longer Elizabeth Lang looked at her. Lori watched as Elizabeth Lang’s eyes moved from her lips to her breasts, from her breasts to her fingers that rested on her lap, from her fingers to the unblemished leg where the slit in the dress began. Elizabeth Lang admired that leg.
“Can I touch it?” Elizabeth Lang asked.
“Pardon?” Lori said. She looked down at Elizabeth Lang’s long, bony fingers.
Elizabeth Lang reached out a hand but before she could get it onto Lori’s leg, Lori hurried to her feet and walked toward the door. She opened it, looked back at Elizabeth, and went back to her room, where Isidore was asleep in the bed. She searched in her purse for the wallet-sized picture of her and Isidore on the Greek island, the one where they were holding hands in front of the beach house. She found it, held it up to the light, and smiled at it. My Izzie, she thought. She put the picture down on the bed, undid her dress, and sat in the chair next to the open window and cream-colored lamp. The incoming breeze felt wonderful against her overheated body. She watched Isidore sleep for awhile. She closed her eyes and thought about how Elizabeth Lang smiled at her the way all women yearned to be smiled at. She stood, turned off the lamp, and got on the bed. My Izzie, she thought, and then she curled up behind him and put an arm over his torso. She closed her eyes.
The next morning, Lori couldn’t stop thinking about Elizabeth Lang. She hurried out of the bed, washed up, slipped into fresh clothes, and wandered around the cruise ship. The sun beamed its angrier rays over the Hanswell.
Lori walked into a lounge. She gasped loud when she saw Isidore, dressed in a pristine seersucker suit and a trilby on his head, talking to Elizabeth Lang. Elizabeth Lang looked up and saw Lori. Lori began walking out of the lounge. “It’s your beautiful wife,” Elizabeth Lang said to Isidore. She stood and hurried out of the lounge after Lori. Though Elizabeth Lang’s were many inches higher, she was now shoulder-to-shoulder with Lori, both of them maneuvering through the rush of the oncoming traffic.
“You again,” Elizabeth Lang said. She put her sunglasses on and her risen cheeks bumped into the bottom of the frames. “Were you looking for me?”
“No, my husband,” Lori said. She stopped walking, rested her elbows on a railing, and looked down at the people on the lower deck.
Elizabeth Lang stood next to her and said, “Sure you were.” She interlocked an arm with one of Lori’s. “Come on. Isidore and I were waiting on you for brunch and drinks.”
Lori and Elizabeth Lang walked back into the lounge. A live band of old men were playing a rendition of “Bitch’s Brew.” Elizabeth Lang and Lori walked to the bar and sat next to Isidore on high stools.
Isidore hugged Lori. “You look radiant, honey.”
Lori, who said nothing, examined Isidore’s lips, because he had a habit of biting the bottom one when he held back on something.
Elizabeth Lang was slanted in her chair, her knees rubbing against Lori’s. The muscular barman, his hair greased and parted on one side, walked in front of them.
“What can I get for you?” the barman asked Isidore.
Isidore looked at his watch. “It’s early, dammit, but I could sure use a sazerac. I’ll settle for some of that sangria over there.”
“And what about you gorgeous women?” the barman asked.
“What would you like to drink?” Elizabeth Lang asked Lori.
“Water is fine,” Lori said.
“Oh, nonsense,” Elizabeth Lang said, and then to the barman: “Give us two Beefeter martinis, extra dirty, please.”
The barman nodded and went to make their drinks. For a long time, Elizabeth Lang and Lori stared at each other, trying to figure what the other was thinking. Elizabeth Lang took her eyes off of Lori’s and focused them on Lori’s fresh white skin. Isidore watched. She ran a few of her fingers over Lori’s kneecaps and held them there when the barman came back with their drinks. Lori moved her knee away from Elizabeth Lang’s hand and looked at Isidore, who was looking at Elizabeth, smiling.
Isidore looked at Lori and put one of his hands on the small of her back, his other stirring his drink with two thin straws. “What’s the matter, elegance? Are you all right?” he asked Lori.
“I’m fine,” Lori said.
Elizabeth Lang took a long sip of her drink, a poison that rejuvenated her by the way she closed her eyes when she swallowed. She eased her hand back onto Lori’s knee. Lori stared at the drink and then looked down at Elizabeth Lang’s hand.
“Should we walk over and get a table for breakfast?” Isidore asked the women.
“I like that idea,” Elizabeth Lang said.
“I need more rest, I think,” Lori said, standing. “Yes, I need more rest. Izzie, are you coming back to the room?”
“I’m going to get breakfast,” Isidore said.
“Why don’t you stay and have—”
“It’s all right, Elizabeth,” Lori said. Intruder, she thought. She looked at Elizabeth Lang and Isidore, who were now standing next to each other. She walked out of the lounge and into the sun.
After breakfast, on a table on the top deck of the Hanswell away from everyone, Elizabeth Lang had her way with Isidore. Her warm sun-kissed skin felt pleasant against his. She got off of him and walked to the railing. Dolphins leapt from the depths of the ocean and dived back in. He stared at her ass and wanted to go again. She walked back over to him and put on her dress. She smiled at him and some of her rose-colored lipstick was on her teeth. She kissed his cheek. She walked off and left Isidore lying on the small, uncomfortable table. He felt sorrowful and ashamed and unfaithful. His semen wiggled back and forth on the table. He looked at the sky and wanted to hide behind the cloud that looked like Lori’s frown.
“We should have accepted her offer, honey,” Isidore said to Lori. “It would’ve been the right thing to do. It could’ve been a night to remember. We need nights to remember, something we can laugh at later and see how crazy and young and daring we were.”
“Oh, of course you’d think so! What—I’m no longer enough?” Lori sat in the chair next to the window and fanned herself with a booklet she’d bought from a gift shop. “You need two women to satisfy your needs now?”
“We’re young, sweetie. It wouldn’t hurt to be a little adventurous before we settle for newspapers and rocking chairs. We’re young.” Isidore sat on the edge of the bed and lit a cigar. “Besides, I’d like it if you two have fun together. I can watch.”
“You’re insane. You’re becoming this, this, this person I no longer recognize. Isidore, you—you weren’t like this before.
“Forget about it.”
“You adore her, don’t you?”
Isidore looked at her with a frown that suggested she was a lunatic.
“You do! I can see the truth hidden between those wrinkles in your forehead.”
“I’m glad this is our last night on this trip. This ship isn’t big enough for the both of us.”
“Would you rather share it with that stranger?”
Seven months after the cruise, back home in New Orleans, Lori and Isidore’s marriage grew stale. He stopped marveling her existence, and she strayed away and had sex with Connie St. Martin, their one-eared neighbor.
Four days later, not aware of what Lori had done, Isidore called Elizabeth Lang.
Elizabeth Lang’s world lit up when she heard Isidore’s voice. She gave him directions to her condominium. Isidore was drunk. His knuckles were swollen from punching holes in the wall of their house, him and Lori’s. After busting Lori’s lip and bruising her shoulder and knocking out Tommy for trying to defend her, he slammed the front door and zoomed off.
Elizabeth Lang opened her front door. She was dressed in a burgundy robe that came above her knees, a glass of wine in one hand, the other resting on the doorknob. Isidore, breathing hard, grabbed the glass from her and drank the rest of the wine. She laughed and said, “Looks like you needed that.” They both laughed. Isidore put part of the glass’s rim in his mouth and held it between his teeth. He grabbed Elizabeth Lang’s hands and closed his eyes as he ran his thumbs over her knuckles.
“You’re a little out of it,” she said, stepping aside. “Why don’t you come and lie down?”
He stepped inside the condo and smelled something baking. She closed the front door and ran a hand over his back.
“You have a cozy place here,” he said.
“Thank you. It’s a place I don’t mind calling home, you know,” she said. “Come on and sit. Right over here.”
Elizabeth Lang grabbed Isidore’s wrist and walked with him to the sofa, where he sat on it and sighed. He took off his shoes and socks and stretched out on the sofa.
“Yes, rest. That’s what I want you to do. You can rest here, Isidore, for as long as you need to.” She walked to her bedroom, grabbed a pillow from the bed, walked back to him, and gave it to him. “I’ll be right back. You keep resting.”
He now had a headache. His head felt like a child was hammering away at it with a bat. The pain felt unbearable. It was difficult to focus on resting. He heard her fooling around with pots and pans in her kitchen, which broke his rest. He opened his eyes and looked around at the Mardi Gras paintings that leaned against the television stand.
She came back in the living room with a tray: biscuits, black tea, water, aspirin pill. “I think this tea’ll help you rest.”
“The aspirin’s fine by itself. All I need is this aspirin. It should do the trick.” Isidore sat up, put the pill in his mouth, and took a sip of water. He looked at her and felt better. He smiled at her, placed a hand on her knee, and closed his eyes. “I’m feeling better already.”
“Here, have some tea, too. It’ll make you feel even better.”
“No, no, I’m not a tea drinker.”
She put the glass of steaming tea back onto the tray and rested her hands in her lap.
“Come here,” he said, his arms outstretched.
Elizabeth Lang sat behind him to where he could rest the pillow on her lap and lie on it. Her cold hands cooled his forehead. He looked up at her, sideways, but she was still the same beautiful woman.
“I’ll have to go back soon,” he said. “I’ll only—”
“Sh. Rest for now and worry about all your problems later.” She leaned down and kissed his forehead. Her own heartaches and stress dispersed that instant. Loneliness was a cold-blooded thief that stole all her joy. For now, that loneliness was defeated.
Women drive us crazy, Lord.
Help us remain sane.
Women drive us crazy, Lord—
over and over again.
Women drive us crazy, Lord.
What must we men do?
Women drive us crazy, Lord.
We need help from You!
Isidore penned the poem while he sat in the car and waited for Lori to come out of her dentist’s appointment. It had been two weeks since he last seen Elizabeth Lang. He hadn’t drank since then either. Though his marriage was still in decline, he was in a good place.
Later that evening, Isidore walked into his house. On the couch, Tommy sat with one leg over the other. Tommy’s face was drenched in make-up and the wig he wore came down past his shoulders. Isidore smiled at him and walked into the kitchen, where Lori was standing over a pot of red beans reading a cookbook. He walked up and hugged her from behind, but she didn’t feel any affection. Isidore kissed the back of her head and peeped into the pot.
“Who is the elegance in the front room?” Isidore asked Lori.
Lori walked to the kitchen table and sat, never taking her eyes off of the cookbook. She grabbed a piece of watermelon from the saucer, dabbed salt on it, and ate it. “How was work?”
“Lori,” Isidore said. “Who is the elegance in the front room?”
“Tommy, Isidore. That’s Tommy.”
Isidore frowned and balled his fists. “Wait a god-damn minute!” He walked into the front room and examined Tommy’s outfit. “You fucking fag bag. I should’ve known, you—” He walked back into the kitchen. “Lori, he has to go. He has to go right fucking now. Right now.”
“He has nowhere to go, Isidore.” Lori closed the cookbook, stood, and folded her arms. “You’re being ridiculous. Get over yourself!”
Tommy strutted into the kitchen, his heels scuffing up the tiles with black marks. “Why is he such a damn homophobe? I can’t stand it.”
Isidore turned to Tommy and took steps toward him. “You’re a disgusting fucker.” Isidore grabbed his keys from the rack on the wall, shoved a shoulder into Tommy, and walked out of the house. He got into his car and sped off to the lakefront, where he sat and listened to Muddy Waters.
He got out of the car and leaned his back on the hood. He was drunk again. The breeze was soft and wintry against his face. He looked at the crippled stars as they limped across the dark sky. It began drizzling. The wind whistled names. Isidore listened for Elizabeth Lang’s amongst the others. He thought he heard it, but instead, the rain increased. He took a cigarette from his pocket and tried to fire it up, but the rainfall wouldn’t allow it.
Three days later, Tommy surprised a boy with a kiss on the lips in stats class, in front of students and the professor. On the walk back to his car, Tommy was attacked by the boy, who beat him with a crowbar. Isidore visited Tommy in the hospital, but Tommy was comatose, his face busted up. Overwhelm and sorrow weighed heavy on Isidore, and he felt like it was his fault. Damn, pretty Tommy, he thought, and then he walked and sat next to Lori, who had her head in her hands, tears running down her arms.
“He didn’t deserve it,” she said.
“No, he didn’t, honey. He didn’t.” Isidore took the flask from his jacket’s pocket, took off the cap, and took a long swig.
“Isidore.” Lori put her hand over the flask and looked out of the hospital room. “Isidore—what the hell. Put that away. Why do you have that?”
“I’m a reptile of a man—shouldn’t’ve treated your brother like that, Lori.” He took another long swig and coughed afterward. “I, I have to go, honey—handle some business.” Isidore stood.
“Isidore, where are you going? You can’t drive like that, and I won’t let you.”
“Honey, let me. It’s for us. It’s for us.”
“Isidore, sit down.”
Isidore yanked his hand from Lori and walked out of the room. Lori walked out of the room and yelled his name.
“Ma’am, you must keep it down,” a hospital worker said. “Please keep it down.”
Lori looked at Isidore and then at Tommy. She went back into the room.
Isidore got in his car, dialed Elizabeth Lang, and told her where to meet him. He finished what was left in the flask and pulled out of the hospital’s driveway, his vision starting to blur. Have to tell this bitch it’s over, he thought. Have to fix my marriage. He ran a red light, horns blowing all around him. Have to be nice to Tommy. Have to fix my marriage. Have to stop drinking this poison. He reached for the flask on the passenger seat and shook it. Shit, he thought. Have to stop drinking this poison. Have to fix my marriage. Have to tell this bitch it’s over.
Once he got on the bridge, he accelerated to ninety-five and zoomed through cars, switching lanes. Have to have to have to, he thought. He turned up the radio and tightened his eyes. Have to tell this bitch it’s over. Though drunk, he was able to form one clear thought: he knew he wanted to heal things with Lori and Tommy. He sped up and swerved, making a hard right on the interstate. He got off of the highway, ran another red light, and went down a one-way street. Though he could no longer see, he pressed the gas pedal harder.
A loud horn sounded and bright lights flashed toward his car. Bright lights were all around him. He never felt more alive than now—swift pain and red rain. He closed his eyes and never opened them.
Elizabeth Lang waited in her car and watched time betray her. There was no sign of Isidore. He told her 10:07 P.M. outside of the Church’s Chicken next to the pawn shop. She watched a homeless man push a basket full of cans and cardboard signs down the street. She watched people go in and out of the Church’s.
There was still no sign of Isidore.
Her insecurities left her wondering if she was no longer wanted. She cried for a while before she dialed Isidore’s phone, which rung and went to voicemail. She hit her hands against the steering wheel. She called twice more—nothing. She waited another hour, watching more people go in and out of the Church’s, but he never came. She pulled out of the parking lot and went back home.
Back home, she poured herself a full glass of wine and chugged it. When she finished, she threw the glass against the wall and screamed a long tiring, defeated scream. She sat on the sofa and kept checking to see if the glass was there, blocking the walkway to her room, as if some ghost would clean the mess she’d made. She wasn’t worried about stepping on the glass. She wouldn’t mind that pain at a time like this. If she were to walk past that shattered glass, it would remind her of her broken heart.
It’s the only reason she lives the way she does.