MUSED
BellaOnline Literary Review
Pompeii Dog by Ophelia Sikes

Table of Contents

Fiction


A Perfect Day

Vanessa Horn

Sophie opens her eyes slowly, little by little. Listening for the call of birdsong that will alert her to the time, she is gratified when the sudden crescendo of chirruping and rustling signifies 6.30. She yawns, blinks at the thin shaft of sunlight peeping through the curtains, and lifts her head a fraction towards the window. A warm summer day. Time to put aside worries and anxieties; time to celebrate the here and now. Life. Determined, she reaches for her inner strength and - not wanting to relinquish the gossamer-thin thread - hugs it to her, commissioning it to satiate her mind and soul. Fulfill.

Closing her eyes again, she smiles in pleasure as the delicate piano chords begin to tiptoe through her consciousness, like droplets of dew befitting the early morning haze. Next she recognizes the soft and steady drum beat, soon to be followed by the opening melody. Poignant and pure.
Just a perfect day...

***

Flip-flops in hand, I walk barefoot across the damp grass, grinning as I spot him strolling towards me. We share a kiss – brief and sweet – and then he takes my shoes in his hand. My arm in the other. “Come on, Soph; I’ve found the perfect spot! Close your eyes now – no peeking!”

Smiling indulgently, I do as he asks and now rely on my four other senses as he leads me along confidently. I feel the soft grass underfoot change into something crispier; something crunchier. I’m thinking maybe we’re entering one of the small woodland glades in the park... can smell pine cones, woody aromas, faint scent of barbecue smoke.

“And.... ta-da!” he declares triumphantly, giving my arm a little squeeze. I quickly open my eyes to see a small clearing transformed into our own privately-enclosed restaurant. Two deckchairs and a small table dominate the space over which a canopy of tangled branches and leaves provide a light-speckled ambiance. The wooden table is crammed with goodies: tiny sandwiches with the crusts cut off, sausage rolls, fancy cakes and an assortment of crisps... Prides of place - exactly in the center of the table – are two tumblers and a large glass jug with purplish liquid inside. Colorful orange, lemon and lime slices float enticingly on the surface, but the fluid itself is dark and mysterious, containing secrets and memories within its indistinct depths. Thoughts shared only by the two of us. I look at Matt in wonder: he’s remembered!

Drink sangria in the park...

Pulling out a deckchair, Matt motions me towards it. “Lunch is served,” he says importantly, placing a crimson napkin carefully on my lap as I sit down. I marvel at the selection of bite-size foods, aimed to tantalize and tempt the appetite without being too overwhelming; he’s chosen with care and sensitivity and I love him for that.

We talk. We eat. As the time passes, the sun flickers teasingly in and out of our secluded bistro, varying the stages of atmosphere from startlingly clear hues to enigmatic shadows. And in-between moments where the leaves part in the breeze, give us a quick glimpse of sunbeams and then dance back again in humor. We talk more. Laugh. I can’t eat a lot, naturally, but it doesn’t matter; the food and drink is just a backdrop for our togetherness. Our time of freedom. Unrestricted by the presence of others and unencumbered by anything but the here and now. And around us, the melodies soar higher and higher, all-encompassing but unobtrusive.

Finally, when I’m beginning to shiver slightly from inactivity, Matt stands and stretches. “Now... time for the second part of our excursion,” he says softly, taking my hand and helping me from my deckchair.

I look at him curiously. “And then later, when it gets dark, we go home?” I question, my eyes starting to well up in an almost childish disappointment.

He shakes his head, smiling. “No – I’m mixing things around a little, that’s all; call it artistic license if you like. There’s more to come, don’t worry!”

I laugh with him, relieved. Our perfect day shouldn’t be cut short. Not for anything.

“But what about...?” I gesture over to our picnic debris. “Shouldn’t we clear all this up first?”

He takes my hand and squeezes it gently. I squirm a little, knowing that it will feel bony; too bony. But if he notices, he doesn’t mention it. “Nope,” he says enigmatically, “It’ll all be taken care of; no worries.”

So we wander away from our picnic to the outskirts of the woods, walking slowly and companionably. Climb into Matt’s car – which is parked nearby - and drive away. I’m not instructed to close my eyes this time so it doesn’t take me long to realize where we’re destined. After all, Matt doesn’t have the ability to disguise the many signs along the roadside! And they’re very distinctive signs too; brown with white lettering, adorned with a not so subtle elephant.

Feed animals in the zoo...

“Of course!” I exclaim, grinning happily as we slow down and turn around the winding corner.

“Couldn’t be anywhere else,” Matt corroborates, pulling smoothly into the wide-gated entrance and buzzing down his window to pay the man in the booth. The old chap grins toothily and winks at us.
“If you hurry, you’ll be in time to watch the penguins having their tea,” he says conspiratorially. “Sight for sore eyes, that is!”

I turn to Matt eagerly. “Shall we?”

He smiles at my enthusiasm. “If that’s what madam wishes, then that’s what we shall do; first stop penguin enclosure then!”

Naturally, the penguins don’t disappoint. The very sight of them rushing around, falling over each other to get to their food, makes us giggle. The keeper asks us if we’d like to don gloves and feed some of the birds by hand, so we do. One particularly chubby female takes a liking to Matt; after satiating herself with fish, she starts to follow him devotedly, beak to leg, at the same time watching me balefully with beady eyes in case I try to interfere. The more Matt tries to lose her, the more persistent she becomes. I stand to one side, shaking with almost hysterical laughter, while he performs a little sort of side-step dance to try to confuse her away from him.

Spotting my mirth he shakes his head then chuckles with me. “You’re not helping much, are you?” he moans, finally giving up and stopping still. His admirer barges into him and gives him an approving peck on the shin. “Ow!” he yells, girl-like and shrill. The penguin lifts her head up – puzzled - gives a little chitter of disgust and then waddles back to the pile of dead fish for a concluding snack.

Matt flops down on a nearby bench and rolls his trousers up to inspect the damage. “Hmm, reckon that’s going to leave a bruise,” he mutters, mock-crossly. I sit down too and lean against him, exhausted with my laughing. He puts his arm around me. We spend several moments just cuddling, the heat of the sun warming our arms as we hold each other tightly. After a while, Matt tilts my face to his and looks deep into my eyes. “Ok?” he asks quietly.

I nod back at him. Tired but ok, yes. More ok than I’ve been for months now, to be honest.

“So, shall we move on then?” he says. “I’m sure there are many more animals that would just love to entertain us!”

I let him lead me away from the excited chirruping of the penguins and we walk slowly towards the direction of the big cat enclosure. I’m drawn to the disdain and elegance of these haughty creatures who, despite their captivity, seem to emit a sense of freedom in the way they flick their eyes uncaringly at us. Maybe that’s the punch line – we are the captives and they the keepers. Emotionally. After all, do they have the anxieties and angst that runs through our veins? I can answer this in less than a second, with an emphatic no.

We continue to watch their languid movements for several minutes, admiring their sinuous limbs and glossy coats. They seem totally unaffected by the outside world; I suppose they have everything they need within their own confines and, as long as they don’t think about the fact that they are confined, life is good. I consider this for a little while, feeling a little removed from my own limitations now. Sotto voce melodies cushioned in a cotton-woolish sensation. A feeling of detachment. Disconnection. I like it.

But time is moving on. Then later a movie, too...

So I place a hand on Matt’s arm. “Shall we do the movie now then? What’s it to be – some sort of thriller or adventure film?”

His eyes glint mischievously. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised,” he says confidently as we stroll back to the car. Not a blood and guts choice then today. We haven’t seen a film together for ages – years, possibly – but the last one we did see was a mixture of supernatural phenomena and gut-wrenching carnage. Not my cup of tea at all. But at least he had the decency to apologize for his choice when he noticed my face gradually turning greener and greener. Suggested we left straight away and went for a drink instead.

Intriguingly, Matt is driving us past the huge multi-plex cinemas. We’re travelling out of town, further and further until we stop outside a small, slightly shabby building. Strange. Looking more closely, I see that it is one of the old-fashioned picture-houses, hosting just one film. The notes in my heart increase in volume and speed as I scan the board outside: ‘Brief Encounter.’ My all-time favorite film! Beaming, I turn to Matt. “Wow!”

He grins back at me. “I know – they only do a couple of showings a year so it was lucky I read about it in the paper in time for today.”

I consider this. “Not so much lucky as that it was meant to be, I think.”

But as we enter the dark room, following the usherette’s thin torchlight, I realize that Matt has had more to do with the arrangement than simply reading a paper. More than predestination has organized too. We are led, importantly, to the plushest seats in the house, one of which has a colorful bouquet of flowers laid on it. Matt picks these up and presents them to me. “Beautiful flowers for a beautiful lady.”

I sit down and bury my nose in their fragrance, feeling, inexplicably, a pang of sadness – a tinge of minor melody interrupting my major key mood. “Thank you; they’re lovely.” Looking for distractions, I stare around the room; there’s not one other person besides us here, apart from the usherette standing by to tend to our needs. Matt follows my gaze. Shrugs. “I thought it’d be nice to have the place to ourselves,” he explains. “More intimate.”

I smile my thanks and settle in my seat as the haunting chords of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto announce the beginning of the film. The notes mingle with the song already playing in my heart; gradually overwhelm, leaving it to hover uncertainly in the sidelines, waiting for its chance to reappear. The piano builds up to a crescendo and then rumbles into back into the shadows as the story commences. Immediately, I forsake myself in the ever-popular tale of love. Secure and content with Matt by my side I temporarily disregard – discard, even - who I am, what I am.

You made me forget myself...

Some two hours later, when the orchestral notes are only a lingering memory, and the closing credits have finished, my delicate melody begins to ring softly out again, refreshed and lyrical, singing and extending.

Oh, it´s such a perfect day
I´m glad I spent it with you.
Oh, such a perfect day.
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on...

I turn to Matt. He is the life force that enables me to ‘keep hanging on’; I recognize this truth. That’s how I’ve got this far, with his love and support. But we both know that it can’t go on forever. Has to come to an end. But – I look into his eyes and see the love reflected there – perhaps it can now; now that we’ve had our perfect day...

***

Sophie sighs now, sinking down further into the soft warmth of the hospital bed. She feels her heart’s fragile rhythm decrease gradually in spirit and beat; falling into rallentando, and then later, diminuendo... As she closes her eyes – now acquiescent – her pulse, slowing beat by beat, falls in time with the end of the song in her heart:

And later, when it gets dark, we go home...

Stops. No regrets...




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