Short Story Excerpt: Elise

This is the beginning of a short story I have been working on. It has no title yet. For the sake of simplicity, I call it Elise as this is the name of the main character. I hope you enjoy this short excerpt. 🙂

It is 10:35 on a Saturday morning. The air is warm. Pollen floats above the concrete, drooping and rising like lethargic dish soap bubbles. The pine tree branches sag and the sky is low. Everything seems heavier and more dense than intended. Everything seems to be moving downward as if the gravity of today, of this moment, wants everything for itself. In her car, Elise applies a pink lip gloss and pins her hair into a bun. She is wearing a white cardigan and a green silk skirt; the green of the skirt looks like the succulents in her kitchen window. On her feet are a pair of silver heels that she bought at Nordstrom last season. Two half moons of sweat have developed under her arms, filling Elise with appreciation for not wearing the light grey blouse she was considering. Yes, it would have made her chest look nice, but something about the fabric, the way it carried static, made Elise wince. A white cardigan is more conservative anyway, and this would prompt people to see her as a woman beyond her years which Elise liked.

Once her hair and makeup is complete, Elise collects her purse – a vintage Chanel – from the passenger seat and steps out of the car. She walks toward the church feeling disoriented and slightly drunk from her date the night before. They had sat on his couch and watched a movie starring the Irish actress Saoirse Ronan. Every time he offered to refill Elise’s wine glass, she accepted. By the time they went to bed it was past one. She fell asleep right away. Her stride is small now and calculated. One step and then another. It feels like physical therapy. Like this is the first time she has walked since a bad car accident. The silk of her skirt taps her ankles, thin and freshly shaven. An older man wearing a corduroy jacket opens the door for her. Elise nods her head in gratitude. 

The church lobby is narrow, air conditioned and lit with sun. On the far wall, beyond a group of people, a multicolored stained glass window depicts an angel strumming on a harp. Elise does not recognize anyone. She takes a seat on the velvet couch beneath a window and looks at her phone. There is a notification for a new text message. 

Found this on the nightstand. I’ll keep it safe.

A photo is attached to the message. It is a picture of Elise’s ring, a gold one with diamond studs. It is the one she found on the floor of her grandmother’s closet after her passing. The ring, resting in the center of his palm, looks safe. For no reason, other than not knowing how else to occupy her time, Elise begins to study the photo. She notices the nightstand in the background. Her water cup is still there. She sees that the bed is not yet made. Elise pictures him finding the ring and feeling an impulse, like sex drive or maternal instincts, to send her the picture. She wonders if he would have contacted her without forgetting a personal item. The possibility makes her head throb. With her thumbs, she crafts a response.

i knew i was forgetting something when i rushed out this morning. 

He responds right away.

No worries, come pick it up after the wedding if you like.

There is nothing to smile or frown about. The message is emotionless. Elise stares at the text, trying to extract any sign of color or vibrance. She likes how “come pick it up” is an imperative statement but then the whole message is softened by “if you like.” If not color, the text contains balance. The cursor flashes in her eyes. How obnoxious, Elise thinks. The sound of laughter fills the lobby. When Elise looks up from her phone screen, she sees a woman bent over at the waist trying to deflate a tremendous laugh. The people around her are laughing too. Elise wonders who of the pastel wearing group cracked the joke. Probably the proud looking one with a bow tie and a smirk on his face. His hair is gelled upward and looks wet. He looks like the type to make any atmosphere exciting, even a cold church lobby. Elise becomes uninterested in their banter and looks at her phone. He has sent another message.

Also, I really like you. Another date soon?

Elise widens her eyes and brings the phone closer to her face. She reads the message softly under her breath. Feeling satisfied, she types back that she will be over after the wedding. 

The ceremony begins a few minutes after eleven. Elise closes her eyes for a moment, taking in the violin’s sublime sound. She sways her head lightly and imagines what it would be like to collapse. How ironic, she thinks, to faint during a wedding. She reminds herself that stranger things have happened. In high school, one of her friends brother’s got married and at the reception the grandpa had a heart attack and died. An ambulance was called, and they carried on. Still, the prospect of collapsing in the presence of fifty or so strangers makes Elise curious.

The children beside her are pointing and whispering as the wedding party processes down the aisle. Their mother, a thin blonde woman wearing a blue dress, makes them stop. Before surrendering to authority, the little boy pokes his sister hard in the side and acts like nothing happened. 

Every bridesmaid is wearing a different style of dress. Some are long gowns and others are knee length. Some have straps and others don’t. Some are cinched tightly at the waist and others hover loosely around their torsos. Elise likes this. She likes how much there is to look at and observe. It reminds her of Wednesday mass at Catholic school when, instead of bowing her head in prayer, she would be sitting at the end of the pew, rating the women’s shoes as they walked down the aisle to receive the Eucharist. Every dress is a slightly different shade as well. Elise tries to think of the best way to describe the color. Perhaps if you took a picture of a raspberry and turned the saturation down very low, that would be the color. Wow, Elise thinks, that was not creative at all. She tries again. This time, Elise imagines herself making a smoothie. What ingredients will recreate the color of the bridesmaids’ dresses when blended together? Elise cringes at herself and wonders if this oddity of her imagination was caused by nature or nurture. 

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