Rhapsody the first volum.., p.1
Rhapsody: The First Volume of the Muse Chronicles, page 1
R H A P S O D Y
The First Volume of the Muse Chronicles
David P. Jacobs
The First Volume of the
Copyright © David P. Jacobs
Published 1 September 2012
The right of David P. Jacobs to be identified as author of this Work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted without written permission from the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover design by Anelia Savova
In loving memory of Miss Norene Wood
who was, and always will be, one
of the greatest muses that ever lived.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
Henry David Thoreau
“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story . . .”
CHAPTER 1: REQUIEM
To fully comprehend the events of the day Annette Slocum died, one would have to examine how she lived the first thirty years that preceded it. Annette lived a life of isolation with her husband Lyle. She might as well have lived alone as he hardly acknowledged her presence. This was something that she often preferred, as Annette’s already limited social skills were barely utilized. Very plain looking, Annette was a pale-skinned woman. Brown hair fell limp around her shoulders. Bags crept steadily around her blue eyes with each passing year. Annette was thin and of average height. Her features weren’t anything spectacular. Had she worn makeup or attempted to change her blandish wardrobe or felt any true satisfaction in her life, Annette might have been quite striking. But that wasn’t the case. In short, Annette never stood out in a crowd and, more often than not, blended into the wallpaper or couch cushions at the parties Lyle forced her to attend.
Lyle, on the other hand, was easily recognizable with the handle-bar moustache, a comb-over and charismatic personality that drew customers to him with the same effect as a bug-zapper attracting pests. Lyle, a new and used car salesman, excelled at selling automobiles. He worked constantly: day-in and day-out, mornings, nights, weekends, and even holidays, through rain, sleet, snow and dust storms.
The lot in which Lyle worked was decorated in anxious triangles of plastic which frequently attempted to escape from their poles. Annette often thought of herself as one of those colored flags; forever attached, she hoped that a strong enough wind would someday rip her from their eventless marriage. Annette never spoke this feeling out loud to Lyle, primarily because she wanted to be a faithful housewife to her husband in spite of his neglectfulness and, secondly, because she rarely even spoke at all.
Annette was a quiet, respectful and dedicated servant. Every morning she awoke at five-fifteen, as if an inner alarm clock had jostled her from a dreamless sleep. She then ambled into the shower and silently lathered herself in soap bubbles and generic shampoo that gave off a hint of stale peppermint. After her shower, Annette abandoned her towel for a house dress that was as plain as she. In that dress and her peach house-slippers, she fetched the morning paper at the end of the driveway. Annette then cooked Lyle’s breakfast over the kitchen stove. Every morning it was the same two vigorously scrambled eggs, five crisp strips of bacon, a stack of waffles coated in thick maple syrup, a small bowl of sliced cantaloupe and a mug of coffee.
Over the years she had timed this morning ritual so perfectly that the greasy fumes of the sizzling bacon would begin to coax Lyle from his sleep. By the time she would have set the plate and coffee mug, Lyle would have climbed out of bed, completed peeing, checked to make sure his handlebar moustache hadn’t accumulated any lint from the bedcovers, and pruned the sculpted facial hair to perfection. Lyle would amble into the kitchen wearing only his dirty white briefs with a bit of a belly spotted with hair arced above the elastic.
Once Lyle met the plate, breakfast would begin. Lyle consumed every crumb, sliver of fruit and drop of coffee while Annette resignedly enjoyed a meager helping of grapefruit and granola, washing it down with water from the faucet.
After ten years of marriage, some couples might despise the way the other chewed food or chugged liquids. Conditions were slightly different in the Slocum household. Annette didn’t really care how Lyle ate his eggs or bit the bacon or the way the metal fork would scrape against his teeth as he tugged the fruit from its prongs. What Annette cared about was the lack of reaction to the food he shoveled. There were no groans of satisfaction to imply that he enjoyed what he’d eaten.
Within seconds the meal would be inside the belly of her husband and little particles would clutch to the moustache that made him Lyle. He read the morning paper as he ate which also dug emotional canals under Annette’s skin. It was as if she didn’t exist. She was there only to cook his meals, clean his underwear and, occasionally, be there to pleasure him sexually – but even then he wouldn’t acknowledge her. Every so often, she simply laid there and fantasized about something better.
Before Lyle left for work in his usual ironed dress shirt, pressed pants, and blue and green striped “lucky” tie, he would give his wife a quick, wet, furry kiss on the cheek. When the sound of his maroon-hued 2004 Honda Civic purred down the driveway and street, Annette blossomed. She would excitedly open the windows to allow a light breeze while she did her housework. Depending on her mood (and the weather) Annette ignored the dryer all together and hung the laundry outside in the backyard, delighting in the sound of the shirt fabric as the wind rippled through it.
When the housework was complete, Annette would walk briskly to the nearest library. Lyle kept a spare, weathered, champagne-colored 1979 VW Beetle in the driveway on the chance that the one he’d regularly drive off with wouldn’t start. Annette hardly used it, as she preferred the trek on foot.
At the library Annette celebrated her love for reading. She often devoured books and pressed her nose to the ink and paper. Perhaps it was the tang of grease from phantom fingers that had recently thumbed through it or the lingering, aged odor of mildew and dust; but, regardless of the exact smell, the collected aromas nearly brought her to tears every time. With the use of her library card she would cycle through three books, taking the old ones back and returning home with the new ones. In these few quiet hours in the late afternoon, she would read and daydream. Lyle would then return home to devour another meal in silence. He would then watch whatever game was on (furthering the silence between them). After they went to bed, if the book was good enough and Lyle was fast asleep, Annette would lift his sleepily wandering arm that wrapped around her waist. At the kitchen table late at night was where Annette enjoyed reading the most. She never required much sleep. Reading for her was all the rest she needed. In truth, Annette felt more comfort in the spine of a library book than she felt in Lyle’s arms.
She found herself immersed in the tumultuous adventures of Paul and Helen in Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. Author Carlos Ruiz Zafón kept her equally enthralled with main character Daniel’s attempts to u
She would often wonder to herself where Lyle dredged up his charismatic qualities. It was what had drawn them together in the first place. But as the years passed he seemed to reserve it only for the potential buyers and never for her. Lyle never beat her or abused her. He didn’t speak to her in any condescending tones; he just didn’t seem to acknowledge her in any way.
The night before she died, while a moth flitted about the light fixture of the kitchen ceiling, Annette wondered if it were possible to divorce Lyle and marry a library. The thought of Lyle’s stunned face brought about a mischievous grin which grew more impish. Annette imagined the library structure sporting a tuxedo. This notion sounded a bit far-fetched however. What seemed more likely was Lyle to sweep her into his arms and up the stairs in the same romantic fashion as Rhett Butler carried Scarlett O’Hara. But even then that fantasy seemed just as improbable. She let out a dejected sigh and continued reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.
As the hours passed, a wave of despair washed over her. Even after she had served his comforts, Lyle probably wouldn’t even acknowledge her if she had, indeed, walked out the door with a suitcase. He would, in all probability, continue to shovel those damn eggs every morning, scraping the fork with his teeth while wearing his dirty white briefs and scanning the paper.
Annette supposed that being “happy” was relative; as long as she had her library books and Lyle didn’t throw them out, she’d stay. Annette often wondered to herself if anyone would read her own adventures if they were scribed on paper. The thirty years leading up to her death, Annette would have thought not, but the events on the day she died proved otherwise.
The day that Annette Slocum died started off like any other morning. Her eyes fluttered open at five-fifteen. She rose out of bed, showered, and lathered her mousy brown hair with the peppermint shampoo. She then abandoned her towel for a colored floral house dress on the verge of turning grey with age. She then opened the front door and, with her peach house-slippers hugging her feet, obediently retrieved the paper from a tumbleweed-type bush that haunted the mailbox at the side of the road.
Across the street, in a cream-colored pants suit with matching heels, was a woman perceivably ten years older than Annette. The woman’s long hair waved radiantly in the morning breeze. As the rising sun on the horizon struck this stranger, Annette thought the Woman in the Cream-Colored Pants Suit resembled a passenger standing on the deck of a great ocean liner while waving to the shore as the boat drifted away. In actuality, both were standing on opposite sides of the street. Regardless of the proximity between them, the strange woman had indeed waved, an odd sort of behavior coming from a woman Annette had never met.
Annette, the ever-so-anti-social being that she was, didn’t wave back; instead, she turned and hurriedly retreated back into the house where she fixed Lyle’s breakfast and stewed in confusion. The woman had waved as if she had known Annette, but Annette certainly did not “know” her! As she scrambled Lyle’s eggs, Annette wondered which party her husband had dragged her to that a woman like that would have attended.
The more she scrambled the eggs, the more Annette weeded her way through a labyrinth of perplexity. Annette wasn’t able to place the woman and she ran through a list of possible explanations as she crisped Lyle’s bacon. The woman couldn’t have been a friend from her childhood. Annette had not had any friends. Even the bridesmaids at their wedding had been relatives of Lyle’s, and that woman was too beautiful to be in any way related to her husband. This was followed by a startling thought that perhaps Lyle was having an affair. Annette thought she’d ask about it over breakfast.
When the opportunity arose, however, she noticed that a few crumbs sprinkled Lyle’s handlebar moustache (as they had every morning). If Lyle had been having an affair with someone who accepted the morsels of food regularly caught in his facial hair, then whatever her identity, she was without a doubt worthy of having him. Then again, if the woman across the street had been Lyle’s mistress, why would she be waving happily at Annette? If Annette was a mistress and she was about to announce her affair, she would walk up slowly and worrisome with the need to confess plastered across her face.
Annette didn’t muster enough courage to ask Lyle. Therefore Lyle left for work and Annette scrubbed the dishes. As it was one of those beautiful days, she put the laundry out to dry and then sat in a battered lawn chair watching the breeze tease Lyle’s shirts. The pleasure of observing this task was short-lived as Annette spotted the woman. This time the woman was in Annette’s own back yard, watching the fabric from the other side.
They locked eyes for a moment, the strange woman and Annette. The woman then smiled and carefully said “Hello” as if addressing a hesitant child or a skittish cat. She said nothing more, but simply stood there and continued smiling a little too pleasantly for Annette’s tastes. The woman acted like a friend but Annette wasn’t buying the act.
“Whatever it is,” Annette suddenly found her voice. It was timid and quiet like the afternoon air. “Lyle doesn’t accept soliciting.” Lyle accepted soliciting. In fact he welcomed any man who had something to sell and often swapped business cards. Yes, Lyle even sold cars to strangers on his doorstep to poor unwilling prey.
“I’m not soliciting, Mrs. Slocum.” The more words the woman spoke, the more Annette caught a subtle British accent. “I’ve come to talk.”
Talk? If there was one word in the English vocabulary that Annette despised the most it was the word “talk.” Annette couldn’t even remember the last time she’d uttered a full sentence, save for what she’d said to the stranger before her. “The woman certainly isn’t here to confess to an affair,” Annette thought. “Nor was she selling spare parts to a vacuum cleaner. What then, is she here for?”
Annette wasn’t about to find out. The woman had obviously known Annette, as she had spoken her last name, but Annette wasn’t too keen on keeping a conversation with a complete stranger. Annette turned and surrendered the laundry to the strange woman.
“Mrs. Slocum, please! Give me five minutes!” The woman called after her but, by that time, Annette was already inside the house dead-bolting the door and closing the curtains. “Aren’t you the least bit curious as to why I’m darkening your doorstep?”
The woman’s muffled voice could still be heard despite Annette’s best efforts to cloak it. Annette picked up the phone to dial the police but as the dial tone hummed in her ear she quickly realized there was nothing outside; there was no voice or footsteps, only a curious silence that prompted her to put the phone back on the receiver. Annette peeked through the curtains to find the perimeters of her private kingdom were vacant. Perhaps the woman had been a ghost. The thought prompted the hairs on Annette’s neck to stand on end. How else could she explain the woman’s sudden absence? Annette then chortled; she had never believed in ghosts and didn’t even now. There had to be a perfectly logical explanation for the woman’s arrival and departure.
Once Annette convinced herself that the coast was clear, she bundled up the books she had most recently borrowed and, surveying of the front porch a final time, escaped the house with the car keys. The spare VW Beetle protested as she revved the engine. Annette made sure the doors were locked and the windows rolled up. She felt a bit better about things once she was safely inside, alone, as she preferred.
The drive to the library was far more scenic on foot but, considering that the unknown woman who knew her by name was stalking her, Annette certainly didn’t want to take any chances. The drive only took five minutes. Once the Beetle was parked in the lot that surrounded the library, she fled for the front stairs.
She liked libraries because they, too, were quiet. Occasionally there was a ruffling page, or clicking of computer keys, or the sighing sound of copy machines, but nothing obtrusive by any means. The world outside the books was chaotic; but, within the books, all was controlled and predictable.
Annette wasn’t sure if it was the book she had in her hand or the fact that, beyond the shelf, the woman was watching her; either way, she sighed and put the book back where she’d found it. Annette moved to a different shelf but, no matter where she moved or how she tried to hide, the woman was there, on the other side, with her eyes peering over inquisitively.
There was no way Annette could feel comfortable pulling three novels from the shelf with that woman skulking around predatorily. With the prospect of going home empty- handed, Annette snaked disappointedly through the aisles. What had started as a typical hunt for the perfect book suddenly converted into a game of hide-and-seek with Annette at the whim of this persistent Woman in the Cream-Colored Pants Suit.
Annette soon found herself crouched in the magazine section. The woman’s matching heels were clearly visible behind the periodical shelves. The front door, which yawned open, was before her, several feet away. Annette wondered if she could she make it past the circulation desk, out the door, down the steps, and to the car fast enough. Once inside the Beetle she’d be alone again: something she yearned for.
The woman’s cream-colored shoes were still visible beyond the periodicals. Bracing herself, Annette took a deep breath and bolted for the door. She dared not look back to see if the woman was gaining on her, but she felt that her tenacious admirer was once again in pursuit. There were two heavy sets of running footsteps on the pavement outside: hers and those of the woman. Annette spotted the Beetle, ripped the keys free from her clinched left hand, flew down the stairs and shut herself in the car, locking the doors. Annette was able to see her, barely out of breath, standing defeated two parking spaces away. Annette regained her composure and started the ignition; the sound of its whining motor was as soothing as the sound of shirts swishing in the washer. She closed her eyes.
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