"Sara could hear the music in her head, feel the soft cords the piano struck,
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the gentle sound of drums keeping the rhythm slow and easy. She could smell
the flowers, lilies, her favorite, he hadn't forgotten that and she remembered
her joy at seeing them upon her arrival. Now with her eyes closed, her fingers
tightly clasping her purse to her stomach, Sara took a deep breath and the
memory shattered within seconds.
The elevator binged and her eyes opened, she double-checked the floor
number before stepping off. She couldn't think of the past, she only had to get
through the next few minutes and she'd be home free. She would still have to
deal with the pain of course, but all she needed was time.
The elevator opened into a waiting area, fake plants, neutral carpet, a
pastel wall paper half way up the wall, the rest heavily decorated with large
pictures. Instead of hard uncomfortable chairs, there were plush over stuffed
chairs and sofas, with end tables close by littered neatly with magazines and
landscape picture books.
Sara stepped past the sitting area up to the front desk. Why did she
feel so nervous? She had an appointment. Was it because she had had to bend the
truth in order to get in? Well it couldn't have been helped. Any way, she was
here and couldn't put it off any longer. "
He put down his pen in disgust. "This," he announced to the empty loft, "Is quite the most appalling piece of writing I have ever encountered." He paused and flicked open his Thesaurus. Appalling, he thought? Appalling? I can do better than that. He flicked through the pages and ran his finger along the line. He was concentrating. You could tell by the way his tongue probed his upper-lip and his brow had more furrowing than a field.
"Actually, appalling will do, " he said, finally.
He looked again at the page that lay on his architect's drawing desk. He had to get a grip. There is no point being a writer if the only successful subject matter I can come up with revolves around the life of a moronic half-wit like the legendary fucking Sara, he thought. He got up and began to pace.
The loft was sparse. A bed, an easel and a few more clichés and it could be and Andy Warhol's post student abode in chic New York.
Inevitably he found he had walked the twenty-seven steps it took to get from his desk to the full-length mirror at the far end of the room. He looked himself up and down. He was about six feet tall and what they called 'Craggy' secretly behind his back. The shoulder length hair was still wavy but no longer dark. There was more grey.
"Ah, Billy-boy, you're looking old" he told himself. He tore himself from his old, sad face and returned to the desk.
The stories about Sara were his penance. This particular story was the third in a series that had been miraculously plucked from obscurity by publishers who saw that this utter bilge was what the ignorant populace loved and would buy again and again. Billy couldn't turn down the money. It was difficult keeping a mounting cocaine habit going on the small amount of money he got doing his designing. So he was trapped writing low-grade romantic drivel for eternity.
Oh yes, the public loved it. Sara was a heroine unlucky in love and with a fan club all her own, and Billy was William Parc, dashing romantic novellist and hero to the nearly-retired (he checked the stats one day. His average readership age was fifty-three). But it severely impacted upon the image he had of himself, the image of an artist - all that pained existance stuff. All the damn existentialism! Andy fucking Warhol, he said to himself.
There has got to be a way out. I have just got to finish this book then I can retire and get clean and start afresh. Maybe farming, perhaps a hermit's end, who knows, he thought.Hey, I could break horses! Anything but writing this crap. I could kill the bitch off, who would care after a week?
A bottle of brandy caught his eye. He looked across at it from his desk and looked back at the page he'd just written. He tutted and went to the brandy. When he returned to the desk a few minutes later a good slug had vanished from the bottle and William Parc, chat-show celebrity, was on his way back to what he knew best. Shameful numbness.
A moment of ludicrous insanity perhaps or maybe his craven mind had given in a received a message from his dark side. If he had a dark side he must have a light side, he reasoned. But the light side didn't show up. It was too busy killing braincells to help. So he poured the brandy onto the page and in one metronomic, textured movement he pulled out his lighter, struck it on his jeans and lit the paper.
The blue flame rolled over the paper and fire began dripping onto the rough wooden floor. For a second Billy stood there, happy. But when the desk itself began sprouting newer and yellower flame and an oily smoke began to billow he realised he just may have done something remarkably stupid. He leapt back as the full waste-paper bin caught afire in a muffled bang. It was when the walls stared to take fire and the floor was beginning to burn he began to have some serious and possibly immediate concerns. He had to phone the fire service. Now!
So William Parc ran to the phone at the far end of the room near the door, but in his haste he tripped. Simply fell. His head cannoned off the wooden floor and filled his tunnelled vision with a corruscade of finely honed sparks. Then he blacked out.
A few minutes later he awoke, coughing and spluttering in the thick smoke. He tried to get up and look around, but he was surrounded by flame. He panicked in a way he hadn't done since he was a child. But the smoke was at his face, closing around his throat, pushing him down. Again his vision narrowed until he could only feel. Then even that began to fade.
Then he felt himself being moved, his shoulder began to move and he roused himself again to look at this rescuer. The person who could find themselves with a decent foreword and a signed copy of "Sara - the Wall Street Affair" for his very own. And so Billy looked up.
Above him a blond lady, her hair tied in a ponytail, pulled at his arm. She couldn't have been any older than, perhaps, thirty. She wore a light beige overcoat cut conservatively and her black handbag was around her shoulders. Her face was one of concern and a supreme focus. Billy gasped and coughed. That face? Don't I know you, he said to himself. He looked at her again and suddenly his head filled with words
"Her eyes were as blue as cornflowers, her face noble and her facade one of doubt and suffering. She held his arm and his heart filled with a fever of lust..."
He looked sideways at her, a suspicion entering his mind. "Who are you?" he managed, the heat of the room making him squint past the smoke. A smell began to register on his nose. Smoke and...something as yet intangible.
"Who the hell else would want to recue your ignorant, self-centred ass. Who do you think, Billy-boy?" She laughed and let go of his arm, standing up. He staggered to an upright position, his head lonely in it's ignored pain. Then he looked at her again. He looked at the way she knelt, the way her smile never quite reached her eyes. And what the hell was that smell?
For a long, incalculable moment her blue eyes shot through Billy's, through the lens and the retina and into his brain straight through his tortured optic nerves. She looked briefly astonished.
"You were gonna....end it all?" she asked, in surprise. Her face suddenly went cold and brutally hawkish and he felt a luminous shiver from the base of his spine. She looked down at Billy, his oldness, his worthlessness. Then the eyes of ice left their appraisal and she simply turned around, walking through the smoke and flame and seemed to fade out of his flaming existence.
Finally, like the rap of a gavel, the smell hit him just as the strength for consciousness left him.
It was the smell of Lilies.