This is a small portion of my first chapter, already sent to my publisher. Advice Welcome!
Sophie walked onto her stoop taking note to glance around briefly, just to make certain she wasn’t being watched. Old habits die hard. Her two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with its loft, spacious kitchen, and vaulted living room ceiling was nice. She liked the unusual, differently-shaped and sized windows (difficult for window treatment choices, but great for her artistic flair and innate decorating skills). The all-too beige color scheme was intentionally bland for a more overall appeal to the masses, made a perfect pallet for her art. It was a blank slate. She had decorated it in pale peach and green giving it that “Florida-look.” The colors were calming, even serene. She had spent many hours, many days decorating - hanging pictures, arranging furniture and perfectly centering an oriental rug, all found at the Swap Meet for a steal. She loved Monet and Salvador Dali, so she had several reprints of their most famous works throughout the apartment. She created an Italian motif in the kitchen, with a wine rack and a picture of a smiling, overweight chef, clichéd handle-bar mustache and all. She was eclectic and her apartment reflected it. After many weeks spent in the development of her sanctuary, she concluded that the formerly plain apartment now indeed had character. Of course she had no one to confirm her opinion, other than Dominique. No one else had darkened her door since she moved into it three years ago, with the exception of the occasional maintenance man or exterminator. Guests bring trouble.
She fumbled with her key chain, which not only held keys, but also a small cylinder of pepper spray, a whistle, a pen knife and a tiny flashlight. More like a protection chain. She put the key in the lock, twisted it first to the right, then to the left then finally back to the right, never sure if her door had a problem or if she simply hadn’t figured out the code necessary to enter her domain. It wasn’t important; probably just habit to turn the key both ways anyhow. Or maybe she had OCD.
Sophie Driscoll was a bright thirty-five year old, who didn’t consider herself attractive. Her dirty blonde hair, fair complexion, and crystal blue eyes made her seem dowdy. She didn’t bother with much make-up. A little touch-up of her blonde eyebrows just for color, a pat of face powder and a pale pink lip gloss were all she had in her arsenal of beauty. The only advantage to drawing on eyebrows was that she could create several different facial expressions depending upon how she used the brush. Sometimes pointy at the top, making her look surprised or interested; sometimes rounded, making her appear unapproachable or detached.
As she opened the door, Cujo, gleefully trotted down the stairs that led up to the living room and showered her with love and affection. Cujo may have seemed an unusual name for a spaniel/terrier mix, but to her it suited him. He was a pound puppy, rescued from an animal shelter when she lived in Virginia, about seven years prior. They had been together ever since, and now he was her rescuer. She wished he could live forever. What would she do without faithful, loyal, loving, non-judgmental Cujo?
“Hey, sweet boy, just let Mommy put her things down. Are you ready for a walk?”
Cujo barked, and did his little chase-the-tail thing, indicating that he didn’t quite know how to express himself. She knew instinctively that she had asked the right question.
“Okay, let Mommy grab your leash. Ya wanna go out? Ya wanna go for a walk?”
Cujo shrieked with sheer joy at the thought of the wonders awaiting him on the walking path. And besides, he had to pee!
She quickly removed her grey business suit, panty hose and heels in a hurry and put on a black, over-sized, hooded sweat suit and running shoes. This was her routine now; wearing sweat suits that revealed nothing of her figure, her shape, her gender. It was a sad routine, but one which she considered a necessity for the past ten years. She grabbed Cujo’s leash, and as odd as it may look to others, she wore her shoulder-strap briefcase everywhere she went. Her bag. She wore it with the strap crossed from her left shoulder, hanging down her right side. Giving her the feeling of security, however false it may be. It also allowed her to have the things she needed at her fingertips: cell phone, camera, water bottle, keys, pads and pens, and other somewhat atypical items. Now she was ready for the walk. It’s was now Fall and even the Florida weather had cooled a bit in the evening. Fewer mosquitoes and the crisp air made her feel….clean. So they were off for their regular after-work walk.
The walking path was just on the other side of her neighbor’s apartment, easy to get to, lovely to walk. She had never met this neighbor. Not very neighborly of her. She’d only seen her in passing and shared the occasional, polite smile or nod.
In one direction the path led to a pond that had one duck, never more, just the one. And he seemed to immerse his body almost entirely under the water just so that his long neck and head stuck out. She thought of him as the “Loch ness Duckster.” He was unusual, different, alone, aloof and she liked that about him. I won’t bother you and you won’t bother me. She didn’t want to disrupt his privacy, but she wanted so badly to photograph him. She had attempted this feat many times before, always failing. This time she quietly, stealthily pulled her camera from her bag as Cujo inspected the undergrowth just to the side of the path. Then, giving the duck plenty of space, she set her camera lens and zoomed in, missing the shot three times because he bobbed beneath the water just as she was about to take the picture. But on her fourth try she timed it just right and finally got the long-awaited shot. Sure enough, he could have passed for the Loch ness monster. She had considered, from time to time, the possibility that he wasn’t real, that he was a figment of her imagination. It was a relief to finally have this digital image, this proof that he did exist. Something about which to be certain. Smiling to herself, she put her camera back in her bag and tugged at Cujo’s leash. He was ready to sniff new territory anyway.
In the opposite direction, the path led past yet another pond where there were several ducks, always waddling, swimming and simply enjoying life. Then around the bend was a foot-bridge with a stream running beneath. She commonly paused there on the bridge just to look down at the gently moving water. It was usually filled with debris; potato chip bags, beer cans, cigarette butts, and once even a left-over Christmas tree someone had carelessly discarded in the once pure stream. What were they thinking? How could people pollute such a wonderful place? The bridge had some graffiti and etchings on it, “Todd loves Kelly,” “Marcus was here, “Fuck you.” Teenagers, of course; with the ever-present need to express their feelings. Sometimes she wanted to scribble her own memento on this bridge, “Sophie is lost,” but who would notice; who would care?
Trees sheltered the bridge and no matter how heavy the air, even in the summer, there was always a certainty of cool relief once she could make it to the bridge. But Cujo grew tired of waiting on the bridge, so Sophie needed to move on down the path which had a fork in it; one leading to a golf course, the other to a charming neighborhood. Sometimes she walked through the neighborhood winding her way back home just looking at the houses; each manicured lawn, each yard filled with fruit trees. One particular house always stood out. It had a flower garden in the backyard which was obviously tended regularly; a wrap-a-round front porch with hanging baskets of seemingly every kind of plant or flower imaginable, and a long, tubular wind-chime continually releasing its deep, melodic tones. The mailbox read “Patel.” She never once saw a person at the house, but always imagined it to be stunningly decorated and immaculate. Most likely a maid wiped down every blind to ensure no dust remained, and sterilized the kitchen floor with Pine Sol so that it sparkled. She imagined the people inside, yet never visible, to be married professionals with demanding jobs, so they were seldom home to enjoy their dream home. East Indian she presumed, probably a doctor/lawyer combination. There were many doctors in town named Patel – she didn’t know of any attorneys with that name. There was no evidence of children; no toys, bicycles, or the like in the yard. Both busy, well-thought-of professional people. She wondered if they were happy.
The walk this way was longer, but definitely more enjoyable. She slyly looked at the houses, sometimes feeling like a voyeur, imagining who lived behind each door. She often met other walkers out for their regular walk, who would smile and say, “Hi” or “evening.” She would greet them with the same nicety people feel necessary even if they would prefer to say nothing at all. This was one of her only outside contacts other than work. She preferred the feeling of anonymity when she walked Cujo, so even greeting other walkers seemed intrusive to her. Of course no one would ever know that. It seemed that her bag also contained within it her game face so she could appear normal.
Soon she was back at her apartment, fidgeting with the key in the lock again. Cujo bounded up the stairs straight to the kitchen. He had one of those automatic pet feeders, but he still loved to be fed by hand. And Sophie loved feeding him, caring for him. Returning the love he gave her.
“Ya wanna treat? Do you boy? Say ‘yes,’…come on, ‘say yes.’” To which Cujo would promptly nod his head several times, like a sea lion would do as a trick, and extend a paw….a supplication. But it was so endearing that he could “speak” her language, or was she speaking his?
Sophie played with Cujo for awhile, as she always did. He had a favorite chew toy that he loved to play “tug-of-war” with and then once Sophie could get it from him, she would toss it as hard as she could up to the loft, just to watch him eagerly sprint up the stairs to retrieve it. She was tired. The games with Cujo were over for the moment. He happily took his toy to his bed and began to contentedly chew and tug on it. Now she was alone. This was nothing new; it was her life as she knew it. Loneliness - Pain - Fear, the “Trifecta. Like a thick, dark cloud their presence was palpable even though her apartment was very bright; the many windows flooding it with sunlight during the day or cascading it with moonlight when the moon was full.
She’d once read that darkness doesn’t really exist. The definition of darkness is simply the absence of light. What about darkness of the soul? She guessed that fell into the same category: absence of light. What does one do when the soul is dark, absent of light? What then? Will it go on forever? Into eternity?
Sophie had just two years prior, left a promising career at an ad agency, “The Name Game.” She always thought The Name Game, a lame name, but nonetheless, it was the first job she’d had where she made a decent living. She worked as the Office Receptionist which was challenging in no way, and she felt she needed that in her life during this period. She remembered the interview that took place at The Name Game. The owner, Tony Davenport, had looked over her resume, not seeming impressed, and asked her some brief work history questions. After only 15 minutes or so, the interview was over. He told her he would “let her know.” She left the interview feeling like she had completely blown it but she couldn’t figure out why. Maybe it was the fact that she didn’t look professional enough or that in her past the only work she had done was waiting tables. However, the very next day, Mr. Davenport called and offered her the position. All they were looking for was someone who could answer phones, take messages, refer calls and greet the public. She was good at all of those things with the exception of greeting the public. That was something she would have to wear her game face to accomplish. But she held the job for two years and no one seemed to notice, so she appeared completely confident. If only they knew.