I’m posting a short story I finished recently. I’ll post the first half today (~1800 words), and the second half (~1400) tomorrow. I’m posting it here because I don’t have any idea where to send it (researching markets is very time consuming), and it’s not part of any larger project. Just a one-off short story. If you have any feedback or questions, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!
The Violet Act
They were in the office of the Integrationist.
“I knew it was real,” Odessa said. “It happened to Nicole – we were roommates in college – so I knew it was real. I just never thought it would happen to me.” Her tone was matter of fact. It matched the room. Sterile with a smooth carpet of gray that hushed one’s steps. There were no windows or pictures, only a wall print — just the one wall of four not white. The decal was a tangle of sunlit firs, ferns and pines.
Her husband Zeb was looking at her sideways, his face stretched with disbelief. “I can’t believe you’re doing this.”
The Integrationist urged Odessa, “Describe for me what happened.”
“Well. It was just like they say. Like what happened to the President and Violet.”
Zeb scoffed loudly.
Odessa continued. “I was at work — in a meeting with the Registrar and the Assistant Registrar. I was taking notes for supply orders. It was completely by accident that I was there because, normally, I’m not the one who does that. But Maddie was sick with an early flu or —“
“Jeez-us, will you get to the point already?”
From the other side of the glass desk, the Integrationist’s gaze shifted and settled on Zeb. Her blond bangs barely moved as she spoke. “That was rude.”
“Rude?” Zeb struggled to stay in his seat. “Rude is your wife, deciding after sixteen years, that she’s not supposed to be with you – she’s supposed to be with some other guy she just met because they were together in some past life!”
“Maybe not past life,” Odessa said quickly. “Maybe just another life. Maybe past … maybe parallel.”
The Integrationist nodded. “There’s so much we’re still learning about this phenomenon.”
Zeb smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. “What are you thinking? Sixteen years. The kids? You don’t even know this is real!”
“I know.” Odessa said, her eyes fixed on the chrome legs of the glass desk.
“How? How do you know?”
Odessa shrugged. She was beyond apologizing and explaining. That was all done, weeks ago.
Odessa stepped out onto the front porch. The white screen door eased with a hiss behind her. She scanned the street for sign of Jacob’s station wagon and the cargo trailer, but the road was quiet. Full-figured maples heaved in the crisp air, their russet leaves trembling. She shook debris off the floral cushion of a green plastic chair and sat down to wait.
The house wasn’t theirs, they were renters. “We feel more free this way,” she told people. But more often, not owning had been a source of shame. Only now did she feel the totality of possible gratitude. She’d met her other. She’d remembered who she was before. It was only possible to return to her old lover and life so easily because she and Zeb didn’t own this house. She would not have to split it, sell it or buy out her share. I am free, she thought.
Leaving was not without consequence. Zeb was baffled, furious. He’d always been a skeptic, but a quiet one. Now … Zeb rumbled like a dormant volcano, and Odessa did not know whether he would settle down again, or blow his top.
In his presence she was paralyzed with guilt, but when he was working and not sending her panicked messages, — “Are you really doing this? How can you do this to the kids?” — she felt more than happy. It had happened to her. It was like winning the lottery.
Odessa’s childhood on Long Island had given her little exposure to the concept of reincarnation. Throughout her early adulthood, it was no more than a fanciful, mathematically improbable idea, subscribed to by people living on the other side of the world – and some local, oddball spiritualists. She never took it seriously.
Until the President of the United States met his match. On live, streaming broadcast. Before then, the President had been an unruly, incredibly wealthy man. He was entirely unelectable until the day he was elected. After taking office, he embarrassed the country with his monthly addresses. Every issue, the President had preached, was the result of people violating one rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid. He had an answer for everything. If there was no simple solution, then the problem was the problem. He said things like that. Keep it Simple, Stupid! The Problem IS the Problem. And had them printed on t-shirts and ballcaps.
He was on his thirteenth monthly address, when a reporter approached the microphone with a question, and her eyes met his. In that moment, they recognized one other, and consequently, they remembered themselves. It was another time, and another place, but it felt like yesterday.
After that, the President became a different man. He made shocking statements, about the value of all people — even people who couldn’t work. He prioritized equitable funding in public education, and levied heavy corporate taxes to make it happen. He brought an end to many of his own policies. Then he stepped down from his post, gave away most of his money and set up a modest home with the reporter, whose name was Violet.
The President and Violet weren’t the first, only the most public and dramatic. But they paved the way. Everyone had witnessed that moment: the President and Violet caught, like moths in a narrow beam of light, the rest of the world fallen into caliginous shadow.
Those who had thought they were going mad were vindicated. Now everyone knew, it wasn’t madness. People had lived another life, in another world, before this one.
Not everyone remembered. Most didn’t. But enough did, enough to force accommodation. Legal protections. No one should be prevented from honoring who they truly were, if they wanted. By the time Odessa graduated college, there was accredited coursework in Integration Therapy. There were government funds to help with transitions. Society agreed, it was better this way. People were better this way.
An older model, white Peugeot turned onto the street. There was plenty of space in front of the house. Most of the neighbors were gone to work, and taken their cars with them. Two and a half weeks before, Odessa gave her two-week notice at the community college. On her last day, several co-workers stood around her desk, and presented her with an 8-inch chocolate cake and a sparkly paper hat that said, “Bon Voyage” in ecstatic gold cursive.
The hat caught her off guard. “Bon Voyage? Isn’t that for a cruise?”
“I figured. Since you’re going to Mexico,” said Jennifer, the oldest woman in the Registrar’s Office.
Before she could stop herself, Odessa replied, “We’re going to New Mexico. And we’re driving.”
Jennifer froze under the stern looks of the other office women. A jack-o-lantern sweater pin flashed alternatively green and orange, lighting up the underside of her pale chin. “Oh,” she said.
Odessa widened her mouth into a smile and put the hat on, positioning the rubber band carefully. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve always wanted to go on a cruise!” That wasn’t true, but it was the thought that counted.
Today, she ran down the red porch steps to greet Jacob. He walked around to the curb with keys in hand. As they neared each other, she paused. He closed the gap, and pulled her close to him. Odessa hooked her chin over his shoulder, her left ear touching his right. They were the same height. Jacob was warm, like an engine left running, and smelled of fresh bread and spiced apple.
After a few moments they pulled apart. She moved a strand of hair from her forehead. “Wow your heart is beating really fast,” she said.
His voice was gentle and reverberant. “I’m having several, significant physiological responses.”
Odessa’s eyes flew open and then she squeezed them shut and turned her head away. He said things like that, as he always had, but she was still getting used to this. “Well,” she said, feeling silly, and half her age. “I guess we should load up the trailer?”
There wasn’t much. Some books, but she’d gone on a de-cluttering binge last year, and kept only several dozen favorites. She was using her e-reader more. They were headed to a different climate, so all her clothes fit into a four piece luggage set. There was a box filled with thick photo albums from her college years and trips abroad. She confessed to Jacob, “I didn’t have time to scan them.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said.
There were a few pieces of artwork: three paintings; the first was left to her by her grandmother, the second two she’d picked up at estate sales during each of her pregnancies. And then there was the tabletop sculpture made by her old friend. Wrapped in paper, then cloth, then bubble wrap, and placed in a box. Nicole had driven all the way from Boston just to see Odessa, and give her the piece. It was a bronze woman falling in a bed of flowers, rapturous.
Nicole was the closest person to Odessa, who understood what it was like. Nicole reported being happier than she’d ever been. “I can’t even describe it to you, Dess,” she’d said, over tea. “You feel like your whole life is gathered up and handed to you. You feel complete, in perfect alignment.”
“This is it?” Jacob secured her bicycle in the 4×8. There was still a lot of empty space.
“Well, my laptop and jewelry will go in the car with us. There are some things from when I was little, but they’re still at my parents’ place in Deer Park. My sister has the family heirlooms they’ve let go so far. Because she has that big house in Stony Brook. I wouldn’t know what to do with all that china, anyway. Lana’s husband is a golf club manufacturer. Or his father was ….” Odessa frowned, simultaneously trying to get the facts straight and wondering if they mattered.
Jacob opened the hatchback and started moving his things out of it and into the trailer to fill it more.
Odessa watched him. “I’m sorry. I should’ve left the bicycle, then you probably could have gotten away with just a cargo box.”
“Listen,” he said, sliding shut the trailer door. “You’ve got to stop apologizing. You’ve done nothing wrong. Don’t worry about it. Now, if we see something we like along the way, we have somewhere to put it, no problem.” He grinned and patted his belly. “Wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to get a bicycle, too.”
He reached for her again.
She felt self-conscious, snuggling with this man in the middle of the street. Maybe Mrs. Hutchinson across the street, was peeking through a window. Then again, everyone knew.
After a minute, she pulled away. “Well I guess this is it,” she said, glancing at the house, then at the side of the trailer. There was a scene painted on it, of cacti and blue sky. Jacob was watching her, waiting to hear what she’d say next.
—-end of part one of two. The second half of the story is here: The Violet Act Part 2