Friday, May 13, 2011

Short story: Balance (part viii)

Michael woke with a start. It was dark outside and he was cramped and uncomfortable. He had fallen asleep reading and woke to find his books squashed between his slumped body and the wall. The spine was bent; the cover was folded back upon itself. Michael’s stomach felt uneasy and his head felt light; he got slowly to his feet and opened the door into the kitchen.

Claudia and Margrite were sitting at the table, a red light was burning above the sink and candles were lit on the table. Wet photos hung around them like oversized leaves of an exotic plant. Michael hesitated for a moment, then cleared his throat.

Claudia spun her head and he thought he saw her blush, but he couldn’t be sure in the red light. Her kohl rimmed eyes seemed smudged, as if someone had taken an eraser and started to rub out the edges. “Oh, Michael,” she said and threw a quick glance at Margrite. She stood to turn off the red light above the sink and flicked on the bare white ceiling bulb. They all blinked and lowered their eyes against its sudden harshness.

“I thought you were out for the night,” Claudia said.

“What time is it?” Michael stood awkwardly, his six-foot frame filling the doorway.

“It’s after nine. Margrite and I were just talking about going to meet some of our friends, but I wasn’t sure if you were really asleep or if you were going to wake up.” She was studying him, trying to size up her obligations, her feelings. “Are you hungry,” she asked, not unsympathetically.

Michael shook his head. He hadn’t eaten much all day, but he still wasn’t adjusted to the time change and new diet. He felt vaguely hungry but had no desire to eat.

“If you want to go out, that’s fine,” he said. “Don’t worry about me.”

“Do you want to come?” Claudia asked. They both knew it was a gesture of politeness and the question hung for a moment between the two of them.

“Sure,” Michael said, attempting a casual tone; but the word came out tight and clipped.

“Great,” said Claudia without a hint of enthusiasm.

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