Eyes Like Emerald
Harry looked out over the ocean for the thousandth time.
How long had it been since the world ended? How long since that fateful day when everyone was consumed by flame? Everyone else, anyway. He sat on the beach, letting the waves wash over him. Inch by inch he sunk into the sand, as if the Earth was trying to swallow up the one that got away.
“You’re not getting me,” he muttered, rising to his feet and brushing off his khakis. That’s what he had worn every day now for a long, long time –khaki pants, plus a short-sleeved dress shirt. As a young lawyer in San Francisco, he had always enjoyed dressing up. Of course, with everyone else gone, there wasn’t much of a point to it –but he did it anyway. It gave him a sense of familiarity in the unfamiliar world he inhabited.
Charlotte, his wife, tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around. “Honey,where are you going? You always spend your morning on the beach,” she said. Harry smiled weakly and ran his fingers through her long, blonde hair. She was the very picture of beauty and innocence.
“I have something to do,” he said. He looked into her sparkling green eyes. He used to get lost in those eyes. “Don’t worry. I won’t be long.” He walked up the porch steps to the back door and turned to look at the ocean one last time. Now,Charlotte and the boys were swimming. An instant later, she was teaching them to ride their bikes on the sand. Harry blinked and they were gone. He closed his eyes tight and fought back the tears.
He had rehearsed it countless times. It was practically impossible to screw up. He sat on the couch in the living room, staring out the front window and holding the Walther PPK to his chin. All he had to do was pull the trigger, and it would all be over. Simple as that. That’s all he had to do. It was simple, really –the only thing he had to do was squeeze the trigger, and-
Harry bit his lip and pulled the trigger.
Sweat poured down the back of his neck, drenching his white shirt. Of course. He had forgotten to load it. Again. “Oh well,” he said. “There’s always tomorrow.” Harry sighed and sat the pistol on the coffee table. He got up and fetched a bagel from the cupboard. He ate the bagel dry and then poured a glass of water. Harry then heard a sound that made him gasp. He dropped the glass, sending shards and water all over the floor.
He had heard the doorbell.
Harry stepped over the broken glass and walked briskly out of the kitchen, down the hallway, and to the front door.
Could it be Charlotte and the boys? Had twenty years’ sorrow all been some tragic mistake? Perhaps they had only stayed away for so long because of the blast –they must have been hiding out all of this time, he decided. It was a miracle.
The doorbell chimed again as he reached for the doorknob. He could hardly blame Charlotte for being impatient –Harry himself was quivering with excitement. His heart sank as he opened the door.
Two kids stood at the front door. Well, they weren’t kids really –they each looked to be about twenty years old. The young man and young woman both wore heavy jackets and clung to huge backpacks. The pair set down their packs and stretched. Harry didn’t know what to think. Were they only memories, the last fragments of a world lost forever? Or were they fellow survivors, a pair of travelers who had somehow survived long enough to make it to his door? Was it possible? Could they be real?
The boy spoke. “Hey,” he said casually, as if they weren’t the only three people left on the planet. “We saw your ad in the paper. This is the bed-and-breakfast, right?”
Harry wasn’t listening. He had just noticed the girl. He had seen her standing there, but he hadn’t really noticed her until that moment. She was tall and slim,with long blonde hair and emeralds for eyes.
The boy said, “Hello? Did you catch that?”
The woman was beautiful –and hauntingly familiar. She looked just like Charlotte had in her youth. Perfect. Harry cleared his throat. “Excuse me,” he said.“I must be going senile. Could you say that again?” The boy furrowed his brow and replied, “We’re here for a room.”
“Yeah. We saw your ad in the paper.” Harry stared off down the street for a moment. A pair of beach cruisers were leaned up against the neighbor’s porch. Ha. Neighbor. It had been a long time since he had had neighbors. Suddenly, what the boy had said registered in his brain.
Travelers. An ad in the paper. Bed-and-breakfast.
For about a year, Harry and Charlotte had rented out their two extra rooms to college students and families vacationing on-the-cheap. They stopped when Charlotte got pregnant with Alex, their oldest son. Two wanderers had not managed to brave the American wasteland and find their way to his home. They were memories, shades. The over-educated psychiatrists and professors Harry used to know would have called them hallucinations, mere tricks of the mind. Deep down, Harry knew that he was still alone. But that didn’t matter. The illusion was enough, for now.
He reached out his hand. “Harry Grayson,” he said. “It’s nice to have guests again after so long. You can call me Harry.” The two travelers exchanged a conspiratorial glance before shaking hands. The boy hefted his bag back onto his shoulder.
“My name is Nathan and this is Julia. She can’t talk –she’s mute. Not deaf, though, so don’t try to talk about her or anything.” Nathan smirked and turned to his companion, adding, “Unless she’s in the other room.” Julia punched him in the arm.
So Julia was her name. Julia. Such a sweet sounding name. It was a shame she couldn’t speak it herself.
Harry said, “Well, let me just show you up to your room. You’ll have to forgive the mess –it’s been quite a while since I’ve had any visitors.” Nathan stepped into the foyer and said, “Yeah, I think you mentioned that. Your ad said it’s twenty bucks a night?” Julia stepped in behind him and started looking around.
Now that he thought about it, Harry couldn’t remember ever having any deaf guests. Nathan was looking at him. He realized that he had missed something.
“Hmm?” said Harry.
“The room. It is twenty dollars a night, right?”
“Oh, yes. Twenty dollars. You can pay me when you, umm, check out.”
Harry stood blocking the view to the living room. The pistol was still on the coffee table. He pointed to the stairs. “This will take you to the second floor. Your room will be the first door on the left.” He smiled and wondered if they could see the mess in the kitchen.
Julia nodded and started slowly up the staircase. Her backpack looked heavy. Nathan lingered a moment before following his companion. “Dinner’s at six-thirty!” Harry shouted up the stairs. He took a deep breath and let it out. He decided that he had better find a watch and figure out what time it was.
Julia and Nathan sat at the long, oak kitchen table and ate slices of buttered bread as Harry prepared the main course: fettucini alfredo with spinach and cloves of garlic. Harry’s mother had taught him how to make pasta as a kid. Since then, he hadn’t learned to cook much else.
“Alright, get your plates ready,” Harry told his guests. He used a pair of tongs to put the fettucini in a strainer and then checked the temperature on the alfredo sauce. Bene. He served his guests and finally took a seat. He unfolded his napkin and set it in his lap.
“Bon apetit,” he said, trading Italian for French. He spoke neither language. Julia touched her chin and gestured with her hand. Nathan set down his glass of water. “That means ‘Thanks’ in ASL,” he said. Harry watched as Julia made shapes and symbols with her fingers. “American Sign Language?” he asked. Nathan nodded. “Right,” he replied. “Do you sign any?” Harry wiped his mouth with his napkin. “No, I’m afraid not. Not anymore, anyway. We lived with my deaf aunt for a while when I was a kid, but that’s been a long time.” Nathan turned to Julia to see what she was signing. He said, “Julia likes the pasta.” Harry did his best to mimic Julia’s gesture for Thank you. She beamed.
Julia turned and signed to Nathan again. Nathan dropped his gaze to the table.
“So, umm,” he stammered, “Julia wanted to know if you usually live alone. I mean, uh, if you’re married or whatever.” Nathan turned his gaze to the window, obviously embarrassed by the question. Harry looked Julia in the eyes. “I was married,” he said. “And I had two little boys. Alex and David.” Julia’s face said everything she could not. She signed something to Nathan. Harry didn’t need him to interpret her sympathy. Nathan took a drink of water and said, “She said she’s sorry. She knows what it’s like to lose someone.” Nathan stood up and took his plate and half-empty glass of water to the sink. “Don’t worry about the dishes,” Harry said. “I’ll take care of those later.” Nathan quickly left the room. Harry could hear him going up the stairs.
Julia remained seated. She stared into Harry’s eyes.
“It was a fire,” he said. “There was nothing anybody could do about it.”
A single tear rolled down Julia’s cheek.
“A fire,” he said.
Harry had found an old leather-banded watch under his bed. It told him the time was 11:14. The moon provided the only light in the living room. He sat on the couch and sipped a glass of whiskey. He always finished his nights with a glass of whiskey. Only one –it numbed the pain enough to help him sleep, but it didn’t make him drunk. Drunkenness could be dangerous. While some people don’t think at all while they were drunk, Harry had the opposite problem. He thought too much. About what was. About what never would be again.
But maybe it would be again. Those eyes, those emerald green eyes. They shined through the windows of his mind. Were they Charlotte’s? Or Julia’s? The truth was, he didn’t know.
“Stop it,” he said aloud. “She’s not even real.” Footsteps on the stairs. Light footsteps –not Nathan’s. And suddenly, there they were.
Those eyes. They looked right at him, right through him –right to his very soul. Suddenly it dawned on him. The reason he couldn’t tell if those eyes were Charlotte’s or Julia’s? They were one and the same. Charlotte had returned to him.
Harry set down his glass and put his face in his hands. That’s what it was. She was back. He heard a cupboard door shut in the kitchen. After a moment, Julia was standing behind the couch with a glass of water. She looked sleepy. The moonlight framed her perfect form. Harry said, “Have a seat. I won’t bite.” He smiled. She nodded and sheepishly walked around the couch. She sat down at the other end and took a sip of water.
“I sometimes need a glass of water before I can sleep,” Harry said. He didn’t really know how awkward it sounded until the words had left his mouth. Julia set down the glass and nodded. She began to stare at the ceiling. Harry scooted a few inches closer to her.
“I’m really glad you’re, I mean, uh, you guys are here,” he said. A moment passed in silence. And then, real or not, he couldn’t take it any longer. His last words came out garbled and confused:
“Charlotte it’s been so long I missed you I NEED YOU-"
He grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her as she turned away, kissed her again, again.
The unmistakable crash of a gunshot filled the house.
Julia sat on the steps next to Nathan. He held her tight. She had finally finished crying.The sun was rising and the officers were just finishing their paperwork. All of the shades were drawn to hide the scene from prying eyes. Several news vans had taken up residence outside the house.
Sergeant Holman squatted in front of the stairs and leafed through a notepad. He clicked his pen and looked up at the distraught couple. "I'm sorry to bother you again. I know you two have been through a lot," he said. Julia nodded and began to weep again. Nathan cringed and hugged her tighter. "It's okay," said Nathan. "Let's just get it over with."
"Thank you," said the sergeant. "So why don't you explain it to me again."
Julia signed to Nathan so he could interpret. After each bit of information, the sergeant turned to Julia for affirmation. Nathan looked to his fiance:
"I woke up in the middle of the night and wanted a glass of water so I went downstairs. I saw Mr. Grayson sitting on the couch with a drink. I got a glass of water and he asked me to sit down so I did. I was uncomfortable. I smelled whiskey on his breath and he had a strange look on his face."
The policeman scribbled on his notepad, recording the account for the second time. Normally, he took two accounts and compared them for inconsistencies. He said to Julia, “And that is when he forced himself on you?”
Julia nodded and signed the letter y, meaning yes. The sergeant turned to Nathan. “Why don’t you tell me again where you got the gun?” Nathan said, “I found it putting away my clothes. It was in the dresser, top drawer, along with a box of bullets and a couple of magazines.”
“Was the gun loaded?”
“No. The gun didn’t have a clip in it. Some of the clips in the drawer were loaded, though.”
“So, how did you come to shoot Mr. Grayson?”
“Well,” he said, “I woke up and realized that Julia was gone, and, well . . ."
“Well what, Mr. Harper?”
“I had a feeling something was wrong.”
“You had a feeling?”
“Yeah, like I knew something bad was about to happen. Or was happening already.”
“Why do you think you got this feeling, as you called it?”
“I don’t know. I just saw that he was staring at her all the time. It was weird.”
“Okay. Tell me about the shooting.”“Umm. Well, I knew something was wrong so I jumped out of bed, still in my boxers and everything. I remembered the gun in the drawer and figured, hey, if this guy left a gun just sitting in the guest room, who knows what he has that I don’t know about?”
The officer nodded.
“And so,” said Nathan, “I took the gun and snuck downstairs. And sure enough, there he was, just . . .”
“Just what, Mr. Harper? I’m sorry to make you repeat yourself, but I have to have it on record.”
Nathan nodded glumly.“He was forcing himself on her.” Julia hid her face in her arms.
The sergeant said, “And that’s when you shot him?”
Nathan nodded. “Yes.”
The couple sat in a back booth at Ihop with two cups of coffee.
“I don’t understand why you don’t hate the bastard. He tried to rape you.”
He wasn’t raping me. He was trying to make love to his wife, she signed.
“You’re not his wife. He had no right –“
But I was to him. That’s who he saw when he looked at me. I could see it in his eyes.
“No. Just no. You pity him, that’s all. You feel bad for him.”
Sweetheart. His whole world burned with his wife and kids. He had nothing else. He was broken.
Nathan just shook his head and stared at his coffee.