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Fiction || Death of Valerie

Photograph: Jordan Whitt

“Hello.
You can call me ‘The Voice’.
I am non-human. This probably makes the ability to avoid passing judgements my most distinctive trait.
I live through the ages, in quiet observation, which probably makes me a composed spectator.
I am here to tell you a story but be aware that I know all facets of this story and so am not fooled.
However, I warn you – I can choose to tell you one side of the story and stop there.
Having said this, let the story begin.”

Valerie pushed the chair behind with the back of her knees as she slowly stood up, half sloshed and half drunk. Nevertheless, her heels stood strong and firm on the ground. Years in the performing arts had earned her the ability to mask her true state or perhaps her seasoned self could now hold five pegs without any difficulty. A server ran towards her asking if she needed a last drink. She declined with a wave and pointed towards another table, implying the figure seated, her manager, would cover the bill. She headed for the club door with poise similar to when she had entered. Being an ardent devotee of what she did for a living, she never left any of her performances in disgrace.

I had witnessed ten-year-old Valerie play ‘Miranda’ of ‘The Tempest’. I had heard her pacing heartbeat when she sank herself under the influence of ‘The Love of Zero’ as a sixteen-year-old. Even I stood still for a moment when she, in her late teens, performed the role of ‘Estragon’ onstage and claimed her love for Beckett. Later, whenever she appeared on the 70mm screen, she owned the place where she stood. Her fame thus earned her foes framed as admirers.

She looked stellar even when she walked with an empty heart and a ruined soul. Her ever-present aura did its best to hide her wounds. The gatekeepers, superbly dressed in tuxedos, bowed and opened the door as Valerie left the high-society jazz club. Her driver brought the car to the front entrance as in the background, a singer crooned ‘Cry baby, cry baby, cry baby, Honey, welcome back home’. The door drew close as the line faded away into thin air.

***

“You have probably made up your mind by now on how this story unfolds. What happens next and how it ends, your mind has already created opinions without reading the story to its completion. However, I won’t disappoint you and yes; the story moves ahead just how you have imagined it to.”

As the car moved forward, Valerie sped down memory lane, rather those dark alleys, where even now, she dared not tread.

I had seen Valerie rush out from the premiere of her dream project, ‘The Circle of Life’, as it ended. Like every other time, she garnered accolades for her performance. Nevertheless, atypical to her usual self, she came across rather disturbed, as if there was a void, an emptiness that she could not explain.

Next morning, the dailies read:

“The industry welcomed its newest star with wide-open arms, at the premier last night. A supporting performance surprised many, even threatened to overshadow the protagonist…”

***

The car slowed down and stopped before the gate that led to her mansion. The driver opened it and Valerie strode towards the front door without a word or signal. The driver closed the gate after her and moved to park the car. Nobody could sense what Valerie was weaving in her mind, from her blank stare, or maybe she wasn’t thinking at all.

Human instincts reach certain extremes when life is at a crux, where you either lose everything or there remains nothing to lose. To make matters worse, escape eludes you.

It was New Years’ Eve and all household helpers were on leave. Valerie opened the door to the house and let herself in. Her home offered her a cold welcome.

Once she entered, she tripped on her heels as she was trying to take off her shoes. After that, she stumbled and hurt her knees on the grand sofa adorning the main living room as she walked towards the stairs. And then, she fell on the first step of the stairs as she tried to reach her room on the first floor.

Watching a body, which usually stands firm in front of the world, tumble about in solitude makes for a funny sight considering that it is easier to deceive the eyes surrounding you than your own.

She passed through the dimly lit living room gingerly, towards the passage and the rooms on the first floor. Valerie didn’t even care to turn on the lights. The darkness soothed her. Finally, she reached her main bedroom.

***

Moonlight entered her room as Valerie let out a long breath and swept her hair to the left of her shoulder. She pulled and removed the big solitaire rock from the ring finger of her left hand. She put out the drawer to keep the ring inside. The drawer revealed few letters from admirers around the world – printed pages of new ventures and dreams, but sadly not intended for her. Messages which breathed love drenched in passion, tied by unspoken vows, though written in a familiar handwriting, bore the name of another. These took a part of her every time they came out. Still, she kept those near her. Maybe the heart likes getting hurt more than being able to keep love. Valerie stood quietly by the drawer for some time, then put her ring into it and pushed it close – maybe a bit too hard, for it made an awkward screech. She turned around and gradually made her way towards the bed. Her steady gaze pierced through the moonlight that ran over the creases on the bed sheet and stopped upon reaching a lain figure. And there he was, the love of her life, engrossed in sleep – the deepest possible sleep. Exactly a year ago, two hearts caged in doubtful minds and lifeless bodies, had stood against each other. Memories brought back by series of confrontations, had crashed into each other and shattered fragile glass walls as they ricocheted in every direction. The man who failed his words pleaded for one last chance and appealed for forgiveness.

“Every time you watch a story, you see this emotion called ‘Love’ behave peculiar enough to enslave your sense of logic. Once the feeling becomes tarnished inside, it refuses to heal despite any amount of sweet nothings. As a result, one can end up doing what is beneath one’s morals.”

That heated conversation left Valerie unable to utter a word. Eventually, she gave in. The storm outside steadily withered and silence alone prevailed. Valerie walked past the broken walls with a raging tempest inside.

***

Exactly a year later, in a moonlit room, Valerie stood beside her bed and reached towards the bedside table. Kept on the table were her grandfather’s gramophone complete with an Elvis record, a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. One glass, a peg filled, stood untouched on the table while another lay fallen and empty. They must have half emptied the bottle before making love the night before. She placed the gramophone pin, and it played ‘Love Me Tender’. Valerie took the filled glass and threw its content down her throat all at once as if she wanted the bitterness to ruin her from inside. She then poured another peg carefully and sat beside her lover on the bed, pressing her back against the backrest. She stretched her legs, crossing them one over the other and started enjoying her drink this time. Her glance soon shifted to her lover, still lying there without the slightest of movements. Her eyes caught the dark finger impressions circling his neck. She smiled at herself and felt proud of the marks she left on the love of her life. She kept the glass on the table. It fell on the table, aside the other one. Valerie bent down and kissed her lover intensely.

A cold breeze blowing in from the window broke Valerie’s steely glances fixated on her lover. She rubbed her left forearm with her right hand, then her upper arm and afterward her shoulder to comfort herself. Suddenly, Valerie experienced a memory rush, a flashback of vast proportions – Being unable to keep the vows taken for each other… The rise of a newborn star with the fall of another… Falling in love, meeting each other for the first time… Rise and rise of a star, the struggles to rise… A young woman with a pocket full of hopes and dreams in a big city… A pair of tiny eyes seeing ‘Zero’ falling in love with ‘Beatrix’… The magic of avant-garde… A little ‘Miranda’ delivering onstage “I am a fool, to weep at what I am glad of…” The Circle of Life…

***

Valerie moved from the bed to the window. She held the bars, closed her eyes and started taking deep breaths. A tiny droplet of tear escaped her eye and soon hit the ground. She picked up her handbag and walked out of her mansion as a grand old clock struck twelve times, and the calendar flipped its last page.

I fail to understand this deep love of Valerie. But hasn’t ‘Love’ always been like that, driving you beyond the barriers of sanity?

Valerie left the room with Elvis singing “Wise men say…only fools rush in…But I can’t help falling in love with you”. The gramophone played its final song as her lover continued to occupy the bed, motionless.

Next morning, the dailies read:

“Last night, we lost a beloved star from the entertainment industry. The body has been taken over by the forensics department. It is suspected to be a case of murder….”

“I finish the story here, in keeping with my partial nature of storytelling.
I know you probably have questions and rightly so.
However, I won’t interfere with your opinions.
Instead, I leave the story with you, to either bury here or to take forward where your imagination leads you.
Goodbye.” []


First published in Issue #4 of CultureCult Magazine (Spring 2016)

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