Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Hero of Novel Proportions

The following short was first written in 2000, under the title Selene. It has undergone many revisions and a title change since then. It was, for all intents and purposes, the first short story I'd written and the beginning of this writing career I've entered into. I'm posting it here today because I don't believe this one will ever be published in any other medium. Not that it isn't good enough, but it is... Too personal a story, I guess, to be attractive to the lit journals. (This is just a guess on my part, since I've only ever submitted it once, and while the rejection was nicely worded, it was still a rejection.)

I sincerely hope you enjoy the story. (And before anyone thinks this is autobiographical, it's not. At least not entirely. The worst bits are fictional. The rest I'll leave to your imaginations.)


A Hero of Novel Proportions

The waves thundered upon the shore, breaking with a clap and then whispering back into the ocean. A lone silhouette watched shivering slightly. Despite the overcast sky, she could tell the day was fading; another hour and it would be black as pitch, and she would be forced to stumble through the sea grass to her car. Still she stood and watched, gathering strength from the raw power of the elements. She would need it by the time morning broke.

When she could no longer see more than the faintest glimmer of white from the foam, she slowly turned. Her smart, gray suit clung to her, soaked with sea spray. Confidently, she strode back to where her car was parked alongside the coastal road, as if she had grown up playing amongst the dunes when in actuality she had never been there before. Her step was steady and sure.

She emerged on the road a short distance from her Lincoln. It glowed. It was then that she noticed the clouds were breaking up and a single shaft of moonlight was turning her car into a silver chariot. She laughed aloud. Perhaps her mother had been given a flash of insight at her birth when, as she had wailed her first breaths, she was named Selene.

As the car stretched its length along the ribbon of highway back to the city, Selene sat deep in thought. She remembered the day, 12 years before, when her life had turned so sharply. Sitting on a bench in Central Park reading, she could have been any number of other working girls on her lunch break. Could have been, if not for the text in her lap, and the fire in her eyes as she read. She hadn’t noticed the man casually watching her that day. She would have never noticed him if he had not strode between her and the sun, casting a shadow over the lines of Atlas Shrugged during the speech she so loved. Looking back now, she could almost believe that instant was a foreshadowing of things to come. Back then, however, with the light behind him, she could have sworn that the hero of the novel had stepped into reality. At the age of nineteen, she was ready to believe anything.

Selene shook herself and tried again to concentrate on the road ahead of her. The lateness of the hour made sharp concentration unnecessary though and there was little traffic to distract her from her memories.

She had married David a short year later. At first, he had been everything she dreamed he would be. He had seemed so strong and handsome. He had given every indication of being intelligent and thoughtful and somehow courageous. When they were married, he had been a lower-level engineering manager for an automotive parts manufacturer outside Cleveland, the youngest in the company’s long history. But he was rapidly climbing through the ranks; his eyes were set on heading the division someday. That ambition had been one of the things that had made him so attractive to her young and naïve eyes.

Beginning with that meeting in the park, they’d spent every one of the ten days left of his vacation in constant companionship. After the first two days, he had grown impatient that she had to leave him for work, and he insisted that she call in sick for the remainder of his trip. She had agreed because suddenly nothing was more important than being with David. After the third sick day, she’d been fired, but she had barely noticed—other than a twinge of disappointment at losing her first real job.

When he had suggested that she stay the night with him, she’d readily agreed. Never before had she given herself so completely to any man, but this was her hero and she had been willing to give him anything. When he’d suggested that she fly back to Ohio with him after such a short acquaintance, she had simply told her roommate that she was leaving. She hadn’t cared; David was a hero of novel proportions, or so she’d thought.

At her insistence, they had married quickly. It was the only way to quell the feelings of confusion inside her. His moods changed with the winds and she was becoming frightened that her love for him would dwindle in the face of the fact that he was no John Galt. Telling herself that she was no Dagny Taggert herself, she glossed over the cracks in them both and ran smiling up the aisle.

Six months later, she was pregnant, and she ran home from the doctor’s office smiling. Happy idiot that she was, she had presumed that David would be the proud future father she always dreamed her husband would be. She had been so very wrong. Despite his sudden silence, the disappointment and disgust on his face was palpable.

“It’s God’s will,” the doctor had said to her a few weeks later. At the memory of those ludicrous words, she laughed wryly. She had known it hadn’t been the will of any deity but the stress of dealing with David’s disappointment that had killed the growing potential inside her.

The lights of the city swam through her tears, as she pulled closer to their warmth. She had always loved the city and she regretted ever leaving its solidity for the wisps of a dream. As she looked back over the last twelve years, her resolve firmed.

For years she had been begging to go home, but David had desperately wanted to stay away from New York. They had not been back since those days so long ago. His own jealousy caused him to keep her from everything and everyone else she had ever loved.

Somewhere during their first meeting her beloved copy of Atlas Shrugged had mysteriously disappeared and he’d blamed the housekeeping staff. After they arrived in Ohio, she bought another copy, but David’s sullen looks quickly made her give up the written words that were her life’s blood. All of her books were carefully boxed and shoved into a corner of their attic; any book was a threat to David’s need for her undivided attention. She had accepted that. He was an important man—-almost everyone said so-—and he deserved her slavish devotion.

Over the years, she had accepted many things. Without question, she gave up her quest for employment; David made enough for them both to live on. Without hesitation she had given up her quest for education; David said that if she didn’t have to work, she didn’t need a degree. However, she hadn’t accepted completely the life of a dilettante. Her mind was as active as it ever had been. While he was at work, she poured over the only books available in the house—his old engineering texts. While he was sleeping, she studied schematics of his designs.

Laughing, Selene thought of the many mistakes she had found as she quickly grasped the technical aspects of her husband’s work. To her they were glaringly obvious, but when she attempted to point them out one night, he had belittled her. “What would a Bronx gutter-snipe like you know about engineering?” She let the comment pass. She knew that there was a flaw in his design. There had always been a flaw in his design. She forgave him. After all, she’d been taught to believe that she was flawed too.

Once at a company party, she found herself, by chance, in the company of the men and women who worked for David. Here were the technical minds behind the unflawed schematics David always brought home and corrected until they were like so many twisted monsters. She joined in their conversation delightedly. One bright young man, Jared thought to ask her who she was. “I’m David Cullem’s wife,” she said, and at once regretted her answer. The doors of communication quickly slammed shut, and she could see mistrust in their eyes.

Jared pulled her aside. “It’s nothing personal, Mrs. Cullem. You seem like an intelligent woman, and it’s been great talking to you, but your husband… Let’s just say that he isn’t well liked in his department. He’s gotten more than one of us fired. You understand, we’d rather our thoughts weren’t made available for Cullem to dissect and use against us.”

“But you have nothing to fear from David,” she had said quietly. “I’ve seen your designs, all of them, and they’re beautiful.” Even as she said the words, she remembered the miscarriages that David had made of so many of their drawings. Jared shook his head and walked away.

A short time later, she found David. He was chatting with a group of men, telling bawdy jokes and laughing louder than was necessary. “There you are, Sugar. I was wondering where you’d wandered off to.” He kissed her cheek and wrapped an arm about her waist. “Gentlemen, may I present the best wife a man could ever ask for—Selene.” For the rest of the evening a cheerful and attentive husband introduced her to vice presidents and managers. His 24-carat smile and his praise-filled words never quite reached his eyes, though. “I wonder if they see it, too,” she thought. Selene knew they did not. These were the men that had given David his prestige and his position. They were completely fooled.

That night was the beginning of the end, and that night was ten years ago. She could feel the disgust welling up inside her as the miles raced away—disgust for the wait, disgust for the wasted years, disgust for herself. “The lights of the city are blindingly bright,” she thought and then corrected herself. “No. The lights are illuminating now. I was blind before.” She felt stronger than she had in a very long time; the strongest she’d felt since that day on the park bench when David began sapping every drop of the woman she knew she could be. As she eased the Lincoln in front of a swank and luxurious hotel of David’s choosing, she glowed as if she had swallowed the light of the city.

David was livid. They had come to New York at her insistence. He’d railed at her daring to leave him and run off for two days without so much as a note. His face was rapidly approaching the color of the Merlot stain on their old linen tablecloth. Oddly enough, though, he had not called the police and reported her missing. He did not believe she was missing. Once they reached their sumptuous room, he let loose with the accusations he had hurled so many times before. “Who were you with while you were gone? An old lover?” She laughed aloud because the accusation was even more ridiculous coming from the man who had been her only lover ever. He reached out to slap her but stopped short. He had never actually dared to hit her, always stopping just close enough for her to feel the whisper of checked violence against her cheek—just enough to attempt to scare her, but never enough to mar her porcelain face. “Can’t damage the goods,” she had often mused. This time was different though. This time he had stopped because of the look in her eyes; it was a look devoid of fear, clear and bright with courage. The only fear evident in the room was in his eyes this time.

When David was finished ranting, she calmly set down the package that she had been clutching and moved toward the bedroom. “Where are you going?” he demanded. “To change out of these wet things,” she replied. Leering he began to follow her. He took her words as a sign that she would appease him with sex as she often had in the past. He didn’t realize that the past was over and that a new future had begun. Without looking back, she closed and locked the door.

She could hear him rattling the doorknob and yelling as she changed into a pair of blue jeans and a sweatshirt. They were the only things she owned that she felt at home in. Hanging in the closet were clothes of his choosing—slinky cocktail dresses and chic suits like the one she left in a pile on the floor; those things were little more than garments for David’s paper doll. The casual things were hers and she wrapped them about herself like a suit of armor. Calmly she pulled her waist long hair back into a boyish ponytail. David had always been so proud of her tresses, as if they were an accomplishment of his own and not merely part of a façade. Those tresses would soon be gone, too; she was slowly reverting back to the person she had been a dozen lifetimes ago, slowly reverting back to her own self. In the mirror was an image of an old friend she had not seen in years. She nodded a salute, and the figure jauntily nodded back. “Long time, no see,” she said to her reflection.

Her old armor intact and her Bronx polish in place, she strode over and unlocked the door to their bedroom. David burst through the door immediately, almost as if he had been leaning against it. She half expected him to fall flat on his face, but she no longer cared. She said little as she packed those things that belonged solely to her; he screamed, pleaded, and cajoled.

“Where are you going? You can’t leave me. I love you.” He could have as easily said ‘Please pass the butter’, for all the meaning his words had to her now. Selene continued as if he weren’t there and so he tried a different tack. “You stupid bitch. You can’t leave me. You’ll never make it without me. You need me!” Then something important—the last key to her husband—occurred to Selene. David had it backwards; he had always had it backwards. She had never needed him, but he had always desperately needed her. He needed her to prove to himself that he was somehow worthy of existing.

Shaking her head sadly, she headed toward the door. David was crying now, but she could not hear him, she was mentally unfolding the map to her life. On a small table in the foyer of their suite was the small brown package. Reverently she picked it up and gently she unwrapped it, as a mother would remove the blankets from her sleeping newborn. Inside was a book, long ago lost, but never forgotten. In its pages was the key to her freedom and her future. As she walked away from the past, she never looked back.


  1. You havea nice style and way with words. Some great descriptions. Not sure if you wanted naything in the way of critique, but my one comment would be to give the reader a bit more of her motivationor the thing that triggered her deciding to change.

    I can see where this could be the basis of a novel. Very nice.:)