They walked, hand in hand, like two lovers. It was uncharacteristically early for him, the sun had not yet reached its zenith in the sky. He had scarcely seen the environment at this time in the morning, and he found it lovely. The beach with its soft cool sand slipped beneath his legs and the early morning breeze rejuvenated him.
“I am a photographer,” he said. “My name is Orson.” He had the camera dangling around his neck, hoping to make the best of the morning.
“I know,” she said.
He looked at her, puzzled.
“When you were gone yesterday, I looked around in your house. Found your visiting cards. And you have a camera around your neck.”
He smiled. “I would like to click your photograph.”
He meant well, but at the very mention of that, she recoiled. She actually pushed him so hard that he fell on the sand and started running away from him. Bemused for a while, he lay on the sand, not understanding what had bugged the girl, but then she went a distance and sat down in the sand, her face buried in her hands.
“What was that all about?” he asked her when he came up to her.
“No photo,” she cried. “Never take my picture.”
“Never do that,” she pleaded.
“But it’s not going to hurt you.”
“What do you know about that?”
“Just one picture—for my own private collection,” he insisted.
And then she stood up. Her eyes were bloodshot in rage. Her lips quivered as she opened them to speak, and her teeth now resembled fangs more than teeth.
“You will never take my picture!” she screamed out aloud. “You understand?”
He meekly nodded.
She took him in her arms and consoled him, for he was now shivering in fright. She put her arm over his head till he was pacified.
+ + +
They were back in his studio apartment when they could not find the green house with a red roof. Perhaps it was on another beach; they would have to try again.
They spent almost the whole of the day in bed, when they were interrupted by the doorbell.
“Who is that?” Bessie asked. The fear in her voice was palpable.
“You stay in this room,” Orson said. “No need to be afraid. I am not expecting anyone. Probably someone selling something. I will shoo them off and be right back.”
He strode across his hallway with a robe hurriedly put around his shoulders and opened to the door. Immediately his expression changed—this was certainly not a visitor he had expected.
“So there you are!” the woman standing at the door said in way of reprimand.
“Lonnie, I didn’t expect you,” he mumbled like a schoolboy being scolded. Leave alone not expecting her, Orson had even forgotten he had a fiancée.
“You don’t return calls, you don’t visit, what am I to do? May I come inside?”
He hesitated for a moment, and that was enough for her to make up her mind.
“Oh well, then I am coming in,” she insisted. “I think I have every right to.”
She walked right up to the bed and saw the naked woman in his sheets.
“Who is this?” she asked in a voice loud enough to shake the boards of the little room.
“I… I can explain…” he stammered.
“The hell you can explain! I see two half-naked people in front of me and I don’t want an explanation. I am not a child.”
Bessie, wrapped in the bed sheets, stood up. “Is there a problem, Orson? Who is she? Is she your girlfriend?”
Orson nodded apologetically. “We are to be married soon… but, oh! How stupid I have been! Lonnie, Lonnie, there’s nothing between me and her, you must understand that.” He walked up to Lonnie. “It’s not what you think. I found Bessie on the beach. She was distraught. She has lost her memory. I gave her shelter.”
“Oh, it’s not just your room she is sharing, Orson. I can clearly see that. I am not staying here a minute more.” There was immense anger in Lonnie’s eyes. But then she looked at Bessie. In the single split instant that the two women’s eyes met, Lonnie’s expression went a dramatic change.
Her anger immediately subsided and was replaced by a very different emotion—fear. Orson could not understand it; he had never seen stark raving fear on his fiancée’s face before.
“Don’t ever call me again,” she mumbled to Orson, and then clumsily gathering her purse which had been flung down in the heat of it all, she stormed out of the house.
Not minding Bessie standing there, Orson ran after Lonnie in a bid to catch up with her.
He found her on the street, walking away hurriedly, wiping her tears.
“Lonnie, listen to me,” he tried to stop her. He reached up to her, and held her hand, but she slapped it away.
“Just go away,” she said.
“Lonnie, I am sorry, I am so very sorry,” he said. He forcefully stopped her. “I drifted away. Could you forgive me?”
She mellowed. She was still angry, but this heartfelt apology did mean something to her. “It will never be the same, Orson,” she said.
“Let me make it up to you,” he said. “I will go home right away and get her out of the house.”
“What do you see in her anyway?”
He could not answer that truthfully.
“Oh, I know the look,” Lonnie said. “You are smitten by her! But that? That thing? Don’t you see?”
“Throw her out before it is too late,” she said and walked away in a huff.
He kept looking at her, and then turned homeward.
Lonnie hadn’t walked much ahead before she came to a narrow alley. It was a regular shortcut she used. Few people used it because of the stink, but it saved her a good ten minutes whenever she took this route.
Walking along with a hundred thoughts in her head, she came up to a person who refused to budge.
“Excuse me,” she said, trying to make space to walk across in that narrow lane.
The interrupter turned to look at Lonnie.
And Lonnie’s expression froze.
“You?” she said in a tone of utter bewilderment.
At that, the figure gave an ear-piercing laugh that shattered Lonnie’s eardrums and blood began to trickle out of the holes. Her eyeballs grew wider and wider till they popped out of their sockets and dangled from them. Then, the ground beneath them turned into nothing but black smoke, and she found herself falling into its unknown depths. Falling, falling, falling. There was nothing to break her fall till she succumbed into the unending darkness.
+ + +