Behind the Other Dome
I wrote this short story several months ago. I submitted it to two different writing magazines and received some good feedback, complimentary and constructive. One wrote back and said, "the story is an interesting interplay between the characters and has some wonderful descriptive passages," so I take that as a win. However, either the timing was off or it wasn't quite what they were looking for for that month, so ultimately it wasn't published. But that's okay. I was planning to submit it again to other publications, but right now, as I prioritize query letters for The Cube, posting #WritersQuick5, and writing Amache's America, I've decided that I'd rather just share it out. Thank you in advance if you read it. I hope you enjoy it and I'd love to know what you think.
PS... here's a photo of the dome that inspired this story.
Behind the Other Dome
She opened and closed her hand, watching as it blossomed and shut, willing herself to feel anything. A glimmer. A tickle. A spark of sensation. She could make her hand move, but she had no connection to it, a phantom limb disassociated from everything it once was. The doctors told her the feeling would come back, that it was encouraging she could even move her wrist let alone her fingers, but her hand no longer felt like it was her own. It might as well have been truly gone, for what is a hand if you can’t feel even the smallest touch? She imagined placing her fingers over an open flame and watching as they melted away, or laying her arm across train tracks and letting the large steel wheels of an oncoming El ram right over it. Would she feel it then? Would it feel any more a part of her than it was now?
She laid back in the hospital bed and closed her eyes, retreating to the only image that ever brought her a sense of calm. She envisioned the large stained glass dome at the Chicago Cultural Center. Not the Tiffany Dome on the third floor, although that was beautiful too. No, she loved the Healy and Millet dome. The ‘other’ one. She always appreciated anything that was ‘other.’
She took a deep breath and felt a slight twinge of pain in her ribs as she tried to fill her lungs, her mind floating upwards towards the center of the curved masterpiece. The shades of gold, red and purple, fused behind her eyes, intricately connecting into a visage of backlit pageantry. She pictured a single piece of glass, that when isolated would most likely be mistaken for a broken shard worth discarding, combining with the other crystalized outcasts to create pure majesty.
Most saw flowers in the glass, a pedestrian view with no vision. The dome meant more to her than flowers. Some days the panels were bright, creating a moving, unbreakable labyrinth. Other days the panels were gloomy, shields lined up ready for battle. On her worst days, she had the impulse to shatter the glass and let it cascade around her like Skittles made of knives. On her best days, she imagined the ceiling was part of another world entirely, a window into the multi-verse, a portal into the unknown.
She went there whenever she could. To just stand and look up. Once she had tried to lay down on the floor, to allow herself to fully retreat into the worlds the dome evoked for her, but inevitably she was asked to get up and she complied, for her anarchist tendencies were only in the recesses of her brain and were not actually a part of her personality.
As she thought of the dome, tracing the lines from the center out, weaving her way past the trapezoid inner panels, around the smaller rectangles of the middle ring, and into the large panels that made up the majority of the ceiling, her meditation was interrupted by the sound of the door opening.
As he took a seat next to her, she kept her eyes closed. She could pretend to sleep, if only for a moment. She imagined that he took her hand and was holding it, indescribably frustrated that she couldn’t know for sure. It was curiosity that opened her eyes. To look at her dead hand and see if he was actually comforting her or not. Because although she was telling her hand to grip back, without seeing it, she had no idea if she was returning his embrace or simply making an aggressive gesture in the air.
As she opened her eyes, he was there, looking down, his black hair falling in front of his face, masking his crystal blue eyes. She looked at her hand. He was holding it and she was holding his back. But she couldn’t feel a thing.
“You didn’t have to come,” her voice croaked. It was the first time she had spoken in hours. He reached over, refilled her water cup, and brought the straw to her mouth. She took a sip.
“Of course I had to come,” he answered. “Rebecca, I will always come.”
He looked straight into her eyes now. Although he meant his words to sound confident, his eyes gave away his sadness, his hesitation. She knew Alfonso better than he knew himself, better than anyone. And he knew her in return. She was surprised nearly every day that he didn’t run away screaming from her, saving himself from her neuroses.
“How is Mike doing?” she asked. Everything would ride on his answer to her question. She would know whether she could re-enter her life or would have to find a new one based on what he said. She held her breath as she waited for his response.
He stood up from the chair and walked towards the window. It looked out into an alley, but the way he stared, one could have imagined he was looking at the waves oscillating along the beach or a faraway sunset. He took a deep breath in and turned back towards her.
“He’s doing the best that he can. He crashing on his sister’s couch. He didn’t want to go back to your place. He said he couldn’t handle seeing all your things,” he paused.
“He’s not mad that it’s over. But he doesn’t want to talk to you, not yet.”
Rebecca took a deep breath in. “Did you tell him? Does he know?”
Alfonso returned and reclaimed the chair at her bedside. He leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. Reflexively, Rebecca looked up too. Nothing but row upon row of PVC tiles. “Yes, he knows,” he answered as they locked eyes. “He knows you’re pregnant.”
Rebecca started crying. Tears of relief. Tears of agony. Tears of uncertainty. Alfonso let her sob and handed her a Kleenex. She took it in her other hand, the hand that could still feel the world around her, not realizing until the sobs stopped that Alfonso was again holding her semi-dead one.
As she regained her composure, she took a few small breaths and then quietly, almost imperceptibly asked, “Do you know all of it?”
Alfonso stood up again and ran his fingers through his hair. She had involved him in every part of her life, every moment of her childhood, adolescence and adulthood. They had never been a couple, choosing friendship over romance. Then, without warning, a few months ago, she realized it should’ve been Alfonso all along. Only she wasn’t brave enough to tell him. Instead she inexplicably jumped him one night and to her surprise he didn’t protest. When she found out she was pregnant she knew it was his.
She couldn’t bring herself to tell anyone, pushed everyone away, isolated herself, and eventually decided she didn’t want to keep the baby. To her it became a symbol of every errant decision she had ever made, proof she had wronged both Alfonso and Mike.
But when the moment came, she couldn’t go through with an abortion. She wanted to keep her child, Alfonso’s child, to build on the love that had always been there. After weeks of no contact, she called him to pick her up from the clinic, and of course he said he would come. While she waited for him to arrive, she resolved to let him know that she loved him and that they were going to have a baby and that she chose him. She was so determined to make it right, she didn’t see the taxi barreling around the corner as she crossed the street to meet him. She didn’t realize until she was flying through the air that she didn’t have a chance to explain. She didn’t know if the baby was okay or not until she woke up from the ten hour surgery needed to keep her arm. Her dead arm that worked but did not feel.
“I know it’s mine,” he answered softly.
She sat up as best she could and put her good arm and her dead arm over her abdomen, hugging their unborn child. She closed her eyes and let her mind float up to her favorite giant dome, sending a silent prayer of gratitude to the angels on the other side of her personal stained glass portal.
“I love you,” she said as she looked at him. He appeared stunned as he heard the words but when his eyes lit up with a smile, she reached up towards him with both arms. As he took her hands, her relief and love was so great, she barely noticed that she could feel the warmth from his fingers in both her palms. That what was dead inside her was slowly coming back to life.