Harmon woke to the hot rays of the sun licking his loose and stimulated body. He inhaled the aroma of his basement room; stale beer, drywall and wood, plaster, steel and warm dust, relishing the tincture as might a perfumist a bag of potpourri. He stretch and looked to his left. Lyla was gone. Only a sunken spot in the gray mattress and the scent of womanly body spray remained. His momentary elation swift-faded. He sat upon the old and worn-out mattress, unevenly sprung, staring at the spot where his love had been. He reached over and caressed the area where her nape had leaned gainst the pillow. It was still warm. She’d left recently. He rose, naked, and stretched and threw on his underwear and pants where they had been hastily discarded upon the cold concrete floor and jogged up the stairs and ambled expectantly into the living room, empty save his laptop table and chair and Sprawls ratty couch. The notebook lay open on the table where she had left it, the portrait smiling up at him. He moved to the table and slowly closed the notebook.
He sat down and raised the screen of his laptop and, as if compelled by some ethereal force, opened a new tab on his browser and typed in ‘Lyla Regina Summers.’ The top results were from her personal website featuring her artwork, her page on the local universities site, one news article on local artists she had been briefly and briskly featured in, referred to by name only once. Farther down the search list he chanced across a podcast titled ‘Women Out Of Shade’ and saw that Lyla was featured on their metadata. He plugged in his headphones let someone should enter the house and clicked on the requisite links and listened.
“Hello lady writers, this is your host Monica Chambers and you are listening to Women Out Of Shade, a podcast dedicated to bringing female artists out of the shadows and into the light. Today we’ll be talking to Lyla Summers, a local soon-to-be-graduate from Haverral University. Ms. Summers is a illustrator, photographer, social activist and painter. So, welcome to the program Ms. Summers.”
“Thanks so much for having me.”
“So, I seen your recent showing, your gala – I thought your work was really quite wonderful.”
“Oh, why thank you. It went really well.”
“I wanted to know, first, how you came to be interested in art, in painting, and what your principal influences were.”
“Well, I’ve been interested in art since I was young. I always liked to draw. I got into painting when I was in high school and it all just sort of clicked. You know? Anyways, I decided, on my very last day of high school what I wanted to do and sent in my portfolio to Haverral and the rest is history. As for my influences, well, I have to give a lot of credit to Samanta Farrow, my advisor – she’s also a painter-”
“Yes, I’ve heard of her.”
“Isn’t work just wonderful?”
“Its really unique.”
“Yeah. She was such a good mentor. It was only because of her that I got placed in the gala. But anyways, to answer your question, her method really helped me grow, as an artist. So I’d say she was my chief influence.”
“So what are your plans from here?”
“Well, I planed to move. I really want to get out of this area.”
Harmon straightened in his chair, his eyes flying wide.
“My girlfriend lives in Florida, so I’m planning on moving down there soon.”
“Girlfriend like friend or girlfriend girlfriend?”
“Haha, girlfriend girlfriend. She’s been so support of me. I really should have mentioned her when you asked me about my biggest influences. I couldn’t have done half of what I’ve accomplished without her.”
Harmon paused the recording and rewound it and listened through once more to ensure that his ears weren’t playing tricks upon him. The audio came through the same on second listening.
“My girlfriend lives in Florida-”
Harmon listened through the rest of the recording, waiting for a name. Lyla never gave it. He slowly shut the lid of his lap top and rose from his chair, his mind whirring like a broken machine, hands flexing like speared and desperate crustaceans. How could she? How could she? Why would she? Why wouldn’t she tell me? She was just here…
The sound of footsteps upon the pavement outside left no room for further reverie as Sprawls burst in through the front door, a large white plastic bag under his left arm.
“Good news, had a sale at Captain Andy’s.”
Captain Andy’s was the locale liquor store and one of Sprawls favorite mercantile haunts. Harmon slowly turned to greet him.
“Nice. Mind if I have one.”
Harmon wasn’t sure what his roommate had purchased, nor did he care. Anything to numb the frantic rage he felt. Anything to blunt the urge to put his fist through the wall, to flipped his table and snap his laptop in half and cast his chair against the wall and drive down to Lyla’s house and beat her bloody until she gave up a name.
Sprawls withdrew a tallboy and cast the can to his roommate who caught it deftly and snapped it open instantly and downed a quarter of the bottle at once.
“You okay, man? You looked pale. I mean, paler than usual.”
“No. I am not okay. But I will be.”
“Something is always happening. No use complaining about it.”
Sprawls flopped down into his couch and cracked open one of the bottom-shelf tallboys and took a sip as he set his bag of beer down upon the floor.
Harmon remained standing, guzzling his beer. In short order he polished off and asked for another which Sprawls readily provided. After a few moments Sprawls spoke up dejectedly.
“Bitch fucking lied to me.”
“Sarah. That girl that was here. You seen her.”
“Oh is that her name?”
“What’d she lie about?”
“Bout being pregnant. Said she’d just been putting on a little extra weight – huh, yeah right. Got me thinking. Thinking bout lying. How often people do it. How often do you lie?”
Harmon turned towards his friend with deadpan seriousness.
“I never lie.”
“Bullshit. Everyone lies.”
“I have not told a lie since I was a child.”
“Bullshit. Hey, lemme get one of this cigs from you.”
“You just called me a liar. Get your own.”
“Just lemme have one.”
Harmon stuck one of the cigarettes between his lips and lip up the end and spoke without turning.
“Hey fuck you, man.”
Harmon did not respond and smoked, starring at a peeling spot on the wall as if it were the very center of the universe.
“That’s some weird ass shit. This ain’t gonna work out.”
Sprawls waited for Harmon to say something and when he didn’t Sprawls got up from the couch and made for the stairs.
“This ain’t gonna work. Have your stuff outta here tomorrow.”
With that, Sprawls left off before Harmon could respond. He stood there, staring at the spot where Sprawls had been and then turned and grabbed his coat and headed for the road. He drove. Comforted by the roaring hum of the old hatchback’s engine, crunshing asphalt beneath its newly worn yet powerful tires. The earth shearing against itself like two techtonic plates. He determined suddenly, as the weight of the days events fully pressed themselves against his mind to drive to Lyla’s house. She lived twenty eight minutes away in her mother’s messy yellow house. He drove straight north. The gang of toughs that he’d spied before were no where to be seen, only a young man walking down the street, bobbing his head to the hidden hymns of his headphone. Harmon envied that man. Cocooned from the world. Happy with his big, dumb smile. A surge of rage that bellowed dragonlike from the roiling fractal depths of his mind overtook him. Bliss-through-ignorance is the harborage of cowards, he thought to himself coldly, redirecting his attention from the walker back to the road. He floored the gas and ran the lights as a vehicle he paid no mind to screeched to a halt, its driver howling out the window some indiscernible curse. He drove out of town to the north, the great crumbling ruin of the coal breaker visible in blurred side-glances to the northeast and then even it fell away from view.
No, he thought, suddenly slowing, I’m being primitive. Letting my emotions run away with the reigns of my soma. Predictable. Understandable. Vexing. He pulled to a stop before the highway off ramp and checked the mirror, he U-turned and sped back towards town.
He would not go to her. He would wait for Lyla to come to him.