The War for Evermore

Sienna Rosetti 02

“Enough about me; what’s your story, Sam?”

“Not much to tell, actually.”

“Really? I’d beg to differ. For example: those scars you wear are unusual.” She nodded at my exposed arms. “I’ve seen the ones on your legs and shoulders, as well.” She tilted her head, expression curious. “I understand they cover your entire body. Is that true?”

bennewman_siren_wip_03_notextCROP

 

1.2 – Strangeness and Charm

 Bladder drained, hands and face washed, I exited the bathroom, feeling refreshed. Well, kind of refreshed. Sorta kinda. It’s debatable just how refreshed one can be when it’s over 90 in the shade, you’re sweating like a pig on a spit and your grimy clothes are plastered to your body, rubbing up against your epidermis like rough sandpaper. Still, inside the house, where some of the morning air yet lingered, the atmosphere was perceptibly cooler than the outdoors.

‘This is wrong.’

Random thought. Out of nowhere.

No. Not wrong. Not right. I had no sense of where the feeling came from. One moment I was set to join Sienna on the back porch and next … everything slewed and the house interior shifted in my sight. I froze, catching my breath, scanning my surroundings, searching the shadows for movement. The small hairs on the back of my neck were getting spiky: something was going on, something just outside the range of my vision. I turned quickly, looking about, not sure what had me spooked. The sensation – and that’s what it was, a sensation – was vaguely familiar, a shade of forgotten memory, lingering just outside resolution … and I couldn’t place it, couldn’t connect, even though I knew, I really knew.

The problem was I didn’t know what it was I knew.

Or why.

I looked down the hall, feeling dizzy. The kitchen seemed further away than the last time I’d been here. A lot further. Sure, the property was huge; like I said, it took up a couple of normal lots. But now the building seemed even bigger on the inside than on the outside, like there was two or three times as much space stuffed into what should be there. The hall looked endless. I closed my eyes a moment, trying to shrug off the sensation.

Probably some trick of perspective or something.

I took a step toward the kitchen.

Someone whispered my name!

I stopped, pivoting, eyes wide, panicked.

What the hell?

There was no one there. I eased out of a fighter’s crouch, straightening. Slowing my breathing, I closed my eyes and listened. The inner air washed over me, oddly clear, even cool, the smell of freshly-worked wood and other, construction related odors mingling with the scent of cut grass. After a time I sensed what I thought to be a soft humming, distant, faint. I could barely detect the sound. I concentrated and gradually the humming grew in volume, changing, becoming an identifiable voice, at least in the sense I could recognize the rhythm and meter of verse. The words were lost to me, though, spoke – no, sung! – in an oddly musical language I could not recognize, feminine in quality, bright and alive. In spite of myself, a smile lifted the corners of my mouth, relaxing me, leaving feeling more at ease as any time I could remember.

The suspended moment of perception ended, the rhythm and music seeming to fade, but not quite go away.

And then it … she … spoke to me, the sound of the voice sad and warm.

“Welcome home, sweet Meadow.”

My eyes popped open, darting about, seeking out the speaker.

There was no one there.

“Who…?” The word was whispered. I looked to the shadows, half-expecting someone to emerge.

Silence.

I was beginning to think I’d imagined things.

“Hello, Kitchen.” The soft voice was right before me, its source invisible to my eyes. “I’ve missed you.”

I stepped back, tripping over a pile of wood and falling. I landed heavily, the clattering wood making a lot of noise.

Sienna called out. “Are you alright?”

“Fine!” I yelled back too loudly, scrambling to my feet. “Be right there!”

I spun about, trying to locate the source of the voice. What just happened? I hesitated, thinking to try and listen for the music again, but I knew I couldn’t stay here forever. Sienna was waiting for me and I didn’t need her thinking I was snooping around. I turned, conscious the hallway seemed shorter again.

Passing through the kitchen I saw my original assessment was correct: this area was in better shape than the rest of the house, refurbished to near-completion; everything looked new and functional. Made sense. If you were going to live in a place while fixing it up – at least, that’s what I assumed Sienna was doing – the two most important rooms to get up and running were the bathroom and kitchen.

Uneasily looking back over my shoulder at the now-dim interior, I brushed past the huge butcher’s block and stepped into the bright hot that was the outside. Sienna was sitting at a table to my left, under an ancient-looking awning. For the briefest instant I thought to mention the voice I’d heard, but quickly let go of that idea, thinking how crazy I’d sound.

“What happened? Did you hurt yourself?”

“No.” I blinked, still preoccupied with what happened only moments before. “No. I got clumsy and tripped, is all. Nothing bruised or broken.”

Sienna nodded and gestured to the seat across from her.

“Please.”

I settled in to the welcome vision of a bowl of tossed green salad and a pitcher of what looked to be lemonade.  On the plate in front of me was an open sandwich of roast beef and Jack cheese, with lettuce and tomatoes on the side and condiments in easy reach.

My hostess served up the salad, loaded with hot weather veggies: cucumbers, grape tomatoes, lettuce and a sprinkling of scallions.  “The dressing’s bottled Italian.”  Sienna sounded apologetic.  “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Um, no, um, that’s okay.  Uh … I really like … bottled … Italian.”

Yup … real cultured, witty repartee, but she seemed pleased.

Weird…

Small talk exhausted, we went silent except for the sounds of plastic utensils scraping plates and the refreshing crunch of fresh vegetables as we chewed. I avoided opportunities to look directly at her, remembering how I got here in the first place, spending an inordinate amount of time staring out over the yard.

Behind and to the left of Sienna, at the end of a tall, ivy-covered fence, was a two-story structure I assumed served as the garage and tool shed. I figured the upper story was a servant’s quarters or in-law apartment at some time in the past. The building looked deserted, the upstairs windows boarded up. Scanning right, I took in the wide lawn, with a massive oak in the center, providing shade. Along the rear fence stood a row of pine trees, providing more shade, as were the Japanese maples standing in the opposite corner, above a still pond half-filled with brackish water.  There was lawn furniture, and the broken frame of a two-seater swing stood beneath the oak. The yard was covered in places with old leaves, broken branches and the inevitable detritus of neglect.

I turned, reaching for the lemonade and froze. Sienna was staring at me. No. Not at me. She was staring through me, checked out, mind elsewhere, features sad, lonely even. She blinked, caught my eye and the expression disappeared, replaced by that cool facade she wore so well. She took a bite of her sandwich, chewing and then washing things down with lemonade, eyes wandering the back yard. I looked away, occupying myself with finishing off my own sandwich. It tasted good: tangy sourdough, cold cuts and vegetables.

I couldn’t stand the silence.

I reached out to tap the side of the house. “If you don’t mind my asking, is this one of your jobs?” I got a puzzled expression in response. “I noticed on the card you gave me. You describe yourself as a restoration architect.  I figured this is one of your jobs or contracts or whatever you call it, which got me curious ‘cause I didn’t think architects worked the construction end of things.”

She smiled a real smile. Whoa. So that’s what that’s like. “Oh, I see.”  She took a sip of lemonade, her expression thoughtful. “Yes, architects work construction while they learn their craft and even later in their careers have some hands on involvement on their jobs, though perhaps not to the extent I have here. I guess it would be up to the individual, really. As for you question, no, this is not one of my clients’ jobs. This is my home. I grew up here. I inherited the house from my – my grandparents – a long time ago. It’s been deserted since their deaths.” She sighed. “I decided I wanted to live here again.” Her voice was different: the hard edge I’d grown accustomed to gone.

“Grew up here?” I was genuinely interested, looking around and imagining what the yard once looked like. “Must have been some childhood.”

“No.” She went chill.  “Not much of a childhood at all.” She turned her attention back to her sandwich, took a bite and chewed, looking off into the yard, her expression sphinx-like.

Great

Wanting to get out of there before I did anything more to sour the mood, I focused on my sandwich, finishing the last bit in a couple of bites. I was set to excuse myself and return to the front when she spoke again.

“Please don’t misunderstand.” Her voice was hushed, thoughtful. “My grandparents loved me, spoiled me even. This was a romantic place to grow up, with all the different rooms, and the large yard filled with all manner of trees and flowers …” She sighed. “… and the library.” She gestured at the run-down vegetation and remains of lawn furniture. “The parties during the summer … the neighborhood children would come to play croquet and lawn tag and all manner of games.” She sighed again, lost in another place. “They were the best times, my childhood here. Thanksgiving, the Christmas holidays … Halloween … this house was always the best place to be.”  Her voice drifted off.

“I’m sorry.”

She blinked a couple of times and looked at me, expression direct. “Not to worry. It was a long time ago. Another era. Like all things: long gone. Nothing of importance to anyone, anymore.” She paused, expression focused. “Once I made up my mind to return I got to work ripping out the interior, getting rid of the rotted wood and plaster while modernizing the electric, gas, and plumbing.  The place was in bad shape. The `89 quake accelerated the aging of the structure.” She reached out, touching the outside wall with her fingertips, the expression familiar, intimate. “With winter approaching I’m concentrating on the interior and the roof. Come spring I’ll finish the renovation of the façade. By next summer the place will look as it did a hundred years ago.”

She paused, sipping again from her glass, tilting up as she finished the lemonade to get at the ice.  She looked at me, absently crunching the small cubes between her teeth. “Enough about me; what’s your story, Sam?”

“Not much to tell, actually.”

“Really? I’d beg to differ. For example: those scars you wear are unusual.” She nodded at my exposed arms. “I’ve seen the ones on your legs and shoulders, as well.” She tilted her head, expression curious. “I understand they cover your entire body. Is that true?”

I nodded, chewing, eyes unfocused.

Wear, huh? 

The scars were a reminder of a very bad day in my life; I’d never thought of them as being ‘worn’ so much as being left with them.

She prodded.

“So what happened?”

“I don’t know.”

She leaned back, studying me. “You don’t know?” Her expression was curious. “How is that possible? I’ve been told you look like someone who took a stroll through a knife factory during a hurricane. I think I’d remember something like that.”

I smiled unhappily. This was not a place I liked to visit.

“I don’t remember.” Her eyes narrowed. “No, really.” My tone was resigned; she wasn’t going to let up until I explained myself. “Amnesia. Doctors say trauma erased my memory.”

“Seriously?”

“Cross my heart. When I woke at Walter Reed, six months were gone and I didn’t have a clue where. The last thing I remember was the ambush.”

“Walter Reed? That’s a military hospital.” I nodded. “You were in the Army.”

I grinned, but there was no humor in the expression. “Naw. Marines, ma’am. Semper Fi.”

“Oh.” Her expression was vague, not catching – or ignoring – the distaste in my voice. “So you say an ambush? Where were you? Iraq? What were you doing?”

I sipped from my glass. “It was a small operation: one of our embassies got overrun…”

“You were in Iran? You couldn’t have been old enough.”

“This was somewhere else, two decades after Tehran, in Africa, a terrorist thing from what we were told going in. The troop carrier I was assigned to was the closest asset, so they ordered us in. Without backup.”

“That’s bad?”

I nodded. “There was a full Task Force with another troop carrier one day further out, but the brass wouldn’t wait.” I sipped from my lemonade. “You mentioned Tehran. You know that thing they talk about preparing for the last battle? That’s what we were doing, remembering Tehran and planning for another scenario just like it.

“That made for a huge mistake because it turned out the other guys prepared for us to come in expecting Tehran.”

“An ambush?”

“Yeah. Given the Embassy was being overrun within our strike range, the thought was to get in quick, not giving the captors time to either fortify their position or disappear into the countryside with our people. We were off within an hour, three platoons in choppers, escorted by jump jets. We inserted smooth, on target, freeing the captives within minutes of landing. Textbook. It was when we tried to evac everything went to hell. Lost half our guys, all our choppers and most of the air support before we even knew we were in a firefight. Total ambush: CO and most of the officers were dead in seconds. Somehow we fought our way out and marched for the coast and rescue. What was left of my platoon – fifteen guys – got put on the rear guard. We split in two groups, leapfrogging, engaging in staged retreats: quick ambushes, slowing them down while we bugged out past the next fortified position, setting up another ambush further up the road to the coast.

“The tactic worked for a while. One time, though, it was their turn, and we got caught in an ambush and, well, things got pretty ugly. That’s where my memory stops.”

“I never saw this in the news. All of this really happened?”

“Yeah. At least, that’s what I’m told happened. Like I said, I have no memory. I remember going in. Remember the initial attack. There’s no doubt in my mind it happened. Things get sketchy after – I only know bits and pieces. Then my memories disappear altogether. Amnesia.”

I looked out over the yard, not wanting to share what was going on behind my eyes.

“In the end, only five of us made it out, and me so cut up it was a miracle there weren’t only four.”

“I’m sorry.”

I looked back at her and forced a smile. “It’s okay. Fifteen years is a long time, anyway; people forget lots of things. Just sucks I can’t remember: all those people dead … seems like something you shouldn’t forget.”

“It’s odd, though.” She spoke the words offhandedly, an afterthought. I looked at her, confused. “The scars. You have no scars on your face or neck, yet they seem to cover the rest of your body. Why do you think that is?”

I shrugged. “Dunno. Never really gave it much thought, actually.”

Which was a lie. The scarring was something I’d always wondered about. Like the rest of my body, my face was pretty cut up, but no trace remained after a few months, unlike the rest of me. No one could figure out why.

Sienna looked at me skeptically, finally speaking. “Alright.” Her tone suggesting she wasn’t buying what I was selling, “Let’s move on to something else, then. What is it do you do with yourself for a living?” She smiled, and added quickly, “I mean, besides you predilection for perversion?”

For the briefest instant I paused to appreciate her ability to keep me off balance. She was very good. I covered my discomfort, draining the glass and pouring a quick refill. Smiling, Sienna held her glass out and I refreshed her, as well.

“Well, for a living wage, I do odd jobs, work part-time as a bouncer, wait tables downtown. I-”

She cut me off. “Tables? Where? Which restaurant?”

The Raging Rhino.” I wasn’t doing a good job of hiding my irritation at being interrupted.

She nodded, not seeming to care. “I’ve heard of it. Good food, fun atmosphere.”

“Yeah. My housemate head waiter there. He got me the job.” I shrugged. “Dues you pay to do the things you love.”

“Oh, now that sounds vaguely pretentious, like you are getting ready to sneak in a pick up line. Are you always so transparent?” Her voice was teasing, near mocking, and I grunted. “Or so self absorbed?” She laughed. “Exactly what is it you’re so cryptically trying to tell me, sir?”

I felt filleted.

“Okay.” The sound of the word was a resigned sigh; you could hear the mea culpa in my voice. “What I mean is all that stuff I do pays the bills and keeps food on the plate and a roof over my head. What I really do is … theatre … act. And direct, sometimes.”

“Oh.” Her expression shifted a shade, showing interest. “So you’re an actor. An artist?”

“Yeah.” I caught the question in her voice. “Yeah, if you want to call it that. At the risk of sounding truly pretentious, I can’t say if I’m an artist. I’m more comfortable with the actor label.”

Faint smile.

“So what’s this now? False humility?” Her expression was curious. “There’s a difference?”

What the hell, she asked.

“Okay … let’s go for a different perspective: art versus craft. I try to – for lack of a better word – create art in the same sense that, say, a craftsman would fashion a fine piece of furniture or pottery.”

“Did you rehearse that?”

I eyed her.

“Do you really want hear this? Maybe I should just go finish up the yard.”

“No.” Something in her expression shifted. “No. I’m sorry. Go on. Please.”

 I stared back at her a moment, then sipped from my drink. “Okay. A woodworker builds an ornate chest of drawers or cabinet. As he works the oak or redwood he can see results evolve and take shape. At the end of the day he stops and steps back and sees the art, really looks at it, thinking on what he’s done and making plans for what comes next. That doesn’t work for me: as a performer, everything moves too fast for that. One moment leads to another and another as the performance unfolds. Whatever you created in the moment dies in the next as you move with the action and dialogue.

“It’s not only the ephermal quality of the work. There’s no way to know if I’m creating art because everything is in transition. I can’t step back, get some distance and take a good look at what I’m doing like the craftsman does.” I chuckled. “Maybe Schrodener’s Cat might have pulled it off.” She grinned and laughed. “So, having eliminated me from a potentially objective view of the work I’m doing, there is left only leaves the audience, the people watching me, the only people in a position to judge whether or not I’m creating art.”

Silence. I looked at her expectantly.

“Are you always this self absorbed?”  Her voice was deadpan but there was a sense of amusement in her eyes.

She is teasing me!

“Occupational hazard.” I drained my glass. “Look at it this way: the best I can do is attempt to craft art using words, movement and timing. Sometimes it’s all unconscious: you walk away from a good performance with no clue what you did. Other times you stink up the joint, unable to connect with the work or the other actors, you’re completely out of sync and everything feels like a line reading. Then there are times a performance comes together and you know you nailed it, like … like hitting a walk-off grand slam.” I smiled sheepishly. “It’s there I come as close as I ever come to knowing I’ve created art.”

“Alright, I’ll buy that.” She switched up. “So what have you done?  Any movies, TV I’ve seen?”

“No. No movies or TV you’d ever notice me in.” I sipped my drink, flirting with the idea of telling her about the Halloween commercial, deciding I didn’t want to give her any fresh ammo.

“I worked stock theatre this summer.” She raised a questioning eyebrow. “Summer stock. Down south, LA, at the Beachfront Rep in Huntington Beach.”

Both eyebrows were up as she looked sideways and up at me.

“Plays? Who were you?”

Like feeding me quarters. “Torvald …”

A Dolls House.”

I smiled. “Yes. Ibsen.” She knows a little theatre. I felt my guard relax.

“Tell me about it.”

“About-?”

“The acting. You did other roles?”

“Yes.”

“What was your favorite?”

The smile was automatic.

“Oberon.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

“Yes.”

“I wish you could see your smile. I swear, you could be naming a lover.”

I blinked.

“Say what?

“You seem taken with it. With the role. The character.”

I looked at her, puzzled, then not.

“Oh.” I smiled, then chuckled. “It was a good show.” The smile faded.

“And then it ended.”

I eyed her. “What we do doesn’t last long. Most of the time three to six weeks rehearsal – if you are lucky – then a run of two to six weeks and you move on. And you’re auditioning and learning lines in your spare time on days you perform and your days off. And a lot of times it’s just a job, just work. You do your thing, work your craft, and a lot of times that’s enough, you get in some great performances, work well with everyone, maybe learn some new things, new tricks. It’s all good.” I looked down, then sideways at her. “Every once in a lucky while, though, you get to work with a group of people who, by some odd quirk or dint of fate somehow bond and decide to have some fun.

“The magic of the ‘having of fun’ is the spontaneity of it. It’s an unspoken thing: it just happens, and you roll with it. And nothing can touch it, and for years long after, that particular experience remains in your memories, a special, maybe even cherished moment of fun and family and creativity in what can be a life spent alone and apart.”

I blink and looked at her, suddenly sheepish.

“I’m sorry. I’m running off at the mouth.”

“Oh, no.” She smiled with sudden brightness. “It’s quite all right. You have a beautiful voice; you communicate emotion so well, a sense of shared secrets. Not just that. Listening to you, I almost feel I see these things as you do. For example, I am listening to you and hearing how much you love what you do. I do not just ‘hear’ it as an idea, but feel your memory, a longing for something lost forever. A difficult thing, I think.” She stopped, taking a moment to stare at me, expression soft and friendly, understanding. “Listening to you, I sense if it were possible, you could see yourself doing that one show alone forever.”

“Whoa.” I stared at her. “Wow. Don’t tell me: you’re a poet or something? That is one off the wall analysis.” She smiled, but remained silent. I shrugged. “Okay, yeah. I could. Maybe.” I paused, thoughtful. “No. No, I couldn’t. Wouldn’t. I know better: forever is transitory.” She looked at me oddly, eyes narrowing. She seemed unhappy. “What I mean to say is when you do a lot of theatre, you live a gypsy life. Your world is about movement and about change. You embrace all of it, because that, more than anything, is what you learn from. From the things that change.

“You also know the occasion is rare in life when something comes together like Midsummer did. When it does you embrace the experience, immerse yourself in the world of the play, and all the while try to remember every detail, every spoken word, every moment, because this experience reminds you why you live this life, and you want to carry that feeling long past the play’s ending.” I smiled, embarrassed. I took a breath and let it ease out of me, thinking. “It’s like this: the experience is akin to meeting the love of your dreams and, as with all true romances, when the show ends, that loves disappears and the loss can almost break your heart.”

Sienna’s was smiling again. I grinned sheepishly.

“Yeah. I know. I really do come off a little self-absorbed.”

“A little?” She laughed at my hurt expression, the sound soft, warm. “No, I think I understand.  It – the life in the theatre – is life to you.” She smiled, her expression now thoughtful as she regarded me. “You speak as someone in love. I’ve wondered what drove people to pursue a life like yours, and perhaps I understand why, a little.” She paused, another smile shaping her features. “Your Midsummer Night’s Dream sounds so wonderful. I wish I could been there to see it.

“I wish you could have…” I said, too quickly and stopped, feeling instantly awkward, remembering where I was, and with whom. We sat a moment, staring at each other.

This is nice, I realized, being here with her on this hot, lazy afternoon.

“Anyway, that’s what I do.” I looked up at the sky, then back down, expression resigned. “The day isn’t getting any younger and I figure I have a lot left to do.” Yeah, that’s right: I was thinking that after all this pleasant conversation maybe she saw I was a regular, stand-up kind of guy, like they say in all the best noir, and would take pity on me and let me cut out.

Uh-oh …

The predatory smile lifted the corners of Sienna’s mouth, exposing the edges of her teeth.

Gotcha!

“Yes.” Her voice took on a peculiar tone as she stood to collect the dishes. “Yes, you have chores to complete before you’re finally done.”

She met my eyes and I felt a sensation, a soft ache that reached out, caressing the edges of perception, a mournful song echoing in the distance.

She blinked, as if remembering herself, straightening. “Best get on with things, don’t you think?” She whispered the words, almost to herself, brushing past me into the kitchen, acting like I wasn’t even there. I stood and looked after her, sensing I’d missed something.

Shaking my head, I stepped off the porch and got to it.

Continued…

 

 

October 6, 2016 Posted by | Sienna Rosetti, Telling Stories | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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