Eric Muller: Sundial

Eric Muller: Sundial



Her ring finger moves back and forth along the lip of the Burgundy wine glass.  Slowly.  Her tongue touches her chapped upper lip, mirroring the movement.  She sits in a leather wingback armchair, covered with three alpaca wool blankets that have lost their color.  Her eyes peer through horn-rimmed glasses and are fixed on a crack in the velvet curtain.  A slit of light steals through.  Motes of dust swim in and out of the guillotine shaft that cuts across the solid mahogany table with upturned spindle legs.  But no banquets have entertained any guests here for years.  The stone fireplace, library and baby grand are in darkness. 


Her hand slides down the stem of the glass.  The thumb and middle finger caress the slim, transparent neck.  Her puffed eyes are mesmerized by the specks of dust floating in the funnel of light.  She wriggles her toes, covered by blue, frayed, woolen socks.   They crack.  Imperceptibly, the blade of light inches across the table.  When it reaches the edge of the overhanging top she swirls the wine and lifts the tapered glass to her parting mouth, sniffs the released aroma, and takes a sip.  The tilted crystal bowl remains between her lips as she swallows.  She swallows.  Her tongue dips and tests the red puddle.  She savors the tingle, and then sips again.  Her left ear pops and she blinks.  The third sip empties the glass.  She lets the tapered glass linger against her chin, licking the thin, transparent lip, tasting its cool, smooth edge.  Once the delicate flavor of the wine has faded she puts down the glass on the pedestal side table.  Her eyes follow the slow shift of light while she rubs her nose.  Having silenced the itch she lets her hand rest on the bottle, her thumb rubbing its neck, gently.  Outside a police siren wails, followed by an ambulance. 


When the pre-recorded bells of St. Mary’s chime twelve she lifts the bottle and pours another glass.  Her shaky hand spills a few drops on the lace tablecloth.  It absorbs the spreading red like blotting paper.  She grunts.  She wipes her hand against the Scottish plait flannel pajama top before placing the bottle next to a cluster of empty replicas that wait like expectant bowling pins.  The hand of light strikes the clock on the mantelpiece: 10:59.  She hasn’t wound it up these last six years.  The constant tick-tock had affected her like the drip-drip-drip of Chinese water torture.  She prefers deep-sea silence.  Leaning to her right she clasps an unopened bottle by the throat.  She mutters as she lifts it to her lap and screws into the cork with the opener.  After opening the bottle she places it on the pedestal, breathes deeply and sighs.


Her middle finger moves back and forth along the rim of the wine glass.  Slowly.  Her tongue touches her chapped upper lip, mirroring the movement.  The edge of light now slices across the black and white photo of her husband, framed and hanging left of the clock.  It was taken twenty years ago.  His arm hangs around her shoulder, but she’s still hidden in shadow.  She lifts the glass to her lips and drinks, sip for sip to the last drop.  Putting the glass back on the stained tablecloth she looks away as the beam of light now exposes her younger self, smiling, smoking and wearing a bikini.  Again she stares straight ahead at the wound in the curtains. 


She pours herself another glass.  The ray of light has moved on and is playing on the ivory keys of the baby grand.  She used to play and perform all around the world from the time she was nine.  As a child prodigy they called her Little Miss Lightning, on account of her speed and virtuosity, both on and off the stage.  The name stuck.  She could elude the most rapacious paparazzi, and give instant and witty answers to any journalists or reporters.  As a young woman she was the center of attention at any party, flirting and flitting from one man to the next, until she met her husband.  The keys of the baby grand haven’t been touched in seven years. 


She empties one more glass and dozes off.  Just after the fake bells toll two the gash of light shines against the burgundy damask wallpaper, left of the fireplace.  She does not want to look at the 5’ by 8’ rectangle that is darker than the rest of the wall.  With trembling hand she tops the glass with more wine.  Again she spills some drops over her fingers and onto the damp, embroidered tablecloth.  Growling, she wipes her hand on the pajamas and impatiently downs the entire glass in seconds – a garish caricature of Little Miss Lightning.  Yet, she cannot avert her eyes from the rectangle on the wall.  Tears skew her sight.  She removes the horn-rimmed glasses and wipes her eyes.  A framed photo of her daughter hung in that spot until her husband removed it when he finally left – three years ago.  Their daughter had died from massive internal injuries after falling out of the open window of their penthouse apartment.  He forgot to shut it one morning after a brief airing – the very window behind the velvet curtain.  It has never been opened since.  But a slither of light always gets through, no matter how tightly she draws the curtain every morning.  She had been off on tour at the time.  She recalls opening the telegram in the lobby of a hotel in Tokyo.  Or was it London?


Her hand slips under the alpaca blanket and down the sides of the upholstered chair.  She feels the pistol’s cold barrel with her left hand; the pointer finger touches the front sight, and then enters the muzzle, simultaneously rubbing it up and down.  Slowly she surrounds the cylinder with her thumb and forefinger, while her pinky curls around the trigger guard.  She’s panting.  On most days she would push it back into the folds of the upholstery.  Not today.  Gripping the handle of the revolver she pulls it out from under the faded blanket.  She’s breathing heavily as she cocks the hammer and watches the cylinder revolve.  The light from the curtain is no longer sharply defined.  With her right hand she lifts the almost full bottle to her mouth and drinks as if she were drinking soda on a hot day, while the revolver rests in her lap, held by the left.  Half emptied she lets it sink while leisurely raising the handgun to her mouth.  Her lips part and she pushes her tongue into the muzzle.  The taste of metal merges with the tang of wine.  Her finger tightens around the trigger.  She lusts for light.  She aches for air.  Curtains could be parted, windows opened.  She feels the muscles in her legs tightening.  Mourning doves coo outside. 



— by Eric Muller


Copyright © 2012, by Eric Muller. All Rights Reserved.


Eric G. Müller is a musician, teacher and writer living in upstate New York.  He has written two novels, Rites of Rock (Adonis Press 2005) and Meet Me at the Met (Plain View Press, 2010), as well as a collection of poetry, Coffee on the Piano for You (Adonis Press, 2008).  Articles, short stories and poetry have appeared in many journals and magazines.


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