“It’s remarkable,” said Anne, turning the glass float over in her hand. Holding it up in front of her nose, Anne squinted at the textured glass. Unlike most of the Japanese fishing floats she’d seen, this one was made of a wavy, ruby-red glass that was nearly opaque. It contained a tiny swirl of phosphorescence that appeared to dance and flicker as she moved the float. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The girl continued dusting the shelf behind the cash register, but glanced over her shoulder. “It was my grandmother’s favorite.”
“What’s inside it?” Anne shook it gently, but felt nothing rattle or move inside.
“Has it always looked like this?” It couldn’t be biological; the float was completely airtight. There were minerals that glowed green, blue, yellow – but none of the minerals Anne had ever seen gave off little bursts and crackles of lightning the way this did.
“Yes. Always. Gran bought it at a market in Japan, fifty, maybe sixty years ago. It’s done that ever since I can remember.” She bent to rearrange some knick-knacks, feigning disinterest, only glancing up at Anne now and then. “It’s for sale, if you want it.” The girl recognized the nagging fascination in Anne’s expression. She calculated a price, studied Anne’s eyes, added ten, wished she still had its twin – the one they’d found shattered on the floor, next to her grandmother’s lifeless body. “Sixty dollars.”
“Sixty?” Anne asked. For a little glass float. She’d thought fifteen, maybe twenty, at most. But there was something undeniably unique about it. “Fifty,” Anne counteroffered.
“Sixty.” The girl smiled.
There was a reason Anne didn’t play poker. With a sigh of good-natured resignation, she dug three twenty dollar bills from her purse and returned the smile. “Can you wrap it for me?”
The girl nodded and reached for the float. She rolled it up in two sheets of paper and put it into a little white gift bag with navy blue cord handles. “Here you go.” She practically chirped.
Anne took the package and headed for the door. With one hand resting on the frame, she turned to the girl, “Mind if I ask why you’re selling it? I mean, if it was your Gran’s favorite.”
For a moment, the girl thought that the woman was going to return the thing. Icy fingers played along her spine, causing her to shudder visibly. “I–I don’t have room for it…” she lied. Lame excuse. No give-backs! she wanted to blurt out. “I’m going back to school in a week,” she added. Her smile, no longer shrewd, seemed shy and suddenly uncertain. “Oh! I almost forgot…” The girl reached into a cabinet and found a little wooden display stand. “Gran kept it in this. I’ll throw it in for free.”
Anne nodded. “Good. Good luck with your classes!” She pushed against the door with her shoulder.
Anne sat on her couch and pulled the paper-wrapped float from its bag. There was something about the girl’s expression, there at the end, that nagged at her. As Anne unwrapped the float, it slipped from her hands and hit the corner of the coffee table, crackling like an egg. “Damn!” Anne cursed her clumsy fumblefingers and went to get the dust pan and a whisk broom. Sixty dollars down the drain. At least now she could examine the thing’s innards, see what imparted that fascinating glow.
She swept up the shards and took them into the kitchen, where the light was better. Nothing but ordinary, blown glass, as far as Anne could tell. She turned several of the shards and splinters over, but there was nothing remarkable about any of them. She turned out the kitchen light, to see if there was any luminescence left. Nothing.
Anne took the shattered glass fragments out to the trash bin in the garage. There was a faint, high-pitched whine in her ear – damned mosquitoes were out early this year! She chuckled at the irresistible compulsion to scratch as she imagined the insect’s tiny wings batting at her ear canal.
Anne busied herself with a few chores around the house till it was time for bed. Near midnight, Anne realized that she wasn’t at all tired. She knew she should sleep, but it would be a perfunctory sort of sleep. The thought of wasting a minute of her life in bed seemed ludicrous. Grabbing her keys and her purse, she headed out to an all-night cafe she knew, just around the corner.
The girl found sleep challenging, as well.
They’d found Gran’s lover slumped against the wall, clutching his shoulder, babbling about her eyes. So much blood. Some of it his; most of it Gran’s. He claimed self-defense, said she’d gone mad and attacked him. Said that she was smiling. Said she had the strength of a young man. His body was covered in dark, livid bruises. No one could really comprehend how too such frail, elderly lovers could do so much damage to each other. They’d taken the man to the hospital, kept him in the psychiatric wing for evaluation and treatment. Something had terrified him – that much was clear. It had taken sixteen stitches to close the gaping wound in his shoulder when she’d cut him – presumably with a shard of broken glass, though the resident had said something about bruising being consistent with bite marks. They had to leave the light on in the man’s room, or his ragged, incessant screaming agitated the other patients. No one was going to press charges.
Sleep eluded them all, though, after that night.
Anne was puzzled by the people she saw on the streets at midnight. They gave her furtive little glances, crossed to the far side of the street, whispered to one another, and quickened their pace. They were like rats scurrying for the shadows. Anne breathed in the scent of midnight – a not unpleasant mix of ozone, diesel fumes, sweat, stale urine, and sweat – the sharp tang of fear and anxiety. A shadow, propped up on the sidewalk, shifted slightly. Anne’s curiosity piqued, she walked over to the homeless man and studied the look in his eyes as he stared back at her.
His screams pierced the muffled silence of darkness as Anne’s eyes began to glow.
Just a little Friday Fiction – that’s what #FF stands for, right?
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