What Did We Sell?

What Did We Sell?

“Just a glass of water, no ice,” the old man said in a raspy voice to the waitress as she took our orders.  

Juan called him the benefactor, a sickly old man dressed in a refined black coat, baggy suit, black mask, and what looked to be an old-style of Ray-Ban sunglasses.  We sat at a booth at the Frontier restaurant across from the University of New Mexico, a sort of hub for some of our commissions and client meetings.

I felt out of place just being in his company. He looked nothing like the usual southwest art patrons, and doubt was easing in wondering if he would pay what Juan had promised.

Juan also seemed nervous.  His face glossed with sweat as he ordered a cinnamon roll.  He was good about finding commissions and work, but I was sensing how he also felt off with this client.  I prayed silently that we weren’t going to be commissioned to do something kinky or obscene for some fetish.  

Juan offered to pay for lunch when he told me about meeting the man initially, so I ordered a brunch combo with Christmas, smothered red and green chile.  Money was tight since I lost my scholarship after failing my statistics class.  I might save a couple of meals from this outing at least.  

“I need to test you, and a couple of other artists around the area,” the old man said as he removed his mask.  I had assumed he wore it due to his age and having a frail immune system, but his face was ghastly.  His skin was blotchy, molded tightly on the bone structure of his skull, giving him a skeletal look.  Scabbed boils and open sores were at the corners of his mouth, while loose skin sagged in unnatural wrinkles around his jowls.  I imagined the terror of his sunken eyes if he removed his glasses, and was thankful he kept them on.

He pulled out a small black moleskin book.   

“I want you to draw your portraits in this book,” he continued and took out a pencil case with various drawing supplies of charcoal, pastel and watercolor pencils.  

I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture.   

“What is this test for?” Juan asked as he clasped his hands in front of him, giving the man a studied look that I’ve seen him use before to negotiate a better contract for work.  As good as he was as an up-and-coming artist, he was a better businessman with his refined style.  Similar to the old man, he wore a fitted suit, but grey with an open blue shirt.  No tie made him business casual.

No wonder I felt out of place.  I tugged at my oversized graphix tee and leggings nested in a pair of Uggs.  While my hair was in a fashionable top bun, and my makeup immaculate, (as I never leave the house otherwise,) I still looked closer to the beggars hanging by the bus stop than an artist seeking a commission.

The old man chuckled.  “Do you know the story of Picasso and the portrait of the woman in the park?” 

“Let me guess, the one where he charged her 5,000 francs for a 5-minute sketch.  She gets mad at him, and he corrects her saying, “Ma’am, it took me a lifetime to draw your portrait.”

It was me who had interrupted, and I felt a little embarrassed acting out the deep voice I used for Picasso.  I had enough of his tense atmosphere, and I could feel my insides turning with anxiety.

“Smart girl,” he said as he erected his posture and smiled and ghastly grin, revealing broken and black teeth that must have added to his subtle ascent.

“Smart girl has a name.  It’s Lillian.  I’m only here because Juan said that there was a commission for drawing a portrait for a ridiculous amount of money.  I didn’t believe him.” I said nonchalantly I dipped a chip into salsa.  Maybe eating something would ease my nerves.  

“Yes,” he nodded.  “I am willing to pay you $20,000. For the sketch, no less.” He paused and placed his hand over his heart. “I understand that it takes a lifetime to hone your craft.”

Juan and I exchanged glances.  

“Are we drawing your portrait?” I asked, taking a swig of lemon water.  The smell of Mexican and breakfast food was making me nauseous.  This seemed too good to be true, and we are just starting our careers.  

The old man sat back in a comfortable pose.  

“No.  I have enough of me.  I wish you to draw your own portraits.”

He pulled out a black leather briefcase on the corner of the table.  He seemed to enjoy studying our apprehensive faces while opening the metal clasps and propped the case open slightly to reveal bundles of cash.  

“Are you a mobster?” I coughed jokingly before grabbing a pencil and opening the black book.

Really, what did I have to lose at that point?  I noticed an odd stamp on the inside cover.

I used an AB sketch pencil from the case and started to draw my portrait using the camera on my iPhone as a mirror.  I have never really liked drawing my own portraits, not like Frida, one of my idols.  While I loved her bravado for painting herself as the subject she knows best, I always felt uncomfortable using myself as the subject.  It might have to do with how I take more interest in other people, or that there are times when I really don’t want to know myself. Not even for the simple study of a self-portrait.  

The waitress was quick with our food, and I pushed my plate aside as Juan started slicing his cinnamon roll.  The old man watched me intently as I drew my portrait, almost nodding in approval with each stroke.

“Do you enjoy watching art?” Juan asked.  

I learned the hard way, that sometimes, it’s just best not to ask questions about why people like art. 

“I do,” said the old man.  “It is very important to me that you get the likeness of yourself,” he said gesturing around his face.  “I do not like modern art.  It seems to be more about making statements than a craft of capturing, or preserving, what is.”

“So is this like an art grant to you?”  Juan asked and started eating one small delicate bite at a time.  It felt like he was stalling, and that he was considering declining the commission.  “From what I gathered, you are seeking to support some local artists.  That’s how you got my number at the 505 Gallery, right?” 

“In a way, yes,” the old man said, eying me all the more.  He was creeping me out, but I was trying to remind myself that what he was also paying for watching us draw.

It didn’t take me very long to finish, about fifteen minutes.  I was surprised to see how gleefully pleased he was about it.  Juan started at me wide-eyed as the old man pulled out some cash and handed it to me.  

I counted it below the table and was surprised to find it was the $20,000 as promised.  I excused myself and made my way to the bathroom for a few moments to decompress.  It not only felt stressful, but my back ached as if weighted down.  I felt as though the wind were knocked from my chest, just from drawing a simple sketch. It made no sense.   

When I returned, Juan stopped eating and had also started drawing his portrait into the book.  I could sense his unease as he sat there hunched over the book while the benefactor watched him, as intensely as he was with me. 

Juan then paid for our lunch while the old man collected the various pencils and the black book.  He gave Juan his cash.

“It was a pleasure doing business with you,” he said as he tipped his hat in a farewell and left the booth.

“What business did we just do?” I asked Juan as I scooped my food into a to-go box.  He shook his head, as he stuffed the cash he hid below the table into his pocket.  

As we left the restaurant, another question filled me with dread.  “Do you even know his name? He never even introduced himself.”

Juan stopped and stared into the distance. “No name.  He called me from an unlisted phone number, asked me if I was good at drawing portraits.  If I knew other artists who could draw their portraits quickly.”

“And that’s it?” I asked, my heart pounding.  I felt the sweat forming on my back as a cool breeze hit us from nowhere.  

“He asked that I meet him here, and he would pay $20,000 for a sketch in his book.  Said he’d pay other artists available too.”

I tightened my grip on the to-go box in my hands.  “Yeah, well, seeing is believing.  I thought you were joking when you called me.”

“Me too.  I keep expecting cameras or a show to pop up at any time.  It didn’t feel scripted though.”

We continued to walk towards UNM as we used to after a study group or meetup, even though we haven’t had classes together for almost two years.  We gravitated towards the duck pond, still processing the strange encounter with the benefactor.  

“So what are you going to do with the money?” he asked me as we settled on some of the outdoor chairs near the student union building.    

“It’s rent, food, and next semester’s tuition,” I muttered defensively.

He nodded and folded his hands in front of him.  “It feels wrong, somehow.”

“What, do you feel like we swindled him?” I started to poke holes in the container.  I decided that I would end up throwing the food out.  I doubted that I would have an appetite later, and I didn’t want to be reminded of the odd man.  

“No,” Juan paused.   “Like we sold more, although, I can’t name why or how.”

My face scrunched into disbelief.  “Really?  We spent fifteen minutes to draw our portraits in a little black book for $20,000.” 

“Yeah.  I don’t know why.”  

I pulled a cigarette while watching his frown turn deeper, the creases around his eyes and mouth turning into sharp shadows.  I had never seen him this upset, and he looked as if he were aging years before my eyes.  

“At least it wasn’t as bad as the Bella Rainbows Project,” I smiled, bringing up old memories.  

Juan laughed, and I felt better seeing the shadows ease a bit on his face. ““That was a mess.  I didn’t regret it though.  Learned a lot.”

“But you regret this?” I breathed in deep some soothing smoke, feeling my nerves relax with each puff of my cancer stick..  “Why?”  

“If I could tell you, I would.”

“Well, I got things to do.”  I smashed the cigarette on the table.  I had been trying to quit for a while, but it still relieves me at times.  

I kissed him on the forehead, smelling his cologne, and felt my heartache.  It had been weeks since we last even talked.  He didn’t say anything as I departed to my dorm room east of campus.  

Thoughts filled my mind as my eyes adjusted to my dark dorm room.  Maybe I was too callous about certain things, especially when it came to money.  I was needy at the same time, a bit insecure about my own talent and skill.  I knew I was a mess, but at least I owned it.  Maybe that’s why we didn’t work, but he had a lot more support than me. His parents at least supported his career path.  

I went to the bathroom and was startled by my reflection in the mirror.  White streaks predominantly appeared in the part of my hair.  I undid my bun and turned on the full set of lights.  Was it a trick, or did my hair just start turning white in the last hour?

I stared wide-eyed in the mirror.  It wasn’t a trick.  Not only was my hair greying, but I noticed similar deep creases form around my eyes and mouth, similar to Juan’s at the pond.  Were we aging? Rapidly?

My hands started shaking as I grabbed my phone.  I paused a moment before calling him and sat down on the toilet to relieve myself.  Surely, I was going mad.  I needed to calm down.  It had to be stress. This would all pass.  

My stomach sickened sitting there, and I looked down, noticing cellulite and stretch marks appearing on my inner thighs.  Even my stomach heaved, and I felt intense pain as I emptied my bowels, as if I had eaten bad food or were getting over a hangover.  

Something was very wrong with me, and if this was happening to me, was it happening to Juan too?

It sat there for what felt like hours, but it was only about fifteen minutes when I looked at my phone.  When I finally stood up, my legs felt numb and it took a few minutes to feel the tingles of blood circulating back into them.  

I looked back into the mirror and screamed, barely recognizing my own voice as it sounded deeper and raspier than it should have been.  More of my hair had turned white, and my skin formed blotches similar to what I had seen on the old man.  

After my initial shock, I dabbed at the sore that started to develop at the corner of my mouth, gasping in horror at the rapid deterioration of my body.  

I was startled by my phone’s sudden ringtone playing a song I picked specifically for Juan. 

“Juan,” I panted into the phone.  “What’s happening to us?”

“Are you aging too?” he asked, his voice sounding familiar, loud and authoritative, but short and airy.  

I started crying on the phone.  

“What did we really sell to him, Juan?”  

I heard deep heaving breathing and sudden gasping noises.  Then I heard nothing at all.   

Her Lost Voice

Her Lost Voice

Illiana Sanchez’s hands hurt, her knuckles aching with dull and sharp pains as her fingers loomed over her computer keyboard. It surprised her, as she was only thirty-seven, and in her office profession, she didn’t do laborious work that would give her arthritis so young. Not like her great grandmother, who worked in the fields of a potato farm. Not like her mother, who worked at a salon tidying women’s hair, or her father who followed his mother’s path on the farm and then farm construction. She simply typed on a keyboard for a living.

She was startled by Dan, a gruff older man with a graying beard and longer fading blond hair standing by her door.

“Did you see the Turner Article?” he asked under his breath while taking a swig of his coffee from his earthen purple cup, a piece his potter wife made for him.

Illiana paused, narrowed her eyes, and sat back in her chair.

“Cordelia was assigned that piece. Are you telling me there is something wrong with it already?”

Dan glanced down and shrugged.

“You might want to before she gets started on another rant,” he said before moving to his office next to hers.

Illiana sighed. Cordelia was a problem from the moment she started interning. She disagreed in every way Illiana had been when she first started the business. Karma, perhaps, and usually, she liked the initiative and spunk. Illiana hoped to take the girl under her wing, but something was off with Cordelia. She showed so much promise, someone she sort of saw as herself, full of ambition and ready to tackle not only her job but bring about social justice needed to change the world.

Cordelia revealed herself as pompous about her accomplishments to hide a sort of insecurity. Illiana wondered if the book Lean In may have been right about the Queen Bee Syndrome, as she talked about in her women networking groups being anti-feminist because it implied that females didn’t support one another. She started to reconsider the opinion when Cordelia began front stabbing her during their Monday meetings.

She thought it unfortunate with the potential she saw in the girl, and there was plenty of room to grow in the small newspaper business. Hell, Illiana knew connections that could help Cordelia if she wanted to work in a more robust city than the small tourist town of Shadow Springs, Colorado.

The biggest news for the small town was the local election for Mayor between Mike Turner and Bella Davis. It was so unfortunate that the small-town politics had started to mimic the federal election in 2016, with an uprise of the quiet right. She suspected Dan may be part of that group, but he always declared himself a libertarian who didn’t like either party and just wanted to ensure the most freedom of rights. Illiana was mainstream, and it had been agreeable to her. The first in her family to not only get a college education but work herself in a good white-collar job doing what her mom thought was prestigious in the media. It gave her freedom to share not only her voice but those like her.

Her family had migrated from Mexico only two generations prior and had established themselves well in New Mexico before heading to the literal greener pastures of Colorado. Many of her cousins and extended family now reside in Colorado, and the opportunities seemed endless. She was the pinnacle of the story of her family’s success, and proud to be their voice.

If only they knew the truth that much of her work lies in the office gossip and constant eye strain. She felt her tired eyes as she stared at her computer screen, growing tired of a boring piece about a new restaurant by another newer intern Ursula. Her joints ached, and she felt her stomach soured.

She knew she should look at Cordelia’s piece about the election in case she had to confront her about making it more centered. She probably agreed with the confrontational viewpoint she suspected, but she didn’t want to upset the local right groups too much. Worse, she didn’t want the politics of the office to sour with Dan, her right-hand man.

Dan had always been her support. He loved his job in editorial and turned down the editing job multiple times. The added responsibility of small office management wasn’t his style. He believed in her from the moment she entered the office with her enthusiasm and her mission bringing better news to the outskirts of Shadow Springs. Despite their differences in politics, he was a laudable friend to confide in, and his wife made the best scones and homemade tea that she always brought with her homemade pottery. They were good people, and sort of an odd couple, but kind. Thinking of them reminded her of tea, and that it was prime time to take a break and energize for the afternoon.

Illiana grabbed her mug and opened her door and started for the kitchen when a girl bumped into her, and she dropped her mug on the carpet.

“I’m so sorry!” said the small, blond girl wearing glasses say as she knelt on the ground to retrieve her cup.

Illiana didn’t recognize this small, frail girl. She had a flower clip part the side of her short blond bob, pale skin, but striking blue electric eyes that kind of surprised her. She appeared tired and worn, wearing a very old-fashioned garb of a blue overall dress with a white blouse, and with her stocky black glasses. Her style was out of time from the 1980s, and while old trends were returning, she was clearly ill fashioned compared to Cordelia and Ursula who wore the latest fashion trends.

“Are you new here?” Illiana asked. Ursula was the latest intern, and she told Jon, the owner of the small newspaper, that they couldn’t afford the minimum for another employee. There wasn’t even enough work to go around for the small staff as it was. Despite his, he always had an eye for new college graduates looking for experience, and she worried about his intent being more personal than professional.

“I’m Sybil. I emailed last week about interning here.”

“Awe, I remember,” Illiana recalled, tucking some of her voluminous curls behind her ear. Illiana was proud of her natural looks and impeccable style, and her confidence gave immediate rapport with women. “You were supposed to start last week, but had a family emergency right?”

Her stomach tightened again, and sharp pains started down her legs and welled at her knees. The pain erupted the worse in her wrists, where she cried out and shook them to ease the sudden shocks of pain. What is up with this pain? She wondered, where did it come from?

Sybil noticed her sudden lurch and asked, “Are you alright?” while grabbing a hold of her shoulder. She smelled strongly of lilacs that tickled her nose.

“I’m fine. Maybe a bug. Just started today. As I was saying, how are you with the family emergency?”

“My grandmother is doing much better now, thank you. We think she is going to pull through. We greatly appreciate how you let me start later to be with her.”

Illiana smiled. It was more fortunate that she didn’t start so soon as well, but only because her growing staff was getting harder to handle. This girl was at least appreciative and a good team player. She breathed in some hope.

“Well, I’m sure you will do well here.”

“This may help,” Sybil said giving her a bottle of what looked like to be handmade lotion. “A family recipe, for cold hands during the wintertime to keep them nimble.”

Illiana initially scrunched her nose, but then opened the bottle that smelled less faint than the aroma of Sybil, and spread it on her hands. She felt instant relief.

“Wow, that is some marvelous lotion! You guys should think about selling it.” Illiana said.

“Perhaps,” Sybil said smiling as she left to her cubicle.

Illiana made her tea from the homemade remedy Dan supplied for the office and went back to her computer. She read the Turner article, and Dan was right. Cordelia accused Turner of accepting brides in lieu of campaign donations. There just wasn’t the evidence there to support the claims. The most they could report was the ongoing investigation by the city council. She felt a headache coming back, and the chronic pain in her joints return.

What is going on with me, she thought in a haze. I need to get some rest. This can wait until Monday. She decided to leave early, and Dan took notice but didn’t stop her. He worked with her long enough to know that some battles weren’t worth the fight on a Friday afternoon.

Over the weekend, the pain had gone away. Illiana found it slightly odd but figured it to be stress.

The Monday Morning madness started from the moment Illiana entered the office. She hadn’t gotten her caffeine fix for the morning meeting, and drama is already erupting in the office.

“You have no right to publish that piece!” she heard Dan yell in the break room.

“The people have a right to know,” Cordelia’s voice sounded more shrill than usual, almost afraid. She wondered if Dan threatened her job, and she almost never heard him yell.

“What is going on?” Illiana demanded as she entered the break room. She saw Cordelia and Ursula standing together in defensive poses while Dan stood center, commanding the room. Sybil sat in the back of the room writing in a notebook, observing.

“She published the unedited Turner piece on the website,” Dan said in his usual calm voice. “Ursula showed her how.”

Illiana tapped her foot looking at the floor fuming with anger. “You two, office now.”

The conversation did not go well. Dan, probably ensuring he didn’t cross boundaries but needing to know if he was in the right, brought her a cup of tea as the two young women tried to plead their case.

“This cannot be tolerated. You two are interns, not permanent staff. I know that Jon may have promised a permanent position, but it is earned through my trust. Right now, you don’t have it,” Illiana stated as the two defeated women agreed and left without a word.

She drank her tea, the pain continued to burn in her hands and lurch in her stomach. Sybil startled Illiana suddenly by sitting down quietly on the bench where Cordelia sat moments earlier.

“Your tea is poisoned,” she whispered.

Caught off guard, Illiana put down the cup.

“I noticed a high concentration of what looks to be lobelia petals, the blue flower petals in your teabag. I was going to make myself until I saw the petals.”

“How are you so sure?” Illiana asked. Her heart started to race, thinking about how she ingested that same tea for years. She didn’t notice the bluer hue. She saw it now. “How can you be sure?”

“I’ve worked with herbs for a long time. I know their smells, textures, and what they turn into dried or dehydrated. I confirmed it after I dissected the tea bag after making some. You see, my stomach has been off too. I thought it was stress, but I’m sure now. It’s the tea.”

The knot in Illiana’s stomach tightened. “What does lobelia do?”

“It used to be a natural remedy, but in concentration, it causes nausea and dizziness, and can be sort of addictive-like nicotine. It can be very bad ingested over a long period.”

Sybil’s words trailed off as Illiana starred off into space haunted by the implication of someone she trusted.

Sybil gave her a powdered tonic to offset the poison, and she consumed it like a shot.

She fired Dan that afternoon.

“Fine, who would want to work with you witches anyway,” he yelled with a fit of righteous anger. Illiana watched him leave in his car from her window.

“You think you know people,” Illiana said under her breath. While she stopped drinking the tea, but the effects lingered and seem to grow worse.

Over the week, her chronic pain continued. Sybil gave her the tonic daily, assuring her that the pain would eventually stop, but it only put her into a deeper haze. Cordelia and Ursula picked up the slack writing articles, and Jon didn’t notice Dan’s departure. If anything, he seemed pleased with the uptake of production. In the pit of her stomach, Illiana knew something was wrong.

By Friday, she barely crawled to the office. She felt compelled to go, even though her instincts told her to call in. She slept most of the day in her office, barely having the energy to move. As the day turned to dusk, hours after the workday, she heard a faint chanting. The lights were as off and computers dimmed as if the power was sucked out of the building like her own energy drained from the poison.

Her door opened, and the three interns entered carrying candles. They all wore white dresses and flower garlands with the blue lobelia flowers. Sybil, at the lead, held a cup of tonic she then placed to her at Illiana’s lips.

“What is that you gave her?” asked Cordelia.

“An old family recipe, strychnine tonic,” Sybil said as she forced Illiana to drink the tonic by plugging her nose. Ursula continued to chant.

“After she dies, we have evidence to frame Dan and Jon. You will have your revenge for Jon’s illicit activities, and we have one less voiceless mouthpiece,” Sybil said in a direct tone so unlike her, but little did Illiana know, it was quite her nature.

After Illiana consumed the last drop, Sybil wiped her mouth with a white napkin, quieting her voice forever. Her Lost Voice

Illiana Sanchez’s hands hurt, her knuckles aching with dull and sharp pains as her fingers loomed over her computer keyboard. It surprised her, as she was only thirty-seven, and in her office profession, she didn’t do laborious work that would give her arthritis so young. Not like her great grandmother, who worked in the fields of a potato farm. Not like her mother, who worked at a salon tidying women’s hair, or her father who followed his mother’s path on the farm and then farm construction. She simply typed on a keyboard for a living.

She was startled by Dan, a gruff older man with a graying beard and longer fading blond hair standing by her door.

“Did you see the Turner Article?” he asked under his breath while taking a swig of his coffee from his earthen purple cup, a piece his potter wife made for him.

Illiana paused, narrowed her eyes, and sat back in her chair.

“Cordelia was assigned that piece. Are you telling me there is something wrong with it already?”

Dan glanced down and shrugged.

“You might want to before she gets started on another rant,” he said before moving to his office next to hers.

Illiana sighed. Cordelia was a problem from the moment she started interning. She disagreed in every way Illiana had been when she first started the business. Karma, perhaps, and usually, she liked the initiative and spunk. Illiana hoped to take the girl under her wing, but something was off with Cordelia. She showed so much promise, someone she sort of saw as herself, full of ambition and ready to tackle not only her job but bring about social justice needed to change the world.

Cordelia revealed herself as pompous about her accomplishments to hide a sort of insecurity. Illiana wondered if the book Lean In may have been right about the Queen Bee Syndrome, as she talked about in her women networking groups being anti-feminist because it implied that females didn’t support one another. She started to reconsider the opinion when Cordelia began front stabbing her during their Monday meetings.

She thought it unfortunate with the potential she saw in the girl, and there was plenty of room to grow in the small newspaper business. Hell, Illiana knew connections that could help Cordelia if she wanted to work in a more robust city than the small tourist town of Shadow Springs, Colorado.

The biggest news for the small town was the local election for Mayor between Mike Turner and Bella Davis. It was so unfortunate that the small-town politics had started to mimic the federal election in 2016, with an uprise of the quiet right. She suspected Dan may be part of that group, but he always declared himself a libertarian who didn’t like either party and just wanted to ensure the most freedom of rights. Illiana was mainstream, and it had been agreeable to her. The first in her family to not only get a college education but work herself in a good white-collar job doing what her mom thought was prestigious in the media. It gave her freedom to share not only her voice but those like her.

Her family had migrated from Mexico only two generations prior and had established themselves well in New Mexico before heading to the literal greener pastures of Colorado. Many of her cousins and extended family now reside in Colorado, and the opportunities seemed endless. She was the pinnacle of the story of her family’s success, and proud to be their voice.

If only they knew the truth that much of her work lies in the office gossip and constant eye strain. She felt her tired eyes as she stared at her computer screen, growing tired of a boring piece about a new restaurant by another newer intern Ursula. Her joints ached, and she felt her stomach soured.

She knew she should look at Cordelia’s piece about the election in case she had to confront her about making it more centered. She probably agreed with the confrontational viewpoint she suspected, but she didn’t want to upset the local right groups too much. Worse, she didn’t want the politics of the office to sour with Dan, her right-hand man.

Dan had always been her support. He loved his job in editorial and turned down the editing job multiple times. The added responsibility of small office management wasn’t his style. He believed in her from the moment she entered the office with her enthusiasm and her mission bringing better news to the outskirts of Shadow Springs. Despite their differences in politics, he was a laudable friend to confide in, and his wife made the best scones and homemade tea that she always brought with her homemade pottery. They were good people, and sort of an odd couple, but kind. Thinking of them reminded her of tea, and that it was prime time to take a break and energize for the afternoon.

Illiana grabbed her mug and opened her door and started for the kitchen when a girl bumped into her, and she dropped her mug on the carpet.

“I’m so sorry!” said the small, blond girl wearing glasses say as she knelt on the ground to retrieve her cup.

Illiana didn’t recognize this small, frail girl. She had a flower clip part the side of her short blond bob, pale skin, but striking blue electric eyes that kind of surprised her. She appeared tired and worn, wearing a very old-fashioned garb of a blue overall dress with a white blouse, and with her stocky black glasses. Her style was out of time from the 1980s, and while old trends were returning, she was clearly ill fashioned compared to Cordelia and Ursula who wore the latest fashion trends.

“Are you new here?” Illiana asked. Ursula was the latest intern, and she told Jon, the owner of the small newspaper, that they couldn’t afford the minimum for another employee. There wasn’t even enough work to go around for the small staff as it was. Despite his, he always had an eye for new college graduates looking for experience, and she worried about his intent being more personal than professional.

“I’m Sybil. I emailed last week about interning here.”

“Awe, I remember,” Illiana recalled, tucking some of her voluminous curls behind her ear. Illiana was proud of her natural looks and impeccable style, and her confidence gave immediate rapport with women. “You were supposed to start last week, but had a family emergency right?”

Her stomach tightened again, and sharp pains started down her legs and welled at her knees. The pain erupted the worse in her wrists, where she cried out and shook them to ease the sudden shocks of pain. What is up with this pain? She wondered, where did it come from?

Sybil noticed her sudden lurch and asked, “Are you alright?” while grabbing a hold of her shoulder. She smelled strongly of lilacs that tickled her nose.

“I’m fine. Maybe a bug. Just started today. As I was saying, how are you with the family emergency?”

“My grandmother is doing much better now, thank you. We think she is going to pull through. We greatly appreciate how you let me start later to be with her.”

Illiana smiled. It was more fortunate that she didn’t start so soon as well, but only because her growing staff was getting harder to handle. This girl was at least appreciative and a good team player. She breathed in some hope.

“Well, I’m sure you will do well here.”

“This may help,” Sybil said giving her a bottle of what looked like to be handmade lotion. “A family recipe, for cold hands during the wintertime to keep them nimble.”

Illiana initially scrunched her nose, but then opened the bottle that smelled less faint than the aroma of Sybil, and spread it on her hands. She felt instant relief.

“Wow, that is some marvelous lotion! You guys should think about selling it.” Illiana said.

“Perhaps,” Sybil said smiling as she left to her cubicle.

Illiana made her tea from the homemade remedy Dan supplied for the office and went back to her computer. She read the Turner article, and Dan was right. Cordelia accused Turner of accepting brides in lieu of campaign donations. There just wasn’t the evidence there to support the claims. The most they could report was the ongoing investigation by the city council. She felt a headache coming back, and the chronic pain in her joints return.

What is going on with me, she thought in a haze. I need to get some rest. This can wait until Monday. She decided to leave early, and Dan took notice but didn’t stop her. He worked with her long enough to know that some battles weren’t worth the fight on a Friday afternoon.

Over the weekend, the pain had gone away. Illiana found it slightly odd but figured it to be stress.

The Monday Morning madness started from the moment Illiana entered the office. She hadn’t gotten her caffeine fix for the morning meeting, and drama is already erupting in the office.

“You have no right to publish that piece!” she heard Dan yell in the break room.

“The people have a right to know,” Cordelia’s voice sounded more shrill than usual, almost afraid. She wondered if Dan threatened her job, and she almost never heard him yell.

“What is going on?” Illiana demanded as she entered the break room. She saw Cordelia and Ursula standing together in defensive poses while Dan stood center, commanding the room. Sybil sat in the back of the room writing in a notebook, observing.

“She published the unedited Turner piece on the website,” Dan said in his usual calm voice. “Ursula showed her how.”

Illiana tapped her foot looking at the floor fuming with anger. “You two, office now.”

The conversation did not go well. Dan, probably ensuring he didn’t cross boundaries but needing to know if he was in the right, brought her a cup of tea as the two young women tried to plead their case.

“This cannot be tolerated. You two are interns, not permanent staff. I know that Jon may have promised a permanent position, but it is earned through my trust. Right now, you don’t have it,” Illiana stated as the two defeated women agreed and left without a word.

She drank her tea, the pain continued to burn in her hands and lurch in her stomach. Sybil startled Illiana suddenly by sitting down quietly on the bench where Cordelia sat moments earlier.

“Your tea is poisoned,” she whispered.

Caught off guard, Illiana put down the cup.

“I noticed a high concentration of what looks to be lobelia petals, the blue flower petals in your teabag. I was going to make myself until I saw the petals.”

“How are you so sure?” Illiana asked. Her heart started to race, thinking about how she ingested that same tea for years. She didn’t notice the bluer hue. She saw it now. “How can you be sure?”

“I’ve worked with herbs for a long time. I know their smells, textures, and what they turn into dried or dehydrated. I confirmed it after I dissected the tea bag after making some. You see, my stomach has been off too. I thought it was stress, but I’m sure now. It’s the tea.”

The knot in Illiana’s stomach tightened. “What does lobelia do?”

“It used to be a natural remedy, but in concentration, it causes nausea and dizziness, and can be sort of addictive-like nicotine. It can be very bad ingested over a long period.”

Sybil’s words trailed off as Illiana starred off into space haunted by the implication of someone she trusted.

Sybil gave her a powdered tonic to offset the poison, and she consumed it like a shot.

She fired Dan that afternoon.

“Fine, who would want to work with you witches anyway,” he yelled with a fit of righteous anger. Illiana watched him leave in his car from her window.

“You think you know people,” Illiana said under her breath. While she stopped drinking the tea, but the effects lingered and seem to grow worse.

Over the week, her chronic pain continued. Sybil gave her the tonic daily, assuring her that the pain would eventually stop, but it only put her into a deeper haze. Cordelia and Ursula picked up the slack writing articles, and Jon didn’t notice Dan’s departure. If anything, he seemed pleased with the uptake of production. In the pit of her stomach, Illiana knew something was wrong.

By Friday, she barely crawled to the office. She felt compelled to go, even though her instincts told her to call in. She slept most of the day in her office, barely having the energy to move. As the day turned to dusk, hours after the workday, she heard a faint chanting. The lights were as off and computers dimmed as if the power was sucked out of the building like her own energy drained from the poison.

Her door opened, and the three interns entered carrying candles. They all wore white dresses and flower garlands with the blue lobelia flowers. Sybil, at the lead, held a cup of tonic she then placed to her at Illiana’s lips.

“What is that you gave her?” asked Cordelia.

“An old family recipe, strychnine tonic,” Sybil said as she forced Illiana to drink the tonic by plugging her nose. Ursula continued to chant.

“After she dies, we have evidence to frame Dan and Jon. You will have your revenge for Jon’s illicit activities, and we have one less voiceless mouthpiece,” Sybil said in a direct tone so unlike her, but little did Illiana know, it was quite her nature.

After Illiana consumed the last drop, Sybil wiped her mouth with a white napkin, quieting her voice forever.

Bad Poetry

Bad Poetry

Bad poetry has a purpose.

To capture pain

write it down,

process and transform it.

Because memories bog the mind,

hurting relationships that could flourish.

killing art that could be created,

and inhibiting relief needed to heal.

Better to write bad poetry to expel pain,

then let it rot the heart.

Bad Poetry

Breaking

Walls, boundaries by another name. Hard to open, she felt could let him in, but he barricaded himself in. Hurt, she opened to another, who shamed her, and another just stood, not knowing what to say. So she moved on, taking brick by brick down, exposing all for any connection.

Bad Poetry

Clipping

Since her own wings were clipped,

she only saw the molting feathers,

and not the potential for them to fly. 

She took out her scissors

to keep them grounded,

keep them safe,

never to reach for the sky again.