3rd Place Winner in Creative Writing Institute’s 2014 Short Story Contest

A beautiful summer day – Nina should’ve been lying on a beach in Hawaii, admiring the sun-kissed waves while Jim rubbed lotion on her thighs. But no, he had flown away on a “business trip.” Had his nubile secretary tagged along? What “business” did he really need to take care of on this trip? She didn’t know – she almost didn’t want to know.

Nina settled on a long drive to re-energize herself. One foot on the accelerator, windows rolled down, as the wind rushed into her hair. She cranked up the volume on her radio and sang along to the beats.

Before long, the wail of a siren rose above the voice of Beyonce. A flash of red in her rearview mirror – she groaned. Only a long drive would clear her head. All those thoughts of Jim and his cheerful secretary had filled her mind, leaving no space for anything else. It had taken so long to work up a cheerful mood, and just when she had cast off the net of melancholy and thrown a shawl of optimism around herself, the lusty alarms of the police car had thrown a wrench in her plans.

She pulled up on the side. A well-built cop appeared at her window. “License and registration?”

She glanced up at him through her lashes. “Was I going too fast, officer?”

“License and registration?” He repeated.

Hmph! I bet he had a fight with his wife or something. She threw open her glove compartment. Something green flashed bright inside its dark interiors. She flung it on the passenger seat without looking and rooted through the papers for her registration.

From the sheaves of papers, several things emerged – among them were bills, junk mail and a piece of paper that read: wine, fruit basket, cheese

It had been scribbled in a hurry, but the decorative swirls were familiar. Jim’s letters during their courtship days offered feverish declarations of his passion in similarly calligraphic handwriting. She turned it over, as if the other side would offer a clue as to its cryptic contents.

“Ma’am?”

The cop’s gruff voice shook her out of her reverie.

“Sorry.” She handed over the registration papers and her license. He looked them over. “I’ll be right back.”

While she waited, she sorted through the remaining papers and filed them back into the glove compartment.

That’s when she noticed the bright green thing lying on the passenger seat – it was a leaf.

She’d never seen one like it before. It shone with effervescent greenness. It radiated the glow of freshly plucked spinach, like the floral equivalent of a woman with flawless radiant skin. In shape it resembled the leaves she doodled on her notepad every day at work.

She set it back on the passenger seat. The rear view mirror showed her the cop’s activities like a movie. He resembled a thicker, taller version of Jim.

A flash of red distracted her. She glanced around. It came from the leaf. The veins that snaked along it like tributaries glowed bright crimson as if pulsing with energy. She examined it from all angles. How should one handle a pulsating leaf?

The cop strode towards her. She quickly stashed it back in the glove compartment. Electrified leaves would be difficult to explain.

He handed her a speeding ticket. She watched him walk back to his car and start it. When he had driven out of sight, she took the special leaf out of its hiding place.

One of the veins glowed brighter than the others. She gazed at the road beyond.

The leaf clearly knew something she didn’t. Maybe it would lead her to Jim. Or it might lead her to happiness. It came to her instinctively.

I should follow the directions on the leaf, see where it takes me. I have a list and a map. What could possibly go wrong?

She revved up the engine and drove as her leaf-map guided her. She turned right, then took a left a hundred meters after a quick glance at the leaf. Traffic lights flashed green as she approached. The beating of her heart quickened in pace. Upon arriving at a fork in the road, she turned to the leaf. Left, it indicated. On and up she drove until her heart threatened to burst through her chest.

One last glance at the leaf. It pointed straight ahead.

The venation of the leaf puzzled her but she had no time to dwell on it. She found herself in a tree-lined avenue with shiny new houses on either side. As she neared a cream-colored mansion bordered by palm trees, the leaf stopped blinking and the green light held firm. Nina pulled over and stepped out of the car.

The house was quite beautiful, with its sloping roof and a garden out front. The gate was open and yielded to her gentle nudge. Her white pumps allowed her to step fleet-footed across the paved pathway to the entrance. The door loomed large in front of her. She turned the handle and it opened.

Inside, a polished marble floor gleamed as if it had been recently waxed. The door led to a massive living room with high ceilings and a glittering chandelier hung in the center. She crossed to the other side of the room where a sliding door led out to a swimming pool.

She shaded her eyes with her palm. In the distance, a group of women were seated around a table by the blue waters.

She slid the door open and walked towards them. As she neared the group, their strange attires came into focus. They all wore bonnets and hats tied under their chins like Regency heroines. Nina remembered seeing similarly clothed women adorning the covers of Jane Austen novels. She never sympathized with insufferable girls plagued by such novels– always chasing marriage as the ultimate dream.

The ladies wore large gowns with wide skirts that scraped the floor which was, fortunately, spotless white. Anywhere else she’d have feared the trains of their gowns might have turned dusty. They each held cards in their hands. A wicker basket filled with fruits held center stage. Golden goblets rested on the table, and Nina wondered what they contained. Could it be wine?

For a moment Nina thought the sliding door she’d walked through served as a portal to the Regency world. She’d fallen away into an abyss of fantasy or traveled into the past where women gathered around to play bridge in the afternoons and fluttered hand-fans to stave off the heat. She felt out of place in her white pants and chiffon printed top, like a vagabond among royalty.

As she drew close to them, she said, “Hi ladies!”

They turned to stare at her. Almost too late she noticed the hooked noses, the square jawlines, the whiskery stubbles. Her smile faded.

One of them turned to her. “Nina?”

She searched for the source and found it. Laughter bubbled up in her throat. She tried to suppress it and failed. A huge guffaw escaped her lips. “Oh, Jim, you look so pretty!”

Jim sprung to his feet, standing upright. “Nina, this isn’t what it looks like!”

She strode up to him. His shocked expression amused her. His eyes shone strangely, a mixture of shame and guilt reflected in them.

She leaned in and pecked him on the cheek. “Cherry-red lipstick suits you very well.”

With a wave, she turned on her heel. “Bye, Jim.”

She didn’t stop to hear his feeble response, or the excited buzz from the others. The front door couldn’t be reached fast enough. She rushed out, past the orange vase and the low coffee tables and Grecian art.

In the confines of her car, her laughter died. Her husband deserved credit for having such a different fetish. Only last week she’d teased a friend who revealed that her husband had a foot fetish.

A flash of green jerked her attention back to her surroundings. The leaf was glowing again this time with brand new directions, to somewhere, something new.

She’d almost forgotten about it. She picked it up and stared at it. It flashed its colors mutely back at her. “Well, it looks like you know where I need to go more than I do!”

The leaf lay still on the passenger seat, as she drove off into the wind, to follow her destiny.

_____________________________

See 1st and 2nd place winning stories here:

1st place winner: The Devil and Mrs. Morgan by Marsha Porter: https://deborahowen.wordpress.com/the-devil-and-mrs-morgan-by-marsha-porter-1st-prize-winner/

2nd place winner: This Woman’s Right by Brian Staff: https://deborahowen.wordpress.com/this-womans-right-by-brian-staff/

Compliments of http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com where every student receives a private tutor. Sign up today and start tonight! No waiting! Payment plan with no interest!

One thought on “Reading the Leaves by Gargi Mehra – 3rd place Winner

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