December 14, 2009

Hunters Chapter 5

Claire skipped two steps with each soundless stride up the dimly-lit staircase. Sarah, meanwhile, was aware of every creak as she allowed Claire to outpace her. They'd said good night at the doorway to their boarding house since Claire lived three floors higher up. When Sarah reached her room on the fourth floor, she could feel Mrs. Calloway's eyes on her through the opposite peephole as she fumbled with her key.

It had been difficult convincing Mrs. Calloway that she and Claire belonged in the boarding house and not in the other house across town. Two years later and Mrs. Calloway retained her sickeningly sweet "good mornings" while whispering just within earshot about the whore across the hall. She was always ready to catch Sarah "up to some of the shenanigans," as she said.

A musky smell of water-damaged floorboards and books greeted her as she closed the door behind her. She breathed in deeply, the smell convincing her of home more than any other sense. She had carried the smell with her from the old place in the forest, where she lived with her parents.

Hunger stabbed at her stomach but she ignored it, instead hurrying to her desk and igniting a candle. The light spread across the wood grain before disappearing over the edge. Sarah took the single black quill and turned over a used piece of paper. Without hesitation, Sarah began to record Claire's half of their recent conversation.

"'It never mattered to me. People asked me all the time. Don't you want to know? I know it's supposed to be strange, but I don't care who they were. I just have this feeling that who they were has nothing to do with who I am.'"

The idea was foreign to Sarah, but that didn't surprise her at this point. The longer she observed Claire, the more she understood that they had nothing in common. Sarah couldn't imagine herself without her father's influence; her father who had died for his books and the books that had created Sarah. It was all that was left of her family.

As a child, Sarah dreamed only of the town, believing that it was filled with others like her. She imagined the coffeeshops and bars that she read about, everything that didn't exist in the woods. She found bars, but they weren't filled with the people she expected. They were crueler and colder. She gave up on them quickly.

She had been working for six months at the Purple Dodo when Claire walked through the door, stunning Carl into hiring her without an audition. Claire was a desirable enough product that few of the rules ever applied to her and her reticence regarding her background was seen as an added perk rather than grounds for suspicion.

Sarah, near the point of giving up, knew instantly that Claire was the one that she had been waiting for. Now that she had been shown what she wanted, however, things were progressing impossibly slowly. Claire was used to excessive attention from men and women, making Sarah hesitant to approach her directly. She understood her technique well enough, however, to know that all she had to do was stay in Claire's life, because since coming to the town, Sarah had been searching for a subject. All she had to do now was keep her.

"She is simply Claire and she defines and surrounds her name with her limitless grace. The first time I saw her dance, it was as if she was purifying our vulgar profession, reclaiming it for our own purposes..."

Since childhood obsessed with the varied heroes and heroines of novels, Sarah had grown to understand that she was not one of them. She recognized herself in the awkward narrators, who tangentially attached themselves to great individuals and recorded their progress. The principle emotion involved, she reckoned, was envy and she was jealous of Claire, more than she had ever felt about anyone. She envied Claire's impossible body and her profound indifference to the opinions of others. She was jealous of the ecstasy that Claire seemed to feel when she danced. Jealousy, as far as Sarah could discern, led her to observe Claire with the necessary assiduousness and the more she learned, the more she fell in love with her subject. And she was pleased with this effect, because she knew that it enabled her to write Claire such that she might be understood.

"In the beginning we cannot know her. When you see her, you will know that she is greater than fate, that she will create her own future. Now she is only growing stronger, gathering her power. It is my good fortune to have come upon her story near the beginning, for it is impossible that she will not do great things. And wherever she goes, I will follow her. And I will write her..."

Sarah could no longer see what she was writing as the flame sputtered before her. Her hunger subsided into a passive lull. When at last she could no longer write, she looked out on to the main street, four floors below. The lamps were fading with her candle and the street was empty. Finally, in the fully darkened room, the cold surrounded Sarah. She quickly fled to her bedroom and covered herself in her blankets. She imagined Claire three floors above and she couldn't give her the quotidian feelings she had in that moment. Returning to her desk, she located what she hoped was a fresh sheet of paper and blindly wrote.

"Does Claire experience this same irritable hunger? Does she shiver in the cold as I do? Does she wonder for hours why she didn't eat or why she didn't light the stove when she came in? It's impossible. I cannot see her shivering in her apartment in this moment, even though the same cold pervades her room as mine. Is it wrong that I fear discovering the human that must reside in her?"

With the blanket wrapped around her shoulders, Sarah stared through the window at the starless night. Her teeth chattered. Perhaps she slept for a few hours, her mind so focused on Claire that she couldn't dream. When she opened her eyes, the sun still had not risen. She picked up the quill.

"Tomorrow I will speak with Claire. Tomorrow I will see her in the daylight."

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