Without further ado, here is the second installment of The Poet. Enjoy!
By Jessica Pherson
Francine’s poetry collection was a success. She titled it Shades of a Spirit and it was an instant hit in the poetry world, topping the bestsellers lists for weeks. In this day and age, poetry was nearly dead; only names of figures who’d been prominent decades ago still rang in the average person’s mind, like John Keats and Sylvia Plath, who were both long gone. Most people only heard such names in school, and quickly forgot them afterward – perhaps only dredging them up again on occasion for the odd trivia game. Francine Gordon had become a household name, and she feared this would happen to her one day as well, all but forgotten until someone on Jeopardy asked the eternal phrase: “Who is Francine Gordon?”
Francine did many live readings, readings that packed bookstores to the brim. Readings after which the entire room formed a line to get an autograph from her. Readings that reaped tears and joy and applause.
At the end of one particular reading at a little bookstore in lower Manhattan, a gentleman with large, doe-like eyes approached her. The man’s eyes appeared large because he was staring at her in complete awe. His deep blue irises glistened with a veil of tears, tears of astonishment and admiration. His eyes were accentuated even more so by his dome-like bald head- shaved bald –and quivering moistened lips.
She remained calm as he walked slowly up to the table, as if each step was getting heavier than the last. Was he so afraid to meet her? He was clutching a stack of books- her books; collections of sorrow and serendipity. Finally, he was within a foot of the table and Francine flashed him a friendly smile. Forced, but friendly. The man let out a little whine and bit his lower lip, bringing the books closer up to his chest as he did so.
“Would you like me to sign those for you?” Francine asked him, somewhat cautiously.
He snapped out of it for a moment, and nodded his head goofily, then placed the books on the table top before her.
“Who shall I make these out to?” She then asked the man as she clicked the top of her pen.
“D-Donald,” the struck fan stuttered.
“Okay, Donald,” Francine said. She bent her head down to write in the front of each book, all the while the man just stood over her, mouth agape.
Once she had finished her task, she handed the books back to him and smiled, the smile that was becoming a trademark smile for her with lips tightly clenched. Her default expression for fans and polite exchanges. The man took them, then managed to stammer something out as he grasped the books tightly to his chest. “I-I just adore you,” he said.
“Oh, why thank you,” she replied. “I’m glad you enjoy my work, that means a lot.”
“Your work- no, your masterpieces, have gotten me through some tough times. I just want you to know that.”
Francine regarded him for a moment, for some reason not sure what to say right away. She eye-balled him, with a single eyebrow raised, then said: “They have only created tough times for me.”
The man just stared back at her, his eyes still wide but this time more so in wonder rather than awe.
She should have been happy, and sometimes she was. But, still, she felt the cold hand of sadness on her back, a hand that poked then prodded then soon tightly clutched, unrelenting, until she found herself having long, sleepless nights where she would just stare and stare and do nothing but sit or lay awake in bed. Sometimes it was like she was not even in her body anymore; it was like her spirit had fled her and was drifting along aimlessly somewhere else in a world she could not reach physically. Those were the times when she just felt numb and her mind seemed to simply make a whirring sound that echoed between her ears. It was strange, yet familiar. Like how it would sound inside of a vacuum.
She did a good job of keeping it from Carmen and anyone else who might notice. She didn’t have any close family or friends, so it wasn’t too difficult. She would just paste on the plastic smile whenever Carmen would ask how she was doing or squeeze her shoulder in an encouraging way. Why should she be sad, after all? She had everything she wanted- a great career, a beautiful home, good physical health…
But, her personal life had always been dreary. She had never been very good at relationships. For someone who could so easily connect so deeply with feelings through written words, it was very hard for her to actually speak these words. This was why she wrote. This was how she released those feelings, feelings that would not and could not ever be spoken about to anyone. Yet there they were on paper for all the world to see. What a paradox. This often left her feeling lonely and isolated, yet also seemed to further her work.
The days went by and Francine’s star continued to rise. She was invited to be a guest on the Poet’s Corner radio show; she went to many parties where she was considered a “very special” or “high-profile” guest; toasts were made to her, and fan letters poured in faster than she could respond to them. Life was all one big blur of excitement that should’ve kept her happy and satisfied, but instead only seemed to drain and empty her all the more swiftly.
Carmen was pleased, and most of the worry in her eyes had disappeared. Francine wondered if her friend really knew her as well as she thought. Could she see through her façade of happiness? Or was she too swept up in Francine’s success to notice anymore? Francine tried not to let it bother her, as she had enough on her mind anyway- albeit hollow void. She tried to use Carmen’s upbeat perkiness as an example of how she should be, but she simply could not replicate it.
One day Francine, Carmen, and three of their colleagues were out for a late dinner after a live reading at a prestigious benefit for young readers in New York City. Everyone was laughing and drinking and clanking their glasses together, slapping each other on the back, enjoying desserts, generally having a good time. Francine did what she could to blend in, but eventually it got to be too much. While a fellow poet, Leon de Venti, was telling a story that had everyone else at the table rolling with laughter, Francine sat silently, staring into her glass. She studied the little red straw sticking out and the glistening ice cubes within. At some point it registered: Carmen’s muffled voice calling her name. When she looked up, everyone was staring at her, expressions of deep concern and confusion painted across their faces. The laughter had died and all eyes were on her.
She figured she’d better speak up. “Hmm?” She mustered, but it was a sad attempt. Even her “hmm” drifted off back into her stare.
An awkward silence befell the table as Leon coughed and Delia Hanford shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Carmen spoke. “Frankie, are you alright? Can I get you anything?” She laid her hand on Francine’s shoulder.
Francine did not look, and just kept on staring, transporting herself into a world of infinite void. “No, Carmen, darling. I’m fine,” she said mechanically.
The others at the table exchanged worried, uncomfortable looks, and then it was Leon who called the waiter over for the check. Each guest put out their money due and then bid Francine and Carmen farewell, for they knew the fun of the night had now come to an end. Once they were alone, Carmen squeezed Francine’s hand, finally snapping her out of the trance.
“Francine, what’s going on?” She asked quietly.
Francine looked into her friend’s eyes then sighed deeply. “Carmen, I just don’t know anymore. Why do I feel this way?”
“What way?” Carmen replied.
“So…empty?” She tapped her long white finger on the side of the glass as Carmen searched for a response.
“How ‘bout I drive you home?” she finally said.
The two women paid the bill then walked the two blocks to where Carmen had parked her Town Car. They were silent at first, but then Carmen finally said, as if she’d been mulling over the proper words: “Describe this feeling of ‘empty’ to me.”
Francine was at a loss for words. The feelings she never spoke of simply could not be suddenly formed into sounds of actual words. Instead, she just started to silently cry. She let the warm tears slide down her cheeks, and at the same moment, raindrops began to hit the windshield.
Carmen was focused on the road at the time. She did not see Francine’s tears, and only called out to her. “Francine?”
“I don’t know how to put the way I am feeling into words right now,” she replied. “But, you have read my work, so I think you can figure it out.”
Carmen was silent, too silent. It was as if someone had hit the mute button to the volume within the vehicle. Even the rain was silent. Or did it just seem to be silent to Francine?
“I’m worried about you,” Carmen said. “I don’t want you to…do anything rash.”
Francine said nothing.
“Promise me you won’t, okay? She continued. “We’ll get you some help. We’ll call Dr. Berger in the morning, okay?” Francine felt her friend’s eyes on her as she waited for a response. Francine just nodded and sighed a deep sigh, then stared out the window all the way to her home in the Catskills.
* * * * * *
Carmen walked her in and asked her if she wanted her to stay over. Francine told her that would not be necessary, that she would be okay and that they would call her therapist in the morning and set up an appointment to help figure it all out. She must’ve sounded convincing, because Carmen did leave after about half an hour of watching her and bid her farewell, promising to call her first thing in the morning.
“Get some rest,” she told Francine as she pecked her gently on the cheek. Then she was gone.
As soon as she left, Francine sat down in her study and stared at her computer. After a while, she turned to one of the pieces of paper beside the computer and started to write a letter.
I cannot explain to you why I am the way I am, for I do not know why I am the way I am. I am as deep a mystery to myself as I am to you. What I do know is that you are my dearest and most loyal friend, and I highly value our friendship in my heart. You have always been there for me and have always been honest with me, and for that I thank you.
I am also grateful for your patience and understanding in these dark chapters of my life. The only regret is that I had to have the dark times at all, for I would better enjoy my time with you and the rest of this world had it not been always overshadowed by a gray cloud.
Please forgive me if this hurts you; you are all I have. I hope you understand, and know that I love you very much.
Francine Esmeralda Gordon
As the tide comes in, it must also recede
And this time my waters will not return
It is time for this jet of blood to be drained completely,
And for this waterfall of foolishness to come to an end
I am ready for peace,
I am ready for the infinite void
I am ready for the blades of grass to wave above my head
While I slumber in the soft, warm Earth
Cover me, O welcoming arms of The End
What comes next-
I do not know
All I know is
I am ready to go
The next morning, Carmen called her as promised, but after three tries gone unanswered, worry grew inside of her and she decided to drive over instead. When she got there, she found the door unlocked. She called out, but got no answer. She checked the kitchen, the study, the living room, the back porch; her friend was nowhere to be found. A feeling of dread rose inside of her as she walked up the stairs to the second floor. She went to Francine’s bedroom door, which was slightly ajar. She called Francine’s name again, softly, as she slowly pushed the door open. She gasped hollowly when she saw her dear friend lying on her bed. She was face-up, on her back, with her hands carefully folded over her chest, as if she were lying in a coffin. She could’ve been in a deep sleep, but Carmen’s instinct knew better. She knew her friend had done it, that she had left this world for good. And even though she rushed over to Francine’s bedside and called her name and checked her pulse, she knew the EMTs who would later arrive would not be able to save her.
She had made sure this time; she had taken the right dose, some time ago too, probably shortly after Carmen had left her the previous night. Guilt overcame Carmen at first, along with deep loss and sadness, but then she knew it was okay. Her friend was where she wanted to be, and she would forever be without the cold hand of sadness on her back.
Jessica Pherson is one of the Founders of The Veillee and author of her own blog, Healthy Mommy, Healthy Baby. She works from home part time for an eco-friendly jewelry company/retailer and is also a stay-at-home mom to Lily.
Learn more about Jessica by checking out The Matchbox section of this blog!