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Memento Mori

by Joseph A. Pinto

Within Mr. Vanitas’ snifter, fine Scotch swirled; it clung in languorous beads along the rim. At length, he admired its legs. Then he spoke. “And so friends, yet another month we commence together. The floor is now open.”

Nine in total shared the silence of the café. But Mr. Vanitas, he did not quite call them friends. Aficionados, perhaps. Chairs creaked anxiously. Larkish shadows, spit from the occasional candle, canvassed the walls.

“May I?” Eyes wide and far too dazzling, a middle-aged woman inquired of the room.

“Of course, Rita.” Mr. Vanitas smiled between sips of Scotch; an oaken subtleness teased the plastic smoothness of his lips. He knew the café owner forbade drinking on its premises, but fistfuls of hundreds turned the cheek of many a steely individual. Besides, no one possessed the nerve to rebuff him. Of that, Mr. Vanitas always remained quite confident.

“Thank you.” Her smile infected the gathering, eyes so very, very bright, but gourmet finger sandwiches soon passed through the room; her giddiness discarded for poached shrimp and alfalfa sprout delectability. “I died last week.”

A smattering of polite applause. “Excellent, Rita.” Mr. Vanitas, enthusiasm sincere, placed his glass down and brought his hands together. Only four meetings under her belt, and already she absorbed his teachings without question. “So very wonderful. Do you wish to share further with us?”

“Yes, Mr. Vanitas, I would. It was so much easier than I could ever have imagined, really. Completely impulsive. A car accident. The road had been very slick, and I took the turn—”

“How fast were you going?” interrupted a pudgy man jammed into a tweed coat.

Mr. Vanitas glowered at Jenson; the vibe of the café quavered. Even Rita’s eyes dimmed—just a tad. Scotch eventually moistened Mr. Vanitas’ lips back to a reassuring smile. “As you were, Rita.”

“I took the turn rather fast,” daring a curt glance toward Jenson, “and then skidded. My husband has told me countless times what to do if such a thing occurred. Of course, I ignored it all. The ravine came up quickly. The tree quicker still. I never stood a chance. Beyond that, however, I’ve sadly nothing more to recount.”

From the gathering, disappointed sighs.

“Everyone, it’s okay.” Mr. Vanitas raised a bandaged hand. “What is important is that Rita took her first step. I am so very, very proud of her. Now the next time, Rita, you must focus on the retention of your sensations. What did you smell, taste…this is most important for your development.”

She withdrew a compact mirror from her purse, dabbed makeup around the concave dent in her brow. “I will certainly strive to do my best, Mr. Vanitas.”

He nodded appreciatively. “Anyone else?” His fingers worked between his shirt buttons, scratching atop ribbons of gauze.

Read the rest of the story on Pen of the Damned >>>


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