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Almeea

Tags: love, mystery,

Short story about a girl with high demands.

ALMEEA 

Lukas Palan

She hadn't even entered the building yet but old Regy was already standing in the middle of the hallway. His left hand was straightening his collar while his right hand continued to hold a wooden broom that was so old that it was a wonder why he hasn't given it a name yet.

“You must be Almeea”, he said without moving an eyelid. The sun had barely made its way above the horizon and the entire town was already flooded by its annoying brightness. The door stood wide open and the girl was trying not to let even the faintest glimmer of the sunny morning intrude; but, once she had bent over to put her suitcase on the floor and to move to close the door, in that brief instant another sunny day had announced itself. Regy adjusted his sunglasses.

“I am Almeea Mardale. Glad to meet you!” She held out her hand. But Regy behaved as if he hadn't seen anything. This saddened her a bit, but in the next instant, her confidence returned. "And you are?"

“I’m Regy, Regy, the houseman,” he said pleasantly, as if the episode with the hand having laid motionless in the air hadn't happened at all and as if now relief was at hand. The morning was starting to disappear under the coming heat of the day. Regy unbuttoned the top button of his shirt.

Regy the houseman was elderly with a high forehead and several scars buried deep within his soul. He was a man in whom the world has took little or no interest. Every Saturday and Sunday, he went to the nearby park to play chess. Every weekend, he would put all his pieces on the game board and then wait to be joined by any one of the many passers-by. Now and then, someone would glance over at him, but no one ever came over to sit with him and play. The wind was teasing his face and he smiled with satisfaction. Sometimes he would prick up his ears, trying to listen for the noises coming through from a nearby street. Afternoons belonged to the hubbub of the town and the evenings to mothers and their children. They would lean out of the windows and yell to their children that dinner was ready; and, that unless they came home quickly, everything would be cold. It was his signal that it was time to leave. His chess pieces had been aligned – almost precisely placed to face each other at a perfect angle of hundred and eighty degrees – but now, they found shelter in his hands. The coming of the next day was quietly sneaking into his veins.

He spent his evenings alone. His apartment was like a chessboard. Everything had its place and there was a place for everything. Pictures were ordered by size. Dishes were put away according to shape. Linens were folded away so precisely that many a mathematician would clap his hands with joy. Occasionally, Daniel would mock him. Admit it Regy, who is the woman who comes here to help you clean? While commenting and gently chiding, he was fingering a perfectly ironed tablecloth and waited for a reply. Regy had never been married. Being alone was just fine with him. A woman would only bring chaos. She would be cooking all the time and then there would be far more dishes. She would surely take a nap in the afternoon after work and then he would have to make the bed again. If he had a wife, no one would believe him that this was all his work. Everyone would think that he was just like every other guy – a guy with a maid at home, a guy who never washes the dishes. A system, organization Daniel, that's what brings you peace of mind, he used to say.

On Monday morning, he got up at half past seven and not a minute later. The sun broke through the window to fracture his kitchen in myriad shards of morning light. He skated quickly between the streaming light in his blue, perfectly ironed work clothes. Moments later, he was in the hallway, enjoying the shade. It was the only place wrapped in shade and coolness. The summers here used to be unbearable and that was right from early morning. Happily escaping from the presence of the sun, he took up his broom and started to sweep the hallway, even though all appeared clean and spotless. It's been many years since Regy, the houseman, had a tenant here.

“Your room is ready miss, please follow me,” he said to Almeea. Although she heard him clearly, she remained standing, expecting the houseman would take her suitcase. But old Regy was already disappearing around the first corner of the hallway. So she picked up the suitcase herself. “Your place looks beautiful.”

“Thanks, but I was born into this town. Everything that’s beautiful here is the work of someone else.”

“I didn't mean your town, but your house.”

“Oh, the house. Thank you, I try to take good care of it. It's not that hard. There are not that many people who would stand in the way.”

They slowly made the climb up to the first floor. Regy was making his way up the stairs and holding onto the handrail. At times, it seemed as though his old age had made it hard for him. He would lean or bump his side against the handrail and sometimes take a wrong step on the stairs. Almeea wondered to herself, “Could he be drunk or is this just old age?” In the end, she rejected the idea of inebriation because, well, it was just too early in the day.

“You said that there are not many people here. Am I going to be living here alone?” She looked around the hallway. Nothing on any of the doors indicated that there would be a grumpy neighbor hiding behind even one of them.

“You’re right. You’re the only tenant. You will be living here alone, I hope you don’t mind. Actually you are the first person to have moved here since the war. And that ended a couple of years ago.”

At that moment, he realized that his days of respite were about to be over. With a tenant in the house, he would need to get up earlier – after all, the hallway will almost certainly going to be dirty. She will bring in the dirt and joys of the outside world. Everything must be tidied up properly. Surely she will be dancing here at night and her stomping around will knock about the paintings down in his apartment. He will have to be getting up in the middle of the night to laboriously make sure the paintings are hanging back in perfect alignment. He realized how much it suited him – that no one else had been living here.

Yes, this might be a guesthouse, Regy's guesthouse, but why would he really need anyone to be here? He didn't need their money. The house was his and he had plenty of money. After the war, he had come into a fortune. The state has given him some money – not out of gratitude after all, but rather with bitter regret. It was all a reward for his sons who had valiantly and certainly bravely died in the war.

This financial compensation eventually divided the town in half. One half felt sorry for him, because there was no one else in the town who had lost three sons. The other half envied him. Because compensation hadn’t been paid for every dead child - it had been as though children were nothing more than ordinary plates broken during a random bar fight.

He opened the door to the room and Almeea brightened up. "This is a wonderful room," she cried to herself.

“Come on, it's just a very ordinary room. Since we’re talking, do you mind if I ask you what brings you here? There's nothing, there's nobody here. Here, you wake up and things are just as they were when you went to sleep – no surprises, nothing unexpected.”

“Well, I’m sure there is a lot that is very pretty here. You need to see the little things that are delightful and that give pleasure. You have to look around. I'm sure it's beautiful to live here. I'm sure there's a pond nearby. Right – is there one? I love the sun and I love the idea of taking a siesta in the middle of the day, when it is warm – that it is enough for me to be happy. And surely, there is a hall here where dances are held every Friday night. Isn't there? Is there one? I love dancing. In Romania, where I come from, everyone dances! We are world champions in dancing. When you get so you can enjoy each move, then you will like it here. And boys, boys, there are definitely boys here, right? There are boys here, aren't there? I'd like to meet some. Water and dancing and boys and you see, that’s all it takes to have a perfect little town.”

Regy snorted. “Well, you certainly have quite a list; but, I can tell you – yes, everything you want to make yourself happy, you will find here. The pond is about a kilometer outside of town – toward the German border. The baker drives that way twice a day; he can take you there. And, when he goes to the other side of town, I’m sure he will be happy to take you to the ballroom. It is in the opposite direction, at the very end of the town. And the boys, they're everywhere. They will find you, you needn’t look for them.”

“You're very nice, Mr. Regy. How are we going to take care of the rent?”

“Let's leave it to the end of the month, Miss Mardale. Let me think it over for a bit,” he said, backing out of the door to her room.

She told him once more how kind he was and how nice he had been to her and then she slowly closed the door to her room. Being alone now, she didn't let a moment go to waste. She opened her suitcase and one by one, she placed her box of face powder, mascara, eye shadow, lipstick, nail polish – a girl’s things – on the once sad and empty table that lay in front of her. The table was now replete and covered with a rich assortment of colors and shapes.

She took out hundreds of boxes and thousands of bottles. There were inscriptions on all of them that only a woman would love and understand. She smiled faintly as she looked at it all. It was a carnival of beauty enhancement and revealing, just waiting for her body. Finally, after she had reached the bottom of her suitcase, she pulled out a large mirror. She carefully placed it into the middle of the table and then she carefully arranged the bottles on either side, positioned according to size – the largest close by the mirror, the smallest at the edge of the table.

It would be lunch time soon. The town will be filled with people and the radiance of the bright midday sun will unite them all in its glow. She longed to walk the streets; and, if she was lucky and didn't get lost, she hoped to take a look at the ballroom and maybe even the pond – even if they were at opposite ends of the town.

“Miss Almeea!” came a voice from beyond her door – along with a knock. “Come along and I will show you the town!,” said the voice from the hallway. She couldn’t tell; but, it didn’t sound like the voice of the houseman. This voice was vital and fresh. She thought of her brother. He had a voice just like that before and maybe even after he left the house.

“Who is it?” she asked and the voice said “Daniel, Miss Mardale! Regy let me in. I help him out here occasionally. He told me that you’d arrived today; but, he needn’t have said a word. The whole town is talking about you! They say you're beautiful! And also, that you like boys and water and the ballroom, so I thought that I could show you around! What do you think? Come on! Don’t be lazy. Let’s go out.”

His interest piqued her interest – she couldn’t deny it. “I'd love to Daniel, but I can't go out unless I look perfect. I’ll have to change first! As a man you probably don’t have any idea about things like this!”

Daniel smiled. “Oh, I understand. I'll just be waiting here for you in front of the house. We’ll have the whole day to ourselves. Make yourself look like a princess, I'll be looking forward to it.”

His steps confirmed his words. As the sunlight entered her room, it was changing the colors of her vials and bottles – purple looked like pink and Almeea slowly started to apply her makeup to her face.

To start their tour, they decided to visit the pond. They passed through their first street and, before they knew it, they were looking at the water. “I thought this town was a little bigger,” said Almeea.

“The streets here aren’t very long and there aren’t many people living here – you can go almost anywhere in a matter of minutes,” replied Daniel. “I don’t know about you, but I like it this way, Almeea. It has only one major disadvantage.”

He interrupted his words to add to their importance. During his pause, he picked up a stone and skated it across the water of the pond out of boredom. The sleepy water spread its surface and swallowed the stone.

“Everyone here knows everything about everybody else. It doesn't take long before what you are thinking seems to already be in the minds of everybody else. People here seem like a single organism. They eat the same food, drink the same water, dream the same dreams, have the same desires. And, if anyone's heart skips a beat, you feel as though yours will skip a beat too. Sometimes it's nice when you want to have someone around to talk to. But other times, it can be downright annoying! But enough about the town, let's talk about us!”

“About us? You start!” It made her laugh.

“Well, I think that we are made for each other - really! You like water and you like the idea of dancing in the ballroom. I do as well. Also, you are beautiful and you smile all the time. I like girls like you. It has been quite tough here. People here rarely smile, even though it's been six years since the war ended. Everyone is still afraid to fall in love. Just to smile, god forbid! It has been as if a cloud, heavy like a thousand hammers, had fallen on the whole town. With you around, everything is completely different. Since you’ve arrived, the sunshine is now strong again, like never before. And we'll have abundant sun every summer.”

While talking to her, he kept looking out at the water. And, only occasionally, did he take a chance to turn his head to sneak a quick peek at her. He would only look at her for the briefest instant, for the shortest moment. He was afraid he would be penetrated by some feeling radiating from her eyes. He did not want to look at all, but it was impossible not to.

She was so amazing that his thoughts and his words became all tangled and confused. He felt a throbbing disquiet that he hadn't felt since the war. Every time he looked at her, with her short black hair, his hands were sweating as if he had dipped them into the sea.

Every time she moved her head, her large, round, wooden earrings would stroke her neck, he felt as if someone was sucking out of him all the certainty that he had accumulated in his lifetime. Every time she took a step and her little legs stretched in the effort to steady her walking on another stone, he felt dizzy and was unwilling to die today, God forbid, to die ever. Not to mention her eyes. They were like a stone that someone had tied around his neck. Her dark brown eyes. He did not believe that she only had one heart.

“Daniel, this is all very nice to hear from you. But I still haven't seen the ballroom. And, I don't even know if you know how to dance. Let's go dancing right now. Maybe I will fall in love with you. But I can't promise you that!”

The ballroom was half empty. Two couples were heading towards the middle of the dance floor, but after a few minutes they returned to their places instead. The heat didn't allow any longer dances.

The bartender was lazily rubbing his cheeks - something to do to keep awake. “You see the bartender? That’s our mayor,” Daniel said. Almeea nodded gently towards him. The mayor nodded back.

When the next song began, Daniel and Almeea had the dance floor all to themselves. They danced for at least ten minutes. But ten minutes isn’t a long time. Yet somehow, perhaps their fate was held in this brief interlude of time.

In the middle of their dance, a breath of wind suddenly came to life and broke through into the ballroom. Who knows where it came from. Almeea received its chilling effect with pleasure. Her nipples erected with military discipline in response to the feeling of coolness. Daniel didn't notice. He was so lost in the captivating aroma of her skin and the softness of her hands – he was so smitten that sometimes, he would clumsily forget to step forward to correctly lead his partner in their dance. He had never been so distracted before.

They finished their dance and, enjoying a glass of dry white wine, Daniel reached out to take and hold of Almeea's hand. But she drew back. She broke apart this attempt at intimacy. “Would you walk me home, Daniel?”

He didn’t want to go and end their moment of togetherness. But, he got up, paid the bill and they started towards the exit. He was distraught and dismayed. He had been paying her compliments for all of the afternoon; and, now, when he had reached out to hold her hand, he felt as though he was being dispatched – as someone unimportant, as someone meaningless and insignificant to her.

“Let's go, Princess!” When she stood up, she realized that the mayor was standing next to her, holding the empty glasses in his hand and saying nothing. Just looking. She thought she saw something in his eyes. Was he afraid of something? Or, perhaps, he was just tired from the sun – it was lassitude.

She looked at Daniel. “You're mean!” she said while walking.

“I'm not mean, it's you who are mean! Has anyone ever wanted to hold your hand as tenderly as I did? You shouldn't waste such moments!” Daniel snapped.

Upon leaving the ballroom, Almeea stopped. In front of almost every house, the inhabitants were standing out in the street. Men and women. Men silently watched Daniel – envy in their eyes – or again, maybe it was the fatigue of a sunny day and a late afternoon.

The women were watching Almeea. With each step she took, they slowly turned their heads. They looked her up and down – they were assessing her, from her eyes down to her feet and from the feet back up to her chest and her beautiful, young small breasts. She felt as if they were wanting to lick her body with their minds – from a distance and through her clothes. As if they wanted to lick away and absorb all her happiness and her peace of mind.

In part she felt fear, but also relief. Because, every time she passed another woman, the woman would immediately turn and run quickly into her house. The men would then slowly follow their wives into their houses – all the while keeping their eyes on Daniel.

“All of this that is happening is very strange,” Almeea said.

“You’ll have to get used to it,” Daniel replied – “as I told you before, everyone here holds the same thoughts and feels the same desires. Here, we are one family. Who knows if you'll ever fit in?”

“What in the world do you mean?”

They are standing in front of the entrance door to the house. The bottles, powder boxes and the mirror - all of the things Almeea brought with her are radiant on the upstairs table. Almeea is fishing around in her purse for her keys.

“You'll see what happens if you're not going to love me. I'll give you one more chance. There's a dance tonight. The whole town will be there. We won't have an empty dance floor all to ourselves, but it can be even more fun.”

“You know Daniel, you can't force me to fall in love with you. And you should forget about another evening with me, when you try to speak to me in such a tone!”

“What is it you are trying to say?”

“Daniel, what I'm trying to say is that now I've finally confirmed what I’ve been feeling and thinking about the whole day.”

“And what is that?” he blurted out, putting his hands on his hips.

“I have confirmed to myself that you are completely out of my league. I should never have even thought about opening the door to starting anything with a guy like you.”

At that moment, the sunlight suddenly vanished and hordes of high, dense dark clouds took over the sky above the town. The birds were rushing far away, as if they heard the peels of thunder that no one else could hear. In a little while it was dark. Daniel started to rapidly move away and Almeea slammed the door so hard that it made Regy, the houseman, cry out.

Once back in her room, Almeea started pacing, walking back and forth. She couldn’t understand what was happening, what had happened, any of it – what kind of a place was this.

She walked to the end of the room and then back and forth, back-and-forth, around-and-around. Men! People! Beauty! Love! Bah!

Wherever there is love, there may always be a greater love. There are always more men and then too, greater beauty to be found and seen! People should realize this. She was determined in her thoughts and she knew she was right. But just as she was feeling very right in her appraisal of life and love and living, she was also overwhelmed by a feeling of deep sorrow.

It buckled her knees and produced a tear, perhaps two, in her eyes. She realized that deep down she was longing to and wanted to fall in love. Very much to fall in love. To give birth to a child, to put it in a bathtub and bathe it. Then to have another child and yet again another. She wanted to have a big family and to prepare and share food with all of them.

Deep inside, she knew and felt what she wanted calling to her. But, was the price too high. How high a price would she have to pay to have a family? What would she have to give up, what would she loose? These questioning thoughts drove her to sorrow, the tears to retreat back into the background.

Suddenly, Almeea became aware of the presence of a slip of paper in the room and she was awoken from her mental musings. It flew through the open space between the old door and the old wooden floor and then, there it was. It landed close to her. She was now on the floor and crawled towards it on all fours. She wiped away the vestige of her tears. After all she wanted to look her best. Was there something about this note? Was it going to judge her beauty when she opened it? Then, there it was, it fell open and she was aghast.

“EITHER FALL IN LOVE WITH DANIEL TONIGHT, OR NEVER LEAVE THIS ROOM.

YOURS SINCERELY,

TEODOR LEHM”

She slowly runs to knock on Regy, the houseman's door. He opens it, still wearing his sunglasses, as if the last of the sun’s rays were still penetrating the house, still coming in from outside. In fact, it was already dark outside; and, with the darkness, she couldn't really see the stairs when she was running down them. "Why did you put this note under my door? What is this note supposed to mean?" she blurted out.

Regy stood motionless in the frame of his open doorway. He didn't even look down at the letter Almeea was holding out in her hand. And, with the arrogant and superior iciness that occasionally seized him, he said: "I do not know what you're talking about, Miss Mardale. I have no reason to send you any notes. Why would I do such a thing? Perhaps, if the rent was due; but, the rent’s not due until the end of the month.”

Regy’s answer wasn’t an answer. She opened the letter again and read him the entire message. What could Regy say? He definitely hasn't written it.

When she asked him about the name at the bottom of the letter and who could possibly have delivered it – since the house was locked and they were the only two persons with a key – he replied. "Well, given that it is signed by Lehm, I'd say that it was probably written by Lehm. In case you didn't know, Teodor Lehm is our mayor. And he has keys to all the buildings in the town. We're like one big family here, but you know that, don’t you?"

With his answer, Regy hadn’t helped. She was just dumbstruck. What was going on here? Almeea stood there, in no way able to fathom or understand why the mayor would write such a letter to her. Could Daniel perhaps be his son? Why else would a relationship between the two of them be so important to him? Yet, back at the ballroom in the afternoon, neither really spoke to each other like a father and a son. A father and a son don’t ignore each other the way those two did.

Maybe it is because of this big family. Is the mayor some type of patrimonial shepherd always watching out for the interests of each of his sheep? No, no, that couldn’t be.

She decided to focus on the second part of the message. It puzzled her. Why all of this about not being able to leave her room? What could that be about? It certainly sounded like a threat. Who and why would anyone want to threaten her? All she could think about was that it had to be at least taken as a threat. She couldn’t allow this to continue.

Coming out of her musings, she said to Regy, “Where can I find the mayor?" When Regy replied, she realized that she already knew the answer. “I assume that at this time of day, he will be in the ballroom. The whole town will be there today.”

She went outside. She was angry but also full of questions. Questions without any answers beckoning to her from a distance.

She walked through the park, where Regy had been sitting only a few hours ago waiting for a chess partner, and she reached the main street. It was a long extended street, at the end of which stood the ballroom. It stood there just as in olden times, there would have been a majestic church – standing as the focal point at the end of a street.

It was less than a kilometer long – this street lined by small family houses. There were about twenty of them on each side of the street. They were small, single-storey houses – each with a birch or linden tree in a garden, which filled the space between the house and the road. Looking a bit more closely at the gardens, she started to notice chairs standing on the ground next to each of these trees. And, what was more, there were men standing on these chairs.

First she saw only two men; but then, other men started to come out of their houses. They always did the same thing. First, they would look at and observe her as she slowly walked by. Then, almost robotically, as if programmed to do so, they would step up onto their respective chairs. She would then see them put their heads through a noose that was also somehow also just there – hanging down from above. Then they would look at her again. Was it a look of reproach? It no longer contained any trace of the libidinous wanting desires that she had felt before. Next, with an eerie, resolute look on their faces, with hands clasped at their sides and in an absolutely calm manner, the men would kick away the chair they were standing on. She would hear a slight crack – and, then nothing. The man was dead!

She passed a third house and a third man was marking her passing by his swinging motion up in the air, up in the tree. She turned her head to the other side and there was another, this time he was a rather small, pudgy man with a mustache. Oh yes, he was also looking at her with reproach; and, soon after she looked, his feet were vainly struggling to find the ground.

She ran towards the ballroom. What was happening? There was only one sad answer – the men along the road were dying faster. They looked like the leaves that the autumnal changes in the air released from the trees – but somehow, these ‘leaves’ would never on their own be falling to the ground.

When she reached the ballroom, there was the mayor – sitting in front of the entrance way, polishing his shoes. But, what shoes? They were beautiful special shoes – apparently never worn. Still, he seemed to be trying hard to clean them, to clean them more than it would seem possible to do. He had his suit ironed and shirt properly buttoned. He raised his eyes and looked down with sadness at Almeea. She didn’t turn her gaze. She looked right back at him.

Then it was time. She asked him what all of this was about.

“I told you to never leave that room of yours.”

“But why couldn't I?”

“Oh girl, you have no idea what you've done. You see all those men hanging in the trees? You are responsible for that!”

“I have no idea what you're talking about.”

“I’m talking about love; or perhaps not. Perhaps it is more about a lack of love – unlove. You refused Daniel! He was the most handsome guy in the whole town. Who else should get you, if he's not good enough? Are you that blind? Or, do you think that someone else, somewhere else is waiting for you?”

“Rejecting Daniel is one thing, but what does it have to do with those men in the trees? Do not try to shock me here. Don't blame me for some little town problems of yours! If the men here kill themselves by hanging themselves, that's your problem and I’ve got nothing to do with it!”

The mayor stood up and vigorously wiped the dirt away from the seat of his pants, dirt which had certainly been on his chair. She sensed that he wanted his appearance to be perfect. Almeea sensed it herself. She knew what wanting to look perfect was like. When one knows one is looking one’s best, then one feels better about oneself and more important.

She let him finish primping himself without any further thought or question. “Oh girl!" said the mayor, pulling a cigarette from his pocket. "You have no idea. You are not even pretending, you just don’t realize it at all. Follow me, I will show you something."

They both started walking towards the ballroom. The mayor opened the door to the hall and Almeea stood as if she had just seen a ghost. Perhaps fifty phantoms – alive or not alive? She was speechless, watching and seeing and taking it all in. She just silently looked out at the lonely women sitting alone at the tables.

“Do you get it now? Let me explain, you're clearly still thinking about it. We're one big family here. We work, live and function as one big family. We have the same body. We have the same thoughts and desires, we have the same tastes and the same loves. Do you see these women? These are all our women. And they were all unhappy after the war. And then you arrived – with your perfect face and you perfect dresses. You and your beauty. I'm not at all surprised that Daniel immediately fell in love with you. I myself couldn't take my eyes off of you this afternoon. As I said, we're one body here. One desire. And, you are that desire.”

So much to take in. It scared her. What could all this mean? Almeea just stood there –dumbfounded and silent as never before. Her confidence was gone. She walked across the room, moving between tables and watched the silently sitting women. She turned to the mayor with trembling voice.

“They all look just like me…”

“Ah, I can see you are starting to understand. They all look like you," the mayor said, putting his hand on the shoulder of one of the fifty Almeeas. Their appearance wasn't tacky. They all had the same hair. They all had a little lock of hair squiggling down over their right cheek, just as Almeea had. Their clothes were her clothes – identical down to the last fold and hem and stitch. Their lips were painted with the same lipstick as hers. Hands, eyes, body. Down to the last detail. Everything was a carbon copy – of her!

“But I shouldn't waste time," the mayor continued," so I will make it all clear to you. When Daniel fell in love with you, then the entire town knew about it right away. Somehow, at this instant, all the women went mad. Love, we hadn't had love here since the war. And all of a sudden, you showed up. They all rushed home and wanted to be you. And as you can see, they did quite a good job. Now we have them here, sitting here, perfect full-sized dolls. Are you satisfied?”

He opened the door and they left the hall. They were heading to the street. Almeea followed him, glancing back and finding it hard to pull her eyes away from the fifty copies of herself. As she got outside, she turned again and saw the street full of hanging men. The mayor pointed a finger towards them.

“When you refused Daniel, the men realized that they too were going to be rejected. They would no longer have a chance with any of the women of the town. Daniel was the nicest boy in the whole town, the most desirable – something you couldn’t realize or accept.”

“And, as with the way of things, the women started to reject their husbands. They did not want to have anything to do with them. All of a sudden, they all wanted someone else; but, of course, there was no one but someone else. Hah, such shamelessness. But try to understand these women. Just look at how beautiful they are now," he waved his hand towards the ballroom. Almeea was beyond speechless.

And what do you think guys will do, when there isn't a single woman in the whole town, that would like to be with them? What do you think? Do you blame them? Just look at them, I do not blame them at all. There was no one left who would be willing to love them. They didn't pass through, didn't meet the requirements. They waited until the last moment, if you go out or not. If you hadn't, none of this would have happened. They wanted to have a last look at you, because you don't see a pretty woman like that every day. At least, this is what I think. Who knows. It doesn't matter now, they're all dead."

They turned and walked around the side of the ballroom and there was yet another house. "I live here," the mayor said and, gesturing, he invited Almeea to enter. The mayor’s wife was inside. His wife was Almeea 51. She sat on a chair in the corner with no interest in acknowledging him or looking at him. "I'm sorry, that you must be a witness to our silent household. If you had come by yesterday, we would have still been in love back then. But it was necessary that you come inside.”

“As you probably noticed, I have no tree in the front of my house," said the mayor. With intent and little pause for reflection or further interaction, he walked directly forward and mounted a chair that stood beneath the house’s only chandelier. He put the noose that was there around his neck and then, looking into Almeea's eyes, he said “I love you!”

Moments later, the mayor was like all the other men had been out in the street – swinging and dancing at the end of a rope.

Almeea stared at him for a moment; and then, aghast again by all she was seeing and witnessing, she backed her way out of the house. Almeea 51 began to cry. Her tears blinded her and her wailing was deafening.

She left her house, out the front door and she walked into the ballroom. There they were – all those silent women were still in their places, but now they were covering their faces with the palms of their hands and they were all weeping like one huge machine.

In unison, the women were exhaling and breathing in. They were crying the same tears, out of the same body, each woman with the same thoughts. In the middle of the dance floor, Almeea stopped. She turned and looked several times around the room. She then shouted out, "Why are you all crying? Why? You are all perfect now!"

They all looked at her. After a moment of silence, they said as chorus, "Where are we supposed to find a man now, since none is good enough for us? We are lonely! We are lonely because of you!"

She had to get away. She had to go somewhere – run to somewhere. As she ran through the street, she tried not to look at the dead men who were there hanging all around her. They were like happy apparitions – were they real or not real – swinging without any shame or conscience from left-to-right, right-to-left in the breeze.

With tears in her eyes, she fumbled for her keys. She quickly unlocked the front door of Regy's house and closed the door shut behind her. She was still crying in the dark of the hallway; but then, she tried to wipe her tears away and knocked on Regy's door. He opened it and before he could say anything, he was closing the door.

As if time had no meaning and has suddenly stood still, Almeea was suddenly sitting at a table in Regy’s room. As she looked about, everything seemed wonderful – everything was just perfect. Everything was in balance, symmetrical and elegant. There was nothing ugly in the room. Its geometric beauty brought a little bitter smile to her face.

“Regy, do you love me?” she asked desperately. Regy seemed startled by the question, but he looked up. When he finally answered, he said he did not love her. "

“But you're the last person left here, you have to love me. What else will I do? I don't want the perfect guy anymore. I want to have forgotten all of that. Look at me? Why don't you love me? Answer me!”

Regy turned in her direction. He took off his sunglasses and showed Almeea his glistening gray eyes.

"You are blind?”

“I may be blind, but I still have a heart. You can stay here. But I have a few conditions. Each morning you will check all the pictures. They must be perfectly aligned. You will always wash your dishes immediately after use. Your bed will be made at 7:31 each morning. If you can do all of that, well then, maybe I can fall in love with you. I am a man and, maybe we can fall in love, even if we don't want to.”

Almeea smiled. Then, slowly and quietly she worked to remove her lipstick, smearing it onto her hands.

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