If Belinda Crest had a guardian angel, which likely she did, since who doesn’t, her name was likely Eris, since Eris was the goddess of chaos.
A very dissimilar guardian angel guarded Ryan Splinter. Her name was Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, the center of home and family, where home was a place to always feel right in place, rather than out of place in this world. She kept herself above the fray avoiding all fights. Admirers of Greek mythology recognize Hestia as the originator of the concept of the sanctuary. She represents the center of home, architecture, and domesticity, and the living flame serves as her living symbol associated with stability and permanence. The living flame of Hestia was tended to constantly and forbidden to die out. The Olympic torch originally honored Hestia.
Customarily, Belinda enjoyed dancing around people. Not physically. Belinda danced alone far from other dancers, enjoying the feel of waving her arms and not having to worry about possibly hitting an arm or waist. Black hair the color of an open garage in the distance traced her tiny shoulders that measured the width of a muddy dry river wash. While some were unsuspecting, she left a trail of allies who gradually resisted sharing anything personal with her and tapered their expectation of trust and intimacy. Their retrenchment came as she danced around people's dreams and strengths deliberately, temporarily stifling her intention to manipulate what she heard of their hearts’ outpouring of shattered dreams, rebuilt purpose and teased-out latent deflation.
Divulging always yielded a rickety conversational foundation for the dreamer looking for an empathetic ear, similar to suddenly facing an echoing neglected valley sunken deeply into a wet mesa perpetually sucking deeper into a final wine scarlet abyss that could paralyze. Belinda extracted from articulated dreams a series of words that had been expelled out of a mouth speaking to her like fungible puzzle pieces whose shapes and order could be rearranged any number of ways and therefore diminished. Pursued dreams served as clay for Belinda to unreservedly mold into distorted debris, where she presumed an unbridled birthright to create a tone of unease for the dreamer, steeped in a tint of a murky artifice. Occasionally, she quashed the possibilities and hopes outright, predictably calling on the speaker to rationalize their desires and distinguishing what they considered a dream as a flawed fantasy.
She rarely considered how valuable a moment of shared intentions was to a dreamer, or how committed they might be to live out their dreams. Maybe she figured dreamers shouldn’t shield themselves from hecklers. As if she were a stand-up satirical comedy writer with no concerns of giving credit, she perceived these revelations as if they were looming material to her for building conversations during forthcoming weeks possibly months, but immaterial to her regardless. Who cares what she wove?
After her boyfriend stepped up the first stair to her house—in various stages of disrepair—Belinda knew she had to tell him about the amazing furniture she was thinking of buying. Predictably, she was not reluctant to hide her inclination to be brazenly unscrupulous and consciously buy low quality, made possible by cheap labor. All of this talk about conscious consumption in the world today, to support manufacturers who made products keeping in mind their social and environmental responsibility seemed to fall on deaf ears. She loved to see people scratch their heads seeing that she blew them off.
Absurdly, Belinda loved her boyfriend, the headstrong furniture designer named Ryan, whose guardian angel was Hestia and who also worked out of Nashville. He stood at the center of Belinda's fantasy built hastily to fit her perception of a woodsman, a man with splinters in his fingers that could fix anything except with no thought to his materials. She rarely complimented him for his talents as a salesman. Rather, she spent a good portion of their time alone expressing fondness for how the quality of furniture of a competitor Joe Ply spoke for itself. Belinda rarely spent more than $25 to $75 for any piece of furniture; often wearing her thrift like a soldier of fortune might an exultant badge, as if to say hers was the type of mercenary work that served to split a seam in any heart’s desire for a room with complementary originals, absent of replicas.
Hers was not a pattern of living that involved much contemplation or cohesion, but needed to fit a stenciled life that, according to her reputation, should prevent the surfacing or potential of surfacing of preference differences. Similar taste in furniture took one's own interests out of the list of criteria considered in decision making and reduced it to a quick duty. Why think so much?
To Belinda, who wore shirts that extended beyond her hips and unshapely pants, she shaped vocalized dejection to look like a delicious fruit. This illusory promising fruit if it could grow would grow on a tree that her victim grasped at, while precariously trapped in an instant sinkhole on trembling feet that only moments earlier seemed solidly planted in an opportunistic landscape. She used her clothing to show how little she cared about presentation. Establishing this in all circumstances, afforded a way to represent her attitude that convenience was first and she could have that ill-fitting conversation that browbeat you into at least nodding in forced acquiescence about the pathetic side of vanity. If a dreamer felt bad about matching their clothes that morning, instantaneously there was a little more to circumvent in terms of one’s own sense of self-assurance and the attempt at keeping up the illusion of indifference. Of course, who does rely on someone else for their happiness?
Often, the feeling she left someone with made them imagine that if the land inverted, the underground might provide them a safer supportive place free from the scrutiny of Belinda, and more to the point, from her projected insecurities.
With varied alacrity and at wide-ranging lengths—maybe days or months or years— she projected her own insecurities onto those she claimed to love. Nonetheless, she embraced unreservedly the ideas of strangers who toiled at their work. This performance, gave her the chance to reveal stranger’s ideas as she might a treasured sword, held between her and those she professed to adore. Owing to each glance at their confusion, she witnessed that with every word, with every neglected opportunity to provide a good word at their own efforts in their profession, with every reverence for a stranger, she built more grounds for estrangement than intimacy.
Ultimately, Belinda achieved her intended outcome and created her preferred conditions, pushing people away so she could whirl around all alone ready to use her jagged fruit on the next victim of her brand of love. She always delivered her sting before she shared another torrent of misgivings. Then, she'd ever so slightly reveal a warped smile.
In conversation with Ryan and often anywhere she could blurt it out, Belinda would boast of the cheap prices she found, with one exception. Joe. Joe to Belinda did everything that Ryan considered as his own personal goals or ambitions or some might call enviable traits. In actuality, Ryan achieved it in the eyes of many who disliked Joe’s mass market approach using cheap wood substitute products, but these qualities remained unmentioned by Belinda, who boasted of Joe’s flourishing traits all the while holding out on complimenting Ryan. She recognized that he liked feedback, but she intentionally withheld it. Besides, she had never bought a thing from Joe.
Compelled by her bad romance tendencies, Belinda lay claim to her own personal whipping post in Ryan, who seemed hard pressed to understand how Belinda’s love reconciled with his list of desirable personality traits and conduct in relating to people you love. In the eye of his beholder, he was destined to a love that framed him into turmoil of unending uncertainty as to where his skills stood.
Without fail, on any given day that Belinda set eyes on Ryan, the impression she left was never straightforward, but usually implied his personality and talents needed a taste test of a chaotic kind. Ryan’s guardian angel Hestia rebuffed him at times for not finding a feeling for home that harmonized with the domestic knack he showed in his furniture craftsmanship. Beyond his relationship with Belinda, his attention to detail made Hestia guard him even more tenderly, as her hopes for him were answered. Hestia is as a matter of course revered as the goddess of spring-cleaning and adores those who create a certain feeling of sanctuary.
When Ryan reupholstered client Diane Reninskaya’s couch, he tended it with the care reserved for baby skin, selecting the fabric that best soothed. He asked Diane to really consider what colors relaxed her and what brought her contentment. Then, she saw the couch and she was relieved that she would no longer have to endure the philosophy that her father Gregory had about furniture. Gregory’s anxiety about being at home translated to hard chairs, broken closet doors, and a dismissive attitude showed in his unmatched pattern of decorating. Diane never knew the difference until she stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast and, soon after, hired Ryan to help her develop a style. It proved to be therapeutic and rewarding.
Ryan felt when Belinda was going to situate him at a disadvantage, always violating the terms of any good relationship that holds mutual benefit as a central tenet. In spite of Ryan’s best efforts to get her to open her mind, she rejected developing her own style. Or was her rejection a style of its own?
Belinda habitually professed her love to Ryan and determined that by turning him into a full-fledged member of her island of broken toys, she could find what he needed most and deny it. Her love was presented on the condition that Joe’s light cast a shadow on Ryan that would potentially leave Ryan as unsure of his sensibility for a high quality ambiance as Belinda. Belinda essentially designed to bring him to her level.
“If Joe’s furniture speaks for itself, Belinda,” said Ryan, “then you prefer sawdust. It’s like saying you prefer the heel of a loaf of bread just to sound sacrificial.”
Ryan stood at the top of the stairs on Belinda’s balcony. She tried to once again find a way to dance around his perspective, ready to plant a new seed of doubt for Ryan to chew on like a sunflower seed. Belinda loved to see Ryan squirm. It was her way of relating to him, and she could never be honest with herself about being powerless in halting the hurt she offered to those she loved and her awful insensitivity to their emotional needs.
“Plywood is not sawdust, otherwise it would all fall apart. Furniture that speaks for itself needs little mind reading, needs very few answers, few descriptions, raises few questions, is practical, simple and fits into tight spaces. It’s not decadent or gives the impression of a fad that this too will come and go. It’s no frills and doesn’t pretend to be from Europe.” An invisible Joe loomed in the air as if flying close to Hestia and Eris, and as ever present to the two of them.
Belinda seemed suddenly to have channeled a cheap car salesman, triggering Ryan to rub his eyes, just in case by rubbing, the artifice might vaporize. Hestia, his guardian angel, unaccommodatingly pulled a hair from the back of his neck in her first and only act of providing discomfort with the intention to expel him out of this moment promptly.
Ryan realized he was at a point of their relationship where Belinda's presumption of being the only patron to please was getting under his skin. He flirted with the idea of saying, she must be in a different target market. Instead, ready to end her spiteful hold on his mind, he said, “I build custom designs that often represent the personal interests of people who contact me, you know that. If you want to decorate your place with cheap crap you can buy on standardized shelves that are ordinary, do it, but don’t keep insinuating their presidential status to my designs.” Belinda’s love affair for mass production was starting to be easier to peal away since the albatross around his neck, like all albatrosses, cannot extend what they have learned beyond the context they learned it in. In this case, this albatross learned how to make a meal out of his neck and would likely go hungry when released back into the wild.
Ryan felt Belinda scheming. Before she continued, he knew he had to say it, “Belinda, I feel you judge my designs creating a comparison to Joe, only because you may be forced to look at your own buying habits and that mirror is too hard to look into. Instead, you dismiss my dreams to show me the hill and try to make me envious rather than provide me the sense of a creative space. Separately, you have to accentuate that cheap alternatives somehow make my custom work a pretension only afforded by those who won’t sacrifice style, and that somehow you are willing to make that sacrifice, rubbing it in my face, as if you hope that I will capitulate.” Immediately, Ryan felt air on his neck since it was now once again bare.
Continuing to attempt to shape Ryan’s views of the furniture world, Belinda spitefully declared that most people buy cheaper furniture, because they can’t afford nicer stuff. She took this broad view despite knowing that Ryan often repurposed woods from vacant barns and that many people do try to make mindful purchases. On numerous occasions, she saw him restore furniture to construct second hand furnishings with a new appearance affordably.
Taking his chair off her front porch, the only one he made for her based on her specifications, Ryan said, “Well, this chair would suit my best friend and he’s got a bare porch. I’ll make some modifications.” The last thing that Belinda heard from Ryan was, “I got a few heads to turn, and I won’t be using press board.” Hestia looked back for him divining a hope that someday Eris’ influence on Belinda might wear off and a good spring cleaning might ensue. Neither Hestia nor Ryan was going to stick around to find out, but Eris held the albatross and stared at Belinda afterwards wondering how next to provide her with another innocent to engage her reactive approach to connecting. Eris saw Ryan almost trip on a splintered stair in spite of the fact that he reveled in the bite he took from his apple.
(c) March 2013
short story by Maria Lewytzkyj-Milligan