The Loveliest Penelope

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'As I stare at the clock ticking closer and closer to the time that my one o'clock appointment is to arrive, I have to keep reminding myself to breathe. I'm afraid that I keep holding my breath. Maybe I am hoping that I'm actually stuck in yet another dream. It's not monsters that I want to dream of. I want to remember the time before. Long before. When I was happy and had so much to look forward to. Those aren't the kinds of dreams I've had of late, those have been replaced with shadows, horrifying images, and places I cannot escape.'

The ringing of the phone startles the doctor and to the point that he jumps slightly out of his chair. He slams his hands down hard onto the top of the desk to stop himself from falling off of the chair and onto the hardwood floor.

"Oh my. What horrible timing for a call." Briefly considering not answering, he quickly grabs the phone in fear it might be his one o'clock appointment.

"Hello, Doctor." Says a voice that is clearly being disguised.

"H...hello. Who is this?"

"I'm sorry to disappoint you. I cannot make my appointment as scheduled. You see... I feel it wouldn't be safe to meet you at your office."

"Safe? I'm sorry. I don't understand."

"You will when I see you. We have a very important matter to discuss."

"What matter? Can we not discuss this on the phone?"

"I'm afraid not. They might be listening. You wouldn't want them to know about Penelope would you?"

"Penelope? Why would we need to discuss Penelope?"

"You know exactly why we need to talk about her. I will contact you when it's safe again. Sweet dreams my dear doctor. Or should I say nightmares."

"Nightmares... how..."

The caller hung up before the doctor could ask any more questions. There were so very many dancing in his head. The voice, it sounded familiar, too familiar. The caller had tried hard to disguise their voice, but there was something... something the doctor couldn't quite grasp onto, but it was there. He knew that voice.

There was some relief knowing the stranger would not be showing up, yet the doctor wanted to get it over with. He needed to find out who the person was and what they could possibly want with him. The stress began to build again.

As the doctor leaned back into his chair, pushing it back as far as it would go, causing it to creak as it resisted. When he realized how hard he was pushing and that he was about to break the back of the chair, he stopped. He released the breath he was holding when he heard his temples throbbing. Why was he being tortured so? Not just by the stranger, but by his own self. When would he be able to let it all go?

As if a reflex, the doctor reached down and opened the top drawer on the left side of his desk. Sliding it slowly opening, revealing its contents an inch at a time, as if he was afraid to see what was hidden inside the drawer. When the drawer was open half way he slid his hand in and then towards the back grabbing onto something. He pulled the object out and placed it on his desk, revealing a black and white photograph of thick, stiff paper. He stares at it for a few moments, holding back tears, then flipping it over and reading out the inscription. 'To my dearest. May we love each other forever. Yours, Penelope.

"Oh Penelope. Why must you cause my heart so much pain."

The doctor pulled the photo close to his chest and gently leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes as he did. Slowing his breath, he allowed himself a memory.

Early May. A garden with a vibrant carpet of perfectly manicured green grass, flowers blooming around its edges, their scent filling the air all around. Laughter. So much laughter. No cares in the world. The clinking of crystal. The smell of champagne. The clacking of wood against wood as the guests played croquette. Across the lawn, dressed in a soft, cotton, white dress, trimmed with fine lace, short white, lace gloves and a large brimmed straw hat. The brim covered in peonies, causing the weight of it to cover her face. Was she trying to keep her appearance a secret? She lifts the brim, adjusts it and pins it back with a ruby encrusted hat pin. Her cheeks, so rosy, her smile is authentic. Is she a vision? She must be by the way she glides across the lawn towards me. How gracefully she sits down on the wrought iron chair, as if positioning herself onto piles of delicate feathers. The way her long, black eyelashes bat up and down over her turquoise blue eyes. The way she smiles at me. Revealing a love so true, that it breaks my heart.

"Oh Penelope. Why?" The doctor wipes away the tears that have begun to flow down his cheeks. "Why?"

Grasping the photo even closer, he begins to hold his breath again only coming back to the present when there is a knock at his door. Looking up he sees that it is now two o'clock. His next appointment is anxiously waiting on the other side of the door, ready to spill their woes. He wants to pretend that he isn't there. To continue to wallow in his grief. Instead, he places the photograph back into its hiding spot, pulls out his handkerchief, blows his nose and tells the person on the other side of the door that he will be with them in a moment.

Once he has composed himself again, he stands and walks to the door, placing his hand on the door knob. He hesitates, whispering, "How did I get to this place?" before opening the door. He greets his patient with a half smile, hoping he can make it to the end of the day without breaking down again. 

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