A Prisoner is Released

Fiction
Alexa Recio de Fitch


Photo Credit: molybdena/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

The Present

She steps inside of a place reminiscent of the Count of Monte Cristo’s solitary confinement prison cell. The concrete walls are bare and grey. The only thing that seems to be missing is the markings on the wall counting the days of his incarceration, as he plots his revenge. She follows along the lonely, tenebrous, arched, cavernous tunnels, past the chair with the two bronze bullets placed on it. In this correctional facility-style atmosphere, as she enters another empty room, it appears to be the end. However, it isn’t. Just as she approaches the windowless wall, another tunnel opening curves into view. Suddenly, she seizes a sculpture of a bronze power tool and smashes it into a woman’s head. Her victim falls over, and her blood trickles onto the cement floor. The killer leans over, inside of this basement of the Sculpture Center, in Long Island City, New York, at Fiona Connor’s Closed for Installation exhibit. As she observes the life leaving the woman’s eyes, she knows that just like the Count of Monte Cristo, she is no longer a prisoner.

 

Nadia Thompson
The Past

“What are you doing, luce dei miei occhi?” my husband, Marco, says to me. His pet name for me means light of my eyes. He has called me that since the day he proposed, in a gondola, in Venice.

“Reading query letters from writers pitching me their novels,” I answer. I am slumped on the couch, still in my pajamas, with uncombed hair and the scent of coffee on my tongue.

“Good luck!” Marco says, in his Italian accent. He takes me into his arms, gives me a long kiss goodbye, and walks out the door. I smile.

 

Hannah Wallace
The Past

I stare at my laptop, take another sip of my energy drink, and sigh, as I type another follow-up email to Nadia Thompson. I press send and minimize the browser window. On my laptop screen, saved on my desktop, is a Word document with last year’s date. This file is my novel. It’s been sitting there for a full year, and still, Nadia Thompson cannot be bothered to answer my query letter.

I take another deep breath and run my fingers through my hair. Then I slip into the jeans that are on the floor of the apartment I share with three roommates, in Long Island City, Queens. I walk out the door, pass Center Boulevard, and wind up in Gantry State Park. There, right under the willow trees, I sit at one of the picnic tables overlooking the East River and the Manhattan skyline.

A group of women gathers in the picnic table next to mine. They are speaking in my native language, Dutch. I decide not to speak to them, though. They park their strollers and place their babies on a blanket by the shade. I catch myself looking at their babies’ little toes and little eyes. Just then, my thoughts trail to the exam room, at my doctor’s office, after that pregnancy scare. I recall my ex-boyfriend’s face, when my gynecologist tells us that I will never have children. I brush those thoughts aside and try to concentrate on what my therapist has told me—that I do have a child. I have birthed a novel, something I have wanted to do my whole life.

I check my email, on my phone, and there are no new messages. I frown and check again. Still, there’s nothing. Can you imagine checking your email multiple times a day every day for 365 days, hoping for good news, but instead that email never arrives?

There’s a hammock on one of the trees facing the river. I lie on it and search for Nadia Thompson’s website. She works for the Charles Knox Literary Agency. In the “About Us” section of the website, it says that Nadia studied English literature and graduated as Summa Cum Laude, from Cornell. In addition, she has a Literary Arts MFA from Brown University. She worked at Random House and Hachette, before she decided to become a literary agent.

 

Nadia Thompson
The Past

Again. Again, there’s another email from Hannah Wallace. I shake my head. It’s not like I can go around responding to every single query letter. If more than six weeks have gone by, it clearly means I’m not interested. Why doesn’t she stop pestering me and get the hint?

My boss stops by my cubicle and stares at my laptop.

“Nadia, you haven’t read all of those emails?” she asks. Her eyebrows shoot high above her glasses.

“I promise you I will catch up, Suzanne,” I answer.

“Catch up faster,” Suzanne says.

Before I have a chance to tell her that I’ve been working nights and weekends to read through all of the query letters, she walks away. And just then, fifteen other query letters pop into my mailbox. It’s five p.m. and I haven’t had lunch yet. My stomach grumbles. I open my desk drawer and pull out two menus, one is from a salad place and another is from a burger joint. Even though I know that my bathroom scale says I have gained ten pounds, I tuck away the salad menu back in my drawer.

I grab my cellphone and attempt to order a burger from downstairs, but the man on the other line tells me that the bank has declined my credit card. To top it all off, there’s also an email from my landlord saying I’m late in my rent payment.

Suzanne pops her head into my cubicle again. “Nadia! Have you read the Tom Peters manuscript yet? I need the final edited version by tomorrow!”

As soon as she leaves, I rush into the bathroom and burst into tears.

 

Hannah Wallace
The Past

I check my email again. Still, there’s no answer from that literary agent. I search for my initial email to Nadia, which I sent a year ago. I know that it’s been a year. I know that. However, I also re-read Nadia’s only response to me, after she read my query letter. She said that she loved it and asked me to send her my full manuscript, and I did. Last I checked on her website, it says that no answer doesn’t mean one is rejected, it just means that the line is long. This experience is like going on a date with the man of your dreams, hearing him say that he’s interested in you, and then never hearing from him ever again. However, you can’t let go, you keep hoping every day that that day will be the day when he reaches out to you.

I continue to read Nadia’s profile. I scan through all of the authors that she has helped publish. Then I put away my cellphone. Stop! I think. You need to write something new, you need to move on. I get off the hammock, in Gantry State Park, and I walk toward the East River. I look at the United Nations building and the Chrysler. Should I write a novel that takes place in this park? What would it be about?

Just then, my phone buzzes. I gasp, stop in my tracks, and check my email. However, it is not an answer from Nadia Thompson.

My thoughts trail to when I was working on my novel. It took me nine months to write it, and then, after that, I spent another twelve months editing. I joined several writing critique groups in Manhattan and recruited six of my friends to function as readers.

There were many nights I spent crying in my room, after listening to their negative feedback, and many mornings I spent, working on revisions, after deciding that maybe the feedback was correct after all. Then, I had to spend money to hire a proofreader. The process didn’t end once my manuscript was in perfect condition, though. When that happened, I had to write customized query letters, after selecting and researching the different literary agents for my novel’s genre. Moreover, I had to write a two-page synopsis of my novel. Additionally, I had to pay money, out of my own pocket, to visit events where I could pitch my book to literary agents. Then, I spent months writing to each of the literary agents. After that, the wait began, along with the dozens of unanswered follow up emails.

 

Nadia Thompson
The Past

I dry my tears, in the bathroom of my office. All I want to do is go home, to my apartment—to Marco. Then I remember that we can’t afford to live in Long Island City anymore—not since he lost his job. Suddenly, I feel the contents of my breakfast coming up. I vomit into the toilet. Is this stress, or am I pregnant? I can’t be pregnant! I can’t support the three of us on the salary of a literary agent!

The phone in my pocket starts buzzing. I look at it and notice ten more query letters in my inbox. I begin to hyperventilate.

 

Hannah Wallace
The Past

I chew on the inside of my cheeks. When will Nadia Thompson respond to me? It’s been a year! My fingers rummage through my purse, and I pull out a cigarette, which I then light. I read her profile on the website, Manuscript Wish List. It says Nadia is interested in literary fiction. I continue to read, and I throw my hands into the sky. Everything she lists—in terms of what she is looking for in a novel—every single little thing, is in my book! Just read it and you’ll see, Nadia Thompson! Just read it!

I blow smoke into the air, and the mothers sitting at the picnic table next to mine, glare at me, so I walk away. Then I find myself pacing. Back and forth, I reach the Pepsi sign on the boardwalk and then head to the binoculars facing the East River. The wind blows my hair into my eyes, and, after I move the strands away, I press my palms over my eyes. Why Nadia Thompson, why?

A text message interrupts my rant. It’s my boyfriend. We’ve been dating for three weeks, and he wants to know if I have plans for tomorrow. As I stare at the idyllic view of the East River, underneath the willow trees, I smile.

 

Nadia Thompson
The Past

Today, I don’t go into the office. Instead, I urinate on a stick and hope for it to be negative. I look at my watch and hold my breath for the longest time. When it’s finally time to check, I notice that it’s positive. Cursing as I remember the figure in our bank account, I leave the bathroom.

Slamming the door, I head out of my apartment. My phone rings. It’s my boss. She probably wants to know why I’m not there. I’ve never missed a day of work in my life. I turn off my phone, and I just walk, with no particular destination in mind. The air in my chest feels constricted, so I press my palm against it and take deep breaths, but that doesn’t work. After walking for half an hour, I find myself close to the Sculpture Center.

That’s when I see them. My eyes blink several times. I have to be sure, so I enter the museum. They take an elevator, and then they’re gone. I press the button for the elevator and take it to the only floor, the basement. There they are, walking ahead. My entire body shivers, even though it’s July, and there is no air-conditioner in this building.

I follow behind and overhear the woman. Her name is Hannah. She is talking about her novel. I remember that plotline. Just then, I recognize her voice. My shoulders become tense. She has called my office multiple times. It’s the same Hannah Wallace who sent me a query letter and has bombarded me with her follow-up emails. He kisses her and calls her, “luce dei miei occhi.” The pet name resounds in my brain, on a loop. I grab my pregnant belly, and my fingers twitch. I look around the empty room, and the first thing I find is a bronze power tool. I seize it and charge toward them. With the power tool, I separate their embrace, and I smash it into her skull. Her chestnut locks tumble onto the cement floor, soaked in blood. My husband accompanies Hannah on the floor, with the same lifeless look on his disfigured head.

pencilAlexa Recio de Fitch is a mystery author. Her debut novel is titled Triggers and will be available soon. Alexa has published stories in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Colombia through Orbis International Literary Journal (featured on the cover), Library Zine! Voices From Across the New York Public Library, and El Heraldo. She worked at Hachette Book Group and McGraw-Hill and holds an English literature degree from the University of Notre Dame. Alexa is from Barranquilla, Colombia and lives in New York City. Twitter: @alexardfitch | Instagram: alexa.reciodefitch | Facebook: AuthorAlexaReciodeFitch Email: alexarecio[at]gmail.com