Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Monday, December 12, 2016


Please read the earlier chapters first.

Click here to read Chapter One.
Click here to read Chapter Two.
Click here to read Chapter Three.
Click here to read Chapter Four.



Sunday morning. 

The bright, morning sunlight hitting my face from between the curtains of my bedroom window awakened me gently. Blinking into the warm light, the world felt reassuringly normal again. The purifying rays washed away all of the weirdness of the day before. Maybe it was all a dream, I thought with great relief until I moved. The residual pain in my neck and back dispelled my wishful thinking.

I crept out of the bedroom somewhat cautiously. I half-expected the smirking face of Elisabetta Kostek to greet me from my computer screensaver but I was happily disappointed. Instead I saw a photograph of my entire family, my parents, Lenny, Janet and myself taken at my grandparents’ house the Christmas before my father died. There were not many pictures of the five of us. My father died when Janet was only four-years-old. She had practically no memory of him. Sometimes I couldn’t blame her for escaping to California when she had the chance. She didn’t live through the good times so why should she stay and endure the madness? 

As the image of my family slowly dissolved into one of the many thousands of tombstones I had photographed for RestingPlace, I walked to the sliding door leading to the balcony. The overturned deck chair was further evidence that I had…. 

I stopped in mid-thought. What had I actually done? Really. I had a nightmare and I walked in my sleep. That was all. I was not crazy. I was not suicidal. I was not like Lenny at all. Furthermore, it had nothing to do with that stupid picture. I turned back to the computer, and, yes, there she was: Smirking at me.

“It’s just a coincidence,” I said aloud.

There had to be a rational reason why Elisabetta’s photo appeared so regularly on the screensaver. While I walked toward the desk, the image of her face dissolved into the photo of her grave. That made me think. Perhaps the screensaver had some internal preset that favored the more recent photos. That made good sense to me. People would want to see their most recent photos most often, right? The people who designed the program probably took that into account. I’m surprised I hadn’t noticed it earlier.

I sat down at the computer. While I reaching for the mouse to turn off the screensaver, the photo of the Kostek grave dissolved into a photo of my ex-girlfriend Gina Holt taken at a party the year we met. It was the first one of the two of us together. She was smiling at the camera, but my face was turned away. Still, it was a great picture. Gina was quite fetching in it. Her hair was short, almost Tom Boy-ish, but nothing else about her was reminiscent of a guy. She was wearing tight stretch pants and a shirt that showed off her cleavage in a tasteful manner. Very sexy. I was always attracted to voluptuous girls. She was Rubenesque, but my mother saw things differently.

“You can do better than that fat girl,” she always said. Not that my mother was into body shaming, per se. Why would she limit herself to the physical when, in her eyes, every aspect of Gina was worthy of criticism.

But I proved my mother wrong. I had not done better since our breakup.

The party picture dissolved to another photo of Gina and myself taken on Thanksgiving 2011 at her parent’s house. Her family really liked me, and I liked them, too. They even moved their Thanksgiving meal early to in the afternoon so that I could share it with them. They had to do that, if they wanted to see me. There was no way I could bow out of spending a holiday with my mother. Even Lenny, at the height of his madness, would always find his way home on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. None of his inner demons were quite as formidable as our mother’s wrath.

The picture changed again to one I took of Gina at an Orioles game. She was seated and looking up at me. Her smile captured me. She seemed so happy that day. I could see the genuine love in Gina’s eyes despite all the seeds of doubt my mother tried to plant in my heart about her. Even her fortune-teller friend, whose word my mother took as gospel, predicted doom for our relationship. 

Of course, I really couldn’t entirely blame my mother. I knew why she did it. Having lost her husband, she wasn’t about to readily sacrifice another man in her family. Still, knowing my mother’s motives didn’t prevent her words from poisoning me. I could see it now. Gina loved me. She really did and she paid her dues by playing second fiddle to my mother for years.

The picture changed again to another one of Gina and myself. Now this was getting freaky. Despite the fact that we were together for five years, I only had twenty-seven pictures of her. It was statistically impossible that four of them would play back-to-back in this manner on the screensaver. Nor was it a good thing. The flood of memories they produced were not positive, especially this photo taken at her sister Kate’s wedding. 

After about two years of dating, everyone assumed Gina and I would marry. Neither one of us questioned that assumption. We often discussed where we would eventually live, and how many children we would have. The one thing we never discussed was when. The answer was obvious: When my mother finally loosened her grip on me. Gina showed an extraordinary amount of patience during her long, emotional game of chess with dear old mama. Gina tried befriending her. She tried battling her. She tried complete indifference, but my mother remained resolute and unchanging through it all. In the end, dear old momma managed to keep her grip on me beyond the grave.

The wedding of her sister Kate was the closest Gina and I ever came to walking to the altar. Gina was the maid of honor, and I was one of the groomsmen. We were in all of the group pictures together. I even caught the bride’s garter, which was not difficult since Kate had her husband lob it directly at me. Still, our wedding never came.

I think Gina thought it would be clear sailing after my mother died. I know I did, but that did not prove to be the case. I just couldn’t ask the question, and I couldn’t bring myself to say yes when Gina did. Maybe if she waited until I was through the mourning process, but I suppose she felt she had waited long enough. Her biological clock was ringing. She wanted a family, and it did not look like I would ever provide it. Studying this photo with her arm looped around mine and that beautiful smile I took for granted, I wish I could have obliged her. Instead, I had to endure the guilt of having wasted five years of her life. Still, despite my guilt, I realized I was the real loser in the equation.

Then my cellphone rang. I turned to it. The Caller ID read: Gina.

Impossible, I thought. This could not be a coincidence.

When Gina walked away, we resolved to remain friends, but our phone calls grew fewer and further in between. She never found the right guy to stop the ringing of that biological clock. Most of her calls came during her various break-ups when she needed a shoulder to cry on. Then she would give me a heads-up when she started dating a new guy. I got the latest in that series of calls about two months earlier when she began dating Chuck, or whatever his name was. There was only one reason for her call now: Chuck also failed to turn off the alarm on that biological clock. I was fully prepared to console her as I reached for the phone because I was genuinely sympathetic. I knew what it was like to be alone, and I realized it suited me more than it suited her.

“Hi, Gina,” I said. My voice was cheerful. Despite the awkwardness, I still enjoyed talking to her.

“Hi, Rick,” she replied in a voice husky with awkward excitement. “How are you doing?”

“Same as always,” I replied. No lie there.

“I’m calling because I have some exciting news and I don’t want you to find out about it on Facebook first.”

“I’m not on Facebook.”

“I know, I know, but I’m still friends with Mike and Bob and your sister, and I don’t want you to hear it from them first.”

“What is it?” I asked, now half-dreading the news. The excitement in her voice told me it was not a tragedy. That only meant one thing.

“Chuck and I are getting married,” she said, barely resisting the urge to squeal girlishly.

“Wow,” I said quietly. Gina was getting married: To someone else. I knew it was going to happen eventually, but it still took me by surprise.

“I’m so happy.”

“I’m happy for you,” I said, before adding, “But isn’t this a little sudden? You’ve only been going out with him for about two months, right?”

“Almost three,” Gina corrected me, and then she added. “But, yeah, I know what you mean. I saw us headed this way eventually, but the timing was a little unexpected. So was the way he did it. You know me, Rick: I’m a romantic. I expected a ring at the bottom of a glass of champagne at an expensive restaurant, but he just sprang it on me while we were driving back from his niece’s wedding in Youngstown. God, it had to have been three o’clock in the morning. I was sleeping. He just nudged me and asked me to marry him. I said yes. When I woke up this morning, I was afraid it might have been a dream, but it wasn’t. We’re off to buy a ring this afternoon.”

“Well congratulations,” I said weakly as I turned to the computer where the screensaver shifted to yet another picture of Gina and myself as if to mock me. “I’m really happy for you.”

“Are you, Ricky?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “You deserve some happiness.”

“Thanks. So do you,” she said. “I’m sure there’s a girl out there for you.”

“You’re more confident than me,” I said, and she was. She hung on for five years thinking she would be the one. If our roles had been reversed, I doubt I would have dug in that long.

“You just have to step out, Ricky,” she said. “Sometimes, when I think of you, I think of that old John Travolta movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. You have to step out to touch and be touched if you want true love.”

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble? Where had I heard that?


Last night.

Damn. That could not be a coincidence. What the hell was going on here?

“What made you bring up The Boy in the Plastic Bubble?” I asked, too quickly. 

I heard a cautious intake of breath on the other side of the phone. There was a moment of silence before she replied, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t want to make you mad.”

“No, no, I’m not mad” I answered. “It’s just that someone else said that to me last night.”


Who? An honest answer to that question would send me to the loony bin. “It doesn’t matter,” I finally answered. “The only thing that matters is that you’re getting married and I couldn’t be happier for you.”

“Thanks, Ricky. That means a lot,” she said. “You’re always going to be one of my best friends.”

“Same here, Gina,” I said.

“I’ll try to get you an invitation to the wedding,” she added, “But the whole ex-boyfriend thing might be weird for Chuck.”

“You don’t have to invite me,” I said. “I don’t need to go to the wedding to know that you’ll be a beautiful bride.”

I heard her smile on the other side of the line.

“I’ll tell you what, though,” I added. “I promise I’ll join Facebook to look at the wedding pictures if you post them.”

“Will do, Ricky,” she said.

Then she hung up.

I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t harbor any real hopes of us getting back together. Our break up devastated me, but I also felt strangely relieved. I spent most of my life living under the pressure of my mother’s expectations. Then, when she died, I had to contend with Gina’s expectations. It wasn’t until after we broke up that I felt I was truly charting my own course, as pathetic as it might seem to others. Still, I always clung to the option of going back to Gina. It was my safety net. Now that door was closed forever.

I must confess that I never wanted her as much as I did at that moment.

Still, I had to chuckle at the irony. I did not believe in God, but, if He did exist, this proved He was one cruel, prankster, fulfilling Gina’s heartfelt dream at the same time I nearly sleepwalked myself to death. Talk about freaky. I turned back to the screensaver expecting to see yet another photo of Gina and myself, but instead I found Elisabetta staring at me.

“No,” I said aloud. 

I refused to believe the unstated implications of that series of randomly selected photographs: The dark woman had nothing to do with this turn of events. It was just a coincidence. I grabbed the mouse and the dark lady disappeared.

To read the next chapter, click here:  Chapter Six.

Copyright 2016 by Sean Paul Murphy.  All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to read my memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.

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