Chapter 1

The silent breakup

If New York is a rhythm, Chicago is the melody of horns constructed of concrete and asphalt. A bitter wind twists through it’s valves and channels blowing the sound of cold. Sideways snow beyond the giant picture window flies like sheet music spun from the invisible.

George looks out into the white, squinting, seeing each note woosh by in a blur.

A sniff. A ruffle of his uncut hair. A crusty bit falls from his eye as he rubs away the morning.

Behind him a breakfast plate clinks where two over polite voices pardon each other. A coffee grinder purrs to life. Without looking he imagines two pinballs flying loosely in the same machine but picking up speed. Ping! Ping!

He has watched this dance every morning for weeks. It was a silent competition as to who could be busier, therefore less attentive. Every step they take defines their space, barely brushing one another. Mom takes a step to the coffee, the fella takes a step around her to cut an overpriced, out of season grapefruit. A phone in one hand, text messages flipping by. An awfully cheery morning news show fills in the silences.

“Yah, cold” George says aloud to no one.

The two voices try to stay neutral and low as the man says, “When are you going to tell him?”

“Soon,” Kathryn, George’s mother, says as her phone rings adding “tonight” before picking it up.

Some people buy clothes to change with their mood, George’s mother changed her ringtone. It was a noted pause before changing the location where her phone charged, on some other nightstand.

Last week an olympic anthem, tympanic rumbles preceding horns into the pomp and circumstance of a, likely, wrong number. This week aggressive. “Barracuda” by Heart.

“Oh, I see…” Kathryn’s voice dropped an octave, “thank you.”

Without looking George knew she was shaking her head. No, the job did not come through.

The words hung in the air like a noose on their relationship. They had been dwindling down to cohabitation for a while. Roommates, his mother would say, if only to put a nice spin on their lack of enthusiasm for one another.

The whispering continued as George began to take account of his surroundings. His mind wandered through the stainless steel kitchen and imported Italian stone flooring. They lived in a corner apartment which gave almost every room a view except his. The stock carpet went before they even moved in and two walls knocked out. Now, in the parlance he learned by example, it had an “open and inviting” feel.

Every light fixture, every knob, hinge and door handle was hand picked. An architect couldn’t live in anything but the best. It had to be a show of superior intellect and design for friends and family that never stepped foot in any of the meticulously adorned rooms.

The massive fish tank the man had installed was the only color in the apartment that didn’t rely on a tone of grey. The crystal blue water and exotically colored fish were gorgeous. It was the finishing touch of the apartment right before they moved in. The fella called it “the flourish”.

But he didn’t know much about the fish in the tank other than choosing them by color and size. In fact, Elisio, the little Mexican man from the fish store (that’s what it’s called, right?) would show up once a month to clean the tank and add any new, whatever, to it. This was manual labor you paid someone for, not something you did yourself George was told.

Elisio let George help, though, handing him the right tool, the right skimmer, the right plastic baggie to nab a dead fish or clean the filter. When the tank was closed, you couldn’t smell the saltwater in the tank but when George was helping he liked to get his hands wet with it. The water smelled different from the water that came out of the faucet, and different from that of the lake nearby. Like it came from a different world.

He heard a huff and a slamming of doors as both his mother and the man moved through the apartment in opposite directions.

George leaned into the massive glass window so his view was unobstructed and the snow seemed to fly past his nose. From this angle he could almost see straight to the ground at the base of the building. He’d looked down the building this way hundreds of times but until now hadn’t thought of jumping.

With a sigh George clouds the window with his hot breath. The circular cloud on the glass makes the city outside take on even more apocalyptic edges.

He looks down through the breath and scrawls with one finger. The text, backward, so in the off chance a person might be watching him from another building twenty stories up they’d see his inscription —


Isla is a novel-in-progress. Feel free to read along (and share) as new chapters are published.

Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,