Fall 2011, Volume 11

Fiction by Francesc M. Franch

Felicia in the Twilight


Shortly before his death he recalled the dim, wobbly expanse of a king-sized waterbed and the purple shade of its silk canopy. There, in the cool October evenings, he’d listened to the great soprano Felicia Mourning talk about better days and go on and on and on, until she fell asleep and began snoring over the background of the waves and the drizzle.

Early on, he’d been a seriously driven man. He’d decided to settle down at her side and write a novel, an old project of his, but, try as he might, he could never make it past chapter two. Years later, in ranting soliloquies, he told himself that he’d gotten lost in the memory of the fading music, the demands of being a dutiful lover, and the sheer span of Felicia’s descent into indignity.

But the simple truth was that most days he’d been too drunk to do much of anything. For a time he’d attempted to add a single sentence, a good solid word, to the drying trickle of his last paragraph. But the book died the same death every morning, dissolving into the lethargy of a splitting headache as the sun rose on Felicia’s world of taffeta and purple dimness. After that, he never wrote again.

Then, for nearly a year, he became a mere spectator in Felicia’s own alcoholic binges, her extravagant lust, and the demise of her prodigious voice. And eventually he got used to seeing her without her makeup.


One November day, fresh out of dreams, he returned to Felicia’s house. In the intervening years he’d given up the bottle and acquired some gray hair and a sense of purpose in the very struggle to remain sober. In his unguarded reveries he also found himself prisoner to a sensation he took for regret.

Sober or not, he had managed to accomplish very little since leaving Felicia’s histrionics behind. Bored out of his mind, on quiet evenings he sipped seltzer water in his living room and recalled the rustling of Felicia’s taffeta dress in the dimness, the geranium smell that was everywhere, and the tapping of the rain accompanying their awkward lovemaking.

Yet one day, looking back on his youth, he realized that all he could bring himself to mourn with any depth of feeling was Felicia’s memory on the silk divan by the window: a drooping image on all fours, her soaring, plump buttocks shimmering in the purple airiness of the Mediterranean sunset. He’d been so full of hopes and dreams, and such a fool.

At times, eyes closed, he conjured up one particular evening. His gaze had gone from Felicia’s backside to the violet haze upon the driveway. There he saw Felicia’s neighbor, the music impresario Theseus Lampart, wrapped in a pastel raincoat, walking toward the house with his Yorkshire terrier. The elderly Lampart, umbrella and leash in hand, came to stand under the window of the seating room and stared upward at them with his sad, beady eyes.

From where he knelt he couldn’t reach the blinds. He looked straight at the voyeur and made a menacing gesture with his fist, trying to scare him away. Lampart let go of the leash. The dog, named Puccini, trotted to a rosebush, splashing in a pink puddle. Then the old man dropped the umbrella and slowly opened his raincoat, flashing him and Felicia with a triumphant glare.


As he drifted into sleep in his aisle seat, he looked in vain for an emotional token to justify his return. It should have been easy. He could have remembered the early days, when he was a driven man, all the beautiful wine or the stream of Felicia’s magical voice. Or he could have evoked, affecting melancholy, the aura of sadness that enveloped her after she retired from the stage. Or the Miró paintings casting beams of red light on her pathetic silence the day he told her he was leaving for good.

“You’ve brought me nothing but grief!” he’d yelled, emerging from a three-year hangover to break Felicia’s heart. “I’m forty years old and have accomplished nothing at all. I can’t stand it and I can’t stand you either.”

He woke up over Scotland and asked for a cup of black coffee. After drinking it he got down the carry-on bag and took out a cloth he’d packed to shine his shoes during the trip. Counting the ones he was wearing, he now owned four pairs of Berlutis and three gorgeous Vilaltas, neatly packed in his bag. He didn’t have much else, but he had beautiful shoes.

At the airport he took a cab, which made its way south through light afternoon traffic while the radio blasted “Ritorna vincitor!”—an omen that annoyed the hell out of him.

When the taxi left the main highway and headed for the coastal town of Creixell, he rolled down the window to smell the salty, familiar air.


He paid the cabby and picked up his luggage. Lampart and his dog, Puccini, waited beyond the gate in the unkempt driveway blocked by a fallen pine tree. The old man stood between his own house and Felicia’s, one hundred feet ahead. His disheveled, gray hair floated in the wind, and his shabby slippers had a hole that showed his big toe. It was a rather grotesque toe with an overgrown, yellowish nail. They shook hands morosely and started up the driveway.

Where to begin, he wondered, walking around the fallen trunk. Lampart unhooked the leash and little Puccini ran to Felicia’s rosebush.

“Glad you were able to reach me, Theseus.”

The old man shrugged and kept looking ahead.

“It must have been terrible.”

Lampart didn’t answer.

“Look, I feel awful that I wasn’t here.”

“But I was,” said the old man with a glimmer in his sad, beady eyes. “She wanted out. There was nothing to be done, not a damned thing.”

“Well,” he muttered uneasily, “I’m glad at least she had you.”

Lampart bit his lip, staring straight ahead.

“As I told you, sir, she didn’t wanna live anymore.”

The “sir” was hurled like an insult.

“By the end she drank a lot. A lot. She did for years, but right at the end she drank even more. She died from it, you know?”

Such delightful small talk between him and Lampart, he noted with a pang of morbid amusement. There was an awkward pause. He fought the urge to go into the house, then and there, and have some of Felicia’s wine.

“Is there any paperwork? Anything I need to take care of?” he asked, trying to drown out the voice of his demons.

“No,” replied Lampart tersely, handing him the key, “don’t worry about it yet. Just move right in.”

They had reached the front of the house. Lampart stared at him in silence for a few moments. It was a look that said, “You son of a bitch. How dare you show your face around here.” The old man cleared his throat.

“She said you left her for a trollop. That true?”

He raised an eyebrow and tried to look dignified.

“I guess it’s like you said,” he replied, moving toward the door, “by the end she was a little nuts, huh?”

Lampart grabbed his arm, gently, and he turned around.

“I didn’t say that. I said that she drank and that she didn’t wanna live anymore.” He paused, then added, “She wished she could take you with her. She really did. Do you know what I mean, sir?”

He didn’t and shrugged his indifference. Lampart let go of his arm. From the foyer he heard Puccini bark and then the old man’s stark voice.

“Fuck you, Mister Fancy Shoes.”


The first thing he noticed was the smell of stale cigarettes and an overflowing ashtray by the windowsill. It was a sign, if there ever was one, of Felicia’s self-destructive streak. Out of habit he took off his custom-made shoes and left them by the door. Felicia had always insisted that everyone walk barefooted on her luscious Persian carpets.

He ambled up the musty stairs to the seating room and sat on the couch with the ghost of Felicia’s hair on the purple pillow and her pudgy, white buttocks shimmering in the sunset. He went out to the balcony, where the dead geranium and the lichen veiled the walls battered by the sea winds.

The decanter, by the Lladró figurine, was dusty and empty. He wanted a drink very badly. Then he saw it. There was an old record player on the stand, by the glass case that reflected Miró’s red distilled with sunlight and yesterday’s moldy breeze. It surprised him because, since her last night on stage, Felicia had barred all music from her life.

“It’s mine. Right at the end she wanted to listen.”

Startled, he wheeled around and found Lampart standing by the stairs. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

Lampart looked at the floor and fidgeted with the dog leash. “She never minded.”

“Well, I do.”

The old man looked stricken. “Are you asking me to go?”

“I am.”

“And I can’t come back as I please?”

“No, you can’t, Theseus. Hell no.”

“For God’s sake, how can you do this to me? She was my wife.”


“I built this house for her,” added Theseus pleadingly.

“No kidding.”

Lampart hesitated for a few seconds.

“The record player is mine.”

“Talk to the lawyers, then. Can you go now?”

After Lampart left he walked over to the bookshelf. All his books were still there. On the writing table he saw a thick envelope and noted it was addressed to him.

The light was growing dim. He went back to the divan and turned on the lamp, but nothing happened. With a sigh he examined it, left the envelope on the end table, and started for the basement to get a lightbulb.

He went for his shoes because there was no carpeting on the steps or the cellar. But as he reached for them, he noticed the foul smell and realized with horror what was all over them.

Barefooted, he made his way across the lawn to Lampart’s house. He rang the bell and got no answer. He knocked and then heard Puccini barking behind the door.

“Open the damned door!” he yelled.

A second-floor window opened a minute later, and Lampart looked out, munching on a piece of Cadí cheese.

“What do you want?” he asked testily with his mouth full.

“What do I want? What the hell, Theseus? You had your dog crap in my shoes?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” replied the old man angrily.

“The hell you don’t.”

“Why don’t you leave me alone, you effete little creep,” yelled Lampart. Then added, “A leech, that’s what you are. Take it all, why don’t you?” and threw the remnants of the cheese at him.


He returned to Felicia’s house and got a lightbulb from the cellar. As he walked by he looked at the cases of beautiful wine but resisted the urge, just barely. He went back upstairs, fixed the lamp, and sat on the divan with Felicia’s envelope.

It contained his own letters to her, unopened, and a photograph taken the summer before. It showed Felicia standing by the cliff near the house, looking bloated and defeated with Puccini in her arms. An aging diva drowning in alcohol and bitterness.

At that moment she became real, and he experienced a wave of tenderness toward her. He wished fervently she’d been just as dear to him in years past, and as it was, felt an unbearable, unmistakable nostalgia for her bulging ass in the twilight.

So unbearable that he walked back to the basement to pick up a case of Chateau Margaux 1995. He got a corkscrew from the kitchen and returned to the purple seating room. He put on a record and Felicia’s young incarnation sang “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” with premonitory passion. He opened a bottle of the delightful wine, black as ink, and drank lustily from it, but it tasted foul. He spit some of it out and opened a second bottle, and a third, but they were all ruined.

He opened a fourth and noticed it had started to rain, and that his legs had gone almost completely limp. Bottle in hand, he sniffed the purple mist and didn’t recognize the pissy stink of hemlock all around him. But he knew that something was definitely amiss.

Just then he was overcome by a wave of nausea. He lay down—shoeless and pale as a corpse—to inhale the last vague memory of poor Felicia that emanated from the music. At last he was able to examine all four corks and, puzzled, discovered the marks of a long needle piercing them from top to bottom.

Maybe, he thought, he’d feel better if he slept a while. He considered trying to make it to the master bedroom, to lie under the purple shade of Felicia’s silk canopy. Instead, very slowly, he dragged himself up the silk divan to the open window.

Lampart and Puccini were walking up the driveway. He looked at the old man under the rain and saw the faint glimmers of the setting sun on his face. With much effort he leaned over the sill and raised one hand, pleadingly.

Lampart’s sad, beady eyes glistened in the rain-soaked twilight as he closed his umbrella and let it fall on the ground. Then he smiled, opened his raincoat to the scarlet haze and the raindrops, and flashed his naked body while the dog ran in circles all around him, splashing in puddles of pink water.



BIO: Francesc M. Franch is a native of Spain who came to the United States at the age of seventeen. He has authored three novels, Amelia Asleep in the Darkness (Pagès Editors, Spain, 2011), Gray City Under the Rain (Editorial Milenio, Spain, 2007), and A Hidden Portrait (Editorial Milenio, Spain, 2005). The first was written in Catalan, while the latter two were written in Spanish. He has also written A Catalan Symbolist: Selected Poems of Marius Torres (Peter Lang Publishing, 1992), and his work has appeared in Compass Rose, Front Range Review, Fourteen Hills, Hiram Poetry Review, Hospital Drive Magazine, Monarch Review, Natural Bridge, The Old Red Kimono, Phantasmagoria, Quercus Review, Quiddity Literary Journal, Rio Grande Review, Sanskrit, and Spoon River Poetry Review.

A political scientist by training, He is Vice President of Editorial Operations and Managing Editor at the Bulletin News Network in McLean, Virginia. He resides in suburban Maryland with his wife Rebecca and their three children.