She was surrounded by steel, glass and concrete, but Bella preferred it this way. This was home. After a long day at work she could finally settle in, relax, no one to watch her, no one to gaze her way and do a double take. Because she was used to this, all day long at work, getting strange looks from people all around her. Was it her golden curly locks or the free flowing dress she liked to wear? It was something she pondered on a lot, but this was not a time to worry about it, no Bella was home, and she was fine being home, even now at this late hour of ten PM. The metropolis she called home was Tampa, Florida and she was no stranger to the night life, though she never went out. No, Ybor City, SOHO, Channelside – not even the soothing waters under the Gandy Bridge would be graced by her presence. She was home and this was paradise. But Bella had one vice, though she didn’t consider it one, Bella loved to read. To some – reading was boring, to others it was a pleasure, a sideline after or during a quick break or even a way to spend leisure time. To Bella it was a voracious appetite that needed quenching, nightly. It was all she did at night till the wee hours of the morning when she had to get back up for work.
Her furniture was covered in books, a shelf here, a stand there – but there was no one to complain about it, this was Bella’s place. She read by a schedule she placed on herself and this was the beginning of Florida Classics week for her so she was ready to dig into Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings tonight. Bella lived alone, in a home designed like no other in all of Tampa. She was lucky, and she knew it. And though outside others dealt with the warm Florida climate, she sat cool in her favorite chair with her copy of The Yearling in her grasp. She smiled as she stared out through the huge side window into a dark cityscape. Night brought a new life to Tampa with bustling clubs, bars, and restaurants and yes, even the famous strip clubs the city was known for. But Bella would have none of it, she was content being alone at home, alone in Bella’s place.
Solitude was normal to her, no family, no pets – just her and her books – and she liked that. Sure it might sound selfish, but this was all she knew. There was a move to turn Downtown Tampa into a residential haven and it was a challenge for many a developer – but the condos lined up and down the one way streets making it easy targets for the young professionals in the area. Bella would see neighbors walking their dogs up and down the streets through the window but never chose to engage them. No, Bella adored her solitude – being surrounded by people made her stiffen up, she didn’t like that feeling. She was content, alone, at Bella’s place. She sat back, cracked open the book – and sighed in a smile.
The metallic sound had made her jump. She was alone, she knew she was alone, why did something make a noise? Noises from the outside were a common thing, but this sound came from within her home, and not too far from where she sat.
“Hello?” she called. It was actually almost a whisper, she didn’t want to be afraid, but she wasn’t expecting company and this intrusion wasn’t expected.
Another noise. She put the book down. That was clearly a sound pretty close to where she sat and almost sounded like something had fallen off a shelf. She started to fret, what if someone had broken in? She reached for the closest thing she might use as a weapon. There wasn’t much around her, but there – she found it, an artist’s paint brush. It was sitting next to her on the Corian surfaced desk.
“Hello? I can hear you, I… I have a weapon.” She said, mustering her best brave face.
Whoever or whatever it was didn’t acknowledge or even offer a noise.
“The nerve,” she thought to herself, “… why do people break into other people’s homes?” She was a good distance from the phone; there was no way she’d make it there if the person jumped out at her. She’d wait it out; he had to make another move. This time she reached over, looking for anything else she might use in case of defense. She felt on the counter, something round, heavy – it felt like the metallic time piece a maintenance man had left after trying to fix her clock. She cupped her fingers around it and held it to her side.
The silence, for the first time in her huge home – was unnerving. She looked out the huge picture window, so many cars driving by… if only one of them would stop, stop and see what was going on inside. Stop to help her.
Bella stood at the ready, half frightened out of her wits, and half curious. But no other sound occurred. She would not sleep tonight, she felt that if she moved – then whoever this intruder was would follow her. She was ready to defend herself, but she didn’t really want to entice a fight. No, she would hold her ground, she would stand at the ready – and she knew where to stand. There was a pedestal not far from where she was crouched. It was in the shadows, just a couple of feet away. They wouldn’t see her there, and once they did – she’d be in a position to do something. She could jump the person and use the clock piece she found, or maybe even the paint brush – if needed. Bella would not move once she got on the stand, she would stay right where she was, even if it took all night… and wait.
* * * * * *
Daylight. Tuesday morning and it was as usual as any other day. The Westshore area filled with cars coming over the bridge from Pinellas for those that worked in Hillsborough. South Tampa swelled with school buses and parents rushing the kids to school. Scenic Bayshore Boulevard – with its world’s longest sidewalk proved again to be the best pedestrian and bike trafficking spot in the area. New Tampa and Brandon area’s roads were at their usual, slow and annoying. Downtown Tampa bustled in normal fashion with traffic, people coming in to work, tourists enjoying the sights and vendors readying for another busy day. The famous minarets of the University of Tampa covered the background like a beautifully painted canvas as the sun rose over the east skyscraper panorama. Just outside the Courthouse a man held a wooden cross and smiled as jurors, attorneys and the public slowly entered through the security gates. Over at the Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library’s main building, the doors opened and customers rushed in, some to get the morning paper, some for the book they had on reserve, many to use the computers that lined up the first and second floor areas. A mother holding her young child by the hand headed straight for the reference desk while fumbling with her iPhone.
“Hi, I need to find a book for my son on the Spanish American War?”
“Sure ma’am,” the librarian smiled, “… those books would be right in that area, follow me and I’ll show you.”
She pointed just behind the mother who acted to move, but was then suddenly stopped by her son who was yanking hardly on her right hand.
“That statue, she winked at me?” his eyebrows curled down in a confused curiosity.
“What did you say, Dear?”
He pointed up.
“Her, the statue with the gold curly hair and holding paintbrushes in her hand, and that clock thing… she winked at me.”
The busy mother turned, saw the magnificent bronze statue.
“Ahhh,” the librarian smiled walking over to the child, “… that is Bella, Bella Apollonia, she is the Art Muse. She does seem to possess some sort of life, doesn’t she?”
“But… she winked at me.”
“She did? Well she loves children you know… children and books.” The librarian smiled.
“Come David… we have to find your book.” the mother rushed.
They walked away into the stacks.
“Hey uh, Lori?” called a fellow coworker.
The librarian turned.
“We had all the books put away last night, but this copy of The Yearling was sitting on that chair next to the window, did you pull it for a customer?”
“No Tim, we just opened and I just sat here when this customer here approached.”
“Oh, hmm, weird huh?”
“Yeah, maybe Bella here wanted to get some last minute reading in the middle of the night.” She pointed back at the statue and chuckled.
“Ha, yeah – right.”
He walked away with a smirk on his face. Then passing the catalog computer he saw a metal book end on the floor and bent down and picked it up. No sooner had he stood up to place it when it slipped out of his hand and dropped to the floor again.
He scooped it up and placed it back on the top shelf of reference books then turned and looked back at Bella, he could swear he saw her flinch with the sound of the metal book end hitting the floor. He stopped, turned and stared at the bronze piece of art, then rubbed his chin.
“Na…” then he walked away.
*Note, Bella is actually a real statue sitting on the public floor of the Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library in Downtown Tampa, Florida
Rod Martinez writes middle grade & young adult. Growing up on Marvel Comics and Twilight Zone, the inspiration was inevitable. After a challenge by his son to write a story about him and his friends “like the Goonies’ but based in Tampa”, his first novel “The Juniors” was picked up by a publisher – and the rest as they say – is history.