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She walks slowly along the beach. A few gulls flutter half-heartedly behind her, but she has no food for them today. She stops to watch the waves come and go and daydreams a little about times as a child when they had seemed like friends. She bends over when the next wave comes in, scoops up a handful of water and drinks it. It tastes the same as it did back then, salty, gritty, fishy… She swirls it around in her mouth, relishing it, before swallowing. In her mind, she hears his words ‘it's terminal. Six, maybe eight months tops…'
Terminal. The saltwater burns her throat and settles uneasily in her stomach. She continues walking along the empty beach trying to find words for what she has to say. She turns to the lone gull now following her ‘You use the word everyday, but you never mean it this way. You never mean it to be so final.' The gull squawks in alarm and takes flight. ‘You didn't say goodbye.' She hollers after the bird. Dragging her heavy feet through the sand, she heads back to her car. Maybe by the time she gets home she'll know what to say.
So you drive down a crumbly, dirty city street and you think you know its story. But you only seeing its cover. Let me read a few pages to you: See the three tow-headed, barefoot little boys? Tonight, uncooked Oodles of Noodles will be their dinner. And their father likes to invite all the young neighborhood boys over to watch porn. That old woman over there? She drinks her Robitussin over ice when the liquor store is closed. The pretty redhead on the corner is only thirteen, and makes fifty bucks a Pop. Mom's quite proud of that. Want more?
The day she left, she drove her beat up Nova down the main street in town. A few people waved to her and she waved back, a big, silly grin on her face. Her suitcase, filled with books and clothes, was hidden in the trunk, so no one realized they were waving at her for the last time. When asked, people will say they last seen her 'Carefree and happy, windows rolled down, hair streaming out behind her, and the radio playing a little too loudly for early Monday morning.' No one will mention the bruises, or the black eye.
She drove for seven hours, stopping only once for gas. When she reached Liberty Town, she pulled into the used car lot and sold her Nova. At another dealership, she bought a beat up Ford and threw her suitcase into the back seat. After a brief stop at a grocery store, she took a room at the hotel on the outskirts of town. That night, she cut off her long honey-blond hair and dyed what was left a dark auburn. While munching on a bag of chips she studied her atlas, planning the next day's route. Tomorrow, he'd start looking...
On the road the next day, she drove east. As the sun started to set, she stopped at a run down diner in a squalid town whose name she forgot the moment she read it. Two aging truckers sat at the counter and eyed her without much interest as she made her way to a booth. As she waited for the waitress to bring her coffee and the night's special she stared at her reflection. Her spiky red hair clashed stood out of place with her demure floral dress and made her complexion look pasty. Maybe tomorrow she'd buy makeup...
Another night, another diner. This time, the truckers eyed her with quite a bit more interest. She stared at herself in the restroom mirror and the woman looking back with her snug, faded jeans and the casually buttoned blue cotton shirt, startled her for a second. She repainted her lips copper, ran her fingers through her hair and smiled. Feeling the eyes of the men watching her she turned to them. 'Goodnight, boys.' She said in a low, husky voice, again startling herself. A wolf whistle followed her to her car, and as she drove away, she was still smiling.
It was two years before he finally caught up with her, tracking her down by her social security number. She saw him enter the bar where she worked, but he didn't recognize her. She, with her tan skin, spiky red hair (now a bright copper), nose ring, black rose tattooed on her arm, green eyes, black mini-skirt, purple tank shirt, and thigh high boots, looked nothing like the brown-eyed, dishwater blond, pale mousy little girl who had ran from him. When she saw him, inside, she was that mousy, frightened girl again. Pleading ill, she quietly snuck out the back...
She paced through her tiny one bedroom apartment. On her bed, a suitcase sat half packed. She paused in front of a mirror. 'If I run, he wins. If I stay...' With a shudder, she started pacing again. In the bedroom, she threw some more clothes into the suitcase. In the living room, she looked out the window, ducked down behind one of her potted ferns, but no one was there. In the bathroom, she looked into the mirror again. Back in the bedroom, she shoved the suitcase onto the floor and kicked it. 'There's nothing else I can do.'
Sitting in a car in mid-December with the engine off wasn't much fun. Even with gloves on, her hands were frozen. She stared at the door of the bar grimly, trying to temporarily forget about the bag on the seat next to her. Three hours had gone by since she had pulled into this shadowed parking lot. She didn't really know if he there, but she couldn't go inside to see. Not since she had called out to attend a funeral in Pennsylvania. She was adjusting her bandana when a motion near the door caught her attention. ‘Come on bastard!'
‘Hey Cat, did you hear there was another homicide over at the Starlight? Funny thing, the guy who got offed was in here the night he was killed.' She poured him his usual shot of whiskey before answering. ‘Well, Hal, the papers said it was drug related. Seems they found some of the big H under inside the mattress. Now, the double homicide over on East Street…' She poured Hal another drink as he complained on about the city's rising crime rate. In her mind she saw him laying on the floor, blood and life draining away, staring in disbelief.
You live in your private little world, not noticing or not caring what goes on around you. Music fills your head where other's voices should be instead. People reach out to you, they really want to touch you, but you ignore their outstretched hands. Eyes lowered and casting them a small smile, you quickly slip away. When you do look at them, they can tell you're really looking in, not out. By all rights, you should be a shadow, but there's something about you that makes them want to reach you, so they refuse to allow you to fade away.
Smiles are dangerous. Even with the bruises rising on my skin, I forgive him for a smile. But I wear my masks well, and he doesn't know this. He thinks I forgive him for his apologies of flowers and tears. I place the flowers in a vase where they'll rot, day by day. I wipe away his tears and gently kiss his forehead. He holds me too tightly; still frightened I'll leave him. I let him kiss me, tasting blood when the cut on my lip breaks open again. I close my eyes. Maybe one day he'll forget to smile.
Autumn is losing its beauty. Orange and red leaves have fallen and rotted. He sits in his office and worries about winter. Every year it seems colder. Harsher. And he doesn't know how many more winters he can take. She says ‘Go South. Find your golden sand beaches and forget about the snow.' And he wants to, but he doesn't know how. His whole life has been Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Could he actually live continuously in Summer? Wind pounds against his window and the sound alone makes his bones ache. And her voice is achingly sweet: ‘Go South.'
Temporary existence. It's all a lie I live. I am, but I am not. Do you know what I mean? At night, while I sleep, my dreams are true. And that scares me because they're all nightmares. I can tell you want to tell me the truth, but I can't get past the shadows in your eyes. So leave me here to sink or swim. And maybe one day I'll find solid ground. Or maybe I'll just fade away. And I wonder. If I fade away, will there still be shadows in your eyes? Or will they fade away too?
I had the most frustrating dream last night. A shadowy man with a butcher knife chased me all over the house. It was a long dream with me running up and down stairs, sometimes barely managing to escape the whispery slash of his blade. He finally cornered me in the basement where I cowered on the floor, eyes closed, as he raised his knife high. But it never made it's descending arc. When I looked at him, he just smiled cruelly and said ‘I could kill you now, but I won't' and disappeared. For some reason, I awoke feeling cheated.
None of my stories (at least not the ones I show to people) have sex scenes. Since most of my characters are some kind of a reflection of myself, sex scenes feel like masturbation. It's not like I'm a prude or anything, but masturbation is just something I like to keep between me and my, uh, well, you get the point. But then, maybe all writing is masturbation. Maybe every word I write is another stroke, another touch. It certainly feels good when I do it. Write, that is. Ha! Did you think I would actually admit to anything? Well…
It wasn't really supposed to be terminal, you know. When they first found the lump in her breast, the doctors gave her a twenty percent survival rate than upped it to fifty. Fifty/fifty. Like she was in a damn raffle or something. But then they found the tumor on the base of her spine. And now they're saying terminal. She's only twenty-nine and she knows she'll be dead within a year. She says there's no difference between her and the rest of us; she just knows her expiration date. Oh, please let me be as brave as her. For her.
One of the saddest things about the whole thing is that you'll never get to know her. You don't know that her hair is a warm brown and way too curly. That freckles splash gaily across her nose. Or that she thinks of herself as scrawny. You won't ever hear her laugh, which starts off a little quiet and shy, then fills the room. You don't know that she just got married and had dreams of starting a family. Or what her other dreams were. To you, all she'll ever be is black and white words on a computer screen.
Dime store preachers wave palsied fists and spittle flies from their lips as their words try to compete with others selling their wares. 'I've got your blow so you can go, go, go...' 'Feel the flames of hell burning your flesh...' 'Hey mister, need some company?' 'Gen-u-wine gold watches here... cheap, cheap, cheap!' Their voices rise and fall, mix and intermingle, punctuated by car horns and breaking glass. If you stand there in the shadows and close your eyes and listen, it's almost a beautiful song, guttural and soft, desperate and greedy. And this is the song I come from.
At first, I didn't know I was smelling people's intentions. I thought it was just bad hygiene. That the person next to me on the bus didn't often bathe. It's not an easy thing to live with. Remember when that person walked by us in the park and I was left on the ground retching? I've never gotten use to the smell of rotting flesh. But the scariest was when I noticed a lingering scent of sour milk coming from myself. Luckily, I now smell faintly of cinnamon. I am living proof that people can change. So maybe there's hope.
Until I mentioned secrets, he thought he knew everything there was to know about me. Now, curiosity is chewing out his heart, and he pleads with me to satisfy him. I look at him through lowered lashes and smile innocently. If he were wise, he would know these secrets are buried in my stories, covered over with words, just waiting for someone to unearth them. But I don't think he's wise. He reads my stories and to him, they're just bits of fancies and fluff. Nope, (I sadly shake my head) he is not wise. And the secrets stay buried.
She's the better half of my soul. I'm the bitter half of hers. I like to think it was an even deal. That she kept me from being too dark, and I protected her from only seeing through rose-tinted glasses. But I suspect I got the greater odds in that deal. You never hear of someone being tainted by light. It's always good being corrupted by darkness. And maybe I am evil. Maybe I should have left her with visions of everything nice and sugar and spice, instead of opening her eyes and convincing her of everyone's capacity for cruelty.
He always dreams in color. He'll swear to it. Bright, vibrant colors fill every second of his sleep. Blood wells up from a cut, a crisp crimson. Grass so green you would weep to lay on it. Flowers a shade of yellow so majestic it rivals the sun. Skies so wonderfully blue you would wonder why anyone would use the term blue to mean sad. And every color in between slipping in and out of focus, teasing and pleasing. Every morning he wakes with tears in his eyes, wishing it could always be so beautiful. You see, awake he's colorblind.
‘Do you love me? Then prove it. Slay me a dragon.' She stared him directly in the eye and issued this command. His laugh became a nervous chuckle when she didn't crack a smile. ‘If your love is true, you'll find one.' Head high, she turned from him and strolled away. He followed her, arguing the absurdity of her request, but she steadfastly insisted he was wrong. And he began to doubt himself. And he started wondering where a dragon would live if it did exist. And he booked a flight. Her next ardent suitor arrived. ‘…Slay me a dragon.'
There are monsters under the bed you know. So you have to be careful not to let your arm hang over the side while you sleep. And be careful should you have to leave your bed in the middle of the night. If you don't, you just might feel a cold, scaly hand wrap around your ankle. And there is a closet monster, so keep that closet door closed at night. If you don't keep it closed, you'll see red eyes glaring balefully back at you all night long. Fall asleep, you'll hear it shuffling slowly out of the closet…
He has never been able to handle her twisted side. He thinks she should be perky and peppy, like a sorority chick or someone named Jenny. She just gives him a withering glance. And her thoughts run once more to the strange. It's not that she's evil, she's just dark. And in her darkness, she's fierce. She's starting to think they aren't going to make it. That he's waiting for her to change, to morph into little Ms. Sunshine. But she was never meant to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And if he can't accept her weirdness, he can't accept her.
Trees. Flowers. Grass. People. Cats. Dogs. Hamsters. Ideas. Dreams. Relationships. Mothers. Fathers. Children. Friends. Grandparents. Sisters. Brothers. Movies. Songs. Games. You. Me. Her. Him. Them. Faith. Trust. Belief. Ideals. Doctors. Cops. Waitresses. Firemen. Buttons. Pens. Home. Money. Friendships. Sanity. Love. Humor. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. Hope. Health. Happiness. Imagination. Confidence. Lovers. Mentors. Teachers. Etc. Hate. Anger. Jealousy. Weight. Colds. Enemies. Criminals. Violence. Hunger. War. Pestilence. Homelessness. Poverty. Depression. Despair. Apathy. Etc. I don't know where I'm going with this. But it's about loss. A list of things I'm going to lose, and a list of things I wish would be lost.
'I used to believe in God.' She said. 'I used to believe goodness, purity and all of the rest of that crap. But then I saw too much.'
The waiter refilled our coffees and she smiled politely at him before looking out the window.
'I don't care if I'm wrong. The way I see it, how can hell be any worse than here? No, silly, not this restaurant. Well, the food's pretty bad, but I meant planet earth. Life. How can hell be worse than this?'
I sipped my coffee but didn't reply. Lost in her memories, she didn't notice.
When I was a child, I wanted to be a trucker. I had elaborate daydreams about being on the open road behind the wheel of a Mack Truck. Thanks to Smokey and the Bandit I couldn’t wait to lead a convoy and foil evil cops. My truck was going to be a royal blue and my CB handle, ‘Lady Blue’. And, wearing faded blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt, I would always honk my horn for any small child who gestured for me to. Yep. I would have made a fine trucker. If only I wasn’t afraid of driving.
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