The Knife

After what seemed like millions of long days, hours spent at the helm of a ship with a broken rudder he called a job he finally closed the door of his apartment behind him. He slipped his boots off by the door and dropped his bag in its usual place: on the floor leaning up against the wall. He stopped and leaned with it for a moment and rubbed the aching muscles in his neck and wondered how much more he could take before he walked out. How long before the monotony got to him and the customers became belligerent enough that he just gave up, threw his keyboard and walked out the door never to be seen again.

He thought these same thoughts every night, as if it was part of his circadian rhythm and he hated it. He prayed for contentment.

Then it hit him, as it always did, that he was alone again. The people around him as well as his work kept him from realizing this fact and so he remained imbued with that feeling until he looked up from his reverie and saw the emptiness of his studio apartment. Sure, there was stuff there but stuff, he realized, only kept him so distracted. Eventually his mind would wander to places and things, not always bad until they collided with the force of a fist into a brick wall with the memories he was trying so hard to forget. Or, at least, assign them a state of analgesia so his heart wouldn’t sink like an anchor in still waters every time they surfaced.

Sweet anodyne.

“You’re only as strong as you are when you are alone and in the dark,” he told himself as he turned on the TV and sat on his bed. He knew he needed sleep if he was to survive another hellacious day at the hands of his employer and its clientele. Though it used to be a problem for him to fall asleep after it all went down, his body and brain eventually fell back into the pattern of somewhat regular rest. He liked sleep because it often offered him a reprieve from the thoughts that still haunted him and the memories of her as she was; the good times, the sweet saccharine drops that dripped into his mind, now turned bitter as saltwater. Some nights it was his only reprieve and he was thankful for the peace.

He crawled into bed and laid there, waiting for his brain to shut him down for the evening. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing, the rise and fall of his own chest and the force of inhaling and exhaling. As he fell into a steady rhythm of respiration he began to feel his mind wind down like a toy as the battery begins to drain. He could never tell when sleep was coming, so he just maintained his soft focus on his breath.

Everything was dark for a moment. Then his eyes were open and he was on his bed, laying on his side near the edge with his left hand resting up near his face. Everything seemed fuzzy and dark, disoriented and slightly out of focus. While he was trying to understand it all he felt a hand slide up to his side. Soft hands on his skin where his shirt had ridden up and revealed the pale space between his ribs and his hips. This was all too familiar and he knew whose hand he felt; he was reliving a memory. Their chastity was a beautiful thing to him but when the view panned up he could see her lying on the other side of the bed, smiling sleepily. He was no longer seeing through his own eyes but the eyes of what he realized then to be a dream.

He felt the knife stab him in the heart again but from behind, between the ribs.

Without a thought, he reached to his back and pulled it out. There was no physical pain and no blood on the knife. He turned back to her and she just smiled and gently waived but her hands were black and dripping with it in the darkness. He held the knife blade down and shifted glances back and forth from the knife to her.

She never stopped smiling and waiving, like a programmed automaton. This infuriated him for some reason and he brought the knife crashing down through the fabric of his subconscious creation with the intent of plunging it into her heart. The rage in his eyes didn’t affect her one bit in that moment–

His eyes opened wide and he sat up. He looked to his left where the bed was empty and laid back down. He took a deep breath and rolled to his side, heart throbbing for a moment as he tried to bring himself back to the present and to reality.

“I’m fine. I’m OK,” he told himself as he drifted back to sleep. He found himself, just as he drifted off to sleep, a little disappointed that he didn’t get to make that violent strike into her chest. Not because he wanted her dead but because he wanted to find out wether or not her heart was truly made of stone.

The Fire

He threw his phone to his right and onto his bed with his thumb and forefinger, putting it into a flat spin. His eyes were closed as he bowed his head and ran his left hand through his hair and let his right follow suit. He let them both stop at the base of his skull and clinch his hair tight as he pulled it. He couldn’t believe her. He couldn’t believe she would do this to him after everything he did for her, all the good times and wonderful memories they had together. He could feel the heat of sickening saline streak down his cheek as his arms began to shake from the tension, his grip sending earthquakes up his arms and into his shoulders. His nostrils flared as he tried to control the intake of oxygen into his lungs, but knowing that his respiration rate was increasing with every second along with his heart beat.

She had conjured the ghost of his greater fears and let him go.

The best she could do was a text message. But it didn’t matter. The reaction was the same as he saw her face painted as a portrait in his head on a wall where she had sat for over a year. He tried to keep his grip on her but the picture was slowly taken off its hook and washed down river with the tears he was trying (and failing) to hold back. He remembered every other time this had happened. He remembered what it was like to be replaced, to be put on the podium as second place while someone else held the trophy, his arm around the girl and then both of them disappearing in a cloud of smoke. He felt like he would forever receive the consolation prize.

He started to fume. Smoke started unfurling from his eyes and nostrils. He kept his eyes shut.

She said she knew abandonment. What did she really know? He was never the guy to one-up another person but he always remembered a story his father told him and it sounded like silence, an empty palm and pockets full of nothing. The man who was part in his creation packed his bags and never came back which left only the question, “why?” and therapy bills. She couldn’t match that and could never understand why, when he smelled the signs he panicked and actually blamed him for it despite his best efforts to explain. But all she did was blame him. It was his fault. All his fault and this new guy was going to be the answer to all her problems and they could still be friends…

There were women who wrote a similar story with him with subtle variations and it only served to hone his senses to a finer point. So, his gut saw this coming before he did but the message didn’t make it to his brain before she cut the ties and he was left trying not to rip his hair out from the roots while violent sobs rattled him rating unknown levels on the Richter scale. There was a time when he just let it go and hit his knees, wailing and feeling so pathetic in the process because he thought he was stronger than this, so much stronger than this. But, obviously, there were still things that had the ability to revert him back 12 years old when this wound was first fresh. He pounded his fists into the ground to put the pain somewhere else besides inside where it smoldered.

And then his eyes caught fire and flames shot from his brain and through his muscles. Where there was smoke there was now fire licking the air around him like hands slapping faces and everything around him, for a moment, burned.

He picked up a baseball bat he kept for protection and swung it through the screen of his TV. He ravaged the walls and windows, giving no regard to his own possessions or his security deposit. He just wanted it all to burn. He spat lighter fluid and gasoline on the walls, coating everything that reminded him of her. Then he swept everything that she ever gave him and poured lighter fluid from his tear ducts into a box. With the tip of his finger, he ignited the contents of the box and watched pictures and jewelry and shirts turn brown and then blacken. He hurled her, burning in effigy in the form of now worthless shit in a box, towards the wall and watched it ignite with the sound of a roaring devil’s howl and the flames rolled like great, glowing tidal waves spreading to every surface. Smoke roiled and rolled across the ceiling as the heat intensified.

He felt nothing but this rage rattling his rib cage and spine. A crook of a sick smile eased its way up his face as he created his new world, one of fire and flame. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

“Just like us,” he said to himself.

Suddenly, the fire blew out like it would with a breath at the wick of a candle and the smoke disappeared. Reality set back in and he was alone with his sadness and rage once again. He had nowhere to put it and no one to confide in now since she had become his whole world. The one mistake he knew he had made in that moment because he was now all by himself. He let his hands finally drop from his hair and land at his sides as his head remained pointed down. He breathed in deep once and then wondered what he was going to do with himself now that she was gone.

Was he going to be alright?

The Letter Pt. II

“Is she serious?” The paper snapped to attention in her hand with the flick of her wrist as her eyes read each line of the letter intently.

That was still the only portion of her face he had seen and, even then, under the shadows created by her hair. The familiar street lights of the park, meant for the safety of those trekking through it, showed the danger in her furrowed brow as she concentrated on reading. He had given her the letter to read after pondering it some time throughout the day. Not knowing how to contact her or where to find her, he went to the only place he knew he’d be able to find her. She stood as straight and as still as the lamp posts around them, not speaking, except for that initial outburst.

He blew the letter off for a little while because he saw no point in correspondence. What was done was done. He would muddle through it as he had in the past and live with the heartache until its most certain demise in the absence of the one who caused it. The words kept coming back to him and his memory kept coming back to him, showing him the good times and the heartwarming moments that he thought had been erased or at least coated in his anger and hatred so he couldn’t bring them back without feeling something negative. He was wrong and that made the pain that much worse; it was a constant throbbing ache in the seat of his heart that he just couldn’t shake. It would eat up his cognitive abilities so much to the point where he didn’t realize he wasn’t–

“Hey, pay attention!” He felt a few sheets of paper gently slap his face which shook him from his intent gaze.

Looking up, he saw her holding the letter folded in threes and she was slapping the pages against the palm of her left hand as if she was expecting something.

“Is she serious?” The question twisted in tone to make it sound almost rhetorical.

He looked up at her with uncertainty, sitting on the bench that he always sat on when in this part of the park. He wrung his hands a little bit and wiped them down his lap. His eyes dropped while he tried his best to think his way through this again.

“I don’t know. I guess she is. I mean, would she have written me if she wasn’t just a little bit serious about the things she said?” He felt naive, like a child asking his parents a question of which he was unsure of the answer. Part of him hated the fact that she had simply written the letter as it sent his entire world into a spiral for a moment and, in the aftermath, made things complicated again.

“Do you want my honest opinion?” Her eyes dropped to the letter.

“I don’t know. I just took it at face value and put it out of my head. If there’s more to it, I guess I’m open to a pair of fresh eyes.” He shrugged to this last sentence, indicating that he, perhaps, wasn’t sure he believed what he was saying. But he was willing to hear what this stranger-still what she thought.

“Okay. First off, it seems as if she is much more concerned with herself than she is about you. You’ll notice there’s an abundant use of first person pronouns, lots of talking about what she wanted.” She let this sink in, waiting for a rebuttal.

“Right, that’s true but if you’re writing a letter to someone about yourself and expressing your feelings isn’t it going to be common to write it that way? It wouldn’t make sense for her to make herself the object of every verb, would it.” He sneered slightly. If that was the best she could do he didn’t know why he was even bothering.

“Very good. But she also makes you the object when she talks about you. ‘I was worried about you’ and the even more telling ‘I want you to be part of my life’. What is that?” She was pacing at this point. Was she getting agitated?

“I’m not sure I follow you.”

“‘I want you to be part of my life.’ First of all, didn’t she have you in her life and then cut you out of it completely for the sake of some other guy? And why does it have to be part of her life? Why can’t she ask to be part of yours? It’s like some sort of concession for having your heart broken, like being told you can’t have what you wanted but here’s the prize for being second best, you get to be part of her life. What is that?” She’d never been this animated before. She almost seemed like she was actually mad, an odd feat from someone he’d only seen be passive and almost sage-like in her speech and advice.

“I guess it never really struck me as that way before. I didn’t even really know what it meant. I mean, in what capacity does the guy she basically traded up from work in the life of someone like that? Do I get a newsletter or something? Regular text message updates about how life is going? I just don’t know what to think about it, I just don’t.” His head sank into his hands and his eyes met the ground. A million things were swimming randomly in his mind and he couldn’t order them enough to make sense of this letter, this person, this “relationship” He was never fast at coming up with answers, so he sat there and pondered. The ghost of a girl sat down next to him, sitting straight up, her head looking down. They both let out a big sigh and there was silence except for the hum of the lights and the occasional bug being fried by them. They sat there for a few minutes without moving. The passerby might confuse them for sculpture if it weren’t for the slight breeze blowing his hair and her skirt gently.

“So, what’s your opinion? Do I respond? Do I ignore it?” He didn’t move.

“For the moment, I think I’ve lost my objectivity. For a moment, I felt your pain and confusion in this situation and now… Now, I just don’t know.” She sighed a sigh abnormally large and heavy for someone her size. He mirrored her. She patted him on the knee and leaned back on the bench.

“Maybe… Maybe we should just both sit on it for a while.” He said.

She nodded her head in agreement, looking down at her lap.

The wind picked up slightly, blowing stray leaves and paper wrappers down the sidewalk. The trees whispered to each other the secret to everything but they didn’t speak the language of the trees and so they missed it completely.

The Letter

It was yet another late night as he arrived home from his place of employment. He pulled into the first parking stall he could find in his apartment complex, gathered his things, and headed for the entrance to his apartment. His mind was numb from the long shift and, feeling overworked, he somehow made it inside, grabbed his mail and entered his apartment without giving it a single thought. Had he thought about it he probably wouldn’t have remembered the journey there. At least he felt like things were getting back to normal.

He set his things down in their proper places and begin shuffling through the small stack of envelopes he pulled from his mailbox just inside the entrance of his apartment building. Credit card offers, bills and ads, detritus created for the short attention span impulsiveness most people can’t control. He tore them up one by one and tossed them in the garbage.

Then he reached the bottom of the stack.

He didn’t recognize the return address but the handwriting on the envelope as well as the postmark told him exactly who and where it had come from. Memories of grade school flashed in his mind when he was required to get cards for everyone in his class for Valentine’s Day. There was always the simple To: and From: lines. He knew this was no Valentine but he knew instantly what he was looking at.

To: Him
From: Her

He held the envelope with both hands and just stared at it for a moment. He felt as if the entirety of the past month and a half had come erupting out of his chest. His began to breathe heavy and much more rapidly as the fuel from that emotional fire began to take the wind from the bellows of his diaphragm. Letter in hand, he ran outside and into the sidewalk and stopped. He bent over with his hands on his knees and tried to control the panic rising like a dark phoenix from the ashes of his recent heartbreak.

After a few moments his breathing slowed and he was able to think a little more clearly. He stayed bent over for a moment and closed his eyes.He hung his head and swallowed a few deep breaths. When his heart rate stopped firing like an automatic weapon he stood straight up again, slowly. He looked at the letter again and considered his options.

Did he want to deal with something like this so soon? Clearly, he hadn’t come as far along as he thought in healing the wounds she inflicted otherwise he wouldn’t have had to make the mad dash outside to calm his panicking nerves. He looked around to find he was alone which was typical at this time of night.

He produced a lighter from his pocket, an old relic from an old habit which he no longer indulged. He glanced from the lighter to the letter, back and forth again and again trying to decide if this was what he wanted. He ran his thumb down the lighter and struck a flame. He stared into it for a moment as if it might, perhaps, contain some sort of truth. There is nothing so purifying as the flame, he thought. As his thumb began to burn from the heat he remembered his pain and held the flame up to the envelope. He let the flame lick one end of it and held it upright so the flames would climb faster and reduce this mystery to ashes.

He felt a burning sensation in his thumb that he couldn’t ignore.

He dropped the lighter and looked in his other hand to find the envelope was still intact. He stuck his thumb in his mouth to try and ease the sting of the burn while he stared at the envelope again. He didn’t know what to do. There was a conflict arising in his head as to what he should do. Certainly, there was a purpose to the letter but did he want to know? It was times like these he wish he wasn’t alone, that there was someone who could tell him what would be best.

After a moment, his curiosity got the best of him and he opened the envelope. He pulled out its contents and began to read. He stood outside his apartment building and, under the halo of the light above the entrance, he read a letter she had written to him. After he had finished reading he considered picking up the lighter.

He eventually did pick it back up but he shoved it in his pocket and went back inside. He tossed the letter on top of his bookshelf and went to bed. Before falling asleep he pondered his situation and what he should do. Then he fell asleep, the letter as far away from him as possible.

The Stoplight

He found both solace and torture in music.

There, were, of course, certain songs that he had shared with her that specifically breathed life into the memories he had been trying so violently to kill. So, he did the exact opposite of what would seem logical in this situation. Most people would avoid those songs that they had shared in such a situation but he dove head first into the deep end, trying to desensitize himself to times that the songs would bring up. This was the soundtrack to his heartbreak but he didn’t care. He wanted her purged from the folds of his brain so he could move on with his life. He had no other choice at this point since she acted like he no longer existed. Trading lacuna for lacuna, he trudged forward.

What he realized was, of course, he could listen to almost anything after a while without feeling as if she were sitting right there with him, especially when he was alone at night in his car. But one time out of a thousand her hands would grip his neck and a song would take him back to the place where here eyes would light up the darkest night. Then the dam of his eyelids would have to fight to hold back the overflow of water. Most would change the song but he couldn’t. He needed this, to get over this. This was his music first. It had been there before her and it would be there long after she was gone.

His car rolled to a stop. It had just rained, so the reflection of the red light made the soaked streets look like they were oozing incandescent red blood cells. His eyes were too focused on waiting for the light to change and his mind too wrapped up in the music to notice his newest passenger.

“Why do you do this to yourself?” The ghost from the park was in his passenger seat, facing forward and lightly bobbing her head to the song on the stereo.

He jumped and slammed himself up against the door, bumping his head against the window as if he could somehow permeate the steel and glass. Actually opening the door hadn’t really occurred to him.

“How’d you get in my car?” He stared intently, waiting for her to turn and show him glowing eyes and then evanesce into the ether somewhere.

She didn’t say anything. She simply reached for the door handle and opened it. “You left the door unlocked.” She pulled it shut again. “You didn’t answer my question,” she said as the track changed to another tune to which she felt she could move herself to in the tiny space of the passenger seat.

He was slightly put off by this but he pulled himself back into the regular seated position he had been in previous and then just stared at the center of the steering wheel. Or maybe he stared through it. He looked up to see the light was still red.

“I can’t let her take this part of me with her. This music is what keeps me together on days when nothing else can. She already took my heart and broke it. I can’t have her take this and misuse it too. This music is mine.”

She nodded her head. She seemed to understand better than most. This seemed to be the running theme in their conversations and his curiosity was piqued but she seemed relatively unattached, as if she were just there incidentally. He wondered who she was and why she kept showing up in the strangest of places.

The light was still red.

“Music is like that for a lot of people. She’ll take it regardless and she’ll think of you whenever she hears it. Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing is a question you may never get the answer to. But keep fighting, crusader. You seem to be doing much better than when we first met, much calmer and with thoughts more directed and even a little happier. Keep going. You’ll get your question answered.” She picked at her nails then patted him on the thigh.

“What question are you talking about?” He turned to look at her as she reached for the door handle and pushed the door open.

“Aliquid stat pro aliquo…” She shut the door before he could ask her what she meant.

Then he heard a horn beeping behind him. The light had turned green.

The Dialogue

“You wonder if she has a conscience at all?” This ghost of a girl took her normal post next to him on the bench, smoothing out her skirt.

“It’s one of the biggest questions on my mind and it’s been driving me crazy. This is far from the first time something like this has happened to me but this one just feels so much worse than the others.” His gaze dropped to his shoes and he took a deep breath that gave him away as someone who bore the weight of his sorrows on his shoulders.

“Have you talked to her since…?” She trailed off as if mentioning the event itself might drop him like a right hook to his glass jaw.

“No! No… absolutely not. Such is my dilemma, I guess. She told me she wanted to be friends-”

She cut him off, “She actually told you that?”

“Yes. The real issue for me is that I feel like I was the one who got shafted in this whole ordeal. So, if I’m the first to make contact and tell her I wouldn’t mind being friends I feel like I’d be legitimizing what she did and give the false impression that I don’t care at all that she broke my trust. I don’t trust many people anymore, I just don’t. And when that trust is broken coming back from that should not be my responsibility, should it? I mean, if she actually has a conscience then shouldn’t it strike her in such a way that, while she may be content with where she’s at, she should be sorry for stepping over me to get there? I can’t even begin to comprehend the whole thing but if I’m as important to her as she claimed, enough to stay in contact after she kicked my heart in the ass, then shouldn’t she be the one coming to me in some form of contrition? Aren’t I owed at least that much?” He stood up, took a few steps and stopped to let the question float out on the summer air.

He glanced back. She was sitting forward with her hands on the edge of the bench, clasping it while staring at her crossed legs punctuated with sandals on her feet. She looked like she was absorbing the words he had just sprayed into the air. She was not used to him aerosolizing such invective but was willing to absorb it because that’s most of the reason she was there as far as time as time had allowed her to reveal. To him she was still a specter, an unknown. He didn’t know her and she had not introduced herself. That was important.

“This is the awkward part of these situations. You have to remember the one who is allowed to control the conversation is the one with all the power. So, yes, you would be yielding a lot of healing power and catharsis if you were to engage her in conversation to let her know that she’s important to you as far as friendships are concerned. I think you’d also be opening yourself to a lot of ache as you watch her run around with your, uh… replacement.” She looked at him to check for any emotional response. He was solid, statuesque, and staring off into the landscape of the park into the city street in the distance.

“Yeah. I can’t deal with that right now,” he said. His voice was flat.

“So, maybe you forget about her as best you can and work on you. Don’t hope for any great miracle, just know that if she meant what she said that she’ll make contact. If she doesn’t then it’s her loss. It was her loss in the first place, in my opinion.” She shrugged her shoulders.

He couldn’t see it because he wasn’t looking at her. His head dropped and he put his hands in his pockets. He took another deep breath and exhaled as much negativity as he could. He still had enough stored to last him for quite a while.

“Yeah. Yeah, maybe you’re right.” No affect. As flat as the pavement he stood on.

He started walking back to his apartment, not looking at her as he walked past where she sat. She watched him from the veil of shadows she sat within and didn’t say anything. Sometimes, there are just no more words.

The Car

Her moving on was almost immediate. In fact, it was as if she had swapped them out as if she had traded cars.

He was the old car left in the parking lot to possibly be picked up by someone else. It happened so fast he didn’t have the time to react in any other way but to blow his gaskets and pump exhaust from all the pores in his body. He felt tossed away despite all the time he spent loyally working and being there for her, now about to be hauled off to the scrap yard where he’ll be stripped of every mile that they put on the road together, the asphalt and the dusty dirt roads. The rocks were still trapped in his treads which he tried to pick out with a pocket knife with the time he now spent idling.

They were friends first. He knew that was why it hurt like his chest was the inside of a firing cylinder, then an overheating radiator as he spewed steam from his nostrils. The truth was he had a lot of work to be done internally and one of the excuses she gave was she couldn’t fix him and her, tow his weight and hers too.

But wasn’t it her who got mad if he didn’t tell her how he was feeling?

It amazed him the way that time changes people and usually not for the positive and oft, in his life, in the other direction away from him. Those scars he wore like scratches in his paint. He wishes he could heal them completely but his memory would not unhook itself from those memories. It made him want to rip the rearview mirror from the windshield so he could stop looking back when he was trying to move forward and away from everything but he feared the repercussions of changing without it. There was no way for him to win.

The fire died with time, with disuse and distance. But every now and again he would check his mirrors only to find her face closer than it appeared. It took all he had not put the gas through the floor and fly head on into twisted metal oblivion. Fear and sense always kicked in. To stop feeling pissed off every time he saw her at someone else’s wheel was all he really wanted.

He was tired of giving mileage to someone who wasn’t putting gas in the tank.