The Goodbye at Union Station

I can recall watching ER when it was being broadcast. Of course, I was too young to care about certain facets of stories. Love, relationships… All this was lost on me then. The science and medicine were more important to me then.

Now, I’m 29. Enough time has passed that I’ve developed a love for story and character. I recently started to revisit this show from my youth and was reminded fondly of the love story that never quite was. It seems, now, so perfectly orchestrated. 

I won’t go into details because it’s meant to be seen, experienced. See how you feel when the train pulls away. 

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Cowboy Killer Costumes

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It was one of those nights. You know, one of those nights that are so dark beyond the reaches of the two outdoor lights you can’t see anything but that beached abyss until it reaches the coast of the stars. Only then can you see the silhouette of the leafless trees shudder in the weak, coughing wind of the autumn night like tuning forks and only then do you realize the leaves fallen from the clutches of those branches are breathing silent whispers across the brown, damp grass as they are pushed with very little force like a million abandoned kites after their strings popped. I bet if you listened hard enough you’d probably here the swan song of summer sifted like flour among the brown and gold, now invisible fallen adornments from the trees above.

I found myself leaning against the rail of the deck behind my friend’s house as a Halloween party rolled and tumbled inside. I was never one to drink but never one to judge because I had been there and I’d had my one-too-many’s and sleepless nights (alcohol gives me insomnia these days) as well as my shouldn’t haves and prayers to the porcelain god. Oh yes, I have made my mistakes and I am old enough to know how to avoid them and I have applied that wisdom to know one. I am not a role model or a teacher, but a doctor of sorts. I have been there too many times to keep people on their sides and near the toilet. I guess you could say I’ve seen it from both sides and so I try to stay away from it when I’m not in the comfort of my own home. Even then, it’s usually just one beer or a finger or two of scotch whisky.

Anyway, I was leaning against the rail of the deck which came up to about my navel. My elbows were under my shoulders and I was tipping forward over the edge staring off into the nothingness that was the night. My neck tucked into my shoulders as a reaction from the cold and I laid the back of one hand in the other, the right one had a newly lit cigarette in between its index and forefinger, slowly burning away, letting off whips of smoke to dissipate off into nothingness where it belonged. I wasn’t paying much attention to it; one never does when between drags except to give it an idle flick to clear away any unwanted ash that had collected around tip. People who have smoked a while do this out of habit, almost unconsciously and without having to make eye contact with their smoke. I remember feeling sort of like that: burning away slowly into ash and smoke.

It was quiet out there except for the trees and the leaves. The holiday itself was still a little less than a week away so there wasn’t much of a ruckus being made yet about costumes, candy, and kids. I was assuming there were just neighbors who were annoyed with the new kids who just moved in and were likely having some sort of drunken orgy and sacrificing small animals on an altar they had fashioned in their garage. Why else would they never see a car exit or enter that structure? Yes, it could be that kind of town but as having grown up strange our entire lives we sang our songs and wore our concert t-shirts and blasted heavy metal one the way to work. I could hear some music start up in the house and wanted no part of it. The night was getting heavy for some reason.

I took a drag as i heard the sliding glass door glide across its track as someone else decided to step outside. I kept my back to the door. At this age, most people are married and have kids so I was feeling like the third wheel in every conversation I was a part of. That’s just a part of growing up. Eventually, everyone gets a family and a “real job” and talks about clients and meetings and how their kid is teething. It’s all so much noise to me now. I’ve taken to politely walking backwards out of those conversation circles and often someplace else where I don’t fit in. This is so typical now. It’s almost a cliché.

“Got a light?” Speaking of clichés. Someone saddled up next to me at the edge of the deck. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a cheap lighter covered in 8 balls. I vacillate between smoker and non-smoker so often I never saw the point in investing anything more than the 89 cents it costs for one at the gas station.

I don’t bother looking at my new companion directly. I just reached into the front pocket of my hoodie and handed her the lighter while I stared out into the darkness and let it stare right back.

Through my peripheral vision I could see the basic shape of what I’m guessing was an average height woman (the voice was a big tip-off) who was staring down the barrel of her cancer stick and lighting the end. I heard the familiar scrape of the lighter sparking a flame and I see small plumes of smoke exit either sides of her mouth. She made a peace sign and placed the now let cigarette between her fingers and handed me back my lighter bottom first. I always wondered why people handed over lighters bottom first but never bothered to ask. Another trivial matter for another trivial day.

I could hear the stopped-up inhale of lips pursed around the butt of a smoke and the subtle sigh and exhale as smoke drifted in my direction. A slight breach in etiquette but I let it pass because I, like a delayed mirror took a drag myself and let the smoke glide between my lips like water in a stream. I wondered if her open posture was just natural or if she was just not ready to look into the darkness like I was. People tend to open their stance to people they want to talk to. I hoped she was just one of those self-absorbed girls who didn’t want to lose her phone over the edge of the deck and she’d leave me alone.

“What are you doing out here all by yourself?” She politely asked while she took another drag.

My gaze shifted slightly to my right to see what kind of animal I was dealing with. She was average height with blonde hair. She was average size where you could see some of her flesh bunch up over her belt. I couldn’t tell you what she was dressed as and, quite frankly, I didn’t care. Everyone’s a pretender on Halloween. That’s all you really need to know about the holiday. Actually, you need to know that every day; Halloween’s just an excuse to play dress-up again and play some storyline archetype that’s more revealing of their psyche than they choose to think about.

I took a drag from my cigarette and looked down at my boots as I kicked at one of the support beams.

“I usually come out here to get away from people,” my words as blunt as I could make them. I shifted my gaze with a sardonic grin across my face as I met her eyes.

“I know what you mean.” She turned out towards the darkness, like a captain standing at the bow of a ship, surveying the waters.

“Do you?” I said between inhale and exhale, talking to the air. This should be good.

“Yeah. I only bring cigarettes to parties like this so I have a reason to step away from all the banal conversation. Since when did families and jobs replace hopes and dreams?” She placed both hands, palms down, on the railing with her cigarette sticking up like a pike to impale the night’s insecurities on.

My cigarette in my mouth dropped to pointing towards the floor, barely grasped between my lips. Was there an echo out here? Had I been out here brooding long enough my thoughts had become like a disease and crawled into this woman’s head through her ears? It may not have been Halloween but it felt like there were ghosts in the air blowing cold gusts through my back as I tried to maintain my nonchalant composure. Lest we forget I still didn’t care.

“Yeah…” I said to fill the silent gap she’d formed one side of and left me to throw up the other wall to contain the conversation, otherwise it would lose what little momentum it had. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what to say and my default is always to say nothing at all. You learn more about people that way as they will generally just keep talking.

“What about you?” She curled her smoke into a question mark for a moment.

Shit.

I felt my back and shoulders tense up. I came out here to avoid conversation. Of all the things I hate to do. Explaining myself is one of them. I keep to myself. I write and listen to music and rarely does anyone actually want to hear the garbage I have to day. By the light of of the sun I’m a non-entity who does his job and goes home. By the light of the moon I am a writer, a  musician, an avid reader, and film fanatic. But nobody cares, or has cared in the past. It’s always just been me and so I found myself a little more than aggravated for a moment as if she was invading my personal space. I was me and I would not be laid bare for anyone.

And of course, I couldn’t lie. She was cute. Damn my eyes.

So, I took a deep breath of fresh air, the kind of breath that jacks your shoulders up to your ears and presses your lungs against the inside of your rib cage like a bursting keg.

“Well… I’m out here because this is where I’ve always been.

In there I am nobody because I don’t have the credentials, the skills, or the energy to be one of them.

This place? This pace drains the life of me like one side of the hourglass and turns me over just to do it to me again and because I care about the few friends I have in there I take it.

Truth is, I’m almost terrified of social situations and I don’t drink to turn it off. I used to drink but it made me a maniac when became too much so I stopped. I don’t even know why I came tonight now that I’ve said all that.” I looked down and realized I’d smoked to the filter, so I lit another one.

I looked down and could feel the sweat from the anxiety and shame. If there had been better light my face had probably turned a nice crimson color. I felt my upper lip curl in scorn. I should never be so honest with a complete stranger. Stupid. I was stupid.

“Yep. That’s about right,” she said. ”Can I borrow your lighter again?”

The Goodbye

“My memory is defying me despite the increasing distance between then and now. I see pictures of her and this new guy and weigh the differences and similarities between us and I feel like I’m boiling from the inside. It’s not jealousy anymore. At least, not that I can put my finger on. It’s like a gap that, maybe a wound that closes near shut only to have the slightest perturbation of my body or state of mind. And only with the sands of time is it supposed to be healed but it’s been so long already and I’m tired of remembering. Does that answer your question?”

“… What question was that?”

“You asked me how I was doing.”

“Oh,” she leaned her head back as a sign of ascent, “yeah, now I remember. So, you’re still struggling with this, are you? We haven’t talked in a while. You haven’t come see me lately. Or I haven’t seen you come this way lately. I figured you had moved on to other things.”

“I guess you could say that. And it’s not all as dramatic as I describe it. At least, not all the time. But there are still moments, little camera flash moments in time when I see that face and balance on the ambivalence of missing it and wanting to destroy it. I got no closure, I got no real explanation. I was just the throw away and every now and again I will revisit that grave, I will mourn that corpse and I will lose my perspective for a moment while my heart drops into my boots. That’s when I have to cut loose and come here. And here is where I always find you. You’re like a ghost. You haunt this place.”

She froze. Not that she was moving much from where she stood but his statement seemed to freeze-frame her body where it was at. She didn’t respond as if in fear of shattering her dipped-in-liquid-nitrogen pose.

A slight breeze rustled the leaves in the tree above, just as it did a few wisps of hair as she stood in front of him, still faceless, still masked by the darkness of the moonless night. Not that they could see the moon anyway. They both looked in opposite directions as if to ignore the space between them, as if any proximity would give up the unexplained tension of the moment and it would snap, lacerating them both like a cable pulled too tight.

They both knew if they stayed in this dual of opposing forces much longer they’d see imminent collapse and so, like a movie taken off pause after a long moment they were able to go back into normal motion again. And they both breathed a breath to give away the fact that both of them were unsure as to how they should proceed. The silence was heavy, despite being carried on both their shoulders, they both looked down to better bear and bolster the weight of it as they listened to the leaves hiss and shudder against that summer breeze. And the quiet between them was a glass pane erected as a wall betwixt their bodies.

Until she broke it.

“I think… I think I need to tell you something.” She said, as she looked at the tips of her toes.

His brow angled towards his nose, he tilted his head. “What?”

“You… You described me as a ghost, that I was haunting this place. That’s not entirely true but there is some truth to it.” She breathed a heavy sigh.

“I don’t believe in ghosts. It was a metaphor.” He looked at her quizzically as best he could at her shadow mask.

“Like I said, there is some truth to what you said. I’m not really ghost. Think of me as a… projection. I am an apparition of your mind’s creation. I’m not really here. And to save you from people thinking you’re crazy for talking to the air, I only appear when we’re together here.”

“So, you’re saying you’re some sort of delusion or imaginary friend. Crazy people have those. I’m not crazy.” The pitch of his voice increased slightly from the thought. Am I crazy? Was what happened all those months ago the trigger that set me off the edge?

“No, it’s not. See, I am part of you. I know your thoughts but in order for this to work your mind had to create something to substitute for reality. You went through a a lot of emotional states because of her and you needed someone who would listen and could understand your point of view without judgement or derision. I was your brain’s way of taking care of you. I became your confidante and I also had all the characteristics of a woman you’d trust, maybe even be interested in in certain circumstances.” She sat down on the park bench and patted the seat next to him.

“So, why tell me all of this now? I mean, now that I know doesn’t the power inherent in the illusion disappear?” He stared at his hands as he rubbed the spot closest to the knuckle on his right ring finger.

She laughed, “Obviously not, since you’re still talking to me like I’m real.”

He managed a chuckle, “I suppose you’re right. So, now what?”

“Now is the farthest I can take you, unfortunately. You’ve managed to get through the tough stuff without serious problems. Sure, you have your rough days but that’s going to happen to anyone. And you know that because I know that.”

He nodded his head, “Will I ever see you again?”

She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “Oh, I’m sure there will be times when the turmoil becomes difficult. But you have to remember that I’m always here, really.” She tapped him on the head, near his temple.

He stifled a laugh and a bit of sadness and stared at the pavement. He could only nod as he could not think of anything else to say.

“Don’t worry, kid. You’ll do alright.” She leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek which was the most human touch he’d experienced in months because it terrified him so much. He felt the ice inside him melt a little bit. He turned to say something to her.

But she was gone…

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.