Holes

“How can you be so heartless?” He asks as she digs into fresh earth, tossing shovelfuls over her shoulder and onto the unbroken ground. She rams the spade into worm-infested dirt, arms sweat from her brow, and frowns up at him standing at the edge of the hole she’s been digging.

“How can you be so ignorant to ask me that?” She says leaning all her weight on her left leg, and holding onto the rounded end of the shovel with her right hand.

He crouches at the edge of the hole she’s been digging, arms resting on his thighs while his hands dangle in front of his knees. “People care about you, you know.”

“What makes you think I’m unaware of that?” She asks, and goes back to digging. Nothing will slow her pace again.

“You’re digging a grave,” he says, as if she isn’t aware of what she’s doing.

“Yep,” is all she says in response. Talk tires her more than digging.

“So stop digging!” He says in exasperation, standing up and placing his hands upon his hips.

“No,” she says, digging still.

He stands beside the hole in the ground watching her dig like a woman possessed. His mind is racing. He doesn’t know whether to jump in and physically stop her; he assumes it’s the only way she’ll abandon this foolish errand. At the same time, he’s as afraid of her as he would be of a strange dog; she may bite if he hops into that hole. He weighs his options and comes to the conclusion that it would be suicide to join her in that hole, so he sits down at the edge of the grave and waits for her to finish her task.

 

Finally, the grave is dug. She plants the spade into the earth and leans upon it for support as she arms sweat from her brow. Hard labor always makes a body tired, but it works wonders for the mind. Something about the simplicity of narrowing one’s focus to a single straight line produces perspective that makes it easier to live with the cacophony of voices rattling around inside one’s skull like loose marbles.

“Now what?” He asks, sullen.

She smiles. “Now I add the body.”

“I can’t talk you out of it, can I?” He says, defeated.

“Cheer up, it’s not for me.” She says, still smiling.

He looks at her puzzled. “Then who’s it for—“ he starts to ask as she grabs the shovel and swings it like a bat. It collides with his face, sounding like a gong when it connects. She feels the impact rattle all the way up her arms and into her shoulders and jaw. She’s gritting her teeth when the spade connects with his face, laying him out flat. She tosses the spade onto the ground beside him and crawls out of the grave she dug.

“For you, stupid.” She says, swiping dirt from her overalls. She bends and hauls his limp body into the hole. His body rolls over the lip of the grave and lands face up. His eyes are white and glassy, his face dusted with dirt. She picks up the spade and begins shoveling the dirt she dug out back into the hole. When this job is done she’ll be okay again. That’s what the voices in her head have told her. Those voices that only seem to shut up when she’s digging holes.

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Diana, I Love You.

She stands before her easel, a gossamer goddess. She flits from one end of her canvas to the other like a hummingbird from flower to flower. I have never loved her more than when I’m watching her paint. She once told me that she feels like she ceases to exist, and all that becomes real to her is the painting before her, but I never lose sight of her when she’s painting; she becomes all I know, and all I want to know in those moments. She’s beautiful to me then, because she’s surrendered to the thing inside of her that wants to come out in the form of paint on canvas, and all her nervous ticks fall away. She’s no longer concerned with what  anyone else thinks of her, or how she fits into the crowd; when she’s painting, she’s gone inside her own mind–she becomes the painting, and it’s always beautiful. Especially when she makes a mistake. I can always tell when one of her brushstrokes doesn’t land where she wanted it to, because she hurries back to her palette, and tries to blot out the smudge, but she never looks around. She doesn’t care if anyone sees her make a mistake, only if that mistake is still visible when she’s finished–it never is, except to the trained eye. Besides, it’s those little mistakes that make each of her paintings her own, and I love them for it.

I fell in love with Diana when I first saw her sitting on a park bench, sketching the birds eating the seeds she’d scattered at her feet to lure her subjects near. I kept my distance, leaning against a tree, and watched her work furiously. Until she finished her sketch she was completely absorbed in her work, never minding the other people in the park, and they didn’t mind Diana. As soon as she finished however, she appeared to come out of a trance, and she glanced around surreptitiously, and saw me. I smiled when her eyes locked on mine, and she smiled tentatively back. I took that as a sign, and walked over. I sat on the bench beside her, aware that she’d suddenly become very twitchy and rigid at the same time. She didn’t know what to make of me, or what I could possibly want from her. I asked to see her drawing, and she hesitantly handed it over. I didn’t know what I’d say or do if she denied me.

She didn’t. I think she knew I meant her no harm. I felt her eyes on me as I studied her work. I handed it back to her smiling after a moment, and told her I loved it. She wanted to ask me if I really meant it, but something in my face must have told her I wasn’t like the others–I didn’t dole out unnecessary compliments. We looked at one another for a moment, studying, deciding, and from that day forward I was hopelessly in love with Diana. I was as in love with Diana as she was with her art. I could take a back seat, because at least a back seat was better than being alone. I could become the calm, rational reality Diana could settle back into when she was done painting, and I was happy to do it.

I’m still happy to do it.

 


Author’s Note: Writing from a character’s perspective from something I’ve been mulling over in my head for years. Just thought I might clarify that if this feels like a piece of something larger, it probably is, if I ever get it all written down. 

Currently Listening: AFI: DECEMBERUNDERGROUND.

Coward V2.

You can read the first version here: Coward.

What if he’d turned to look at her, and seen the truth etched into the lines of her face?


 

“You’re a chicken-shit coward, you know that, right?” He says.

“Yes, I’m very aware of that.” She says.

“And somehow that’s okay with you? No qualms with that?” He asks, befuddled.

“Nope. None.” She says, then adds, “Not a one.”

He shakes his head, bewildered. “How can you say that? How can you be okay with being a coward?” And before she can respond, “I would hate myself.”

She smiles. It’s a wintry smile, it turns her blue eyes into ice chips. “I never said I didn’t.” She says.

Silence spirals out between them for a long, tense moment. He opens his mouth to speak, appears to think better of it, and closes his mouth again. He takes a sip of his beer instead, and wipes the foam from his upper lip. Instead of carrying on the conversation, he glances around the bar and sees everyone else talking and laughing easily. His eyes settle upon a game of pool, where a group of friends are chatting and laughing as if everything in the world isn’t going to hell just outside the bar’s front door. He becomes engrossed in watching them, longing to be a part of that group. Anything would be better than sitting at this table.

She’s watching him watching the other patrons. If he looked at her right now, he’d see the same longing look in her own eyes that he has while gazing at the pool players. If he turns back to her right now, she’ll have betrayed everything she came here to do, everything her brain tells her must happen if they both are to go on with their own lives. Her heart screams against it, however. She’s got him in her crosshairs, but she doesn’t want to take the shot, even though she knows she must. A single tear escapes her lashes, and it’s at that exact moment when he unexpectedly turns back to face her.

They are both instantly disarmed; he by her tears, and she because she never expected to be caught showing emotion. She hurriedly wipes away the tear, and takes a large gulp of her vodka. In her desire to look anywhere and do anything other than face the reality they both just witnessed, she chokes on her drink. It burns for multiple reasons on the way down. Her eyes water, and he mistakes her discomfort for an emotional response. He opens his mouth to speak, but there are no words. Absolutely none. Bewilderment has left his mind a blank canvas. Eventually rational thought will resume, but not before she excuses herself from the table and disappears in the women’s restroom.

His gaze falls upon the scratched wooden table as the wheels in his mind begin turning again, slowly at first, then faster and faster—until his brain feels like an engine cycling up to speed. Had she really been crying? It was a single tear, don’t read into it! Sheesh! But it was real, wasn’t it? Of course, it was. So, she’s not a heartless bitch? How could you ever think that about someone? Do you know he shit she’s done to us? Yes, but—but nothing! She’s the frigid ice queen, remember!? Don’t be fooled by a single crocodile tear! But you aren’t even certain that’s what that was! Oh, boy, you’ve got it bad for her still, don’t you? Poor fool. Poor, defenseless fool. She’s a walking, talking cunt; nothing more! Stop thinking of her as such!

Oh, the arguments we have inside our heads. The cruel voices we pretend we don’t hear. The things polite society would chastise us for.

She hurries to the restroom, head down, and nearly gets brained by the restroom door as a woman comes out at the same time she’s reaching for the door. They exchange apologies, and once she’s safely tucked behind the restroom door, she feels safe. Of course, first she must take stock of anyone lurking in the restroom. No one. She’s alone. Good. Standing before the water-stained mirror, she takes a mental inventory of herself.

He saw it, don’t try to deny it! He saw you defenseless! How could you let that happen? What happened to having the upper hand? Is there an upper hand to be had in this situation? Is there really? Yes! Of course, there is! There always is! Get it together, girl! You came to win this one last final battle! Don’t let this destroy your resolve! You know what you must do, so do it! But she couldn’t, not yet. She closed her eyes, meditating on shutting down the cacophony inside her head. She was succeeding when the restroom door burst open, breaking her concentration. Go get ‘im, a voice in her mind growled. She put her battle mask on, and went.

When she returns to their table, everyone is wearing their armor again. “Sorry about that,” she says.

“No problem,” he says. “So, where were we?” he asks, gently smiling, as if they were simply two old friends who’d been in the middle of a lively conversation about a recent television program, rather than scorned lovers.

She looks from her drink across the table at him, her ice chip eyes confirming his not-so-secret assumptions about her. That look wipes the smile from his face as succinctly as the bartender wiping down the counter after someone has spilled their drink—absently and without ceremony.

“We’re done,” she says. Two simple words, packed with powder and lit like a cannon—blasting through his war-time defenses as easily as cutting through bread.

“That’s it, then?” He asks, his jaw tense, clipping each word off neatly—like severing wires with the snip of scissors.

“That’s it.” She says succinctly, her mind in total agreement while her heart rails against the bars of its prison, screaming to be let out, screaming to be set free. Don’t let me die down here!

He polishes off the last of his beer, and she takes little hurried sips of her vodka. Now that the nasty business is finished, they both want to be out of this bar as quickly as possible. It’s better to be outside in the city, blending in with all the other digits—anonymous. He pulls out his wallet and slaps his money down on the table. She’s digging through her purse deliberately while he takes his leather jacket from the back of his chair and puts it on. She’s giving him time to make his exit before her. The only thing exchanging more words can do now is irreparable damage.

He takes a final swig from his mostly empty beer bottle. He doesn’t know why he’s stalling, but his own heart is screaming not to let it end this way, but what else can be done? They’ve agreed it’s over. He looks at her one last time as she’s rummaging through her purse, knowing that she too is stalling, there’s not enough room in that purse for her to lose anything, especially not a wallet. She feels his gaze fall upon her, and looks up unconsciously. For the briefest of moments, he sees her prisoner heart clearly in those clear, blue eyes. For a single second, he sees the woman he fell in love with, but then she’s gone; swatted back into her prison cell by the woman she’s become, and he feels his heart crack along a fault line. There will always be earthquakes now when he merely thinks her name.

He starts to say something, then once again thinks better of it, turns, and walks toward the door, through the throng of bar patrons. She watches his retreating back, a tsunami of conflicting emotions. She starts to call him back, but then decides the damage is done—let it all be done, her mind insists. As he opens the door she pulls her wallet from her purse and pulls out her change. While she’s looking down at her money, he looks back over his shoulder one last time. In the glow of the bar lights her blonde hair resonates with light, just like it did the first time he met her. He takes that final image of her with him as he leaves.

She looks back at the door just as it closes, and thinks, I am a terrible coward.

 

Therapy, Again.

You can read previous sections here: Never HappyExpression is Therapy, & Therapy.

 

Back on the sofa, like always and forever. Somehow, time and again, she found herself on various different sofas, all in the same kind of cozy, barely-lit room; an office, really. A therapist’s office. A new one every six months or so. She couldn’t stop fucking them, and that’s why she kept therapist hopping. What choice did she have?

 

And once again, here she is, sitting on a plush, red sofa—the kind of sofa meant to put the client at ease, but no one has a sofa with pillow arms like this in their home. And no one’s home is this dimly lit, except maybe at night, when you leave the bedside lamp on after watching a scary movie, and are afraid to sleep in the dark. The room—correction, office— is a lie.

 

You aren’t safe here. This isn’t a safe space, where you can spill your darkest secrets and the contents of your heart like a child dumping toys from a cardboard box. This is a place of rational logic and science, even if it’s meant to look like someone’s home with the faux plant on the end table at the other end of the couch. No one’s home is this neat, and forcibly sterile. Home is a familiar, chaotic mess; never orderly.

 

“You’ve been here fifteen minutes and haven’t said a word,” the therapist spoke, breaking the patient from her reverie.

 

She looked up into her new therapists face, and for a moment pined for the previous one. He’d been an older gentlemen with a defined, but caring face. That face was an easy read, as was his feelings towards her. He consistently had to hide them by crossing his legs. A small smile curved the corners of her mouth at this thought.

 

“What are you thinking about? Her new therapist asked.

 

The new therapist was a stern woman who looked to be in her mid-fifties. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and she wore thick rimmed glasses that gave her eyes an insectile look.

 

“I was just musing about my previous therapist,” she said, leaning back against the comfy sofa. It was incredibly soft; a good napping couch. Not designed for sharing one’s inner most thoughts, she thought.

 

“Yes, I see you’ve had several of those,” the therapist said, consulting the page from the notepad before her. “Why is that?” She asked.

 

The patient shrugged.

 

“You don’t know?” The therapist asked.

 

“Oh, I do, I just don’t think it bears weight to this conversation,” she said, smiling.

 

“And why do you think that?” The therapist asked, peering at her from above the rims of her glasses.

 

“We’ve only just begun to get to know one another. We’ll get there, in time.” she said.

 

“I believe that’s supposed to be my line,” the therapist said.

 

“Like you said, I’ve been to many therapists. I’ve learned the lines.”

 

“Is that your goal here?” The therapist asked.

 

She shrugged.

 

“You don’t like talking, do you?” The therapist asked, leaning back in her own chair, and putting her pen down; realizing this had become a battle of wills. “You know, therapy isn’t any use to you if you won’t talk,” she said after her question failed to illicit a response.

 

“I’ve been told that before,” she said.

 

“And still you keep visiting therapists. Why?”

 

She shrugged. “I think I like the company.”

 

“You can find someone to keep you company at any bar in town,” the therapist replied.

 

“Not the kind of company you get with a therapist,” she said, smiling. It was a devious little grin; the grin of an adolescent who knows she’s done wrong, but doesn’t mind the consequences.

 

“I’m not here to be your friend,” the therapist said. “My job is to help you gain insight to what brought you here, and help give you the tools to conquer that.”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” she said, a haughty look of contempt upon her face.

 

“If that were true, you wouldn’t be here.” The therapist said, sitting rigidly in her chair.

 

To that, the patient did not reply. The therapist had had stubborn, difficult patients before. None like this, however. There was something different about this woman; something unsettling—perhaps it was the sheer number of different therapists she’d been to in just the last year alone—seven. Something about the patient had her on edge.

 

“Why are you here?” The therapist finally asked, after listening to the clock ticking away the seconds on the wall.

 

The patient appeared to be thinking over her answer as she stared at her hands. It was a difficult thing to learn, to be patient while waiting for an answer—sometimes you got one, and sometimes you didn’t. With most patients, she could usually gage whether they’d communicate or not, but this one didn’t fit the mold of most patients—or people, she thought.

 

Finally, the patient lifted her gaze, and folded her hands in her lap. “I’m here to prove that some people don’t have worth.”

 

That was not even in the ball park of what the therapist had expected. The patient could tell she’d been floored. It made her smile.

 

“Didn’t expect that, did you?” she asked.

 

“No, I did not.” The therapist admitted.

 

“What do you think?” she asked.

 

“I’m the one who’s supposed to ask the questions,” the therapist said, sternly. “I see what you’re trying to do.”

 

“What am I trying to do?” the patient said, feigning innocence.

 

“You think that you’re the first patient to try flipping the script on me; that if you ask the questions I’ll be dismantled, and you’ll have won. What you don’t understand is that this isn’t a battle—we’re not fighting, because we’re not foes. You may make me your enemy, because it’s my job to help you, but that’s you’re doing, not mine.” The therapist said.

 

“And why do you want to help me?” the patient asked.

 

The therapist sighed, “because I took an oath, and because I made it my life’s work to help people, whether you believe me or not—I do care.”

 

“That’s generous of you,” she said.

 

The therapist did not reply.

 

“So, I assume you believe people are inherently worthwhile?” The patient asked.

 

“I’m not going down this conversational path with you,” the therapist said.

 

“Why?” she challenged.

 

“Because it’s a waste of time. You want to argue semantics, and I’m here to help you, but you clearly don’t want help; I’m not sure what it is you really want, perhaps a chance to feel superior—look at me, I outsmarted the therapist! But that kind of behavior will only provide you with a temporary high. This is why you’ve been moving from therapist to therapist.”

 

“I’m not difficult to figure out,” the patient said smugly.

 

“No, you’re not, but you’re dangerous—to yourself and others—because you think you’re beyond your illness. You’re not.” The therapist said.

 

“That’s a bit presumptuous, don’t you think?” The patient asked, insincerity hiding the hurt.

 

“No, I don’t. I’ve seen several patients like you—patients who think they’re too smart for their illness. You can’t logic your way out of emotional distress; I’m sorry, but you just can’t.”

 

“Never hurts to try,” the patient said, laughing with her eyes.

 

“We’re done here,” the therapist said, getting to her feet.

 

“But the sessions only half begun,” the patient said, looking bewildered at this turn of events.

 

“I’m not going to waste my time on someone who doesn’t really want help; there are plenty of other therapists who will gladly take you on—I’m not one of them.” The therapist said, opening the door.

The patient looked out into the empty lobby, and loneliness overwhelmed her. She looked up at the therapist with tears in her eyes.

 

“You can’t just turn me away,” she said.

 

“I can, and I am.” The therapist replied with finality.

 

The patient scrambled for something to say, something smart, something witty—anything, any reason to keep the session going. She came up with nothing.

 

“Please leave my office,” the therapist said, feigning kindness.

 

“Would it change your mind if I said I wanted to die?” she asked.

 

“Only if you were serious,” the therapist replied after a moment’s hesitation.

 

Silence spiraled out between them while the therapist stood at the door, waiting to see if the patient would stay or go.

 

“I’m not,” the patient finally said, and with that she rose from the plush sofa, and left without a glance back. On to the next therapist, she supposed.

Liar (alone & lonely)

In a room, all alone, but never lonely. No, never lonely. Not for as long as I have His presence waiting at the back of my mind; always waiting there to catch me when I fall. Oh, but what I didn’t understand then when I sold Him my soul. What I didn’t understand was what I was running from. I didn’t have a conscious understanding of what was causing my pain, and so, assuming I could never escape the inescapable, I sold Him my heart and soul, because He promised to protect me. He never lied, not about that, but He knew why I was running; what truth I was running from. He knew but He never told me.

 

“You could have told me, you know.” She says, watching her reflection in the mirror. He, her One Whole & True, appears over her shoulder hooded in black, and puts his hands upon her shoulders. His fingers are long, pale, and skeletal; the skin stretched over the knuckles like a tarp pulled taut over a machine too large to be covered.

“You didn’t want to know,” He says. His lips don’t move when he speaks. His ruby lips and prominent chin are all she can see from inside the darkness of His hooded cloak.

“You had no way of knowing that,” she says, her shoulders tensing beneath His fingers.

“But I did, love.” He says, massaging her shoulders. She shrugs out of His grip, and turns to face Him. His hands are held up in a ‘don’t shoot!’ gesture.

“No, you didn’t, because I never told you,” she says.

“Not with your words, no,” He says, lowering His hands to His sides.

“What does that mean?” She asks, glowering.

’You know me better than I know myself’” He quoted, “Do you remember saying that?” He asks.

“I never said that to you,” she says, the frown line on her forehead deepening.

“No, you didn’t, but you said it; only you meant it towards me.” He says.

“If I never said it to you, then I never meant it towards you!” she shouts.

“I have known you all your life. I know you better than you’ve ever known yourself. I kept your secret to protect you from yourself,” He says, attempting to take her hands. She pulls away from Him, and walks across the room, thinking hard.

“I understand your anger—” He starts to say, but she cuts him off.

“Don’t!” she says, turning back around to face Him, anger burning inside her eyes. “Don’t pretend to know me—to understand me! You don’t know anything about me!” She yells.

He steps forward, and she holds out a hand to keep Him in his place.

“You lied to me,” she says, her voice and arm shaking slightly.

“To protect you from—” He says, but she cuts him off again.

“Don’t justify it!” She yells, “You lied! YOU LIED!” She screams. Her voice cracks and tears spring from her eyes. She wipes them away hurriedly, with disgust.

He steps forward again, and she jerks back in response. He stops, holding His hands up in surrender.

“I’m sorry,” He says. Words she never thought she’d hear coming from a demon.

“Go away,” she says, wrapping her arms about herself.

“What?” He asks, perplexed. A tone of voice she never expected would come from a demon.

“I said go away! I need to think!” She yells.

“Let me comfort you,” He says, and she pulls farther away from Him.

“I don’t want you near me,” she says, tears coursing down her face freely now. What a fool she’s been. Oh, what a terrible, stupid fool. Trusting a devil. Trusting anyone.

“Let me hold you,” He says, raising His arms, the black feathered wings unfolding from His back at the same time.

“GO AWAY!” she screams, and in a puff of black smoke, He does.

Now, she’s in a room, alone & lonely.

Suicide & Silence.

With the recent passing of Chester Bennington to suicide, I feel compelled to speak out. The thing is, I’m not sure what it is I want to say, and still there’s that voice in my head who continues to insist that nothing I have to say on the matter means anything. It isn’t the first time I’ve written on this topic. If you were privy to the plethora of notebooks full of writing, and my sacred flash drive, you’d know this isn’t new to me. How to say what I’ve all ready said nearly a thousand times before?

I’m no stranger to suicidal thoughts. I’ve lived with that strong desire in my head since I was 12 years old. Time and age has not made it any easier to deal with, but it has given me the tools to deal with emotions I don’t fully understand, and cannot control. There’s a reason that we tell the suicidal to wait a day or two before following through with their plans. Suicide is largely an impulsive decision. When I get to feeling destructive, I use anything and everything to keep myself distracted. I don’t always use productive vices, but I’m not a poster-child for suicide prevention and awareness.

I’ve waited out many long days and nights of suicidal longing. If you’re thinking that it passes like a cramp, you’re wrong. I’ve gone weeks on end with the desire to kill myself, and believe me, those were long weeks indeed. Truthfully, I’ve gone through month-long excursions, just fighting every day to get myself out of bed and go about my routine, because at least while I was doing those things, I couldn’t do something that would permanently put me to rest. If you’re thinking I’ve managed that with a sunny smile on my face, let me correct you. I’ve destroyed numerous relationships with people because of the darkness in my head, and the thought that I had no way to explain myself. The worst part of depression is the isolation. It makes you a prisoner inside your own mind.

Truthfully, I’m still very much a prisoner in my own mind. While it may seem like I talk about this openly, let me tell you, this isn’t as brave as it appears. However, I do believe that until we learn to talk about these kinds of things, as a society, we’re never going to get a handle on mental health issues. We must talk about suicide. We must talk about mental health. If we don’t talk about these things, if we don’t open a dialogue, they will only continue to leave the living confused in the wake of another dead loved one.

Even if you can’t speak out in a public forum, speak for yourself. You’re the only one who can share your story. You’re the only one who has your experiences. Share them. I know how daunting that is. I know how terrifying that can be. I’m not saying this because I’ve been liberated by a willingness to be open about this issue, I’m saying this because of all the years I’ve been living in a dark corner, hiding my truth from the rest of the world for fear of what it might do to others. Suicide isn’t a problem just for people affected by a loved one’s death, or their own battle with depression. Suicide is a problem that we, as a society, need to start addressing.

Speak. Please. For your own sake, and others. Silence is what’s killing us.

 

Only a poet

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken

Stay or Go?

Only a poet
would try to sell his readers
on a romanticized idea
of taking the least traveled path;
as if that
somehow
makes one a better person—
just because he chose
the path of most resistance.
We assume the implication
that his life has been made better
because of this choice,
but do we know for sure?
We can never be certain
that to choose the path
with more difficult terrain
has made his life better;
because our definitions of better
vary from person to person.
Only an angry woman
would try to sell her readers
on a romanticized idea
that the former poet
is full of bullshit.

 

Author’s Commentary: Look what pain made me do! That age old question about whether or not I can write without pain has been answered: no!

Coward

“You’re a chicken-shit coward, you know that, right?” He says.

“Yes, I’m very aware of that.” She says.

“And somehow that’s okay with you? No qualms with that?” He asks, befuddled.

“Nope. None.” She says, then adds, “Not a one.”

He shakes his head, bewildered. “How can you say that? How can you be okay with being a coward?” And before she can respond, “I would hate myself.”

She smiles. It’s a wintry smile, it turns her blue eyes into ice chips. “I never said I didn’t.” She says.

Silence spirals out between them for a long, tense moment. He opens his mouth to speak, appears to think better of it, and closes his mouth again. He takes a sip of his beer instead, and wipes the foam from his upper lip. Instead of carrying on the conversation, he glances around the bar and sees everyone else talking and laughing easily. His eyes settle upon a game of pool, where a group of friends are chatting and laughing as if everything in the world isn’t going to hell just outside the bar’s front door. He becomes engrossed in watching them, longing to be a part of that group. Anything would be better than sitting at this table.

She’s watching him watching the other patrons. If he looked at her right now, he’d see the same longing look in her own eyes that he has while gazing at the pool players. If he turns back to her right now, she’ll have betrayed everything she came here to do, everything her brain tells her must happen if they both are to go on with their own lives. Her heart screams against it, however. She’s got him in her crosshairs, but she doesn’t want to take the shot, even though she knows she must. A single tear escapes her lashes, and she brushes it away hurriedly with the heel of her palm. She takes a sip of her vodka to steady her nerves and steel her spine against the inevitable.

He turns his attention back to her just as she’s setting down her glass of vodka. She’s composed herself again, and there’s no trace of that longing look lingering in her eyes. They’re blue ice again. She’s the frigid bitch he’s accused her of being in more than one argument. It hardens his heart against her further. Somewhere deep in his subconscious he can hear a thick, wooden door slamming shut, and the click of a deadbolt. He’ll never let her in again, and he’ll struggle the rest of his life to let in others. He will always sit in bars and glance around the room, feeling envious of everyone else and the ease with which they trust.

“That’s it, then?” He asks, his jaw tense, clipping each word off neatly—like severing wires with the snip of scissors.

“That’s it.” She says succinctly, her mind in total agreement while her heart rails against the bars of its prison, screaming to be let out, screaming to be set free. Don’t let me die down here!

He polishes off the last of his beer, and she takes little hurried sips of her vodka. Now that the nasty business is finished, they both want to be out of this bar as quickly as possible. It’s better to be outside in the city, blending in with all the other digits—anonymous. He pulls out his wallet and slaps his money down on the table. She’s digging through her purse deliberately while he takes his leather jacket from the back of his chair and puts it on. She’s giving him time to make his exit before her. The only thing exchanging more words can do now is irreparable damage.

He takes a final swig from his mostly empty beer bottle. He doesn’t know why he’s stalling, but his own heart is screaming not to let it end this way, but what else can be done? They’ve agreed it’s over. He looks at her one last time as she’s rummaging through her purse, knowing that she too is stalling, there’s not enough room in that purse for her to lose anything, especially not a wallet. She feels his gaze fall upon her, and looks up unconsciously. For the briefest of moments, he sees her prisoner heart clearly in those clear, blue eyes. For a single second, he sees the woman he fell in love with, but then she’s gone; swatted back into her prison cell by the woman she’s become, and he feels his heart crack along a fault line. There will always be earthquakes now when he merely thinks her name.

He starts to say something, then once again thinks better of it, turns, and walks toward the door, through the throng of bar patrons. She watches his retreating back, a tsunami of conflicting emotions. She starts to call him back, but then decides the damage is done—let it all be done, her mind insists. As he opens the door she pulls her wallet from her purse and pulls out her change. While she’s looking down at her money, he looks back over his shoulder one last time. In the glow of the bar lights her blonde hair resonates with light, just like it did the first time he met her. He takes that final image of her with him as he leaves.

She looks back at the door just as it closes, and thinks, I am a terrible coward.