Inside Jokes and Late Goodbyes

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This must have been a dream because I can’t remember how it began, the details of the ending are hazy, but I remember everything in between. What followed waking was rebuilding, reconstructing, retracing, recovering. You and I recanting – all that was said and done before.

I was sewn back, not in a hurry, and yet threads of you embroidered themselves into me. Your dust got caught in the bricks that remade me, your voice trapped in these crooked crevices, reminding me to look for you. And so I do even a world away.

I look at every passing bus, to see if it’s your face in the window reading comics at the back of the paper. And every time somebody orders a steak well done, a smile rises to my lips, the resurfacing of an inside joke that once was – your penchant for rich food, and mine for poor puns. I look under coffee mugs, behind polished oakwood doors, waiting for you to spring at me, for the thrill of a fear anticipated. But I’ve lost the fragment of that sorrow, the piercing I felt when it was new.

When did I become so audacious, rushing to the edges of sharp cliffs? It is you who taught me to fearlessly jump. You became the air around me that scraped my skin as I fell, holding me, cradling me, even as I bled. Through those cuts and bruises, you entered and remained, like fragrance in my hair, revealing itself every time I moved. You permeated the notes of a lullaby. The one with the mockingbird.

The mockingbird…

…mocking me in turn.


Image Source: Shutterstock

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The Spider’s Web

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The alarm goes off, piercing through the cold December morning. It is still dark – all the stars seem to have died. A tangible darkness, like a shroud. Like my shroud. I’d felt at peace while asleep; the alarm changed that, allowing the darkness to sit on my chest like an incubus paralyzing me.

It sings a pleasant tune – more a lullaby than an alarm. In its pleasantness, I sense an evil. A smile that holds knives at the ready. A smile that will slit your throat even as you smile back. Yet it won’t stop ringing.

I grope at the darkness and find a drawer whose steel handle is like ice. I’m about to shove the alarm in, when I find the things I’d lost. Things I thought I’d lost. A long time ago. And among them, a mirror with a golden frame shimmers through the darkness, inviting me to look.

I do and I see again the ugliness I’d forgotten, a resignation, a despair, all woven in. I throw the mirror in after the alarm, and a brief flash shows it to me – shows me the spider’s web in the corner.

I collect my resignation, I collect my despair, and I walk towards the web. I bite my thumb to draw blood. I spit out chunks of skin, erasing off the prints of my fingers. My swollen eyelids burst in pain. And I get the spider’s attention.

My knees tremble for I know it’s the end. Yet I keep walking, one foot after another, on a single silken thread. I see it rise from slumber, its drool spilling, my ugliness mirrored in its ugly eyes. It smiles and reminds me of my alarm clock, the clock that started this mess. I feel no desire to turn back. I walk, I surrender, I’m consumed whole. Then there is nothing but darkness. All the stars seem to have died.


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The Haunting of the Opium Den

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Even smoke reflects the color of debauchery here, in this den. It is neither white nor grey. Nor black like the hearts of its patrons. It is red, as are the walls. The beaded curtains around the booths hide none of the ugliness, but the smoke tries its best, ensuing from each addicted mouth, rolling around limbs braided with other limbs.

There are fragrances in combat with this smoke – oudh, frankincense, rose musk. Heady perfumes adding to the haze – in the den and in our minds – but losing the battle with that which owns this place – opium. In a corner of newbies, even cannabis raises its head like a snake without venom. A child that no one pays attention to. A child frightened, but holding its own, adding its scent to the vulgar mix of luxury bought cheap.

And in a corner, next to a window painted black, on a mattress that was once white, but now dirty with all it’s seen, lay I, in another man’s embrace, his calloused toes tracing my ankle, his hand with its deeply grooved lines pawing at my breast, his stained, burnt mouth nuzzling the skin just below my ear.

My eyes have been dry for so many years, as has been the rest of me. This he doesn’t know yet, for my head is turned away. Not in the unfocused way of the rest, nor in the frigid stance of one unbothered. Nor is it a seductive tilt of my jawline. My head is turned away because beyond the beads, three booths away, I see ghosts. Ghosts so real, of you and I, from a time that’s perished.

Our gazes are so chaste, our smiles like water through glass. I am unable to look away from what I see of myself – my lips unpainted, my innocence untainted. I wish to shatter every pipe in this godforsaken place to preserve the ghosts I see. I believe, so strongly, like religion, that three booths away, you and I still breathe.

I push the man away, as I leap up to part the beaded curtain, each bead carrying within it an inverted flame, a speck of smoke. But with the parting, the illusion breaks, a ripple in still water, and I see nothing three booths away. I see nothing and my eyes remain dry.

I turn back to the man, pull him close, even as his eyes roll around dazedly, and place my mouth on his. The poison of the den hits me yet again. There is only one taste in my mouth. Ashes, ashes, ashes.


Image sources: Shutterstock, GettyImages

Unsent Letters

He walked up to me, wheeling two large suitcases, and asked if the seat next to me was taken. I said it was not. He was new to the city. Originally from your hometown – something I’d guessed even before he said it. His mannerisms were so much like yours. He was right out of college, optimistic and wildly enthusiastic, bubbling with newfound energy. It reminded me of us at that age, when we were still together.

I saw you a few months ago at the mall. The same day that you saw me – yes, I caught you turning away just as I looked up. There was indecision in your face; I’m sure it was mirrored in mine – do we speak? Do we smile? Or do we ignore? Do we pretend to forget?

A few aisles across, in the aisle for baby products to be exact, your wife was examining something on display. She was with a woman with a broken nose. Your mother. The frail short woman with the broken nose and kind voice. Am I still the only one who knows that story? Or did you tell your wife about it?

I noticed your hairline was receding, and there was a bit of grey. I wondered what you noticed when you saw me – the newly formed double chin or the lines that were beginning to show?

The chatty boy next to me was right out of college. And I ask myself, has it been that long? It seems like yesterday; it also seems like forever ago.

 

 


Note: This week a lot of us are talking about the upcoming A to Z challenge. Unsent Letters was the theme I had decided on at first before switching to my currently untitled minimalist fiction project. I didn’t want this chapter to go waste, so sharing it today 🙂

Of Regrets In Love

You remember being young and reckless, never hurt, never believing you ever would be. You remember shouting out to summer winds and winter blizzards about having lived a life with no regrets. You know now that you were wrong. That you are only now learning what regrets truly are. And you’re learning what regrets are not.

You learn regret isn’t that pang caused by unannounced flashbacks to those one night stands that drenched you fibre by fibre in shame and guilt. They peel off.

Regret isn’t that one-sided love affair you, when you built a sculpture of someone who did not exist, except in your imagination. You put the sculpture on a pedestal so high that the sun hurt your eyes when you looked at it. Regret isn’t loving that someone. It isn’t not telling them how you feel. It isn’t telling them either.

Regret isn’t a missed chance – two people in love with each other on either ends of a timeline.

Regret isn’t being with the wrong person. There are no regrets in lessons you learn, no matter how long it took.

Regret isn’t even sleeping next to the one person in this world who makes you feel the loneliest every single night, even when their breathing patterns are as familiar to you as your own…

Regret is having to make yourself forget the world exists, day by day, second by grating second.

Regret is having to listen to the loudest music, so you can’t hear the pain of your bleeding heart.

Regret is getting a whiff of a familiar fragrance, and having to shut your eyes against the tears that threaten to spill.

Regret is burying yourself in a pile of books, just so you could shut reality out, live in a warm world of fantasy, where the dragons are real within the pages, and outside is something that momentarily stops being.

Regret is forcing yourself to think of the worst memories you had with that one person you miss every day, because sometimes happier memories threaten to appear like shooting stars across your dark thoughtscape. You cannot let that happen. You think. All the time. Even when you’re talking to people, you’re immersed. Elsewhere. Constantly thinking. You lose yourself in your own thoughts, because the din of the real world keeps rising like a tide, and you would do everything in your power to keep it down. You think, so that you don’t have to think.

Regret is wearing the truth like skin, that you had everything you wanted, but you chose to be a coward. That’s the skin does not shed. Like the cells that never regenerate. Truth, stuck to you like a migraine-causing odour.

Regret is knowing that happiness comes in small black boxes, like surprises that you least expect. And once you foolishly let go, it’s gone.