He stood there on their front porch, noticing the weeds growing in their garden. They mingled with the violets and daffodils. They were tall – not so much as to ruin the entire garden but just enough to catch his attention.
“He really should do something about those weeds on his day off,” he thought.
The knob began to turn and the door pulled open.
“Hey there, come on in,” she said, greeting him with a smile.
“Thank you,” he said softly, trying to return a smile himself but not really succeeding.
He entered inside the modest but pretty house. It smelt like it always did – a woody smell mixed with something sweet always baking in the oven. It was familiar and comforting.
“He’s finishing up a phone call in his study. Can I get you something to drink while you’re waiting? Perhaps a glass of sweet tea?”
“No, thank you. I’m good.”
“Ok. Well, you can come wait in the den until he’s through with his phone call if you’d like.”
He followed her into the den. She continued onward into the kitchen, he assumed to check on whatever she was baking. And, perhaps to drink a glass of tea.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like her sweet tea. In fact, her sweet tea was the best on the block. He had always loved drinking it growing up. Just thinking about it reminded him of summertime. But, then, in that moment, he simply wasn’t in the mood to drink anything sweet. Whisky, perhaps, but nothing sweet.
He stood in the center of the den, surrounded on all sides by a blockade of two couches, a rocking chair, a coffee table, and a worn, wooden piano. He had memories of her playing it from when he was younger – hymns and such.
Looking down at the large, ornate coffee table – the centerpiece of the room – he saw a few old-looking books lying on it. He picked one up and thumbed through it. He read its title. “The Last Great American Dynasty.” He picked up another and flipped through it, too. It was a shorter one entitled “Exile of a Mad Woman.” He sat both down. There were a couple more lying there. He began to read the title of one of them. “Mirror-”
“Hi, sorry about that! I had a surprise phone call that I had to take. A bit of an emergency. But, everything’s going to be ok now. Why don’t you come back to the study and we can talk in there?”
He left the curious books behind and followed the man back into his study. It was a small room. Not many more than a few could sit in there comfortably. He used it for his personal study and to do one-on-one counseling sessions as well as couple’s counseling. The walls were lined with bookshelves filled with books of all sizes and colors. Most of them were religious in nature, naturally. Yet, there were a few with intriguing titles, not unlike the books on the coffee table. This was his first time to notice them.
“He reads more than just the Bible. That’s good, I guess,” he thought to himself.
He sunk down into a brown, leather chair across from the man who sat behind a stained, mahogany desk.
“How are you doing today?” the man behind the desk asked him.
He crossed his hands over his stomach and looked to his left. There was a painting of the empty grave on the wall. He smirked a little, pulling at the sleeve of his jacket. Without looking at the man behind the desk he simply remarked, “Jesus can’t fix this, Preach.”
“Can’t fix what, James?”
He turned his gaze and stared at the preacher.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about.” His eyes were wide, almost crazed. “You know what happened.”
The preacher leaned an elbow on his desk and adjusted his glasses. He looked down at his desk, then he looked back up at James.
“I know. I know that nothing is going to bring Betty-”
“Don’t you dare say her name!” James spat. He was glaring at the preacher. The preacher shifted in his seat, placing both elbows on the desk now, supporting his chin with crisscrossed knuckles.
“Do I not have the right to say her name? Am I not allowed to remember her? Or be upset about this? You weren’t the only one who knew her, James. You weren’t the only one who was close to her.”
James looked away, shaking his head, trembling.
“Why don’t we start off by saying a prayer? May I do that, James?”
James didn’t reply. He just continued to stare at the painting of the tomb. The preacher took that as a green light.
“Our Father in Heaven, we ask for Your blessings today. We ask for Your grace. Please, remind us of Your love for us and give us the strength that we need to make it through this trying season. Be with James – as I ask that You would be with all of us right now – as we mourn the loss of someone so dear to us, so special.” The preacher began to choke up. “And, thank You for the salvation that we find in Your Son. It’s in His precious name that we pray, amen.”
Bringing his prayer to an almost abrupt close, the preacher wiped a tear from his eye and looked up at James.
“James, why are you here?”
“Why am I here? You know why I’m here, Preach. I’m here because my parents are making me. Sucks but apparently when you’re seventeen your parents get to force you into crap like this.”
“I think your parents are only trying to help you.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t know what the preacher I had when I was a kid is going to say that’s going to fix anything.” He looked the preacher dead in the eyes. “I don’t even go to your church anymore. For all I’m concerned, you’re not even my preacher.”
James continued to glare at the preacher, eyes filled with enough anger to almost disguise the hurt. After all, he had never been that angry of a person until a few months before when it had all happened.
“James, your parents still go to my church. You’re still on the membership role. And,” he said with the edges of his lips curving up ever so slightly, “I hope that even if you don’t see me as your preacher, you’ll always see me as your friend. I’ve known you since you were, what? Seven? Eight?”
There was a moment or two of silence. James pulled at his jacket sleeve some more.
“Yeah,” he replied, beginning to disarm but only a bit. “Guess you moved down the street from us when I was in elementary.”
He looked up at the ceiling, took a deep breath, and looked back at the preacher. He wanted to know something. He needed to.
“Preach, why do you still put up with me?”
The preacher tilted his head and squinted his eyes a bit.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, why do you still talk to me? Why are you taking the time to meet with me? I mean, I don’t go to your church anymore. And,” he laughed, “let’s be honest: I’m not exactly the ‘good church kid’ I used to be.” He looked at the preacher, who continued to stare at him blankly with a titled head. “Come on, Preach. I’m no secret. You know I like to drink. I like to party. I’m not a virgin – not even close. I’m not the kid that you used to know.”
“James, can I tell you something that I love about Jesus?”
Now James was the one with the inquisitive look on his face. He sat up a bit straighter in his chair, as if bracing for impact.
“What?” he asked dryly.
“What I love about Jesus is that He looks at sinners like you and at sinners like me and He chooses to love us anyways. He choosesto. He doesn’t have to. Don’t miss that little difference there because it’s a big one. And James,” he leaned forward a bit, “I’m no Jesus, but I still choose to love you. I choose to respect you. I choose to treat you like the child of God that you are. And nothing that you do is ever going to change that.”
James fidgeted around in his chair a bit. He looked uncomfortable, like he had just been told what he knew he needed to hear yet didn’t want to. He twiddled his thumbs for a moment, then he spoke.
“You know, the other day, I drove over to the lookout at the edge of town. You know, the one next to that old lighthouse that overlooks the Lake. And…” his voice trailed off. His words failed him. He began to tear up, visibly struggling. He looked the preacher in the eyes.
“I almost jumped, Preach. I almost jumped right off the freakin’ edge.” He leaned his head backwards, as if to let the tears flow back down into his head. He cleared his throat.
“I just want to know why – why’d God have to let her die? Why’d God have to let a beautiful, seventeen-year-old girl die of cancer? Can you tell me that, Preach? Can you tell me why God – if He’s so good and loving and all that – why He couldn’t just save her? Just her. It was Betty, Preach.” The tears were flowing down now, no sign of stopping in the near future. “It’s not like it was Hitler. It was Betty. My Betty. Why couldn’t God have just saved her?”
He was continuing to stare at the preacher, but this time he wasn’t looking at him with anger. He was looking at him with hurt. With pain. With an open wound that just wasn’t healing. Whisky wasn’t healing it. Screaming at the sky wasn’t healing it. Insomnia wasn’t healing it.
The preacher leaned forward again, this time taking off his glasses.
“James, we live in a broken world. It’s been ‘broken since the garden,’ so to speak. And sometimes bad things just-”
“No!” James yelled, standing up and walking the two steps it took to get to the desk. Slamming his fists down on it, he began his tirade.
“No! Don’t come at me with that ‘sometimes bad things happen to good people’ crap! Don’t try to tell me that God’s in control or that God works in mysterious ways! If God’s so ‘in control’ then why didn’t He stop the cancer? Why didn’t He heal her?” James was weeping now. “Why didn’t he stop me from having sex last August with that girl in my grandparent’s hometown? That hurt Betty more than the cancer ever did.” Now his hands were no longer in fists on the desk but were gripping its edge, as if holding on for dear life lest he slip over it and never return.
“I put that girl through Hell, Preach, but she still loved me. Isn’t that crazy?” It almost sounded as if he were on the verge of laughing now. “Betty…Betty thought that I was ‘the one.’ Isn’t that stupid? The one. As if that even exists.” He straightened himself up a bit, letting go of the desk and holding his hands together. His eyes weren’t just red from the tears. They were red from all of the sleepless nights he had been having lately. James was tired. He was tired from the conversation, and even more weary from the sleepless nights before.
“I don’t know, Preach. I want to believe that God has some grand plan in all of this, but…but it just feels like a big hoax. And, I know, I know. I shouldn’t say that. But, honestly, it just does.”
James looked back over at the painting that had captured his gaze from the moment he’d entered into the study. The issue wasn’t that he didn’t believe in God. No, it was quite the opposite, actually: James didbelieve in God, deep down in his bones. Even if it wasn’t something that he talked much about anymore. And, he couldn’t understand how this perfectly good and loving being could let someone as precious as Betty die of breast cancer at age seventeen.
He slumped back down into the leather seat. He was worn out. Nothing was working. He didn’t enjoy drinking anymore. He didn’t care about any of the girls that he slept with. His friends just annoyed him now and even his own parents – whom he had always been extremely close with – felt like strangers. Without Betty, everything had fallen apart. She had become his savior of sorts, his source of peace.
“You’re right, James.”
James looked up at the preacher. Was he agreeing with him? Was he admitting that all of this was just some made-up story to try to make people feel better – to give them something to believe in, even if it didn’t exist?
“Sometimes this does all feel like a hoax – like some folktale that’s been passed down for years but isn’t anything more than that. But, I think we both know that’s not true. I don’t understand why Betty had to die. But, James, Betty dying doesn’t mean that God’s not real. And, just because you and I can’t understand something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Betty believed in God, didn’t she? And, she’s the one who had the cancer. Maybe – just maybe – God let her die because He’d accomplished what He needed to accomplish with her life on earth. Maybe He brought her home because her mission on this cruel planet was done. Maybe He was rescuing her. I don’t know, James. What I do know is this: you can look for peace in a bottle or in a woman or in a memory, but you and I both know that those things never last. There’s only one person who can bring you peace, but, I think you’ve already met Him a long time ago, haven’t you?”
James looked back over at the painting. It had always been his favorite thing in the study – the study that he had grown up playing in with Betty and the preacher’s daughter, Inez. There were pictures of the cross everywhere you looked in Pennsylvania – in churches, on bumper stickers, even in jewelry. But, the empty tomb, the symbol of true victory and hope – of salvation – that wasn’t something James had ever seen dangling from someone’s necklace. James smiled, if only briefly.
“You know, Preach, I haven’t prayed since the night that Betty died. Even before then I hadn’t prayed much, not in years. But, I prayed so hard that God would save Betty.” He looked down at his folded hands. They were folded as if to pray, but he wasn’t. He looked back up at the man behind the desk – the preacher and his friend. “I haven’t prayed since.”
The preacher stood up and walked around his desk. He placed a hand on James’ shoulder, and he knelt down next to him.
“James, will you do me a favor? A favor for an old friend. Pray. Before we meet next week, say a prayer. It doesn’t have to be long, and you don’t have to come back and tell me what you said. Just pray something – anything. Ok?”
James wiped any remaining tears from his cheeks with the palms of his hands and cleared his throat. He blinked his eyes a few times to clear those, too.
“Ok, Preach. I’ll pray.”
The preacher squeezed his shoulder ever so slightly and smiled at him.
“That’s all I’m asking.”
The preacher returned to his seat behind the desk and they spoke for a few more minutes. He quoted the Scripture a time or two, and when their meeting had come to a close, the preacher prayed for James once more. As he stood to leave the study and was nearing the door, James turned around and – with all of the strength he could muster – put on the semblance of a comforting smile and said, “I’m sorry for your loss, too.”
The edges of the preacher’s lips curled up ever so slightly as they had before. He nodded his head. “Thank you, James.”
James opened the door and left the room, not to be seen by the preacher for another seven days. The preacher stood and looked out the window, watching James ride away down the cobblestone driveway on his skateboard. He turned back towards his desk and sat down again, picking up a picture frame. It displayed a photo that had been taken the year before at Thanksgiving. In-between he and his brother stood his brother’s daughter, Betty.
There she was, smiling. His niece was beautiful even when she wasn’t trying. She simply stood there between the taller men, wearing a white cardigan and a pink and purple bandana to cover her bald head. Chemo was always tough on Betty, but she had faced it with a smile, he remembered.
The preacher sat the frame down and took off his glasses again. Bowing his head, he prayed. It was a prayer that was almost more for him than it was for James. It was a moment of vulnerability. Preachers have those too, of course.
“Dear God, please give James peace. And,” he looked up at the ceiling, tears streaming down his worn face, “give me some peace, too.”
When I got the call you were unresponsive, I dropped everything and fled to your house. I saw medics, police officers, and firefighters crowding the street. When I walked through the door, I could hear chaos coming from the hallway. I knew I needed to get to my sisters. As I moved through the house, time began to still and the air began to thin as every detail was branded in my memory. I was afraid to go down the hallway but I gathered the courage to keep moving. I noticed the bathroom door was broken from when Dad kicked it down. I only peeked inside for a second but what I saw still haunts me. You were laying there, lifeless, eyes closed, and surrounded my medics. You had an oxygen mask on and were hooked up to an IV. Dad was helping them carefully lift you onto the stretcher. I turned away and kept walking. I went to my sisters’ room and they looked relieved to see me. They asked me if Mommy was going to be okay and they wanted to know who all those men were. I told them Mommy was very sick but that those men were here to help her get better. Then I sat with them on the bed and held them for a while. It didn’t feel real. It was one of those things you can’t speak about.
I heard the ambulance sirens blaring as they left the driveway. I made sure the kids were taken care of then headed to the hospital. I raced down the road, screaming at the sky as I frantically raced to the hospital. I was begging God to save you and praying I wouldn’t be too late. When I finally got there I ran into the emergency room. I saw Dad sitting there quietly. I’ll never forget the look on his face. The doctors told him the medics got there just in time to give her a fighting chance. I put my head on his shoulder and we just sat there in silence for a while. I felt the walls beginning to close in around me so I stepped outside to get some air. But as soon as I stepped into the hall, the walls completely closed in. A nurse yelled out “Doc, I think she’s crashing out!”. There were a group of nurses quickly rolling a hospital bed with several attached monitors and IV drips across the hallway. All I could see was your hair but I knew it was you. I heard someone say “Mom” and then realized it was me. A nurse looked up at me and said “She’ll be okay”. I wondered if you had learned to do the same when you were in nursing school. Comforting the grieving daughter in the hallway while you rushed her mom into the ICU. And then you were gone. As I slid down the wall to the floor, I stared at the wall and started to cry. It was something I just couldn’t speak about.
I don’t remember how long we waited. It felt like a lifetime. They called us back and we tried to prepare for the worst. The doctor said they were able to stabilize you and let us in to see you. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. There was a giant tube shoved down your throat to help you breathe. You were unconscious but you were fighting the tube. I held your hand but I couldn’t look at you. They had you transferred to the ICU. None of the doctors knew if you were going to make it not. So for three days we just sat there and waited as we watched over you. I prayed God would give me some sort of epiphany to help me make sense of it all. Or even a sign that would give me some relief. On the second day we found all of the pill bottles and at least a hundred empty medicine capsules in the bathroom. It was everything you had taken that morning. I recalled from the day before when the doctor asked me why my name was on one of the bottles of medication you took. That was when the realization of what you did settled in. The next day, instead of feeling relieved from seeing your chest rise and fall, I just felt cold to the bone. It was something you just can’t speak about…..
And then you woke up.
I can feel you lying next to me. Your warmth is radiating through the blanket, but it can’t touch me. Not right now. Right now, there’s nothing to do but to wait, to hope, to dream. The hoping and the dreaming I can only do in moments like these.
I feel so selfish.
I lay here, a weight in my chest, in my stomach. It’s crushing me into myself and I know I should turn around and throw my arm over your stomach and pull you into me instead but I can’t bring myself to do it. I tell myself it’s because I don’t want to wake you or because I don’t want to use you so cheaply. Slap a bandage in the form of your warmth onto it and hope you make it better. An unknowing painkiller.
But neither of those are the real reason. Somewhere inside of me, I know it’s because I don’t want your warmth to encounter my pain. I don’t want you to be infected by it.
I don’t want you to be infected by me.
A part of me feels angry. Shouldn’t you just. Know? Shouldn’t you feel my profound badness from across the bed just as surely as I feel you lying there, just far enough away that we don’t touch? (I wish we were touching. Maybe if we were touching this would all go away and I’d never feel bad like this again.)
I make an attempt to volley this train of thought back across the net, that’s ridiculous, I tell my invisible tennis opponent. But it doesn’t work and this metaphor doesn’t work because my invisible tennis opponent is just me. The me who can’t be convinced, who wins every game. The me who meets every strand of logic with an impenetrable wall of fear and stands atop it with a navy-blue flag and not a shred of armor.
I wish you could be here with me, hammering against that wall together until we took it down. I wish you would be the one to roll over and gather me close and tear that flag from that other person’s hands.
I wish you knew.
So, I guess I’ll just have to wait, to hope, to dream.
For your epiphany.
He convinced me to go out with him one last time, after he told me that he would take me to my favorite restaurant. I was never taught to know when not to trust people; I was raised by a woman whose word was the law, if you questioned it then you were wrong. So I believed him when he said that he was sorry, that he would make it up to me. He always said words that fell to the ground and I was left to pick them up and put them in my pocket. I found a special place in my rib cage next to my heart where I tucked his words because I wanted to believe them so much that it crushed my lungs, leaving me breathless.
I met him at the most vulnerable part of my life and I truly believe that he knew that. He saw a lamb, and like the wolf he was, knew exactly what to do in order to betray me. The first time I saw him, my aunt told me that he looked like my next boyfriend. It felt like I was in a romantic comedy and this was our meet cute. But there was nothing cute about how he left my heart to die on the chopping board. He told me that he didn’t want anything serious, but he still pushed me against the wall and took the one thing that was supposed to be kept from people like him.
At first, I thought that this was what I wanted. I had an imagination that would kill to be in a world where someone cared about me, so I picked the wrong person to rescue me from my tower. I told him to stop as I bled out on his mattress; I gave my heart to a wolf and told him not to bite. Later he told me that his brother came over and helped him flip the mattress over, to hide the evidence. I slept there for two years because I thought what we had was love, even though I kept a sharp kitchen knife hidden under that same mattress just in case. But he never called me his girlfriend, or anything of the sort: he always said that we were just friends when people asked. I was just living in his house, sleeping in his bed, but it was nothing more to him until I grew sick of it all and left.
I was desperate to never return to my life before him, which was full of a controlling mother who didn’t want anything for her daughter. I wasn’t a living, breathing, person to her—I was just a doll, a plaything that she kept throwing away when she got bored. But now that I was disagreeing, having thoughts of my own, she decided to dig me out of the garbage just to torture me. Even though I was twenty-three, I ran away from home and into the arms of a man who didn’t want the burden of rescuing me. As soon as things got complicated, he sent me back into the arms of a monster. But I refused to stay captive in the tower, desperate to get out. It is impossible to escape the hands of evil when no one around you is willing to help you fight it off.
I found myself in the arms of another monster, who refused to say he cared about me at all, and used every part of me that he could. When he first showed me the house that his father bought for him, he told me about how he saw a hawk in his backyard that swept down to catch a mouse. I didn’t recognize the irony until after the fact. It was on his thirtieth birthday that everything changed for me. So many times he told me that he was going to do better, to stop disappearing for days on end without so much as a word. He was going to stop having parties at his house, stop going out to the bar, and the strip club, and god knows what else. Every lie he told me made me heart drop and it died, and it died, and it died a little more each time.
He lied to himself and said that he could stop at any time, but every moment passed and he kept on going. He had an illicit affair with drugs, starting off small but it only got worse. I remember the time that he came home one night, to lay in the bed next to me and scream about how someone was after him. I could tell that there was something wrong but I didn’t know what to do. I was watching as someone slowly destroyed himself from the inside out. Any time I asked him about it, he would fill up his mouth with lies upon lies upon lies until he choked on his own words. He could never admit that he had a problem, even though I was the one person willing to help him. I knew what it was like to be surrounded by people who didn’t want anything to do with negativity in any form, because they were afraid of what would happen to them. They always thought of themselves first, you second. But I was willing to ruin myself for him, a million little times.
I begged him not to go out on his birthday, we could have a party, just him and me. He let his drug addiction speak for him and before I knew it, he was gone. Before he left, he promised that he would call me at midnight to wish me a happy birthday but midnight came and went without a sound. I called him frantically a million times, as I always did, to no response. Eventually I passed out on the same mattress he took my virginity on. I woke up to him pounding on the front door, drunk and high. I must not have gotten up in time because when I went to answer the door, he was gone. All I could see was the his shadow walking down the street, going who knows where. I have never felt such a fear in my life and I hope to never experience it again. I immediately got dressed, threw on my shoes, and went after him but by the time I got there, he was gone.
I found myself walking the streets listlessly, unsure of where he was going and immensely worried about what would happen to him. I have never felt such pain in my life, that stuck in-between my rib cage and pounded against my chest. I cursed the god-forsaken mess that he made me. I walked for miles in the dark, not entirely sure where I was going. I walked into a neighboring small town, where I stopped to stare at a window display that had jewelry. My heart ached for something that I would never get. In my mind, a relationship was supposed to be about showing how much you care about someone through small gestures, like buying them a piece of jewelry that you would think they would like. Looking back, I wish that I could say that there were good moments that made me question the bad ones. But I had never knew a life full of good moments. My life was full of hiding in my bedroom closet when my mother took my door off its hinges, trying to find a way to fight with me just because she could.
After I had walked the streets in the middle of the night for who knows how long, I made my way back home and eventually fell asleep out of pure exhaustion. I woke up to the sound of him coming home. I wanted to shake the very core of him, begging him to tell me why he had did what he did. But he shrugged it off, as he always did in his charismatic way, making me believe that we shared a secret language. I couldn’t talk to anyone else.
When the day broke, something inside of me changed. The thing he stuck in-between my rib cage was beginning to come loose and for the first time, I was tired of it all. He took a broken girl and shattered her more, daring her to pick up the pieces and make something of herself. I could no longer live with the fear that one day, he wouldn’t come home and I would learn about his overdose on the news. Our relationship started in beautiful rooms and ended in parking lots. There was nothing there anymore, it was empty.
But he asked for one more chance and I gave it to him with shaking hands and a bruised heart. He was going to take me to my favorite restaurant, something he had never done for me in the two years that we were together. He always filled up my hopes with a promise that he never meant. A wolf who sharpened his teeth and told me they were dull. As we drove in the busy five ‘o clock traffic, I turned to look out the window and close my eyes. I had never wished for anything, but I asked the universe—god, or whatever was looking after me, if there was anything—to show me a sign. It couldn’t be a sign that I could easily overlook or explain away. I asked for a clear, concise sign. Show me a sign that I’m going down the wrong path. That I shouldn’t give him any more chances. Then he slammed into the back of a car, and my whole world came crashing down.
He was trying to change lanes. He wasn’t looking. His eyes were wild like they were the night that he disappeared. I knew in my gut that there was something wrong. But this whole time, I didn’t listen to the voice inside of my head that was screaming out to be heard. I was in shock that this had happened. I asked the universe for a sign and it provided one for me. I had no choice but to listen.
I never saw him again. He tried to call me, email me, and even showed up at my mother’s house. Something deep inside of me wanted to give him a second, third, fourth, fifth chance but the way he acted made me stop myself. He spoke as if our love was a romance, all flowery looks and far off glances, when it was just a wolf convincing a sheep that he wouldn’t bite. But he tore me to pieces and it took a long time for me to put all the pieces back together again.
TW: includes mentions of war, death, and the pandemic
“How was your day, honey?”
She means well. She asks every day, to be kind, but I never know what to tell her. She washes her hands, leaves her car keys by the door along with her boots and coat. Her hair falls down as she takes out her hair tie, brown hair touched by the sun flowing over her shoulders.
She’s beautiful. She’s always been. So why is it so hard to be honest to her?
“It was fine. Not much to do.”
It’s true. I cleaned the kitchen, scrubbed the dishwasher door until I could see myself in the surface again. I took out the mail, then skipped to the back of the newspaper, to the crosswords. The letters left in the prize puzzle spelled out the word epiphany.
No appointment with my doctor today, so I had lots of time to myself. Spent some of it building a miniature of a 1927 La Licorne. Didn’t get very far, but at least it kept my hands busy.
“Hold on. I’ll take a shower and then I’ll be back in a minute, okay?” she says. She smiles at me, so I give her my love folded into the curve of my lips. As she disappears, she’s already unbuttoning her shirt.
The door closes with a bang. I left the windows open. That’s what happened. She isn’t angry, the wind just has more force today.
The bang echoes in my head, and with it come floods of images. A battlefield like a tainted beach without an ocean in sight. People clad in green and brown crawling the sand.
Sir, my own voice is more memory than sound, I think he’s bleeding out.
My hands are pressed to fabric and uniform, wetness seeping in between my fingers. The bullet went in, and there’s no exit wound. A good thing, maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know. I can’t tell. All I know is that this is Ramon – my friend, the one who always slipped an extra omelet onto my plate when I was in line in the kitchens.
And now I’m standing over him, watching his eyes close and open, close and open, never quite focusing.
“Sir? Sir, please.”
“There’s no time.” A heavy hand on my shoulder – I swear I can feel it landing there, solid and real. “It’s too late.”
I look down at the body. Watch him breathe in, watch him breath out. My hands are still in place, still pressing down. I stay there for what feels like ages but can’t be more than a few minutes. A few minutes until the breaths even out and his eyes fall closed.
My training never prepared me for any of this.
“Soldier, get your helmet.” When my sergeant pulls me away and two others come to collect the body, my hands are stained red.
Five years later, they still are. In my living room, with the shower running upstairs, my hands are dripping in it, coated with a layer of loss and incompetence I haven’t been able to shake.
With you I serve. With you I fall down. Long ago, back in training, those words were meant to be about a country. They came to be about a friend instead.
I stare at the pictures on the mantelpiece. There she is, smiling familiarly, keeping me steady as always. She looked so gorgeous in her wedding dress. I thought that would be the start of something new, something better. It was, but I didn’t realise quite how much old baggage I’d have to carry with me on that new road.
I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to let it go.
“How was your day, honey?”
I ask him first, so he can’t ask me. This is how it goes every day, hoping to keep him engaged, but it never really seems to work. I unlace my boots, take off my coat and leave everything by the door, my keys on the hook besides the coatrack.
When I pull the hair tie from my ponytail, I see him staring at me. There are dark circles under his eyes – eyes I fell in love with years ago and still hold so dear.
He’s so handsome. He’s always been. So why is it so hard to talk to him?
“It was fine. Not much to do.”
I nod. If life were normal, I’d tell him about the countless steps I gathered on my Fitbit today. I’d tell him about the colleague who always complains about the coffee and about the way my car lock seems to be malfunctioning again. But life isn’t normal.
“Hold on,” I tell him. “I’ll take a shower and then I’ll be back in a minute, okay?” I hope my love shines through in the way I smile at him. I can’t be sure, but at least he gives me that familiar crooked smile in return. Quickly, I hurry up the stairs, eager to wash the day’s stress away.
I turn on the shower and put my clothes straight in the laundry machine. The many washings are starting to show. Just yesterday one of my favourite blouses ripped in two when I tried to put it on. Still, I don’t stop. This is the only way. Keep it clean. Keep everything clean.
The water runs over my bare back and down my legs. Every day, I think I might be able to really feel cleansed this time. It never quite works. I still see the hospital hallways covered in arrow signs whenever I close my eyes.
Doc, I said just hours ago, I think she’s crashing out.
We all wore masks constantly. This wasn’t exactly new for us, but when everything around us changed, wearing the masks became a strange and intrusive restriction. No more smiling at patients. Using Google’s speech recognition to talk to patients who’re hard of hearing. Holding out on lunch because taking off your outfit is just too much of a hassle and you might be called back to the IC at any moment.
It was an elderly woman this time. In her seventies, quarantined in a hospital bed. Her breathing sounds weak and uneven. The coughs have come and gone. Slowly, the virus is eating away at everything, until even the smallest inconvenience becomes a death threat.
“Doctor? Doctor, please.”
The doctor walks in, her clothes looking more like an astronaut’s suit than a medical uniform. “We need to call in her family. Does she have any family?”
I stared at the patient, the monitors connected to her acting up. She was more than a patient. She was someone’s daughter. A mother, perhaps. A wife, for sure. “Just her husband,” I said meekly.
The doctor took a syringe, injected it, but the beeping didn’t stop. “Call him in.”
My lips pressed together underneath my mask. These things get so hot so quickly. I’ve heard people complain. Online. In the streets. In the waiting room. They’re right. They’re all right, but that doesn’t mean we should take them off. “Because,” I told the doctor, “her husband is in room 119.”
“Oh.” Realisation downed on the doctor’s face. “Him, too?”
I nodded. The glance we exchanged said enough. Most care-workers know how to say the unthinkable without saying it. Some things you just can’t speak about.
“No other family?” the doctor asked.
I told her no. Then she had to leave, her expertise needed elsewhere.
I looked down at the hospital bed. Watched the woman breathe in, watched her breath out. I placed one hand by the bed and grabbed hers. Plastic over plastic. I stayed there for what felt like ages but can’t have been more than a few minutes. A few minutes until the breaths evened out and the body stilled.
This was something med school didn’t cover. I’m used to fighting for a patient’s life until the very end. Sitting around and doing nothing felt wrong in every way. Everything about this feels wrong.
“Time of death, 14:34,” a different doctor announced. When I let go of the woman’s hand and walked out of the room, I didn’t feel my feet landing on the white floors. For a moment, I wasn’t quite there.
The water’s still falling, beating against my skin. I’m staring at a fogged up mirror, the toilet seat down and my shampoo bottle empty on the bathroom floor. I wash out my hair, the white foam mixing with the water.
I think of that woman, dying all alone without her husband. Dying without having felt human skin in days.
The towel feels rough as I scrub myself dry. Then I put on a new set of clothes freshly taking from our wardrobe and prepare to go back downstairs. Put on a smile, I tell myself. This is your private time, your recharging time, the time you get to spend with the man you love more than anything in this world. Make the most out of it.
I take the steps one by one, a heavy weight settling in my chest.
The light in the bedroom is off, the window open at a smidge. A gentle wind moves the curtains, but the breeze isn’t strong enough to reach the bed.
They lie there together, but apart. Each has their own side. She on the left, he on the right. This is how it’s always been. Years before, they’d gather in the middle every night, always touching. Not anymore. Each has their own thoughts that work like bricks, building a wall between the two of them.
The quiet goes on for a long time – but then he speaks. “How was your day?” he asks. “I never asked.”
He fears she might have drifted off, but she hasn’t. She’s wide awake, staring up at the ceiling. “It was hectic.”
He chews his lip for a moment. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Okay.” It stings, but he won’t show her. Meanwhile, she’s close to crying but doesn’t dare to let the tears out. The wall between them is still there, but see-through, so thin that they could almost touch.
She decides to smash the last pieces.
“Hold me?” she asks.
“Always,” he says. Then he reaches for her, arms fitting around each other like puzzle pieces that were missing for too long. It’s a glimpse of relief for both of them.
“I know I can’t understand,” he says, “but I’m here if you ever want to talk about any of it.” He hopes he can learn to be a better listener.
She smiles, a hiccup escaping her as she wipes her eyes. “Thank you. I think I’d really appreciate that.”
“But not now?”
The silence returns, and it’s good. Neither of them can remember the last time they didn’t speak to each other like this, with understanding and love instead of fear and loneliness.
“Epiphany,” he tells her. When she looks up at him, he clarifies. “The word of the prize puzzle today. It was epiphany.”
She nods. “That’s a good word. We could use an epiphany.” She lets out a chuckle, even though nothing about this is funny.
“An epiphany for every war we fight,” he says. He’s shivering, she realises, and she pulls the blankets closer around them, rolls closer to him, her ear to his chest. She listens to his heartbeat. He feels her breathe in, breath out.
Twenty minutes. That’s the time it takes for them to fall asleep. It’ll take them much, much longer to make sense of what they’ve seen, but at least they might do so together.
The short story epiphany // some things you just can’t speak about was strongly inspired by and uses lyrics originally found in the song “epiphany” by Taylor Swift.
I watched him from my perch on the fountain, the splashing water behind me muffled the sounds of my pounding heart. It recognized him in an aching way. It seemed it had been too long since my soul had found his and yet it also felt like it had been no time at all. My soul always finds his.
In our last incarnation, it had taken us twenty-five years to find each other. Seeing him as a teenager this time felt like a great relief. I always wanted to steal as many years with him as I possibly could.
We were soul mates. Literally. Cursed soul mates. Our love was intense. A blazing forest fire, a swirling rip tide, a swirling hurricane. Nothing could stop us, but we also destroyed anyone who got in our way. It was all-consuming. We weren’t evil. But passion takes many forms, and not all of them are good.
So we were cursed. We would reincarnate life after life, always destined to find each other. But he never remembers who he was, he never remembers me. But I can never forget.
I remember every lifetime, every word, every whisper, every spine-tingling touch he’s ever shared with me. And every time I return, I have to start over again. I have to watch my lover date around, explore the world, and try to find his place in it. I watch him learn who he is.
But I have lifetimes of knowledge. I always know where I fit. And it is wrapped in his arms or curled up at his side.
This time my name was Betty. I’d never been a Betty. I’d been plenty of Elizabeths, Bethanys, Rebeccas. Never a Betty.
His eyes found mine. His eyes were a warm golden brown, but it lacked the spark of a lover’s gaze. That simply added insult to injury. He did look curious though, that initial attraction that was always there. It was the only amount of recognition his soul would give him to his past, to our never-ending destiny.
He moved gracefully among the crowd, navigating his way with ease until he made his way to my seat on the fountain edge. With the sun behind him, he had a golden halo around him. Brown hair that glowed, a crooked grin that sent a jolt straight to my heart.
“Is this seat taken?” He asked, pointing to the empty spot next to me.
I couldn’t help but grin in return. “Not at all,” I replied. “I’m Betty. And you are?” I raised an eyebrow at him.
“James.” He kept that crooked grin and offered his hand for me to shake. The second our hands touched I felt the excitement in my bones, the comfort unfurling in my heart being at his side. The string tied to our souls were no longer floating around the city, waiting to meet. Our string began to wind around itself, curling and looping in until we were knotted together again.
I spent all of spring discovering him all over again. I knew his soul, his heart, but his quirks changed every lifetime. His personality changing with the times.
We’d been kings and queens, servants, forbidden lovers, celebrities, secretaries, doctors, soldiers, artists, activists. He had so many versions of himself that he would never remember. I loved the quest of mapping out this new version, digging in and finding new pieces of him to add to my collection.
In this life, James loved nature. We would sneak away from class and spend our afternoons lazing on the sundeck on the High Line, dipping our toes in the water feature while he sketched the trees. We slipped out our windows and danced under streetlights, drunk on stolen whiskey and passionate kisses. He would stop at a red light and kiss me for no particular reason. Being alone with him was heady, my heart pounding so hard in his presence that when I was finally alone, I felt like I had run a marathon.
I saw him beginning to connect the dots as he drew lines between the scars on my arm, scattered like a constellation. The picture that was our past began to come into focus that summer. Memories of other laughs, older stolen moments, dreams from another lifetime. It all began flooding in. I saw it in his eyes when he studied me, saw it in his sketches. He drew the meadow from five lifetimes ago where we made love. A rough outline of the castle we’d once lived in. Versions of me from other lifetimes.
And then one achingly hot night, as we lay together on his bed, naked and glistening with sweat, he looked at me with the warmth that I always yearned for.
“Do you remember?” I whispered, scared for the answer but desperate to hear it anyway.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve loved you, is it?”
I chuckled. “Not even close.”
And I spent that night telling him about us. The real us. The first version of our story. One that began so long ago. Then I told him all the variations that followed it. He listened closely, trailing his fingers over the scars on my arm. I told him all of our love stories until he finally drifted off to sleep. His breathing evened, and with each breath I was lulled further into sleep, the burden of all those pasts lifting off me. And true rest finally found me for the first time in this life.
But I awoke to an empty bed in an empty room, save for the piece of paper on the nightstand.
Need some time to think —James
My heart sank as I let the paper flutter to the floor. Sometimes this would happen, especially as we moved further and further into the future, where magic was forgotten. It was hard to process. All I could do was give him the space to let this knowledge settle in, let him unpack what memories I had been able to stir in him. He would always come back to me — if not in this lifetime, then the next. Not every lifetime was a perfect fairy tale. Sometimes it was messy, painful, chaotic. Sometimes we tore ourselves apart, ripping the seam that binds us together. I could only hope this lifetime would not end up that way.
So I did. I went to the High Line by myself, sat at the fountain where we’d met, studied every sketch that connected to our pasts. But hours turned to days and days into weeks. Calls were missed, texts ignored. I knocked at his door. I cried on his fire escape, desperate to catch a glimpse of him.
And then I finally did. And the sight tore me open. He was kissing another girl, holding her close. I knew what he was doing. He was running, trying desperately to escape the weight of our situation. After all in his world, he’s only seventeen and I’m his first love.
I’ve been seventeen too many times to count, and he had been my only real love. Just because love is destined doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept. I’d learned that hundreds of times over. Soul mates are a deeper love, but that means the hurt cuts deeper, too.
The tear fell down as he looked up from the girl he was kissing. The regret registered instantly in his eyes. He pushed himself away from the stranger and tried to make his way over to me. The pain and longing in those eyes added to my own.
So I turned and disappeared into the crowd, losing myself in the city and the memories. Eventually my feet led me home, stumbled me into my bed. And I tried not to drown in my tears.
Hours later a knock at my window had me peeling my eyes open. I felt the stain of my tears on my face. I looked out of the window, bleary-eyed. But I knew who it was. James.
I took a deep breath and opened it, climbing out onto the fire escape with him. I simply looked at him. The pain had numbed my senses to the point where I could do little more than simply stare at him.
“I’m sorry,” he managed to fumble out. “I—“ He ran his hand through his hair, stopping to rub the back of his neck. “I’m a shitty person,” he said. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
I couldn’t help but agree but didn’t say anything. So he talked. He talked like he could fill the void between us with his words as if his ramblings could build a bridge across the distance between us.
He was scared. It was a lot to adjust to. He asked how I dealt with all these memories in my head, how I could be so calm about this.
“It’s all I know, James. It’s all I’ve ever known. You get to forget. You start fresh every time. I carry around all these memories. Happy memories and sad ones and devastating ones.” I finally looked at him, eyes thick with tears I was trying desperately not to shed. How many times had he broken my heart? How many times had we argued? How much pain had we inflicted on each other across eons? I couldn’t even begin to count.
All those memories kept rushing back. Him as a king in a political marriage while I remained the mistress he truly loved. Me as an aristocrat’s daughter in love with the stable boy I could never marry. Him choosing to go to war instead of staying safe at my side. Flashes of jealous moments, heartbroken cries, and unimaginable grief.
I was drowning in them. I desperately searched for a happy memory to cling to, a life raft in the dark sea. But each time I had my hand on one, I saw him kissing that girl, and the memory would slide right out of my hands.
“Did you think that since we’re soul mates, you can do whatever you want, and I’ll take you back no matter what?” I managed to whisper. I didn’t trust my voice not to crack.
He stumbled over words, trying to apologize. Stammer after stammer until I couldn’t take it anymore. I simply crawled back through my window, back into my bed. Leaving him out in the dark.
I had fitful sleep, fragments of past lives invading my dreams. I wanted to hate him, but I couldn’t. Not truly. Even if he ripped my heart out, no other sadness in the world would do.
Inez made me throw a party that weekend. I wasn’t really interested in doing much partying, but she was insistent, thinking it would make me feel better. I’d thrown plenty of parties through my lives — everything from lavish expensive parties and parties with just three people in attendance. But none of them felt as pathetic as this party. My beer had barely been touched. I kept it in hand simply so Inez wouldn’t keep trying to get me to drink.
I wasn’t listening to the music or anyone’s conversations. I wasn’t even really looking at anything. Not anything here in the present. I was lost in the past. Good memories were the only salve for my soul.
“Betty!” someone shouted over the din of the music. “Someone’s at the door for you!”
I rolled my eyes and dragged myself over to the door. Where James was standing on the front step, eyes locked onto mine with a fierceness I hadn’t seen in quite a few lifetimes. I could feel the party’s eyes on us, so I shut the door behind me. With the music muffled I was suddenly left with the sound of my pounding heart. I nervously pulled the sleeves of my cardigan down over my arms.
James opened his mouth to speak but glanced over my shoulder and stopped. I turned to look behind me to see Inez and a few others staring out the front window, watching us. I took his hand and led him around the side of the building where there was a small garden. The sounds of the party were even more dulled here, my heartbeat was even louder. I nervously glanced up at him.
He looked at me for a moment before pulling me into his arms and kissing the top of my head. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered against my hairline. “I hate myself more and more every day that passes without you. I love you. I don’t want anyone else but you. Do you think you could forgive me? Maybe not now, but one day?”
I gave him a dry chuckle. “I love you. I’ve loved you for so many lifetimes.” I gave him a slow, sweet kiss. “I will forgive you.” He kissed me again, this time deeper and more urgent, like he needed to make up for lost time.
Our many roads were bumpy and had forks in the road everywhere. We didn’t always take the right path, but the strings always brought us together, always tied us together. Despite the pain, I couldn’t imagine a lifetime without him.
It is my greatest curse and my greatest blessing. I couldn’t imagine only having him for one lifetime. I lose him each time in some way or another. But when I come back, I have another lifetime of memories with him. Our love is infinite, destined to happen over and over again no matter the outcome.
Even faithless love from him is better than any love I could find with anyone else.
As I approach the years
We tend to hide from
I commit to the honesty
Of my wild beauty
For how I am
And not how they made it out to be
For I degraded this temple
Ostracized on a strange planet
I forgot Her wealth of appreciation
Naturally that all things
As they are beautiful
please find me on ig: @tiffanychammer or fb.com/groups/rockonwithtiffany
here lies the house you dreamt up as you were reading folklore
just like the girls growing up here, collecting daisies and trying to catch the sunlight
as they competed for the dirtiest dress and the best kind of princesses
that much preferred history pages and embers over glass slippers or true love’s kisses
they were here first, before the rainstorms and the whirlwinds happened
they were here first, wandering the halls pretending the glitter on their face was pixie dust
and the freckles on their wrists were constellations
they were here first, but they left the fairy lights for you
they left the daisies carved in the front porch railings for you
and the hollow tree behind the swing still cherishes their drawings
just like the rose bushes still hold onto their lost hair ribbons and long forgotten tears
the luscious garden a gorgeous kingdom just large enough for their secrets
and for the stories they wish were in their books
the story goes that the butterflies atop the driveway gate were the girls’ idea
the story goes that the house wasn’t theirs, that they were travelers desperate for a home
the story goes that they were sisters, not by blood but by stars
the story goes that the ivy climbing the walls and windows of the mansion
could no longer be tamed once their epilogue came to an end
people say that once the girls learned there was no Neverland
that the midnight hour was an actual monster, that losing your voice was not just fantasy,
that poison did in fact come in sweet, that beauty could be cruel,
that happily ever after was a fight rather than a given victory,
it was as if a rainstorm broke loose and never stopped
but maybe that wasn’t the girls’ fault
maybe they were just the ghosts that predicted what was to come
come inside the gate, walk the driveway
the neighbors live a million little worlds away, telling their own stories of this place
as they sip tea so sweet it makes you wonder what all the sugar in the world is meant to hide
stories that are a thousand dimensions away from the actual truth, if such a thing even exists
come now, ring the bell of the olive door as you are bewildered by primroses
listen carefully to the sound of cats meowing and wings rustling
that almost overshadows the soft tingling like wind bells that make your heart tingle
come inside, enter the hallway with constellations decorating the mauve wallpapers
rumor has it the female assassin woman who lived here painted them herself
she turned the library into an armory and the parlor into a room filled with gowns and frocks
after buying the house from the notorious roaring twenties socialite for whom it was a palace
but oh well, that’s just the rumors
let those mauve constellations catch your every heartstring
as you stand on your tiptoes on the scarlet carpet studying the paintings of wonderland
that are said to be drawn by the apocalyptionist couple living here after the murderess’ downfall
come, proceed, the tour only lasts an hour
take a look at the stunning vinyl player in rouge and lavender that will make you feel
as if you are in a butterfly kaleidoscope
some say it belonged to the notorious socialite
some say it was stolen by the villainous woman who supposedly ate hearts she cut out of bodies
others say it was the last gift the woman who always wore cardigans got from her boyfriend
that night he admitted to cheating on her all summer long at her graduation party
he stood on the front porch of this very house, naïve enough to still believe in a true love’s kiss
that would patch it all up
but word is she just took the vinyl player and shut the door in his face
come, this house has a magnificent thirteen rooms
in the color palette of a storybook
close your eyes, don’t be shy
inhale the scent of rosé-perfumed memories and freshly baked cinnamon rolls
sweet tea greeted by epiphany sunlight and garden beets cooking
Sunday afternoon candles and Monday evening cocktails
take a close look at all the spice racks and recipe books in the kitchen
you can see the sepia photos and love letters sticking out, half lost, half never meant to be found
listen to the soft indie music playing on the rouge vinyl, take a look around
at the tea leaves drying and the apple sauce stewing
as you catch glimpses of a telescope and a typewriter on the back porch
and remember the front porch with the fairy lights and jars filled with ocean rubble
remember the rocking bench and the painting supplies
the back porch was for the happy memories, but the front porch holds the scars of broken hearts
the promise of a happy ending crumbling as the boy who risked it all left empty-handed
the loneliness after a day full of people, as the notorious socialite was left alone
the darkness of a woman so scorned she ferociously screamed into the void for an apocalypse
the woman standing on the doorstep of her most infamous murder
that same woman curling up on the porch steps clutching a blooded knife,
hands shaking for the first time in her life
oh well, that is just how the stories go, there’s no telling the truth really
moving on, make your way to the drawing room
where two cats sleep in blush armchairs, one tabby named Ella, one grey called Cinder
from here, feel free to enter the breathtaking observatory
where young papillons prepare to take flight as doves and bluebirds sing you a song
and don’t forget the library, which holds every fairytale ever written, both cruel and pretty
these too were left here for you by the two girls who started it all, savoring every single story
run your finger along every history page ever forgotten, every dream ever conquered
and realize that it was the woman called wicked by many collected them with her bare hands
priding herself in bottling the starlight of a life envied by many, spinning twisted tales of her own
remember to visit the attic, where you will find crescent moons and faded canvasses
as the remains of a world ending while the earth kept on travelling around the sun just the same
take a peek into every bedroom: they all have their own lipstick secrets and vintage myths
just like the theatre where, as whispers say, the notorious socialite spent her final hours
desperately trying to get lost in a world of sunken secrets much like her own
do make sure to skip the gallery of ghost stories, though,
for it will haunt you all the way to the manor’s other wing
the tales of names buried, faces covered and blood shed for absolutely no reason at all
will draw tears from your deepest cores
and please, fiercely walk past the museum of open books in the south wing
perhaps it was the cardigan girl, or the notorious socialite, or the vile assassin,
but one of those women, you know, had a strange relationship with endings
for she never could let go of what was long gone
take your time walking the corridors
and imagine, just imagine, the voices, the footsteps echoing, the rustling of dresses
the silhouettes, the brushes of rosé-perfumed memories
imagine the kingdom of ‘’what if’’ and ‘’if only’’ and ‘’could have been’’ inside these walls
imagine the stories of moments, seconds behind the portraits gracing the staircase
imagine that you can hear a rainstorm tearing this house apart
imagine the windows shattering, the door break, imagine the roof collapse
imagine the ivy, the willow trees, the rose branches desperately growing into all the rooms
trying to protect the stories of their kingdom
imagine the thunder in the attic, of all the times the world ended without ending
imagine the lightning striking on the front porch
every time the assassin woman’s knife ignited a fire in her own eyes
imagine the kitchen, the parlor, the library and the observatory flooding
taking away everything like all the women of this house once lost everything
imagine an earthquake running through all the fairytale books and secret garden spots
terrifying the fireflies and chasing away the young butterflies not yet ready to grow up
just like those two girls with whom it all started, who had to grow up before their time
imagine the whirlwind that tore illusions to pieces so many times
imagine the hurricane picking up the pieces that could never make something whole again
imagine the eclipse darkening everything like all the times the sun went down on the daylight
imagine a sky full of stars coming down on the house to take back their constellations
imagine a cyclone ripping the house apart,
like all the words, minds, hearts and souls that were ripped apart here
imagine secrets floating out onto the driveway and out the gate
imagine truths flying out of burst windows into the garden and beyond
imagine the dimension between true and false finding a way into the universe
imagine the flood waves bringing along every brittle bit, every piece of paper
and leaving it on the streets, like ashes ready for erosion
imagine all the whirlwinds, tornadoes, thunders, rainstorms, earthquakes and hurricanes
imagine all the floods, fires, lightnings and apocalypses breaking down this house’s every inch
like the stories of those who lived here were broken down by each and every inch
until every shout, every scream, every whisper, every word was silenced, hushed, muffled
and left to folklore’s mercy
they still haunt this house today
the age of their era is never-ending
so, as you take one last look over your shoulder before stepping out on that front porch again
remember; this is the house you dreamt up
while reading folklore
but it could only ever be a home
to ghosts and their stories
The woman who lives in the house on the hill creeps down to the shoreline. Her neighbors have switched off their reading lights. She climbs atop the tallest rock and stares out into the mystery. It’s an endless sea.
Her home is the backdrop to her wayward thoughts. Only she can hear the blue hills crashing, her mind rolling with white-capped waves. She fills her days without caution, but what of the lonely nights?
In the daylight it’s as if she can see their thoughts. They know things about her that she is not. It gets too bright, their harsh false insight. So, it is in the quiet night that she takes flight.
To take her mind off their cruel delight, she fills her time with engagements of frill. She gets a thrill out of giving them something to fret about. But when the day slips into darkness, they escape to peace in their dreams. The woman who lives in the house on the hill gets no such luxury.
She swims in champagne and lives off her last name. She drowns in the rumors and dies a little every day. Smiling, smiling, laughing, crying. Her friends and her foes are the same. None understand how she could be suffering, but she lives in a mansion of pain.
Sometimes they all go home. The beach is once again calm. She can’t relate. In the quiet she must face the only partner life won’t let her escape. She wrestles herself on those boulders. They tumble around in the darkness, one guarded and one that keeps swinging regardless.
That quiet beach becomes a boxing ring when the lady of luxe loses her audience. The sand is bloody from her self-inflicted blows, but no one would know. Her body stands still, challenging the ocean that heaves and breathes below.
She stares out at an unknown object. She admires that ultimate pool. They say she shouldn’t be out at that hour, but they’re not who she answers to. Maybe there’s a ship on the horizon, a great vessel to take her away. I hope she finds what she’s looking for. I wish her well, no matter what the people might say.
Folklore. Fairytales. Sagas, myths, legends, tales. Stories. We all remember the ones that were read to us as children, tucked into beds so warm they could make us dizzy. We remember the books with more pages than we could count, the drawings we would run our fingers over like they were made of magic. We remember so well how those stories seemed to entwine themselves with our heartstrings, while at the same time they were impossible to grasp… like the bits of a dream that escapes you little by little the more you try to hold on to it. Stories of worlds, universes, galaxies far beyond our imagination, beyond our understanding, beyond our mind. Stories that were not meant to be made sense of, stories that seemed to not even come from a human kaleidoscope of ideas, that seemed too otherworldly to be a creation of this world… stories that left us with wonder, that still leave us with wonder.
Folklore. We all remember the rumors, that flew through town, through streets and blocks and neighborhoods, like fireflies in the garden we all longed to have. The gossip that was used to brew a story of half-truths and whole lies, of a dazzling, compelling amount of ‘’what if’’ and ‘’could have been.’’ Whispers, smirks behind hands, fingers clandestinely pointed with fingernails painted bright red, birds carrying words with an in-between of fake and true from rooftops to balconies and from front porches to garden gazebos.
Folklore. We all have memories of stories told to us around the campfire, under the stars, over a glass of rosé or a mug of tea, in the glimpses of gold between dawn and daylight. Stories about haunted houses, childhood homes. Stories about summers that barely seem real, lost in a great unknown while still lingering like a daydream you don’t want to let go of. Stories found in journals and photo albums, poetry collections and recipe books that were never meant to be found. Stories of wildflowers braided in strands of hair, rose quartz rings, screams in state of sleep, lipstick messages on mirrors, anonymous love letters, of secrets only the birds and the butterflies know about and that only the stars can make sense of. Stories that will never make it into the history books because they are the ballads and poems of life: they are told and retold, written and rewritten with glittery pens and passed around like school diaries and post stamp collections. They are spun and twisted in the best and worst possible ways and after the universe has had her fun with them, they are sent out into the world once again… to be made into new stories. New fairytales, new myths and legends and sagas.
Folklore is how the story continues long after you have fallen asleep, long after the fire has gone out and the tea has gone cold. Folklore is the words that linger after the story has ended, like hair ribbons that get stuck between the branches of the tree you were never allowed to climb, but did anyway. Folklore is what finally remains after the beginnings and endings and in-betweens have had their time and the streetlights are the only ones left to ignite the heartbeats and heartstrings no one really paid attention to, what remains when we have let our imaginations run wild about where things started and how they ended. Folklore is what we think we know for certain, while hardly knowing anything at all.
What would a house that has lived through two centuries tell you if the roof would collapse and the windows would shatter? Would nature’s rainstorms and hurricanes be a match for the whirlwinds and blizzards of the house itself? Would the nostalgic reminiscing of an old lady, once a beloved but notorious socialite back in her day, be anything like the whispers about her? Would the curious neighbors and intrigued townsfolk really know anything about that strange but classy young woman, whose secrets are more vile than anyone should want to know? Are the ghost stories about the woman who broke three hearts, including her own, anywhere near the truth? The young woman living in that luscious mansion, does her smile ever tell the story of her regrets, of how her entire life has seemed to turn into folklore?
Folklore… something beyond words, beyond stories, beyond universes and galaxies and dreams and imagination. Folklore is what not even the most brilliant author could come up with. Folklore is the stories we all know, yet never really know. We know glimpses. Fragments. Splinters. Fireflies. We know blinks of an eye, lost words, front porch moments, forest encounters, silhouettes, lights behind windows, music notes, pages rustling. Whispers. Loose ends of heartstrings cut off, heartstrings entwining again, and above all… heartstrings finding other heartstrings, strings of life, of love, of darkness and daylight, of dazzling moments that could only be written by the stars and the goddesses of fate, if you will. Folklore is the universe’s gift to us, to show us what a curious, wondrous, mystical kaleidoscope of heartstrings we are – far beyond any words, any imagination or any truth. Folklore is the stories of our rawest, purest, cruelest and prettiest heartstrings, in any shade of any color. Folklore.