She checks the bedroom one last time, gaze sweeping around the walls, into each corner, over the floor. The desk is empty, bed stripped and bare, walls blank, almost like a prison cell.
She remembers watching some TV drama, the new inmate arriving in an ill-fitting orange jumpsuit with a small pile of possessions in her arms. There was fear in her eyes, anxiety for the future and regret for the past. But there was nowhere else to go. She had to enter, and face whatever lay ahead.
Now it is her turn to move on. She pulls the door close, without shutting it completely.
“You could stay, you know.” He stands by the window, staring out at the light rain pattering on the rose bushes outside. His hands are jammed in the pockets of his sweatpants. He never does that normally. Through the fabric she sees his fists, balled up and tense. Her stomach twists. Those hands, like that mouth with its thin upper and generous lower lip, are still capable of so many things.
“I’m all set to go.” She forces her mouth into a smile, huffs out a breath. She uncurls her own fist, nails dug into the soft flesh. “This is yours.”
The key sits on her palm, its gleam dulled by time and repetition. If she took her hand away, would it float there in the air between them, given but not taken?
His jaw tightens and he presses his lips together. She does not offer comfort. Her hand remains steady, not shaking as she feared it might. She looks away from his face and down at the key, examining the tiny nicks and scratches, an unwritten history.
New objects have crisp, sharp boundaries that separate them from their environment. But over time, a thing rubs and chafes against the outside and loses its shape. Eventually the edges are so worn that its original form is forgotten under the onslaught of a thousand tiny collisions with the world. Nothing survives life intact, and no-one knows where the lost pieces go.
She steps forward and sets the key on the kitchen table. He glances at it and then directly at her. She gazes back, breathing deliberately, consciously slowing her racing pulse. Nothing stops time. It runs fast or slow, but it wears everything down.
“I’m sorry,” he says finally. She notes with detachment that his eyes are still the startling blue of a summer sky that knows no grey.
“Me too,” she replies, nodding.
She slings her bag over her shoulder and walks out, away, closing the door softly behind her.
A certain shade of vulnerability
Dark smudged beneath a weary, teary eye
Faint fingerprinted hip where passion turned angry
A shadowed brow, but not like this
The place where things slid from binary
Into uncertain gradations
When did day surrender, when did light flee?
Night now, but let your eye adapt
And catalogue dim fractions
Pupils stretched wide until all the darks are one
Swallowed ghostly whole entire by dusk
Obscuring every boundary and line
You think you’ll know when
You think you’ll see it
But the shift is imperceptible.
first published in Poets Unlimited on Medium, 10 January 2018
I sat at a window table in the coffee shop waiting for my perennially tardy friend Clare. I’d come to expect the text saying she was running late two minutes before we were due to meet. I didn’t mind though. I got the first round in; a large latte for her, apple and elderflower tea for me, and millionaire’s shortbread to share. She’d be along, and I could people watch while I waited. Usually it was a chance to daydream with the hum of early Saturday morning as a soundtrack.
The slam of a car door outside rang through the entrance as a patron came in. The dark haired woman stormed off, pulling her shoulder strap over her head. Her blue bag bounced on her hip and she dodged other shoppers with grace and speed. As she approached the coffee shop her frown was obvious, dark brows lowered and jaw set.
Her companion caught up in a few long strides, grabbed her wrist. She spun round, shook her hand free. I sipped my tea and watched the back and forth. She waved her hands, stabbed a finger at his chest in accusation. He shook his head, clenched his fists at his sides. One or two passers-by glanced at them but they paid no attention, fully absorbed in their moment of drama.
My phone buzzed again. Clare was running really late, so I finished the shortbread. We could always get another. Meantime this silent altercation had drawn me in.
He opened his palms, placatory. Her shoulders slumped, eyes downcast. There was a brief pause. In movies, that would be the pivotal moment. He’d beg forgiveness, she’d realise what she’s losing, and they would fall into each other’s arms. Roll credits.
She walked away. He watched her go, then called out. She hesitated and stopped. I held my breath. She turned back and I saw her face clearly. She bit her bottom lip, nodded fractionally and walked up to him. The wind tugged at his light hair as she cupped his face between her hands and brought him down for a soft kiss. The tension in his shoulders relaxed and he reached for her at the exact moment she stepped away. She gave him a small, sad smile before leaving without looking back.
The man still stood rooted to the spot, touching his lips as if to hold on to her. He returned to his car and sat for a while before driving off.
I was still wondering about them even after Clare rushed in, describing her own little drama of lost keys and a broken heel. At least that could easily be fixed.
Maybe truth is stranger than fiction but life is not a fairytale. Sometimes it ends with a kiss.
“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
— GK Chesterton
It starts with little things. Small things that one hardly notices, a slight curl of the lip, a condescending word, interruptions borne less patiently. The fond smile becomes an irritated grimace, and before you know it a full-blown sneer. It might seem passive but it’s really not, all that hidden aggression smoothed over by an insincere smile. It usually bounces off, but it stings sometimes.
Still, it’s you and me against the world, united front, shared territory.
Next comes a subtle thickening of my skin to ward off those tiny arrows, ticks sinking little sharp mouthparts into my flesh and drinking. Absent kisses, back turned, cold disdain becomes the norm.
One sip of blood at a time adds up. I don’t feel it as much, through my sturdy hide. But I don’t feel the caresses either. Meantime the criticisms latch on, so hard to remove even with help. I don’t have the knack. I did not think to defend against an enemy within the walls.
No time to learn because bombs start to fall. Accusations and lies, silences and screams. I shout at you across a growing divide. We need to talk but here comes another missile, armed with shrapnel made of the insecurities I shared with you. I’m hit, bleeding, a serious wound but not lethal. I stretch out my hand but you’re already gone, back behind your gun emplacement. You fraternise in plain sight, covert texts and open falsehoods a carpet bomb of betrayal.
I retreat into a foxhole, lick my wounds, gasp in pain. When did it begin, this unrelenting conflict? No man’s land stretches between entrenched positions. No white flags here, just an nasty duel to the death. I want to fight for us, not against you. But you keep launching bombs.
I craft my armour and bide my time.
If I am grotesque, maddened by bloated bloodsuckers and ugly in hastily patched tin plates and makeshift helmet, know that you made this monster from a soft-bodied creature, vulnerable and foolish. That creature deserved pain for her weakness.
This soldier will not make that mistake. Our hot and fiery love burns down to cold, hard ashes. When pain forces me to dig deeper, into the molten core of my fury, I find a lava lake of rage to power my assault.
I know where you live, and all your weak spots. What we had is far behind us, forgotten ruins. What lies ahead cannot be seen through the smoke and flames of this battlefield. I care nothing for the future. There is only one mission. I will destroy you because this is war.
I will burn down the world if I must.
A response to Creative Challenge 51.5; first published in The Creative Cafe on Medium, 29 November 2017