Sometimes I see you alone. You frown at your stack of notebooks, look back at your laptop, punch out a few keys. You heave great sighs that you think no one can hear because you have headphones in.
Sometimes I see you with someone else. You never look terribly comfortable, or happy. I never see you with that person again.
You don’t see me.
Had a great time last night. 🙂
Me too. 🙂
I don’t want to be weird, but I’d love to see you again. Coffee sometime?
I’d love that.
Hey babe, miss you
Miss you too. Three weeks feels so long.
I just want to jump through my phone to see you
That would be amazing.
We’ll make it, right?
Of course we will. Amor vicit omnia.
Hey, it’s today!
I can’t wait. 🙂
I thought you were going to sleep in! I didn’t wake you up, did I?
No, I’m too excited to sleep.
Me too. Wanna make out?
Yes, but I’m pretty sure someone would notice if I took the car. 😛
I’m outside. 😉
OMG. I’ll be right there.
Where the hell are you?
Sorry, I’m outside
Are you coming?
Be right there
Getting coffee. Want one?
You left your fucking underwear on the floor again.
Don’t call me babe. I’m pissed off at you.
Love you babe
Fuck off. I love you too.
Seriously, where are you?
Sorry, running late
You can’t be running late. You were supposed to be home an hour ago. I need you here now.
Still wrapping up
Wrapping up work? Or wrapping up with some chick?
FFS, wrapping up work.
You’re late every day. What am I supposed to think?
You’re supposed to trust me.
I trust you to get home when you say you will.
You know it’s crazy here right now.
You fucking forgot, didn’t you?
Fuck. I’m so sorry.
Not good enough.
I’m leaving now.
It’s too late, they gave away our reservation. My fucking mascara is ruined anyway.
I’m really sorry, babe.
Don’t fucking call me babe, asshole.
I’ll be home in 10.
And the day came when at last she took to the sea.
She stood in the prow, spray in her face, hair streaming out behind her, a proud warrior filled with purpose and strength. Behind her, the fortress lay wasted, men lying on the sand, calling and crying for her to come back, to turn, to acknowledge them in some way.
“We did this for you!” they cried. “We are broken here because of you!”
But she would not turn. She faced the wild unknown, the open ocean, dreams ahead of her and nightmares behind.
She would not go back to that land, where she was expected to stay in her tower, to stay pure and perfect and never age, never fail, never cease to do the things asked of her. She would find a new land.
She had heard stories ever since she was a child, stories of a land where a woman could be free. The stories were myth, untrue, only told under cover of darkness to women and children. Only told to the weak.
But the stories gave her strength. They brought a fierce light to her eyes and a new vigour to her muscles as she laid her plans.
They laughed long after she was gone. She was held up as an example. Her fate was that of one who heard fairy stories and believed them. She was a freak, a Jezebel, a betrayer.
Those she left behind never heard from her again. No one learned whether or not she found the mystical land of freedom, or whether she drowned alone at sea, her hair tangling in the seaweed and her body becoming food for carnivorous sea-beings.
But the young girls of the land she had left told new stories. They told stories of the woman who had single-handedly torn down her pedestal, her tower, her prison. How she left men bleeding and calling for her. How she revealed that there were deep cracks in the way they understood the world. In some stories, her ship was torn apart by storm and she was transformed into a mermaid, a symbol of the freedom that comes in death. In others, she survived, she found the new world, and she lives there still as an equal to all.
She falls to the floor, weeping.
He looks down at her, tears in his own eyes, turns away. He walks around the apartment, taking a few things. A phone charger. A few shirts from the closet. A toothbrush. Some books and DVDs. A mug from the kitchen.
She cries harder.
He goes back to her, tries to hug her. It is awkward. He says something, then puts a key on the counter and walks out.
Zoom out. The neighbours hear her sobs. One rolls his eyes and hopes it doesn’t last too long. Another puts a few cookies on a plate and wraps them in plastic, to leave outside her door.
Zoom out. He pushes past people in the street as he walks, then runs away from the building. He is trying to hold his tears until he gets to his car. He fumbles with the lock, then gets in and yells, making the passersby turn and stare. He thumps his steering wheel. He waits until he is calmer before he drives away.
Zoom out. The city bustles. She calls in sick to work, and her boss warns her that she had better be in tomorrow or risk the consequences. He nearly misses a stop sign, and a mother pushing a stroller yells at him. He takes a deep breath.
Zoom out. She calls her mom, two thousand kilometres away. They weep together, the tiny wire tenuously connecting them. He drives to his college roommate’s house in the next province and asks to sleep on the couch.
Zoom out. There is a tragedy in a faraway country. The news, grasping at the human angle, repeats the story of a young woman who lost her husband and the father of her miscarried child over and over. The woman cries and cries. Both women cry and cry.
Zoom out. The earth from space looks the same as ever. Turquoise, swirled with white. Lit up by constellations of community at night. One tiny pinprick in a sea of stars. And yet, the universe is subtly altered.
My Teacup: In Memoriam
O proud and glorious vessel of tea,
You did your duty valiantly.
And ne’er shall pass another day
Where by my side you deign to stay.
Your curving sides, your graceful lip
Fit perfectly within my grip.
Leaf and bag, in water steeped
A splash of milk into the deep.
Each day a perfect cup you gave
A legacy now for your grave.
Though many may make their appeal,
No other cup my heart shall steal.
The Sounds of a Silence (in the Morning)
Hello coffee, my old friend,
I’ve come to drink you here again,
Restless nights that were so fleeting
The darkness left, now I am bleating
for the coffee that will now restore my brain
Bring me the sounds of silence.
She lives on two things: cookies and stories.
The best afternoons are the ones where she comes home to a fresh batch, eats three, then dashes up to her room to read. She sneaks down again after a few chapters, while her mother is occupied elsewhere, and sneaks three more.
She reads entire books in one sitting, then flips to the front and starts over.
Stories fill her mind; stories she’s read, stories she’s watched, stories she’s written. She has dozens of beginnings written, and she keeps sketchbooks and journals everywhere. Her desk drawers are full to overflowing.
She goes to university and graduates with an English degree, the fancy way of saying she spent four years studying stories.
She goes a bit nuts with the cookies.
She gets married; works a bit; has some babies. She feeds her babies cookies, and stories. It’s hard, spending her days with pre-rational creatures who have no qualms about driving her to the brink and back day in and day out. They steal her stories, for a while.
The darkness is awfully dark. On their own, the cookies are powerless.
One day she looks back at the stories she wrote. The ones she put on a shelf in her mind while she dealt with school and marriage and babies and figuring herself out. She remembers the feeling of getting lost in the words, feeling them leak and bubble and gush and pour, keys and clues to the stories that unfolded in her mind while she walked to school, while she sat in the car on road trips, while she lay in her bed in the dark. She wants that feeling again.
The words are terrible. The story is not good.
She starts over. The words come. She eats cookies while she writes, and feels alive.
Thank goodness I brought knitting, I think. I sit in my pew, keeping the yarn taut, feeling my gauge tighten. At least it’s just another horrible prayer shawl. It doesn’t matter. None of this matters.
It’s been two weeks. Two weeks that I’ve been back in this town, coming to this building on Sunday, feeling it stifle me and suck the life out of me. Four years away at university and one more to try and make it work with my boyfriend. Four years of heaven and one year of a new kind of hell. He dumped me; I moved home. Back to the old hell.
I sigh; my mom jabs an elbow into my ribs. Keep it together.
If only it had worked out with Jayden. I tried so hard. But he said the desperation was the worst part, in the end. He said he couldn’t solve my problems for me. It hurt so much; I wasn’t trying to let him solve my problems. I was trying to solve them myself. But in that last agonizing month before our lease was up, when I spent hours on the phone trying to find a place I could afford, after we had broken up but before I had fully given up, something clicked and I saw more clearly than anything that I was using him. He was right. I thought I would shrivel up from all the tears I cried.
I hate it here. I hate that my dad is the pastor and everything I do has to be so careful and perfect, because he is careful and perfect. He screwed up once; he thinks he’d never get a second chance. I think his god is an asshole if that’s true, but I already know that people are assholes and god is more or less a fabrication by people as far as I’m concerned, so he’s right too.
What’s with all these guys being right? I hate that they’re right.
Dad drones on and on about the blood of Jesus and the way it solves all the problems. I could probably preach his sermon for him, just as emphatically. I could pretend to be that holy.
I want to walk out, but I’ve got nowhere to go, and as much as I hate church and God and this town and having to live here again, I love my parents and it would hurt them too much, so I keep my mouth shut and my knees together and my eyes down, glaring at my boring knitting.
Finally church is over and we all file out. I shake hands with my dad in the foyer with overenthusiastic pomp, our pathetic running joke that I do because it makes him smile, and he always looks so tired on Sundays.
I do so much to keep everybody else happy. I should get over it; nobody does a damn for me.
I step out into the bright June sunshine and breathe a sigh of relief. I feel closer to some sort of higher power just two steps out of the church than I have ever felt inside.
I jump when I feel a hand on my shoulder, then feel a blush pour over me. It’s Anna, my childhood best friend. We stopped seeing each other when our friendship changed and we were both terrified of being found out. I didn’t know she was back. I didn’t know my feelings hadn’t changed.
“Welcome home,” she says, and her voice strikes a chord that vibrates in my soul. “What’s new with you?”
Everything, I think. Everything.
Hi! You came back! I wasn’t sure I would see you again. You looked pretty green after that idiot tried to get his sword back last time and I was forced to hack him to bits. Good thing this sword is so sharp or he wouldn’t have died so quickly. Anyway, I’m glad to see you. It’s nice to have someone normal to talk to, you know? I’m afraid I don’t have long today though. I’ve been invited to a banquet tonight at the castle of the evil wizard nearby. Oh, don’t worry. I know it’s a trap. But he’s been pissing me off lately. At first it was lots of little things, like changing the forest so I’d get lost, or casting spells to make ordinary mushrooms poisonous, stuff like that. I didn’t eat the mushrooms – even I know that mushrooms shouldn’t be giving off sparks. But then the asshole tried to cast a spell on me. I have no idea what it was meant to do. It didn’t take, thank goodness. It wasn’t strong enough. It only took my clothes. Which, let me tell you, was bad enough! It is no picnic to walk around a forest naked, you know. Although I have to say that the whole Renaissance Faire getup I ended up with is actually a lot more comfortable than my jeans. I guess they know something about functional fashion that I didn’t.
Oh hang on, mail’s here.
<loud flapping and a strong gust of wind as a maelstrom of wings swoops through, leaving one fluttering letter behind>
I want to go to this banquet tonight because I want to see what I’m up against. I’m not planning to take on the wizard or anything, just get a feel for him, see how arrogant he is, you know. I won’t eat anything, and in case I’m forced to, I got this antidote thing. It’s called a bezoar. I’m glad I read Harry Potter as a kid so I knew what to get. And you do not want to know how I got it – they don’t use money here so I had to resort to… well, never mind. It was awkward.
Ugh, that was terrible. I’m useless at archery. It’s really hard to hit a stationary target, much less something moving erratically. But I’m sick of rabbits and shitty oatmeal. Whatever. Everything here is so stupid and hard.
<throws bow and arrow into a bush>
I guess I should read my letter. Oh, excellent! My application has finally been accepted to fight in the tournament. They think I’m a dude, of course. I think I mentioned that I have some serious issues with their attitude towards women here – I will get to that rant one of these days, I promise. Anyway, I did a bit of digging around when I was in town for the bezoar. Turns out that the misogyny goes deeper than I thought. They have a habit of sucking young women like me over here to basically be virgin sacrifices.
They’re not too picky about actual virginity; it’s mostly the look of the thing – and they got more than they bargained for with me. The top brass is actually paying off this wizard to take me out, because they’re worried that since I slipped through their net I’m going to wreak havoc on their whole shady system. Well, they’re dead right. I plan to tear them to shreds. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to change into this dress I stole when I got the tunic getup and go do some recon.
<she strips, revealing a nasty scar across her chest>
Thanks for the chat! It’s nice to get a touch of normalcy. Stop by again sometime.
Two pink lines.
Seven pounds nine ounces.
When Alana thought about the numbers, she was shocked by how small they seemed now. All of them. Nine months? That’s not very long. Seven pounds? A bag of flour is way bigger than that. But the implications of all of them were so heavy she could barely stand up.
She looked at Elliott, lying in his swing, like a tiny pendulum marking off the seconds of his life. He was two months old, and just barely over his birth weight. He looked so fragile. She felt so fragile.
She didn’t want to take her eyes off him for even a second. He was clipped in, blankets away from his face, the cat locked in the furnace room and meowing his head off at the indignity. But she couldn’t handle the thought that he might hurt her baby somehow. She knew someone, or her girlfriend knew someone, whose cat had scratched a baby and the baby had to go on antibiotics. She couldn’t handle the thought of giving her baby antibiotics. She couldn’t even handle giving him formula, even though she had to use it. Stupid useless sacs of fat on her chest.
She couldn’t stand seeing herself in the mirror. She’d taken them all down, and put paper over the one in the bathroom. She only opened the curtains a minute before James came home, and then closed them again as soon as the sun began to set.
She’d found a piece of paper lying on the kitchen counter by the coffee maker. James must have left it there. It was some sort of quiz for postpartum depression, and it had made her so angry, those accusatory words that James had to leave lying around passive-aggressively, that she had screamed out loud. It had woken Elliott, and he’d cried. She’d held him for the rest of the day, and James had given her such a look when he came home and realized that not only had she not dressed or showered or swept the floor, she hadn’t even eaten.
She was fine. Everyone had told her that the first few weeks were hard. She just had to hang in there and it would get better. She didn’t spend much time thinking about the future, though, because probably at some point someone would get her to leave the house, and James would probably want to have a more serious conversation, and maybe even have sex. Sex made her whole body want to shrivel up in revulsion. Sex made babies and babies made hell, and now her body wasn’t her own anymore, even though it didn’t even work properly.
Alana hadn’t even realized she was crying, and that Elliott was crying. She didn’t remember picking him up. She looked down at him in her arms, squirming and flailing and rooting around, still trying to latch even though it wouldn’t do any good, even without a shirt in the way. She could feel her panic mounting as she dashed into the kitchen to mix a bottle. It took so long, and he was already so upset, that it was going to be another disaster feeding, with him throwing up and wasting all that liquid money.
Someone knocked, and she startled so violently she nearly dropped Elliott. She curled up on the floor, shushing him and praying the person would go away. They knocked again, and she whimpered, rocking back and forth over Elliott’s body, both of them crying.
She had an awful moment of clarity, her first in two months. Who was she? What had happened to make her so afraid? Slowly she became aware that her brain was trying to steer her down a terrible, awful path. She shuddered. How could she have come to this place? How did she get so far from the person she imagined herself to be?
The person at the door was gone. Elliott was screaming, his little face red and furious, his little fists flailing. She lurched to her feet and stumbled into the kitchen. She remembered that James had brought home premixed formula, and she’d had yelled at him for spending the extra money. But right now, relief flooded her. She grabbed a tiny bottle out of the fridge and screwed a nipple onto it, then jammed it in Elliott’s mouth. They both went limp as the screaming stopped and was replaced with frantic sucking.
She carried him over to the couch and sat down. She pulled out her phone and dialled James. No answer. She hung up and took a deep breath, looking down at Elliott, gulping his bottle so hard that it would undoubtedly all come right back up again. Her eyes welled up again; he deserved so much better than a mother who was falling apart. She dialled another number. It rang four times, five times, six times. She was about to hang up in despair when the line connected and she heard her mother’s breathless “Hello?”
“Mom?” she whispered, feeling the tears charging back. “Mommy? I’m not okay. I – I need you.”