a collection of fiction i wrote last year and edited and revised this past fall/winter
I. You didn’t know why you thought of her but you did know that the image of her face hit you hard as you were pouring your coffee on that hot and sweaty July morning. It was the kind of day where everything hits hard and mercy is just a five letter word. You had been home for only two weeks and everything felt like a fist to the mouth. It hurt and you knew it would hurt and yet nothing anybody had said in the previous weeks had prepared you for just how much. In the days that followed you did everything but think about it. You sat on your bed and ate your food and tried to find things to do with your hands. But you had quit smoking two years prior and you had lost your appetite so you just sat on your bed and tried to make shapes with your fingers in the palms of your hands. She wasn’t the first person who you loved who had died. She was probably the fourth or fifth and yet her death made all the other deaths seem like nothing. You told all your neighbors lies as they came to your door bringing cakes and soups and pies. You told them, “I’m fine,” while your heart lit a fire that found its way down into your stomach. You closed your curtains to those who knocked and received no response. You stopped picking up your phone. Exhaustion seeped into everything you owned. Finally the house was still. The neighbors did not ring the bell anymore. The phone was silent. The house settled into an eerie calm. You found yourself sitting on the couch with a book in your lap, your eyes scanning the pages, but not picking up on the words.
II. Somehow after five weeks you leave the house. The neighborhood is changing and you notice a house for sale that a family you knew used to live in. The sidewalk seems to hold sadness the same way that your heart does and you don’t have the energy to push it down. So you walk the neighborhood with tears streaming down your face and you count the steps until you are home again. But the house is cold and the living room smells like sugar and you want more than anything for her to walk into the house and say, “Honey I’m home.” But it’s been years since she has spoken to you and you pretend nothing has changed and eat your dinner on the living room couch.
III. Twice a day you water the garden you planted after she left the second to last time. The roses are still making their way up the trellis and the lilacs lean against the front porch. The flowers are all you have left of a time when happiness lived in the palms of your hands and the dirt stains on your jeans. You had spent days out there. Weeding and raking and planting and hoping that whatever grew out of the dirt would be stronger and more beautiful then you could ever hope to be.
I don’t think I could ever give you
The tools you need
To break open your heart
And I don’t have the time
To help you fix it and even if I could give you
What you need and even if I did have the time
Nothing I could do would make a difference
Our clock stopped on September 30th
At about 3:00 am and I know that every September
Since I have had to break open my own heart
And fix it alone
And I don’t think I could ever buy you enough
Beer or cigars to make you remember how easily
You were able to forget about the clock we worked so hard
To fix and the time we spent watching the second had tick back
And back and back and then if it broke again we would take
The time and we would fix it
Nothing can be done now to replace the time we have lost
Even if we sit in every place we sat then
And talked in every place we opened our mouths in then
The pain would still be there
The ache would still remain
So I watch you walk away from me again and again
And I wonder if I am crazy
And I wonder what I did to earn this weight around my neck
And the days keep ticking off one by one
The time we danced to Frank Sinatra in your room
In your parents house with our hands in the air
Our mouths gaping and happy
The time we lost ourselves in tears and sorrow
Holding onto each others skin like a life raft
Moving slowly and ever farther away from each other
Iron and Wine always makes me think of you no matter where I am or who I am with if there is Iron and Wine playing my body and are sent back to the last time I saw you waving goodbye to me as the car pulled away and I feel that pull and that ache as I turned back in my seat and faced forward and focused on not hitting anybody as tears raced each other down my cheeks and nobody has ever sent me back like that or taken me and ripped me apart and put me carefully back together saying “I am sorry I am sorry I am sorry I was not more careful” and nothing can even begin to match the taste of iron that lingers in my mouth as you sleep peaceful and soft as a child next to me softer then a child soft as a warm bed and the mouth that used to kiss me talks to me about another mouth that it wants to kiss and my mouth can not help but slump down a little lower and feel a little bit more empty “I am really sorry it had to be like this” and the loss of a connection is not just a dropped call or a cut telephone line but a cut vein and a dropped stomach and your heart is a bloody and beaten and pulpy heart egging itself on “You are tough and you are brave and you can handle it” and it keeps pushing past its pain threshold and each time it hurts less and less and then more and then less again and every time I am drunk on wine I hum “I spent an hour with you should I want anything else” and we are emotional babies we cry and cry and cry and we expect things to change so we are crazy but if that is not a good friendship I don’t know what is and we are the best two lonely people I have ever known and Iron and Wine reminds me of you always.
what i think about when i think about ___ is that ____ is not enough for me or for you and i think about __ and i laugh because ___ is not you and you would never never forget about __ or try to erase __ but i think that is the point because nobody knows the answer to ___ and your mom will tell you the future holds so much for you but you dont believe it because you are __ and you will always be __and nothing would ever change that but __ came first and ___ will always always always always always come last and ___ will always hold me up to the light the same light that ____ wish___ had and i know i am much more obvious then i have ever been ____ knows that better then anybody but i wanted ___ to know that more then anybody.
Time should not be something
That keeps love from staying on the shore
And that shoves it out to sea
Again and again and again
Until it comes back every time
Worn and rough
A texture similar to sea glass
But sadly the way of time is hard
And the longing does not ever ease
Or the ache ever let up
But instead finds itself lodged in your teeth
And no amount of toothpicks
Will be able to remove it
And the truth is
I don’t want to be alone
The truth is nobody does
But time has a way of forcing one into solitude
A bus runs late
A stoplight hangs on red for too long
The last time Ned saw Olive she was running past him with her headphones in, ponytail swaying. She was in blue running shorts and Ned’s Talking Heads t-shirt that she had borrowed the first night they had spent together. He had known then as he knew now that he was never getting that shirt. Ned watched her run away from him until her form disappeared from view but instead of continuing on his way to class, he just stood there; thumbs hooked onto the strap of his backpack, watching the sun fade behind the mountains in the distance. When it got cold, he turned and walked back to his dorm. He pushed open the door of his first floor room and threw his backpack down on the floor. Goddamn it. She was the last person he had wanted to see today. They had only broken up about three weeks ago, but it still felt like it was yesterday. The lingering ache in the back of his throat had yet to fade and his friends had stopped inviting him to their parties because all he did was get drunk and start fights with the upperclassmen. He put his hand on his chin and felt the now fading bruise that had once blared loud and purple just under the left side of his jaw. Olive hated it when he got into fights, but when they were together he was able to avoid most, if not all, kinds of confrontation. He’d been able to avoid them up until the end of their relationship, but by that point it hadn’t mattered.
Getting ready for bed that night he decided to go through a few of his desk drawers to see if there were any novels he had shoved away. He found Norwegian Wood, a novel by Haruki Murakami that Olive had given him for Christmas a few years back, tucked at the bottom of the drawer. As he pulled it out he noticed the corner of a photograph peeking out from between the pages. He walked over to his bed, flipping the books paged to shake the photograph loose. A moan got caught in his throat when he saw it. The photograph had been taken on a beautiful early fall evening, when he had taken Olive out for her birthday. They had gone with two of their closest friends and it was Abigail who had taken the photograph. She had taken it with one hand so the image was slightly lopsided. Ned remembered this because her other hand was around Gabe’s shoulder and it was right before they had toyed with the idea of dating. Olive was smiling wide in the photograph and he had an expression on that looked like happiness. It had been about a year, but it felt like lifetimes had passed since he had smiled like that for a photograph. He lay back on his bed and clutched the photo in his hand. Within minutes, he was asleep, the clock on his bedside table ticking away.
Ned was standing in the doorway of his dorm room. He was drunk and it was about two in the morning. Chris’s party had been OK, nothing out of the ordinary and yet for some reason standing there, on that specific night, something felt different. He felt … guilty. Guilty because he smelled like beer and Chanel #5. Guilty because Olive was curled up in his bed, holding on to his pillow, sleeping soundly. He had asked her to go with him, but she had said no. He should have known better than to ask her but he had asked anyway. She had been leaving the library for frequently and he had taken that as a sign that maybe she would start to go out with him again. He had missed dancing with her at parties and missed how they had made slow stupid still drunk love after they stumbled home just before dawn. But he didn’t even really care about that stuff; he just missed her.
Ned moved away from the doorway and took his pants off. He walked as quietly as he could over to the bed where Olive was and tried to get into it without waking her up. She shifted in her sleep as he sunk into the sheets and closed his eyes. Why couldn’t things just go back to how they used to be he thought shifting in position so that he was facing away from her. She’d had shorter hair and he hadn’t been so skinny. They had met randomly one night after a party. She had been drunk and was trying to sober up to finish a paper by taking a run around the campus. He had literally crashed right into her and they ended up talking all night and just as the sun was starting to rise they walked back to his dorm room and fell asleep tangled up together.
But that was then and this was now and nothing would ever be the same again. It couldn’t. They had spent so much time together that the glue that had once held them tightly close together was now dry and flaking off. He found it easier to be without her and felt a somber nostalgia for the time when it had been easier to be with her; not without her.
At 8:00 on the dot his alarm went off and he stretched and looked over to her side where she was curled up with her thumb in her mouth. He kissed her shoulder blade and whispered in her ear a soft good morning. She opened her eyes and stretched her arms out above her and rolled over to tuck herself under his outstretched arm. But the second she pressed her nose against his skin she recoiled. Ned she asked, looking up at him, what is that smell? He tried to think of something to say but couldn’t and just looked at her. Finally he said it didn’t mean anything OK? She pushed herself away from him and kicked the sheets off and got out of bed. Olive he said, sitting up and turning to face her. Olive really it was nothing. She winced at that and looked at Ned with unbearable hurt in her eyes. He just sat there and didn’t know what else to say so he said nothing and let the door slam shut behind her. He knew what he wanted to say but he knew she would not want to hear it. He blinked his eyes and tried not to cry but couldn’t help it and put his face between his hands and sobbed. His hands wet and his mouth salty he sat on his bed and thought. Had it been worth it? Sure being in the backseat of his car with the girl tucked under his arm had felt good. And sure he had felt fuller then he had in months. But by the next week he would be hungry again. And knowing that made the ache in his stomach all the more painful. All the pleasure he had found in that girl was nothing compared to all the pain that he was feeling now.
She returned a few hours later. Her hair pulled back into a ponytail and her glasses on. In her arms she carried a box that held all the things he’d given her. She put it down in front of him said she was sorry but that it was over. He nodded. She told him she was sorry. He nodded again. She told him it was over, for good. He nodded. He wondered if he would have a stiff neck from all the nodding he was doing. He wondered how much longer she was going to stand there and look at him like that. She finally left, closing the door behind her, careful not to slam it. She was always careful. She had never slammed doors before this and probably would not slam doors after this. That afternoon was just an exception. Ned was the exception.
The last time Ned saw Olive she was running past him with her headphones in, ponytail swaying. She was in blue running shorts and Ned’s Talking Heads t-shirt that she had borrowed the first night they had slept together. He had loved that shirt but had given it to her the morning after, because she looked cute in it. She had been late for class and on her way out the door kissed him on the cheek and told him to call her. He had. That one phone call had reverberated into hours of talking to her on the phone, then hours of talking to her in his room on his bed, then days in her room under the covers listening to her talk about the history behind the scars on her knees. He had fallen for her as easily as if he had been doing it his entire life. He could cry in front of her. He still didn’t think she ever really understood how important it was that he had shared that vulnerable action with her. As Ned watched her run until her form disappeared from view, he just stood there; thumbs hooked onto the strap of his backpack, watching the sun fade behind the mountains. Then he turned and walked back up the hill.
It was May. It was hot. You were 22 years old and you were a graduating senior. You stood on the stage and the air smelled like lilacs and the people behind you probably wished they had gotten to know you better the same way you wished you had gotten to know them better. Your parents were in the audience and you saw your sister wave to you and your chest felt warm. You walked off the stage and back to your seat on the other side. The dress you were wearing was a dark red and your hair had grown out down your back. The speeches take a long time and the heat gets to you but you kept yourself cool by fanning your face with the program. After the ceremony you walked out to where the graduates were milling around talking to their parents and professors. Your parents were talking to your writing professor and so you stood and watched them talk. He came up to you and whispered in your ear. You jumped and turned and faced him and hugged him. Gone was his long hair and gone was his skinniness. He felt fuller in your arms. You talked to him until you had to leave. Your eyes burned and your throat hurt as you held him for the last time. Visions of California danced behind your eyelids and you told yourself not to cry. You didn’t. You got into your car and made sure you had everything with you. Your parents pulled out ahead of you and you waited a few minutes before you followed them. You just sat there hands on the wheel and took one last look. He was standing on the other side of the parking lot just watching you. You hoped he was far enough away that he would not be able to see the tears that raced down your cheeks and into your mouth. You put the car into drive. He stayed that way until you pulled away and drove off and then walked back up the hill.
It had become a tradition; your nightly laps around the soccer field. Insomnia had always plagued you but for the past couple of weeks it had gotten worse. You were 22 you were a senior and you were stressed out. You had not been eating enough and you had lost about ten or so pounds in the past two months.
And so you ran. You finished writing at about midnight and you put on your running shoes and shorts and sweatshirt. It was late October but it was still warm enough that you could wear shorts. You put your headphones in. You walked out of your dorm. You loved that campus at night. It was so quiet and so peaceful. Everybody was either doing work or sleeping by this point; either alone or with somebody else. And you enjoyed the still softness that crept over the buildings.
The soccer field came into view. The cement under your sneakers was hard and then as you stepped onto the field a spring bounced into your step and you picked up speed and ran.
First you ran suicides, back and forth under the stars. Your breath circling high above you like a halo. All of your stress was slowly sweated out of you. When your legs started to protest you slowed down and started a slow jog around the perimeter of the field. Time stopped when you are running. Everything goes right and everything just felt right.
You did this almost every night until it started to get too cold. On the nights you don’t run, you would write or you would call your sister. On the nights you didn’t run however, you were counting down the minutes until you could run again.