Almost Thirty Years

The old man lay on the bed, his knees drawn up to his chest, looking much the way he had on the day he was born. She longed to touch him, but couldn’t remember how. She hadn’t touched him in almost thirty years. Hadn’t said she loved him, in almost thirty years. He was so vulnerable, always had been. He loved too deeply, and didn’t know how to let go.
She reached for him with trembling hands, then, opted for another blanket instead, to cover his shivering form. She knew how to take care of him, she always had. She wasn’t sure how to love him, didn’t want to love him. She loved too deeply, and didn’t know how to let go.
She’d seen his mistake; made it herself, actually. She was thankful to have learned from him. She’d never make that mistake again. She prayed for the end of his life, the end of his suffering. She prayed to a God she didn’t trust, didn’t believe in, actually.
She’d believed once, she’d been taught to. God, she’d been told, could perform miracles. He could bring people back from the dead. “Yeah, and pigs can fly,” she whispered.
She remembered vaguely a little girl who’d prayed for her mother to get well, to come home. She’d sent letters to her everyday, letters that said, I love you Mommy; letters that said, Please come home.
She didn’t know how those letters had torn her mother in two. How they’d broken her heart.
She remembered the day the little girl took chicken to the hospital for a picnic. She was horrified to find that the nurses had cut off her mother’s hair. Her long beautiful hair had been crudely hacked away, and now resembled a boy’s. The little girl had been afraid to leave her mother at the hospital, afraid of what the nurses might do.
People from the church prayed for her mother. People from the church believed. People from the church were pathetic.
A barely audible gasp escaped her father’s lips, drawing her away from her angry memories. He hated God too. Hated a God that had robbed him of his life, yet been cruel enough to let him live.
It had been almost thirty years since he’d touched her, almost thirty years since he’d said he loved her. Almost thirty years since he’d been her father. Their roles had switched irrevocably that day.
The church people said they should be happy. They said the little girl’s mother wasn’t suffering anymore. They said she’d gone to heaven. They said she wanted to go- she wanted to be with God.
The little girl learned to hate that day. As surely and as deeply as her mother and father had taught her to love, God and the church people had taught her to hate. She hated her father for being so weak. She hated her mother for dying. She hated God for growing flowers. She hated God for changing seasons. She hated God for making rainbows. She hated God for killing her mother, but mostly, she hated God for not killing her father.
The church people thought something was wrong with the little girl. The church people wondered why she didn’t cry. The church people wanted her to cry. God wanted her to cry. Fuck God.
He stirred in his hospital bed with the starched white sheets. Sheets that chafed at his skin the way life had, rubbing away layer after layer of what had once been a man, leaving open sores like those on his soul.
She’d seen his suffering as no one had. She knew he longed to be in the ground, but had stayed for her. In some ways it would have been easier if he’d died almost thirty years ago.
The little girl had learned from watching her father that love was a bad thing; love could destroy your soul.
After almost thirty years he still slept with memories every night. The side of the bed that had once been her mother’s was covered with pictures, bobby pins, purses, clothing, gum wrappers (her favorite had been Juicy Fruit), and something the little girl had learned to hate: her mother’s cherished, white leather Bible. The Bible her mother had taken with her on her many hospital stays. The Bible her mother held when she prayed to get better. The Bible that filled your head and heart with faith, hope, love, and lies.
The hospital room grew cold and she sat on his bed trying to find the strength from within to hold his hand. She could feel death in the room now, and for the first time in almost thirty years, she felt a stirring of hope.
He opened his eyes slowly, painfully, and she begged, pleaded, with the God she’d come to hate to release his soul. His eyes met hers for the briefest of moments, and for the first time in almost thirty years she glimpsed the man he’d once been. For the briefest of moments, she saw the pain, the faith, the betrayal, the strength, and the love that had always been.
His eyes closed and she knew he was gone- knew he was free- knew she was free. The little girl knelt beside the graves of her mother and father, weeping openly. After almost thirty years she cried for her mother. She cried for her father. She cried for the God who had betrayed her.


The Haunted Man

He lay on his back staring at the yellowed ceiling above his bed. The smoke from his cigarette spiraled in soft gray wisps into the early morning light. Dark circles colored the skin around his deep brown eyes and three days of stubble had become irritating and itchy. He hadn’t slept all night. Hadn’t slept in days actually. Sleep deprivation had become the norm.
He remembered seeing a poster once that read: Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Life. What life? Fuck. What if you didn’t have a life? What if you were so haunted by the demons that you ceased living? Oh, sure, maybe the blood still rushed through your veins, and your heart still beat in your chest, but was that life?
He knew he should drag his lazy ass out of bed, but for what? To face another day existing? That’s what his life had become. Existing. He rolled over and sat on the edge of his bed, his feet touching the cold floor. Why couldn’t anything ever be easy? He squeezed his hands together, wincing at the pain. More than ten years of building road in minus fifty degree weather had taken its toll. Fuck.
He was coming to despise, even hate what he’d once loved, needed. Why wouldn’t it leave him alone? Why did it eat at him? Why couldn’t he shut out the words? Running his hands through his long dark hair, he screamed at the demons that haunted him, to shut-up, to leave him alone!
He longed for a normal life. To get up every morning and go to work like every other stiff. To get a pay-cheque twice a month and buy a car, but the words, the words!
He wasn’t going to do it. Fuck it. He was stronger than them. He wouldn’t let them win. Not this time. He picked up the newspaper that lay on the floor by his bed. He needed a job and they weren’t going to stop him this time. He ran his finger down the help wanted column. He felt better already.

The scene threatened to make him vomit, so The captain guided his own mount away from the make-shift abattoir with the slightest shift of his knees.

Stop it, he screamed silently in his head at the demons!

The Captain could feel the 9mm Marshal in its holster, pressing against his chest, the last seven rounds known to exist for the weapon resting in the gun’s clip.

“Shut-up,” he screamed again, dropping the paper as he covered his ears with his hands.

Men that had asked for The Honor, taking their own lives when they felt they had become a burden to The Captain and The Company.

Jumping up, he grabbed a duffel bag out of his closet and began stuffing clothes into it. He’d show them. He’d leave. Run away and leave the words behind.

The need to vomit was back again, but much stronger now and he had to fight to control his anger.

He fell to his knees, “Please,” he whispered. “Please.”

Captain John McQuaid…

Standing on weak legs he walked over to his typewriter. Thousands of words released onto paper lay scattered across the desk. He touched the words gently, caressing them, wanting them. Like a lover betrayed, longing to love again, but afraid to try, to trust. The dream was still there, he knew. The dream to write, to let the words out. He remembered a quote he’d once read, and use to believe- There are the poor damaged souls who must write, who haven’t any more choice in the matter than whether or not they breathe.
He pulled out his chair and sat down.

Instinctively, The Captain reached over his right shoulder to the bound hilt of his broad sword which poked through the slit cut into his long riding coat.

His hands stopped shaking, much like an alcoholic after he’s been given his first shot of whiskey. A writer writes.

The Woman In The Mirror

abused-womanWith eyes closed she ran the comb through her long thick hair, unable to find the courage she needed to face the woman in the mirror. Her reflection would not lie and she’d had enough truth in her life. Truth was a bad thing. Truth was not her friend. As long as she kept her eyes closed she could dream. She needed to dream – to escape.
The woman in the mirror taunted her – dared her to open her eyes. She dropped the comb and shook her head in answer to the woman in the mirror. Why did she torture her so? She knew what she’d been through. Why wouldn’t she leave her alone? I won’t let her get to me, she thought. I’ll show her, I’m stronger than she thinks.
Opening her eyes slightly, she reached, with shaking hands, for the comb, making certain to keep her eyes averted from the woman in the mirror, lest she see the fear she invoked.
It was too late. The woman in the mirror saw her chance and took it. “Do you think he’ll come to you tonight?”
“No,” she whispered.
“I think he will.”
“No,” she whispered again. “Not tonight.”
“It’s been a while. He’ll come.”
She looked at the woman in the mirror. “I said no. He won’t come. He knows I’m tired. He won’t come.”
Closing her eyes again she thought about the last time he’d used her. She could still feel his hands on her skin- touching her. She could feel his hot breath against her neck. How could he be so close and not hear her crying? Not feel her tears? Her shaking?
The knock on the bathroom door was barely audible. She opened her eyes and stared at the woman in the mirror. She looked smug. “He wants you.”
“I can’t.”
“You will.”
“I can’t.”
“Hon, are you coming to bed?” he called through the door.
“I can’t,” she whispered.
“You must.”
The bathroom door swung open and her husband walked in. “Who were you talking to?” he asked, noting the empty room.
“No one,” she lied.
“Good. Then come to bed.”
She followed him down the hall to their room. He wasn’t a bad man. In many ways he’d been a good husband. So why was it that she couldn’t bear the thought of him touching her? She watched as he pulled back the covers and removed his robe. Why was it that she now found his body so repulsive? She knew the woman in the mirror was right. Her reprieve was over. He lay on his side patting the bed, inviting her to join him. She climbed into bed beside him, thankful for the lack of light. At least he wouldn’t see her cringe when he reached for her. Not that he’d notice.
She turned on her side giving him her back in hope that he might leave her be, but he reached for her in the blackness of their room and pulled her against him. Rubbing his penis against her thighs he roughly pulled her nightgown above her hips. Her breath caught in her throat and she bit her lip to stop herself from crying out as he entered her. One hand crept up cupping her breast and she turned her face into the pillow to hide her humiliation from the night. Hot tears of shame burned the back of her eyes, then cautiously began their journey down her face. Holding back the sobs that were building in her chest, she prayed for him to finish quickly.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, but in reality had only been a few minutes, she felt his body tremble as he emptied his seed into her. He never moved from the position, but she knew he’d fallen asleep when a short time later he began to snore quietly.
Lifting his hand from her slim hips, she extricated herself from his grasp and stole down the hall to the bathroom. After closing the door and locking it, she placed the plug in the sink and filled it with water.
“Did you like it?”
“I can’t.”
“Apparently, you can.”
“I’m tired. I can’t do this,” she said, picking up a clean face-cloth and soaking it with soapy water before rubbing it vigorously between her legs.
“There’s more where that came from.”
Immersing the cloth again and again, she scrubbed until long after the pain began. She scrubbed until she was numb. Exhaustion finally claimed her and she slept, curled in a ball, her arms wrapped about her knees in an effort to stop the shaking.
“Honey, why do you have the door locked?”
She stood on trembling legs, her hand over her mouth. How had she fallen asleep?
“Unlock the door.”
“Ah… yeah… just a minute.”
Years of control had worn away at her. She didn’t know who she was anymore, who she wanted to be, but she longed to find out. How had she let it happen? When had she relinquished her rights? It wasn’t as though he beat her. He hadn’t hit her in years. She didn’t think he would either, yet somehow he continued to control her. Somehow she always felt on the defensive. He had a way of making her feel… not quite good enough. Never quite pretty enough, never quite smart enough, never quite anything.
The woman in the mirror laughed at her, “God, look at you. You’re pathetic. You have the power.”
“Yes you do. You’ve always had it,”
“Please. I can’t.”
“Yes you can.”
“Hon, open the door.”
She could tell from his tone that he was irritated that she had dared to lock him out. She pulled it open and let her husband in.
“Why was the door locked?”
“I had to go to the bathroom.”
“So? There’s no one here but me. You weren’t trying to keep me out were you?”
“No. I guess I wasn’t thinking.”
Satisfied with her answer he pressed her against the wall, his hands pulling up her nightgown. She flinched when he stuck his hand between her legs, his fingers digging their way inside. She thought she was going to be sick. How could this be happening? He had already used her once tonight. She could feel his erection as he leaned into her, forcing penetration. She tried to push him away, but he laughed, enjoying his control of her.
“Pretend you don’t want it.”
“Don’t.” She hated when he played his rape fantasy with her. It was too close to the truth.
“Come on, our sex life has become boring, mechanical.”
“I’m tired.”
“You’ve always got some excuse. You never want sex anymore, ever since you got your tubes tied. Maybe we should see about getting them untied.” He tried once more digging his fingers between her legs- hurting her- but she grabbed his hand, stopping him. He shook his head in disgust. Shoving her away as though suddenly repulsed, he turned and stalked down the hall to their bedroom.
Closing the door behind him, she leaned against the wall and closed her eyes.
She opened her eyes to find the woman in the mirror staring at her. “Leave me alone.”
“You call yourself a woman? How?”
She closed her eyes again. She had to escape, but where? How? She couldn’t let him touch her again. She couldn’t face the woman in the mirror anymore. She was beginning to think she was crazy. She reached for the door, opening it quickly, avoiding the woman in the mirror.
She crept quietly into the kitchen and took the car keys from the hook on the wall. She hesitated- where was she going to go? She didn’t have any money. She wasn’t even dressed. She didn’t care. She was going, and for now that was all that mattered.
Inside the safety of the car a thrill shot through her. She was really leaving. The adrenalin began rushing through her veins. She turned on the radio. They couldn’t hurt her anymore! Backing out of the driveway, she checked the rear-view mirror. Her heart leapt into her throat. The woman in the mirror had followed her. Stepping on the accelerator she sped down the road trying to block out the accusing stare of the woman in the mirror.
“I’m done listening to you.”
“You didn’t even bring your purse.”
She hadn’t even thought about it. How could she be so stupid?
The woman in the mirror saw the panic in her eyes and knew that she’d gotten to her. “Fuck. You can’t even leave right.”
“Shut-up.” She fumbled with the radio, turning it up as loud as it would go.
“You’ll have to go back.”
“I can’t hear you.”
Then the car began to sputter and choke. She pumped the gas pedal, but nothing happened. The steering wheel froze and the car stalled in the middle of the road.
“You’re not going anywhere, sweetheart.”
She tried the key but nothing happened.
“What an idiot. You’re out of gas.”
She tried the key again, but the fuel gauge told her that the woman in the mirror was right.
“What are you going to do now?”
“Shut-up!” She rested her head against the steering wheel.
The woman in the mirror continued to mock her.”You’re not crying again are you?”
“I said shut-up!”
The cry of a train wailed in the distance. What was she going to do now? She couldn’t go back. The train whistle blew again and she realized with horror that she had stalled on the tracks. She turned the key again and again. Nothing happened.
“Get out of the car, stupid.”
She tried the ignition once more, but it was futile.
The train was approaching fast. She could feel the ground beneath her begin to tremble. What was she going to tell her husband? She grabbed the door-handle. It was now or never. She had just enough time to escape before the train hit.
“Get out of the fuckin’ car!”
Her eyes locked with the woman in the mirror. For the first time she didn’t look quite so smart, quite so smug. In fact, she looked terrified. Her eyes were big and full of tears that had begun to pour down her face.
“You’re not crying are you?” She felt her lips turn up at the corners of her mouth and she began to laugh.
Letting go of the handle, she placed her hands back on the steering wheel, never breaking eye contact with the woman in the mirror.
She barely heard the impact of steel against steel – so intent was she on the death of the woman in the mirror; the woman who had robbed her of her sanity; the woman who had taken her life years before. She felt the train cut through her car. She welcomed the searing pain – welcomed death – welcomed peace from the woman in the mirror.

The Bride

crazybrideShe stood silently outside the grand, ornate doors, waiting for the music to begin. Her long white gown billowed to the floor, in row upon row of Italian lace. The intricate bead work, of thousands of tiny pearls, had been hand sewn by her ancestors, some two hundred years before. Her long black hair was pulled back from her face, to best display her high cheek bones, yet, cascaded freely down her back in heavy, satin ringlets. Her full lips, which seldom wore lipstick, had been painted dark red for the occasion. Her midnight blue eyes, with thick black lashes, were hidden from view by the full lace veil which imprisoned her.
She held the bouquet of fresh cut red roses in her trembling hands, twisting the lace and ribbons that held the stems together, feverishly around her fingers. Her carefully manicured nails dug into her palms, drawing blood. What was she doing here? With college behind her- having finished at the top of her class- her dream of becoming a lawyer had materialized. At the age of twenty-eight, she’d opened her own law practice – success beckoned at every turn.
Traveling had become her passion. She found the fine restaurants, luxurious hotel rooms and quiet wanderings through fascinating museums exhilarating. She had many friends, some single, others not. Although her married friends were happy, many seemed to have lost their identity. What if the same fate awaited her? Was she to lose her freedom? Her independence over her own future?
She could feel panic coursing through her veins. Her heart began beating faster. She was having difficulty breathing. It was as though a pair of invisible hands were slowly, relentlessly tightening around her throat. On the other side of the doors was her fiancé, the man she had promised to marry. The man she believed she loved. Yet, somehow, she felt as though she were teetering on the edge of a cliff, the ground breaking away beneath her feet.
Her life flashed before her – just as she had heard happened to those about to die. Dreams and goals, all of her yesterdays and all of her tomorrows, came together in an instant, then disappeared like wisps of smoke swallowed by the night. Why was everyone so happy for her? Why had she been coaxed, encouraged, cultivated, to give up everything she had worked so hard for? Suddenly she felt betrayed. After all her hard work, what would become of her? She had been mislead into believing her life was her own, only to have each of her ambitions dashed with the speaking of two little words: ‘I do.’
It occurred to her that she had been brainwashed. They had been preparing her for this her entire life. Television, newspaper articles, movies, magazines, her own family, and friends, expected, anticipated, and patiently counted on this very moment of surrender! God, there were even magazines aimed at woman like her, teetering on the threshold of marriage, magazines called Bride and Your Special Day. It was rather puzzling, that there weren’t any glossy-paged publications, bearing glassy-eyed models, called Groom!
Music began to float through the closed doors. She knew at any moment, the doors would be pulled open for her grand entrance; so why did she feel as though she was standing on a gallows, the noose drawn taut around her neck, waiting for the tripping of the gate beneath her feet? She had only known her fiancé for two years, what did she really know of him? She bit her bottom lip. This must be how a condemned man feels before he dies, she thought. She could feel the bile rise up in her throat, choking her. The blood was pounding in her head. This was not the way it was supposed to be! She felt as though she was at her own funeral. She could almost hear the hollow thud of the first shovel of dirt being thrown upon her casket. She clawed at the veil, which suffocated her, trying to dig her way out.
The doors swung open, everyone in the church turned to watch the bride come down the aisle in all her glory. The petal-strewn aisle remained empty. The music stopped, then, started again, in hope that the blushing bride had simply missed her cue. Family and friends began to whisper and mumble in their designated places in the pews.
Finally, on watery legs, the groom walked hesitantly, fearfully down the aisle and through the open doorway. The crowd’s questioning murmurs seemed to tighten his tie-laced collar. The hall was empty, save for a hand-written note lying in the middle of the floor. Unfolding the note and reading it, the groom could feel the bile rise up in his throat, choking him. Simply stated, the note read:
I’m too young to die!