Leaving You

The easy part was walking away. The hard part was admitting that it was all my fault.

Raindrops sparkled under the street lights. The wind cut through my skinny jeans and tank top. You had my jacket. Maybe I should’ve asked for it back, but then it would’ve smelled like you, like designer perfume.

Bright red light spilled down on the sidewalk from the sign above the bar. It was some new place you had wanted to try. Their beer tasted like shit, but that’s not why I left. You didn’t even notice when I walked out. One minute we were ordering drinks, and then you started playing pool with some girl with a nose ring. Your ex had a nose ring.

Standing in the cool rain, I stared back through the window at you. You didn’t even glance towards the bar, towards my empty seat. My whole body shook as I turned away. You would’ve called me overly dramatic, but that wasn’t the first time that happened.

I didn’t cry when I drove home. Or when I deleted your number. You only sent one text: Where’d you go? You ok?

Was it my fault that you didn’t care? Did I not try hard enough?

I typed out long texts to you and then deleted them.

***

A week later, you called, interrupting my binge watching Star Wars. I let you go to voicemail. When you called again, I turned my phone off. I didn’t look at it again until right before bed. Then I listened to every message. I heard you crying and telling me you loved me. And part of me was relieved that you hurt as much as I did.

Bundled in my blanket on the leather couch, I shoved handfuls of popcorn in my mouth and fell asleep to Star Wars playing. The loud music from the main menu screen woke me in the morning. I checked my phone, convinced the phone calls were a nightmare. They weren’t.

The lump in my throat made it nearly impossible to talk, but I called you anyway. I was prepared to apologize. Somehow I ended up yelling at you.

***

It took me a month before I could go through your stuff. There wasn’t much. I threw out your toothbrush and some of the presents you gave me. I donated your old t-shirt. You probably tossed my stuff too.

Then I worked my way through our pictures together and the pictures I had of you. I stuffed them into a folder to torture myself with when I was sad.

How much self-pity can one person have? A lot. And that’s when I realized how pathetic I was. That moment, laying in my queen sized bed alone, was my worst. That’s when I knew I was wrong and you were right and I was incapable of functioning in a relationship. I’m sorry.

Everything You Can’t Have

Dark clouds smudged the sky as Lily hurried up to her neighbor, Delilah’s house. Delilah answered the door. She was older (thirteen), a head taller, and already wearing heavy, dark eyeliner. Lily’s eyes latched onto Delilah’s white training bra strap. “Want to play?”

Delilah stepped back so Lily could come in. “Did you bring a wand?”

Lily flourished a twig that she’d found in the woods. Delilah squinted at it and nodded. “Good. Are you ready for your first magic lesson?”

“Yes!” Lily beamed, following Delilah into her bedroom. Glitter stuck in the pink carpet. Butterflies were still plastered to the yellow walls. Delilah flopped onto her bed and Lily sat at Delilah’s vanity.

Delilah pulled a polished, black magician’s wand without the white ends from under her pillow. “You’re going to circle your wand over an object, imagine what color you want to change it to, and say, ‘Colos muta‘.” Delilah demonstrated, waving her wand over her white, stuffed poodle. “Colos muta.” The fur turned bright blue.

Lily blinked hard, trying to understand what she was seeing. “It’s real. Magic is real.”

Delilah shrugged. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

Eager, Lily grabbed Delilah’s purple pencil box and waved her wand over it. “Colos muta.” Nothing happened. “Could I borrow your wand? Mine is broken.”

“No. Witches can’t use each others’ wands. It’s forbidden.”

“Says who?”

“Says the coven.”

“Can I meet them?”

“Maybe you’re just not a real witch.”

Lily recoiled. How could she not be a witch? She could see magic. She could wave a wand and say spells. “Delilah, please. I want to be a witch.”

Delilah crossed her arms. “Prove it. Real witches are telepathic. Say something to me in your head.”

Lily closed her eyes and thought really hard. I am a witch, just like you. Lily said it over and over again before finally opening her eyes. Delilah stared back at her, surprised. “You are a witch.”

“I told you.” Lily stuck her tongue out.

Delilah hopped down off of her bed. “Since you’re one of us, you need to look like one of us.” Delilah pulled her golden hair back into a ponytail before grabbing her eyeliner out of her vanity drawer. “Close your eyes again.”

Heat rose to Lily’s face as Delilah stood over her. She felt the pencil poking at her eye as Delilah ran the pencil over her eyelid. Delilah held Lily’s chin. “Stop moving.”

“You’re poking me.”

“I’m almost done.” Delilah stopped. “Okay, open your eyes. Now I just need to do the bottom.”

Lily’s eyes watered as she opened them. Delilah immediately started pressing the pencil against Lily’s lower lids. Lily tried not to move. She was about to give up when Delilah put the eyeliner down. “Perfect.”

Lily blinked her tears away and looked at the strange girl in the mirror. Even with her dark hair, she could’ve been Delilah’s twin. And in that moment, she saw everything she always wanted.

 

Ancient Dark

They knew what they would find when they got there. The stale, off-white walls of the mental institution drained the color from the place. Someone had tried to make up for it by buying yellow couches, but all that did was disturb the patients further. And nothing could mask the smell of body odor, blood, and urine. The closer the wardens came to Andrea’s cell, the worse the smell became. The head warden knocked on Andrea’s door.

She didn’t answer. He knocked again, and she knocked back. Then a horrible scratching noise started on the other side of her door. The head warden pulled a key from his pocket and let himself in. The door swung open, hitting Andrea though she didn’t seem to notice. She was too busy drawing eyes on the floor with a black crayon stolen from the coloring center.

Black symbols darkened her white walls. Eyes overlapped pentagrams, covering almost every inch of white. Swirling symbols decorated her nightstand and headboard. She’d even started to color her bedspread.

The head warden took a step into her room and her head snapped up. Her eyes were narrow and there was a disconnect. This person sitting on Andrea’s floor wasn’t Andrea.

The warden held out his hand. “The crayon, please.”

She hissed and drew faster, still staring unblinkingly. The warden cleared his throat. “Andrea, you are not a witch. You have psychosis. It’s very treatable as long as you follow our procedures. We can help you.”

Words poured from her mouth in a language unspoken for centuries. Fear bristled in the warden’s heart, and he shifted his weight to run. Then he felt it. It was as if his body had been penetrated by a ghostly hand. Cold discomfort went through him. It latched onto his stomach and forced him to his knees. Eye to eye with Andrea, he saw a primal darkness there and for a brief moment he felt one with something greater than himself.

The head warden died at 12:01 a.m. on an average Tuesday morning. Andrea vanished from her room at 12:02 a.m. No one bothered looking for her.

Is it Love if?

Lavender straightened her desk at least twenty times a day. She’d wake up in the morning, drink her coffee, and fix her desk before starting her work as a freelance editor. On the good days, her husband, David, would kiss her before leaving for his law firm. Today, the front door opened and closed without a word. Lavender adjusted her papers again before reading another chapter of the manuscript she was editing. She highlighted at least five paragraphs in red and typed a detailed note to the author about how to fix it. He probably wouldn’t do it. She’d sent his manuscript back at least seven times already, which meant more pay but less new customers.

She moved onto the next manuscript, eyes roving over the electronic words until her head throbbed. Breaking for lunch, she reorganized her pens then popped a frozen pizza in the oven. Cooking was usually up to David.

Lavender burned her mouth on the cheese when her phone started ringing. “Hello?”

“Oh, so now you’re okay with talking? Are you even working right now?” David must’ve went to lunch early.

“I’m eating. What’s wrong?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Should she even go there? “Please, talk to me.”

“I said I’m fine.”

“I’m probably going to have to work late. One of my authors needs to send me another draft.”

“If you keep working late, your dinner will get cold.”

“Then it gets cold.”

“But I work all day and then I don’t even get to see you.”

The same old fight. Lavender threw the rest of her pizza away. “You didn’t kiss me this morning. That’s on you.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just having a really bad day.”

“It’s okay. I love you.”

He hung up.

***

Lavender stopped editing every few minutes to adjust and readjust her desk. One second her papers would be angled too much to the left. The next second they would be stacked too high, and she’d have to organize them differently. As the garage door opened, she took David’s picture, positioned between her computer and printer, and put it face down. She tried to finish the chapter she was on, but David’s briefcase thumped onto the floor of her office. Loosening his tie, he kissed her cheek. She kept her eyes on the screen. “How was work?”

“Exhausting. Everyone always wants to sue everyone.”

“Welcome to America.”

“Why are you so mad?”

“I’m not. I’m just working.”

David crossed his arms. “I see. I’m not important enough. I just feed you. I’ll go cook dinner.” He left his briefcase by the door, and Lavender moved it out to focus.

The crappy author from earlier finally emailed her back just as the timer in the kitchen went off. She left the email unopened and powered down her computer hoping that would appease David. But fish wrapped in bacon with a side of green beans met her at the dinner table and all of it was cold. David sat next to her. “I’m sorry that it’s not your favorite, but we don’t have anything else in the freezer. You should go grocery shopping tomorrow.”

She attempted to eat a little bit of the salmon, but it was too fishy. “I don’t have time.”

David’s fork hit the plate. “But I cook. You don’t even try.”

“I’m not your mom.”

“No, but you’re your dad. Every opinion he has, you have. Why do we have to spend so much time with your parents?”

They didn’t. They saw her parents for Thanksgiving every other year and his parents for every damn holiday including President’s Day. She shoved her plate away. “Screw this. I’m going to live with my sister.”

“Fine. I paid for most of this house anyway.”

Her suitcase was packed in twenty minutes. As she started to roll out of the driveway, David ran out to stop her. “Baby, wait. I love you. Let’s talk about this.” It was like a movie. A movie that replayed at least twice a month, and Lavender didn’t think she’d ever get sick of it.

Summer Snippet

Sun beams blaze the back of my neck just above the collar of my t-shirt. The line at the diving board winds longer. Every few seconds I hear the splash. I could drive home and get my swimsuit, but I’m waiting for someone. He’s late.

“Sorry, I’m late.”

Aren’t you always? 

“Ready to take pictures?”

My hair sticks to my forehead from sweat.

His thick eyebrows raise. “Well?”His hairline is receding already. Why did I used to find him attractive?

“Ready when you are.” I position myself by a tall oak, but he puts me in a stiff pose. It’s for his photography company, so whatever.

As he clicks the shutter a dozen times, (he’s an insufferable perfectionist) my eyes look past him. My neighbor saunters into the pool area, blonde ponytail swinging. Summer just started, and she’s already tan. She catches me. I look down as she smiles.

He lowers the camera. “Pay attention to me.”

Never again. “I can’t do this.”

“What do you mean? I need these pictures for tomorrow.”

“Find someone else.” God knows I will.

Dealing With Goodbye

It’s easy to forget the bad things when you deal with them all of the time. For example, my parents had a nasty divorce when I was younger. How did I deal with it? I closed my eyes, let the feelings rush over me, then counted down from ten. 10…they’re screaming at the top of their lungs. 9…it’s all my fault. 8…how can they do this to me and my brother. 7…I can’t breathe. 6…Dad cheated on Mom. 5…he cheated on all of us. 4…we’re never going to see him again. 3…why did Mom let him do it. 2…does he love us. 1…none of it matters. I open my eyes, and I’m numb. It’s a pretty good strategy if I say so myself.

***

As I climb into my car, I realize that there’s still a price tag attached to my black dress right under the armpit. I yank it off and drop it into the cup holder, the place of candy wrappers and random trash. The keys turn. The car starts. Scenery passes. But I don’t see any of it, not really. Visions of his face fill my mind. I remember the first time I saw him. I couldn’t stop looking at him. It was like a movie. Talking to him made my legs shake. I didn’t know those feelings actually existed. But life happened. Time passed. Feelings faded.

I pull into the parking lot of the funeral home and park far away to give myself maximum time alone. My feet carry me to the room. There’s a line, usual for when someone dies young. I stand in it, but I avoid looking at the pictures. I avoid looking at the people. The line moves. I move with it. Like life. Then I’m in front of his family. I hug them. They have the facade of keeping it together. I suppose I do too.

The open casket draws my eye as much as I don’t want to look. His tie is blue, and he looks like plastic. This can’t be him. This can’t be real.

As I move away, my insides tighten, afraid to let go. I’m afraid to breathe. My eyes close. 10…he’s smiling. 9…he’s explaining chemistry. 8…he’s glancing at me when he thinks I’m not looking. 7…he’s holding my hand. 6…why didn’t we talk more. 5…did he feel the same. 4…I almost kissed him once. 3…my heart’s going to explode. 2…tears are drying on my face. 1…when did I start crying. I open my eyes, walk until I’m at my car, and feel the world break.

Disappearing Act

My feet stick to the floor of the Tube. Did I step in gum? Did someone spill soda?

Testing the stickiness beneath my feet, I press and lift them until the teen girl across the aisle with a feather tattoo on her shoulder gives me a dirty look. Her name is Gabby. She’s one of the students in my sculpting class, the only one even close to being good at it. I let my feet rest on the floor, and my eyes rove over the Tube map plastered above our heads. I swear I see it when I close my eyes at night, and a woman’s voice says, “Mind the gap between the train and the platform”.

My phone lights up on my lap. Ten minutes until Gabby and I need to be at our afternoon class. We’re supposed to sculpt a mini version of a nude model. My sculpture looks like a curvy asparagus. I’ve never talked to Gabby before, but maybe she’ll give me some pointers.

Across from me, Gabby scrolls through her phone. She’s on some dating app. Thank God, my boyfriend and I met in person and are going on four years. When I get back from studying abroad, we’ll both graduate and move in together. That’s the plan at least.

The Tube stops at Southwark. As I stand, a guy with a navy duffel bag shoulders past me. His bag hits my chest, and I know that it’ll leave a bruise. “Bloody hell.” Yeah, I sound totally American.

The guy ignores me, disappearing onto the platform. Gabby slips her phone into her pocket. “Watch where you’re going, Andrea.”

I didn’t realize she knew my name.

Everyone whose getting off surges towards the doors. Gabby gets off ahead of me which is good because then I can catch up to her outside and start a conversation. I make me way onto the platform, up the escalator (walking on the left side, of course. To be a Londoner, you have to pretend that you’re always busy), and out into the sunlight.

I don’t catch up to Gabby. She doesn’t come to class. In the paper the next morning, I read about a bank thief who escaped on the Tube with a duffel bag full of money. By the end of the week, my sculpture looks a little less like an asparagus and more like a lumpy carrot. I never saw Gabby again.

The Hallway of the Afterlife

I looked down for a second to reply to a text, and when I looked up, headlights blinded me. The next thing I knew I woke to a horrible stench, like rotten milk mixed with burning flesh. Cool marble pressed against my back. Plaque coated the ceiling and clung to the walls. As I sat up, a shadow in the corner of the room rustled. “Hello?” Am I in a coma? 

“Rise,” the shadow’s voice came out garbled.

I stood, the joints in my legs popping. The woman shuffled forward out of the darkness, revealing bluish green skin and a black smock dress. The smell grew stronger the closer she got to me. God, am I dead? 

“Yes.” The woman held out her bloated arm to me. “But I’m not Him.”

The dark room around me couldn’t be Heaven, but it also wasn’t hot. So, could it be hell?

“This is not Heaven or Hell or Purgatory. This is eternity.”

“So this is all there is?” All of those Sundays in church for nothing?

“It wasn’t for nothing. There are other worlds. Maybe your God has a kingdom in one of them.”

“And how do I get to those other worlds?”

The woman took a few steps closer. “Take my hand. My mansion has many halls, many doors. Behind one of them you may find what you seek.”

“And if I refuse to go with you?”

Her hand fell to her side. “Then that is your choice.”

“But what will happen?”

The lights flickered and the woman turned to leave. “Eternal darkness. An eternity of nothing.”

“Wait.”

She didn’t.

I tried to walk towards her, but my legs wouldn’t move. “I haven’t chosen yet.”

The plaque ran down the walls and spread across the floor towards me. Solid darkness descended from the ceiling. I felt her voice whispering inside my head, Remember when you wanted everything to stop? When you crashed your car on purpose but woke up in the hospital? In your heart, you decided a long time ago. 

 

The Good Kid

Once upon a time, the bully broke every one of Sasha’s crayons. Luckily, crayons still color no matter how many times they break.

Once upon a time, she was forced to sit next to him while they built with blocks. She was minding her own business. He knocked her tower down and went back to building his own. Did he want her blocks? She stood up and kicked his tower over. He cried. Guess who got in trouble?

Stupid, meaningless things can stick with you. Sasha still remembers that bully, the way he made her feel like the whole class was against her. You probably feel like you were the Sasha when you were little. But in someone else’s story, Sasha is the bully. You’re the bully.

She had a best friend back then. Once upon a time, Sasha and her friend had pretended to cut each other’s hair. Kids do things without thinking; don’t judge them. So, her friend went to the bathroom, but Sasha didn’t know that. She walked around the whole classroom with her scissors up, cutting the air. When she sat back down, the teacher found brown hair all over the floor. Only two girls had brown hair, and Sasha was the one with scissors.

“Sasha, did you cut your hair?” The teacher already knew the answer.

Sasha put down the scissors, afraid to get in trouble. “No, it was Melody.” Melody’s hair was lighter than the hair on the  floor.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

The teacher put Melody in the corner even though Melody swore she didn’t do it. Kids can be mean.

My Darling Adriana

It’s said that evil breeds evil, and I believe that’s what happened on that fateful day thirty years ago. I was there, right there in the back row of the play watching the beautiful Adriana dance across the stage. Yes, I was in love with her. Her strawberry blonde curls are only second best to my own ringlets. We were both beautiful, and beautiful people love other beautiful people. It’s the law of attraction.

Well, I was going to confess my feelings that night, but when I went backstage after the performance, she was groggy and crying. She kept rambling about some man, some secrete admirer. My cheeks flushed. Instead of concern, I felt jealousy. So, I left the flowers with her and went home. It wasn’t until the next morning that I heard she had died. Pills, they said. She was “sad.”

I couldn’t investigate further without revealing my feelings for her. Affection is one thing, but admitting love is another. It wouldn’t do. I let it go.

How could I live so heartbroken? What’s the secrete to moving on? I got married. The first man who looked my way had my heart, or what was left of it. I took in his affection and twisted it. I convinced myself that he loved me enough for the both of us, that his love was so important that it had to be requited. It was only bearable because he indulged me. I had the best sewn dresses in the city, and he enjoyed flaunting me almost as much as I did.

But I grew bored and one day, he mentioned Adriana. At first he said that he knew her. I might’ve poured him more brandy. He said he had been her admirer. He said he ended things because she’d been with others before. How could he marry her after that? He said she was the love of his life. I might’ve poured him too much brandy.

People are kind and forgiving to grieving widows. Maybe love breeds evil.