My world is glass. Sometimes it’s a window. Sometimes it’s a mirror. Sometimes it’s dark and smoky. Sometimes it is radiant white. Sometimes it is as clear as the sky. When reflections take me to dark spaces within, sometimes I need a clear view, a clean window to look out and free my thoughts for a while. Sometimes these flights of fancy become hollow and vapid and my soul yearns to look deep into the well of the tragic and trudge through its depths for meaning. Sometimes my diversions lead me to dive into darkness I did not know was there. My world is glass. Sometimes I need a window and sometimes I need a mirror. Fragile, capable of distortion and illusion and yet the most convincing proof I have of my own existence. It allows me to peer through, and in to, and out of, and not. When the looking glass breaks I pray it will be the one that hides the truth of myself. It may not be the window. It may not be the mirror. Perhaps it is the lens that is bound to my eye. Until then I will look for that which is true; that which is me. Sometimes I need a window and sometimes I need a mirror but each will reveal that which I desire to see.
You used to laugh when I wrapped myself around you and tangled you in the sheets to keep you from work. The morning sunlight loved to ripple over your green eyes and sleepy smile. Ignoring the fourth snooze alarm, I’d bury my face in the soft skin of your stomach and hold you tighter. I had two words, two magic words that always made you giggle; two words that always stole a few more moments with you.
You staged a brave pillow protest but I negotiated your surrender with the pinning weight of the comforter.
I remember the time you had to fly back to California for your great grandmother’s birthday. We were still a young a couple, not quite ready for the family introductions but too heady with the feel of each other’s touch to bear the time apart. I hugged your legs as you stood at my apartment door. You fought the grin on your lips. You wriggled your knees against my arms and begged me to end my guilt trip. But I held you ransom.
You smiled down at me and ran your fingers through my hair. Departure time was tight. The cab was downstairs. But I pulled you to the floor, to me. I just needed to steal you for a few more moments, to find that sacred space of skin hidden beneath your scarf. That warm place at the base of your jaw that inebriated me with your scent. I can still feel your laughter in my chest. You loved my thievery. But I stole other moments, too, when you weren’t looking.
When the wind ruined your good hair day, I smoothed it behind your ear. When you scolded me for smudging your lipstick, I kissed it back in place. On that night of our last visit to London, when the heel on your favorite pair of boots caught in the cobblestones, I followed my hand down your calf and freed you from the rain-slicked street.
It was like the city even pleaded, “Don’t go.”
Now I have you tangled in the bed sheets once more. But it’s dark. There’s no smile on your parted mouth. It hurts to smile. I tell you not to worry. Don’t smile for me. Just breathe. You shiver. In this foreign bed, I wrap myself around you. My fingers find their way under the tubes and wires to touch the chill of your hollowed stomach. I want to squeeze tighter but I’m afraid I might break you. You’re so fragile now. And I can’t bear it. Not quite ready for the family goodbyes and too overwhelmed with the ache of holding the last embers of you to bear the coming time apart.
The naked nape of your neck is stripped of essence. Your scent is lost under the cocktail of rubbing alcohol and latex. Pressing my lips against that place where your hairline used to be, I exhale, hoping my breath might light you up again. That maybe, by some miracle, it will warm your spine, smolder through your veins, and reignite the dying star in your chest where your soul used to burn.
Two words try to rise up my swollen throat, but they’re stuck. There’s only the beep of the heart monitor, the gasp of the ventilator. I can’t make that magic work anymore. I try. God, I try. Somehow, I know I’m responsible for this. I must be. What a fool I am, to think I’d never have to pay back all those stolen moments.
I beg the universe for one last heist. Just a few more moments. My lips move against your frigid skin, but I can’t utter the words. They are forbidden to me now.
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I could still feel Rex’s hands wrapped around my neck when I met Damon. I shuddered at the thought. Maybe it was because he was wearing a suit, or maybe because I needed a getaway car, but when Damon stopped the car to ask me if I needed a lift I nodded – still dazed from the lack of oxygen. It was only after I got in that I noticed them. The whole back seat was lined up with porcelain dolls. Their glassy eyes and red lips painted in a perpetual smirk kind of creeped me out.
“Where to?” he asked, dazzling me with his smile.
I gulped – unsure of where I was headed. I hadn’t planned that far ahead when I ran out of the apartment.
“The bus station,” I hesitated.
“Getting out of the city?”
“Florida,” I lied.
He nodded, as he tried to make small talk but I wasn’t listening.
I kept staring at the rearview mirror so I could steal glances at the dolls. I was transfixed by their disarming beauty and impeccable detail. Each doll dressed in a particular style, goth, hippy, posh, 17th century baroque, to mention a few. Once he caught me staring at them, our gaze met in the mirror for a fraction of a second before I quickly diverted my focus.
I looked down at my hands. Thought about how they had been covered in blood an hour ago. My mind raced, replaying the scene. The blade coming down and his hands around my neck. He didn’t think I had it in me. He thought I was weak. But boy, had he been wrong. Dead wrong. I stifled a chuckle.
“They used to be broken you know…” Damon interrupted my thoughts.
“Oh,” I replied. I suddenly felt uncomfortable. The space between us seemed too little at that moment, and I willed him to drive faster. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, he suddenly brought the car to an abrupt stop. I would’ve flung forwards and probably through the windshield if I hadn’t worn my seat belt. Before I had a chance to react, a rag covered my mouth and I blacked out.
I’ve gotten used to it by now. Sitting here and waiting for the night to go by as he drives throughout the city. He fills our nights with music as we ride. The Doors, Nirvana, at times even Queen. We’re in a loop, hapless passengers of a demonic ride. We pass through Soho, Park Avenue, across the Brooklyn Bridge. My glassy eyes take in the city lights while my red lips are frozen in a perpetual smirk.
But I’m no longer broken.
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It had been seven days since the cave in. Two thin and bloodied hands, fingers peeled raw from days of scratching at the immovable rock, protruded through a small crack above the boulder. Autumn sunshine warmed Camille’s battered palms. Her eyes closed to enjoy the sensation and she rested her head on her arm. Inside the abandoned mine, it was black and cold but just beyond two tons of fallen mountainside there was light. There was life.
She turned to the weak call.
“I’m here, Ana,” she replied and climbed down the incline of loose gravel. She stepped over the rail tracks and knelt beside her friend, breathing hard from the small exertion. Anastasia did not move, as if the flat of her back had become rooted to the floor. Camille tucked Ana’s exposed arm back under her burgundy coat blanket.
“I caught you some sunshine,” she said and placed her palms on Ana’s cold, dirt-streaked cheeks. Her friend’s chapped lips closed, her throat squeezing down nothing more than dry, dusty air. Licking morning dew from the exposed rocks day after day had not been enough to sustain them.
“Warm…” Ana croaked.
Their breath rasped loud in their suffocating confines. They spoke barely above whispers, their vocal cords strained and silenced days ago from the endless hours of screaming for help.
Ana cracked open her eyes.
“Do you think they’ll…ever find us?”
A tear trembled on the ledge of her sharpened cheekbone. Her skin had shrunk around her already slender body. Camille moved a palm to Ana’s forehead and the other to her chest, absorbing fresh chill from her skin.
“Yes,” she gave a weak nod. “One day.”
Crevices of dirt around Ana’s eyes deepened in question and the tear plummeted to the waves of her matted braid. Camille lightened the weight of concern in her expression.
“One day, we’ll be someone’s archeological find. We’ll be a treasure unearthed in a thousand years. They’ll discover our bodies, arms embraced around each other, and they will mourn for our unknown lives. They’ll make up histories for us and give us pretty new names.”
Camille stroked her thumb along the blood caked on Ana’s brow.
“They’ll lovingly preserve our bones in a life-size diorama and we will become an exhibit in their museum of ancient history. We’ll be enshrined in glass and admired by millions. We’ll live forever, Ana.”
A smile tinted Ana’s words but it was too weak to reach her lips. Camille coughed and lowered her head to Ana’s shoulder, snuggling under the torn coat. Ana sighed.
“At least you have…a sweetheart to mourn you, Camille. I’ve never even had my first kiss yet. I never…dreamed that I would die without my first kiss.”
“A first kiss can be a horrid thing, Ana,” Camille teased. “Peter nearly drowned me.”
The girls shared a frail giggle. Ana closed her eyes again.
“Oh, the people I would have loved. The places…I would have traveled to. Perhaps our spirits will escape from this tomb. One day…”
Camille nestled closer.
“Perhaps a small sparrow will find us first,” Camille continued, adrift on Ana’s thoughts. “Perhaps she’ll leave behind dandelions on our chests and as we decompose, the seeds will catch just enough sun and dew to sprout and flower out of us.”
She twisted a loose buckhorn button.
“Perhaps the wind will carry our fragmented bodies back out to the wild. It will be spring, warm and bright. We’ll float over the mountain meadows and along the rushing rivers of melted snow. We’ll float over our town and look down upon our aging families. And we will sweep past their ears and whisper “we love you so very much but we cannot stay” and somehow they’ll know it is us and it will bring them happiness.”
“We’ll live on as memories. Then the wind will take us again and we’ll be free.”
Camille lifted her head.
She shook her friend’s shoulder but Ana’s expression did not move. There was no breath in her mouth. Her chest did not rise. Camille tried to hold down the rising emotion in her throat but her grief, unlike everything else in the darkened mine, could not be contained. Soft sobs choked her. Tears carved deep ravines through the dirt on her face revealing clean, frigid skin beneath.
Exhausted, Camille watched the last ray of the afternoon seep across the toes of Ana’s boots. She lifted her hand to the sunlight and let the dust motes waltz and twirl between her flayed fingers.
“We’ll live forever, Ana.”