Rupert’s hand would always go to his pocket when his sensibilities strayed too far beyond the fray. His focus would glaze, amber irises dimming like the telltale signs of life slowly ebbing from a character in a tragic film. He’d rub the things sheltered in his left pocket. Three rubiginous balls. Cold, plastic shells cocooning the essence of the lives lost to him in the fire that razed his home three years ago. His three girls.
He’d stopped questioning his sanity at the faint, pulse-like vibrations thrumming from within. Instead, he’d learned to draw comfort from the warmth ghosting the scars that scorched his crooked fingers. The bones had never truly slipped back in place after that desperate attempt to break the grill with his bare hands and get his girls out. He clenched the balls tight, eyes squeezed shut to snuff the flames that licked at the edge of his memories. The screams faded from recall. He was almost certain he felt a small hand grip his own.
He looked out to the cyan loch softly rippling as seagulls called. His vision focused to catch the sun in a bashful descent of soft pinks and purples. He stroked the balls again. Rolled them around gently in his palm. Whether it was real, or all in his head, it was all he had. All he could cling to. It was all he had to keep him grounded.
His touch was always like a phantom wind. A zephyr grazing her cheek. As if he was afraid fire would trail his hand and burn her. And he always kept his distance whenever they walked together. Careful that their hands never bumped or brushed together. The subtlety of his avoidance perplexed her. But she would swallow every question, losing concern in the glimmer of fondness from his silver gaze.
Maybe there was a condition he was sensitive to, something he wasn’t ready to share with her just yet. Which was fine. They’d only been talking for a month, meeting by the lake in the evenings beneath the indulgent starlight. And as they strolled that night, him listening to her recall a cherished childhood memory, she grabbed hold of his hand. Just to surprise him. Just to feel the warmth of his large hand within her own. But her fingers caught nothing, except a fleeting, chilling breeze.
We watched the shadows
Stretch and entangle themselves
Folding into each other over the beige walls
Like secret lovers
Lured by the pearl-tongued murmurs
Of the moon
While the wind danced and whistled coolly
By the window
And we were still by each other —
Silent and supine–
Our chests in tandem
With echoes of our soft breath
Pulling in anxiety
Rattling our rib cages
For sleep couldn’t tranquilize
The awareness of our difference —
Our changing bodies
The flux of hormones
His finger brushed mine
(An incidental stroke, perhaps)
But the second nudge
Its deliberate lingering heat
Drew my gaze to find his
In the darkness
And we held hands
Beneath the covers
Cradling vestiges of innocence
Between our palms
She didn’t like coffee, but the smell reminded her of home. Of early mornings roused from sleep by the chaos unfolding in the kitchen down the hall. Her father had always been late for work, stumbling over his big, socked feet to grab his briefcase while stuffing his shirttail in his pants. She would catch him gulping down his coffee and passing off the mug to her mother at the front door. Sometimes he’d skid back inside to kiss her on the forehead, brush his lips against his wife’s cheek, and then he was gone – swift as a tornado. And the house would be quiet again, until she and her mother exchanged glances and burst into fits of giggles over his daily theatrics.
She lifted the warm cup to her lips tilted with mirth, then closed her eyes, filling her lungs with the dark, rich aroma. Her father had loved coffee, not beer or the harder stuff – beverages symbolic of manhood. It had fused with the wooden essence of his own musk. She’d often trailed the scent to the den, where she’d found him intensely engaged in a game of soccer — mug of coffee at his side. The activity and choice of drink were so hilariously incongruent, because sometimes he’d chip a vulgar curse then delicately sip from his mug. She would try so hard to choke her laughter, but it had always broken free in a deep wheeze and she’d tell him he was weird.
She opened her eyes, catching curious glances from others sitting nearby. Her coffee was untouched, she only brought it close just to breathe it in and cocoon herself in the memories. Her father’s love for the nauseating stuff, the joy rides on his back around the yard; halcyon days pocketed in her youth. It kept her going. Preserved her sanity.
The coffee grew cold. She set it back on its saucer then reached into her purse for money. Leaving behind a tip with her payment, she got up from the table and walked out the automatic sliding doors of the cafe. The sun was out despite the pelting rain. She opened her umbrella and walked down the street.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget: the things that are important or what you love. Because the distractions never come like a marauding beast yanking your arm and ripping all that you cherish from your chest.
It often begins as an innocuous brush against the shoulder; an allure to the senses drawing you away from the fissures growing larger and larger. Until everything just crashes and crumbles away into this vacuous chamber, without hope to be salvaged. Well…that’s the best way I can describe what’s happened to me.
The weight of the pen, its fit into my palm and against the grooves of my fingers – I forgot that feeling. The smooth glide of ink filling empty pages; the catharsis of emptying my mind of its concerns and too-large imaginings – I couldn’t bring myself to do it anymore. Because I was too caught up. Caught up in nothing. In doing nothing. In being nothing.
I could blame it on my big move to another country on my own, because adapting took so much more than just my energy. But whenever I’d sit to write, those blank pages seemed to permeate my spirit. The truth is, there was nothing there. I dug and searched. But it was like scratching nails against concrete, til they snapped and left my fingers bleeding.
Part of me was desperate to come up with something – anything to reassure my mind that I wasn’t dead on the inside. But for a good while…that’s what it was. I was, quite literally, empty. And the quiet nights that normally coaxed out my deeper thoughts and fears…only brought unrelated whispers; the voices of neighbors; squeals from a fussy child. The annoyed screech of a cat. But nothing came from within.
I used music to fill that dead silence. Chatty Youtubers. But when the noise faded, I had to contend with that empty quiet. Loneliness.
That’s what I have to deal with: the reality of being truly alone. Here, I know no-one. And each day I return to a tiny apartment holding the bare necessities for a functional life. Which made me realize how much I took the presence of family for granted. Now, I no longer have the comfort of knowing someone is in the next room…or near if I just want to be close to another being.
It’s a bit painful to admit. That I am lonely. That living alone isn’t as fun as I’d fantasized. But this is a start; to pour into my mind and arouse the need to write once again. Maybe then, this pressing weight of nothing will ease.