Home

The key slips into its opening, twisting with ease and releases a click of relief against the beating silence. I can’t help but smile a little at the sound, having expected the locks to be changed by now, and yet here they are, so painfully unchanged that I find myself wishing that they weren’t. The cool metal of the doorknob stings against my skin as I stand there holding it, waiting, hesitating and recalculating. The door seems larger than usual, looking down at me with a disappointing glare, and for a moment, I am a young adult again, arriving home at a late hour.

I suppose the situation is not all too different. In fact, it’s almost exactly the same, since I am late. Only, I’m late by seven years. Maybe too late.

A breath, one that I wasn’t aware that I was holding, escapes my lips and I twist the knob and push open the wooden door of doom. I am blinded by familiarity and in a passing moment, the dread is somehow replaced by the comfort of returning home. I have become accustomed with the pit of emptiness, which just seems to have grown with each door pushed open to reveal cheap motel rooms to fancy hotel suites to strangers’ living rooms but none of them have been home. And for that passing moment of comfort I just revel in it, breathing in the air carrying the smell that became acquainted with my senses a long time ago.

I hear the door click shut behind me before the room is consumed in silence again, suggesting that it is void of all other company than mine. The grandfather clock placed in the corner of the lobby deems time to be eleven fifty one in the morning, which explains the absence of mother.

She’d left home not a moment after eleven for her late morning walk and returned not a moment before noon in all the years that I had lived here and it’s obvious that she’s followed the same routine in all the years that I haven’t. It isn’t in the least bit surprising, though. Mother has been married to her routine ever since dad died, and she remains loyal to it to this day. It’s what made sense for her then, and it makes sense for it to make sense for her now.

My eyes skim around the house, smiling a little at how everything looks just as it did on the day I left. Well, almost. There is a row of shelves hung along the steps of the staircase, upon each of which rest multiple number of photo frames. My legs carry me without me realising it until I reach the shelf right at the bottom, and I feel a breath catch in my throat when I see the photo frames up close. Each one of them holding a magazine article or newspaper article and even blog posts, which were written about my work or me. She’s read all of them, kept them, shown them off to the world, all the while I had presumed that she wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with me or any reminder of me, she has been my biggest fan.

11:52am.

I stand there for a second, letting that sink in. There is a spectrum of emotions that passes along my chest: Relief, happiness, sadness and then guilt. All those years in which I didn’t once pick up the phone to call her, under the conjecture that she would not want to hear my voice, she was waiting for my call. A sigh escapes me when I realise that my mother has always been a completely different woman than the one I thought I knew.

Stepping away from the shelf, I feel tears prick my eyes and I wipe them away before they have a chance to fall. I look around some more, averting my eyes towards anything but the shelf. I walk into the living room, where the sunlight spills inside through the cracks in the curtains. My hand brushes over the furniture as my body manoeuvres its way around without much guidance, as it would seem that my muscles remember this place more than I was consciously aware. Still, I take my time, drinking in the familiarity with a little smile upon the corner of my lips as I walk.

I pause when I reach the old armchair that faces the window, at the end of the room, and feel myself smile a little wider when I run my hand along the cool leather. The chair faces the window through which sunlight enters the room and embraces my exposed skin. This used to be dad’s chair. It’s where he would sit and read his day away, not realising the changing colour of the sky, or even the fall in temperature as the day merged into the night. Mother often found him asleep on this chair, a different novel open on his lap every time. Sometimes she’d just let him sleep because he’d look so at peace, away from the pain.

I remember sitting by his feet, when I was a child. We’d never say a word to each other, he’d carry on his reading and I would go about doing what toddlers did, and yet there was always this warmth, a comfort, like a secure blanket was wrapped tight around me. It took me some time to understand that it was him, his presence that was the source of this sense of wellbeing because I never did feel it again, after he was gone. At least not in the same way.

There is a bookshelf within arm’s reach of the chair. It wasn’t always placed like that. Mother pushed it closer when she saw that the slightest movement made him wince in pain. He never uttered a word of complaint, or even let out a simple groan for that matter, but somehow she knew, and with awful amount of effort and heaving grunts, she moved it closer so he could read without being in pain.

She used smile wider when dad was around, my mother. She would laugh more freely, stand a bit taller, and she’d be carefree. She was the strongest person I ever knew, the happiest one, too. And when she lost him, she lost that part of herself. Her smiles were less frequent and more strained, her laughs were mostly series of quick outward breaths, her shoulders would sag, and it was clear that she was crumbling.

Only she would never let me see her cry. It is an indescribable pain, to watch one’s mother hold her tears back when it is so obvious that the tears simply want to flow. The child that I was did not realise how her loss had cut her much deeper than mine could have ever cut me. To me she was the strongest woman I had known, she couldn’t be hurt, couldn’t be touched.

But I saw that happy glint disappear and the paranoia take its place. I saw the panic in her eyes, heard the fear in her voice. Her own secure blanket was ripped away and she was left bare and exposed to the harsh wind of reality. And the strongest woman crumbled into a helpless one, lost and scared.

11:53am.

The armchair squeaks in surprise when I take a seat on it, as though being awoken after a long nap. I lean my head back and feel the sunshine lay tiny kisses upon my bare skin, and just watch the world move quietly. Life seemed so much easier from this chair, looking out from this window when I would sit here as adolescent. The world had more colour, more appeal for it was a world without complications, or responsibilities, or things like rents and budgets, or day jobs and night shifts. It was a world seen through a child’s eyes, behind the thick veil of innocence.

I have dreamt many of my dreams, sitting on this chair, pictured myself in various scenarios allowed my imagination to conquer the wildest of ideas. This is my safe place, away from the peering eyes of the world. This is where I decided to take my first step towards adulthood.

11:54am.

I remember the cold.

The night resembled the gates of oblivion, pitch black in a pool of silence and I stood right at the entrance. The rest of the world was lost amongst the creases of slumber, as I slipped into the cool breath of winter. It was eerily still, that night, as though time itself had stopped to see what I would do. My heart had thudded so loud against the silence that I had feared it would wake the entire neighbourhood.

It was a snap decision, the running away. I was sitting on this armchair, peering out the window and wondering what the world would look like if I were to stand alone in it. I thought of mother, thought of what she’d told me about her dream to go out and see the world, to get lost in cities and one day have crazy stories to tell us about her backpacking days but then she met dad, and she had me, and then dad got sick.

“Life got in the way,” She’d said, “I couldn’t do any of that alone, anyway.”

I remember feeling this wave of panic wash through me, the dread when I thought that one day that could be me, looking back and regretting not doing what I had been longing to do since dad had left. I could see how mother had lost a piece of herself in letting that piece rest in the hands of her husband, who took that piece with him when he left. I understood why she’d put her dreams aside, but I couldn’t stand the idea of doing it, myself.

So, I went upstairs, packed a rucksack with pairs of undergarments, a single pair of jeans and two shirts to last me the week. Shoved in the camera that had once belonged to my father along with a wallet that contained maybe enough money to buy me a few sandwiches, here and there, for the next two weeks or so, and my passport.

At the time, all I can recall is thinking that I could not let my happiness depend on anyone other than myself, and if I stayed any longer, I would lose my chance. I tried explaining that to mother in the note that I left on the mantelpiece on my window before slipping out of it. I told her that I couldn’t wait for my dreams to fall in my lap, and that I would have to move forward to prevent life from getting in my way. I asked for her forgiveness, though I knew that forgiveness wouldn’t be so easily given. In the end I requested her to not look for me, simply because I did not want to be found. And even if I did, I would have to get lost, first.

11:55am.

I look out of the window and I can see that not much has changed. Rooftops still remain clustered about as though hiding a secret; the trees sway in laziness, and everything just appears to be so simple. Only, now it doesn’t. It looks like a magic trick, if anything else, an illusion that may seem like something beautiful only to be hiding something so hideous underneath.

Experience, I have found, rips that veil of innocence into smaller and smaller shreds as one gains more and more of it. It only takes several nights of sleeping on park benches, or if you’re lucky enough, someone’s couch; working what seems to be endless hours at low paying day jobs; going hungry on many other nights because your wallet has worn too thin, to comprehend that life seen through a child’s eyes is nothing but a lie.

I hopped onto a train that night, which took me out of the city into a different one. Dawn had just begun to crack along the surface of the sky when I found a park bench and used my rucksack as my pillow to sleep on it.

The following months were a new kind of hell. Work, it seemed, wasn’t too keen on being found and I would spend the days going to stores, teashops, carwashes, diners and any other institution where I could earn an honest income. The nights were spent on finding a suitable bench, or any flat surface that wasn’t the ground, to sleep on. The mornings would follow and I would start again.

My wallet would grow thinner by the day and soon enough I was savouring a single bite of a sandwich, convincing my growling stomach that it was enough to satisfy my raging hunger. By the end of the third week, my back had become accustomed to the discomfort of lying on hard surfaces, when I finally managed to be hired as a barista at a hole in the wall café in a downtrodden area. I don’t remember being more relieved than I was when the man told me that the job was mine.

It wasn’t living the dream, of course; running around during rush hours, the lousy tips, the rude customers and the uncomfortable uniform but it made me appreciate the little things. Things like the cup of coffee that my manager was nice enough to let me have during my break, the occasional smile that I would receive from a customer, and most of all Janet, the cahier with the warm caramel skin, short pink hair touching the nape of her long neck and a childlike smile, eager and mischievous. She offered me her sofa when she found that I didn’t have a place to stay.

“It isn’t a five star hotel,” She said in her cockney accent, “But at least you wouldn’t risk developing hypothermia in your sleep, or you know, having your throat slit open.”

We laughed and I hugged her because never had I thought that the idea of sleeping on lumpy cushions with an actual pillow and a fleece blanket would present itself as luxurious to me, and if nothing else, the use of a proper shower almost had me weeping with gratitude.

Janet helped in many more ways than just by offering up her sofa. Her kindness and companionship helped me restore little of the faith that was lost in the world and I thank her everyday for it.

Those first few months away from home were what I believe to my “curtain rising”. I received my first glimpse of the sheer contrast between what I believed the world to be like and what it really is. They were the very first scenes of the first act of the entire play that I was directing. It didn’t take long for me to surmise that the world was a very different place than I thought it to be.

I believe that it was a way for me to learn the importance of home, of companionship, and if nothing else, then personal hygiene. Because not a single night had gone by when I did not think of quitting and returning home. My way of learning to appreciate the small things like the ease of entering Janet’s tiny flat, or the comfort of taking photographs from dad’s old camera and seeing time being captured through a lens. It was soothing because everything did seem so much happier in a photograph and it would feel like I was sitting on his armchair again, peering through the window.

And in those fleeting moments, I felt home.

11:57am.

I had been sleeping on Janet’s sofa for about six months, though only for a few hours at a time after returning home from the second job that I’d taken up as a night-waitress at a twenty-four-hour diner. By then, I had moulded into the life that I had built for myself, and I would’ve said that things were well. But, alas, time is fluid and one must learn to flow along with it and as it turned out, so did I.

I found Janet’s story quite similar to mine, which explains why I felt so at ease around her. Where I had lost one parent to sickness, she had lost both to an accident. She’d been put into foster care and the family had apparently been a “good fit”, according to her, as though they’d been a pair of jeans but she’d left them, anyway.

She gave me a knowing smile with the cigarette still between her lips, when she saw my puzzled expression.

“I had a drug problem, “ She admitted as nonchalantly as describing her interest in stamp collection, “I’m clean now, but back then I would’ve done anything for a fix. Oh, don’t look so disappointed, darling, I’m only human. I made a mistake.”

But it wasn’t disappointment on my face, then. It was wonder. Wonder about whether it was a mistake of my own to leave home. It was the first time in years that I had allowed myself to ponder about what would’ve happened if I had stayed home. Janet understood why I had to leave, but she disapproved of my way of doing it.

“I’m not one to talk,” She said, “But you should’ve talked to your mom. You should’ve given her a chance.”

Only it was too late, then. I had left, already and I couldn’t imagine that my mother would want to see me again. Not after leaving her the way I did.

It wasn’t just exaggeration when I said that Janet had helped me in many more ways than just extending hospitality towards me. She’d been the reason for my life to change, completely and I often wonder where I would be, today if I hadn’t met her and then wonder whether I had met her for a reason. As though she was meant to come into my life and turn it around.

I had clicked a photograph of an old man bending down to tie his granddaughter’s shoelaces. The picture had caught Janet’s eye, hanging from its wire, drying after being developed, and she’d liked it enough to pin it up on the bulletin board in the coffee shop. I’d thought nothing of it and had gone back to bustling around behind the counter to get people’s orders done.

The following week, a white haired man, with an inquisitive look in his eyes came along and I noticed him eyeing something on the bulletin board with intrigue. When he finished his coffee and got up to pay, he inquired after the photograph pinned on the board, and more specifically, after the person who was responsible for taking it.

Janet giggled at my confused expression when she pointed me out to the man. I remember his eyes widening when he saw me, and not being able to fathom what was going through his head, as he looked me up and down, nodding to himself ever so slightly. He handed me his card and asked me to come around his office and show him some more of my work.

“You catch the happiness, just right.” He told me before leaving.

And I was left wondering whether any of that had actually happened. I never imagined myself becoming a photographer but somehow in that moment, I just knew that it was something that I had to do. I remember wanting nothing more than to call my mother and share this newly discovered piece of myself with her. And I remember the pain of struggling with everything in me to refrain.

11:58am.

It feels like it never actually happened, the events following that day. It feels almost as if I dreamt it all, as if I never actually moved from my seat that night and that I just imagined everything in my head. But when I look out of the window, again, I am convinced of otherwise. Because I don’t see the world as what I had seen it before, I can’t. And only real experience has the power of shifting entire perspectives, the beauty of it is that it cannot be denied, no matter how much one tries.

Morgan, the white-haired man’s name that I had learned, was the editor of a start-up magazine called ‘Cityscape’ and he offered me a paid internship as a photographer.

It wasn’t much, but it was certainly better than the tips I had to scrounge for.

And from there, everything just went up. A year of internship and I was offered a job as assistant photographer. Three years of doing that and a promotion to head photographer came along. I moved into an apartment of my own and asked Janet to stay with me. Only, she refused.

“Just promise me you’ll find your way home.” She’d said with a smile. She had this proud expression on her face, almost motherly, had it not been for the cigarette in her mouth.

I knew then that I was meant to meet this woman, one way or another. She was my lantern in the darkness, whose glow could light up oblivion. It’s a shame that a glow that bright is not meant to last.

11:59am.

Tears spring to my eyes, once more. I lean forward, clenching my eyes shut and gripping the arms of the chair, my nails digging into the leather. It’s been a week, and the moment is as fresh as it was when it cut into my life. Though I remember very little, the pain is something my mind refuses to let go of.

There was a nagging feeling, clawing at insides of my stomach the entire day. Everything felt off and out of place. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t shake it off. I messed up my lines, my mind was everywhere but the rehearsal and I couldn’t understand what it was. Eventually, Peter had enough and called it quits for the day.

Evan showed his concern, of course, because he knew something was wrong. He always knew. Like Janet, he had unknowingly changed my life. We’d met by accident, a few years ago when I had been in France to click a few shots for an issue of the ‘Cityscape’. I had taken some pictures of the theatre group of which Evan had been a part, at the time, and he had offered me a warm smile.

I’d told Janet about him, over the phone, that night. She had predicted that he would be someone important to me, and like always, she had been right. After a few dinners, a couple of lunches, some breakfasts, a lot of coffee dates and just a single night in bed with him, he had somehow convinced me to take an apprenticeship in the theatre company in New Zealand, which had recently hired Evan as a lead actor for a production. I had built sets, worked on costumes and whatnot for a year or so, but they couldn’t keep me off the stage for too long.

He was always there for me. He was there for me on that day, as well. He was there when I received the call, he was there when I broke down, howling like a madwoman, and he was there when I stopped.

“An overdose,” The man said on the phone, “Nasty business, that.”

Apparently I had screamed, and thrashed about. I don’t remember much of it; it’s all blurry when I think about it. But Evan told me that I had yelled, “I should’ve known! I shouldn’t have left her on her own!”

Eventually he fell asleep. I, on the other hand, was denied that indulgence. My mind wouldn’t shut up, my tears wouldn’t stop flowing and it felt like my body was not my own. I climbed out of bed and took my phone with me. Out in the arms of the cold, I dialled the numbers over which my fingers had ghostly loomed over for the past few years. When it rung, my heart seemed to thud in the same way as it had on the night that I had left. And just when I was about to give up, I heard her voice. It was heavy with sleep, but the sound had me weeping again. It was the only sound that could have brought me comfort in that moment, and it did. Oh God, it did.

I sobbed and she just listened without saying a word. I took her silence as her anger and I understood, of course.

“I don’t know what to do, mom.” I cried on the phone, “I don’t know where to go. I’m lost. I always have been.”

And there were just three simple words in response, “Come to me.”

12:00pm.

The grandfather clock booms, and my heart thumps wildly, again. I am scared, again. For a moment there is only silence. Then I hear the door click open.

Lurking Hope (Part 2).

A stale stench of alcohol hangs in the air, making its way into her nose, causing it to crinkle a little. Her lips are stretched into a smile that hasn’t been this wide in a time too long, and her chest consists of the much treasured contentment that probably has something to do with the greater amount of whiskey that drowns more and more of her blood. She tilts her glass further up, until the brown and bitter liquid has disappeared down her throat, wrapping her mind in a much needed buzz, making it void of all worries, and numbing her senses beyond the capability of feeling the discomforting bite of reality.

The room is alive with lopsided smiles, much like her own, slurred and senseless conversations shared among companions and the occasional bout of drunken laughter. She doesn’t know whether to be glad or full of dread to be sitting here, having walked by this bar every single day, on her way home and throwing a glance in its way, with a consideration to step inside, but never being able to do so because there was always something urgent to be get done before the sun’s first sprinkles of light across the sky, something too important to be forgotten, even momentarily, over a drink to ease her nerves. And so she dragged her feet away every time, no matter how forceful the tinge of wanting something so close to her grasp, yet not close enough, dwelling in her stomach. She walked past, every fucking time.

And now here she sits, with an empty glass resting in front of her. And yet, she is unsure of whether it was worth the flick of the wrist that tossed away everything that she had built for herself into the ocean. As is one of the faults of human nature; one can never be too happy with a situation, regardless of the desire of obtaining it before it’s sitting right on your lap. Grayson waves down a bartender and asks for another drink, feeling the need to forget anything and everything, and redo her entire life in this short span of one night. It could be possible, if she does everything in one night that she pushed aside her entire life with a promise to return. Again, the faults of human nature; our promises usually stand null and void, despite them being made to ourselves.

And there it is, the postponed, drunken realisation that punches her in the head making it snap up from its previously bowed position, in the blink of an eye. Her thoughts still fuzzed behind the thick fog of whiskey-induced ideas, one of which she can’t help but think is a work of pure brilliance, deeming herself to be a fucking intellectual prodigy. Another glass is placed in front of her, filled to the brim with the liquid that may look like piss, may taste like it, too, but fuck, does it work wonders.

“Shouldn’t you slow down there, boozy?” The voice of her new found companion for the evening breaks her string of thoughts, as delicate as it is.

She turns her head in his direction; a knowing, yet lopsided smile planted upon her lips, she says, “Last one, I promise.”

With that she picks up her glass and tilts it up higher and higher until the very last drop of whiskey has been emptied into her system and the minuscule amount of uncertainty in her has been transformed into pure determination. Setting the glass back down with a brute force, she hops off the barstool and makes her way to the door of the pub; a resolute look upon her eye and the questioning calls of her inquisitive new acquaintance and that of an angry, unpaid bartender ringing in her ears.

“Where are you going?” She hears from behind her, making her turn halfway to answer the question by one or the other of the two calling out to her.

“To hit the reset button!” She calls back, and turns back to the door, stumbling her way through the tightly packed room. Pushing the door open, she steps out into the sea-kissed wind that lays upon her skin like a warm, silky shroud, making its way into her lungs and finding a residence in her chest, bringing upon her, a sense of freedom that wasn’t there, yesterday, though it’s the same air that she breathed. She looks around, noticing things that she had been too preoccupied to notice before, the first of many things being that she noticed barely anything at all when her mind was abuzz with new business proposals for obnoxious clients. She notices the soft smiles that have pulled up lips on the many faces that pass her by, notices the subtle scent of the sea in the air, and how company finds itself in the sky with the moon, one’s hand intertwined with another’s, even in loneliness itself, among those who seek the company of others, and of course, herself.

Speaking of which, she is quite aware of the lingering presence beside her, one she notices in her peripheral vision and can’t help but wonder why. Why is he so insistent in accompanying her? The question evokes out of her, a sense of curiosity mixed into a considerable proportion of suspicion towards the blonde, whose playful expression that she hasn’t failed to notice, has grown into a more sombre one. 

The truth of the matter is that Andrew is quite unaware, himself, as to why he remains in her company. There’s a part of him that tells him that he should stick around and see how things pan out. You see, all the while that Grayson has drank and then drank some more, Andrew had just been there, wondering whether this stranger, who he thought to be different than others, is in fact just another drunken hound who would, in most probability end up unconscious on the floor by the end of the night, leaving him with a bill to pay and shattered expectations. His contemplation to leave her to her luck had almost reached its conclusion, with him slowly sliding out of his seat when she sprung out of hers, making her way to the door; eyes gleaming and a determination in her stride. And though he was left with a bill to pay, his expectations had not yet been put to the hammer. And so he followed her, inquisitive about where this strange stranger may lead him, and to some extent, concerned that she may end up dead in a ditch if he left her alone, given her intoxicated state. But mostly he stays because Grayson isn’t the only one who is need of a drink and another’s company in the drinking.

“So what’s your plan?” He asks, breaking the silence that had settled around them.

Her response is but a simple, yet knowing smile before she turns on her heel and begins to walk away in the opposite direction, leaving Andrew to stand there and look like a buffoon in his befuddlement. He watches her take a few more steps, then she pauses, looks about and finally turns to see that he hasn’t moved from where he was. She places her hands on her hips in an impatient stance. 

“Well?” She calls out to him, her words considerably slurred, “Are you coming, or you waiting for the parade?” 

Andrew blinks a few times, trying to contemplate a reasonable answer, but then realises that the person he’s talking to is really beyond any and all sorts of reason, even when she is sober, so arguing with her while she is drunk out of her wits just seems about as  good an idea as sticking an arm up a crocodile’s ass and hoping that it wouldn’t bite. So, he jogs forward to catch up to the woman clad in formal attire and swaying in high heels, making them click against the concrete as she walks. Honestly, he’s surprised, and impressed, to some extent, that she is able to even walk, given her condition, but keeps pace with her, regardless. 

“Is this the part where I find out that you’re a serial killer, because if that’s the case, I’d like to know, now, so I can call my ex-girlfriend before you kill me.”

“So the last person you want to hold a conversation with, before you get stabbed in the gut, is the woman who broke your heart?”  She asks, disbelieving, “Good sir, your priorities are fucked up.”

Andrew thinks for a minute before coming up with a response, “Two questions. 1) Why do you assume that she’s the one who broke my heart, and not the other way around? and 2) you’d actually stick me with a knife? After all we’ve been through. Seriously? I’m hurt.”

“Two reasons to call a girl you dumped, right before dying,” She starts off, “Either to tell her that you made a mistake and that you still love her, which is useless because now you can’t have her, anyway and she will be left even more devastated than before, or to tell her that you always hated her guts and that’s why you broke up with her, which, again, is useless, not to mention, excessively assholish. And you haven’t known me for more than four hours, now, three and a half for which I sobbed in the sand and then proceeded to get drunk enough to be convinced that this is a brilliant idea; stabbing you would just be one of the things that I may regret tomorrow morning.”

Andrew just laughs at her logic, which he can’t say doesn’t make sense, and doesn’t respond, opting instead to drop the subject, entirely and enjoy the peace that the quietness in the midst of the buzz that looms in the air of the city.

But it seems that Grayson doesn’t agree.

“Why, then?” She asks, turning the corner while she talks, “Why your ex-girlfriend?”

“Does it matter?” He asks, keeping his eyes ahead so as to avoid looking at her, who he knows to be looking at him.

“Well, yes.” She responds, mimicking his answer from before when she had asked him the same question “Because now I’m curious.”

He smiles at this, but doesn’t answer her question. Instead, he asks, “So, where are you taking me?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.” She says, her grin implying that she knows something that he doesn’t, which has become quite obvious by this point, much to Andrew’s discontent.

But the truth is, Grayson does not, in fact, know much of what she is doing. And though the what-if-it-were-not-so’s and what-is-to-be-so’s, still wander the corners of her mind, and there is a fist of fear that clenches her gut, she cannot deny that breathing comes a little easier than before, not to mention, a little less strained. She hasn’t a clue as to how she’s supposed to pay her bills, and come morning, what comes next, but she knows that whatever she’s doing, she is doing it now. And for now that is good enough.

It has to be.

They walk together, for a while, silence in their company. There is a lingering sense of relief that invades the two of them, like a minuscule breath of oxygen that has been washed over their bones after they’ve been stuck in a vacuum, choking on reality. The feeling of resting your head on the warm lap of a loved one, after a long day hardships tangled with the feeling of walking through the streets with a complete stranger, en route to doing something that is not only impulsively foolish, but also fuels their bodies with adrenaline, the resurrected mischief that refuses to stay buried. All of it, they feel being pumped into their blood, the idea of not knowing what will happen next making them shudder with exhilaration and anxiety, and goosebumps rise on their skin.

She tells him that she’s lived in the same city her entire life and he tells her that he’s travelled around more than half the world. That his chicken curry can make one weep with gratitude and that she almost the burnt the house down when she microwaved ramen with a silver fork inside the cup. That she’s only had flings all her life, and that his committed relationship recently came to a close. The sentences spoken between them are never followed by questions, only acknowledging nods. Time takes a seat to watch the juxtaposition of two strangers who couldn’t be more different than one another and yet entwine together like the old, wrinkled branches of a Banyan tree.

Grayson doesn’t remember the last time she felt this way. The last time she went along with what her heart desired. She can’t help but feel a like a tourist, dropped at the ports of a new and strange city, hers for the exploring, not having stayed in touch with her childish self, in so long. And now that this feeling fills her chest and fuels her wobbling steps, she hasn’t a clue as to how to proceed.

It isn’t long before the duo turn into a familiar street, and the air doesn’t take much time in getting heavier with the added weight of the sudden uncertainty and tension that wafts off her. Her steps that swayed before, from the alcohol, now did so with the hesitance, as though sure of their direction but reluctant to reach their destination. Her expression, unrevealing and hard, cracks in slightest, allowing the edginess to peak, through the slight crinkle by her eyes that wasn’t there before, her pursed lips and her clenched jaw. Not to mention how her hands ball up into fists by her sides and she struggles to keep her pace steadyLurking Hope

All of this, much against the Grayson’s hopes, doesn’t go unnoticed by Andrew. He looks upon her with a questioning gaze, one which Grayson chooses to ignore in order to avoid any and all sorts of confrontation. He’s almost successful in keeping his mouth shut and pretend to ignore the obvious discomfort of his new acquaintance.

Almost.

“Are you alright there, boozy?” He asks.

“‘m fine…” She says, her tone, uncharacteristically, timid.

“Are you sure about that?” He asks,”Because you look like you haven’t taken a piss in weeks.”

Grayson can’t help but smile at his attempt to lighten the mood. She notices how in situations such as this one, he isn’t one to be able to keep his mouth shut, feeling the need to say anything that pops into his head, which is most likely to be deemed highly inappropriate by all parties involved, including him, but he’ll say it, anyway. So, instead of answering him, she keeps her eyes fixed on the concrete on which she walks, focussing on putting one foot in front of the other rather than her companion’s glare.

Andrew, here, only narrows his eyes in response. He feels a tad bit odd, having expected a sharp tongued remark, rather than dead silence. He does get the feeling that this is something that he shouldn’t pry into, something personal and obviously, too touchy a topic to be wanted to be shared with him. So, quite naturally, he pries,

 “What’s going on?”

She’s quiet for another minute or so, her steps slower than the brusque walk from before, and her arms crossed against her chest. When she does answer him, her words are calculated, careful.

“It’s just this neighbourhood.” She says.

“What about it?” He presses, further, “Did you murder kittens in your neighbour’s backyard?”

“Do I look like I belong in a satanic cult, to you?” She bites back.

At this, Andrew smiles, glad to hear her quippy tongue, back at play.

“Well, do people who belong to a satanic cult look they belong to a satanic cult?” He asks.

“Point taken.”

“So what is it, then? He asks, again, “About this neighbourhood?”

She curses silently at her failed attempt to dodge his question, but remains quiet for the most part. Andrew throws looks in her direction, only to find her looking away, avoiding his gaze. He’s about to ask again, when she finally speaks up.

“Almost had my first kiss, here.” She spits out, finally, still keeping her eyes averted from his. She doesn’t like talking about this, she never has liked it, and she’s not about to start, now. Something, of course, which Andrew fails to notice.

“Almost?” He asks, not being able to help himself, “What, you started sobbing when he leaned in?”

He laughs when she flips him off, without looking at him as they walk together. He wants to ask, but he refrains, pursing his lips and keeping his eyes ahead, and following her lead. It’s a struggle, not knowing, a struggle that is clearly visible from the way his eyes begin to roam about, as though looking for something that may distract his mind. So visible, in fact, that Grayson can only sigh and answer the unasked question.

“I pulled away.” She says, finally turning to look at him and his reaction, which, as it happens, is one of confusion, “I just… pulled away.”

“Why?” He asks.

“I was scared.”

“Scared of what?”

“Has anybody ever told you that you ask way too many questions?” She asks in frustration.

“Well, yes.” He simply says, “Multiple times, actually.”

“And have you ever considered, I don’t know, just not doing that?”

“Yes, but I haven’t been able to go through with it – Hey, what the hell are you looking at?” He asks, when he notices that most of her attention is now focused on an old abandoned house, which has roof but nothing he would want to stand under, walls, wrinkled with cracks and faded from its young colour, window frames with broken windows and eerily unlit, unlike the others. The front lawn looks like it’s been going through chemo therapy, bare of any colour and life whatsoever and lined with a filthy excuse of a not-so-white picket fence. It probably looks less murder-y in daylight, than it does in the dark.

“So he’s dead?” He questions upon staring at the old excuse for a house, some more.

“What?” Grayson slurs.

“You know, the almost-first-kiss…” He goes, “Is the dude dead?”

Grayson turns to him, then, her eyebrows raised in curiosity at his question, “What the hell makes you think that?”

“Well,” He begins, his eyes turning to stare off into space as a storyteller’s would at the beginning of a haunting tale, “The intent look upon your eye with which you stare at this filthy excuse for living premises, my guess is that the man lived here and after you denied him a kiss, he, so devastated at the rejection-Lord help his troubled soul- took a pistol and shoved a bullet in his troubled little head. And that makes you this guilt-ridden, unpleasant snob that you are, today, who has returned to this old pile of fungus, haunted by his troubled spirit, to summon him and make things right and thereby putting him to eternal rest.”

He finishes with a little proud bow of his head and Grayson just stares at him, her eyebrows raised in one-part disbelief and two parts in response to sheer insanity.

After about a minute and a half of staring, she finally says, “You know for the only one who’s sober between the two of us, you sure make it hard for one to believe it.”

She steps to his side and walks past him, delivering a hard-knuckled punch to his shoulder as she passes him.

“Ow!” he groans, reaching up to rub the side, which was punched, “What the heck was that for?”

“I’m not a snob, you arse.” She says

“Well, what were you ogling at, then?” He asks, following her across the street, still rubbing away at his arm.

“The house that I grew up in.” She tells him in a matter-of-factly manner, stopping in front of yet another house, only this one doesn’t seem to harbour the whole book of Health Code Violations within its four walls, which stands tall and upright, showing no signs of crumbling into dust at the slightest poke of the finger. Light peers out from the cracks in the curtains hung on the windows, rather than a grumbling darkness from cracks in the windows, and all in all it doesn’t resemble any sort of crackhead squat where coming across a dead body is part of one’s every-morning routine.

“Well that explains things.” Andrew says in a matter-of-factly manner, responding to the new information that she has revealed about herself.

Grayson would have recognised the jab had her mind not been whirring and buzzing for the past hour or so, trying to make sense of the simplest things. Only she is this drunk, and everything that should seem illogical to her logic-sought mind, seems to be the most doable thing and it must be done, now. The truth of the matter just happens to be that all the logic that Grayson so desperately clung to has been chewed up, swallowed, digested, excreted and then pissed on only to be flushed down a toilet.

So she asks him to elaborate and he says, “Well, any kid who grew up in a house like that was bound to get messed up in some way or the other.”

Grayson only smiles at the beaming Andrew before delivering another punch to his gut and walks up to the front porch of the house, grinning satisfactorily when she hears a struggled ‘oomph’ behind her.

“You know resorting to violence is not the most sane thing to do, either.” Andrew says, following her, “Whose goddamn house is this, now?”

“Foster’s” She answers as though he and Andrew have been drinking mates for years and so he must know who she’s talking about. But before he can get a word out, she answers his unspoken query, “the almost-kiss dude.”

Andrew raises his eyebrows just as they come to a halt at the front door. The wheels slowly, but steadily, spinning in his head and by the way his eyebrows furrow together even closer than before, Grayson knows that he’s figured it out.

“You don’t mean to-“

“Kill him?” She cuts him off, “no, that’s completely barbaric. “Kiss him in order to un-regret not kissing him in the first place? That I shall do.”

And with that, she delivers her knuckles to the door.

Lurking Hope (Part 1)

The sky blushes a beautiful dark red as it kisses the horizon. One would get the idea that they are both long lost lovers, united after years of separation. The wind is playful, in a manner of speaking, the way it runs through strands of dark and light hair, making them fly about and the clouds flirt with the rooftop skylines of the city, winking as they pass them by. Summer has set in, cradling the city in a warm june glow, making the sweat break over the skin of those citizens that bustle about, in a hurry to get somewhere and too busy to take a deep breath.

Besides the many whose feet trample the ground, there’s one who sits cross legged on the sands of a beach, watching the sun dipping below the ocean and retiring for the evening. There’s much that can be appreciated by the onlooking eyes in a scene such as this. Small things like the air carrying the scent of the ocean breeze through those lungs that don’t have enough time to fit in a relaxed mouthful of air in the middle of all the tired sighs; the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, lapping over the feet that intrude the stillness of the sand before pulling away gently, leaving behind only the tingling sensation through the wet skin; darkness slowly spills across the sky as the blue of it all fades begins to drain away; and then there’s the moon. The moon seems shy, this evening, peaking only once in a while from behind the protective cover of the clouds. Like said before, there are many goodies for the eyes to feast on in an avid appreciation and for the mind to enjoy the simple pleasure of company of its own thoughts, and yet the one whose eyes skim through the table, whose ears welcome the soothing sounds and whose mind enjoys the subtle silence, can only appreciate one thing. And that’s the bloody sand in her arse, which has made itself comfortable in her pants, something that she has trouble understanding, in all honesty, since she’s clad in formal pants and a sleeveless button-up and sand has still managed to take up residence in the nooks and crannies where she wouldn’t want to have tiny grains of sand in.

She stays where she is, though, refusing to move from her place. Her mind is a frenzy of insignificant thoughts, being unable to register the beauty in the midst of which she now sit with her arms around her knees, which are pulled to her chest. She isn’t supposed to be here. She’s supposed to be at one of those meetings for one of those companies for which she works. But yet, she’s here.

In her defence, she was on her way. She didn’t  plan to end up where she did, but here she is, anyway. She looks around herself and begins to think back to the time when everything wasn’t the way it is now. She can’t explain what she means by that, but her thoughts venture, regardless, pulling her mind away to a time when everything wasn’t about an urgent call, or a client in crisis. When her life didn’t revolve around conference rooms and business meetings, but rather around a room filled with books and couches, or rather a hall with a stage facing about a hundred or so seats in the audience. She tries to remember when her fingers didn’t type out letters of concerns or important emails to the assistants of clients on a goddamn laptop, but rather punched out words to an enthralling tale on a type-writer. When it didn’t feel like time was holding a gun to her head, threatening to pull the trigger at any given moment, if she slacked for even a moment of rest, but rather when it treated her as an old friend. A time back to when a genuine, heart-felt smile didn’t have to take an appointment to make an appearance on her face.

But it seems too distant, yet close enough for her to taste it on her lips. She keeps those moments hidden under her bed, pulling them out only when nostalgia overtakes her mind. This time, though, it’s different. This time, she doesn’t want to push those moments back under her bed, rather re-live them. And for the past hour or so, her arse has been planted on this all-pants-penetrating sand, being poked and prickled by the tiny grains, while she tries her damn hardest to shake this feeling, that has somehow taken control, off. And for the same past hour or so, only two things have taken place; 1) Her arse has probably obtained a rash and 2) she has failed miserably in shaking this damn feeling off.

Another ding of her phone rudely interrupts her mid-process and she’s counted about twenty seven or so before she gave up and stopped counting. Pulling the phone out of her pocket, she looks at the screen that seems to have been bombarded by emails, texts and missed phone-calls. She groans a sigh of exhaustion when it starts its retched ringing again. Tarantula, the name flashes across the screen, notifying her that her boss is calling. It’s a sudden shift of personality, but at the same time, it’s not so sudden, when she accepts his call and pulls the phone to her ear. She’s barely got a word out before the tarantula is rambling on about something about, “How careless could you be?” and she catches a, “Get your arse over here, now.”

“And if you aren’t here in-”

“You know what,” She cuts off the voice, which bears a surprisingly huge resemblance to that of the wicked witch of the west from ‘The Wizard of Oz’, “I bloody quit.”

And with that, she flings the damn thing into the ocean.

It takes her a moment to realise what she’s done and then another moment for the dread to fill in. She yells in a panicked frenzy and runs to the shore screaming like a madwoman, “I’M SORRY!” followed by, “I DIDN’T FUCKING MEAN IT!”, throwing in the occasional, “CAN’T WE JUST GO ON TO LAUGHING ABOUT THIS!”

She begins to fumble around in the water, hoping for either a high tide to take her away with it or that by some miracle she finds her phone and then by another miracle it survives and by the supernova of miracles, the tarantula accepts her apology. She fumbles around some more, flinging out yells of an attempt at an apology, here and there.

“Not to be a bother,” A voice startles her out of her concentration, “but if you truly want the forgiveness of the ocean, you may want to stop stepping on it.”

She turns her head in the direction from which the voice came. The dark having successfully claimed its throne of the sky, makes it impossible for her to see anything but a silhouette of a skinny form of a human being. The voice that spoke was deep, which means that it belongs to a male and judging by the pitch, he isn’t too much older, but then again, his recent attempt at humour doesn’t exactly scream maturity.

“That was a joke.” His voice is heard again and he steps closer to the water.

“I know martial arts!” She yells at him in a weak attempt to keep him from attacking her, mostly because her evening has reached its optimum level of suckage and embarrassment and anything beyond that is just fighting dirty on the part of her damn fate.

“That’s good to know.” He responds to her previous remark, coming yet closer to where she stood.

“I will not hesitate to kick your arse!” She yelled at him.

“If my stars should ever align in such a way to have my ass  kicked by you…” His voice is the younger sibling of sarcasm, she finds.

“I’m not lying,” She yells again in a final attempt, “There will be some major kicking action on your behind, good sir, unless you stop where you are now!”

That makes him halt. She raises her brows in surprise that he actually listened. She wasn’t expecting him to. Neither of them makes a move, just stand there staring at each other’s outline.

And then he speaks, “What if I assure you that I won’t hurt you, will you come out of the water, then?”

She contemplates his offer, running the idea around her head a few times. He doesn’t seem to resemble any form of a murderer, kidnapper, rapist or all of the above. But looks do specialise in a field of deception. She still can’t see much of him, except his build and the outline of his tousled hair. Well, she, in all probability, just lost her job, if the evening is meant to be made worse, then she might as well get it over with.

She slowly steps out of the water’s reach and stands right in front of him. His facial features come into view as she steps closer to him and the light hits his face at a new angle. She can make out the boyish expression, the one raised eyebrow and his smirking lips. He doesn’t say anything, just looks at her with curious eyes.

“Name’s Andrew.” He raises one hand for her to shake and she places her hand in his.

“Grayson.” She responds with her own name. She never really had a particular liking for her name. She’s taken the idea of changing it, under consideration, but she never got around to it.

“Well, if I may be so bold to ask,” He says, still gripping her hand in his, “What the hell were you doing?”

She tries to come up with a response that doesn’t make her sound like runaway mental patient, but then realises that it’s probably too late for that now. And instead of responding to his question, she plops down into the sand and, much to Andrew’s surprise, begins to bawl like a child.

“I fucking… quit… my job!” She squeals in the middle of her sobs.

“And that’s a bad thing?” He asks in a confused tone. In all his years of existence, he’s never once witnessed a behaviour such as this, even after having met all sorts of characters in his life, this one right here, is fairly new.

“NO, YOU FUCKING IDIOT!” She yells at him again, “IT’S THE BEST DECISION I EVER MADE!”

He raises both eyebrows in his befuddlement. He looks at her again, trying to make sense of what this stranger just said, but comes up blank. He tries to come up with an explanation with regard to her actions and then this sudden outburst of hers, and then realises something. He realises that this stranger who just happened to be yelling apologies to nobody in particular, while jumping about in the ocean, is a woman. And that means that he could go on a fucking expedition and manage to find the lost city of Atlantis in a goddamn desert, invent a pill to cure cancer, find Bigfoot and still be unable to understand why a woman does what she does, and what she actually means, when she says something.

And so he quits trying to come up with  his own theory, before he drives himself absolutely bonkers out of his mind, and says, “Not to be too crude, but if quitting your job is the best decision you ever made, then why the fuck are you weeping?”

“Does it even matter?” She asks him, wiping away some of the snot.She isn’t quite in the mood to explain things to him, knowing that he’s a boy, which means that even after drawing him an extensive pie chart, chances are he would still be confused.

“Well, yes.” He says to her, pulling out the kleenex wipe from his pocket that’s been there for about two weeks now, and hands it to her, “I mean, now I’m curious.”

She takes the kleenex from him and blows her nose in it with the grace and poise of the kind of lady that she is. She doesn’t answer him, simply because she’s in no mood. All she does is look out into the ocean, trying to figure out the mess that is her life. A soothing silence settles around them, with the only sounds coming from the waves crashing against the shore in comforting rhythm.  She wouldn’t mind if this peace lasted, forever. She wouldn’t mind the sand in her arse, if it meant that she didn’t have to move an inch from where she is, now. She just wants to trap this feeling in a jar and take it home with her so she can push it under her bed along with the nostalgia, pulling it back out on a rainy day. But mostly, she just wants to breathe without straining her lungs.

“Alright,” Andrew’s voice breaks through her thoughts, “You’re coming with me.”

“Excuse me?” She turns to him, but finds that he’s already on his feet, dusting off his hands on his pants. He holds a hand out for her to take, but she just turns her head back to face the ocean.

“Seriously?” He asks in a mocking tone, “You’re going to play that game?”

“If you want to leave, please feel free to do so.” She says, still keeping her eyes away from him, “I’d like to stay.”

She hears him heave out a sigh and then from the corner of her eye, she sees him crouch down onto his haunches so he’s at eye-level with her.

“What makes you think that staying here and wallowing in your misery is going to help you in any way?” He asks her.

“What makes you think that going anywhere with you, will help me in any way?” She counters.

“Well, it has to be shit load better than rotting away here, that’s for sure.” He blocks.

“What makes you so sure?” She attacks.

“That’s it,” he blocks again, “It doesn’t. That’s why it helps.”

“We met literally ten minutes ago, we’ve talked for about five and most of that included me breaking down in the middle of a goddamn beach. You could be an arsonist, for fuck’s sake, how do you expect me to go anywhere with you?”

He considers this for a moment before he speaks, “Okay, then we’ll go wherever you want to go.”

“How’s that any better?” She asks him, “You could still immolate me to Satan.”

“I thought you wouldn’t hesitate to kick my ass” He says with a cheeky grin and a raised eyebrow, making her turn her head towards him and scoff in her response.

“Well, then,” He says, “Are you coming?”

She looks at him with narrowed eyes, hinting a doubt at her capability to mess up her life even more than she already has. It took her less than a minute and about three and a half words to completely shatter all that she’d ever built for herself, and maybe this could be her, not picking up the pieces, but making new ones. She hasn’t a clue as to how to pay her bills, or what she’s going to do next, but she knows that she hasn’t done anything wild in a time too long to count on both hands. So even though the sun’s gone down, leaving her in the mercy of the darkness, she is aware that only in the dark, does mischief thrive. So she’s only one part hesitant when she says, “Yeah, I’m coming..” but she’s three parts her old forgotten self, one who she knows and loves as the excited and wild spirit.

His grin reappears on his face when he takes her hand and pulls her up to her feet, feeling the sudden buzz of eagerness flow through his bones. He doesn’t know this stranger, but something tells him that he’s going to enjoy finding out.

Whistling Murder

The sky seemed quiet, lacking the moon to give it company and share a few hushed laughs. The wind tried to deafen the silence as it shrieked in the ears of those who roamed under the few scattered stars. It found only two men who looked as still as the time that had taken a minute to stop and observe the events as they occurred.

It was dark mostly, the only source of light being the flickering street lamp casting eerie shadows on the concrete. The stillness, a thin and delicate veil was suddenly torn apart as one of the men fell on his knees, swaying for a moment as though struggling to keep himself up, before collapsing completely. His body lay sideways on the street with his arms limp and useless in front of him. One could see the light beginning to leave his eyes, hear his heart thudding towards their last beats against the silence, the blood in his veins beginning to go still. It was beautiful to watch the a single drop of dark and rusty red to slowly and gracefully make its way across the skin.

Not far away, a few metres perhaps, another pair of lungs filled themselves with the cool night air, which now carried a fresh scent of rust. The heart behind went on thudding, but this one beat with excitement. The owner of this heart watched with hungry eyes as air left the man’s lungs and didn’t return. He watched another man’s life slipping through his fingers as he struggled to keep it in its grasp. Eventually it was gone, leaving him to turn into a corpse.

“How easily life betrays you, friend” Our murderer whispered to the lifeless man on the ground. “How quick was it to leave you behind to rot”

There was a slight nip in the air that nibbled on the skin of our killer’s hand as it cleaned the blood off the cold steel of his knife. He deliberately ran the tip of his finger on the sharper end of the hunting knife, spilling a few drops of his own blood near the body of the now-dead Robert Shultz. Our murderer, here, was a peculiar man. He really didn’t enjoy a game that was made too easy for him. It was more fun when the opponent thought that they had the upper hand.

Though the quiet that had returned was comforting, it was broken by the executioner as he narrowed his lips and whistled a familiar tune, walking away from the open-eyed death and disappearing in the dark. It wasn’t the kill that appealed all that much to this man. It wasn’t the light leaving the victims’ eyes or the the beam of red dancing its way across their skins. It wasn’t the thrill of committing the crime itself, but the Power that surged through him every time the sharp steel cut through flesh. It was the fear in the victims’ eyes that this man always had the itch to see. The panic that could be heard in the pleas for mercy when he was about to take a life. The fun of being chased for it was just a bonus to a deal.

An “art” is what our slayer liked to call talent for killing. It could be looked upon as art, if one shared a similar mindset as our homocidal friend; it could be seen in the fine technique of butchery, the grace in which red danced across skins or the sweet melody of a pair of possessive lungs, struggling to keep the air within their walls. It could be appreciated if people just learned to keep an open mind. He’d gotten away with many “art pieces” such as this one. A gambler could make millions if he just bet all his money on this murderer’s tendency to be on the winning side of the table. You see, this fellow seemed to have a keen sense of escaping one’s own fate, or even better, changing fate itself. Another beauty to be appreciated was that none of his pieces were ever pre-planned. That would be an insult to the image that he’s spent so long in building and who knows what the critics would think.

Being the perfectionist that he was, he always left a trail. He wouldn’t just give it away; where was the fun in that? Besides, it was a move that he was already quite familiar with; the whole getting-caught-on-purpose thing. It always made him laugh when he re-visited the memories of those days when the prosecutor’s jaw dropped to the ground on hearing the jury stamp the guilty soul with a Not Guilty mark. He thought of himself as a magician at times, creating the illusion of a fake reality to keep the watchers in their constant state of awe.

But that was one of his older tricks and he’d recently got a new sleeve, which consisted of his most favourite ploy yet:  creating false evidence. You see, this was the kind of man who was one belonging to the fist of Power, yet couldn’t resist the urge to stay behind for a good show. Though he enjoyed seeming inhuman, he wasn’t one who could fight the simple human pleasure of a good laugh in watching The System chase its own tail as the opposing side pretended to have an upper hand.

The  blood that he’d so graciously left for the poor chap in charge of this case, actually belonged to a man named Anthony Normand. The fun part was that Anthony Normand was no longer to be a part of existence by the end of that night. But if one was to take the same blood the next morning and look for a match in the veins of a fellow named Bill Foster, one would probably find himself in ditch by the evening; not to mention, dead as a doornail.

And so the magician enjoyed the sound of the rhythm of his footsteps against the pavement along with the click of his lighter.   He did not fear being noticed nor did he mind the blood of another man drying under his fingernails. He was too engrossed in the tune in his head that had made its way to his narrowed lips. And went one foot in front of the other as the Whistling Predator walked on with his heart beating with excitement as his fingers wrapped themselves around the handle of a blade, which was blanketed in a coat of dark and rusting red. Inwardly, he smiled as his feet took him further and further away from the open-eyed man lost in eternal sleep. His whistling lips paused mid-tune to make room for the smile that invaded his lips at the thought of the opponent’s counter-move that excited his heart and his fingers clutched the blade tighter in his grip.

This, he thought, was going to be a fun one.

With Hushed Footsteps, Time Moves On.

There’s an observation that I have come to make in all the years that have been so far included my pathetic excuse of a life. It doesn’t exactly concern me whether this knowledge will hold any relevance whatsoever to anyone other than myself since I’m saving up all my fucks to give for things that actually matter. But back to my point, what I’ve come to observe is that clocks seem to get a helluva lot louder when the silence turns awkward. It’s true. Each second ticks with the sole purpose of mocking the quiet. That’s the funny thing about time, isn’t it? It’s a phoney bitch that does nothing but mock everyone and everything, including the goddamn silence, and then disappears into god-knows-where.

And here I stand next to a window, listening to the ticking getting louder and louder and the air getting harder and harder to breath. Washcloth in hand, I observe the slice of the bright-blue sky dusted with clouds that hover over the skyscrapers, neatly cut and plated and placed in front of me for me to enjoy each and every bite and savour the flavours that dance on my tongue. But there lies the problem. I can’t enjoy my slice of the scenery. I can’t concentrate on this breathtaking, gorgeous view that seems like it’s been made just for me. Anywhere else, I would linger a few minutes longer, take another few bites. But today, here, now, I can’t.

I can’t because my past has outrun me and is sitting comfortably on a beige leather couch behind me. I can’t because I’m at war and if I look away, I’ll be slaughtered. I can’t because breathing is so goddamn difficult that my lungs are ready to jump out of my chest to take in all the air in the room but something tell me that even that won’t be enough.

“Hey!” A loud voice saves me from drowning in my memories. “I’m not paying you enjoy the view! Get back to cleaning!” The woman looks at me with daggers in her eyes, though I can only look at him. He hasn’t bothered to look up to see what’s going on, too engrossed in the pages of his book . He’ always been a sucker for the words of a classic. I remember he used to read me some of them, though I can’t imagine him remembering any of that.

I snap out of my daze and walk out of the room, mumbling an apology to the woman. I enter the master bedroom and begin fixing up the bed, starting with the pillows. While I’m arranging the covers, I can’t help but bring one of the pillows up to my face to take in the familiar scent. It feels awkward doing so, but the rusty and sweet smell of him is just as comforting as it was all those years ago. Don’t get the wrong idea. This isn’t some sob story about a boy and a girl with a happy ending. He isn’t anything to me other than a reminder of all the shit that I’m not all to excited to recall. He was a neighbour and friend when we were little. Always had his nose dug in a damn book. I feel the corner of my lips pull up into a light smile at the memory and a warmth spreads across my chest.

He used to loaf around outside our small, one-bedroom apartment and he was always asking me to to come with him to some goddamn movie or the other. He always wanted to go to the goddamn movies. It was funny the way he used to ask me, though, always cracked me up when he would get down on both knees and get all puppy-eyed and he would use the softest and the most sincerest of voices to say, “Samantha Rogers, I request the high honour of you accompanying me for this movie.” and then he’d start singing Billy Joel’s Piano Man because he knew that I would say yes if I heard him sing it. Cracked me up every time and it still does. But, damn, that was a long time ago, a decade almost. He isn’t singing any Billy Joel anymore. He isn’t asking me to the movies either.

I plug in the vacuum cleaner and start to push it around as I hum a familiar melody. The noise of the cleaner drowns out my humming, but I keep humming anyway. He seems to be doing alright, you know, happy from what I can tell with the gleaming eyes and toothy smiles of the all the family pictures scattering the walls. He’s got the big, fancy house, cleaners to clean it up, a wifey and a kid that he was always talking about having. Yeah, he told me once about having all this stuff like the beautiful home with a fancy view and a gorgeous wife that he loved more than life and then kids somewhere along the line. I used to listen quietly and imagine him like this, you know living the life that he wanted. I never told him about the kind of life I wanted to have, simply because I had no idea about what I wanted, whereas he seemed so sure about everything. It’s nice to see that he got all he hoped for. It makes me less afraid of hoping for things.

I don’t know what I’m afraid of more. The idea of hoping itself, or having life shatter that hope in a million pieces. I used to be under the impression that hope is the drug that nobody can refuse a dose of, for the fear of going insane if they don’t. I used to think that it’s pointless to hope for things that you know aren’t possible and so I learned to expect the worst and never felt the threat of disappointment. Though I’ve come to realise that doing that is more cowardice than rationality because we are meant to expect something from life after all the shit that we receive from it. Whether we get it or not is not the point, not losing hope is the point because it may be a drug but it’s the only drug that it doesn’t hurt to overdose on. And I guess he realised that way before I did.

I finish dusting up the living room and throw one quick glance at the man still lost in the reality of the pages in front of him, before making my way to the kitchen. He hasn’t noticed me yet. I don’t blame him, it’s been a long time, but a part of me can’t stop hoping that he will look up from his book, flit his eyes towards me and I’ll smile as they widen with surprise and realisation. The rest of me, and the more rational part of me, though is praying that he stays where he is and I can leave before he notices my presence. I don’t want him to see me the way I am in my rugged house-cleaning uniform, cleaning his house. It’s not the embarrassment that I’m afraid of, it’s the pity that I know he will have if he sees me like this. He’s just that kind of guy who will feel pity for you if you are in the shape that I’m in. But it never feels good to be the one being pitied, in fact, I’m sure anyone would rather swallow cat piss than have pitied eyes fall on them, at least I’m sure I would.

I scrub the dishes, still humming to myself as I work. I still have to get to the study and then I can leave. I find it funny, in a way, how so much can change so quickly and in such a drastic way as more and more days pass. It’s also humorous to think about how different life could be if there was one minor detail that could be changed. For me, that was my booze-whore of a father. His speciality was to sit around on the couch in our lousy apartment and yell at me to get him some more whiskey, not to mention his utter doomed fate in gambling. The bastard got us so deep in debt that even if he prostituted himself on a goddamn unicycle, he still wouldn’t have been able to get us out. But that’s not exactly his fault, nobody wants to sleep with a beer-bellied man with a receding hairline and booze-breadth, especially when he’s on a unicycle.

So what did he do? Well, he was a cold-hearted drunken sonuvabitch with no job qualities, no self respect or any respect for that matter, so he wasn’t exactly remorseful when he sold me to a whorehouse. The bastard even picked the location of a whorehouse so far from home that he wouldn’t have to see me again. And just like that, my life was nothing more than a tangible thing in his hands that he no longer required. I always wonder what the boy living next door, now a man reading on the couch in the living room, thought about what had happened to me. Did he wonder where I was? Did he try looking for me? Was he sad that I was gone? Or was he indifferent to my absence? Questions swarm my mind and my legs itch to walk over to him and blurt them all out. I want to know about his life, what he did when I was gone, how he got out of that dump, how his mother was doing, whether his sister still kept in touch and so much more. I want to know so much, but I stay where I am. I don’t move an inch.

He doesn’t need his past following him, like mine is following me now. He doesn’t need to feel weight on his shoulders or any obligation to remember me. Just because my life has been screwed up doesn’t mean I have to screw his up for him. I know he’ll ask and I wouldn’t want to answer but he’ll convince me and he will be sorry and I want to avoid that. Why should he feel sorry when he’s done nothing wrong.

I move to the study, dragging my feet along behind me. I’m just really tired and all I can think of is going home and curling up in my bed and falling asleep, looking out at the sky from my bedroom window. I do that a lot since my filthy excuse of a father sold me away. I just found a sort of comfort in the changing colours. It took me a good five years to get out of that hellhole. It was the same thing everyday. One man after the other, day in and day out. Some of them were nice, they would come in and ask me if I was alright, but you could tell that they wouldn’t really remember the answer the second they were out of the door, but it still felt nice to be asked once in a while. One forgets what’s it like to be cared for in a place like that and I didn’t mind a few reminders.

Anyway, I endured hell for five years, living the teenage dream in a goddamn whorehouse. I couldn’t run, I just couldn’t. I tried but every time I did, I couldn’t figure out where I would go. To my booze hound of a father? to the neighbour who would have long forgotten me? take the life of a homeless beggar on the streets and then live off scrapes or die of starvation? Those seemed to be the only available options and I figured that my best shot at survival was to stay put.

And I was right, well for the time-being. You see, the universe has its funny ways of messing with us. In my case, it designed the perfect kind situation in which the owner of the whorehouse came barging in, with not a scrap of clothing on him, and tried to force himself on me. So in a panic I broke a beer bottle on the side-table over his skull and shoved the sharp end up his guts. Well the rest seems to be a blur, but there was a trial involved and I presented the story of my life to the jury and for once the pity played in my favour. So that was that. It’s not exactly the kind of memory that I get all too steamed up to go back to, but then again, I don’t have all too many to get too steamed up to recall either.

I’ve been cleaning up houses and apartments for a while now. It’s a job that I managed to land after the trial and it surprised the hell out of me that anybody would be willing to hire me given my “resume”, but that’s life I suppose; you’re always surprised by the way it turns out. I was once told that everything happens for a reason and there’s the funny bit. How can every tiny detail in life be backed by a reason for occurring the way it did? The simple answer: they can’t be. The small things don’t always have a reason behind them but they always add up to become a reason for something big that happens in life, things that you keep with you forever. I don’t know if that makes sense but I’m not going to break my neck explaining it. All you need to know is that if something bad happens to you, it’s probably going to lead up to something big, something that will topple your world upside down, maybe for the better, maybe for the worse. The point is, you can’t be too bummed about it because you might miss the good things that life has to offer.

A smile invades my lips when I see a 1930s smith-corona typewriter sitting on the desk. Should’ve guessed the sonuvabitch would become a goddamn writer with the way he used to tell me his stories all the time and how he always had the right words to make me smile. He had this gleam in his eye when he read them to you like he was lost in a different reality of his own creation. You could see the story writing itself before his eyes and your ears always yearned for more. You never got tired of listening to him. He had you under a daze with the words he used, the voice in which he spoke, the expressions that clouded his face, he could have you enthralled within a matter of moments. That was the best part; being so captivated in his world that you forget your own and just make his reality yours.

There are hardbacks and paperbacks strewn all across the room. I can picture him sitting on that armchair, reading Salinger’s Franny and Zooey and then suddenly getting an itch to re-read that one line from E.E cummings, putting the book down on the floor beside the chair and walking to the shelf to pick up another classic and revisit the pages, promising himself to return to the one he was reading before. He’s always been the funny character, always cracking me up even though I’m just picturing him, like one of those in his stories. I pick up the books, quite a few of them at the same time, ready to arrange them on the shelf in alphabetical order by the authors’ names and not the names of the books themselves and then subdividing them in the order of the years in which they were published just the way he used to, when I hear someone clear their throat behind me. My mind screams at me to stay put in position, knowing who it is that stands at the door, but I will myself to turn my head anyway.

He has his arms crossed and he leans his weight on the doorframe with his right leg crossed over the left. His brown hair is tousled in a clump, his thin-framed glasses are perched on the bridge of his nose and his lips pursed in a straight line. He looks much more mature since the last time I gave his face a proper look, but the childish mischief is still there, you could see it in his eyes if you looked long enough. There is the familiar curiosity that is hinted in the slight arch of one of his eyebrows and the slack demeanour in the way he leans.

“Yes?” I say, “may I help you?” These are the first words that I’ve said to him in almost ten years of seeing him. Sometimes you just can’t make a moment memorable, no matter how well you plan it in your head.

I look for a sign of recognition in his face but there isn’t any, when he says, ” You don’t need to do this room.” His voice is stern and sharp. You can tell that he’s reticent by the way he talks and the way he holds himself.

Not even a single hint of recall in his eyes. I sigh inwardly and nod in response. I put the books down on his desk and walk out of the room, crossing him on the way. I wait for something, anything but it isn’t there. I look at him one last time but I can see that he doesn’t see anyone familiar. I want to deny it but it’s just too damn obvious to not to confirm it. I want to come up with excuses, but how can there be any way around the simple fact that’s plain in front of me. I want to be blind, but even then I’d be able to see the truth that has made itself so damn visible. He doesn’t remember me. I wasn’t hoping for him to not notice me because I didn’t want his pity, I was hoping that because I wanted to avoid this exact situation. I wanted to avoid the loss of the little hope that had managed to seep its way through. I guess, avoiding it wouldn’t’ve made any of this any easier, either.

Can’t exactly blame the man, can I? But then, who do I blame for this? I could blame the bastard who sold me, I could blame my fate, I could blame the entire universe for being so crappy towards me or I could blame myself. You always want someone to blame, don’t you? You always need to find a way to make it lesser of your fault than it actually is. But how do you blame someone else when you know it’s not going to help you? Who do you blame to make yourself feel a little less worse? Will that help? Will it make the pain any more bearable? I don’t know the answers to these questions and I haven’t bothered to find out either. I’ll let you know if I have something, though I won’t hold my breath if I were you.

Philosophy, bullshit and everything in the middle.

Has there ever been a time, when you looked out your window and felt the world outside tug at you? It’s quite easy to miss, barely there, but it’s there. And once you know that it’s there, it’s almost impossible to ignore. It’s hard not to imagine what might happen if you forgot about everything and just…Left. If you just started walking and didn’t think about where you might find yourself by the next morning.

It can be a little frustrating, knowing that you have the life that you have and even though you can’t really complain because you know that so many have it a lot worse than you do, yet wanting so much more from it. You may think that leaving might just make it all better, it might..Make everything a lot less pathetic than it is, or at least you make it out to be. At the same time, you bury it, repress the thought till it comes and sits on your lap and refuses to leave. Ever had that? That urge to just run and leave it all behind staring at you right in the face and you try to push it away but it just steps in your way again. Have you ever felt it threaten you to swallow you from the inside and then throw you up if you keep refusing to acknowledge its presence?

If you have experienced these symptoms, then sir, a huge Welcome is in order, since it is the same ship as me that you have come aboard. I say ship and not boat simply because a mere boat wouldn’t be enough to handle the number of passengers who find themselves treading the same waters as we do now, where there is no time of the year that seems to be safe enough to set sail in. The tides always threaten you to take you, well us since I am no different than you are, with them. We have no recollection of how it happened, or even when it happened, but somehow we find ourselves staring over the edge.

Many call that ambition, most call it stupidity. But to all I would like to say,I know of no safe passage that you can take without the feeling fear of drowning and neither do I think that such a thing even exists. I travel alongside you sharing the same fears and fighting the same battles. The one reassurance that I can give you, and you can choose to feel reassured by it, is that there is a possibility that you might find yourself liking where you end up the next morning, you may just even enjoy the walk there.

The Boy In the Shadows

He came at night. His eyes wide and empty, his face pale with fear. His thin lips moved in the dark, a question that had bubbled through and his voice quivered as though afraid to step outside. He managed to push the words through and they sat there in the open, waiting to be acknowledged by her. She saw them staring at her, she heard the shaky voice, but didn’t speak.

After a few more minutes of the mocking silence she took the words in her arms, looked at them and smiled. She pushed out a few of her own, answering his question in her soft and whispered voice. He was dazed by the situation, not knowing how to react. This was the first time in many months that he had had any human interaction. He saw her in the dark, her lips seemed to be pulled up in the corners, making two dimples appear on her cheeks. Her hair was dark and spilled over her shoulders in long locks and her eyes gleamed with a sort of…Hope that broke the darkness around them.

She was clad in a coat and her hands were fisted in her pockets and she wasn’t sure what to do either. The boy was thin and weak and his eyes, like mentioned before, seemed empty. She couldn’t see him breathing but the small movement of his stomach proved otherwise. She couldn’t quite sum him up, he was different, this boy. For some reason he refused to step into the soft light of the small kerosene lamp that the girl had lit and when she asked whether he’d like to come forward, he simply shook his head. Having had enough of the curiosity burning inside her, when she finally asked for his reason he simply let out a humourless chuckle with great effort, it seemed and again struggled to push out the words from his mouth. They resisted but he was stubborn.

“The dark is my friend.” He managed to say.

She stared at him wide eyed, while he just pulled his thin, colourless lips into a warm patient smile. She wasn’t afraid or creeped out. No, she was curious. And so she asked again.

This time the words willingly left him and he made no effort to stop them. “The dark doesn’t judge me, no, it embraces me. It stays silent and just listens. We’re both afraid of the light and so we comfort each other. The dark is my friend.”

The girl only smiled and put out her lamp, relieving the boy of any fear to approach her. She only had to wait for another few moments for him to come forward. She smiled a bit wider and told him her name, “Felix,” she whispered to him and raised her hand of for him to take. He looked at this friendly gesture and looked at it some more for it was too foreign to him. Finally he raised his own hand placed it in hers. Her skin was soft and it felt warm on his own. He didn’t mind the contact, he realised, in fact, he seemed to like it.

All the while the boy contemplated his feelings, Felix looked at him with curious eyes. He was afraid of the light he’d said and she wondered why? What was so cruel that the light had done to the boy? For some reason, she wasn’t afraid as the boy would have expected. She was…Something else, something different and he was just as curious about her as she was about him. He told her his name, “Baron,” his voice not managing to be louder than a whisper and the one syllable word danced on his tongue before it slipped out of his lips. They smiled at each other, not minding the company.

She wasn’t used to such interaction either. She wasn’t used to speaking to people, not even her own mother, but for some odd reason, she spoke to him and he listened. He listened and spoke to her as well and in the company of the dark, he made another friend.

So when the sun began to come back up, she watched the sky bleed and the boy retreated into the shadows, the dark quick to follow him, but when he left, he left with a promise. A promise to return. The girl smiled and a sliver of hope seemed to cross her eyes when she turned back towards bleeding sky.

Hope, she thought, was all she needed.