heart after limp,
brain before muscle.
You hear the pieces fall.
Sometimes, all I can ask for is an itchy blanket over me, and a cup of steaming tea between my calloused fingers, bringing the smell of hot strawberry to my nostrils, until the smile of content overwhelmingly fills my chest. Sometimes, all I can ask for is death.
I don’t like mornings. I never liked mornings. The sun is mocking – glaring from his heaven to a place grey and heavy with nothing but vanity, and shoving his hard light to all the ugliness around. Night is not like that. Night is beautiful. Night smells of wet leaves and falling stars and wishes forgotten in the sigh of two lips touching. Night brings the twittering song of a hidden cricket, a lullaby lost in the fading dreams of two bodies nesting one in another. Night is not like mornings.
The breeze is cool tonight – comforting, dancing around the baby blue curtains of the kitchen. The TV plays in the background softly: I like silence, but it sometimes burdens me. Better to have a murmur of an unfamiliar voice than that suffocating nothingness. The microwave beeps rhythmically and I burn my hands whilst moving my meal to the couch.
I close my eyes.
The breeze is cool tonight.
I place the crown of emptiness
Upon a body already empty.
Can you hear it?
The sound of the thorns
Piercing my head?
“Chase?” That is my name. Someone is obviously talking, quite aggressively and impatiently – if I might add. I can hear the gritting of teeth, but I can’t seem to move my eyes and look in front of me. Instead of the tiled floor. “Chase!” I sigh. My eyes seem to move this time. My boss’ face is red with anger, the color covering both his bald head and fat neck. He glares at me through a pair of glasses that look too small for his big face. His furious sneer reveals asymmetrical yellow teeth. “Have you not heard a word of what I just said?”
No. “Of course I have, sir.”
His eyes narrow in disbelief. “And?”
I shrug and blink stupidly through the black hair falling over my eyes. How does one answer to a question he has not even heard? “I—I don’t know what to say.”
Mr. Parker huffs audibly, his breath – heavy with the stench of cigarettes – fanning across my face. I try not to gag. “What is wrong with you, Chase? You come here, I give you a job, you are good for a few months, the sales go up and it gets all downhill from there. What the hell went wrong?”
“I have been having nightmares,” I mutter softly.
“I have been living with my wife for twenty years which is pretty much the same thing, but do I let that affect my work? No.”
I rub my closed eyes tiredly and shake my head. “My mind does not work like that.”
Mr. Parker grabs my collar and looks into my eyes. “Then make it work,” he spats through clenched teeth.
I stay stolid under his glare, but my hands fidget on my lap. Mr. Parker does not notice. He never notices anything. No one ever notices anything. They just judge, pointing fingers even though their own hands are not clean of guilt either. “Okay.”
The hold on my collar loosens, leaving my shirt stretched and messily wrinkled. Mr. Parker does not seem convinced, but looks satisfied enough to let his anger go. He nods. I take that as a sign to walk out from his office.
“Chase.” He calls my name a second before I close the door, and I look at him expectantly. That’s what people want me to do – answer to my name and their orders. “You are a good journalist. A good photographer. Don’t let that go to waste.”
I just close the door.
It is raining bullets tonight.
Friend, why do we both have to die?
Aren’t we already dead,
Though we are alive?
“Beer? Or just another one of your stupid cups of tea again?” Zach grins at me, and wiggles his eyebrows, challenging me for a comeback.
I just grin back. “Get me a beer, you ass.”
He barks a laugh, one that makes me want to laugh as well by just listening to it, and throws me a freezing bottle. I catch it in mid-air and watch him jump onto the couch next to me, his reddish hair falling all over his face.
“I hear ya,” he sings, looking at me expectantly.
“I almost got fired today,” I reply with a nonchalant tone.
Zach chuckles in amusement. “Again? Why?”
I shrug. “I am good at getting fired.”
“You are good at writing articles too, but I don’t see you doin’ that anymore.”
“Are you gonna stop talking and drink your beer or what?” I say through a chuckle. I know what my mistakes are. I don’t want people pointing them out as well, when my mind won’t shut up about them.
“I’m just sayin’!” Zach smiles, throwing his hands in the air defensively.
“Writing isn’t a turn-on turn-off switch. It comes when it does and that’s all about it. I need time.”
“How much time?”
I think about it for a few moments and Zach is waitin’ for my answer patiently. I honestly don’t know why he’s still here, when everyone else walked away – I don’t know why I am still here, when I was determined to walk away. “Lots of it.”
“I don’t like this, Chase. It’s like… like—”
“Like before?” I raise my eyebrows. He nods. I smile bitterly. “No – it’s worse.”
Zach’s hands tremble as he puts his still-shut bottle on the mahogany table. It loses its balance and clatters to the floor, unbroken. When he speaks, his voice is harsh, but not scared. “What do you mean?”
I close my eyes. “The nightmares are back, Zach. The exact same nightmares, in the exact same order. Only more fucking terrifying.”
Seconds tick by, and I manage to turn a beer-evening to a psycho’s ramblings again. Zach grips my shoulder supportively. “You need time.”
The clock’s numbers speak to me.
‘Time passes. Time is upon you.’
I have no more time;
And the clocks laugh at me.
One after another.
I shrink to the floor.
The clocks laugh at me.
I tap my fingers on my desk, taking deep breaths. The cursor blinks rhythmically on an empty page, and I force myself to think. I look at my papers again, wrinkled and stained with spilled coffee. They have nothing more to offer than sparse notes and blurred photos stapled under them. I huff. The clock on my computer ticks 8:09 p.m. With any luck, the library will still be open. Maybe I will manage to pull off a history write-up again without Mr. Parker fuming about it.
I grab my jacket and keys and get out of my apartment. It is raining. The water feels good against the stubble of my cheeks. Soothing. Then I remember that it is raining in a world that cannot be beautified by a few drops of water, and those wonderful seconds crumble.
The library is open, though that seems to be the only sign of luck I will get for tonight. The books don’t look useful, and the things I can use for an article are either too overused or too eccentric for this town. I huff and huff and restrain myself from tearing out the yellow pages. With a final sigh, I shut the book closed and rub my tired eyes.
“Excuse me?” A silvery voice makes my hands fall. It takes my eyes a while to adjust to the lighting again, but when they do, they look straight in the chocolate ones of a pale girl, with blonde locks and a shy smile. For a while, I think that maybe she is not actually talking to me, even though there’s no one else around, until she points to the closed book in front of me. “Are… are you finished with that?”
“Um…” I don’t know why I am fucking hesitating. “Sure, you can take it. Maybe it will prove more useful to you.”
She smiles amusingly and sits on the other side of the table. “It is useful, if you know what to look for.” She whispers, as if she is revealing one of the humanity’s biggest secrets. I don’t know why but this makes me want to smile.
“I don’t.” I admit.
“I can see that.”
I look at her quizzically.
“Call me crazy, but I know how to read people – I know how to read you.”
Maybe this is supposed to make me feel scared, especially when it is spoken with such fierceness. It doesn’t. “I am not calling you crazy.”
“Call me Eve, then.”
“Eve.” I smile. “I am Chase.”
I am under your tower
and scream your name.
‘Let down your hair.’
A waterfall of blood flows
Out from your window.
I scream your name.
The nightmares changed tonight. They are no longer the same ones like before. This scares me. This is unknown. I don’t know if it is a good sign or not any longer.
“’The kindness of strangers’,” Mr. Parker’s eyes twinkle when they read the title of my article. Is that pleasure or anger? I don’t really care. “What do the rest of you think?” He looks around the room, at the six journalists around the council table.
“Cliché,” Mariah spats, steadying her glasses on the tip of her nose. “Sorry, Chase.”
I don’t give a fuck what you think. “It’s okay.”
“It has a literature-like feeling. It can be improved, but it could work.” Dan smiles at me. “Good job, buddy.”
I don’t give a fuck what you think. “Thanks.”
“It reads like a real story,” Brad comments. “People hate that.”
I don’t give a fuck what you think. “Yeah.”
Mr. Parker re-reads the lines one more time. “It’s different. I like it. We could use that. Welcome aboard again, Chase.”
The ship is sinking,
Torn blankets waving
someone says through yellow teeth.
The ship is sinking.
“What are you thinking of?” Eve elbows my ribs, bumping onto my left arm.
The road is wet under my feet. My shoes grind with it. The sound is annoying. But Eve is here. “Nothing.”
“Liar. You got that look again.”
“You hardly know me.”
“And you hardly know me. Yet here we are.”
I shrug. “That’s life.”
“No. That’s our choice. Life had nothing to do with it.”
“You are a strange person. You know that?”
Her eyes twinkle. “I could say the same. But I think you already know that.”
Eve seems nice. She makes me smile. But I feel guilty for smiling. It is not right – I never smile.
“So, what were you thinking of?”
She raises an eyebrow and buries herself deeper in her black coat to emphasize her point. “It’s December.”
“It’s never too early for ice-cream.”
Eve chose strawberry. Strawberry is right. She smells like strawberry. I chose chocolate instead of strawberry. It’s okay to do something different once in a while. Even if that different makes you happy.
I had no nightmares tonight. No images, no waking up with sweaty skin. Just… a quiet night. The morning is beautiful. Since when are mornings beautiful? Has it always been like that?
“Jack the butcher?”
“What? No!” I punch Zach’s shoulder.
“Okay, okay – Marcy?” Zach looks at me with eyes twinkling with pride for himself. “Oh my God, it’s Marcy, isn’t it?”
I laugh and look at him like he grew a second head. “I don’t even know who that is!”
“Oh, come on, I know there’s a girl behind that grin.”
“Even if there is, you don’t know her. Plus, she’s coming to help me write the next article, so you really got to go.”
“What? Ho-ho, someone is getting out of his shell!”
Am I? Getting out of my shell? I have never thought about it before. Maybe because I was never too close to getting out of my shell. It still feels strange. I feel guilty. I feel like forcing myself to cry just to make sure that the emptiness is really there. Why does it have to be?
Eve came over. We talked a lot, and I laughed a lot about things that are not supposed to be funny. She brought ice-cream.
The nightmares are still gone. I search for them in the night, I try to find a darkness somewhere between my happy dreams, but there is none. I am scared. This is unknown. This is not right.
I splash water on my face. It trickles down my neck and my bare chest. The water runs from the tap. A face all-too-familiar stares at me through the mirror, black eyes meeting black. The lamp light falls on the razor. It glistens. Clean. Ready.
My eyes move to my wrist. White scars cover the pale skin, where cerulean veins run.
Thick, hot blood throbs under them.
All it will take will be a slash.
I have tried this before. It leads nowhere. They don’t let you walk away just like that; they hold you here, because life is not a choice. Life is a gift. And you never refuse gifts nor turn them back. You just try to cope with them as best as you can.
A slash. Just a slash.
“NO!” I run out of the bathroom, panting. I don’t want to look at the razor anymore. The water is still running. My wet hands fumble with my phone, pressing the digits in desperation.
I sob. “Eve? Please, come over. I need you here. Come over, Eve, please. Please.”
“Chase, Chase, I am on my way. Wait!”
I don’t know how the next ten minutes pass. All I know is that when Eve comes, she finds me curled on a corner, staring blankly. My hands tremble and my face is pale, yet she runs to me. Her arms feel warm around my bare shoulders.
“Shh – I’m here, Chase. I’m here.”
I bury my face in the crook of her neck. It feels right. “Fix me.”
Her hands grab my jaw and she brings my face in level with hers. Her eyes are intense as she looks into mine. She leans close, and our lips touch. Softly, yet enough to make me shiver. To make me feel something. “You are not broken.”