Short Story I Wrote

Discussion in 'The Artist's Corner' started by CoffeeShopMike, Sep 29, 2010.

  1. Didn't know if there would be enough interest in writing if it was posted in this board, but thought I'd give it a shot. I wrote this two years back, but have been meaning to edit it a little more. But, here it is in the original form.

    The End of the Night
    He wasn't a fan of the night. The ominous blanket of dark indigo atmosphere did not comfort him at all. The seething, oozing blackness was a mixture of childhood fears and adult responsibility; two mutual partners who should avoid all contact for fear of creating a rift in space and time. Yes, the night chilled Lyle Mason to the bone. He refused to find solace in it.

    Besides, he had the bottle for that.

    Lyle poured another shot of vodka for himself. It was his sixth glass of that cheap liquor, which was the only substance available in the world to dull the stinging pain of his ulcer.

    The glass rose slowly from the night table towards Lyle's chapped lips. He hesitated before tossing both head and glass backwards. The vodka burnt the tender tissues of his epiglottis, though the bite did not sting as much as the first shot. Lyle thought there was no point to running from the rabid dog that was alcohol after it had torn through a good twenty years of his now isolated life.

    Lyle turned to look at himself in the mirror that stood a good seven feet from the side of his puny bed. Even seven feet back, Lyle noticed the deep crevices that snaked over his face were sinking deeper and deeper. What once belonged to a strapping young man whose life had no boundaries was now in possession of an old, beaten man who prayed for the means to end the pain in his heart. Alcohol clearly was not that solution.

    But the bitter nectar had run its course over two decades. The once vibrant blue eyes that mesmerized young women beyond all logic were now a dull, listless gray, hiding a world of grief, spite, and longing behind their lifeless irises. The corn-silk blonde hair had bowed earlier in Lyle's life to the stalks of gray that now rested over his fragile scalp. Lyle had tried time and time again to give up his vice, but the demons that haunted the corridors of his past continued to sling the drinks his way.

    Lyle couldn't sleep. He thought the ambrosia of the Russians would eventually lull his troubled mind back to a world of past memories and former emotions, but it was obvious that was a false hope. There was only one thing for Lyle to do now.


    It was his way to exorcise the beasties and the ghoulies that sent pinpricks into his head and heart day in and day out. Lyle drunkenly shambled over to his desk, pulling out a small stack of paper. Some were still a pure ivory, others had begun to yellow with age, the dog-ears curling and crinkling towards the center of the page. Lyle had been writing his story for the last ten years. Over and over again, he had put the same words in the same phrases, concocting the same endless tale. His rough drafts became his final drafts, which then in turn became his next rough draft.

    The plot would never change, though. Lyle's story was about love, anger, betrayal, grief, and the numbing pain of yearning. He did not know why he felt the need to finish his story, but his pen, now uncapped and ready to feast upon the smooth surface of tree pulp, continued to summon his blank mind to unload his soul on the pallid page.

    This draft was almost finished. Somehow, Lyle knew that this would be his last attempt at finishing an epic whose finale was certain to remain uncertain. Nevertheless, Lyle's sure hand (unaffected by the liquid that now circulated within his muscles) placed the nib of his pen on the paper and began to deliver his strong, accurate strokes.

    Angela was an angel. There was no other word so perfect, so immaculate, so pure to describe the figure that lay before Lyle. She had fallen asleep some five minutes ago, worn out from a night of drinking, dancing, and general mischief making. She had stripped herself bare as soon as her figure crossed the threshold of Lyle's tiny apartment. Lyle never found Angela's nude slumbers erotic at all. It was something of a work of art. A Reubens, or maybe something more akin to da Vinci. Yes, she was his Mona Lisa. Even in her sleep there was a mysterious half-grin, half-frown that spread itself over the daintiest of jaws and the most eloquent lips Lyle had ever seen in his life.

    Lyle had been watching in silent awe for the last few minutes, observing the mounds and curves of Angela's body, each one rising and falling in rhythm to her slow, serene breathing. The dim light of the streetlamp outside the apartment cast a soft, fluorescent glow over Angela's olive-colored skin, creating a ripple of shadows over the linens of the bed.

    There was so much beauty lying in front of him that Lyle could not help but reach out to caress the silken soft skin of his lover. Angela's warm fleshed tingled at the cold touch of Lyle's calloused fingers. Her green eyes fluttered open slowly, gazing at Lyle, glazed over by Angela's binge drinking session.

    “Did you need something?” Her husky voice, barely a whisper, gently rang out in Lyle's ears.

    “No. I was just watching you sleep.”

    She smiled softly, “Perv.” Lyle grinned at her remark. He loved her sense of humor, as twisted as it sometimes was.

    “Are you going to come to bed now?”

    “No,” said Lyle, “I think I'm going to take a walk. I want to get rid of this buzz before I go to sleep.”

    “Suit yourself.” Angela rolled over, giving Lyle a glimpse of her bare backside before she dozed off once again.

    Lyle smiled as he grabbed his leather jacket, a pack of cigarettes, and a pad of paper. Lyle always enjoyed writing late at night. He didn't really know what to write about when he went out on these little excursions, but it was a very therapeutic activity.

    Walking through the halls of the apartment always brought Lyle down. To his left, there was a small line of doors that held what can only be described as a do-it-yourself brothel. There was an April, a Cinnamon, a Tina, and a Delilah, lined up for johns of all shapes, sizes, and lifestyles to lay their money down and do God knows what for the few hours they lingered.

    On his right was the room of a heroin addict. His name started with a “D.” Donald? David? Dustin? It really didn't matter to Lyle. This addict would fade away, nameless, faceless, a speck of dust being blown away by the tempest known as time.

    Lyle ended up a block away from the complex. There was a bench under a lamppost near a park which Lyle haunted every now and again. There was a full moon out tonight, almost making the glow of the streetlight moot. This was where he came to write; to vent. Lyle readied his pen and pad, waiting for the words to come.

    Cars came and went as Lyle pressed ink to paper, shining an iridescent glow over a hunched over figure, his arm furiously scattering words across the page. Lyle had no idea what he was writing, but he knew he had to write it. His muse was a stubborn one which refused to let Lyle relax for even a moment. Phrases cluttered the page, drying slowly in the cold night air. This was his therapy.

    The apartment complex's door opened wide, followed by a gust of cold, sickly sweet autumn air. Lyle shambled in, his back curled over from fighting away the bite of the nearing winter. He carried his notebook underneath his arm, some of the pages spilling out.

    It was past one o'clock in the morning, a time many would consider unfit for any human being. Lyle had made it through a half a pack of cigarettes now, but decided to have one more. He pulled out his lighter after placing a cigarette between his lips. The flint clicked once, twice, three times before a spark caught the wick. A bright orange-yellow flame danced in the chilly September night, waving and licking at the oxygen that fueled it.

    Lyle lit his cigarette with no gusto, but drew deeply on the smoke that passed through the filter. He stood outside the door to his apartment, leaning against the frame. He knew Angela hated the smell of tar-soiled furniture, so he thought he'd avoid the argument of having one cigarette for ten minutes versus a lifetime of smoky end pieces.

    Lyle dropped the cigarette as the cinders neared the end. His boot found its way to the nearly extinguished butt, crushing out the dying embers. Like one more burn mark was going to bring down the value of this roach motel, he thought. A door down the hall opened. There was laughter, forced but laughter nonetheless, drifting over towards Lyle. It was probably Delilah (it sounded like her laughter) pushing one of her late night customers out into the cold. Lyle scoffed before he opened the door to his apartment, nudging the door a bit to free it from the sticky pane.

    Lyle tossed his leather jacket nonchalantly onto the semi-moth-eaten sofa. He strolled into the bedroom, his eyes adjusting to the new lighting. Angela was still soundly asleep. Lyle didn't even bother to undress tonight. He just fell down beside Angela, wrapping his arm around her bare waist, resting his head in the crook of her neck.

    “You've been smoking?” Angela asked dreamily.

    “Writing,” Lyle responded, starting to doze.

    Angela mumbled her approval before joining Lyle in a deep sleep. The night was calm; the wind whispered a gentle story of times past. All was at peace… For the time being.

    Lyle set down his pen. This was the same passage he had written a hundred times before. He knew what was next. It was the hardest part of the story to write. Never mind what came before the passage, never mind that Lyle had no end to his tale. This next chapter was the only chapter that mattered. His story was not a story unless his part was written.

    But Lyle's hand was paralyzed. He did not want to finish his story the same way again. It was only a reminder of how worthless his life was. Lyle could feel moisture run down his cheeks. Had he been crying this whole time? This was new. He had thought the alcohol had sapped his reservoir of any tears that could be shed over these past memories. It seemed as though the saline was much stronger than any burning liquid.

    Maybe it was the newly found resurgence of emotion that did it. Or maybe it was the fact that Lyle wanted to put away his manuscript for good tonight. Even more possible was the fact that the same moon that hovered in the night sky tonight was in the same exact position on the same date that Lyle began writing his story. Either way, the static muscles in his wrist loosened and allowed the pen to once again move freely over the lines on the paper.


    It's funny how the shortest month of the year became the most depressing and stretched-out of all months. Lyle had not spoken to Angela in over a week. She was vacationing with her parents on the west coast and would be gone for the duration of February. Lyle did not expect any response from her for the first few days, as Angela was horrible with time zones. Seven days passed with no greeting via telephone, or even an e-mail. Seven days became eight, then nine.

    Lyle could not understand the delay. By now, Angela would have been in contact with him, most likely complaining about the horrors of spending day after day with her stuffy parents. He spent that ninth day moping in bed, never moving from his depressed state. It wasn't that he was angry or sad, he was just alone.

    Finally, on the tenth day, Angela made contact with Lyle. It was in the form a phone call. Lyle was sound asleep at 5:00 a.m. when Angela's call riled him from his hibernation. He reached blindly in the dark, searching for his phone. It was on the fourth ring that Lyle's flesh connected with the frigid plastic of the phone.


    “Lyle, are you awake?”

    “Angela? Why haven't you called me?” Lyle may have sounded a little angry, but early mornings and depressed smokers don't mix well.

    “Lyle, don't get upset. I just haven't-”

    “It's okay,” it was a blatant lie, but Lyle just wanted to move this conversation forward. “What's up?”

    “Well, Seattle's just blown my mind! I didn't think it was going to be so great!”

    Angela continued on, bubbling and practically gushing about the sights and sounds of Seattle, the people, the tourist traps, even how unbelievably wonderful her parents were acting towards her. Apparently, this dreary, overcast city was a little slice of Eden to Angela. Lyle was happy for her. He wasn't exactly thrilled that this city took Angela's focus away from himself, but Angela needed something to make her happy.

    Angela's speech faltered momentarily before she said, “Lyle, when I get back, we're going to have to talk.”

    “About what?”

    “It's just… Something I've had on my mind for a while.”

    “Can't you just say it over the phone?” Did his words sound angry, he wondered. They sounded so venomous and full of spite.

    “I can't. Just please, let me tell you when I get back.”

    “Fine,” his answer was a strained attempt at sounding content. “Angela, I'm going to have to go. They need me at work early today.”

    “Oh, yeah, right. Time zones. Okay; but promise you're okay with me not telling you this now?”

    “I promise-”

    “Lyle,” her voice was strong and hid what may have been veil of tears behind a single word. “Promise me.”

    “I promise you, I'm fine with it Angela.”

    “Thank you. Okay, get to work; I don't want you to be late. Bye.”


    Lyle let the phone crash unceremoniously down, the clatter dulling in the soft grey of dawn's light. Why did he feel so angry? He had no idea as to what was happening, but his paranoia kept telling him that something was amiss. Whatever it was though, it would have to wait.

    The remaining days of the month dragged on and on, pulling at Lyle's stomach, churning the acid over and over again, until all Lyle could taste was the bile that made its way up to his throat. Lyle spent the days waiting and contemplating. What had happened in Seattle? Lyle could not find an answer. His troubled mind was only put to rest at night when he would leave a Ryan Adams CD on to play lullabies that would take him away from the reality that something might be wrong. But the thoughts were only dormant in the nighttime hours, rising to the surface in the morning to haunt Lyle's fragile mind.

    Angela's plane flew in late Monday evening. Lyle had been waiting to see her at the gate for about hand hour now. He knew she'd be back by herself, as her parents were taking a separate flight to upper New York to care for their lavish home. That was fine by Lyle. He never cared for Angela's parents. They weren't his cup of tea, and he had a feeling he didn't exactly taste amazing on their “refined” palettes.

    Lyle finally saw Angela near the baggage claims. He strolled up to greet her, taking his time to make his way over to the carousel of handbags and suitcases.

    “Hey,” he said casually, letting the words slide through his lips, trying to hide his anxiety.

    “Angela turned around, her glassy expression giving way to a heartwarming smile. “Lyle!” She threw her arms around his neck and embraced him firmly. Lyle's arms hesitated momentarily before placing two firm, but wary, arms around her. She did not seem to sense the lack of joy or any emotions at that in her lover's lukewarm reception.

    “Oh my goodness, I have so much to tell you!” Angela gushed.

    Lyle listened as she regaled him with tales of the cloudy western town. She described the magnificent structure of the Space Needle as Lyle helped with her luggage, spun stories of the young artists bearing their souls on the street corners for, what may have literally been, pennies on the hour as Lyle led Angela to his car, and reminisced over the late nights she stayed out touring coffeehouses, arthouses, and the wilderness as Lyle drove his rusty Buick to their apartment.

    He listened, sometimes fully tuned into the wonders of Seattle, other times falling into a regressed state of bitterness brought on by the hypnotic yellow lines on the highway. His anger was not a violent emotion, but it was the hardest of his to control.

    “Lyle? Lyle, are you listening to me?”

    Lyle broke the trance the illuminated blacktop had created. How long had he been that way? “What? Sorry, I was kind of zoned out.”

    Angela looked at Lyle with a little stab of worry in her eyes. “Are you sure you're okay, honey?” Her voice teetered on the fine line between compassion and suspicion.

    “I'm fine. I just haven't slept really well lately.”

    “Oh,” her gaze sunk towards the floor. She didn't know how to deal with Lyle when he felt this way. It always seemed like it was the world against Lyle, and she had to play referee. Angela did not know what to say to get Lyle to unburden his worries to her. She just lifted her hand and placed it on Lyle's lap.

    Lyle felt Angela's hand resting on the rough fabric of his jeans. He didn't react, or rather didn't want to react. There was just numb. It spread throughout his body, beginning first at his temples and spreading though the nerves and muscles of every inch of his body. Beneath that numb was an innate anger. It churned and tossed up against the barrier of numb and flesh that held back the rage which drained Lyle mentally and physically.

    Their drive home was a silent one. Not a word was spoken, not a phrase uttered. Perhaps there was a mutual understanding that Lyle was hurt and Angela was hiding something monumental. The skeletal forms of the oaks stood stoically aside the road, their branches scratching at the inky black sky, attempting to clear the last few remaining clouds from the atmosphere, and possibly the stale air that rested between Lyle and Angela.

    The old Buick pulled up to the apartment complex, the ancient brakes screeching out a strange hymn. Angela's hand finally relinquished its position on Lyle's thigh, letting him exit the vehicle to unpack her bags. With her head down, Angela made her way to the apartment door, unlocking it slowly, holding it open to wait for Lyle to bring her two large suitcases inside. Lyle was standing above the trunk of the Buick, pulling out the two pieces of luggage. He paused momentarily after setting down Angela's baggage, resting his head on the cool metal of the trunk.

    He slammed the trunk shut, and made his way up the walk with the bags. He passed by Angela, not speaking a word or making eye contact. Angela could feel this animosity, but said nothing about it. She just gently closed the door, and followed Lyle back to their small room. Neither one said a word to the other, but there was definitely more than enough tension in the room that night. Angela thought that maybe her news should wait until morning. Lyle didn't seem to be anxious to hear about it, so why rush the proceedings?

    Lyle was the first to place his body on the cold sheets of the bed. He looked a mess with his hair still showing signs of his sleepless nights and his eyes bloodshot from weeks of worry and fear. This bed was less a place of comfort, but a prison which bound him by emotion. Lyle's clothing was wrinkled, a landscape of cotton veins and denim arteries that slithered over his tired body.

    Angela made an attempt to join Lyle as he lay in a defeated heap on the mattress. She did not want to sleep in the nude tonight, as the cold room would probably be the death of her if she decided to indulge in that one little joy. She placed her body against Lyle's, wrapping her arm over his torso, trying to roust some sort of emotion out of him. It was hopeless. The body that lay beneath her arm was breathing deep, devoid of all emotion.

    The morning came all too soon it seemed. Angela awoke to an empty bed. She wasn't worried, since Lyle usually liked to get up early to eat breakfast before she got up. It was a ritual they shared, and it was the only thing that seemed the same since her stay in Seattle. She decided to see if Lyle was still in yet, or if he had already left for work.

    Lyle was sitting at the table, eating a bowl of corn flakes. He didn't really enjoy it, but it was the only thing that was available that morning. He lazily pushed the dry flakes under the white liquid that drowned a good portion of their brothers. Angela strolled into the living room, her skin reflecting the morning light as radiantly as ever. But Lyle didn't much care for this little show today. She joined him at the table, sitting across from him and his bowl of corn flakes. She had changed into a bathrobe. She was most likely going to have a shower later to get rid of the scent of airplanes and crowded airports, he thought.

    “Lyle, do you remember when I told you I had something to talk to you about?”

    “Yeah?” Lyle's heart began to race at this point.

    “It's about Seattle. I really, really enjoyed it there. I was thinking about… moving there.”

    Lyle could not believe what he just heard. It had to be a joke. Yes, this was another one of Angela's twisted little jokes. He kept waiting for her to crack a smile, or to smirk under her breath. Nothing… Angela had turned her head away from Lyle, trying to avoid his incredulous gaze. “Why?”

    “Why? Lyle, I thought you'd be happy that I'd found somewhere that made me feel happy.”

    “How can I when you just spring this news on me after I've been away from you for a month?” Lyle's fist had clenched tightly, his nails beginning to dig into his flesh.

    “I didn't expect to feel this way when I got on that plane, Lyle! It's just… Seattle has so much more to offer me than if I was to stay here!”

    “So it doesn't matter that I won't be there?”

    There was a heavy stillness in the room. For a moment, it appeared that time was at a standstill. Nobody wanted to be the next to speak. Angela's and Lyle's eyes had finally met for the first time since the plane brought Angela back from the west coast, but this meeting of pupils and corneas was not a pleasant one as it had always been before. There was pain in their eyes, pain which had been caused not by each other, but by the circumstances of existence. Finally, Angela decided to speak.

    “I guess it doesn't,” she said quietly, the words barely audible, but as powerful as freight train.

    Lyle did not know what to say. His face contorted into a mess of flesh and muscle pulling and tearing at each other, trying to find the proper emotion. Was it anger? Or was it sadness? Could there even be a slight bit of joy in there? Lyle did not know, and neither did his body. His hands decided to be the judge and jury of this battle, reaching down to pick up the half-filled bowl of cereal and hurling it at the wall behind Angela. She had ducked as soon as she saw the porcelain dish rise from its resting place, but there were traces of cornflakes and milk in her hair when she rose.

    “Fine! Just get the hell out!” Lyle had finally chosen an emotion. It was going to be anger.

    “Lyle, please let me-”

    “No! I said get the hell out, and go to Seattle! I don't need you and I never needed you! I'll be fine without you on my ass after everything I do!”

    Lyle found his leather jacket on the couch and stormed out of the room, leaving a cold wind behind him when he slammed the door shut. Angela was silent for a few seconds. Then her eyes felt the tears rise to the surface, stinging at her hot cheeks. It was over…

    Lyle made his way through the halls of the apartment, not minding the two women exiting their rooms with johns in tow. What did it matter that he lived in some hole of an apartment? He had no time for social commentary. He just needed to be at the park. The park would calm him down. He had no idea that behind him, in his former life, that the only woman he truly loved was slowly and tearfully packing her belongings, ready to catch the first bus out of town and into her life without the only man she truly loved.

    It was three in the afternoon when Lyle decided to come back to the apartment. His mind was still swirling after the events at the breakfast table. Was she really going to leave him, just to be in some city where the sun never shone and where the suicide rate kept going up every year? Was his little outburst the straw that broke the camel's back? The questions were numerous, but the answers were scarce.

    Lyle's mind was a blank as he made his way back to his room. He pushed the door open once again, being welcomed back by the aftermath of what had transpired that morning. The bowl of cereal still lay on the floor under the giant spot it had created.

    “Angela?” Lyle did not shout out her name, but rather whispered it. He knew that his worst fear had come to pass at this point. There was a note attached to the refrigerator, but Lyle did not need to read it to know what had happened.

    His weathered boots made their way slowly to the little island of milk, cereal, and porcelain that had formed. It was still, calm like the weather that strikes before a devastating hurricane is about to pass through. Lyle took a seat by the mess he had made, his left leg jutting straight out while his right leg bent itself into an upside-down “V”, allowing him to rest his arms upon it. Lyle pulled out a cigarette from his coat pocket, held it between his lips, and contemplated lighting it. It's not really going to matter if I have smoky furniture now, will it?

    Lyle sat by the little clutter of breakfast for hours, smoking cigarette after cigarette. He didn't know when he'd ever clean up this mess. He didn't even know when he was going to clean up the even bigger mess that was his life.

    The answer never came, not even when the sun began to sink below the horizon, making its way to Seattle. Maybe that was the answer. Lyle would never know.

    Was that the end?

    Lyle set down his pen, massaged his throbbing temples, and stared once more at the words that were still settling on his desk. It wasn't the ending he wanted. This was the ending he had written a hundred times before. But at the same time, it was the end of the story. Lyle could feel it. His eyesight started to betray him in the dimly lit room. The blur that appeared before him was the child of a night of hard drinking and the myopia that came with old age.

    Lyle scribbled a few more lines on the page before he rose from his seat, and made his way back to his bed. His body ached as he made his way to the rock hard mattress. There was still a smidgen of vodka left in the bottle on his nightstand. Hair of the dog, right? he thought. Lyle swallowed the last bit of alcohol, grimacing as it made its way slowly down his throat. It served its purpose later as he forced his body to lie down on old bed. His bones screamed in pain, his muscles and joints joining in the chorus, creating a cacophony that nearly drove Lyle insane.

    Tonight was his last night on Earth. He knew it, as did the carcass he had been dragging around for over fifty years. The alcohol had aged him, as well as the tobacco. It was time to finally stop both vices, since there would be no time for either in the hereafter. Lyle rolled himself over to his left side, and waited. Waited until his eyes began to close and his breathing began to slow. The dark finally overtook him, and he drifted away slowly, never again to suffer the unfinished work that was his life.

    Lyle's body was found the next day by a cleaning lady who had come in to straighten up the apartment. His neighbors didn't have much to say about him, except that he was a kind old man who perhaps drank a bit too much. He never said a bitter word to anybody in the complex; as he was too busy working on a novel, or so he said. His funeral was a small affair, as nobody seemed to know if this man had a family or anybody relatively close to a friend who would want a lush celebration of a life lived.

    A day after Lyle was laid to rest, a postcard arrived in his now unused mail slot. The picture on the front was of Seattle's Space Needle. The writing on the back was sad, but friendly. It asked if Lyle was still writing, and wanted to know if he'd ever come to the west coast sometime. July would be a good month, as the weather was more bearable at that time of the year. It was signed with love, but it needn't be. The short strokes of ink had already evoked those emotions, although it would really do no good to the recently deceased owner of the mail slot, or the still living, still grieving author of the card.

    Life was a whirlwind journey, where only few sojourners dare to part ways, hoping to see each other again when both had fulfilled their purpose on the path.

    I am not a man who knows everything,

    But I am a human who has experienced all

    Perhaps one day I will be able to recall my fond memories

    Until then, I shall sleep

    ~Lyle Mason

  2. I don't mean to bump a thread that might be dead, but I just wanted to post another short story up here. Once again, written when I was just starting to really write, so excuse the simple nature of it.

    What I Become

    I was told never to cry as a child. My father believed that crying was the most insulting act a person could perform, whether it be in public or in private. My brother, my sister, my mother, none have succumb to the reservoir of salt and water stored beneath their flesh. I have done my best to hold in my sorrow.

    When the call of hunger, created by one too many days without food, stung at the core of my belly, one that has never been filled it seems, I held back. When the loss of childhood friends was too great, I held back. When all hope seemed lost in the dark days of the ongoing occupation, I held back. My cheeks, still rose-tinted and full of the innocence I may have once possessed, have only felt the hot forgiving tears of sadness but once in their lives, and never again.

    I was five years old… No one will probably believe that in the eight years of life that have passed since the incident that I remember the event as vividly as I retell, but I promise, every word that leaves my mouth, passes over my lips, and into the bright air of reality is true. I was five years old, the age when the entire world becomes your playground and fear only exists in the night terrors created by the thump-thump-thump of gunfire and the morbid screams for mercy as people receive the hot metal bullets as an apple receives the blade of a knife, when I dared to seek adventure. My legs, sturdy yet still waiflike, carried my body and my imagination to the kitchen. My mother was cutting an onion to add into the weak soup my family dined on almost every night. I remember the scent of the onions. Sweet, acidic, bitter. An amalgam of smells to tempt the olfactory, but also repulse it at the same time. I did not cry though, as most people would believe. My tears were not the spawn of a vegetable sliced in the early evening. No…

    They were tears of pain.

    I crept my way towards my mother, hoping would be chosen by her to assist with the meal, as I had seen big sister do so many, many times. Father and brother need not help, I know, for they were men. They struggled daily to provide for us, the weak, dependent women of the household, and needed to rest if they were to support our aching stomachs another day longer. I stood beside mother, standing only thigh-high to her, pulling on the rough cloth she wore over only what I can imagine to be the body of a goddess, if that statement does not offend almighty Allah.

    My mother's skin, what little of it I could see, was a dark, sandy brown. Deeper in hue and radiance than the walls of our tiny house. Her brown eyes mesmerized my youthful stare into eyes which glowed with admiration for this beautiful creature I was privileged to call my mother. Her raven black hair was tucked into her burqa, yet I could see strands slipping down onto her face. Now as I look back onto this time of my life, I realize that my mother's eyes were not as vibrant as I had once envisioned. The lines of wear and tear were starting in, and the small traces of gray were appearing in her hair. She was still my mother, though, and she was a vision.

    “Mother,” I said my voice pleasant and respectful, as we are expected to address our elders in such a way.

    “Yes, darling?”

    “Mother,” I repeated, the nectar of youth covering the word as it my mouth, “I want to help make dinner.”

    “No, little one,” Mother reached up with her left hand, brushing away the loosened tendrils of night, “It is much too soon for you to learn. You can barely even see the counter, let alone work on it. Go play in your room until I call for you.” She set her knife down onto the counter, her hands scooping up the diced onion.

    Maybe it was fatigue, maybe it was the weariness brought upon by age, maybe it was pure happenstance, but my mother's hand placed the knife on the counter so that the handle of the bright utensil balanced oh so precariously over the counter's top. My childish eyes saw this as an opportunity to prove myself to my mother.

    “No, I'm not. See?”

    No sooner had the words escaped my mouth my small, chubby hands reached towards the handle of the blade. Mother was right. I was too short to work at the counter. My fingertips grazed the handle, not succeeding in the original task of claiming the knife as my own, but it did throw the blade's circus-like spectacle of grace off kilter, sending it plummeting downward.

    I heard my mother gasp in horror. Let me rephrase that. I saw my mother gasp in horror, yet no sound was uttered, at least to my ears. All I could sense at that moment in time was the hot, sticky fluid that ran down my forearm. I felt a cold, stinging pain rush through my body, starting first at the nerve endings in my arm, making its way through my upper body, down into the far reaches of my toes, and back up towards my brain. I looked down to where the sting had started. I saw a stream of crimson flowing down my arm. I heard the distinctive plip-plip-plip of the liquid hitting the hard floor, creating a dark pool wherein my reflection was lost and distorted. Next, I felt the tears.

    Hot, fiery drops of water rushed down my cheeks, cooling the pain that centered itself on my face. My eyes closed shut, wanting to block out the flowing river that had once flowed in my veins, yet now blended with the dust and onion skins on the floor. I opened my mouth, not knowing what I wanted to say, just letting what came out come. I screamed, I moaned, I cried for relief from my pain, but all for naught.

    The next thing I knew, I felt something stiff press into my abdomen, lifting my body upwards. I opened my tearstained eyes to see it was the arm of my father. He would comfort me, I thought, he would take away all my pain. How surprised was I when he sat down and placed me over his knee. I knew what this meant.

    I was being punished.

    The first strike was hard and firm. Although it was not as painful as the sting I had felt in my forearm, it was just as painful. It was followed by a succession of hard, unwavering blows that raised the volume of my screams. I looked around frantically with my blurred eyes, searching for why I was being disciplined for crying out in pain. I saw my mother, a damp cloth in her hands, kneeling on the floor to wipe away the evidence of my outburst. Her head was bent low, never once looking at me. Only towards the floor. Towards the floor with the stains of my youth.

    I could not stop crying. My screams had seceded into a wavering whimper. Yet the salt water still remained on my face. My father took me off his knee and set me down in front of him. The legs of his pants were stained with his own child's blood, yet he showed no sign of compassion.

    “We do not cry in this family,” his eyes stared into my own, never blinking, never wandering, “To cry is to show that you are weak. I did not work to support you and your siblings by breaking my back, giving up all the things I wanted in life, and slaving away for some mindless company so that you could become a weak, pitiful, loathsome, spoiled brat who cries at everything! If you so much as shed one tear in my presence, in my house, I shall disown you like a mutt. Understood?”

    “But father-” A hard slap to my already burning cheek cut my sentence short.


    I could not stand staring at my father's burning dark brown eyes. I wanted to cry now more than ever, yet I understood that I had broken a taboo my father had set forth as sort of a payment we owed to him.

    “Yes, father.”

    “Good. Now, have your mother wrap your wound. You are going without dinner tonight as punishment. Do I make myself clear?”

    “Yes, father.”

    Father was a strong man. His strict morals and expectations molded me into what he believed to be perfection.

    For a girl, at least.
    I have held to father's expectations, not because I feared his hand, or the knowledge that I would drift away to the realm of dreams hungry and sore. I lived up to my father's expectations because of what my mother told me on the day I… Matured, if you will.

    My mother, a kind, gentle, and firm woman, kneeled before me in the bathroom. I sat on the side of our tiny, mildew-ridden bathtub, letting my mother gently run a wet cloth over my exposed muscle. The stream of red had slowed and as it mixed with the soothing cold of the water, it ran a dark pink, falling down into the tub, dripping from my fingertips.

    “I'm sorry, mother. I did not mean to anger you or father.”

    Mother did not reply. She discarded the now blood-soaked rag, still damp with water and my own life force. She opened a small bottle of rubbing alcohol (a precious commodity we were lucky that father had acquired), pouring a small portion of it into a glass.

    “Your arm,” mother's voice had no emotion in it. I did as I was told and offered my arm into her waiting palm.

    “This will hurt, but do not scream or cry. It is all for the best, dear.”

    Mother emptied the glass in one fluid motion, covering the length of my arm. The burning sensation I felt was unbearable. I bit my lip, increasing pressure as the pain spread from my open wound to the rest of my body. I closed my eyes, trying to push the pain away from me. I saw tiny specks of color, I tasted iron, and I smelled the sickly odor of the alcohol.

    I made the attempt to open my eyes, to plead with my mother. She was quick to respond to my nonverbal begging, for she placed the large swatch of cotton over my cut and began to tightly wrap the gauze around it.

    I did not desire the droplet to leave my eye; it did so of its own accord. I snatched it up with my free hand. Mother looked to the floor as she finished securing my bandage.

    “I'm sorry…” there were no other words I could muster up at the moment.

    That was when my mother looked towards me with her eyes, now showing the signs of age even more so than before. All the vibrant color within her pupils had been deadened over the course of the last fifteen minutes.

    “Your father is very disappointed in you…” her voice was quiet and low. She gripped an area of fabric on her burqa and twisted it tightly, searching for the strength to continue her speech, “I would not be surprised if he ignored you for the next few days.”

    “I'm really, really sorry, mother.”

    Mother rested a hand on my face. Her flesh was cold as it made its way over the fiery desert that were my cheeks. I saw the love my mother felt for me at this exact moment in time. Her eyes shined now more than ever, yet it was not from her heart alone, but from the thin veil of tears that had gathered over her eyes.

    “Dearest, do not apologize. It is my fault that this had to happen. You are my responsibility, and I was not careful. You would not have had to suffer this if only I was taking better of all I did. I should apologize to you.”

    Mother's lips quivered as she spoke. The water eyes remained full, ready to burst. “Please child, do not cry. If you learn this now, yo9u will not have to hurt in the future. Your father expects you, as well as your brother and sister to never cry. I myself have not cried for over sixteen years now. It is not as hard as you would imagine it to be. Please, for your mother's sake.”

    “Yes, mother.”

    Mother let her eyelids close, to fight away the oncoming rush of emotions. Her hands, cold and lifeless, grasped mine as she laid her head in my lap.

    “Thank you.”

    Mother repeated the phrase, as if this mantra would change both our lives for the better. Mother had always dreamed of living the lives we had seen in the American magazines mother had hidden under her and father's bed. There were large houses and primrose gardens filled with sheer and utter beauty. The women were always kept proper and clean, their cream-colored skin shining in the glow of a free-standing lamp.

    Maybe fantasies are better left just that. Unrealistic visions of what could be. I want to forget the dreams my mother had for me. They never did pan out as I had imagined.

    I'm sitting on a large stone slab as I tell this story. Well, the first half of my story. I am here now as a result of the second half of my tale.

    Yesterday, I was an average thirteen year-old girl. My family and I were in the heart of our city. It was always a joy to see the delightful sights and hear the wonderful sounds of the city. The golden sand of the streets shimmered in the midday sun as people traversed the main streets, entering and exiting buildings and restaurants, chatting with old acquaintances. How I loved the lure of the city. It was simple, compared to the images I have seen in the American magazines, yet I was still held in awe as I passed the crowds. The reason we were in town today was to celebrate. Father had arranged for us to have a grand meal at a quiet little café in honor of my brother's twentieth birthday. Brother's birthdays were always a treat for my sister and I. Our births were only celebrated with the weak soup we were accustomed to in our daily lives accompanied by the grumbles of good wishes given my father.

    Brother, on the other hand, was given praise at a grand feast put together by father. The food was always rich and savory on those days. I never complained about the lack of zeal put into my birthday, for fear I would lose the fullness I would feel on a day where food was now more than just a necessity.

    The meal set before my family was quite a sight, one which only existed in my dreams. There was fresh, steamed rice served with wild vegetables, followed by a large rack of lamb. Of course, father and brother took what they wanted first, but an aching stomach is never an ungrateful one. I waited alongside mother and sister, tasting the meal in my nostrils before the first bite reached my mouth or even touched my plate.

    The meal was delicious. Laughter melted away hunger and joy stood over the presiding, observing the gaiety and overflowing of emotion. I know now that this happiness only veiled the true intentions of fate.

    I finished my plate first, the lure of the sweet meat and fresh produce too strong for my adolescent willpower. I kindly excused myself from the table, wanting to take a short walk to explore the city, which I rarely had the opportunity to do.

    The streets were warm and glittering, the footprints left by the rush swept away by the light breeze. The voices of vendors and customers bickering over the wares in the street side bazaars were lively and musical. A group of my friends sat on a corner, sharing stories, making idle chit-chat, and marveling at a new purchase one had made.

    I joined the group, ready to share whatever I could, when I heard the screams. These were the screams I had heard in my nightmares. I was awake and fully conscious of these cries this time. I turned, wondering all the while who had been hurt, but as my body swiveled to meet the cacophony, a large fireball blinded me momentarily while the deafening boom rattled my eardrums.

    I was pulled to the ground by an unknown body. I did not think to look as to whom it was, for the sight before me had hypnotized me. The café I had left no longer than three minutes ago was on fire.

    Bright yellow flames and vibrant reds melded together, consuming the small establishment. The dancing colors hypnotized me, pulling me into a trance where I could not hear the voices around me, nor see anything else but the fire. I was snapped out of my trance when arms gripped me by the shoulders and rushed me to my feet.

    “Move, move!”

    It was an American soldier, and a young one at that. He gestured for me to take shelter near a huddled mass of civilians. I made my way towards the group, my legs wobbling as if they were made of rubber. I now knew that the fire that burned before me was not just a gas leak or any other kitchen accident. It was a bombing. The soldiers only showed up if there was a bombing, or some other form of attack.

    I had finally gathered my senses, no longer a slave to the flames that swallowed the now charred café, and wondered where my family was. Frantically, I raced through the crowd, screaming their names, scanning the hundreds of bodies for a familiar article of clothing or the open arms of my mother.

    I ran. I did not know where I wanted to run; I just needed to put as much distance between the pyre and myself as possible. Buildings became a blur as I ran, my legs growing numb to the pain in my heart. Nothing was real at this point. Nothing except for the knowledge that my family, those dearest to me, were gone.

    Yet I did not cry.

    I finally stopped running, slowing my pace to a slow trudge. My senses finally returned to me as the background came into focus. I was very close to my house, as far as I could tell, since the last remnants of the city appeared to have long since faded away behind me. I pressed on forward, hoping to find solace at home.

    Home. A word that should make every child feel safe when they hear it. I prayed that it would comfort me now more than ever.

    I opened the door slowly, pushing my way through gently. The scent of yesterday's onions filled my nostrils, and awakened the memories of my family. I hung my head, hoping the odor would leave. I made a beeline to the room shared by my sister and I, and laid down on the hard, uncomfortable bed. Pulling my legs towards my chest, I curled up into a tiny ball, burying my head and closing my eyes, my ears, my nose to the outside world. I waited for sleep to come.

    How painful that wait was.

    I awoke the next morning, my throat dry, my stomach crying out in pain. I wanted to rid myself of these physical ailments. Placing my feet steadily onto the floor, I made my way to the kitchen.

    Finally I was tall enough to reach over the counter. Mother still did not want me to cook yet, but she knew I was able to. I scanned the countertop, searching for any form of sustenance. Only mother's utensils, pots, pans, and unwashed dishes remained.

    And an onion.

    The vegetable was still fresh, glistening in the light of a new day. I stared at the pale white object before me. What a complex being, the onion. It consists of layers upon layers of skin and flesh. The layers appear to stretch on for forever, yet when you reach the onion's core, there is nothing.

    What a frightening word. Nothing. A state of nonexistence. Had I finally reached a point in my life where that was all I had to look forward to? Nothing?

    I turned away from the onion, from its pale skin, from its odor, from its cynical gaze. How I despised onions.

    There was a loaf of bread sitting in the cupboard. It would have to do. I decided to bring it along with me. I wanted to take a walk, in hopes that it would take my mind off of yesterday's events.

    I started off to the south, leaving the outer perimeter of the city. There was a large hill that I remember climbing as a youth. Atop that hill lay the ruins of what may have once been a lavish stone building, whose origins have been unknown to all aware of it. It was a gorgeous sight, nonetheless.

    I finally reached the apex of the hill, surveying the area I had not seen in over five years. The stone slabs were still strewn about, moved by who knows what to form a graveyard of sorts. I took a bite of my bread as I looked for a seat.

    An oblong piece of rock caught my eye. There was nothing particularly special about it, but I felt that it was meant for me to sit upon. I rested my body on the cool surface of the slab. A cool breeze whirled around me, pulling at the loose bits of my hair. I stared blankly at the world that surrounded me, hoping to find an answer somewhere among the twirling blades of dead grass and swirling lines of dust.

    That is when I heard his footsteps.

    My head jerked up quickly, praying that this visitor not be another harbinger of death. Perhaps it was my father, come to bring me back home. It was neither. In front of me stood a young man, no older than my brother, with curly golden hair that glimmered in the sun. His skin was a dark cream color, covered by shorts and a dark green T-shirt. His face definitely stood out among all his other features. He had green eyes, something which I had never seen before in my life, which pulled me in and held on tightly. They did not frighten me, but I felt a part of me tremble at the intensity behind them. His sharp nose rested over a rough, stubbly goatee that encompassed his full, bright pink lips and clung to his chiseled jaw. He was like the charming prince from the fairy tales, so handsome and dignified. He was carrying a bag slung over his shoulder. Kneeling before me, this prince began to speak in broken Arabic.

    “You… Okay?”

    I nodded, not knowing how to react just yet.

    “I photographer from America. You mind I take photograph?”

    I could not help myself from laughing at his poor Arabic, but I nodded my head. What was it about this man that took me away from my problems? Perhaps it was just the magic that surrounded him.

    He pulled out his camera, and lined up his shot.

    “Smile,” he said, adjusting his lens one last time.

    I did the best I create a smile out of my chapped lips. One flash. A second one. My prince lowered his camera and smiled at me.

    “Thank you. You will be fine alone?”

    I smiled and nodded, although his company would have been appreciated. But my prince packed up his camera, smiled at me once more, and began to descend down the lonely hillside.

    I waited until his footsteps were out of earshot. Was I really going to be fine alone? I pondered this question for a moment before I decided that, “Yes, I am going to be fine alone.” I stared down towards the city. The smoke that covered the city yesterday had now dissipated, and a small black mass was left where the café once stood.

    I was going to be fine. I would find a way to survive whatever life may throw at me from this point on. Father and mother raised my brother, my sister and I to be stronger than we thought we were. I did not want to let them down now. “Death was only an obstacle,” my father was known for proclaiming. I now know what he meant.

    I smiled again as I felt a warm droplet trickle down my cheeks, now stained with dirt and grime. Any innocence I may have kept to this date had now abandoned me as my tears flowed and mingled with the particles of dust. I could cry now with no fear of repercussion, yet my conscience still nagged at me.

    I'm sorry father. It seems I have failed you once again.

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