A flame: a miniscule light penetrating the pressing darkness. He stared at it for a moment before he brought the flame to the tip of his cigarette, inhaling deeply. He never used to smoke, she hated the smell; yet when she left him he smoked, partly for the sweet, narcotic release of nicotine, but more so to cast a bitter message of defiance. His thoughts were clouded; a thick fog of depression obscured his perception. The roads are icy, he knew, and required full attention to safely navigate. His mind drifted further. The treacherous roads offered an escape; if he crashes, if he is hurt, if he dies, she would finally act as if she cared. The bleeding, throbbing numbness washed over him, blinding him from the car ahead, the car struggling to drive straight on the frozen highway. Almost unconsciously, he slipped into the boiling pot of his memories; The boiling pot on the edge of which he had stood all day, barely managing to keep from falling in. Nearly every night he drowned in the scalding waters, but sometimes he fell backward, back into the flame surrounding him. Back into the searing fire that was reality. At this moment, mercifully, he just had to deal with the memories.
She was asleep. He looked down at her beautiful face. She was so pretty when she slept. A warm smile crept across his lips as she shifted her weight; nuzzling her head snugly under his chin. Her hand rested gently on his chest, and he slowly reached up and held it; her beautiful, long slender fingers intertwining with his. As he lightly ran his thumb over her delicate forefinger, he closed his eyes and enjoyed one of the few moments in his life that was actually perfect. The car ahead flew into a spin. When his eyes opened, he noticed that hers had as well. Her radiant green pools of hope sparkled with as much adoration that he felt, and his perfect feeling exploded into a symphony of inexpressible emotions. Smiling, she slowly leaned up and--
He slammed his breaks, too late. Sliding wildly, bearing down upon the small red civic, he caught a glimpse of the driver: a young woman, terror the most distinguishing feature on her face. For the next half-second, a deep hatred bubbled up from the pit of his stomach. For this brief, fleeting moment, he hated himself, more even than he already had. One half-second before the crash, he locked eyes with the horrified young woman. Time slowed, at this very moment. A small fraction of a second stretched out over an hour. In this half-second-long hour he looked into the woman’s face, the face of someone whom his own carelessness would destroy. As he gazed into her eyes, his remorse grew insufferable: she will die, and it will be his fault. As his thoughts and emotions began to break down, time mercifully returned from its slow, maddening crawl to a frenzied rush.
The crash happened, and was over, in a second. He won’t remember the crash, but will always be plagued by the moments following. Tears and blood blurred his vision. The rough, cold pavement pressed against his aching body. Trying to collect his thoughts, he listened carefully to his surroundings. For a moment – or perhaps two – there is nothing but a crushing silence, until sirens, in the distance, pierced the void. He then notices a soft, choking sob. He still cannot see, but he knew the woman was near. Her garbled, stifled cries pained him, and his tears flowed harder. Lying cold and helpless upon the pavement, he cannot help but think of her. He feels selfish, and evil, but now, she, his love, his life, his everything, might return to him. She would see, now, what she had almost lost, and her love for him would come flooding back.
The woman died beside him that night, but, at the time, he hadn’t noticed the weak sobs fade away. Instead, he laid smiling, dreaming wonders in which she would come back to him. Time passed, and, as it were, he never heard from her. In his two nights in the hospital he received several messages, but none from her. She never came back to him. If she had, if he could hold her, touch her, kiss her again, it all would have been worth it; she didn’t. For one year after that, he would visit the grave of the young woman he’d felt he had killed. Every day for one more year, he would stand in front of the tombstone and read the intricately chiseled words, “Gracie, loving mother and wonderful daughter. 1985-2010.” He would continue this ritual for one year until the flames outside the pot grew too extreme to bear. One year after the accident, he had finally extinguished the flames, and the water in the pot fell still. There was no note; they didn’t even find a body, he made sure they wouldn’t. It was better if he’d just vanished, and so he did, vanished into the very darkness and despair that consumed him.