The car sat, idling, in the driveway. The headlights and radio were off, making every move, every brush of clothing against bare skin, as loud as a cannon in the small space of the cabin. One final kiss, one last traitorous convergence of lips, and she was gone, swinging open the car door with the gentlest of creaks. She stood in the drive, statuesque and unflinching as the car, that scene of so many passionate trysts, seemed to limp off into the night like a dog flees home to nurse its wounds. She stood but a moment more, straightening her skirt and fixing her hair. With the most leisurely of walks, she made her way to the front door, urging her beating heart be still. She breathes deeply; taking in the warm night air, and slowly twists the doorknob, pushing the door open but a crack. Her husband was gone. The lights were off, and the television, which normally shone as brightly and vividly as the neon lights of Vegas, sat cold and untouched in the heavy silence that pervaded every inch of the house. As she stepped slowly across the wooden floor, each footfall echoed like a deafening roar throughout the silent sarcophagus around her. Time slowed as she entered the kitchen and flicked on the lights, and the bulbs above seemed to burn as dull as a single glowing ember, slowly but surely growing into a roaring flame within the glass vacuum. On the table sat a single piece of paper, and she strode quickly to lift it, and though it was but a few lines jotted sloppily on a yellow piece of legal paper, it weighed her down like a brick in the ocean. Her eyes scanned the page once, twice, looking but not seeing, reading but not comprehending. As she crashed to the floor, the paper fluttered away, landing on the cold tile floor an arm’s length away. However, no hand reached out to grab it, no eyes searched it again. It simply laid there, three words scrawled in blue ink: “We are happy.”
Miles away, perched on top of a picket fence, weightless as a sparrow, sat the man behind the blue scrawl. His grey eyes stared into the dirt under his dangling feet, watching a scorpion scurry across the desert, rushing uncontrollably towards his next triviality, unfazed by the ranting and raving of all the madmen around him. Oh, to be that lowly scorpion; to feel no fear of the future or regret of the past; to be sure and confident in every scurry and sting. How lovely it must be to be free of the looming shadow of death, that ever-present reminder of the frailty and inconsequential nature of human existence. A familiar ache resonated from deep within his chest, dragging him mercilessly from his musings and forcing a violent, hacking cough from somewhere deep inside. As he pulled his hand away from his mouth, he stared blankly at the rosy red expulsions that covered his hand, noticing with a sad smile that there was more blood this time than the last. Keeping this sad smirk of acceptance, he reached into his shirt pocket, with one motion cleansing his hand of the constant reminder of his impending doom and extracting a carton of cigarettes and a worn out Zippo, a gift from his father. He shook the carton quickly, the echo of the single remaining cigarette rattling around within, a drummer escorting a condemned man’s final walk. Lodging the tar-laden roll of paper between his trembling lips, he effortlessly flicked the cheap Zippo, watching the flames spark and jump in the night air, dancing with the easterly breeze. He almost could have lived in that moment forever, the flames seemed to call his name, urging him to come join them. Dance, they cried, dance with us! Sadly, this moment, like all others, was not to last, and the roar of an approaching engine snapped him out of his stupor. “Could it be?” he wondered aloud, “Could it really be her?” Any hopes of seeing her again vanished with the car as it roared past, accelerating around a turn and extinguishing the glowing red lights forever. The same sad smile returned to his face as he planted his feet firmly in the sand, pulled the Zippo to the end of the cigarette, and inhaled deeper than he ever had before. With shaking hands and wobbly knees, he walked away from the road until he reached the very edge of a glorious, dark ravine. Somewhere down below, the river flowed eternally and mightily, sweeping along any stones or bones that happened to be in its path. One last draw from his cigarette, and he flicked it into the night air in front of him, watching the glowing red ember swirl uncontrollably as it descended into the unfathomable darkness of the ravine below. “Of course it wasn’t her.” He mused, “ Of course it wasn’t.” With a final longing gaze around him, his eyes pleading to the mighty eagle and the far-off coyote, he found no sympathy from any of God’s creatures. Shrugging his heavy shoulders in mild protest, the man took one giant leap into the night air, rushing to become one with the river.
Back in the oppressive silence of the house, the woman had managed to compose herself enough to stumble into the living room, and now sat in one of the many antique chairs that she had ignored and left to gather dust. She gazed blankly at all the furniture in the room, all the tables and plates, cabinets and chairs left to gather what seemed like a century’s worth of dust. Her wandering eyes landed upon a worn and dulled bronze frame, and she used all her willpower to raise her weakened, nervous body from the chair, reaching out to grasp the precious frame. She gazed upon it with a motherly grin, her eyes darting from face to face, taking in the smiling visages of her two sons and her only daughter, all of whom had long since moved out and away, putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the backwoods town in which they were raised. As her eyes shifted, searching for the space in which her husband’s smiling face had always resided, she was greeted by another, much different face. She squeezed her eyelids shut and reopened them, only to be greeted by the sight of yet another grinning man. Repeating this step over and over, she finally arrived at the 6th and final face, a face that she had gazed upon, kissed, and gently caressed little more than an hour ago. With all her willpower and determination exhausted, she could still only see the faces of all her past lovers in the space where her husband should be. He was gone; gone from her memory almost as if he had never been there in the first place. Squeezing the frame as if it were a pillow or teddy bear, the woman returned to her armchair, slumping into it and casting her eyes onto the table beside her. There, underneath a carton of cigarettes, lay the message scribbled ever so hastily in blue ink. With a sarcastic smirk, she reached out and grasped the carton of cigarettes and removed a lighter from her pocket, thinking to herself about the man she had spent 24 years of her life with, the man who never had time for her, the man who was always so busy worrying about his career and his money to ever love her in the way that he once did. She delicately wedged the cigarette in between her trembling, supple lips and flicked back the lid of the lighter, raising it to the end of her final cigarette. Taking a deep breath, she flicked the striker and watched as the very air around her exploded in an uncontrollable fireball and sent her to be with her husband in oblivion.
Three days later, in section C7 of the Daily News, there was an article so small that without looking closely, one could have easily missed it. Just a few lines squeezed in between the comics and horoscopes, the article told of a residential explosion, which was later ruled by the fire chief as a suicide after it was discovered that the gas hose had been disconnected from the rear of the oven and had been spewing flammable gasses into the air. With the same casual demeanor with which one would discuss the latest weather, the article continued on to say that the husband had been found, his body shattered and lifeless, 20 miles downstream the very next day, also a suspected victim of suicide. One neighbor who was interviewed revealed her surprise and horror upon hearing of the two suicides, saying that she never anticipated anything like this from such a lovely couple. “They were always so happy.”
© Copyright 2016 S Lehman Merz. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Literary Fiction
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