It wasn't dark but it looked as though the world had died. The air smelt of garlic and a tantalizing mixture of pain and half relief. A man, troubled by the darkness from within, gazed up and let out a groan. For a moment, he stayed where he was, unmoving, dead. The sun came up and died down in one long stride but still, he sat there, as silent as tomorrow. When he moved later as the darkness settled over, it was not noticed.
He made tea. He gave the little child who stared up at him from the photograph, a deep, treacherous smile and gulped down hard. It tasted sweet, the sugar settling like a lie at the bottom of his cup. He rinsed it off. He cleaned his lips with the back of his palms and prayed.
The second call came as he washed the dishes. He missed it again. He knew the caller even before he marched off to it, water dripping slowly from his large palms. He watched the telephone for a while, thinking but not really caring.
The third call came. He took it up and stifled a yawn. The woman on the other end did not take it too well. She screamed words at him and hung up. It wasn't fear that engulfed him later. It was the little things that made him breathe in the morning and it moved him to call her back.
She took the call, stayed silent for long seconds. Then she said, "How are you doing?"
He scratched his head for better words but found nothing. She would see through his lies no matter what so he smiled at the little child and said, "It's been a long time, Jane."
He could imagine her sitting on the kitchen floor with the phone in her left ear. She would be twisting the end of her hair, too tired to pretend the wine wasn't working.
"Don't act like it wasn't your idea for a divorce. What did you expect? That I would wait for you to be done with your novel."
"I wanted you to." His voice was low. It was because he knew it had not been so. He had wanted her to stay because she had been his muse, his hope for inspiration and she had become too tired.
"What do you think could have happened?" She asked.
He stayed silent. She mistook it for fear and she hinted so. He denied but he knew and she knew it too, the fear could not be hidden under a cloak of red wine and beautiful manuscripts.
"I did not call to talk about the past. Your child will be home tomorrow night."
He looked up at the smiling child and asked, "Alone?"
"I wouldn't leave my child alone with you, don't worry. Why the hell do you think you lost custody?"
"Because you had all the money?" Even he knew that had not been the case.
"Because you are not well." She said to him.
They said little about Christmases missed and autumn leaves and they ended it with a nod and a shaky goodbye.
Alone, he limped towards the door and pulled it open. He stepped outside and watched the night sky. They had looked at him with careless attention and had proclaimed him unfit to take care of the child. He hadn't begged them but he had held the young girl's hands and whispered into her hair, "I will love you forever."
He had thought he would die before the morning but the very next day, he took his pen and notebook and walked down the path that led to the past and wrote. Through discarded memories, he could write about everything that never happened.
He stared at the darkened sky and gulped down hard. He could already taste the joy of seeing his family again. It made his knees grow weak and when he thought about how his child would look at him, he panicked. The sky was the exact color of death and sunshine.
He stepped into his house and locked the door. He turned around and saw the manuscripts, scarred from all the months and years it had taken to say something meaningful. He walked to it, took it, and carried it like a small, lifeless child up the stairs and into his room. He sat like a shy adult and pulled open his recollections of the past.
My first story, he thought with a smile that threw all the years away with a careful sweep. The tears welled up in his eyes and as he pushed the first words into his head, he wished his family had been patient enough to discard his tasteless jokes and abnormal eating habits. He wished she had stayed and told him to write whatever he wanted and loved him so hard the story mattered.
In the morning, he went to work. He didn't take the bus, didn't feel the need to. He walked down the road, waved at all the people who secretly hated him, and his need to finish his first book. They did not wave him back. Instead, they turned away to listen to fireworks in their hearts.
At the library, he sat and watched the people who read and pretended to understand. The library where he worked was not one he particularly liked but which gave him enough money to sit in his room in the middle of the night to write and not worry about the bills.
He smiled at himself again. His book would be seated on his made-up bed, waiting for him to return to it. It would wait because it loved him, far more than anyone else ever could and it would stay even if he cried himself to sleep. It would love him because he created it from his mind, from past memories, from his past hidden emotions.
In the evening life made more sense to him. He prepared pasta even though she had called and told him to prepare nothing. The sound of the doorbell ringing was the music he needed. He opened the door. He smiled at her. She looked down at their child and smiled back. He locked the door.
She said, " It smells nice."
"Pasta with cherry sauce. Your favorite." He said.
She nodded. He took his daughter in his arms and held her so close he could hear her heart beating fast. He told her, "I missed you, Princess."
It took a while for her eyes to open to the familiar sound of his voice. She smiled. Then she giggled and called him daddy.
She took the child up the staircase and he stood with his hands in his pockets. She did not come down. An hour later, he walked into the room. His child was asleep.
"She is tired." His ex-wife whispered.
She stood up but as she made to leave, she noticed the book by the table. She picked it up and turned to him. Her voice was low, "Is this the...book?"
"It is." He said to her.
She walked past him with the book safely tucked underneath her hands. He followed her down the stairs. They sat on the sofa.
"When did you finish it?" She asked turning it open.
"Yesterday. It's exciting." He told her.
"Your first book."
"Yes." He smiled wearily.
She saw the dedication first: For her, for staying and walking away. She did not smile. She said, "what's it about?"
"About us. Everything."
"Can I read it?"
"Do you want to?"
She closed the book. He hugged her, she let him do so. Sometime later he kissed her and she let him do it. He put his hands in her hair. She wrapped her hands around his neck and pushed in gently.
Then they fell asleep. In the middle of the night, she pulled open the book and under faint light, read about her when she was young and wild and full of love. And when she was done, she cleaned the tears from her eyes and kissed his cheeks. He was still asleep.