It was some time before she reawoke to the world around her.
She blinked, and the world slowly swam into focus, colors beginning to seep into her aching eyes. She tried to uncross her legs and winced at the unbearable prickling that rushed over her feet. A thousand needles, scorching like fire in her sluggish flesh.
So, her feet had fallen asleep. How long, then, had she been sitting here? And more importantly, why?
She closed her eyes again, trying to sink back into the oblivion that had held her for so long. Blackness was infinitely preferable to light. Darkness concealed, kept away things she did not want to see. She could not remember why she had been sitting so long, unconscious to the world around her, but she had a vague sense of foreboding. She didn’t want to fully wake up, to realize what had pained her so.
But she could not remain sitting forever. She forced open her leaden eyelids, feeling them tremble against the light.
She was looking out across her living room - nothing unusual there. Two chairs, somewhat faded with long use, their edges grown fat and sagging with memories. They were not always hers - they remembered other houses, other homes. Perhaps they remembered other scenes like this - the reluctant awakening to a cold world.
She dragged her eyes away, and her gaze fell on the small table in front of her. A glass plate, half full of cookies, a bouquet of flowers, and two soda cans, one of them drowning in a puddle of its own contents. She absent-mindedly reached down and placed it upright, even though it was already empty. Someone else had been here - someone who liked her cookies, had brought her flowers, and didn’t drink.
She sat back and rubbed her head fretfully. She was awake, and yet not awake. She saw, yet could not perceive. Her brain was struggling to work, imprisoned in mounds of cotton-candy. And she was tired, so tired…She realized, dully, that the sandman was an appropriate metaphor for weariness; his stinging grains had found their way into the backs of her eyes, itching, scraping, burning....
She picked up the half-full can and raised it to her lips, feeling the liquid sparkle and burn down her throat. Only a few hours ago, she must have been drinking out of this same can, watching someone else do the same. Someone who had brought her flowers, who liked her cookies...
The half-empty can fell from her hand and crashed on the floor. It was Isaac - Isaac was the one who had been here.
She stiffened in pain, her skull breaking under a flood of memories. Isaac - with his timid, deep-brown eyes that glowed when he looked at her. Isaac, who fiddled with his glasses when he was nervous. Isaac, who had lean, sensitive hands, almost like a woman’s. Isaac, who loved music, soft colors, walks at night, and flowers…
Isaac, who loved her.
She pressed her hands over her ears, as if she hoped to drown out the thoughts that came bubbling up. But they rattled around inside her brain, sharp and insistent. Isaac - loved her. And she had hurt him. Had hurt him horribly. She remembered how he had looked at her that afternoon, looked at her as he had never before. She remembered how she had at once been divided into fire and ice, a warmth and a coldness, trembling all over. She remembered how he had asked her, his voice shaking with passion, yet so soft she could barely hear him. She remembered how her heart had suddenly gripped her, tearing her throat into burning shreds. She could not give him what he wanted, and she could not tell him no.
She could not marry him, because she loved someone else.
She remembered how time had dragged out, seconds merging into years as Isaac waited, and she struggled to work through the pressure on her throat.
If only time had ended then. If only they could live in memories instead of the present. If only Isaac could think of her as he had always done.
If only she could forget the look on his face when she had refused.
It was like watching him die - the color draining out of his face, his eyes slowly going numb. She had cried, then, but he had not. Only looked at her. With half-dead eyes. He had gotten up, stumbling like a drunk, and had walked out of the house. Walked out of her life forever.
And now she was left alone - to pick up a shattered world.
The house suddenly seemed to bear down on her, smothering her breath. Every chair, every book, every picture seemed to have some piece of Isaac in it. There was the small vase he had given her, over on the bookcase. There was the book he had loved, there was the chair he had sat in, there were his flowers, on the table.
She stood up, ignoring the shooting pain in her leg and the sudden dizziness that swept over her. She had to get out, get away from the house. It was choking her, squeezing around her heart-
She threw on a coat with trembling fingers, and stumbled out the door, the world blurring under her stinging eyes.
She walked haphazardly, hardly aware of what she was doing. She was jerked along on half-numb feet, forced into the growing dusk. She had a vague idea that if she pushed herself hard enough, she could somehow wipe out the awful thoughts in her mind. Maybe she could erase Isaac’s face, forget he existed...
She stopped short, shuddering for breath. No, she did not want to forget him. She loved him, just not enough. She could not love Isaac, not when she felt that way for another -
Another face suddenly rose up before her. A face that constantly stirred at the surface of her mind, a face that she would never forget...
They had been friends in college, and her love had grown slowly, unobtrusively, almost unconsciously. They were friends, just good friends. Then, one night, he had kissed her goodbye. And in one moment, she had realized she loved him - loved him with a burning sweetness that shook her to the core.
He had loved her too, she knew. Only life had come between them. He had had to leave college suddenly, never had a chance to say goodbye.
She had not seen him since.
But she had never lost hope she would, some day. Somehow, she would find him, among the millions of people swarming this earth.
And until she had lost all hope, she could not love Isaac. As much as it hurt not to.
She winced, the memory of his eyes sweeping over her again. For a little while, she had been able to forget, but now the stark reality came crashing over her. Was it always to be this way? Forgetting for a little while, thinking everything was alright, and then suddenly coming awake? Suddenly feeling a pain that was worse than before? She suddenly had a vision of herself, old and grey, her life empty, unloved, dragging on in darkness…
She shook herself. No, she couldn’t think that way. She would go mad. She had to forget, had to-
She broke into a run, wildly trying to push every thought from her mind. The wind was rushing into her face, hard and burning, but she hardly felt it. She was trying to go numb, to forget what had driven her here. She couldn’t see now - her eyes were watering too hard-
She smashed into something solid and warm, and the world fell into silence with a sickening thud.
“My gosh, are you alright?”
She felt an unseen hand pulling her to her feet, stabilizing her trembling limbs. She wished she didn’t have to look up. She didn’t want anyone else to see what was written on her face. It was too jarring, too inconsiderate-
She looked up, and her mind went blank.
It was him.
The world whirled around her so suddenly that she almost sat down again. It couldn’t be - she was dreaming, or hallucinating. Or dead.
But his grip on her arm was so solid, so stable. This had to be real.
In one moment, she swung from despair to euphoria. Everything was alright now - he was back. He would love her, take care of her. She was floating, floating, drowning in happiness...Could one die of happiness? Could this burning, this impossible joy, be too much for one body to hold?
She felt her face cracking into ecstasy, and he smiled too. But blinded as she was by her joy, she realized that something in his smile wasn’t right.
A cold trickle of fear rushed down her spine, casting a chill over her happiness. It was almost like the smile of a stranger. Happy, yes. Beautiful, yes. But there was no spark of recognition. It was not the smile she remembered.
He was talking to her again, unsure of her prolonged silence. She had to say something...
“Yeah, I’m ok.”
He nodded in relief, and let go of her arm.
And he was leaving, turning away. Panic gripped her heart. No, this couldn’t be. He couldn’t have forgotten her-
He stopped, turned back, his face puzzled at the sharp urgency in her voice.
“Don’t you remember me?”
She waited, staring into his confused face, begging for some acknowledgement, begging to know that he knew..
“Do you remember? College, we were friends...”
Her voice died away as she realized he had no idea what she was talking about.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I know you.”
She didn’t respond. She couldn’t. She didn’t want to believe this was real anymore. She wanted to wake up, forget this awful nightmare...
He smiled at her uncertainly, made a vague gesture, as if apologizing. Then he turned away. He was gone.
She watched him go, watched her last hope walk away with him. She felt strangely numb. She would feel it later, but now…
Maybe none of this existed. Maybe this was all a dream. Yes, a dream. That was all her life had ever been, though. She had lived for a dream - a vague remembrance that did not exist. She had deluded herself - he had never loved her. She had built up her whole world around him, only to realize he didn’t know her.
And what would there be to fill her life now? Isaac had loved her, and she had rejected him. She had hurt her only true friend for one she never had. She had wrecked her own world, and Isaac’s, for a man who could not remember her name.
She sighed and looked up at the deepening sky. The sun would rise, and set, and rise and set, and she would stay the same. Never realizing what she had until it wasn’t.
Well, she would find something. Maybe not what she wanted, but at least not nothing. She had to - it was in everyone to fill their lives somehow. She would go home, and clean up, and try to forget…
If only the sun hadn’t risen today.