30 comments

May 03, 2021

Fiction

[Content warning: mental illness]


She examines the pale skin of her arms, palms upward toward the light as if waiting for an offering. Her veins twist, intricate lines of shadows beneath papery white skin that hasn’t seen proper sunlight in weeks. She thinks about the blood flowing there, along those dark and treacherous paths, tumbling to and from the caverns of her heart.


“Hey, where are you?” he asks, watching her from across a tangle of silver sheets.


She rolls to her side to look at him. “Just thinking.”


He knows her and he doesn’t. He knows her for the freckle on her collarbone, the scar on her foot, the strawberry-colored birthmark hidden beneath wisps of hair on the back of her neck. He knows her for her jambalaya recipe, for the way she rolls her eyes at his bad jokes, for the songs she hums to herself in the shower. 


He knows her like she knows him, their knowing bound together with bands of gold, small diamonds, and vows. One but not one, two worlds entwined with some secret places yet to be discovered.


Getting out of bed, he kisses the top of her head, murmuring three little words into the gingery scent of her hair. He dresses quickly and heads out for his Saturday morning run. He has stopped inviting her to join him, but she doesn’t mind. She’s tired of saying no.


She gets ready for the day slowly, imagining the way mountains rise, just centimeters over centuries. 


The house is mostly clean, but she tidies the kitchen a bit. Scrubs the counters, sweeps the cold tile that numbs her toes, empties the dishwasher. He will smile to see her out of bed, making breakfast for the two of them. She doesn’t like the concern that laces his gaze nowadays. 


There is a knock at the door. It startles her, and she drops a glass.


“Coming!” she shouts, hoping her unused voice will carry through the living room and to the door.


She bends to pick up the larger pieces of glass hurriedly and hardly winces when a shard slices into the pink flesh of her hand. For a moment, she watches the blood well, rubies and garnets pooling in her cupped palm.


Another knock prompts her to wrap her hand in a towel and rush to the door.


She swings the door open, not bothering to peek through the window first. She must look a mess, with her unwashed hair pulled loosely atop her head, a bloody towel tied around one palm.


“Hi,” the woman on her doorstep says. She is thin and young, with long black hair and a golden-skinned toddler on her hip. “I’m Lena, we just moved in.”


Together, they glance at the small house next door. It’s a cheery shade of blue with big windows, sitting squat and welcoming beneath the shade of a large oak tree. A moving van is parked out front.


“I’m Emma,” she replies. “Nice to meet you.”


Lena eyes her hand. “Are you okay?”


“Hmm? Oh, yeah, I just dropped a glass.”


“You might want to get that looked at.” The toddler squirms in his mother’s arms, muttering something unintelligible. His curious chocolate eyes are fixed on Emma.


“I will. Can I help you with something?”


“Could we borrow a muffin tin? I can’t find ours and he’s begging for some blueberry muffins.”


“Sure, let me find it. Come in if you like, just excuse the mess,” Emma says, leading the way in, “and stay out of the kitchen. I haven’t cleaned up the glass yet.”


Lena follows her in and shuts the door, glancing around the living room, landscape paintings on the walls and bookshelves in well-loved disarray. Her son babbles loudly, something about the books. 


“Nice place.” Lena’s voice is bright. “How long have you lived here?”


“Three years now,” Emma calls from the kitchen, where she digs around for the muffin tin. She winces as she hits her injured hand against a cabinet door. “Callum and I moved in after we got married.”


“You two must be so happy.”


“Here you go,” Emma returns with the tin and hands it over, watching the little boy’s eyes brighten as he reaches for it with tiny fingers. Something catches inside her when Lena laughs, and it’s suddenly hard to breathe.


“Thank you.” Lena smiles deeply. “He’s been such a trooper with the move, I wanted to do something special. I’ll bring some muffins by later, if that’s okay.”


Emma nods and opens the door for Lena. As they leave, the little boy squeals joyously and points toward his new home, saying something that sounds vaguely like “blueberries.”


When she closes the door, Emma clutches her bloodied hand to her chest and sinks to the floor, her breath coming in uneven shudders. 


She is hardly aware of anything but the murky pounding of her heart, the inky rush of blood in her ears. Outside, she knows the sun shines brightly in the clouded blue of the sky. But here, she feels the walls collapsing into shadow; a twisting, ravenous darkness she cannot escape.


Emma sobs once, almost soundlessly, wishing that she had a reason. 


She should be happy. She should hear songs in every summer breeze. The air should taste of hope, should fill her lungs with deep, oxygenated joy. She should be grateful for the perfect life she and Callum have built, for her uneventful and fortunate childhood. For her glimmering future, for promises of adventure, children, and laughter.


Instead, she feels numb. Void. 


She contains the cold twilight between the stars and little more.


“Emma?” Callum is back from his run, kneeling beside her. She did not hear the door open. It swings creakily now in a gust of wind.


His sweat drips onto her arm. He feels real, and she clings to him, burning with shame and fear. He knows her for her strength and her composure. But she is falling apart, afraid of being known like this.


“Emma, what’s wrong?” He examines her bleeding hand, searches her downcast face.


Outside, rain begins to pour from dark and sudden clouds. Emma gathers her courage and meets his gaze, breathing in the air that tastes of water and sweat and blood. She sees only love in his eyes, love she desperately wants to believe she deserves.


“I think I need help,” she whispers.


He wraps her up in his arms, his voice on the edge of shattering. 


“Okay,” he says. “Okay.”


Something inside her warms a little as she settles into his embrace. She takes her first deep breath in months, and her shadows shift to make room for this little beam of light.

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30 comments

A.Dot Ram
23:03 May 10, 2021

This story has started with me since i read it yesterday. I appreciated the way emma's husband didn't know her fully, despite his physical proximity. The broken glass was a good parallel to her "breaking." This shows how tiny shifts in the light have big consequences. Overall the effect of this is very haunting.

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Isabelle K
18:22 May 11, 2021

This story is written in a way I try to write in, and I think that's one of the key reasons I like it so much! A beautiful, beautiful story.

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Taylah G
23:56 May 10, 2021

This was an absolutely amazing story. I don't have anything to critique as it was so engaging and kept me thinking. The story was well thought-out and almost seems as though you're writing this through past experiences. A beautiful piece and I'm glad I read it.

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Angela Guthrie
23:30 May 09, 2021

This is a good story and very sad. It has a realistic feeling.

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Molly Leasure
20:44 May 08, 2021

This story is gorgeous. I love the detailed mundane that conveys SO MUCH emotion. It's all about the little moments—like her doing the dishes or him going for a run—that make this story so exquisite. And the fact the neighbor coming over is what breaks her, I can understand that so well. Other people's happiness is always the thing that triggers the worst, I think. It's almost an out of body experience at that point. I love the short and sweet style of this story. I love the length because it's just perfect to show how quickly emotion ca...

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Claire Lewis
18:23 May 09, 2021

She’s back!!! So good to hear from you, Molly :) Thanks for the read and the kind comment, I’m looking forward to checking out your new stories!

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Ellie Yu
14:12 May 08, 2021

This is powerful, and the emotions it evokes are blinding. Someone else said it’s hard to pick apart this story to comment on, and I think they hit the nail on the head - it’s so simple, but it conveys such a delicate topic so well. Some grammar edits, because I don’t have anything big to critique: “She bends to pick up the larger pieces of glass hurriedly, and hardly winces when...” I don’t think the comma is necessary here. “She watches the blood well, rubies and garnets gathering in a pool in her cupped palm.” You could probably shorte...

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Claire Lewis
04:33 May 09, 2021

Hi Ellie! Thank you for those edits, they’re excellent. My biggest pet peeve is catching those nit picky things after the story is published, so these kinds of comments are honestly invaluable!! And thank you, truly, for such kind compliments. I’m looking forward to your new story, should have a bit of time tomorrow!

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Alyson Ackman
18:02 May 06, 2021

Wow, what an incredible way to tackle such a delicate topic. This really resonated with me. My favourite part was her looking for a reason to be depressed. I think that really nails depression itself in one line that is more complicated than it seems. I think the only area I would have liked to have been explored more is her reaction to the toddler. I wanted to know if she felt like she couldn't have a baby, if that was even on her mind, or if it was just random character choices? Maybe the reason went over my head? I love how simple you...

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Claire Lewis
23:58 May 06, 2021

Hi Alyson (or do you prefer Aly?) Thank you so much for the compliments and critique. I’ve been trying to pare down my writing a bit in these last few entries, and I’m glad you felt the simplicity works well. I think you’d probably be dissatisfied to see what happens in my mind... it’s a lot of sitting blankly with the prompts and the characters or opening paragraph until an idea sparks haha In regards to the scene with the toddler, I planned at first to expand on that a bit. But I really wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything that could...

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Sam Ackman
03:19 May 06, 2021

Hey! This is a really strong story! Very well visually painted. Quite a touchy subject but I felt you approached it really well - felt more like bringing light to it and gave a touch of hope at the end. The only part I felt was touched on a bit lightly was the decision to ask for help. I feel like for most people this is the most challenging thing to do - especially out loud. Not sure how to whirl wind into finally saying something out loud but had a hard time coming up with an improvement idea so there it is :). I particularly love...

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Claire Lewis
04:22 May 06, 2021

Hi Sam! Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I’ll do some thinking about how to tweak that scene, I can see what you mean in regards to her asking for help. I’m looking forward to checking out your new story! Should have time to get around to it tomorrow :)

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16:15 May 05, 2021

There is so much in this story that it is almost hard to pick apart to comment on. It reads very easily, on one hand, and yet it lingers with you, too. You have really brought out the tiny details of feeling like you should be OK, when you're not--and feeling like it's not valid to be depressed when everything is so superficially good. This story felt very authentic and real.

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Claire Lewis
03:56 May 06, 2021

Thank you! Finding the balance between readability and depth is a challenge for me sometimes, so I’m thrilled to hear you thought it was successful here :)

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K. Antonio
00:48 May 04, 2021

I swear, this character is me at least three times a week. I love how she is sort of "fake-happy" and how her "spouse maybe" doesn't really know it. How there is this contrast with what's portrayed as happy and what happy really is. Those little hints of how the house was disorganized, her more or less way of doing things, "doing things just to do them, to keep yourself distracted", or to even please another person. I think people will either read this story and not understand it, or will completely understand. It's basically an artistic ex...

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Claire Lewis
02:58 May 04, 2021

It’s been bittersweet to see how people resonate with this story, especially those who really truly understand. I was a bit nervous to tackle such a vulnerable topic, to be honest, but it’s been on my mind, and responses like this one have been so encouraging. I love little “slice of life” stories. They remind me that there’s always beauty and meaning in the most ordinary things. I’m incredibly grateful for your kind and thoughtful words. You’re the best, K!

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Rachel Smith
09:53 May 03, 2021

I liked the subtlety in this, how you hinted at her feelings from the start. I think that made it more powerful and real. I particularly liked this moment, "Emma sobs once, almost soundlessly, wishing that she had a reason." It is simple but very effective. Beautifully written.

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Claire Lewis
12:18 May 03, 2021

Thank you Rachel! This one was very challenging to write, so I’m glad to hear you felt it works well :)

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Heather Mc Quaid
09:08 May 03, 2021

You did a great job with contrast (very fitting of the theme for this week's prompt). Emma's light, tidy, apparently perfect life contrasted with how she feels inside, empty, dark, airless and numb. The energy and excitement of her husband and new neighbour (and toddler) contrasted with Emma's lethargy and apathy. And of course, it's very well written. Only one place where I had to re-read, which was this paragraph: "Together, they glance at the small house next door, the moving van still parked out front. It’s a cheery shade of blue with...

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Claire Lewis
12:14 May 03, 2021

Thank you Heather! I was a bit unsure about this one and if those contrasts would come across properly, so I’m glad to hear they worked well for you. And good catch, I tweaked that paragraph so it’s a bit clearer, I meant to describe the house there :)

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Shea West
04:47 May 03, 2021

This was really powerful. I'm going too come back to it again when I have a bit more time to share my thoughts!

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Claire Lewis
12:55 May 03, 2021

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts :)

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Shea West
17:20 May 03, 2021

I was up at an ungodly hour last night, and for far too long when I read your story. I wanted to make sure I came back and took a bit more time reading it all in. I felt very viscerally how you captured that feeling of, "Something feels wrong with me, but why should it when my world is really good?" There should be a name for that feeling, I don't know what- but there should be one. How you set the story up with her literally examining her life as it flowed through her body, the enormity of that act felt so big. The moments of taking stock o...

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Claire Lewis
18:40 May 03, 2021

Hi Shea, this one kept me up, too. I definitely struggled with finding the right way to put that feeling into words. Maybe there is some kind of fancy psychological term for it, I have no clue. I wanted to hint at the possibility of suicidal thoughts without actually explicitly saying them, as they’re usually painful for me to read and I didn’t want to delve into writing them. I’m glad that came across. I didn’t plan the glass or the neighbor, it just kind of happened, but I when I went through and tried to tie it all together more purpose...

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Shea West
20:41 May 03, 2021

💜💜💜

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15:04 May 13, 2021

This is the first of your stories that I have read and I am so glad I did. This is beautifully written. I am in awe of how talented you are when it comes to painting descriptions. “She gets ready for the day slowly, imagining the way mountains rise, just centimeters over centuries.” I loved that line. I look forward to reading more.

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Kate Winchester
18:59 May 11, 2021

This is beautiful and well written. This line stood out to me: “The air should taste of hope, should fill her lungs with deep, oxygenated joy.” Great job! 😊

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Cathryn V
22:15 May 04, 2021

Hi Claire, I agree with others comments that this is a heartbreaking account of depression; recognizing and admitting that you need help is a huge first step toward healing. For anyone suffering similarly, it’s an important message. There’s so much here that shows your writing skill. I like this one for the way you’ve shown a morning voice: Coming!” she shouts, hoping her unused voice will carry through the living room and to the door. And this, so true/real: His sweat drips onto her arm. He feels real, and she clings to him, burning ...

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Claire Lewis
00:01 May 05, 2021

That’s a good edit, thank you! I tweaked a few of the dialogue tags in that scene to hopefully make it flow a bit better. And thank you so much for your kind words, this comment was a nice pick-me-up after a long day :)

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Cathryn V
00:06 May 05, 2021

I looked at it again. Good job! Smoother :)

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