Contest #232 shortlist ⭐️

Nighttime Heartbroken Souls

Submitted into Contest #232 in response to: Write a story about someone looking for a sign in a dark sky.... view prompt

11 comments

Sad

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I looked out the living room window of our twelfth-storey apartment. The roads were no longer busy, only a handful of cars coming in from the direction of the highway. I wondered where they were headed at this hour; were they going home to an empty apartment, or were they going home to their families? And if so, would they have to tiptoe into the house? Would they be afraid of waking their spouses, for fear of inviting unwanted questions? It was, afterall, one in the morning. I checked my phone again, the fiftieth time in the last fifteen minutes. Still nothing from Aiden.

Our building is right next to the neighbourhood park, which was one of the main reasons I got us to buy this apartment two years ago–to be next to a 40-acre park with a 12-acre lake, in a Northeastern residential part of Singapore. The presence of the park encourages me to go for my daily run, and it persuaded me to get a puppy last year. On nights like this one, the park also holds the promise that I will feel better after a stroll. I could see the tree-lined footpaths of the park from my window. The street lamps seemed to be winking at me through the foliage, as if promising me that my secrets would be safe with them.

Brownie, our two-year-old Shih-tzu mix, is half asleep, occasionally eyeing me and the bedroom door. I got up, changed into denim shorts and a black tank top, grabbed my phone and put on my trainers. Brownie immediately sits up, sleep suddenly becomes the last thing she wants to do, and gives me a face full of hope. Without looking at her, I closed the door and left the apartment.

The cool night air felt fresh on my skin. I took in the quiet surroundings as I mindfully put one foot in front of the other, mindful as each foot landed on the asphalt. The thoughts will come later, but now I want to be in the moment, with myself.

“Hey, fancy seeing you at this hour.” A vaguely familiar voice. I looked up and met eyes with Evelyn, owner of Coco, an eight-year-old red toy Poodle.

“Eve! This is surprising,” I said. “It is odd to see you without Coco, and at this hour.”

“I will say the same of you. Why are you here at this time?”

Under the bright, white, street light, I noticed Evelyn’s red, slightly swollen eyes. She was in her grey jogger shorts and a plain white t-shirt. Her hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail. I looked like I had put some thought into getting out of the house at one in the morning; she looked like she just got up from bed and walked right to the park.

“I needed fresh air, to sort through some stuff in my head,” I told her.

“Brownie not giving you peace at home?” She smiled.

Evelyn is one of the few people Brownie took an instant liking to the first time they met, nearly a year ago. I have not seen Brownie react the way she does to any other stranger except Evelyn. People say dogs can tell a good human from a bad one. I believe in the saying.

“Ah, no, she was trying to sleep, although I think she must be fuming right now that I left the apartment without her.”

“Actually, do you mind sitting with me? I wasn’t sure if I wanted company earlier but since you’re here, I do want company.” Evelyn said.

“Sure, let’s.”

She let out a sigh when she sat down and lifted her chin up toward the sky.

“It’s like a black blanket,” I said. “No clouds.” You can hardly see any stars in light-polluted Singapore. I saw Evelyn’s smile from the corner of my eye.

We sat in comfortable silence, as if we were best friends for years and sitting on a bench in a park in the early hours of the morning is something we always do when we are upset. In reality, I bump into Evelyn a few times a week in the morning on our dog walks, and spend about fifteen minutes catching up on our lives in relation to the pups. Little nuggets of information we share that tell us nothing about each other, only that we love our dogs. I pulled my knees up toward my chest and rested my feet on the edge of the bench. I, too, tilted my head up toward the pitch black sky.

“The test came back positive, the baby has Down syndrome,” Evelyn said softly.

I turned to look at her, searching my mind for an appropriate response. At this moment though, it doesn’t feel like any kind of response is appropriate. So I don’t say anything and wait.

Slowly, in her own time, Evelyn continued. She is sixteen weeks along and had gone for a routine scan and test earlier this week, which was when they received the results. It was an unplanned pregnancy. They have two teenagers and definitely weren't planning on having more, but abortion was not an option for Evelyn - she loves kids and she knew if they had aborted the baby, she would have a hard time coming to terms with the loss. 

They have not had sex for a long time–years, she said, like most couples who have been married for a long time. The night they conceived was the result of months of couples therapy. He had wanted to leave after revealing that he had been seeing someone, but she had negotiated her way and got him to stay, and that included going for therapy together. Whether or not he is still keeping the affair is not clear to her, but all that matters is that he chose to stay and agreed to work things through. For the kids, they both agreed.

In the last couple of days since getting the Down verdict, their conversations have been honest, heated, strained, tender and never ending. He doesn’t want to keep it. She doesn’t know what to do. She hasn’t slept for two nights and decided she had to leave the house, leave the constant chatter, and get away from everything.

She looked up towards the sky again.

“I wish we could see the stars. I wish that if we can see shooting stars here, I can leave all the decisions to the stars and not have to make my own.” Her voice quivered.

We often don’t have the right words for our friends who are suffering in some way. When a friend tells you he has cancer; when a friend says she is going through a divorce; when  another friend tells you his mother has just passed. We offer words of hope and encouragement, when despair has shrouded them in a thick gloom that makes visibility poor and hope is the last thing they can see. The positive words sound weak and lame, even to ourselves. 

“Well, we don’t have shooting stars, but we do have air planes,” I say, nodding towards the lights moving at a distance.

Evelyn made a small laugh.

I wanted to tell Evelyn that everything will be fine, that things will work out regardless of what happens, that she doesn’t need shooting stars to decide her life. But even as I think about the words, they feel too flimsy to be said.

My phone chose this moment to vibrate furiously. It’s Aiden, alive and well.

“Trouble at home too?” she asked.

I nodded. Aiden had come home two nights ago and over dinner, told me he has been seeing his ex-girlfriend for the past two years. I had known something was going on but had chosen not to speak. He had to choose between ending the affair or getting a divorce. I was quiet the whole time as he tried to have a conversation. I can’t remember what he wanted to talk about, but I remember it took me 30 minutes to finally tell him I don’t want him in the house. I didn’t know where he went that night, nor last night, nor tonight. I finally sent him a text in the morning telling him I’m ready to talk.

But I didn’t share all that with Evelyn. I gave her my number and asked for hers, gave her a hug and told her I will call her in a few days to check on her and headed back home.

As I walked back home, I looked up at the black, cloudless night sky. It was three in the morning. I wondered how many people were awake just then, going through emotional traumas like Evelyn and myself. I wondered if we collectively wished for a sign to tell us what to do, how to move forward, would someone up there answer our call and send a signal?

January 11, 2024 14:43

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11 comments

Philip Ebuluofor
15:20 Jan 23, 2024

I just like the tone. The manner it's delivered. Congrats.

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Story Time
07:47 Jan 23, 2024

I always struggle with tense, so I wouldn't beat yourself up over it, but I think the story could have a future in other publications if you went through it one more time and went with one or the other. It's a really fantastic read.

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Story Time
07:47 Jan 23, 2024

I always struggle with tense, so I wouldn't beat yourself up over it, but I think the story could have a future in other publications if you went through it one more time and went with one or the other. It's a really fantastic read.

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Mary Bendickson
18:17 Jan 19, 2024

Nice first entry and wow a win! It's the week for newbies. Great job. Congrats! Welcome to Reedsy.

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Luna Lin
15:05 Jan 20, 2024

Thank you!!

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J. I. MumfoRD
23:37 Jan 17, 2024

Ah Singapore, one of my favourite countries. Lovely and safe for jogging. The story is good, particularly liked the musing in the middle. What took me out of the piece a little was the description of the jogging clothes. The contrast with the other character was the point—I get that. But it felt disjointed. By the end, I was wondering if the character was even bothered by Aiden’s bolting. It’s a minor quibble and I’m probably wrong about it. Well written overall and an easy read. Good job.

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Luna Lin
04:01 Jan 18, 2024

Thank you for the feedback! Yeah, probably hadn't integrated the clothing bit too well. You're right on the part about Aiden's bolting - I think this topic deserves a more in-depth exploration but I hadn't organized my thoughts too well.

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J. I. MumfoRD
06:54 Jan 18, 2024

The plot is fine, the dual factor problem is an excellent choice. I’m only concerned the main character isn’t showing her mental state in the details. Feel free to tell me I’m blur sotong.

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Trudy Jas
11:40 Jan 16, 2024

We don't always - actually, we rarely - get a sign from the sky, do we? Well written. There are a couple of times you switched back and forth between present and past tense. Nothing that an extra proofread won't cure. Look forward to reading more by you.

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Luna Lin
04:03 Jan 18, 2024

My Achilles heel, tenses. I was trying to decide which would work better in a story like this and switched in the middle of writing. But yes, need to get better at proofreading!

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Nicki Nance
06:04 Jan 16, 2024

This is a a lovely, timely, many layered story. Your characters are well developed. The starless sky is like another character.

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