You drape a silk cloth over your dining room table and marvel over how smooth it is, like water flowing through your fingers. You rub your hands over it and press your ear to it, listening, as if it still had a heartbeat. You pick it up again and fold yourself into it, pretending you are a fantastical king and it is your cape, dancing through the room with it, you transform into a marvelous princess, from a time long passed, exploring unfamiliar lands outside of a well-protected castle.
An alarm buzzes, your first warning. You put the cloth down. It isn’t a tablecloth, you don’t have one, it’s made of a dress you used to own. A dress you used to wear in the summer, dancing amongst sunflowers, with a chorus of voices singing to the rhythm of your sway. You cut it apart in order to make this tablecloth, it shed tears of embroidered emotions and tasted of fragrant memories.
When you turn your back to the table, the cloth dies. You set out metal spoons, all your other cutlery is plastic, free gifts from the thousands of delivery meals you’ve ordered over the years.
You light candles. One candle is thick and short, emitting aromas of vanilla and chocolate, with a hint of mint.
You bought that candle at a ski slope, watching snow falling from the sky, like feathers from the burst pillows of clouds. You were drinking hot chocolate after a long winter day. You had raced the highest slope, going up with no idea of how to ski and no plan for getting down. It was an adventure, you thought. You had no guide, yet you did not hesitate before stepping onto the steep slope and plummeting down, down, and down. You sprayed snow in your wake, and the harsh winds obstructed your vision. You crashed onto a skier and smiled at him, a vague, sorry, hanging in the air. He told you you were going too fast and instructed you to sit on the snow and wriggle your way down. You laughed as you did so, imagining you were a clumsy butterfly having just emerged from its cocoon.
The mint was snow, refreshing and clear, hard yet soft, the chocolate was your hot chocolate, the vanilla was the scent of the skier you crashed into. The candle was an echo. It’s essence engulfing you, pushing you back into the comfortable mould of memory which you slipped into like Cinderella into her slipper.
Another candle is tall and smells of saffron and citrus. When you first bought it, you engraved it with patterns of seashells. When you light it, the sounds of cracking fire reminds you of the crashing of ocean waves. You had been surfing. You had taken surfing lessons for a year when you were younger. You always wanted to try for bigger waves, to stand as an equal in the presence of the ocean, to touch mother earth as you surfed through a tunnel of water, running your hands through the liquid that had, under your command, become a vessel. Your instructors told you that you should’ve tried for poetry, that surfing requires patience. What is patience, you thought. The answer came to you when you were picking seashells. An orchestra full of sounds emanated from the shell and the answer was only a hoarse whisper, but you could hear it clearly. Patience is talking to the sea and waiting for its response. When you told your instructors this, they laughed. Your parents glared at them, a silent warning. You told them later that laughter was music, your instructors did not need to agree with you to make music. You simply wished everyone to keep laughing. You told your parents laughter sounded like flutes and windchimes.
When you surfed alone, you called for mother earth and the ocean responded to you, after all, you were it’s child. After you had finished surfing, you ate pineapple ice cream. You bought three cones, one for yourself, one for a child you had seen stare wistfully at the ice cream booth, and another for the child’s mother. They looked at you gratefully.
The flavour exploded in your mouth, it made you blush and scream in joy.
At night, you raced the waves. Trying to leave a footprint as close to the water as possible, so that when the waves surged, they would cover your footprints and wipe them clean from the sand.
There were eight more candles, bought by him, your husband, the man for whom you had set the table. His candles were purely white, bleached of soul and emotions, like bathroom floors scrubbed clean of all traces of dirt. You placed those candles as far away from you as possible. You sighed a sigh of sympathy when you looked at them. You felt a deep longing to coat the candles with paint, to etch it with words and give it a soul, but you knew your husband, so you whispered a sorry to the candles and left to get dinner.
Your husband laughed when you bought it for the first time. You married him partly for his laugh, an intergalactic market place with colourful stalls, a white mushroom is a lush forest, the feeling of snow on your tongue. That is what his laugh sounded like. A picture, a feeling. Your husband had been laughing at you, but you were captivated. When he realised you actually planned on eating the alphabet pasta, he stopped laughing. His silence was like bad soap, paper labels that you couldn’t get off no matter how hard you tried, you wanted him to laugh again, you spent the rest of the shopping trip trying.
You boiled the alphabet pasta, and as you did so, you imagined the pan was a hot spring. You breathed in the steam of the hot spring and allowed your tense muscles to relax in the calm water. You had not been in a hot spring for four years, your husband thought they were “silly” and “unnecessary.” When you agreed, you heard him laugh again, the magic of his laughter was enough to cover up the rotting lie.
By the time you got the alphabet soup onto the plate, the alarm had rung again, signaling five minutes before he was due to arrive.
You arranged four letters in the soup, putting them gently onto the spoon so that their order would not be changed. The letters L, O, V, and E were arranged to spell love.
You used to marvel at the word, waiting for your Prince Charming, I suppose. You thought love held so much power, and you longed for it, even though you were already happy. When you met him, you were desperate to find someone you could love, just to tick that last box on your imagined bucket list. You had let him tie you down, telling yourself he was keeping you grounded. You had continuously tried to please him, bringing him on adventures, you thought you were letting him fly.
This, the dinner, the candles, the tablecloth are — although you can’t quite admit it to yourself — just another elaborate scheme to lift him up in the air. His birthday, which happened to coincide with Valentine’s Day, was just another day, another eternity, of you trying too hard, and him tying you down again and again.
Even though this day has happened a million times, even though you can see a million shards of memories mirroring what will happen tonight, you are impatient. You don’t like waiting. Your hands longed to paint and your legs longed to dance. Your face longed to act out a play, to recite Shakespeare or Euripides. Your eyes longed to stargaze, to pinpoint stars and create your own constellations. You wanted to move, to run, to feel a fresh breeze of air.
Instead, you stand opposite the clock. Watching it move like a predator watches their prey, no, like a prey watching the predator come closer, knowing that it can’t escape.
But you can, a voice whispers. Those three words had been your motto before you met him. It was your morals and worldview squashed into one. You had not thought like that for four years.
Four years since you skied.
Four years since you surfed.
Four years since you really lived.
The realisation comes to you like a flurry of snow being blown into your face by a chilling wind. You shiver, and goosebumps appear on your skin.
You stare at your wedding photo. You got married on top of a mountain, with the backdrop of a cliff. It was windy, and the veil had been blown away from your face, but it settled just in time for the photo. Your dress was stained muddy green from dirt and leaves but your husband’s suit was crisp and clean.
After the wedding, you had wanted to throw your veil over the cliff, but you could not.
The photo is not particularly remarkable. It’s not luminous, alight with the glow of memory like your ruined dress. It doesn’t smell of faint nostalgia like your candles. But when you look at it, you see everything that could have been between you and your husband. As the sound of the front door opening reaches your ears, you rip the photo apart. It rips in the middle, through the veil. Crumpled pieces of paper fall onto the mahogany floor.
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I love that you wrote the story from second person perspective. That's something I want to try one of these days. Great use of imagery. The whole story feels like a dream state, which nicely reflects your opening paragraph. Great story.