Fiction Romance Contemporary

“Why is it that my mind goes through so many dark alleyways at 3 a.m., when I am kept from sleep, not as a cause but as an effect?” I said, twirling a pipe cleaner around my thumb.

“Write it down, then go back to it,” my therapist said.

“Where should I keep it?”

“Anywhere. Next to your bed, under your bed, in a jar…” He gestured to his thermos for effect.

The last one got my attention. “Like a time capsule?” 

“Sure,” he said, in a way that always makes me think he wasn’t really listening.

“Do you think I have generalized anxiety disorder?” We rose in sync. My hour was up.

“I’ll see you next week, Sara.”  

I was seventeen and with my friends again and Memory tells me I was a bother, an annoying noise you couldn’t turn off no matter how hard one tried, so here I am eleven years later, removed by time and distance and yet I think, if I stay as silent as possible, they will feel that and somehow their recollection of me will change, like I have that power, like I am pulling a curtain shut. I am The Most Quiet Person In The World. I will be crowned as such; I will sit on my airy throne and my friends will marvel at just how skillful I am at not speaking and they will feel sorry they ever talked about me talking too much but then my larynx will atrophy and they will really feel sorry but I will feel the sorriest. Then I think, am I remembering myself at all accurately, and does it even matter? Am I being quiet for no good reason? 

I quietly fold this up and place it in the shoebox. 

Then I was twenty-six and at my then-boyfriend’s mother’s house for brunch. His younger brother followed me into the kitchen when everyone else was seated eating their crêpes and he backed me into the pantry door and kissed me like a much older young man would. And so began a month-long affair in which I would show up at the house like a stray kitten and he would sneak me into his room and we would kiss like the world was exploding. I remember accidentally telling him I loved him and he didn’t say it back but it wasn’t as devastating as I thought it would be. In fact we both thought we should stop meeting up like that and just go back to being what we were to one another which we could never really define with a succinct little term. Two years later, approximately one week ago, I ran into him at Starbucks. He was ripe and gorgeous and I wanted to bite his mouth like an apple. Instead I waved and felt the guilt crest and fall because what else was I supposed to do? I sipped my Americano and thought, okay, I suppose I could do this instead. 

I bunch up this entry like a ball of yarn and throw it against the window. It makes the softest of all possible thuds.

Then I was nine years old and watching my mother bake a cake for my brother’s birthday. It is a chocolate box cake. I am staring out the window, into the moon, fantasizing about this cake that I ate nineteen years ago. The whole cake. The oven dinged and my mother fished it out of the oven, set it on the counter to cool. She gave me that “don’t-you-dare-Sara-Louise” look and went upstairs to take a shower. When she returned, I was shoving the last handful in my mouth, fudgey crumbs raining out of my mouth. I was sent to my room and my brother stayed mad at me until his next birthday. I still hold that this is the reason we only see each other at Christmas and his kids refer to me as their cousin. A cake is the perfect fall guy. 

I underline this last sentence because I believe it is important. 

Then, at twenty-eight, precisely two days ago, I saw this written in a bathroom stall at the bar I frequent: LOVE IS THE MOST SERIOUS MENTAL DISORDER. It was profound yet very confusing, its author dotting the i’s with perfect little hearts. The only rational conclusion I could make is that this person was grossly infatuated with someone and she only felt free to disclose it on a dirty wall at a shithole dive bar. Then I thought, how sad. No one should ever have such giant feelings and only possess the equivalent of an empty room to scream them into. I wiped myself and flushed the toilet and went back to my friends as if I hadn’t just seen what I saw. Later on when I got home I sat in the bath and wept for this stranger who, in one slick moment, had me rethinking everything I thought about love. 

I make a little note to remind myself to ask my therapist what he thinks about love. 

Last night I woke, predictably, at 3 a.m. The moon was a clean silver coin in the sky and the last wisps of dreams caught in my mouth before allowing themselves permanent reprieve. I thought of my breath and my dreams and how they are the same. I thought about the poor soul with the Sharpie in the dive bar and how she probably has some fake brother-in-law whom she loves and old friends whom she is longing to impress and a cake to be eaten somewhere; perhaps she even has a therapist who, despite her best and most foolish efforts, will only ever see her as a patient. I thought about what might have happened if she’d only had a toothpick on her when she was pissing in the bathroom. I thought about what might have happened if she had in fact bitten his mouth like an apple. I thought about what might have happened had the cake been white cake instead and how she actually quite liked vanilla — would her brother have forgiven her any sooner? 

LOVE IS THE MOST SERIOUS MENTAL DISORDER, I wrote, in homage to Poor Soul Sharpie Girl.

And I tasted apples and skin and chocolate and vanilla until my hand felt like a criminal, burying everything in the dirt.

October 09, 2020 04:28

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Freddy Iryss
03:57 Mar 01, 2022

Very nice! I can totally relate to the dark alleyways at 3a.m.


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Bianka Nova
10:58 Oct 10, 2020

Loved this! Another very original take on the prompt. Don't we all have these thoughts keeping us awake at night every now and then? I like how writing them down was meant to be a kind of therapeutic, but all it ever does is make her ask herself more and more questions. It's real and relatable, because usually there's no universal solution or no solution at all - one just has to keep on trying and digging in order to get there 😊 A tiny note: The text gives the impression that the most consistent current age of the woman is 28. Yet in the...


Stephanie Kaye
19:13 Oct 10, 2020

Oh my — great catch! Fixed it. Thank you! :-) And thank you for your feedback — this was an odd story for me to write because I'm a therapist and chronic overthinker who's often going off in a hundred different mental hallways at three in the morning. So there's this piece of wanting to help my own clients give some tangibility to the thoughts in their head, combined with my own struggles of doing that same thing. I guess that's why fiction is a perfect medium for me. Haha.


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