Waiting in an Echo

Submitted into Contest #219 in response to: Set your story in a type of prison cell.... view prompt

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Romance Fiction Thriller

I can’t narrow it down to a particular day, minute, or hour; no, I do not remember the day you began to fade from my memory, but I know this: you are no longer a part of me. My heart once gave wind to rivers of blood that flowed only for you, but now… now the petals of your flowers lay withered and crisp on the sill of the frosted window, and I don’t even miss you.

I’m holding a Polaroid of you in my two fingers. It’s of the night I told you goodbye for the last time and your hair is wet in the frame, your cheeks dotted with rain, and you don’t look as lovely as you did twenty minutes before I took this photo of you, before the rain fell and rinsed away the sheen of your tears. 

The image of you brings tears to my own eyes and I really wish you would’ve accepted these flowers that night, but it’s freeing, really. The world seems a whole lot bigger without you in it and I think I’m ready to go on an adventure. 

I need an adventure in my life. Rachel told me she was heading up north for the weekend, and now I’m looking at bus schedules and November has never tasted sweeter than when I leave through my bedroom window, inching it shut behind me and rising slowly from the window well. 

There is a rose bush on the side of the road, shades of your eyes and your blood splattered here against the obscurity of the night, sprinkled into sight by the rays of the street lamps. I touch a finger to one of its thorns and allow myself to admire its viridian vines for a moment before my finger begins to bleed. 

My left shoe scrapes itself through the gravel as I back away. It’s beginning to snow and when I remove my glasses, the mural is abstract enough that I can see your love emblazoned on the crimson petals, your eyes glistening amid the vines. 

“I miss you.”

The snow has made the playground glossy and wet, so that our fingers are slipping along the silver chains of the swings and our shoes are squealing as we bolt away from each other, nine silhouettes darting through the night, our voices like a frantic festival of electric entertainment, our eyes as bright as the stars above. 

“I love when the whole world feels alive like this.”

Rachel smiles and it’s true: I do miss you. Her skin is tanned and smooth and soft, her eyes like sapphire, her hair golden and thick, but her lips aren’t as wet, her heart is not as raw, and the deepest parts of our souls have not yet been introduced to each other. 

She doesn’t say anything, she just kisses me and lets me taste her tongue, the scent of weed and hairspray washing everything away. 

“I love you,” she tells me as the game of tag comes to an end, and she does. 

“You guys don’t want to keep playing?” someone asks. 

Rachel brushes a strand of hair from my eye and I know she loves me because the hairspray she wears is yours, and she wears it for me. 

“I love lavender,” I lied to her in the mall one day. 

But I do not love lavender. I love you.

The trees are gowned in your nightmares as I follow Nathan beneath their naked branches and I think we could make it onto the steel roof of these public restrooms if we tried.

“Yo, I bet I could make it up there,” I say. 

“You should try it.”

I find an electrical box on the back of the building and I get myself halfway over the slanted edge before the restroom door opens again and Nathan comes around. 

“Man, you gotta check out these washrooms.”

“Yeah, in a minute,” I grunt, heaving myself over the ledge. My shoes slip on the wet shingles and my fingers are clawing at the rough surface as my eyes become wide and—

“Holy shit,” Nathan laughs. “Are you all right?”

I lie still in the grass for a moment, gazing into the heavens, and can you see me from among the stars? Here, longing for you. 

“That was crazy,” I laugh after a few more seconds. 

Nathan helps me to my feet and leads me back around the building, where we stop in front of the faded red door and… hesitate.

“You gonna show me inside?”

I can still hear the voices of everyone else at the playground behind us, wondering where the liquor disappeared to and what we should do next. 

Nathan dips his head at the door. “Just go in, man. It’s huge in there.”

But before my hand touches the silver handle, Nathan shoves me from behind and I collapse into the door, which opens and dumps me on the cold concrete. 

I am on my knees and Nathan was right: the restroom is huge. The sink is easily fifteen feet away in the far corner, and everything is so white that it takes my eyes a moment to adjust to the fluorescent bulbs, which fill the room with their incessant hum and make the mirror like a burning sea of milky fire.

I squint through the brilliance and catch my breath at the sight of a man sitting on the toilet, which is filthy and dripping. The man is naked and also covered in filth, his toes curled up in the puddle of accumulated urine and sludge, his bony fingers entwined in his lap, and the appearance of his neglected, emaciated self huddled here atop a public toilet is a sobering sight. 

I’m scrambling away, fumbling for the door handle, but the man doesn’t even glance at me as I retreat from the bright, vast room.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I hit Nathan in the chest with both hands, but then we’re laughing hysterically in each other’s faces. 

“Did he try to attack you or something?”

“Nah, man. He was just sitting there staring at the floor.”

Nathan is sitting on a bench now, hands on his knees as he chokes on laughter, and I’m waiting for a confrontation with the man in the white room, but he never comes. 

The snow has stopped falling and the stars are bare as we traverse back beneath the trees, whose atmosphere is not so tenebrous with these new sparkling candles that bleed from on high. 

“I think it has to go around this way, Kyle,” says a mother who has stopped on the path with her son, her bike leaning against a tree, his sitting upside down in the gravel while they attempt to realign its chain. 

We all sit down at a green picnic bench and Rachel’s breath is warm as she kisses my ear, my cheek, and finally my lips. I smile at her but the night is cold and I don’t think I am ready for any of this. My hand is on her leg and I can see how lost she has become in my eyes, but I am vigilant in hers, which are like the last few seconds of the sun before it sinks beneath the line of the ocean, because her warmth will always be a replacement to me. 

“You guys want to go back to my place?” Nathan asks, and I remember the moment I saw you on our last night together. 

“What’re we gonna do there?” Sydney asks, and I wish you could’ve seen yourself from my eyes that night. 

You were walking in your skin-tight black dress with a leather purse slung over your left shoulder, making your way down the sidewalk in the rain, and then I was running to you from the train station with an umbrella and you were leaping into my arms, shrieking with excitement because we were finally together again. 

You weren’t exactly obvious about your intentions at first, nor about the intentions of your heart, for these can be two very different things. We walked to dinner with our hands entwined and the conversation flowed easily enough, mostly about our time away and what our plans were for the rest of the term. I didn’t think anything of it when you wouldn’t take the roses from me. 

“You can have these whenever you want, by the way,” I laughed on our way back to campus. I still had your flowers in my hand and the rain was gentle on our umbrella, which was in my other hand. 

You just smiled and took the roses and let me lead you away into the night. 

“Is something wrong?” I asked eventually. 

You shrugged and sat down on one of the couches in the student centre lounge, a huge, vacant-for-the-moment room with dimmed lights and quiet speakers, and I watched the curls that hung from either side of your head slip into your eyes. You brushed them back behind your ears and adjusted the elastic on your ponytail, which held the rest of your blonde and caramel hair. There was the usual flitting of pictures through my mind as I held you in my gaze, you with your deep eyes and your wet, pink lips and all of the loveliness that dripped from you like honey. I took you in with your smooth, bent legs and your perfect smiles and your tender hands, and I saw us running through the fields that surround campus together, hurling our voices at the black sky so the angels might hear us. I saw us running through those fields until we came home and crashed through the front door, landing in the hall with our bodies wrapped around each other, your tongue wet and your mouth loud, and I indulged in you as I smiled at you and listened to you and and lowered myself onto the couch to be with you. 

“Jenna?”

“I don’t want to think about anything right now.”

“Uh… okay. Well, we don’t have to.”

“Can we just do something fun?” You practically leapt off of the couch, tugging my hand behind you, and your eyes were on the windows now. “Can we go on the scooters?”

I laughed. “What?”

“Those orange scooters out there. You can just use them.”

“Oh, yeah. I have the app on my phone.”

So we took an electric scooter through the rain, you in the front and me behind you, and I did not ask you about the tears in your eyes until after they were gone. 

We stopped under the gazebo by the pond and watched the city flickering with life for a few minutes before you looked back at our bags lying on a wooden table, the roses between them. 

“Jenna… I feel like there’s something wrong.”

Your lashes had dried from the rain, but now I could see fresh tears shimmering at the forefronts of your soul. 

I was gentle with you that night, caring, and I refused to hurt you. I let you know I’d be there, that I could never be angry with you, that you were still my everything. I took Polaroids of you in the rain and I brought your roses home and left them on my window sill and everything was fine, even though everything was falling apart, until I saw you climbing into his car one Thursday afternoon. 

You were vulnerable as you came to me from across the library three days later and I think you knew what I had discovered. You cried, of course, as we talked it through, and when you tried to shut yourself in the handicapped bathroom, I kicked it open and shoved my way in. 

“Wait—”

And then I was hitting you, hearing you scream, and do you believe me? Do you believe me when I tell you how sorry I am for leaving you there on the floor, smeared and drowning in a crimson puddle? 

My voice echoed when I cried from across the park, but now my shoes are heavy with mud and my shirt is damp with sweat because she never heard me, and I came to the field to clear my head. 

The cows are tired tonight, all of them but one lying in heaps of indistinct gloom, and the one is before me, a single presence bathed in silver, its eyes filled with the blackness of death and staring into me. I can see her running toward the restrooms in these eyes, can hear myself trying to warn her, and I see the naked man bolting away, the boy on the bike path insisting that his mother look, look, look as the man’s genitals slapped against the rest of him. 

We found Rachel in the blazing white room, a small boulder lying by her head, the floor dark and bold with her blood, and do you know what? She looked just like you as she lay there, her cheeks paler and smoother than they ever were in life, her lips blue as the blood rose from her throat and spotted them. 

“Yo. You good?”

I nod. “Yeah, I think… I think I’m high enough.”

Nathan just laughs.

I look away from the cow’s entrancing eyes. “Actually… I feel wonderful.”

“Oh, yeah?”

I’m leaning against the wooden fence now, caught in a peculiar mood of thought and reflection in the wake of the cow’s gaze. “Yeah,” I say. “You know how people say love is like a prison?”

Nathan nods and I can’t tell what he’s thinking, but people are right.

October 10, 2023 23:31

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