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Contemporary Sad Romance

I’ve never seen her before, only in shards of dreams and slices of déjà vu. Oh, she’s looking at me. I stare at the table and try to remember where her face comes from. It’s rounded, sort of soft on the chin, the eyes grey and bright as they catch on my face. 

I know her from before. I don’t want to find where she’s from, I don’t want to find her face in my memory. It’ll stick and stay for a little, and then slip away like everything else. 

There’s a mark on the inside of my Coca-cola bottle. The dark liquid slides away from the mark and into my throat, and then back up toward the mark as the glass clinks on the table top. 

Across the cafeteria. The grey eyes stare back at me. Watching, wondering. Eyes like a hawk’s. 

Eyes like a hawk’s. 

Eyes like a hawk’s. Her eyes look like a hawk’s, staring at me. I shiver and stamp my feet on the hoarfrost. 

The man smells like a pickle and his voice sounds like the time when Mom made them and snapped them in pieces to fit into the mason jars. No one’s listening. This sewer, now frozen over, is where they found a dead body three years ago. The others know this; they tell each other that and whisper loudly and think about other things. 

My vision blurs. I’m remembering something. My head flashes, my eyes slide sideways, time falls in and out… my buddy, Steve, holds me up when I slump. 

Take care of him, Steve, Mom said. When he goes weak like that you just have to pretend nothing’s happening… I know, yes, well, we’ve spoken to doctors and you can only wait the bad spots out, they'll end eventually they always do… thanks again, do I owe you more?

The lines on our old kitchen table are deep, I discovered while listening to her. Deep like scars. She thinks I only see the scars, that maybe my ears are closed when my eyes are too. Sometimes I wish they are.

Steve holds me up. Steve’s my friend. He makes the hawk girl go away when she comes forward. He doesn’t understand she’s also inside me, inside my head, and even when her body leaves her memory doesn’t, at least not in my head. 

I shake my head slowly. The chilly, worm-riddled ground moves in slow circles around me. I gag. 

The hawk girl comes forward again. She says my name. Steve shakes her away. 

I want to say no but can’t. My mouth feels slow. She walks away. She smells like trees. 

She smells like trees. 

She smells like trees. Trees in warm rain. Green, blue, and the dirt.

My aunt used to, too, before she died and the warm dirt closed over her. That day in the shady graveyard was nice. A young woman with a round chin stood in front of a small grave on the other side of the yard. It was covered with many bunches of delicate, drooping flowers. Aunt Sadie’s only had one bunch. Marigolds. 

The hawk girl comes forward from her corner in the big clattery cafeteria. The table top fills my vision, the banging trays and breaking plastic forks fills my ears, but all I see in my head are her big netted grey eyes. Eyes like fire, eyes like a bird’s. 

Hi, Patrick, she says. Her voice is cheery and kind. I blink hard. 

“Hi,” I say. My fork slides expertly between my fingers. I flip it up and down, through my fingers, scratch the table. The table moves when she sits down. 

Patrick, she says, Patrick, don’t you remember me? Patrick, Patrick… 

It’s too late, my throat is throbbing, my heart hurting inside my chest, my eyes sliding white…

I glimpse her. Her eyes are full of tears. 

Her eyes are full of tears. 

Her eyes are full of tears. My eyes are full of white. It’s cold here, the doctor and his cold voice, the cold tile floor, the cold sterile equipment. I start humming just to pass the time. It buzzes from my throat, kind and comforting. 

Mom, Mom, I say. Mom, who are you talking to.

Her phone is pressed to her cheek. It’s cold too. Her eyes are cold, dripping tears. She calls the man on the other end sir, and I don’t know why. I’m flashing in and out, seeing Mom and the hawk girl again and again, scenes I’ve seen in dreams before. Mom and the hawk girl. I made them cry and see them cry all the time now. Their tears weigh me down. 

Mom says it’s déjà vu it’s only déjà vu nothing to be afraid of, and the more she says it the faster the slices come. It’s like staring through a piece of stained glass, beautiful carved stained glass, but stained with blood. I don’t understand it. 

Through the window slatted with plastic I can see the sky, framed with golden tree branches, green and gold in evening light. I just want to be outside. My feet start to prickle, hanging from the crackling paper on the red leather doctor bed. 

It’s just a condition, she whispers into the phone, Seizures and déjà vu it isn’t his fault. A piece of hair falls across her face. She sobs into the phone. She listens and gasps out, You don’t know that for sure—

Why did you even marry him, I say when she slides her phone into her pocket. Not asking a question, just saying. Why did you even marry him. Why. 

We wait in the silent room for a man to enter and say nothing. I can hear a clock ticking. It’s off, I can tell. 

“He made me happy,” she says. Her voice is quiet and dry, contrasted with her face. Emotions scream loudly from her wet face. 

I go over to her. My pale thin legs shine in the plastic golden light from outside. My shoes aren’t on so I climb on her lap. I’m young enough, eleven, to do that still. 

I flash in and out with the hawk girl. 

“He made me happy,” she whispers, even more dryly. She puts her nose on my hair and closes her eyes. Her hand feels good stroking my head. 

The hawk girl clicks into view, like a slide pressed into a View Master toy. My breathing is heavy. I cradle my head in my clammy hands. 

Why, I croak. Why me I’m not even here, I’m barely here, why are you here. 

She touches my face and her lips curve up, above her rounded chin. I watch her smile and don’t look away from watching. Her eyes catch mine and hold them, like she’s holding my head. 

Patrick, she says, Patrick. I’m here. It’s me. 

“I’m sorry,” I say slowly. My head pounds; the back of my skull, like someone behind me hitting me with a club in time with each pump of my heart. “Who… are you?”

This time her eyes stay dry. She knows me. I should know her. I’ve never seen her, not in this memory. Maybe I met her once, but I’ve never met her.

I like you, she says. I like your face. You make me happy. 

My head pounds. I see Mom’s face. Her crying face, talking to Sir on the phone. The hawk’s hair is golden like the sun through plastic slats. The world is purple, blue, and red; prism colors. Please, she says, look at me and say it’s okay. Please, she says, it’s okay. Please. 

I watch her eyes. 

Come with me, she says. Come with me, we’ll get coffee, we’ll talk. I like you, I want to talk to you. You make me happy.

The world flashes around me like it’s drunk. Like I’m drunk. 

“I’m sorry,” I say, gasping. “I don’t know you.”

Her eyes look hit. But I haven’t touched her. Her eyes bloom hurt like my mom’s face, the bruised hurt feeling. She leans back a little. Her hair ruffles like hawk feathers in the wind. You don’t know me, she asks. 

I know your face, I say, I’ve seen you before. It’s déjà vu, past and present and I’ve met your future right now and it’s my dad and it’s me and I can’t do that to you. And I can’t do that. 

Can’t do that. 

Can’t do that, Mom’s voice says, words bleeding over into my room. I’m blurred again, blurred and sick to my stomach. For the first time in a while I remember where I am. I am eight and sick on bad milk and Dad has hit her for the first time. In my head I am eight years old and in my body I am fifteen, staring at the table and in pain while the beautiful hawk girl watches me, tearful and in love. 

Can’t do that. I can’t. She won’t leave him for me. 

“He made me happy,” she says in the future. Dad hits her and as the purple blossoms on her face and he screams Get out of my house, my head reels that special way for the first time. The View Master toy has a new slide; I’m five in my head, eight in real life, and hearing Dad scream Get out of my house at her. I slide back into eight and they start telling me Stop crying, stop screaming, Patrick, you’re okay, look she’s fine, we’re sorry… 

He was never sorry. I’m eight again and now I’m fifteen and

The girl with hawk eyes is sitting in front of me again, her hair framed around her face like trees around the sky. She asks me softly again, I'm happy here with you. Won’t you go out with me? Talk? Please. 

I shake my head slowly numbly. She touches my hand and I don’t pull away. I don’t say yes but how can I say no with those grey gold hawk eyes holding my own, just watching, just holding. Her lips tug up and I watch them, she watches me watch, keeps my eyes in hers. Those gold grey bird’s eyes. What is your name, I say. 

Would you even remember, she asks, Will I have to tell you again. 

Yes probably, I say. And so she doesn’t tell me, just holds my hand and my gaze and smiles and smiles and I stay there with her, fifteen and nothing else for a little longer.

February 18, 2021 17:48

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30 comments

18:03 Feb 21, 2021

It's ironic how you've placed the title and the contents of this piece. Everything in this screams sadness, and yet the title tells us of happiness. Perhaps there is happiness from wanting someone in this way that is both tragic and beautiful. I feel that the protagonist has gone through so many traumatic events which have led him to this point. And I think that he doesn't move between the past and the present but feels like he's doing that. We get to see the life of his mother and the failure of a parent and we get to see how that could so...

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Scout Tahoe
03:11 Feb 21, 2021

I'm so sorry I'm late. I've been so busy. Wow, this is interesting. I love the punctuation and the characters and the quotation marks in chosen places. It's all very messy and organized at the same time. What I also really like is how it's flipped. I would've thought the main character to be the one upset about their crush forgetting them, but it's the other way around. Nice job, Zilla.

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Zilla Babbitt
15:30 Feb 27, 2021

Hey no problem. I've been meaning to catch up on some of yours, I'm sure they're amazing. Thanks for your comment, I enjoyed writing this story :)

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Scout Tahoe
15:32 Feb 27, 2021

Oh, don't feel an obligation. :) You're welcome!

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L Killorin
02:32 Feb 20, 2021

I loved this! So much energy and momentum, as dizzying as it is inescapable. Faulkner would be pleased, I think :)

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Niveeidha Palani
00:58 Feb 19, 2021

You should be confident because the grammar is 100% intentionally the way it is. :) Usually, titles are based on motifs, and how a phrase or a word is repeated throughout the story, I could relate to the word, "Happy". Beautiful story and you made me hate the dad so much. Great read.

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"Eye's like a hawks." "She smells like trees." "Her eyes are full of tears." ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Such a beautiful story, Zilla. There are so many poetic touches and phrases in here in which I am just simply immersed by in your story. The way you use the italics in your story, so generously, just...awe-striking. It's so sad, when Patrick says he doesn't remember her. Oh. My. God. The feeling was so real, so emotional, as if this all happened in real life. Yet, the story is titled "H...

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Nainika Gupta
19:42 Feb 23, 2021

Hey Zilla - thanks so much for your feedback on my paper...really appreciate it. :)

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Rayhan Hidayat
09:11 Feb 23, 2021

I’ll be honest, you’re a great writer, but none of your stories have really hit me that hard until this one. Wow. Absolutely nailed the train-of-thought style. Not to mention a terrific take on the prompt. Maybe it’s time to snag a third win 😉

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April Rawlins
19:10 Feb 22, 2021

I love the use of the View Master and the way you used it to slide back and forth between the memories. Beautiful.

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11:08 Feb 22, 2021

Hey Zilla. I came back for a day, (today) and all I can say that Edward is back. Soooo um, I wanted to ask you, is there *any* way I can block him or something cuz he's been saying pretty rude stuff... and its really mean.

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Zilla Babbitt
18:39 Feb 23, 2021

First: Hi, it's good to hear from you! Second, sadly no. Reedsy is more of a public forum rather than a private messaging site so there's no blocking option. I'm really sorry.

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02:54 Feb 24, 2021

Hey! Oh, well... okay I'll manage, thanks for your time!

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Radhika Diksha
11:41 Feb 21, 2021

2 new stories would love your feedback on it.

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A.G. Scott
03:34 Feb 19, 2021

I read this right when I woke up but I was not ready to process it lol. Now I'm back and caffeinated but I'm still pretty much stunned to silence. The poetic elements give it a nice rhythm, and I love that so much of the story is tucked away in implication. This is the hardest way to write a story, but you went ahead and did it anyway, and the result is something really unique and engaging. Wonderful idea for addressing the prompt.

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18:33 Feb 18, 2021

Wow. As Luke said, this was very intense :P Loved everything though. It was an extremely good story. Edit: (I've come back with some more information!) Wow, this is a beautiful story! I really loved all of the vivid descriptions, imagery, and wonderful plot, even though it was so sad and emotional. The grammar seems perfect the way it is, and it adds more depth to the story too. I really have no critiques. Also, I had to mention this because I'm honestly not a romance person, but this story really brought out something that I don't find in...

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Dorian Gray 📖
18:24 Feb 18, 2021

Whoah, this was INTENSE!! I think that it was great and you did an awesome job, and I'll be sure to check out some more Faulkner!!!

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Jakin Files
00:46 Feb 26, 2021

This is not what I expected but it was fascinating! I love the way you interpreted the prompt in a very creative way. This inspires me to read between the lines when reading the prompts. This is my first time entry and would love some feedback if you have time. Although I know everyone wants you to check out their stories as well. Again enjoyed the story. Keep writing creatively.

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Gary Crawford
22:45 Feb 24, 2021

I could see this through the eyes of one of the special needs autistic kids I used to drive to and from school. One especially acted this way, "being" at different times in his life in his mind, at any given time. Although highly functional, what they call Asberger's Syndrome, he was able to travel within his mind to memories of different ages. It always fascinated me. Your story took me there, inside of his mind. Thank you for a well-written story.

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Grace Arons
20:38 Feb 24, 2021

As with all of your stories, I'm impressed with the way you took this prompt and added your own unique spin on it. Your language is exquisite and unique - very poetic. The imagery in this story is vivid enough that I feel like I'm there, without being obtrusive. Your characters are credible. One piece of advice, and I hope it falls under the category of "substance" like you asked for: "My pale thin legs shine in the plastic golden light from outside." Something about the phrase "my pale thin legs" jars me out of the narrative. Perhaps it's b...

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Redana U
05:59 Feb 24, 2021

Your style captured the intensity of your story. Well done!

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The Cold Ice
03:58 Feb 24, 2021

Loved it. Keep writing .wonderful story. Would you mind reading my story *leaf me alone”?

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Leslie Flemons
01:24 Feb 24, 2021

This is beautiful writing! I like how you switched the "old crush" for this prompt as the narrator of the story.

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Tom .
22:10 Feb 23, 2021

The language and style here is really powerful. It is an engrossing read. I did get lost a little in the middle and found myself still a little confused at the end. Although maybe that was supposed to happen. I think I have to think about it some more and come back and have another read. Which is a good thing, right?

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Zilla Babbitt
01:21 Feb 26, 2021

That's a great thing! Especially since I know this isn't really your style/genre. Thanks, Tom :)

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