The home was dimly lit. Lamp shades spilled a muted light over a navy and white oriental rug in the living room. A television screen flickered a faint glow into the darkness.
A woman sat on a shabby couch. Her summery auburn hair hung like a flowing river across her shoulders. Deep blue eyes flecked with emerald were fixed on the screen ahead. A countdown timer sat in the corner; 11:52 PM it read. In a purple bowler hat and a green tie, an aged gentleman — with a jesting crowd behind him — filled the screen. A large sphere, lighted and sparkled, trended down a solid mast towards the gathering crowd, their cheers growing louder with each passing second.
In the shadows of the room, a man crept, watching the woman patiently. A bubbling urge of wanting to be close overwhelmed him. He needed to get to her before midnight. The man slithered gracefully towards her in the dimness of the light. Her attentive gaze rested on the descending sphere ahead, unaware of his silent movement.
From his hiding place in the shadows, he saw her face. It looked sad, worn, and tired; as if her vivacity had been slowly drawn out like thick syrup, oozing from a glass bottle. Even still, he was captivated. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She had an unexpected brilliance that shimmered beneath that grim visage, a setting sun behind thick clouds. The woman seemed familiar as if they once had a chance encounter in a marketplace in days past. But the murky experience quickly dissolved into the darkness of the room.
He scanned the living room. The walls were hung with tapestries and impressionist artwork over a faded cream wall. The floor was finished with aged dark hardwood. Overhead, a ceiling fan circled as slowly and gracefully as his serpent-like movement. At the center of the room stood a worn, wooden coffee table made of walnut, its glass top littered with books. A peculiar brown book, faded and fatigued, was positioned at the table’s center. At the corner of the coffee table, a single photograph was propped up in a silver frame
He felt comfort in this place. It had a familiarity to it. Like an old forgotten home, which was not recognized until returned to and experienced. It had a warmth, a radiant glow that couldn’t be felt, but he sensed was there. He was lost here, but at home.
Returning his gaze to the coffee table, he was drawn mysteriously to the brown book, its spine frayed from years of handling, its pages ruffled. Gold intricate lettering was drawn across its cover; Wuthering Heights. An image twinkled in his mind’s eye. A flash of a scene drawn up from his fortressed subconscious.
A bookstore, the inside as bright as the midday sun. He turns down an aisle. The shelves of volumes are towers in a castle. He sees a delicate and elegant womanly figure; the sheen of long auburn hair of a princess floating as she spins. An ethereal face with blue eyes speckled with emerald gazes up at him. He feels the warmth of the summer sun in a flowery field.
“Have you read this one?” she says. Her voice is the sound of soft waves, gently rolling into the sand. She holds up a brown book; its spine is rigid and fresh, its pages crisp.
He reads the gold lettering across the front. “Actually, I have. Although I don’t know if I can get around to enjoying a story with a tragic ending. When you reach the end of a good book, why would you want to be sad?”
“Well mister, you have a lot to learn. There’s more in this world than just happy endings and never-ending cheer. Sad stories make you feel. And there’s something in that feeling that needs to be figured out,” she smiles.
“I’m Adam,” he smiles back.
“Julia,” she reaches out a hand as soft as a cloud.
The woman shifted slightly on the couch and the scene faded as quickly as it arose. He was back in the dark room, confused. What was that memory? The woman in it seemed so familiar. Who was she? Where am I now? Why am I here? His thoughts continued to spin. Only one compulsion emerged with icy clarity: get to the woman in the room, the time is ticking.
Into the flickering light of the television, he stepped forward onto the oriental rug. He watched her closely. She didn’t stir; her expressionless eyes were locked on the countdown banner. 11:54 PM, it read. He felt safe.
He glanced down at his feet. They were pale, the palest he had ever seen. For how plush the rug appeared, he could not feel its softness on his feet. The navy and white markings of the rug sang to him, patterns and colors of times past. Another scene twinkled into the cloudy recesses of his memory, a moving theater of images and sounds.
He is in a living room. The sun is shining through the windows. The room is bright and full of color, and the walls are a fresh cream. There is no furniture; it is bare and open. A woman is with him, smiling. They are carrying a rolled-up rug together; she is in the front. She looks dazzling, he thinks as her long luminous hair flutters behind her.
“Well I think this rug will make the first great addition to our new home,” she says, looking around the empty room. Her words are like honey, tasted right from the comb.
They stand on either end of the living room and he unrolls the rug towards her. As it unfurls, he notices how the navy and white oriental pattern contrasts the dark hardwood delightfully. She catches the end of the carpet and the glistening diamond rings on her left ring finger catch the sunlight and sparkle.
“Well, how does it look?” she says.
His eyes move from the rug to meet hers. He pauses to study her for a moment. He takes it in: this room, this woman, this moment.
“You look beautiful,” he grins.
He heard the woman sigh and the images vanished abruptly. He wanted to catch them, but they slipped from his fingers like a hand moving through water. Where was I? Was that this room? Why can’t I hold on to these images? His mind was muddled. Deep within, he felt the urgency pulling at him again. I need to get to her before midnight.
Thankfully, the woman’s eyes were still fixated on the sinking sphere. 11:57 PM, the timer read. She seemed more familiar now, like an old friend that he had not seen in years.
He snaked himself closer, as quiet as an assassin as he neared the coffee table. Glancing at it, something caught his eye; the photograph within the silver frame. In it, he noticed the woman in the room, her auburn hair flowing and blue eyes sparkling; but there were three others. There was a man. He had a smile that lit up a room with dark eyes exuding confidence. There were also two children, a boy, and a girl, both with auburn hair and the same confident dark eyes.
He paused for a moment as he studied the faces. He felt like there were pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, slowly being arranged into completion. Suddenly, everything came to him in a moment. Pictures and sounds came cascading into view as if staring straight into the plunge of a fierce waterfall.
A bright bookstore, dazzling blue eyes, and a crisp brown book.
A yellow umbrella in a forested park. The rain is pouring heavily. A warm and tender feeling of soft lips meeting his.
A gentle tossing and turning under silky white sheets. The scent of vanilla and cinnamon. A feeling of blood-curling passion and intimate touch.
A beautiful woman in a flowing white dress. A bouquet of peonies and roses sat gently in her hands. The welling up of love and reverence as she walks down an aisle.
The sparkling sun shining through the windows on a clear day into an empty room. An oriental rug unfurled across dark hardwood. Two diamond rings glittering in the sunlight on a graceful hand.
The wail of a baby in a green room of a hospital. The feeling of wet tears on a pair of cheeks. An overwhelming feeling of joy and excitement for a future life.
A picnic in a beautiful meadow under a cloudless sky. The laughter of two children echoing amongst the fields and flowers. A woman lying with her head on his chest, her face as gentle as a feather, the weightlessness of her delicate hair in his hand.
A homely dinner at a kitchen table. The delightful smell of roast meat, rosemary, and baked apple. Three smiles etched on glowing faces, staring up from full plates of steaming deliciousness.
A darkening night sky, the stars twinkling. A horned moon, glowing behind soft clouds. The rumble of the road in the silent safety of a running car.
Two bright lights ahead, the squealing of tires on a wet road. The deafening smash of glass and crushing of metal. A feeling of hideous pain, tearing, and ripping.
Three bodies covered in blood in a still car. Shattered glass, the wetness of the road on a cheek, and the growing heat of spreading flames.
Intense lights in a white room. Concerned eyes behind green masks and white coats. Heavy confusion, fatigue, and unbearable pain.
A sad smile. Flowing auburn hair, blue eyes flecked with emerald filled with tears. An enveloping darkness.
An urge to fight it. A struggle. A battle.
He turned to look at the woman in front of him. He was close to her now, close enough to touch her.
Finally, he understood.
“Julia,” he said, but his words were voiceless.
He looked around at the quiet home. There was no laughter or play that filled its barren halls. He looked at the couch. Beside Julia, he saw an empty depression, where someone had once sat for years on end. He wanted to cry, but no tears came.
In the quiet, he could faintly hear the voice of the man in the purple hat count down, the cheers from the crowd rising slowly with each second.
“10… 9… 8….”
He stepped forward and came face to face with his wife. He studied her face, the sadness forever etched. He wanted to tell her that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
He thought of all the years they had spent and all of the memories they had shared. He thought of what their future life could have been, what it would have looked like. He wished he could tell her that he loved her.
He stared into her eyes, brought his chin forward, and placed his pale lips upon hers. He wished he could have felt something.
“Happy New Year,” he said. His words were silence.