The world could be a cold place at any time of the year. Living in the city seemed to make it even worse. In the summer the city could hit 102 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade and a chill would still settle inside your bones. On a sunny day, the tall buildings wiped out the sun’s reflection and cast shadows that would rival any nightmare stalker. During the merriment of the Christmas season, with lights brightening the buildings and holiday music all around, the suicide rate ironically went up everywhere. But, she thought, living in a city must be twenty times worse. Spring would bring the song of birds and flowers cascading the park, but that was even worse. Spring promised new life and the blossoming of love. Autumn could be gloomy and beautiful simultaneously, but the canopy of ever changing colors in the trees and the scent of pumpkin and spices, only tended to sicken her with too much sugar and spice and a grandiose display of Nature’s artful pallet.

So throughout the year, surrounded by thousands of people, abusive car horns stabbing one’s ears, vendors selling their wares on the streets, Avant-garde entertainers in the park, the sounds of dreaded silence overwhelmed the cacophony of noise around her. Even at a symphony or concert in the park, or at a loud adventure movie with villains and heroes aggressively vying back and forth for that fated conquest and the fair maiden, or in a tavern overcrowded with a raucous crowd, the silence in her head was deafening. The loneliness in her heart overpowered her. She once likened her heart to an empty tomb, absent of even the comfort of a cold decaying body. Nothing lived, nothing grew, nothing had been born or had even lived to die inside. How could a person feel this way?

She awakened daily, went through the motions and every night drew the covers over her head like a shroud preserving her until she repeated the routine the next day. It wasn’t just the city. She had felt like this even as a child, growing up in the suburbs. birthday parties, Christmases, family reunions. The latter were the worse. Aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, even her siblings never understood the melancholia she experienced. “One day soon" was always her mantra. One day after high school, one day after college, one day after graduate school – it didn’t happen. Then the big move to a promising career and life in the city that never sleeps – and it still didn’t happen.

Now today, with coworkers cheering her on, the biggest promotion of her life had come. This party was for her. Her success was engraved in stone. Actually it was engraved on a wooden and gold plaque. People kept coming up to her to congratulate her. She danced and drank and laughed in that whimsical laughter that enchanted everyone.

The room was stifling, even though the autumn breeze outside tossed the leaves around like the thoughts twirling in her battered brain. Empty, alone, surrounded by people, she stood on a precipice, tethering on the edge, staring down into an abyss of emptiness. She had to leave! She felt hot and cold, queasy and dizzy. Too much to drink, too much to absorb, too many people, too little understanding, no empathy, everyone here, too near, yet so far away! She felt empty, a vacuum, a black hole in her solitary universe.

She snatched her purse off of the table, tucking the plaque that had been awarded to her that night into it. She grabbed her coat and ran out of the restaurant, across the patio and into the street. It was a Friday night and the city was crowded, filled with tourists and couples and younger people out on the town. The city was full of everyone enjoying everything, everyone knowing nothing. They all knew; knew nothing about her, nothing about life, nothing about anything important.

She ran and ran until she found a bench in the park where she threw herself down. Placing her head into her hands, she cried and shivered uncontrollably. “What is wrong with me?” she screamed into the darkness. She took out the small bottle of pills and held them in her hands. These were supposed to calm her down, but with these she could end it all.

A hand reached out and grabbed her trembling fingertips. She stared into the face of a elderly street person, skin weathered from age, fatigue and something she had often seen in herself. The eyes were red and rimmed from too many nights of work, or partying, of drinking or crying. Yet there was an empathy in the eyes that expressed a wise and caring soul. The smile was warm and took her in like a mother cradling a new born, totally dependent child. The women’s white hair etched around her face in strangling tendrils of thin snowy wisps. She said three words “You are me". With that she hugged her and walked away.

Like a sudden breeze in the cold autumn night, or a whisper in the quivering trees, the street person disappeared into the shadows.

“You are me.” It sent a chill through her like a shroud being placed upon her soul. It was her worse nightmare and it took looking at this scepter of a person to make her realize what she dreaded and what she needed to do. As frightened as she was, the warmth and glow from this seemingly hapless bag lady had revived something that had lurked in the darkness of her mind since she could remember. She was afraid. She was afraid to fail, afraid to love, afraid to lose. She was afraid to live and to embrace life and everything about it. Even though she went through the motions, she was afraid to live. Her success was lack of success in what really should have been her goal. Something had kept her going but her fear had kept her back. She put the pills away and decided to make an appointment with a counselor the next day.

As she rose from the park bench, she found a picture and a crushed flower petal next to her. She walked a little further and stopped under a street light to look at it more closely. It was a photo of a young woman, dating back a few decades. The woman was dressed in fine clothing and stood surrounded by friends at a party. She wore a fur jacket and clutched some sort of plaque. On her wrist was a corsage made of orchards like those that had been on the dinner tables tonight.

Staring at the discarded photo, she recognized the woman’s face; it reflected her own. The same smile was there. And reverberating from that smile was what she had recognized in the strange woman’s face tonight, what she had seen in her own reflection daily; emptiness, and loneliness.

She could have been this woman years ago. She could be this woman in the photo years from now. What had that woman lacked in her life to become a person living on the street, in this large, overcrowded city full of strangers; or in this city full of potential friends, filled with people like her.

The women’s voice echoed in her ear. “You are me". She clutched the photo and the orchid petal that had fallen next to it against her heart. Suddenly she didn’t feel quite alone. Her other self was out there and she had cared enough to give her a very important message. For both their sakes, she would heed that message and pray daily for them; for herself and her other self, until they each found their way home. Hopefully it wasn’t too late for either of them.  

September 18, 2020 22:25

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☆ Ariadne ☆
19:53 Sep 23, 2020

This is by far my favorite submission for this prompt I have read. Your descriptions are beautiful, and the flow and rhythm of the story are impeccable. I like how you end on a hopeful note. Well done! I applaud! 👏👏👏 ~Ria~ P.S. Could you check out my stories? Thanks!


Cynthia Grove
21:18 Sep 23, 2020

Thank you RIA. Yes I will.


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