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Sad Contemporary Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

This fire breathes cold fright, and the mahogany-scented candle evolves to bitter by the minute. At the dining table in this obscured apartment solely glinted by kerosene, I sit and contemplate the decisions that led me to this point. 


I can’t tell if my eyes were always this droopy and bloodshot, even though I get an adequate nine hours of sleep each night. The blue sky casts so vividly, swooning through each side of the window screen—and yet I still cannot dream of it in colour. Those with the simplest dreams and frights have it so easy. I mean, if you’re chased in infinite verdancy or perhaps are falling off an elevator—it cannot become a fright until you actually experience the dreaded end, in which we inevitably awaken. When your shoulder is grasped, and touch spirals you downward. That’s only when you learn it’s truly the end.


I decide to stand up because lying down on my bed in the afternoon doesn’t get me anywhere in the twelve hours and six days I frequent it. Boiling some tea sounds like a good idea; if I hadn’t run out of Orange Pekoe. Calling sounds like sufficient consolation; too bad nobody will answer. Gone are the days to care, like the port of spring waiting to be released as it rests at the brink of one’s ribcage.  


Back at the lake we used to visit a few times, I had sealed my fate in the conscious thought to never go in the water, with the fear that it would be too cold and my limbs would stop working. A tender thought it was, is it not? I’d sit back with my father, who would play with an orange soccer ball on the grassy terrain before the sand. I wondered when life would give me the soccer ball, to let me lead my course in any path I could through a sheer kick and droplets of dedicated sweat. Yet, all I do is sit in the collapsible chair overlooking the ebb and flow with apple slices in my lap—in a rayon dress with bows on the straps and brown sandals that were never my request. 


It’s all a fallacy. Waves should wash away stress, but only to reform as infinite bouts of bottled emotion ascending as we rest, admiring it naively at the bank. Materialized emotion in its purest form—appealing normal at once, with the intent to drown as inescapable tides of mood lash out. An apple slice fell off my plate, and ants began to pool under my feet. 


We lost the orange soccer ball that day, after it was kicked out to the ocean. Too far to grasp it and lurking temptingly. Visible to the bare eye and bobbing kilometres away from our touch. 


Spiralling in endless bouts leaves us no use until we court it. I stand up, fetch acardigan from the dresser, put on some shoes and head out to wander in the neighbourhood.


The crisp chill of the air lapses through each open crevasse like rising smoke in dead flesh. It’s barely winter, but autumn left too soon. Everything appears more grayscale than it seems—the ashy sidewalk and its creases, the sky barely letting light to its passion, and children holding their parent’s hands with their filmy eyes. But there is light ever so often; a couple dining out at the South Street Seaport, yellow fairy lights glinting like a vernal aubade of consolation for the destined tempest. 


***


Walking for a bit, I notice a few shops in the distance. A farmer’s market. Vibrant vegetables, tight fuschia shutters, and large cardboard cut-outs with specific numbers, cent signs, and submerged bickering of competent adults choosing what vegetables to garnish their dinnerly hors d’oeuvres. 


Rummaging through the sweaty crowd and stroking their silky coats, I find a stand with a woman selling apples. In a rattan basket, $6.50/kg. She introduces me with a colloquial expression that I can’t discern, muffled through her infinity scarf. She’s got her dark hair in a frizzy bun covered under a crocheted beige hat. I return the expression with a fierce eye-smile.


Crisp and juicy, the basic fruits and their bright tartness. I eye the one at the top of the basket: a marble of freckled chartreuse and currant-red. Figured I’d buy a few to satisfy the craving and reduce liminal space, a frequent guest on my countertops. I look back to the lady, but she pulls down her scarf.


“Hey, do you mind watching the stand for me? I have to check up on my kids.”


She takes two steps down from the hut and jogs into the crowd.


So much for clientele.


With nothing to do, I get up behind the stand and marvel at the collection of fruits. The hut is much smaller and shorter than expected, homey in a way. A few chairs neatly line the sides, but plenty of blankets and cords are hectically amassed on each other. Gazing over to the left, resting on a wooden table, there’s a family portrait: the shop owner and two kids, one boy and a girl. The boy is wearing glasses and smiling collegiately into the camera, and the girl is wearing a floral headband. The woman wears a thick coat and red knitted mittens. She stands behind them in the middle, squatting uncomfortably to reach their height and a little taller, her arms encompassing them in a large hug. You can see the crow’s feet engrained on her forehead and the sad wrinkles around her mouth. The background is an idle gray, matching the correlative weather. Seems to have been taken sometime soon.


***


Back when Nico was three years old, I’d take him out every Friday evening to the park with the curly red slide. He loved that slide so much, and it’s probably why I can’t remember anything more of it. Back when he was able to run with wobbly legs and a toothless smile, picking up fistfuls of woodchips from the playground. The evening completely changed the ambience of the park as if it had evolved into a new realm outside of the eye-soring daylight. The sky would project and light up like the citrus of an orange popping into the sky and casting its fervour to the grasses, the tips torched like fireflies, swaying in cozy modesty. Colours began to appear more meaningful as the darkness would approach, and life had gotten a new purpose outside of the blatancy—romance and money, reproduction and death. 


Even if I got static shock from the side, it would be the only time I would actually go on. I wanted to believe it felt meaningful as if accounting for all the lost time I had not experienced it. 


Thorns to red roses never bring pain and roses to thorns only bring docility to harm, as with any contact. I wrote this line on the fourth week in the field on a spare napkin. Nico threw woodchips and strings of grass onto my face after I didn’t go on the slide with him for the three times I promised. Six at that time, mid-September, that feeling never went away. Even from a child, we never recognize the refreshment pain carries. A rancid feeling in the throat, thousands of legs incessantly crawling up to flee, an ebbing torrent in the stomach. This field of endless possibilities brought many pieces of knowledge that I didn’t—couldn’t have—experienced. Simple as a curly, spotlighted, manmade slide, you can’t expect the force life drives you to partake in the unventured.


I relied so much on the field more than I ever did, hoping some causal venture would result each day. Teaching me something new that I lacked. After, of course, three rides on the slide, woodchips under my fingernails and the occasional remains of dirt trickling down my throat.


Early November, it didn’t occur to me that it would be the last time I would be in that park, the field, visiting the slide and the dirt. Standing up after watching Nico play, grabbing his favourite yellow jacket, and the jangle of a few coins in my spare pocket, we’d walk out of the field back into the city—to home. 


***


I could see the night sky coming back to the peripheral in the market. Time has passed, must be seven now. Crouching under the small shop to view outside, a few adults leave the market cackling, large brown bags in hand, while lights glazed the city skyline in red, green and translucent tints. Ambling down the two steps into the middle of the market, the brittle air stings against the heat, and my dry eyes start to bloom. Looking down at my tender rouge hands and back up to the market pathway, the owner was still not in sight. Figured to stay a few more until she’d come back.

Walking back up to the stairs, I lose coordination and trip over a few loose cords. Hollow sounds embody the flow of the hut, and a few objects in peripheral drop to the floor. The sting hits quickly as it comes—the thin skin of my palm rips. Letting out a deep exhale, I readjust myself. Standing, I look to my left and notice a basket has fallen, multiple apples bobbling on the dusty concrete. I crouch to each and grasp three putting them to my chest while placing the basket back on the stand. Craning my head to the basket, a loose leaf of paper rests on top—while something translucent lurks underneath the paper. Out of curiosity, I turn over the paper, and there lies a thick stack of fifty-dollar bills. 


Eyes gaped, I amble and rush outside, meeting the cold air again and glance both ways to see if anyone comes. Nighttime has arrived—the sky dulls, and the owner is gone. Rushing back inside, tripping and saving my fall, I drop the apples on the set of blankets and get close to the basket, examining the bills. They aren’t just stacks of fifties but hundreds and twenties seeming like they were cashed out in hectic intervals.


Could pay rent for a few months.


Heart beating, the jolt pulsates each muscle, nausea rising. I dart back up to see if she’s coming but I’m only greeted with the flickering streetlamps. This couldn’t possibly be the case—she has children smiling in that photo, she has warm clothes and lives in the city—she works at a damn farmer’s market selling apples!


Hands not quivering anymore from the cold, I begin to weep. Clasping the thick stacks—my eyes twitch to them and back to nearby objects in the vicinity. Looking up into the market pathway for a lengthier time, I question everything. The frugal stand is almost obscured, letting in abstract shapes to flourish. It’s only perceptible from the outside streetlamps, skyline lights and illuminated apartment windows.


Using all my strength, I stand up and rush out of the market, hands empty; lashing out of this terrible coincidence into the dusk. This world is too hopeless, unfailing, depriving of everything that’s been given to it, never seeking or receiving remorse for the little conformities in the continuous evolve.


Rushing around an intersection, an old lady crosses the sidewalk even though the traffic light has stunned green, and the cars persist to honk. Nobody helps her—and neither do I. A passerby's phone rings: a man dressed in a suit grins as blue light illuminates the features on his face; he answers to someone screaming on the other end. A child peeks out the open window of a car with red mittens and a pink puffer. She holds a muffin—and a boy in the backseat strikes her, it drops to the ground. Only to be run over by the next pursuer. The light turns green. We continue.


Azure atmosphere, what does the future hold? This deplorable vicinity holds no purpose even as we spoonfeed ourselves consolation. Even though you, regretfully, continue to rise every day, what’s the barred secret beneath your visible colours? Why is it that you must inevitably toy with the holes of a hierarchy we’ve so carefully built, and use it to manually manipulate—a searing slap in the face?


A cold droplet splatters on my face, two, then a few more, and it begins to rain. The irony is absolutely insane. 


I hasten up the stairs and fumble with the keys to open the house door. I wonder if the shop owner has come back to her stall, if her kids are alright, or if the stack of money is accounted for. 


Entering the home didn’t bring any light than that of the outside darkness. I took off my shoes, put them to the side of the door and threw my jacket onto a chair. Being as though sleep was not in my favour, I went to sit down at the dining table.


Reminiscing on the beach and the field, it’s helpless that we seek consolation in such basic, hypnotizing, infinite scenes. We’re children that don’t know anything of the world, with simply no sense of given authority—tempted to swoon over value as deemed so by the overarching revolve. We are supposed to ask for more than we already have, subjected to lie when that is never the case, and expect forevermore from our supermodern, advancing society. 


Interrupting my thoughts, the rain begins to drown heavily as it shatters against the window frames. Craning my head over to the dining table, the mahogany candle begins to fuse as hot wax pools and coats the container. 


I stand and go to the counter to view the unacquainted bowl of fruits; surprisingly, there are three apples. Fishing one out of the glass bowl—it slips, and the bowl shatters on the ground and the rest tumble to the floor. With all but nothing left, I gaze at the fruits and pick them up, still on the ground. All that remains are dazzling shards of glass.


A small grin conforming to my face, I relax on the floor with the fruits in my hands.


In this dusk, there is always so much more. Ebbing and flowing, sliding down, swaying in the breeze, stilted like perfect glass in the half-light.


August 19, 2022 00:34

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1 comment

Morouje Sherif
00:47 Aug 19, 2022

Hi, if you're here reading this! I wanted to provide a little backstory on this submission, so get comfortable. Money is cruel, money is hurtful, value is authority. You only begin to fear money when you’ve uselessly hoped for eons of different pathways to use it. And I wanted to lay out all the cards (and the theme) so it contrasts nicely, and so you might be able to feel content at the end of the read. With all the transitionary elements and scenes in the piece, they exude a sense of infinite horizons and utilities, similar to objects of ...

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