July 27, 2019

Last sunbeams on earth

  Maybe it's because I had a boost of confidence today or maybe I just felt the need to do something really foolish, but here goes: a glimpse into my latest writing. The below is a piece I wrote last year for a contest (crazy, right? I mean...why ? ) Anyway ...without further ado...


Last sunbeams on earth

       “I left Liz after many years of relationship, her and our two year old child. I did all this for you, when you asked me to, when you needed me to. You knew I wasn’t ready…”
       He pauses to catch his breath; his heart has been running a marathon at full speed for the last hour or so and he can’t risk another episode of the panic attacks he’s been sinking into lately. He’s successfully managed to keep them from her, so why take any chances? He can hear his inner voice: ‘She would only pity you when she’d see such display of weakness and loss of control’.
       “I’m so tired”, he says pulling a chair from the four he has around the table on his beautifully decorated terrace.
He stares at her for a few seconds as though an ancient mystery just revealed itself before his eyes:
      “Wait…are you still jealous? After all this time? Cause, otherwise, I don’t understand…Why are you acting like this?”
The words come out as if from the mouth of a man who just learned how to read and is slowly and doubtfully making his way through a complicated text.
But he gets no answer. No sound. No expression on her face to show him that she’s listening.
Deafening silence. Nothing to bother her long stare into the void.
      The September sun sends its last sunbeams on earth and a fresh breeze gently passes through the trees. The cool sensation on his face distracts him from the painting like stillness in front of him.
      He looks away, towards his garden with all its greenery, to rest his eyes for a second. He contemplates the surroundings the same way a stranger would for the first time. So many flowers, colourful and alive that he planted with Liz years ago all about the house and yard. Fruit trees here and there, enough to find a shady little retreat during a hot day. The grass is freshly cut, but his son’s toys are already lying all over it.
      It’s moments like this when he is thankful for this small corner of nature, grateful for the pleasure of taking breaths of fresh air in the morning, walking barefoot on the grass after a warm rain – all that in his own private space. But now this space has become a battlefield.
       He leans his head on the back of his chair and looks up at the sky from the discomfort of his mind. The fire red still fighting to stay to stay alive, before the dark blue announces the arrival of complete darkness. ’Freedom! he says to himself. Have I lost mine? What do I have now? What does happiness look like? There are so many things I haven’t done, but why?’
So many lives he hasn’t lived!
His eyes fall back on her – the woman he made so many mistakes for – now an inflexible figure sitting comfortably on the outdoor sofa she chose herself when trying to cover Liz’s ghostly traces.
         “I broke all my rules about marriage, married you within two years after leaving her. She knew my fear and understood it. I told you what my parents went through when they got the divorce. It was a terrible time for all of us. My life had become a war zone and none of them protected me; on the contrary, they used me as their bulletproof vest. That’s why I never had the courage to take this step with Liz, with anyone, until you came along. You know damn well I had other serious relationships before you. When will it be enough for you to understand she no longer matters and I did all this for you, so we could have a future? “
His eyes slowly become flooded with tears he makes no effort to hide or choke.
Once again he finds himself being ignored by this woman he’s been calling his wife for the last three years, who, instead of looking at him and answering, she prefers to focus on smoking her cigarette.
Oh, how disgusted he is with this habit of hers! It was bearable at the beginning, but now he finds it repulsive. Her breath, her clothes, her hands, her hair – everything reeks of cigarettes. He can taste it on her body when they’re making love.
He sees her mouth open and her lips move only to gently touch the small roll of tobacco. At that very moment everything ceases to exist – even him. This is one more thing he’s losing her to. And all his words and spoken thoughts disappear into the thin air along with the smoke.
She had made him a promise when they got engaged. With a big smile on her face and fixating him with her blue eyes she said: “Yes, my love, I promise I’ll quit if it’s that important for you. Do you even realize how hard it’ll be for me? I’ve been smoking since I was sixteen, but I love you and I cannot wait to marry you.”
     Somehow he knew then he was asking too much; a vice will remain a vice, it corrupts and completes its victim’s life in ways others are unable to understand or become a substitute for.
     He had also made himself a promise when he chose her: that she would make him happy, she would give him those things he could never get from Liz: attention, affection, gratitude, obedience.
     He thought this might be his last chance to happiness; after all, he was a man in his forties who used the old middle age crisis excuse to try something new, a new kind of life, a different kind of woman.
   Somehow they’ve crippled each other’s efforts to keep their promise.
   He was exhausted by the constant conflicts and confrontations with Liz when he expanded his range of vision enough for her to get inside and cover it completely. He then allowed her to be the kind of woman who would give him the courage to leave the security of his home, of the woman who adored him, of his family, for the unknown.
But above all, she made him the man who left the little man who calls him dad.
A leap of faith! A jump like none other! And now he’s in pursuit of those same things he lacked in his previous life he’s been hiding from for years.
Out of nowhere, he hears his wife yell:
           “You did this for me? Well it didn’t last long”, she says with a sarcastic grin on her face. “What are you doing for me now? Feels like you’ve stopped loving me. I used to be your everything, remember? We used to do so many things together. And now you plan everything depending on your son, for your son. Where am I in this story?”
Her voice strikes through his eardrum like a siren in a military camp.
         “Can we discuss this calmly please?” he cries.
Each time, their arguments grow louder and louder.
Each time he looks back on the few quarrels he had with Liz. They felt like low voiced aristocratic intellectual exchanges: she would say something, he would answer, she would disagree, he would go on despite being wrong and so on until she would give up and give in. Why? Why would she do this? Why was she that weak? Why didn’t she put up a fight? Confront him? Show him that she was right and he was wrong? He had been so wrong at times.
   But he needed the hunt so badly and she disappointed as an easy prey every time.
He was disgusted - how easily he controlled her! There were no surprises. He needed an opponent ready to shoot as hard as he did. Instead Liz would surrender and hand him the trophy, without really ever competing.
But he needed the race. And an equal for it.
      Now his new adversary is a predator chasing him, following his blood trail, waiting for him to burn out, exhausting him, so in the end, it could give him the coup de grace.
      The lights on the terrace go off, sign that the night is setting in.
“When did it get so dark”, he wonders. “I wish I could remember what I did today.”
      But suddenly everything becomes clearer. Her face - the same one he fell in love with, now looks tormented as if painted by Titian, her beautiful slim body he barely touches anymore seems scared by the look of him.
      He lights up the candle on the table wishing it were the gesture announcing a romantic evening. But so far the conversation has gotten him to a place he’s become too familiar with: domestic hell.
      “Why do you have to go with Liz everywhere? Why do you have to drive her and your child whenever she needs to? Why are you doing her all these favors? “
The tone of her voice is getting lower with every question. She doesn’t wait for an answer, she just fires words at him and they fly like bullets causing wound after wound.
    “I’m sick and tired of her”, she says emphasizing every word. She prefers to look away and avoid seeing his unhappy eyes. “I see Liz at work and even at home. I feel like she’s still between these walls and I don’t belong here.”
He wants to comfort her, but she goes on with her lament before he gets the chance to say or do anything.
   “You know…every day when you see her, or talk to her, or touch her, even by accident, feels like you bring a part of her with you when you come home. So, she is here! All the time! Like she was never gone. And the worst part is that you do nothing to stop it. You …you are acting all nice to her.”
  She stops to slow down the fast paced rhythm of her speech. The letters are pouring out of her mouth, they turn into words, words into sentences, sentences into arrows that pierce through his skin, directly to the heart. He can hear himself: ‘Could it just burst? Right here? Right now?’
     His vision becomes blurry, the air doesn’t seem to get in and he feels like he’s been trapped inside a spinning top together with everything around him. He stares into nothing, just waiting for the tsunami around his blood pumping organ to recede. But he cannot wait for a full recovery because the pain she’s causing pushes him to fight back:
      “I’m all nice? Need I remind you how I treated her when I left? How I humiliated her? With all the lies? How I did everything to make her hate me just so she would stop hoping I would go back to her?”
   He’s clenching his fists as if he were getting ready to step into the ring, but it’s just to calm himself down:
     “And what did you expect? Did you think she would just disappear? We have a child together, this will never change and you should understand it better than anyone, damn it!”
He gets up from his chair and, for a second he wants to get away from her, from her accusing repulsed eyes. He wants to take shelter from the war zone and leave his questions to torture her. But he stops and turns to her furious:
     “Did I ever give you such a hard time about your ex? Even when you told me he wanted you back. Was that even true? No matter, I handled it! I handled it because I trusted our relationship, I was confident about the two of us. But you…you just…”
   He turns his back on her, but only for a quick moment, to take a breath of the fresh evening air and to finally sit back on his chair again. His body feels heavy as if after a full day’s work under a hot summer sun.
   It’s been weeks since he had a good night sleep. Too many thoughts, too many questions that chase him every single night.
     “I just what?” she yells. “We barely speak to each other now, you know that. Because for me there’s only you. Why can’t you do the same? All I’m asking you is to stop answering her every text or call about every little thing. I lost my child because of you when my husband used you against me: the adulterous mother who cheated and left her child to go with another man. Do you think that was nothing?”
     These words – how everything was for him and about him - how he believed them years ago, how he fed on them each day. This twenty something woman had looked at him and made of him something other than a father or a long time partner. She had empowered him to quit his life and dare imagine a different one, dream of a better one, happier maybe. If he only knew…
     He watches her speak almost hypnotized and lost in her plea. She looks proud and satisfied. But what would she have to be proud about? They both suffered from loss since that day. It was the day when he believed he could have a fling, a little flirt to prove himself that he could still be desired and desirable, that he could still be a man who would attract the attention of such a beautiful young woman.
     “I never asked you any questions concerning your ex husband, I let you deal with everything; I supported and helped you as much as I could through your divorce, or the time when he wouldn’t let you see your daughter. The fact that you chose to distance yourself completely was your own decision. But I always believed that being at war with Liz wouldn’t do any good to our child. Or us. “
He is calm, collected and not very surprised that he got there rather quickly. He often experiences mood changes; one minute he is ready to break everything around him, breathing fire, the next he could be laughing hard if he heard something funny. “What is this? I must be going crazy. I’m not crazy, must be the stress.” The answers are too scary and painful to accept.   
       She doesn’t take long to respond and shake his newly found peace to the core:
      “And that’s why you’ve become a slave to her? So that your child doesn’t feel his parents are separated? That’s why you give your son everything now? Guilt? Is that it? Does Liz even know that you never say no to him? Or that you fall asleep reading stories to him in his room instead of sleeping next to me? Do you remember that you are my husband?”
      He avoids looking at her because his eyes would betray him. He could never let this happen. His whole life was based on him always being right, trusting his choices and decisions till the very end, no matter what, no matter whom. He is right even when he is wrong for the confidence that builds in him and the power it gives him over others. And power always mattered even more in his relationships.
His women could never start an argument and actually win. But that never stopped his young wife from trying. She even believed that repeating things over and over would lead to victory.
     “I am your husband in every way”, he says while trying to reach for her hand.
She doesn’t respond.
     “But I love my son more than anything in the world…and…”
She stares into his eyes waiting to hear something about how equally important she is, but he fails to give her the satisfaction.
   “I feel I wasn’t there for him when I had to…you know, when you and I got together. He stayed with her and you know how long it took before I could have him for myself, with us, I mean. So now…”
   “Now you are doing more than enough”, she continues. “He has full control over you and the worst part is that he knows it.”
She smokes cigarettes one after another. Her voice and hands are shaking; her cheeks are red hot as she addresses him.
    “How can I raise my daughter around you when your son gets everything and she doesn’t?”
    “What do you mean? I don’t understand…”
     “You never do!” she yells. “And lately it’s like we speak different languages. I’m not even sure you listen to me when I tell you about all the mistakes you make with him. You are his father, you don’t have to be his friend.”
     “You think you’re perfect?? What kind of mistakes am I making?? What are you going to reproach me this time?
He finally turns his chair around with a quick move to face her, but she fails to do the same. Instead she seems lost in the lights of their garden and her total lack of reaction forces him to reconsider his belligerent tone.
    “Listen, I love him and I try to show him that love as much as I can. I want him to know that I’m there. That’s it! So what if I buy him stuff? I will stop…eventually. Is that what’s bothering you?
She opens her mouth to answer, but he goes on before she has the chance to say anything:
     “What if I hug him often? Don’t you do it too with your daughter? It feels so good to have him in my arms.”
His eyes are burning while struggling to keep the tears inside this time. He looks away for a few seconds, just enough to hide his emotional display from her.
      “I like to tuck him in when he goes to sleep, read him a story. What’s wrong with that? I just spend time with him. Isn’t this what a parent’s supposed to do?”
       “And what’s a husband supposed to do?” she asks, glaring at him. “When will you be that devoted to me? “
        “But you know I am”, he hears himself lying, while he grabs his glass and takes a sip of red wine.
She shakes her head looking at him askance.
        “Maybe you were; past tense! It’s over now.”
         “Come on, don’t say that”, he says with a begging tone.
          “You know… I can’t recall the last time we shared a romantic dinner, or spent our time talking about something other than the kind of activities your son would like.”
She plays with her wedding ring by removing it and putting it back. But all of a sudden she decides to remove it completely and put it on the table in front of her. She rubs her finger like a criminal that just got of his handcuffs.
         “I almost regret the time when we were hiding from Liz. That was when you made me feel like no other man before: desired with all your heart and body. That’s why I fell in love with you. That’s when I fell in love for the very first time.”
She speaks slowly. Every phrase weighs her down.
        “Remember how you used to make up all those excuses to see me? Even for a few minutes…That was so precious to me! I could feel your heart pounding when you put your arm around my waist or held me close. You used to write me all those wonderful messages, talk to me about love and how great our marriage was going to be.”
      Every sentence pushes him in a dusty corner of his mind that contains memories he hasn’t accessed in a long time. She opened his own Pandora’s Box that is filled with demons he strived to chase away for years. So, in the end, tired, he chose to lure them in with promises of better times, until they got close. And then closer – so close to the cage he had prepared for them that he was able to lock them away. Or so he thought. Because now the source of all his demons makes him search for the right words to use about things that have been forced into oblivion.
      “That was another life, he says. Every relationship has different stages and ours has changed a lot since then, progressed, don’t you think so? We can’t go back. This is just another step. And real life’s not made of little colorful butterflies every day”, he continues with a menacing voice.
She listens disappointed with his speech. She was hoping that her nostalgic slip would remind him of the kind of love they used to share, the burning passion that cared about nothing, not even the marriage license that yoked her to another man when he first laid eyes on her.
       “I want to feel loved again. I need to be wanted. I need to know that I’m something other than a presence around my husband.”
She is confident and determined.
      “You are my husband and lately I can’t find my place around you and your son. Nothing is about me anymore, or about us. I’m young, I deserve this. I deserve a man who puts me at the center of his world. “
       “Yeah, you’re ..
         “Right…” he says, startled. “Did you hear that?”, he asks, visibly troubled.
        “Hear what? You’re not listening to me, are you?”, she yells with despair.
         “Dad! “
         “Of course, I am. Yes! There it was again. Why am I the only one who hears that? “
He is no longer paying any attention to her. He needs to know where the sound is coming from. He pushes away from his chair, confused. He wants to go inside the house, but hesitates. He looks in her direction with wondering eyes, as if he’s waiting for a sign, something to give him the green light to follow the cry.
   His wife has become a shadow he no longer bothers with. His whole attention is focused on finding where the voice is coming from.
        “Dad, can you hear me?”
He finally goes inside but there’s nobody there. He rushes out, but the lights go off unexpectedly. He is left in complete darkness.
         “Dad, wake up! Wake up!”
He opens his eyes and takes a quick look around. His son is sitting next to him, with a worried expression on his face. Everything else looks familiar: he is lying in his bed, the sun is shining through the large windows.
         “Yes, buddy I’m up.”
He turns his head and the empty pillow on his left reminds him there’s nobody else there. Not anymore.

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