Hush, my demons

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For once, everything looked perfect. He’d found a girl who seemed to love him, at least for now. He held down a good job, they’d moved into a nice loft apartment downtown. Nights were filled with laughter, dinner parties, passion. Weekends brought exploring this nice city and it’s spectacular surrounds. Everything, it seemed, was perfect.

They sat on opposite ends of their couch on a lazy Sunday afternoon, legs intertwined in each other. She flicked through some first edition they’d found at an eccentric second hand bookshop while he plucked a few notes on his acoustic. Perfect.

Despite it all, the demons raged inside his head. He could usually keep their screams down to white noise. Sometimes though, they crept out. Their large nails scraped the inside of his eardrums, their wicked eyes bore holes in his skull. He’d learned how to keep composure. To keep it all pushed down. That stiff upper lip drilled into him during all those childhood years at boarding school. ‘Keep your fucking head up!’ the older boys would yell as they pissed on the new kids. The torturous morning runs through the rugged, frozen countryside. The shit served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The happy faces they had to pull when Pa and Ma came to visit, the lies they told how happy they were in this God-forgotten place made for children who were an inconvenience at best for their parents.

He’d learned how to push it down. To get along, to get along. He’d learned to run with the herd, not rock the boat, to fake it until the skin on his knuckles were blood. He learned to take the unspeakable acts from the Brothers, the wicked ways of the priests.

For the first time perhaps, he thought he could tell her what happened. Not just that he went to boarding school and the funny games they’d play, but the truth. The things done to him. The things he did – to himself, to the other boys. The shame he bore, the anger, the façade he built to keep those demons from peeking out from his smiling eyes. Perhaps he could tell her. Maybe, just maybe, he’d found someone who might share this burden. Where he could release the floodgates just a little.

He sipped his whiskey and admired the beauty sitting alongside him, just flipping through the yellowed pages of the first edition. Maybe he could. Maybe he should.

“What are you thinking about?” she smiled, cuddling up to him.
“Not much my darling. Not much”…

 

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Her husband’s baby.

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So, they just sat in silence. It would take some time for his shock to subside. For the massive waves of conflicting feelings to crash over him. He took deep breaths wanting to speak, yet no words seemed to utter from his shaking lips. He oscillated between anger, happiness for her, disbelief to sadness. He could sense over the last few weeks that she was changing. Pulling him close, then pushing him away. Her moods fluctuating more, without an apparent explanation.

“You’re sure it’s not mine” he pointed at her evolving tummy, the cigarette between his fingers slowly burned.
“No, it’s my husbands. I promise” her response equally conflicted.
Silence enveloped them once again. He had a million questions that he didn’t want to know the answers for. Did he ask, or would it be better not knowing?

“You told me you didn’t want one. You said our book will be your baby – your act of love towards me” he mustered the courage to talk. “I never expected you to leave him for me. I never wanted you just for myself. I know I was your secret, your release. I get that…” he stopped himself mid-sentence to take a drag of his cigarette. “Whatever, fuck you. If you didn’t want to finish the book, if you wanted me to fuck off you should have just said so!”

She didn’t try to refute him or offer an explanation. She knew whatever ‘they’ were was just a fantasy. A drug. An addiction. Something they’d both tried to stop a million times, and always just went back for one more hit. The energy though. The creative force. Her pictures inspiring his words, and vice-versa. Watching him scribble in his dog-eared notebook was better then sex. Hearing him read in that broad accent lured her in each and every time. Seeing how he made up such a story from her illustration bonded them like no other.

“Burn the fucking book” he couldn’t even look at her “And enjoy your safe life with your safe husband. Enjoy your fucking dinners with your high-society friends. Enjoy your overseas holidays, your jewelry, your fancy car and your big house. And when you’re awake at 2am, popping a valium and weeping over me, know that I won’t be doing the same. You’re nothing to me. Go and look after your baby and husband, and please never talk to me again” he gruffed.

Tears rolled down her face, but he wasn’t buying into her manipulation or her emotion. It was clear to him that he’d hit his expiry date. She wanted to grow up. To do the ‘normal’ thing with her normal husband. Have the baby, send it to the expensive school, do the things that she promised she never wanted him to be.

“Just fuck off already” he once again commanded, refusing to give her the curiously of eye contact.

In a sense, he was glad she was walking away. ‘They’ were amazing. Like nothing he’d never had, but she was someone else’s. Still, there was one small part of him that wished the baby was his.

 

Bound not for a destination but an adventure.

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“Fuck it” he said to himself. There was literally nothing else to say. He figured he’d had enough coin saved to last him a month, living on a diet of beans and bourbon. The silence of loneliness was drowned out by the screams in his head – he needed to escape both. He needed to get out of town. Hell, he needed to get out of state.

“Fuck it” he smiled this time. It had been too long since he’d hit the road. Since he just packed up everything and left. That call of old highways that tracked through the villages no one wanted to go whispered in his ears. Ghost towns, sunburned plains, out-of-the-way places nibbled at his curiosity.

“Fuck it!” the grin was irreplaceable. He strapped down his saddle bag. He slid his mop of peppered hair in his helmet. He half-zipped his leather jacket and wriggled his fingers into his knuckle-worn gloves.

“Fuck it” he chuckled with childlike excitement. The growl of the engine vibrated through his soul. A few revs and he felt like it was his birthday. The view of his now old rented apartment from his mirrors could not have looked sweeter. Ahead, the road beckoned. He wasn’t chasing anything – no girl, no money, not forgiveness. He wasn’t running away, but finally going forward. Forward. Forward, for the first time in a long time.

“FUCK IT!” he yelled into the wind, bound not for a destination but an adventure.

 

 

Forgiveness for thee, but not for me.

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He searched and searched. Ached for it. He poured over the words of Jesus, hoping for some kind of solace. This gift that others seemed to be able to give – able to give to him. His many sins against her, against the many others, against the Lord himself, forgiven. Redemption was his for the taking. Still, his soul ached to the core.

Why could others give him this gift? Why was it that it was something he could never give himself?

In days past she would beg, yell, cry over him, pleading for him to forgive himself. To release himself. To allow himself the permission to let go of the fist clenched around his heart. Even her soft fingers could not touch the cactus where his heart once beat.

A million repentances and a million prayers could not save him from himself. Salvation was no salve to the pain in his soul. A reconciliation with the Lord brought no recompense for the searing pain he’d caused those he once thought he loved.

“HELP ME, LORD!” he would yell towards the heavens, empty words bouncing off the lofty ceiling of the church. Why couldn’t he find it to forgive himself? Why couldn’t he let go of the pain – the pain he’d inflicted upon others?

His heavy burden would be his penance to carry through this life, and perhaps through the next. Maybe if he contained it, it should never come out. Push it down, and fill it with good works, or promises to never love again. Promises not to give him the opportunity to hurt others again.

“Oh forgiveness, why are you the gift I cannot both give and receive for myself” he wept, knowing this cup was his to drink until the bitter end.

Music and light, her perfect outfit.

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He adored the way she filled his loft apartment with music and light. She had a way of simply making everything warmer. In the deepest winter, the low sun still cascaded through the north-facing windows. She stoked up the thermostat – boy did she make things warm!

She had a ritual when she came over. Keys on the phone stand. Heels slid off and arranged neatly. Her soft, warm cardigan hung neatly on the hat-stand, making sure her chosen brooch faced outwards. Like clockwork, she’d check her perfectly manicured lashes in the small mirror and silently demand he greet her with a kiss.

There was always a tune when she was over. The perfect tune, like she instinctively knew what was needed. Like everything with whatever they were, her music choices were effortless.

Effortless. Without effort. They didn’t expect anything from each other. Sometimes they’d hang out, sometimes they wouldn’t. Sometimes they’d kiss, sometimes they’d fuck. Sometimes they’d dance until 2am, sometimes they’d sit at opposite ends of the couch and read Life magazine all afternoon.

Perhaps it was a conscious effort on both their ends not to put in any effort. To be effortless. They weren’t after love or commitment, just the safety of knowing that they could be loved, that they could love. Knowing there could be a possibility would be enough for now. This effortless comfort was all they needed for now. Committing to not committing.

He relished in noticing the details about someone again. The little things she did. The way she bit the nail on her pinky finger when she was excited. The way her eyes sparkled when she played one of his records she’d never heard. The way she melted when he traced the line down from her chin to the top of her lace panties. The details. The little things. The delights. Her.

It would never be a long term thing. Neither of them really wanted each other forever. For now though, the bond of two broken hearts was all they needed to heal.

Sweet tides, embrace me once again.

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“I can’t keep doing this” she protested, tears rolling down her face “You know what the beach does to me – to us”. The screen door of her sister’s apartment separated them. Separated his request for a day at the beach. She knew what it would mean if she gave in. What it would do, how things would pan out. Still, there was a tiny portion – a very tiny portion of her soul that ached to go.
“Fine, we can go, but just as friends now, ok?” she announced, trying to convince herself it would be ok.

It was not sadness she was scared of. It was not heartbreak or loneliness or the end that corralled her tears. To the contrary. This place, the beach, the ocean always brought them back together. Always. He’d pleaded, convincing her to perhaps give it one last try, or if not – one last hurrah.  The fireworks at the end of the carnival, if you would.

She squealed in delight as he grabbed her around the waist, throwing her into the deep blue. The splashed, wrestled, held tightly onto each other. Sunlight glistened off their skin, diving in and out of the waters. He kissed her, and she responded with an ‘I Love You’.

This place was their kryptonite. They were baptized, so to speak – cleansed once again. The pain of what was melted away in the warm southern ocean. Tears washed in the growl of the waves. That sun – oh that sun, how could they resist each other’s warm skin under that hot, hot sun?

Once again they told each other all of their secrets. They remembered the early days. The uncomplicated times. Times before she knew who he really was; times before he realized he hated himself. Before she discovered the truth about him; before he realized he was living a lie.  She used his arm as a pillow as she read a cheap magazine in the sun, feeling his fingers rift slowly through her sea-matted hair.

He knew it was too much. She knew it was too much. She rolled into him. Her salty tears dripping onto his sunburning chest. He held her close, savoring the dying days of this perfect, perfect day.

“You don’t have to go back to your sisters” his eyes again pleaded. She knew she shouldn’t have even come, but how could she resist just one more day at the beach? Her head and heart continued to fight. Sometimes her head won, sometimes her heart. It was at the beach all those moons ago when she realized she loved him. Love him.. Perhaps still did. All the bullshit just seemed so far away.
“We don’t need to back to our place – my place – we can just get dinner or something?” he corrected himself.
“Stop trying to convince yourself that ‘we’ are going to happen again. Today was amazing, please, don’t ruin it now.” she whispered into his ear. If they’d learned anything, it was to be honest now the façade of lies had been shattered.
“Just a drink, darling” he whispered back. His voice reverberated directly into her ear. His gentle tones bypassed her head, going straight to her heart. Her ability to comprehend went out like the receding tide, taking a phase of the moon to bring back all semblance of sense.

“Ok.. Just one drink” she bit her lip.

 

His Pen Pal, his darling.

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It was a trickle that became a stream. A stream that became a creek. A creek, a river; a river they both felt swept away in.

Letters. Hundreds of them, traversing both time and space. Letters full of smudged ink and clear thoughts. Letters, sometimes sent daily, some not sent for months. A postcard, a short note scribbled on the back of a coaster, epics spanning several pages.

They knew everything about each other, without knowing a thing. They were shadows of imaginations. No faces could be read. No warmth of her hands touching his. No physical intimacies shared, despite them growing closer with each letter.

“Do you think we should meet?” they’d sometimes write, knowing the answer. They knew everything about each other. She wrote about the first time she gave her husband a blow job. He wrote about how his wife always wants the light on when they have sex. They write about the insignificant details and the massive plot changes. The way her husband gave the most beautiful eulogy for his father. The way his wife accidentally spiked the punch at the Christmas picnic, getting the reverend drunk. Newspaper clippings, cut-outs from Life magazine, a polaroid from a far off land. Occasionally he’d send a cassette tape of songs taped off the radio.

Were there other types of love? Was it possible to love another, without it being illicit? Without lines being crossed? Letters sent to a locked post-office box, addressed only by initials. The details of each piece of paper were evaluated. Sometimes she caught a whiff of his aftershave – masculine, handsome, expensive. He saw the blot lines where one of her tears had fallen on the page. An eyelash. A secret from their real lives.

In the back of his mind, his thoughts always seemed to go to her. Receiving her little papers of joy. Bible verses she remembered from Sunday School. Poetry. Drawings. A photocopy of her Master’s degree. Touching, without touching. Feeling, but not with hands. Talking, without speaking or hearing.

Her locked post-office box address etched into his mind. It was probably as non-descript as his – attached to some suburban post office in an unremarkable town. DIstance aside, she was only ever a letter away.

 

His only mistress

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“So I suppose we’re over then? I suppose that’s it?” she sighed, still cupping her warm mug of coffee. The end had come and gone long ago. The dying days of their marriage now long past. Two strangers who thought they new each other’s secrets. The truth somehow wriggled out once it was over. Everything had been put on the table. Everything. Their highs and lows. Joys and pains. Everything right, and everything wrong.
He declined to answer her rhetorical question, instead focusing on her porcelain beauty. She’d never failed to look stunning, even with the hint of mascara bleeding down her cheek. Perhaps this would be the last time he studied her soft curves. Perhaps it would finally be the time his eyes met the crystal blue oceans of hers. Her wedding rings sat alone in the middle of the table. In her heart she truly had believed it would be forever, despite what happened. Her love was never her issue; commitment never in question.
“Look” she started “I could deal with pretty much everything. I can forgive you for it all. You broke my heart, you lied, cheated, stole, you wasted nearly a decade of my life – but I can forgive you for all of that. I’ve already forgiven you for all of that, I promise. The thing that hurts the most is that you never truly let me in. That last 10% of your soul you kept to yourself. Your hidden darkness, your longings to wonder this great, green earth. Perhaps if you let me in, if you gave me a chance to know the real you, then we could have made this happen. I gave everything to you – I never held back. All I wanted in return is for you to do the same. All I really ever wanted is for you to give me all of you, and we’d figure out the rest” she finished. He watched as tears streamed down her face. Her warm hands in his, familiar comfort for two broken, lonely hearts that would never walk together again.  They sipped their coffee in silence, staring out at the rainy scene outside. These late autumn afternoons hailed the start of a cold season. Times when the sun didn’t shine, times when the winter snows simply blanked out the hope for a brighter day.
“If you could ever promise to give yourself 100% to me – to us, then I’ll put those rings back on and I’ll promise to do the same.” she dared him, begged him, longed for him to respond. They’d had this dance a million times before, but this time it was it. He could never love her 100%. He could never even love himself that much.

Alas, the open road would always be his mistress.

 

The Confession

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“You’re probably the shittiest priest I’ve ever known” he snuffed through his cigarette. The odd pair sat shoulder to shoulder, their bodies separated by the flimsy grate of the confessional.
“There’s no smoking in here” the priest called back through the small window “Now tell me those sins again, so I can live vicariously through your vice”.

He disregarded the supposed holy man’s advice about the cigarettes, taking a few deep puffs of his smoke. He’d grown fond of these confessions, perhaps a misguided thought that he’d somehow atone for his multiple misdeeds. A confession of sort, but never repentance.  A lingering thought through it all remained. A question that, up until now, he never had the guts to ask.
“Why’d you let me get married?” he finally asked the priest. Many moons ago the  then fresh-faced priest officiated a ceremony. A marriage made with the best intentions between a pure bride and misguided groom. A hope, perhaps, that she’d cure his wondering longings. That she’d perhaps tame him, bring him back to earth, give him those things that he was meant to long for. She was the perfect bride, willing, beautiful, kind. She loved him, and in his heart he truly thought he loved her. The ‘settling down’ occurred against his white noise of aching to escape. Those hidden longings for the road continued to seep through, until one day he simply left the house and kept walking.
“If you’re not going to stop smoking, you’d better share with me” the priest responded, trying to change the conversation. There would be no salve for his burning question. No satiation of thirst for answers. He supposed if he didn’t love her, he wouldn’t of cared what he did to her. He looked back at the collection of broken hearts he’d amassed. The catalogue of faces, the gallons of tears.
“Would you have even listened to me if I cautioned you against it?” the priest finally mustered a response
“Have I ever listened to you?” he joked back, knowing he had just enough stubborn to go against the advice from the man of the cloth.

The pair shared a cigarette perched on the marble floor of the nave. Saints shone through the stained glass windows, pointing upward towards the heavens. There weren’t many constants in his life, the priest being one of them.
“How does she look?” he finally asked, enquiring about his former bride
“She looks good” the priest smiled comfortingly “She’s doing well without you” he continued, passing the cigarette back to him.

It was the only reassurance that he needed, knowing that letting her go was probably the kindest thing he could do for her.

 

 

 

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