On the Outside

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Below is my submission for the Yeah Write Super Challenge, part 1.

Over 48 hours, I wrote a story of 1,000 words or fewer combining the following two prompts: trust / abandon a city.  There are problems with it, which post-feedback and with a little time, I can see.  Rework will be done.


On the Outside

I had been sitting in my car, at the lookout, watching as the tentative winter sunlight seeped over the hills and down into the valley, stirring each building from its slumber.  The coffee in my travel mug was cold. My mouth ashy from my morning cigarette.  Over the city, fog had settled, soft and smoky, in pockets around houses and in a ribbon over the river.  Ethereal beauty like a fallen angel.

You had woken at 4am, just like every other day. In the beginning, I would squirm closer when the alarm sounded, and murmur into your shoulder, “Stay with me. Just a little longer.”  You would push your face into my hair and stroke my arm. I’d fall asleep again, only to wake in an empty bed, five minutes or an hour later.  But over time, I stopped asking you to stay.  You were good at sliding out of the room in silence.

Today, the alarm woke me from an unsettled, sickening sleep. I had stared at the darkened ceiling, lying still and keeping my breathing even, as you dressed in the dark.  Once you left the room, I pulled on thick fleece pants, a sweater and my winter jacket.  I came to watch you from the kitchen window.  You were about to go for your morning run, your breath making little ha-ha-ha puffs in the frigid air as you stretched on the front porch. The light strapped around your forehead flashed in my direction each time you straightened up. If you saw me, the husk of who I set out to be, there was no acknowledgment.

Had you been in the car at the lookout with me, you would say “It’s going to be a blue sky day. It always is, when the sun burns the fog off.” You say this every time there is fog.

I can predict what you are going to say on most occasions.  I know how you like to organise your clothes in the drawers. I wondered how long until you noticed the emptiness in the drawer next to your underwear.  I know what you’ll order in a restaurant.  Steak, well done, with mushroom sauce and fries, never salad. Every time.

I used to like that I knew what to expect.

I got out of the car and stood at the railing of the lookout. I leaned forward and craned my neck. I could just see our house.  We had bought it with all the expectation of youth. Those days were heady with love and sex and an infatuation with our game of being adults. I bought sheets and towels. You mowed the lawn. We had a housewarming party. Your friends got drunk and fell asleep in our bath and flowerbeds. I had invited my mother, who three glasses of wine in, had been waspy.

“All I’m saying is, if he can make a thirty year commitment to the bank, he can marry you.” I might have rolled my eyes at her.

“We know what we’re doing, Mom. We don’t need a piece of paper to have a life together. Times have changed, you know.” I thought I only needed the house with you and our new grown up things.

The house with its dark grey roof is distinct from that vantage point and the evergreen tree in the yard thick leaved and glossy, even at a distance. It would have been a perfect climbing tree for children had they not expelled themselves from my body in bloodied chunks.  I stopped telling you after the second time.  Your tears made my failure complete.

There had been time for a second cigarette, a luxury I enjoy only when you are away for work.  The railing pressed damp stripes into my side. The sun kept rising and the fog did its disappearing act.  I drew a deep breath on the cigarette and slowly exhaled the smoke in a thin stream, trying to control the breath the way I had been instructed at my therapist recommended yoga class. Through the fog and my smoke, in the blurred distance, I could see the cafe where I write poetry no one will see and meet people I only vaguely like for coffee and cake.

He will be there, getting ready to open up. Often he has the etching of worry between his brows. “We are short staffed” as he brushes past my table.  Other times he greets me with “Good morning, you“.  A twinkle of fake intimacy.  Sometimes, he folds his long, lean darkness into the chair across from me and it the fission of the unexpected makes my heart rate spike.

The cigarette butt is crushed beneath my toe and the fog at the river still rejecting the sun.  I would wait until the fog was all gone, revealing the entire city.  I would see this city in all its blue sky glory before driving away. Then I would know if I could abandon something that looked beautiful on the outside.


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