Alice Walsh

2am

His voice saying ‘Can I see you?’

And something inside of me dies.

‘Just tell me where’.

A desperate whisper.

It’s 2am and I’m all the way in. Deep in the darkness. He’s calling me back. Saying he’s sorry. For the things he said and for the things he didn’t. And I go to him because he is the deepest ridge inside of me. And he’s calling me back. From the brink of the smallest end.

We were meant to save one another but all we did was kill the flicker. Now neither of us knows if this is how it was meant to be. So we grasp at the line with feeble fingertips that never knew how to hang on to what we found and feared in one other.

I thought I could see through the cliff of his rib cage to what lay beneath his marble white chest, all covered in scribbles. Our sadness matched in aches. I was devoted to holding the pieces of his sacred heart together. We ran ran away with one another and left the whole world behind. We lived warm in the circle of ourselves for thousands of days. But then it changed.

*

The bar is empty and dark. A bored barman sits behind the counter turning pages of a yellow paper. There’s a jukebox dead in the corner. Two beers. We ramble around in small talk for a while, shy. Then we break through the ice.

‘How are you? You look good.’

‘Thanks. You look older. I suppose I do too.’ A ten day pause. ‘I’m good though, I cut down on the drink and quit all that other shit.’

‘Really? That doesn’t sound like you.’

‘No. It got so as I had to. I guess when you spend too much time looking at the world from inside a bottle, it starts to look all warped. Gets so as you can’t tell what it is you’re looking at any more.’

‘Yeah, I’ve been there.’

I say nothing.

‘What am I saying? Look at me, I’m still there. I’ve tried to stop but there’s nothing else.’

He pulls at the tiny bristles of his beard. It tries to hide his gaunt face. His pallor yellow. His red eyes shot through, two sallow hollow holes. The skin of his sockets clings to them thin as crêpe paper. My drug addict Jesus. He still wears the silver bracelet I gave him just before we died.

‘There could be something else, I think you could do it.’

‘Yeah, somehow I can’t see that happening. This dog’s too old. No, I’ll go out like this. You never did too much of that other shit though, did you?’

‘Not too much no, but enough to be dust.’

We’re grasping at flaws. We both smile smiles that ache our cheeks untrue so I say what I came here to say.

‘You were the only one I ever felt that way about, you know?’

I look around the room casually because I can’t look at him to see the weight of my words falling on his face.

‘Don’t say that. It just makes it worse.’

I look at my shoes. I look at his. They don’t belong together.

‘But I want you to know this. I want you to know what you owned in me. I’ll still keep a piece for you and a piece for me too but I’m going to find someone else to give the rest to.’

‘And you will.’

‘And I will.’

*

We go back to the ruin. Everything inside is made of stone. We soak the dead wood in diesel. We burn and drink whatever we can find. We lie in the corner and we lie about the past. We lie that it is the end. He is the other side of me. His lips on my neck. He is inside of me. Everything rushing down. The look in him like he’s sorry for all that we cannot be.

We’re slow and sad at it. We don’t want it to end. I have to hold him against me so I can look over his shoulder because I can’t look at the regret of him seeping into his hopeless eyes. We break through to the other side of ourselves. We lie stacked on one another in front of the fire. Looking into it and away from each other.

‘Did it seem very long? When you were away I mean.’

He takes years to answer. I think about how every time I saw a bird I’d ask it to bring him my need. Did it ever reach him I wonder, as I stare at the blue ridge of vein on the soft back of his hand clasped in mine. The gathered scar of skin on the other side.

‘The worst part was living inside myself. It felt like forever. I thought I’d never be free.’

‘You are now.’

‘No. I don’t think I’ll ever be.’

‘When we cracked you said you never loved me’.

‘I lied. It was better that way. You would have stood still with your eyes closed forever. Tell me I did the right thing.’

He kisses the side of my forehead and doesn’t take his lips away until I answer. I slip inside the blue and green of the flame and lie.

‘You did the right thing. And how are the other people that live in your heart?’

‘Some are good. Some aren’t. Some are gone. But you know that. How are yours?’

‘They’re not the same ones they used to be.’

I move around into something else.

‘The last place I expected to be when I woke up this morning was anywhere near your shoulder blade. Have you found someone new? Find someone new. Have kids. You always wanted that.’

I can feel the crack in the fault line of my heart widen with those words. He says nothing. Silence thickens the air. I try to think about something other than those words hanging there then I notice I’m holding my breath.

‘Why does so much sadness live in love?’ He crosses his arms out in front of me so they’re an x and I’m looped inside them.

‘I don’t know, maybe it’s not that way for other people. We were both [indecipherable] long before we found one another. Maybe that’s why we found one other.’

He stares at the space between my elbow and the wall and I wonder what he’s thinking. I know I will never know so I bring him back to something I do know.

‘Do you remember that first night we kissed? Do you remember us with our hands in each other’s back pockets dancing beneath the stars? We were beautiful for five minutes before we fought. You said if I loved you I’d walk away. You said you’d hurt me.’

‘And I did.’

I want to tell him that it wasn’t his fault. Every moment in time built us into this corner. There was nowhere else to go. Even if we ran we still would have ended up here. It doesn’t matter how you move the scenes around the end of us is always the same.

We burn what is left. Outside the light is returning to the world and so must we.

Alice Walsh lives and works in Dublin. Her writings have been published in The South CircularwordlegsNumber Eleven MagazineRoadside Fiction and The Bohemyth. Doire Press published one of her stories as part of the wordlegs presents: 30 Under 30 anthology.