Lonely Benches

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Was it possible for park benches to become lonely? He imagined so. After all, they just sat there, waiting until company came along. Worse, however, the company wasn’t always pleasant. Yet the benches were stuck, like the person at a party who knows no one. Stuck speaking only with those that dare introduce themselves on account of how uncomfortable you looked there in the corner on your own. You were clutching your glass as though it were a life preserver.

Then again, you sometimes get lucky, he supposed. The right person approaches you and sticks with you for the rest of the affair.

Still, it wasn’t the most pleasant way to be, was it? Waiting for life to approach you. You were passive. A bystander.

Yes, there had to be better things to be than a park bench.

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It Was Life

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It didn’t entirely make sense, of course. Then again, when did these kinds of things ever make sense? She stood, staring at the tree, cocking her head this way and that, as if the angle from which she looked at it would make any kind of difference.

The tree was somewhat naked; it’s branches shuddering against the wind. She understood. After all, it was only a few hours ago that she’d been in a similar, compromising position.

He’d struggled to fasten the buttons of his coat as she stood, bare and freezing, in front of the apartment windows. The curtains had been thrown back to let in the light, but it was too early and too cold for anyone to be out on the streets, so she didn’t reach for a sheet to cover herself. Instead she stood, knees knobbed together, arms tight across her breasts, her teeth chattering, as she watched him prepare to leave one last time.

“It’s just not right,” he’d said as he positioned his bright red stocking cap. She’d purchased it for him. It went against the rules, but she hadn’t really cared. And he’d worn it, clearly not caring much about the rules himself. “What we’re doing,” he added quietly as he strode slowly toward the door. His hand on the knob, he turned to look at her one last time, his eyes lingering on her soft stomach, as if that was the part of her he’d miss most. “It’s just not right.”

She’d known it wasn’t right. Affairs never were right, though, were they? Someone always knew. Someone found out or someone got hurt. She’d been there first, of course. That was how she justified it. She’d had him first. But she’d been young and immature and stupid and they’d broken. She’d never forgotten nor forgiven herself the mistakes that drove him away.

Then one day, as if fate were dealing her a hand, there he was in the coffee shop she’d frequented hundreds of times. She’d dealt with her demons by then. The ring had been in plain view. He didn’t make a show of trying to hide it nor did she made a show of pretending that it didn’t exist. A whisper. An exchange. Second chances always bring with them unparalleled bliss.

But then he was walking out of her life again. She’d let him go once. The second time felt harder, somehow. Before he could open the door she’d thrown her body into his, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. A kiss. A cry. His? Hers? An exit. It wasn’t dramatic. It was just life.

So she understood this tree, shuddering and naked, but still standing as strong as it was able. What choice did it have?

Fly

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She ran, her breath hot and thick in the cool afternoon air. The clock tower struck three with strong, rippling gongs. She’d been at it for nearly an hour, now. Her lungs felt cold, but not tired. In fact, it was her legs that were worn out after eight miles, not her respiratory system. It had been a long time coming. Autumn training had gotten off to a rough start when she’d realized she could barely run a mile any more. Then again, that’s what two months in a hospital bed and four months of physical therapy would do to an accident victim. The universe is unforgiving toward the weak.

And so, she’d flown in the face of the universe. Threw up her middle finger at every doctor who told her she’d never run again. Her spine couldn’t take it, they’d said. It would be her undoing. They didn’t know her.

Here she was, four months later, and in the best shape of her life since just before the accident. Her breath became more rapid as she picked up her pace, running straight for the row of ducks quacking loudly at the water’s edge. One of them looked up, hearing her approach. He voiced a warning. They flew.

Something gave out.

She fell.

 

 

Love Couldn’t Be Defined

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Autumn.

Though she preferred calling it “fall.”

Especially now. The leaves were the same color as what she imagined her emotions to be. Deep crimson and pinks, full and startling and marvelous. She’d been in love before. Or at least, she though she had. But she realized, walking below the branches, gazing at the colors of changing leaves, that what she’d felt before hadn’t been love, exactly. Perhaps deep care or a sense of devotion or commitment.

But “love.” Never.

It had been a term she’d thrown around loosely, in the days leading up to this.

“I’m in love.”

“I love him.”

“He doesn’t know what he’d do without me – he’s in love.”

And it had seemed true enough, when she said it.

Love itself is defined as an intense feeling of deep affection.

She had, had intense feelings. She had known deep affection.

She had never known love. At least, not until now. With him.

Love, she realized finally, couldn’t be defined. Love just…was. Endless and deep and perfect and messy. A feeling so thick that it could intoxicate you, drown you, have its way with you and you had no say.

But that was okay.

Because love doesn’t aim to do away with those it victimizes.

Of this she was suddenly quite certain.

The Eye of the Storm

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She shielded her eyes against the wind and stared out across the wide-open plains. The clouds were beginning to turn from gray to green, a sure sign that bad weather was on its way. Frantic, Shannon lost herself to feelings of panic and helplessness. Where was he? Surely he’d seen the storm moving in from the west. Any minute he’d come riding toward her, chastising her for her worry, chiding her to make her way into the storm cellar. He’d remove his large black cowboy hat and wipe the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. Smokey Loon, their prized gray and white, would be set free but could always be counted upon to return home once the plains had cleared of trouble.

Just then, Shannon heard a whinny. Squinting, she could just barely make out Smokey on the darkening horizon, running as though the Devil himself were at her heels. As the horse drew closer, Shannon noticed that Cole wasn’t astride her. The horse whinnied again, stumbling as she came to a stop in front of her master.

“Where is he?” Shannon asked, fully believing that the spirited girl would answer. After only a second of hesitation, she grasped the horse’s mane, made her way up onto its bare back, turned her around, and spurred her directly into the wind, their joined shadow racing across the plain.

And She Was

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And she was

Quiet

Alone

Numb

Her fears, her desires, her future

Vast as the open sea

Until the clouds roll in

 

It will end

For the light

From the stars at night

Never shines as brightly

As it does on Hollywood screens

 

There was nothing

And she was nothing

As she felt nothing

As though it were something

 

It will end

She thought calmly

Squinting against the sunlight

 

She willed coming darkness

To deepen the waters

Where

She knew

It would be nice

To disappear into

 

Seagulls cried

Water lapped at her feet

Salt scrubbed

Her delicate skin

And wafted into her nostrils

She closed her eyes

And smiled

And waited

 

Yes

It would be nice

Gone

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“I guess I’m just trying to say that it isn’t working.”

Laurie blinked, then cut her gaze to the barista. He didn’t seem to be having any problems with the coffee grinder. As if on cue, he slammed the lid of the grinder shut and pressed a button. The machine spun to life with a loud squeal. “It’s working fine,” she said, taking another bite from her quiche. “And anyway, you already have your order.” She nodded to Scott’s carefully crafted latte which he’d barely sipped since they sat down. Perhaps it was too hot?

“Not the coffee grinder, El. Us.”

The quiche she’d been chewing went stale in her mouth. Their gazes locked and she could feel her stomach clenching with fear and uncertainty. She felt the fork she’d been using clatter to her plate as all of the blood in her body rushed to her ears, making them suddenly hot and heavy. Laurie could her the thumping of her own heartbeat, feel the sting of tears behind her eyelids. Her breathing felt labored. Could she speak? “I-” she stopped, again aware that her mouth was full. Looking around for a napkin, she spotted a stack near the various sugars and creamers by the front counter. Holding up a finger, she pushed herself from the table and raced away.

As Laurie spit out the ham and cheese quiche, the barista paused mid pour and gazed at her with concern. His shirt and pants were both black, his hair dyed dark, and his eyeliner had been caked on with relish – possibly over the span of several days from the look of it, smeared as it was. “Everything alright, Miss? Does the quiche need to be reheated?”

“No, no, it’s fine. Everything is fine,” Lauren promised, tossing the napkin into the garbage bin and straightening her blouse. With a deep, determined breath, she hurried back over to the table she was sharing with her boyfriend – her ex-boyfriend? Surely she’d misheard. She felt her heart crack just the tiniest bit, already feeling the strain of it all.

When she returned to her seat, Scott was eyeing her with that worried, cagey look he sometimes got right before he claimed she was making a scene. “Could you stop being so dramatic?” he hissed.

“Dramatic?” Laurie cried, leaning as far forward as she could without brushing his forehead with her own. “You’re breaking up with me in the most emo coffee shop in the city and I’m the one being dramatic?” They both took pause to glance at the barista who, by now, was listening intently to their conversation. He glared back at them, no longer sympathetic now that he’d been referred to as “emo.”

“It’s centrally located,” Scott assured her, as they turned back to face one another. “Plus, you’ve always loved their quiche. It’s your favorite, right?”

Laurie angrily stabbed at the food with her fork, no longer hungry. So now he was ruining her favorite breakfast spot. Intentionally, of course, as he knew she liked it there. The jerk. “Is there someone else?”

“What? Of course not. Jesus.” Scott leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, avoiding her eyes. His ears began to burn bright pink against his floppy blonde hair – a sure tell sign that he was lying. After three years together, Laurie at least knew that much. Granted, she never told him so – she’d lose her advantage if she did that. Knowing Scott, as soon as he discovered she was aware of this quirk, he’d just grow his hair long enough to cover his ears.

“Who is she?”

“I told you, there isn’t anyone else.” He cleared his throat, but still refused to meet her eyes.

“You’re lying.” Her voice was low and thick as she struggled to hold in a barrage of tears. She hated that she was becoming crazy and hysterical. Even worse, she hated that Scott was making her feel crazy and hysterical – why couldn’t he just tell the truth? You weren’t crazy if someone made you feel crazy when you were right about something they’d lied to you about – right? Laurie shook her head, trying to make sense of her logic.

“Look,” Scott sighed after a few moments. He stood and pulled a crumpled bill from his pocket, dropping on the table to cover their tip. “I just wanted to let you know that I’d be by your place while you’re at work today so that I can get my stuff. I’ll lock up and leave the spare key under the mat.”

Laurie blinked, suddenly aware that he really was going to walk away from her. This was actually happening. Right here. Right now. She felt her heart crack open further, even as it continued to beat. “You can’t leave,” she whispered as he began to step away from the table. “You have to tell me why.”

Scott stopped and sighed. “Come on, El. Don’t make it hard. It’s over. I just – I don’t have feelings for you anymore.”

“You told me you loved me. Just this morning.” She could hold in the tears until he walked away. She had to.

“I-” he faltered and looked at his shoes.

“You lied,” she finished, sadly.

“Goodbye, Laurie.” And with that, he was gone.

Her heart shattered.

Her tears fell like rain.