The Weight of Sorrow

If I could save you, I would, but I’m too busy drowning myself. Sorrows weigh, press, drag and bury, and you’ve only begun your journey of self-doubt. Press on, sweet friend, and find the depths in which I dwell. Sink and sink and sink, and soon you’ll find me and my sorrows, and you’ll likely wonder what the fuss was about. Not to say that my suffering trumps yours, of course not, but misery and suffering are relative, and I’m on the verge of showing you what they’re all about.

So cling, please, and beg for help. Cry for the moon and scream to the sky and indulge in all of those things that cry for help. And when your throat runs dry and your tears run out, turn to me and see what pain is all about.

Together, we’ll dig our graves with anxiousness. Together we’ll forsake the options that set us free. For those choices, those rambunctious decisions only live in dreams.

Or do they?

Don’t consider the question, the option, that pain is somehow optional. There’s no self-indulgence in it. Never consider the idea that pain can be discarded, love, for if you do, you’ll lose me forever, and you’ve already told me you’d love me forever.

I beg of you, please, never consider the idea that things can be changed. Never consider the possibility that pain is an option and you can be free. No, sweet love, dearest friend, never conjure these ideas. Rather, trust in me, believe in my all-encompassing ideal that pain is everywhere and suffering is mandatory.

Swallow the kool-aid, swear to my fanaticism. Adhere to the binary idea that it’s all or nothing, cling to that, and I’ll bring you with me. Misery so loves company, and I so love you when you’ve committed to ride along with me. I’ve only said so endless times. As many times as it takes to convince you. You and I, misery and fleeting hopes, together we can take to the skies. We can discard the world and abandon possibilities. We can refute all of which may ever seem right. We can drown together in sower as lovers, forever, and as we sink into perpetual darkness, we’ll forever blame the light.

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Suspended (Flash Fiction)

She passes through automatic doors, exchanging dated linoleum for dingy concrete, and steps into the sun. She squints, glares, recognizes the pain flashing her eyes, but disregards it. The pain is a nuisance, a mild form of what he is already experiencing. Somewhere, knives are cutting. Machines monitor heart rate and blood pressure. Fluorescent lights shine down on sedated eyes that are closed and unresponsive. A surgeon, aided by assistants, leans forward and proceeds with steady hands and precise care. There’s no comparison, this glare to that fatal danger. She feels ashamed to have even acknowledged it.

The surgeon, knife and monitors, she sees these in her mind while her feet pad along aged sidewalk. Her legs take the lead, guiding her around others standing and passing by, others distracted by their own pains and worries, those chatting and consoling, those making difficult phone calls where the questions are never fully answered and the person on the other end is always left in suspension. Those lost to conversation where the ending is always the same. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll find out more in the morning.

And she can’t help but substitute morning with mourning.

Coming to a split in the path, she pauses. One branch veers around the large hospital, signs pointing directions toward a food court and additional parking. The other turns toward the facility entrance and its adjoining street. Viewing the world with dazed eyes, she’s surprised when her legs take her toward the busy four-lane avenue. Step after step, she wades away from privacy and into the thicket of normality.

As she waits for a red hand to shift into a green person walking, her eyes graze over the landscape. Gas stations lists rising fuel prices. Diners flaunt unappetizing specials. Cars funnel into narrow lanes producing coffee and fast food. Disinterested drivers sit impatiently at red lights. As she starts through the crosswalk, she can’t help but feel the distance growing between her and reality, between the world she used to see and the world her mortal form floats through. Her legs carry her, trustworthy escorts in her time of need, as her mind poses scenario after scenario. Pragmatism pushes the most likely to the front, one where she weeps in the doctor’s arms despite the thousands of times she’s told herself not to collapse. The doctor takes a minute to console her before handing her off to another member of the staff that can help with the steps needed to take next. Runner-up is her fumbling attempt to explain the catastrophic results to her children, though she knows for a fact those words will never escape her lips. A split-second of her broken face will tell those two beautiful creatures more than she could ever explain. Lingering further back is where the bulk of her hope clings, crossed fingers and darting prayers making full assault on the outcome of a complicated process going as well as it can, but a follow-up surgery is needed and there’s more work to be done. We’re not out of the woods yet.

The last idea is held like a sacred secret, deep and hidden. Buried and concealed. An astonishing outcome. A medical triumph. They’ve happened before. It could happen again. There’s always that chance.

But that idea waits, suspended. Suspended like the surgeon’s knife. Suspended like the sun in the sky and the cars at red lights. Suspended, simply waiting and hoping and lost in perpetual thought.

She rounds the block and practices difficult conversations in her mind. They did their best. The surgeon was fantastic, one of the best. He was brave and he fought ‘til the end. This kind of cancer is common in men. We all know the healthy life he lived. These things just happen. Forever in our memories. Gone but not forgotten. She considers flower arrangements. Do they even matter? Does he want a fancy coffin? She never thought to ask. She dreads another phone call with her mother. She wonders when the last of the medical bills will come, the financial closure to an emotional disaster.

She tries to think of what she’ll tell her daughter, and her thoughts go into suspension. She tries to consider how she’ll quell her son’s teenage rage, and her thoughts go into suspension.

The sidewalk beneath her feet bends and bulges and cracks against pushing tree roots like the scene of a localized earthquake. Her feet carry her like angels, never missing a step, never catching a toe on a crack, her movement suspended one quarter of an inch above hazard. She glances at the time on her phone, again, to see it’s seven minutes later from the last time she’s checked. She wonders how far the procedure has come. She wonders if the monitors connected to her husband have alarmed in terrible harmony, a revolting announcement of death so far removed from the trumpets God uses when He arrives with His angels. That liar. That hypocrite. But either way, somehow, time has passed, and she wonders: How long have I been walking?

Her mind can provide no answer.

Looking up, she sees the hospital just ahead. With dread, her legs carry her forward. Sidewalk glides beneath her. Streets are crossed. Automatic doors open and shut. With tremendous effort, she forces herself to take a seat in an uncomfortable plastic chair. Though sitting, she feels as if she’s floating, suspended above the ground. Suspended in the air.

Seemingly frozen, time passes. The surgeon suddenly arrives. And though she’s lived this moment in her mind a thousand times, her heart utterly dislodges from her body.

Suspended.

Tuesday (Flash Fiction)

In the summer heat, flies buzz in dazed loops, circling, searching for a pocket of relief never found. The shades are drawn, long stretches of manila that glow like bricks of gold under the relentless sunlight pounding through the windows. A man stands at the counter, waiting, looking through a thick pane of glass laying atop post cards from every place in the world one would rather be—Hello from the Grand Canyon, Christmas in Denmark, a bright red thong strolling along a white beach in Costa Rica. Again, he rings a tarnished bell, and the sound coming from it is flat, dull. Perhaps even the metal has succumb to the heat.

The space behind the counter remains empty. The wood-paneled door stays closed. Bob leans forward to sneak a peak at an old television monitoring two security cameras. One is fixed on the gasoline pumps, the black and white screen turning his silver coupe a dull gray. The other stares at an empty lot in back of the small building. Dying weeds lean and wilt. Dust lies in waiting, anxious for a breeze or trudging boots.

He leans back, rings the bell again and again, and sees a sticky note. It’s yellow color is faded and layered with dust. Failing adhesive struggles to keep it stuck to the wall. Scrawled across the paper is a single word: Tuesday.

Below the note, a light switch flipped off.

Bob looks around and waits. The air inside the old, neglected shop is heavy and stale. A confused fly buzzes by, buzzing left, buzzing right, questioning the meaning of life. His eyes land on the note and switch again. Tuesday stares back, and curiosity grips him. Bob searches, sees no one, and leans over the counter. Stretching, reaching, he flips the switch on.

It clicks up.

A humming passes through the walls, low and distant. Somewhere nearby, a door opens with a thump. Bob looks to the cameras again, hoping for a glimpse of what could be. His car waits, gas nozzle dipped into the tank but not pumping. The back lot remains empty, the dust still waiting.

Then she’s there, stepping through the small shop like a ghost thrust back into the land of the living, awkward and confused. Her plastic hands articulate. Her legs, metal rods with humming servos and tiny hydraulics, thump-thump across the worn linoleum. The lenses set within her eye-sockets adjust and focus with subtle clicks. The robot stomps through the small shop quickly and exits, the small doorbell clanging with her passing.

With his mouth hanging open, Bob stands and blinks. He looks at the security monitor and sees the robot approach his car, test the nozzle, and turn to the pump. He watches in amazement as the robot begins servicing his vehicle.

“The hell!” shouts a voice as the door behind the counter slides open. A middle-aged man appears with sandbags under his eyes and confusion on his face. “What’d you do!?”

“The pump,” Bob says, struggling with the words, his eyes locked on the aged television. “I needed gas.”

“No shit,” says the man. “Didn’t you see the sign? We’re closed!”

Bob shakes his head and moves his lips, but no words follow. Outside, the robot checks his tires, cleans his windshield. “That’s amazing,” he finally says in an astonished whisper. “Do you call that Tuesday?”

“No, numbnuts,” the man behind the counter says. “I call it trespassing. Now get the hell outta my shop!”

Seeing the robot diligently remove the tiny spots from his windshield, Bob nods. “Yeah, sure.”

Seeing his words unheard, the man glares. “Did you hear me!?”

Bobs nods again.

“That’s it,” says the man. He leans down and speaks into a microphone behind the counter. “Tuesday, perform operation Scratching Post!”

“Scratching Post?” Bob asks.

The man smiles and mimics a cat clawing at invisible furniture. Bob looks to the screen and sees Tuesday pause in her windshield cleaning, re-orientate, and then drag metal fingers along the side of his car. On the monitor, the deep gouges in the metal appear as white lines. From the windows, slipping in through the manila shades shining like gold, he hears the shrill shrieking of metal on metal.

“Helluva Tuesday,” Bob says.

 

To Shine (Flash Fiction)

There are times when I wonder if the sun feels alone. Suspended in so much dark and cold, does it burn with tremendous fury only to feel its light is cast for no one? Does it look across an empty reach of galaxy to see billions of stars clustered together like cities, like families, and wonder, Why must I burn alone?

Imprisoned by nothingness, does it ever consider:

I’ll stop then. I’ll quit. My energy is wasted, for I am beyond reach. I’m alone and lost and only glow toward destructive end. I shine without reason, for my warmth surely freezes before reaching those distant bodies. What use is there in projecting such energy? For what purpose do I exist?

What horrific tragedy.

While suffering in so much dark and cold, I hope our light reflecting back is enough for it to see the smiles and tears and joyous memories its tremendous fury brings. It pours onto friendships and families. It smothers young lovers with warmth while they stroll along sandy beaches, and as it fades into the sea, those lovers kiss it goodnight.

There are times I’ll search for the faintest star my eye can find and marvel at the distance between. Time suspends itself like a breath only held for so long, a wondrous moment that is soon gone. As I stare in astonishment, struggling to fathom a place in this monumental existence, I’ll often wonder, For what purpose?

As if sent from those distant lights, an answer will crawl into my mind.

To shine.

So burn brightly, dearest sun and furthest stars. Burn for those you cannot see or ever know. Send your warmth and love and fear not where it goes. Shine and send your brightness though you may never know why. Shine so your light may stretch through the ages, pierce the darkness, and bring life to worlds unimaginable.

Beside the River (Flash Fiction)

We strolled together beside the river with our fingers in a loose tangle. Our arms swung with lackadaisical steps, and the midday breeze seemed to sigh at our casualness. We found a place to sit beneath the birch trees, white trucks scarred with the initials of couples come and gone. The trees seemed none the worse from the mild mutilation, but I wondered if the love had endured.

We shared a delightfully pastry, two spoons for one treat. I saw your eyes and watched you smile as you looked out over the river. I saw the wind caress your cheeks and stir your hair and I could tell by your demeanor you were at peace.

And so was I.

It was interesting to me that we could feel so comfortable there, a continent and ocean away from the place we call home. An ease settled around us, and you sighed and mentioned how nice it felt. I agreed then, but for reasons I think different from your own. You were relaxed and enjoying the moment, but I was somewhere else.

I was wondering how it came to be that I could ever be so lucky to have you there with me. My closest friend, my life support, the foundation of all my existence. You asked if I wanted the last bite, and I said, no, go ahead and take it. After all, why should it be me to enjoy it when I already have everything? At the time, it felt a bit like gluttony.

And so we sat beside the river, with calm in our hearts and peace rippling along our banks. The sun played hide and seek behind the clouds, and the birch trees whispered with the breeze. We sat in silence, you and I, friends forever side by side. Together, we tangled our fingers and marveled at the beauty that had become our lives.

I Can’t (Flash Fiction)

I can’t save you, but I can try.

I can give you encouragement, and I can show you love. I can help you understand your rage, where it’s born, where it hides, and how to escape its awful clutch.

—But only if you spit that bitter anger from your mouth.

I can’t carry your pains, but I can cry.

I can see your sufferings, and I can weep with you by your side. I can share the sorrows I’ve felt, the mistakes I’ve made, and how to realize the utter uselessness of regret.

—But only if you refuse that bitter-sweet melancholy.

I can’t endure your trials, but I can guide.

I can tell you of the twisting, winding paths, and I can whisper of the infinite places they’ll lead. I can warn you of pitfalls to avoid, the struggles worth enduring, and the pure freedom that comes from accepting yourself.

—But only if you understand that all paths are one and the same.

I can’t be here forever, but I can die.

I can hold your hand, and I can see your streaking tears. I can do my best to offer solace, to see the way of things, and to accept the beauty of it all.

—But only if you’ll believe me.

 

Came Home (Flash Fiction)

Sitting on the front steps, her thoughts stop when she sees the coming car. It’s dark red and new, and its tires crunch over worn gravel. Afternoon sunlight glares off a clean windshield. The license plate is marked exempt from registration, the tell-tale sign of a government vehicle. Her heart waits, and in that moment the concerns of her life are suspended, the medical bills past-due, her disabled husband coughing in the living room, an aging car in the garage needing fresh tires and an oil change.

The passenger door opens, and dust from the dry lane attacks black shoes that shine in the sun. A young man in dress uniform sees her and smiles.

Before she can cover her mouth, a shudder escapes, and tears flood her eyes. She calls out to her husband, saying only his name before her voice locks with emotion. She yearns to say more but can’t. The unsaid words sing in her heart, in her head:

He’s come home.

She stands and hurries down cement steps, rushing toward her baby-boy, her grown man, her proud and brave marine. When she buries her face into his decorated chest, all weight from her heart is lifted.

Mourning has been stayed.

Piling bills can continue to pile, and their collectors can continue to wait. Age can come and time can go, for beyond that all is trivial. They’ll be no giving of sincerest condolences today, no reception of ceremonial flag. No casket of unparalleled beauty and price need be chosen and committed to the ground, no ultimate sacrifice made.

Freed from her true worry, she weeps with absolute joy.

He’s come home.

It’s Going, It’s Going (Flash Fiction)

He walks beside railroad tracks, long abandoned, curving through rolling hills of golden, dying grass. The tracks lead to nowhere, a destination he’s already visited, and with gravel crunching underfoot he travels there again. A hint of ocean air whispers over the low hills and through the open fields, through rusting barbed-wire fencing and around dying valley oaks reaching to the sky with long and twisted limbs. The scent it carries causes his eyes to close and his mind to envision the cold and endless Pacific.

But it’s going, that day and that dream, that opportunity of a promise to keep. It’s going, and he knows it, and the melancholy weighs heavily on his heart. But he keeps walking with gravel crunching underfoot along those oil-soaked railroad ties.

Gloomy fog, the cloak of June worn so well by the west coast, floats on the horizon and dances with the setting sun. After a day of walking so long under the central valley heat, sweat turns to chill and trembling shiver. He watches as the sun tucks itself away behind that blanket of gray, tucks itself in and prepares for the night.

And it’s going, that sun and that hope, that available chance to be the man he always could be. It’s going, and he chooses it, and the bitterness streams easily down his weathered cheeks. But he keeps ignoring what’s over his shoulder, behind him, in the house he has chosen to abandon.

And it’s going, it’s going, that love he swore and another chance he never deserved. It’s going down tracks to nowhere and it goes with reasons born from senseless despair. The cold ocean air sighs over the hills and begs him to look back, to try again and allow this emotional kidney stone to pass. But he keeps going, never stopping, never pausing for even a glance.

Away it goes, that day, that chance, that dream. Away it goes with regretful sigh, and the darkness settles over the hills, over the valley below, and over the fog so gray.

A Thin Barrier (Flash Fiction)

He kneels down over a still pond and sees. Below, the water stares back. A blue sky hangs above worried and tired eyes. A wisp of white cloud drifts by. With heavy heart, he sighs. The veil hangs heavy over his mind, and the weight buries him.

Through the thin barrier of water, a small fish drifts by. Its golden scales reflect the light from the sky and shine. The eyes of the fish search in earnest, young and sharp and bright.

As he kneels, seeing the fish, he sighs. “Oh, if only my eyes could be so young and my skin so vibrant, all the of the world would see me for who I am and who I ought to be.”

The fish, hearing the man’s strange words, flutters its tail to stall its motion and observes the man’s sadness. It looks up and the man looks down and for a moment, the veil is lifted. The barrier fades away.

You are the light, says the veil, and you are the youth in your skin. The sky above you hangs forever in waiting for all of the possibilities within you bound, and the wispy cloud drifts by with the idleness of time in your waiting.

The man, startled, slips and slides his hand into the water in recovery. The fish darts, and a ripple spreads across the stillness of reality. The man sees the waves, sees his impact on the world around him, and sighs heavily with a heart unsettled.

The vibrant fish vanishes, the water settles, and the clouds of wispy-white above continue their movement by.

Help From the Woods (Flash Fiction)

In the winter snows she walked; the cold, her only friend. Ice layered the twisting path through the park in a vain attempt to promote itself to stained-glass. Northern winds rushed through the birch trees. All color had been stripped from the limbs. All signs of life were hidden. She came to a stone stairway that gave treacherous way to the shoreline below. Dark water churned under a gray sky spitting snow.

She stared.

More and more, that body of water so filled with biting cold and engulfing dark called to her. She found herself in the park more often. Things were getting worse.

There was a time when hope pressed against those darker feelings. There was a time when she felt there was still a way. But things changed, or more accurately, things stayed terribly the same. So it was the park, alone in the dead of winter. It was nervous glances at her stepfather’s straight-razor next to the sink. It was long gazes at the tops of skyscrapers watching birds spread their wings and watching the wind carry them away and wondering if she should do the same.

Fingers of cold slipped in through small gaps in her clothes. She shivered, and then felt quite peculiar.

Anna turned to look back at the park and blinked at the specks of snow landing on her eyelashes. Empty swings shifted in the breeze. Snow drifts huddled around picnic tables. The streets beyond a small stone wall were empty, yet she couldn’t shake the feeling.

Someone was there with her. Someone was watching.

Anna walked back through the snow, avoiding the icy path. Her dark hair tossed, and she tucked it behind her ear with a gloved hand. The cold stung her nose. She stood and waited. The peculiar feeling continued to the point of tingling.

A calm voice spoke out from in front of her. It was melodic and slow. “Strange ponderings for a woman so young.”

Anna looked on. The peculiar feeling inside her was matched by something equally odd—an absence of fear. A gust of wind brushed snow from the tree limbs. Flakes stuck and melted on her cheek.

“Is there no one to listen?” the voice asked. “No one who cares to hear your pains?”

“Where are you?” asked Anna.

The birch trees shivered in the wind; their long trunks and snowy backdrop blurred together like zebras. Something moved. Anna squinted, feeling victim to an optical illusion. A trunk shimmered in front of her as a small creature crawled up the side. It took hold of a limb and stood just above her.

An imp looked upon Anna, and Anna looked back. The gusting wind settled. From behind, the waves of the lake continued churning.

The imp wound its small tail around the branch and shielded its back to the wind. Its skin appeared hard like bark and matched the color of the tree. If real or illusion, Anna couldn’t say. Its eyes burned red.

“What are you?” Anna asked.

The imp looked on, frozen like a gargoyle.

Anna scanned the park for other persons. There was no one. She stepped forward, and the burning eyes followed her movement. “What do you want?”

The imp looked down his crooked nose. “There are solutions, you know,” the imp said, his voice still beautiful and calm. “I could assist thee.” His spiked tail flicked and punctuated the offer.

Anna stared and barely noticed the snow falling against her face. The branch above her swayed, and the perfectly still little demon swayed with it, as if part of the tree. Neither his fragile wings nor long ears stirred with the wind. Anna thought of a hundred questions, all of them obvious in their foolishness. In time, she found the only one that mattered.

“What will it cost me?”

The burning eyes, like golden embers at the base of a raging fire, stayed locked upon hers. The mouth of the imp stayed closed while the voice softly spoke out. “Only the consequences of your decision.” The words were like warm velvet, like melting butter soaking into a toasted muffin.

The imp scrambled out along the branch like a small monkey, agile and confident, and wrapped its tail around the waning end. With a simple flick, the wood snapped, and the imp flung it to the ground. The snow hissed with steam where the makeshift wand landed. Anna walked and found the melted spot. The bark was charred with the tail’s imprint. Anna held the small stick in her hand, and it gave the faintest glow. Through her glove, she could feel its warmth on her hand.

“What is this?” she asked, looking back to the branch.

But the creature was gone. Her eyes darted from trunk to trunk and limb to limb, but the imp was nowhere to be found. Gone as well, the peculiar feeling of a hidden observer.

In the winter snows, Anna stood alone. Now with the cold, fear had become her friend.