They sat in the near darkness, staring at the last candle burning. The diminishing flame was fighting the rising tide of melted wax.
Silence held the only perfect words for what they had, but he could not stand the weight of it any longer.
“Happy Valentine’s Day babe.”
“This will be our last won’t it?”
“Where did it go wrong?”
“I’m not sure. What happened to all the stuff that made us fall in love in the first place? It’s only been two years…”
She thought about the beginning often, especially on this day.
“I remember the moment I knew I wanted to be with you.”
His eyes widened in surprise.
“Oh yes. It was three years ago today.”
Memories rushed the front of his mind. It had been an amazing year. His roommate Mike had found “the perfect girl”. And she had a roommate. Within a month both of them had girlfriends in the same convenient location.
“Wait. Three years ago I was with Jenny and you were with Mike?”
“I remember walking into the living room and seeing the roses that you had bought for her. They were beautiful and…”
“You broke up with Mike the day after Valentines Day because I bought her roses?”
“No. It was the card.”
“The card? The Valentine card?”
“Yes. When I read that card I knew right then that I wanted to be with someone like you. The way you loved and cared for a girl. The way you took in every detail of her and appreciated it. All I ever wanted was someone to love me like that.”
“And when Jenny broke up with me there you were to step right in…”
“I have been waiting for a card like that. I have been waiting to be loved like that, but it never came. Is it me? Am I not worthy of that part of you?”
“I didn’t write that card. Mike did. I saw the way he looked at you and asked him to help me write something for Jenny. I just wrote his words and signed my name.”
A single tear crawled down her cheek as the flame died leaving only a trail of smoke and the smell soot.
I slide into the back seat and Officer Welsh closes the door on me.
Ridley is dead. I formally identified his body. The divers pulled him from the canal yesterday afternoon. I opened the front door to Officers Welsh and Drummond and their carefully arranged faces. They gave the game away of course, but I didn’t tell them that. Two coppers on your doorstep are enough to drive terror into anyone’s heart, but I was waiting for them.
They think he fell in, with the absence of a suicide note and no sign of violence to tell them otherwise. Ridley did jump in on purpose, but he wasn’t trying to do himself in. He was looking for the key. A key to unlock his heart from mine. Stupid man. Each time I told him to go, that he was free, he came back.
“We made a pact, Sadie. It binds our hearts and you can’t set me free.”
I don’t recall which one of us came up with the idea. It might have been Ridley, something he found on the internet about lovers and bridges in Italy, Korea, France. The whole world was at it. I took the idea one step further.
“Let’s put a drop each of our blood inside them.”
“Bloody hell, Sadie. Why don’t we just get married?”
“Come on, it’ll be a laugh. It’ll be different from everyone else.”
Ridley bought heart-shaped padlocks and I bought razor blades.
We took them to the canal bridge, where we’d had our first date feeding a pair of swans.
I sliced into the pad of my index finger, the incision invisible and the sting lagging seconds behind. I squeezed a perfect ruby bead of me. It slid, reluctantly, from my finger into the keyhole of my padlock. I squeezed another drop into Ridley’s.
“Your turn, Ridley.” I held the blade out to him.
Ridley thrust his finger toward me and turned his head away. “Make it quick.”
I added Ridley’s blood to the locks. I looped them together and Ridley fastened them to the railing. They slid to the bottom of the post and hung above the water. We threw the keys into the oily canal without any special words. I’d forgotten to bring plasters and we walked home holding hands, sucking our fingers.
When he started to glaze over if I recounted my dreams, and I could no longer bear his toothbrush to touch mine in the cup on the bathroom window sill, we invented ways to be apart when we were together. Ridley left but he always came back.
Last week he returned after his longest absence. His blond hair was unwashed and stuck up from his head in clumps, as though he’d been tearing at it. The stubble on his face was flecked with grey I had never noticed before, and his eyes didn’t stay on one thing for longer than a second or two. His hands shook.
“I bought another set of locks, for the keys. But they won’t work, Sadie.”
“Ridley. The locks don’t matter. You’re being ridiculous.”
Ridley the Ridiculous. He didn’t crack a smile. I sighed. I was tired of trying to move forward only for him to walk through the door and drag me back.
“Give me your door keys, please.”
“Can’t you hear it, Sadie?” Tears brimmed in his eyes and I turned away in disgust.
“Hear what? I don’t know what’s wrong with you, Ridley.”
“The heartbeat. It’s so loud. Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum…”
“Ridley! Stop. I don’t hear a thing. Please leave, now.”
“I can’t sleep. It keeps me awake at night, ba-dum. Inside my skull. Behind my eyes. It’s getting louder every day. It’s in the walls, pulsing. Pumping clotted blood. It’s starting to seep through the wallpaper in the flat. Can’t you see my footprints? Can’t you hear it?” His quick, half-glances darted around the room. “If I can’t unlock them, I’ll have to come home. We’re bound, Sadie. Forever.”
This statement alarmed me more than anything else he’d said.
“Well, have you tried bolt-cutters?”
“Too tight. Can’t get the blades around them.”
“I’ve tried!” he screamed. My stomach clenched.
“Get out, or I’m calling the police. I mean it, Ridley. Don’t come back.”
“You’ll be sorry, Sadie. When it comes, you’ll wish you were dead.” He jabbed a finger into my chest, just above my heart. Then he left.
He never came back.
Officer Welsh pulls the car up to the kerb outside my house.
“Are you sure there isn’t someone I can call for you?”
“No. Thank you, but I’m fine.”
I think I might be getting a headache. I feel as though I’m wearing a swimming cap. My jaw throbs around its hinges.
Lying on the sofa with a cold cloth on my head is a good idea, I think.
I have slept because darkness presses against the front window. The headache has receded to a distant pulse. I sit up and place my feet on the floor and the beat thrums up my legs.
Hmm, that’s a bit odd.
I go into the kitchen to get a glass of water. The tap judders and somewhere in the pipes, air grumbles. Water splutters out of the tap, as it sometimes does because Ridley was quite useless at DIY, but instead of gushing into a steady stream, short freshets of murky water pumps out and the pipes knock rhythmically. A glass of milk will do. Except the light inside the fridge pulsates in time with the throb of the headache in my legs.
I climb the stairs and the handrail vibrates beneath my palm. In the bedroom I lie on the bed and listen to the discordant palpitations of my heart. I hear a damp, sanguineous echo on the stairs, ba-dum, and along the hall, ba-dum.
Ba-dum ba-dum fills the world and beats a crimson tattoo behind my closed eyes.
Jayne Thickett writes between homeschooling her son and the day job. She’s been working on a novel since time began, and has published a few little stories online.
Corcoran State Prison
900 Quebec Avenue
Corcoran, CA 93212
Protective Housing Unit
** Communication Reviewed and Approved **
Report: December 12th, 1981 ~ The Santa Ana home of Sebastian Wainright III was raided by police. Two adults, four children were found placed perfectly in their beds. They all were groomed and no blood was apparent on the scene. The heads of each of the victims were completely severed and placed back in natural anatomical position. Upon further search of the house, officers found Sebastian Wainright III bathing in a bathtub full of blood in the basement. He made no comments.
March 11th, 2011 ~ Sebastian Wainright III was denied parole for the third time. He still refuses to speak. The following is the only communication verbal or written that inmate Wainright has attempted. Prison psychiatrists have slowly been encouraging said inmate to communicate in an effort to gain some movement in regards to reform.
Sebastian Wainright III
What exactly is it that you think you know about the sorrow of man? Is it the kind of sorrow when you wet your bed and were afraid to tell your mommy? Is it the type of sorrow when the fat kid in school called you a fairy? Is it the kind of sorrow when your poor little grandmother wasted away from cancer in front of your eyes?
This disillusion in the minds of people continues. It will forever continue due to the instant self proclaimed (verbal or internal) geniuses that crawl over this earth like a plague. Sorrow is this disillusion itself. Sorrow is what they see when they are dying, breathing their last breath, chocking on their own blood…they realize that the last time they last time they masturbated was their last and final thrill. That last breath…sorrowful…pitiful.
The way I see it…I did you a favor.
* Stop Communication *
As a profile expert in the area of writing, we would like you to type up a full report on the above communication. More detailed information on Inmate Wainright can be forwarded to you at your request to assist in this report.
Thank you for your assistance in this matter.
The room is smoky and tense as I open the door as if half attending are bothered to be there and half would much rather be there than on Varnoo.
As I walk into the counsel room, I realize that they are completely out of their element. Training to kill or defend is one thing, but expecting them to sit calmly and speak to one another…well…doesn’t always work out.
As expected Yanis Stahl, the eldest counsel member (and most hard headed) speaks out first. I didn’t even sit down yet. His long white beard almost bristling with anger. I think he sleeps with his battle suit on…just in case.
” I do not understand why we must sit down and talk. Talk about strategy and girlie games. There is only one way to fight…that is face to face!” A couple in the counsel roar approval, others chuckle at how familiar we are with Yanis’ temper.
Brin Moran stands up. He is a younger counsel member, but one who has garnered much respect through bravery on the battlefield. ” With all due respect, Yanis, I share your passion. My passion is also to crush every last standing Varnoo into a memory. I believe we will do that. I believe, as we have all been taught, to fight smart. To know your opponents next move even before they know it. To do this, we must get inside their heads. We must know their plan. We must see it before they use it on us…thereby rendering their plan useless. My King…my proposal is this; we need a diversion. We need to wait until just before the invasion and send the bulk of our forces in by way of the Living Hologram Link. In essence…fake an invasion. Then, we separate the link and bring the entire force in to destroy this evil once and for all.”
I didn’t need to say one word…The entire counsel stood and roared slapping Brin on the back.
Once and for all, I thought.
I stand up…” So it is settled then. I expect all commanders to make the details of this known. Timing will be of the essence. We leave in four days. Goodnight men.”
by Meyer Lane
At 7:11 EST on the morning of December 21, 2012, the skies will thicken like black pudding, and the earth will begin to open and pour her guts out over super highways, shopping malls, schools, swimming pools and ice cream parlors. Experts will disagree as to whether to call it the Second Coming, the Apocalypse, or simply the end of the world, and millions will find it difficult, if not impossible, to get a decent cup of coffee. Digital imaging technology will make it easier than ever to record the event for Facebook and Twitter, except in North Korea, Iran and Kansas, and mom, dad, and the kids will watch it unfold on gigantic flat screen televisions in crystal clear detail. Before the first tidal wave destroys much of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, hawkers will offer specials on “end of days” wrist bands, tee-shirts and inflatable flying discs, and the Shopping Network will feature cook-wear that can take “whatever fire and brimstone can dish out.” On December 21, 2012, moments before the earth is crushed by a nasty wayward planet, The Biggest Loser will air, and Mary Ellen Jones of Buffalo, New York, will lose fifty-one pounds and earn immunity.
Ralph Wahlstrom is a writer, teacher, singer, musician, cyclist, reader, father, husband, and generally happy person. He has published short fiction in a number of journals, including Denver Syntax, Glossiolalia, The Rose & Thorn, Cafe Irreal, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. His book, The Tao of Writing, was published in 2006, and Kesh, a young adult/teen novel will be published this year by Wild Child Publishing. You can find out more about Wahlstrom, in an outdated, neglected sort of way, at http://taoofwriting.com.
I could barely look up the concrete stairs.
Cold. Wet. Slippery. The blood running from my mouth and nose. Left eye swollen shut.
They jumped me out of the blue. Wallet gone. No person in sight to help.
I knew better than to be walking out in this neighborhood at night, but I just had to get out…was crawling the walls of meaninglessness.
I manage to lift myself up several steps. Blood running into my good eye now. Feel weak. Dizzy. Don’t look down.
I’m hurt worse than I thought. Bleeding heavy now.
With all my strength, I reach the top of the stairs. I think to myself. This is about right…paid for my apathy.
And I’m not even afraid anymore.
~ Meyer Lane