By Jeremy Styron
Vapors rose, stinging his palm as he grasped the lip of the coffee mug with his left hand and slowly spun it in fourth-turn increments. His right hand hovered over a notepad. She, with her small hands and sharp, blue eyes hung there in his mind, weightless, her straight, dark hair falling over a black trench coat. White flakes trickled down from the ether and rested in contrast on her shoulders.
“My dear Blair,” he scribbled in a type that would have been readable only to himself.
He shook his head, while the sound of ripped and crumpled paper crackled through Mama Green’s, a tiny, grease spot, family-owned diner on the corner of Main and Pine in that suburban desert of Glennville.
A fresh sheet soon revealed these words: “Red wine and sleeping pills help me get back to your arms.” He dried the steam from his hand and cupped his head there, remembering the rest of the Radiohead song that dragged him through many scattershot nights.
He choked his pen and continued: “Stop sending letters. Letters always get …”
“Can I top that off for you, sir?” interrupted a waitress as she was making the rounds with a full pot of the sobering, gut-warming goo. He glanced up at her name tag, giving him pause.
“Sure, thank you, Angel,” he said. “I’m ready for the check too, just whenever you get a second. No hurry.”
“Yes, sir. Right back.”
He continued, searching his memory for something … anything. He lifted his pen, turned the pad sideways, and in quick movements, pressed down on the yellow surface, his hand tremoring across the page. “All that’s sacred comes from youth,” he wrote perpendicularly to the computer-rendered, blue lines of the pad as memories returned of a girl dancing in front of him on a cold, snow-lit day.
Trevor took a sip of the sugarless, creamless drink. He always imagined it had been mixed by equal parts water, coffee grounds, and cigarette ash, for it tasted more like a product of Marlboro Country than of Brazil or Colombia. He scanned the restaurant from the upper tip of his round, wire frames. The wood-paneled walls led up to a water-damaged ceiling and down to a cold, white-tiled floor. Scents of breakfast hung in the air, as the lunchtime crowd numbered about 20, mostly hobbled seniors and construction workers seeking the breakfast they missed five hours ago. Four 50-something men were seated on benches at the bar, watching two cooks crank out meals as if on some Detroit assembly line.
“Tammy, you’re up!” Trevor heard from one of them, as he put the once full plate of pattied sausage, fried eggs, and hash browns to the side.
Despite the decayed environs, Trevor felt as if this was the warm center to which he could daily come. This was home. Not his wall-papered, carpeted, dirty-clothes strewn apartment on the north side of town, but in this place. It was here, at the center, where he could listen to songs that made him fall away from this seemingly mindless glob of planets, stars, and people without distraction. He didn’t need the help of an MP3 player; the songs in full would come roaring whenever he summoned them from the ever-present tape deck of his soul.
“Here’s your check, sir,” Angel told him.
As he grabbed his brown, corduroy jacket and scooted out of the booth, Ravel’s “Bolero” pushed through his cell phone speaker into the restaurant.
Pausing a few seconds to listen to the soaring march, Trevor finally answered. The voice on the other end said, “Hey, man. We need you to cover something. We’ve got a bus wreck on Sprucewood near the mall. Apparently, a class of middle schoolers were on their way back from a field trip to the courthouse, and a TrailBlazer pulled out in front of them. The driver of the SUV was intoxicated, according to the report.”
“Alright, I’ve got the camera in the car, so I’ll head over there,” Trevor replied.
“Sounds good,” answered Stephen Lambert, managing editor of The Glenville Post.
It was a chilling, overcast, and windless Monday afternoon.
Trevor rarely felt free. Some unknown weight, an oppressive gnawing, held him captive as if to banish him to a series of cloudy days, regardless of whether that lonely star above appeared or not. Physically, he was a sapling bending in the breeze. Twenty-eight years old, he stood 6 feet, 2 inches tall, with thinning brown hair parted to the right. It draped in waves and curled up just above his awkwardly-shaped pair of ears. In back was a tuft of thick, overgrown strands that nearly touched his shirt collar and had not been cut for months. Short hair never looked good on him and made him appear too thin, sickly, or at best, unbalanced, he often thought.
Brown eyes were shielded by spectacles, of which he was always conscious, since they inched down his nose and required adjusting. His demeanor was, at times, pensive, at others, studious, at still others, aloof. His thoughts were an empty box, his life, were it condensed into an epic poem form, would have been positioned on a shelf somewhere between “Paradise Lost” and and the one regained.
She only drifted toward him because he was … well … there. Few people in Blair’s life were actually there for long. The daughter of a lawyer and doctor, her mother the latter, she was emotionally severed at an early age when her financially successful parents couldn’t master equal success at home. They divorced when Blair was eight, and Blair, like a tramcar, became a moving point at which there was no nucleus, a circuit of veins with no heart, a planet with no core, a minuet dancer without a partner. The shifting from domicile to loveless domicile engendered her, understandably, with a certain fancy for the open road.
Thus, Trevor and Blair found themselves sailing at midnight, 2 a.m., 4 a.m., 6 a.m., sailing to some unknown Waffle Giant in some undetermined town for a familiar meal of eggs, grits, toast, jam, and coffee. Three weeks ago, it was to the coast, a five-hour shuttle ride to the long-forgiving sea, where Blair immediately leapt from Trevor’s moving car. It was now 8 a.m. She ran at full speed to the shore, rolled up her pants to knee-level, lost her shoes and stepped boldly into the bone chilling surf, moving her toes deep into the ice water and sand, feeling the soaked and mushy ocean floor. The blood in her veins sought retreat, and her toes shuttered in shock.
As he parked the car, Trevor scratched and rubbed his sleep-deprived eyes, wondering how he would ever stay awake long enough to make it back. Blair would make it OK, he thought. She always did.
“What are you doing?” Trevor screamed down the coast at her.
“Come on in, Trevor. The water’s warm!”
“I’ll pass. Maybe next time,” he said, trudging through the sand, still in tennis shoes and feeling, with agitation, granules inch down the interior sides.
“Maybe next time” seemed to be Trevor’s running theme. He wasn’t just uninterested in exposing his body to icy sea water, he was uninterested in many things: elevation being one of them. Blair had frequently goaded him on to attempt one of the kiddy roller coaster rides on visits to SevenWinds, a nearby theme park.
“I’ll pass,” he would answer each time, plucking off another bite of funnel cake, his fingers snow-covered from the powdered sugar.
He was also hapless in water. During summertime trips to the sea, Blair, her dark hair shining bright under an August sun, would coax him out with her into deeper water, [i]out, out[/i], beyond the breaking waves, where the water returns to calm. She would hold him, their bodies interlocked in moist and warmth, safe and without fear. But, in him, hesitation crept in.
“OK, that’s enough for me,” he would tell her, releasing her hands and swimming back to shallower depths to be pounded by the ruthless tide.
After her feet began to feel like drowning boulders during this most recent trip to the coast, she again denounced the natural signals inside to seek warmer ground, willing her body into submission. She was, indeed, the stronger of the two, both mentally and physically. Despite her tiny frame, she was a fiery girl. Fear would shrink from her like a serpent. Hate, would melt to submission. Passion was her trusted guide, and what of love? It marched out in front like seraphim legion.
Trevor, ever the brooding sort, sat cross-legged on the cold sand, waited and wondered, as he often did, about the dawn of man here before the sprawling, churning sea. He imagined galaxies colliding, gamma-rays bursting, this speck of an existence fading as ember.
“We actually think we matter in the least,” he thought inside himself, turning numb and glancing up at Blair playing in the surf.
“Trevor, watch this!” she said, clambering and tripping up the sandy embankment, falling backward with her face pointing heavenward, spreading her arms and flying into the sand. She looked sideways at him, blinking, with a wide smile.
“It’s a sand angel, Trevor. Am I yours?” she said in the soft voice that made him want to crush everything sinister in the world with his bare hands.
He could scarce hold back the mushroom cloud as it was making its way up his gut, to his heart, then to his throat, where a lump formed.
He moved his stiff frame and laid beside her as she ceased flailing. He wrapped his arms and legs around her, falling into her warmth on that frozen day. He softly kissed her cheek. Then her nose. Their irises fused. The ocean peeled back from them. Civilizations rose and fell. Prophets came and went. Stars were born, then collapsed under gravity’s pull. And there they were. Two people like billions who have come before and will come after. Alone that morning on some sun-dried December shore, they fell into each other, their eyes shut in peace, and for a brief moment, movement along the entire Eastern Seaboard stopped. Factories closed, and plumes of smoke rose no more. Taxi horns were silenced. The stir of society was hushed. Its droning, monochromatic swoosh went dumb. They heard and felt nothing outside that moment.
She asked again, pulling back to bring him into focus. “Trevor, am I your sand angel?”
Earthquakes broke the now-battered earth down. Millions have been lost and millions more will fall like comets from their orbits. Lovers by the billions have come and gone. Love: the god of loss, gain, sacrifice, war, the god of all. Blair summoned them.
Trevor awoke from his cavernous thoughts.
“Am I yours?!?”
“Yes,” he answered, as a tear began to pour forth. He pushed the emotion back down to secret recesses. He rested his head on her chest, and they watched the ocean peel back toward them.
Thanks to Thomas Shelter’s 15 shots of Jim Beam, chaos had fallen on a typically placid Sprucewood Avenue. For most, 2 p.m. was much too early to begin drinking; Shelter, however, was a little behind schedule.
Thanks to John F. Kennedy and the Vietcong, Shelter had lived the past 40-plus years with hellish images of a kind of brokenness that comes when war calls: Vietnamese children shunned and beaten for accepting treats from American soldiers in the form of candy bars and knick-knacks; family men writhing in pain from lost limbs and shattered souls; able, well-oiled, machine-soldiers gunned down on a hair trigger, their hearts, lungs, and brains punctured.
Tragedy was no stranger. But this was personal. Shelter’s wife had died at 52 after a long fight with cancer. Watching Eveline’s light flicker, and eventually fade was to Shelter like watching his comrades, one-by-one, cede their lives to the jungle. But Eveline’s demise was slower, more pathetic, and somehow, less noble. Once a robust 160 pounds, her weight trickled down. 140. 120. 100. 90. Shelter would often imagine God slowly and deliberately sipping, as if through a straw, his wife’s life from her, and him.
Near the end, Eveline’s eyes were sunken, her passion gone, her will broken. So too, was Shelter’s. She eventually struggled to lift a single hand. And the last time she did, it was to clutch his.
Since, Shelter had done his gut-level best to, first, numb any feeling that still pulsed through him, to silence the noise that drowns the will to live, and second, to end it. Eveline went early in life; why couldn’t he? This question had rattled through his alcohol-doused brain from sun up till sun down for 10 years now. By the time he almost came upon an answer, he was five, six, or seven sheets to the wind.
This is where Shelter finds himself about 3:05 p.m., with his finger nearly on the answer, scanning the gray roadway in a muddied, blurry state.
“Oh, Honey. Why didn’t you go with grace and dignity? You deserved better. Better than that. Better than … me. I’m so sorry. But I’ve got it, honey! You know why I’m still around, Eveline? I’ve finally … finally got it. I guess I’m like Polaris pining for the night. Oh, how I miss you. If only …”
And with that Shelter got his wish.
“Hey, man, what’s the latest?” Stephen Lambert asked over the phone to Trevor.
“Umm, the driver of the TrailBlazer dead. Three children dead, 37 injured and being transported to the hospital.”
“OK man, stay on it, take a bunch of pictures, and we’ll see you back at the office in a bit.”
Trevor strolled around the scene as close as he could get and made a few notes from a conversation with Officer Demmy:
“Driver male, 58, Thomas Shelter, no living relatives, pulled in front of school bus traveling northbound through a green light. Was apparently turning right on red. How did he not see a bright yellow bus? Bus toppled over in middle of intersection. Shelter flipped six times, SUV resting against residence on Sprucewood. Damage to home. House occupants currently walking around scene. Driver lived at 676 Clarion Lane.”
“At least he went out with a bang,” Trevor thought.
The police lights, the bus, the blood, the blare of disaster were all that one could notice against the bleak wilderness of suburban sameness.
After snapping off pictures of children crying and holding injured body parts, policemen cleared the scene, and emergency personnel attempted to salvage something from the wreckage. Trevor threw the camera and jacket into his Toyota sedan. The flashing lights pierced his senses. He thought of a particle of dust wafting through space, of Shelter, and headed for Clarion Lane.
“Hello, ma’am. I am Trevor Randle from The Glenville Post. I’m sorry to bother you. I’m writing a story about a wreck involving a man living next door to you named Thomas Shelter. Do you know him?”
As the woman answered, Trevor glanced quickly around her bony frame inside the home, noting on the coffee table a bottle of liquor, an ash tray, and a marijuana pipe. A ruddy-faced toddler circled the table, chasing after a ruddier yellow Labrador retriever. Somewhere in the cosmos, a star caved in on itself.
“Not really. He kept to himself a lot. But I think the people across the street there do.”
“Oh OK, do you know their names?”
“Um, it’s Joseph and Marie Campbell.”
“Well, thank you for your help.”
Trevor shook his head in amazement as he descended the stairs. “Jesus Christ,” he said to himself, thinking of the scene inside. Jotting down a couple notes, he crossed the precipice of Clarion.
“Hello. Is this the home of Joseph and Marie?” he asked the child who came to the door.
“Yes, sir. Let me get my mom.”
Inside this home, he noticed a pristine interior, with a glass coffee table and a clean, leather sofa and recliner. The 10-year-old to whom he just spoke was enthralled in a video game.
“How can I help you?” said the woman who came to the door.
“Hi. I’m from The Glenville Post writing a story on one of your neighbors who was involved in a wreck this afternoon. Did you know a Thomas Shelter?
“Just barely. Why? Is he OK?”
“Well, he apparently had no living relatives, but he was killed in a wreck this afternoon. He pulled out in front of a school bus.”
“Oh God! Were there children hurt?”
“Three dead, others injured. They haven’t released the names of the children killed. Did you know much about Shelter?”
“We haven’t really heard much from Mr. Shelter since his wife died. I saw him maybe once or twice a week come out of his home and go somewhere. But he never seemed to be gone for long. I heard from some ladies at my church that his wife actually suffered from cancer. It must have really broke him up when she passed. They never went to church, or at least, not to ours, but a group of us visited him a few times for about three months after she passed. We would offer him warm meals and invite him to church. He seemed to appreciate the food, but I never saw him at church. Whenever he would open the door to us, myself or one in the group would notice a bottle of liquor on the coffee table. They say he had a bad drinking problem. We’ve lived here 17 years, and before she passed, we would see the couple outside working around the house or grilling. But for a long time now, he’s been sort of a recluse.”
“Do you think he could have been suicidal at all?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I would hope not, but you never know. I do wish he would have come to church at least a time or two. I think it would have helped him cope with his loss.”
“Perhaps you’re right. Well, thank you very much Mrs. Campbell.”
Clouds hung in the bitter air as Trevor again crossed Clarion, snapping off numerous pictures of Shelter’s house of red brick and black shutters and his barren yard. The American flag over his small cement stoop was motionless. Trevor shuttered in the chill, strolling, hands in pockets, toward his car to exit, gazing high into the clouds, wondering if it was snowing above. He wished it was snowing below. But the white silence of snow would come. And with it, release.
Blair and Trevor’s next adventure, on the Saturday before the bus wreck, took them to Sutton’s Pass, an old-western theme park in the Smoky Mountains.
“I would rather just go to a mountain overlook or have a picnic or something,” Trevor told her as they wound around rocky steeps. Great chunks of rock were dug out from the earth and pines bent and cracked in the brisk afternoon wind.
But their ascent together, literally and figuratively, was inescapable, and he knew it. 2,200 feet. 2,800. 3,500. 4,000. Trevor looked beyond the safety rail, the only force to keep a wayward vehicle from flight, then back to her, jet black hair straight down in shimmers around a milky white, tower of a neck. The icy, cirrus clouds reflected back through him, pierced his sclera and shot back like a battery to his increasingly stressed heart. Despite the aesthetics of the vistas, the trees, the sky and the girl beside him, a weight persisted. A translucent fog seemed to permeate through his collar bones, rib cage and lungs. He breathed deep, stared back at the road, looked out again, and the clouds had disappeared.
“Trevor?” A three-second pause. “Trevor?!?” Another pause. She nudged him with a pallid hand. “Hello!”
“Oh, sorry about that. What were you saying?”
“Wow! That must have been one awesome daydream. Was it about me?”
“Anyway, I was saying that I’ve heard Sutton’s Pass was a really cool with lots of rides, games, and food,” Blair said. “I really want to check it out.”
“OK,” he said, as he approached a scenic overlook along Route 38 just outside Thompson Valley.
“What’s it, like 20 degrees up here?”
“Seems like it,” Blair said. The two got out of the car and climbed onto the hood. Before them laid a patchwork of whites, blues, purples, oranges, yellows, browns, and grays. She slipped her mittened hand into his bare one, turned her head, and watched his eyes shoot into orbit.
The chill afforded them only a few minutes at the overlook before they had to pile back into the car. After a 15-minute drive, the two pulled into the park. Towering in the distance was another peak, and on this, Trevor cast his eyes, trailing from the bottom, up and up and up into the atmosphere were vacationers, parents, kids, and babies gleefully rising up the steep, supported by stiff wire and a chair.
“Wait a minute. Do we have to go up there to get to the park?”
“Yeah, Trevor. It’s an amusement park in the mountains. That’s why it’s called ‘Sutton’s Pass: High in the Smokies. You didn’t expect it to be called, ‘Sutton’s Pass: Low in the Valley’ did you?”
“I was hoping. I mean, you know I nearly blew chunks just driving up to this God forsaken place. You really expect me to trust a swaying chair and some wire? No dice. I’m done.”
“Ahh, come on. Don’t be a puss. It’ll be OK. I’ll be with you.”
“That’s great and all, but do they supply bungee cords or parachutes in case something happens and if you being there turns out to be a weaker force than gravity?”
“It’s not. I’m the greater force,” Blair said with a wink.
Trevor and Blair bounded toward the entrance, where guests bought tickets and then waited to board the lift. Along the way through the parking lot, Blair would say, “Catch!” and in an instant, had pounced on his tall, narrow back, arms around his neck, nearly cutting off his air. “Come on! Faster! You can carry me, right?”
“Easy there! You’re choking me. Christ!”
“OK, OK. Hey, you wanna find a secluded place up there and, you know, have some fun,” she said, dancing in front of him, placing herself in his line of sight.
“I guess so if we won’t get caught.”
“Are you kidding? I bet we can find the perfect spot. You know you want me.”
“Of course I do,” he answered, as something tingled deep inside. He wanted her more than asthmatics want air. More than emperor penguins want light in the Arctic winter. More than black holes want matter. As they walked along, hand-in-hand, he thought of the perfect, smooth, white roadway that led from her neck to the small of her back, of corduroys resting loosely around her snowcapped hips, of cherubim and heaven.
He peered over his toes to the steep descent down the mountain, when it occurred to him that stubby brush and stumps would be his only cushion now. The chair creaked as it blew in the breeze, and he heard the sound of the moving wires, droning above his head. Blair kicked her chair, causing the couple to rock more and causing Trevor to get more uneasy.
“How much farther?”
“Almost there,” she said.
“Trevor, just don’t think about it right now, OK,” she said, lightly touching his cheek. “You are going to be fine. In a minute, we will be at the top, safe and sound on solid ground. It will be OK. Here, look at me. Kiss me.”
He was no longer dangling. With the radiance of sun rays burning and shaking his sober mind dumb, he touched his red lips to hers and in an instant, a millennium passed, then another. Desire rushed through his veins and affection from his saliva-soaked tongue.
“Trevor, I … I want to ask you something before we get to the top, here in this expanse, in this nothingness, this weightlessness.”
“It’s been about six months now. I’ve been thinking of asking you. Do you want to … you know … to be … exclusive with each other? You know, make it official?”
The earth had spun for 4 1/2 billion years leading up to this point, and here they were, he thought, about to make a commitment to each other that would last, at most, a fraction of a fraction of that time. Other couples would come, summon the same feelings that would float to the heavens then fall through the atmosphere like stillborn stars.
“And that leaves us dumbstruck at zero,” he thought to himself amid the seemingly endless hum of the cables above. “A goose egg, that, when measured with the rest of the universe, amounts to a one pixel on some cosmic screen.”
Trevor’s thoughts seemed to always take him to these hollow places, where the actions of life were neither the ends or means to attaining anything, for there was nothing to attain. In his world, jobs merely passed the time; books, movies, and music kept the mind from dwelling on its own inevitability: unfulfillment, sadness, loneliness, dementia, death.
After 30 minutes in the park, the two were inside a locked storage room behind the Sutton’s Pass blacksmith shop touching, lunging, crashing into each other like surf along the Southern coast. They made no sound, but the sweat burned off them in salty waves as the two young bodies heaved, rose, and fell.
“So do you?” she asked, pressed against the wall and pulling the hair back from her wild eyes.
“So, how’d it go out there. Any kids hurt?” asked Stephen Lambert at the paper.
“Yeah, thirty-something injured,” Trevor replied, thinking more of Blair than the wreck.
“I’ll … I’ll get that story written up here in just a bit. You need it by 6, right?”
Trevor’s desk was as chaotic in form as the universe. Notes on top of the keyboard, the phone cable tangled into spiral after spiral. Pens tossed here and there and random placements of some of his favorite song lyrics and quotes on the shelf door above his desk.
“A collision this afternoon left one man and three children dead and sent 37 other students to the hospital today on Sprucewood Avenue in Glenville,” he started writing.
“According to the Glenville Police Department, Thomas Shelter, 58, driving a red, sport utility vehicle, turned in front of the bus as it was heading northbound on Sprucewood. The children sent to the hospital are currently being treated for injuries, and the names of the dead are expected to be released when next of kin are notified.
“Shelter, who according to one neighbor, Marie Campbell, had lived a relatively quiet life since the death of his wife 10 years ago …”
There, the writing ceased momentarily. The brutal force of reality for him came crashing down. He remembered those chilled grains of sand nearly frozen around Blair’s small toes, and there he was, crushed, unable to pull himself from the water’s depths.
A speck. A granule.
“She can do better,” he thought. “And what would be the point anyway? Sleep, suckle, love, eat, play, sleep some more, forget. And then … ?”
He fumbled for his notepad. Turning to a fresh sheet, he scribbled, without punctuation: “I’m not here This isn’t happening I’m not here In a little while I’ll be gone … Radiohead”
He added this to his shelf door with the others and returned to the computer screen. After finishing the news story, he opened a letter to Blair he had began writing earlier in the day.
Wanting to read it one more time before printing it, he softly murmured:
I need to tell you exactly how I feel about what we talked about last night. I apologize that I am writing this and not simply telling you face-to-face, but you know me, I’ve always been more eloquent in front of a computer than in front of a person.
Blair, I’ve never been “steady” with someone before. Heck, I’ve never hung out with a girl for more than a day or two before they finally decide that clouds wafting on the breeze is more exciting than hanging out with me. First, I want to say that I have enjoyed our time together over the last six months. When others simply gave up on me and moved on, you have tried to get to know me and have made me do things that, otherwise, I would not do. For helping me fly out of my little wire cage, thanks.
I just finished writing a story for the paper about a sad old man who is, one can only assume, sad no more. He apparently lost his wife 10 years ago and has been, I think, quite determined to do himself in since. I guess alcohol wasn’t doing the job fast enough for him, so he turned in front of a school bus this afternoon, killing himself and three children. I’m pretty sure it was intentional. I could have thought of less violent and consequential ways to kill myself, perhaps ways that didn’t involve killing other people, but I suppose he had a less than a sympathetic opinion of this world. I am in no way comparing myself to this guy because I don’t want to kill myself, nor am I terribly grieved by anything.
I just am.
And perhaps that’s the problem. We just are … dolphins skimming along the waves searching for food and fun. We are just sun rays bouncing off warm bodies. Have you read much about astronomy, Blair? Did you know our planet exists on a spiral arm of the Milky Way, which is just one of a billion galaxies inside a possibly infinite number of universes? And we actually think we matter in the least, that love is the greatest force of all. It’s simply something humans need to get by, to make existence seem meaningful.
Imagine this: Imagine one person inhabits the Earth. Imagine that person is you. Imagine there is only you and the sun, which keeps you from the cold and emits rays to help plants grow, thus producing oxygen for you to breathe. You love Him. To you, as to the ancients, He is your god. He’s all you have and all you know. Now, what if the sun was suddenly extinguished before your eyes by some formerly unknown force? Your love would turn to mourning. Your adoration would melt to tears. Your life, like the sun, would disappear. What if He was all you had?
Right now, Blair, I have nothing, other than my writing, my job, and music, which if either were taken from me, I suppose I would find other ways to pass the time. But if I have you, I would have the world, and Blair, I don’t want to lose the world. I don’t want to be Shelter in 30 years. I just want to live. Maybe that’s a selfish thing for me to say.
Many follow Tennyson’s words: “Better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.” But I’m not sure this is true. Those who have loved and lost have already lost greatly, indeed. Assuming they fall in love again after the first big loss, they will have to revisit the same feelings when the second “eternal love” either dies or disappoints later in life. The first option assumes a series of heart-wrenching losses, one after the other, while the latter assumes no loss: just life.
For now, I’m choosing the latter. Make no mistake, regardless of what happens, if I could pick any one angel to come light on my shoulders, to shine on them as the morning sun, I would choose you. If I were the lone, hapless inhabit on this dark globe, you would be my sun. But if you were mine, and we fell madly in love, in 20, 30, or 40 years when our candles were growing smaller and smaller, I couldn’t bear to see your wick flicker, then fade into a swirl of soot and smoke, grasping your withered life-dead hand for the last time. We could face it together, yes, but in the end, one would have to face it alone, with a lifetime of memories and Loss as our epithet. I would, of course, rather that be me than you, but why should it be either? Why can’t we simply enjoy each other’s company here and now?
I had no intention of playing with your emotions or leading you on, and I’m sorry if this sounds self-centered on my part. I suppose my ultimate flaw is fear. So, please forgive me. If you choose to do so, I will be grateful and joyously continue building our friendship. If so, I will look forward to our next drive to the sea. But please, no more trips to Sutton’s Pass. Let’s stick with the ocean; it’s waters are deep enough to drown both of our beliefs and our sins, leaving us like swimming, skimming dolphins.
The air was frozen shut and burned his nostrils as he took a first breath upon exiting the office. The wind had picked up, and he felt its icicle hands wave through the space between his eyes and glasses. His stomach gnawed as he looked up into the starless sky. A single flake cascaded through the dark.
As he coolly slid the letter down the post office chute, he envisioned land masses splitting at their plates, the Atlantic sinking in on itself and puddling up to the trepidation of flapping fish and drying coral, and the sun, burning infernal for one last second, then in a gasp, being extinguished, as the mailbox lid slammed shut with a metallic thud, sending the letter into oblivion.
He turned away. Chilled, but thinking of warm service, hot coffee, and Angel hovering like some spiritual being guarding Eden, he took his next steps toward the center.