The shapes that come into view when eyelids long since closed open for the first time held a strange appeal to Richard. Lifting his eyelids slowly after slumber, light would seemingly pour in over a valley of unseen structures in the distance as it bent in so many directions, distorting the spectrum of colors over and over again. In this ooze of color and shadow were peaks, splotches, snowflakes, angel wings and water drops, all with a lifespan of less than a second. Soon enough, his eyelids would be far enough apart that his brain could no longer imagine what his eyes were seeing for they would be dutifully reporting to it the contents of the world around him, recorded in precise color and depth. But not this time.
Richard opened his eyes unceremoniously, in the absence of the fleeting shapes he so enjoyed, into a room bathed in darkness. He blinked intently a few times as if doing so would somehow wash the darkness from his eyes, then turned his head gently from side to side to better take in his surroundings. He was laying down in a bed, as far as he could tell. The sheets felt soft against the portions of his arms and smelled of being freshly washed. Instinctively, he wiggled his toes as he would when first climbing into bed. He realized his shoes were no longer on his feet, and that his feet were not all that were bare. The sheets stirred freely against his exposed shins, knees and thighs – stopping about his torso where his boxer shorts were still intact. The realization startled him to action, and he tried to sit up abruptly. A bolt of pain shot through his left arm, reaching ravenously from his elbow into his armpit. He instinctively pulled his arm back towards his body and brought his right hand over to brace it. His mouth gaped open wide to let out a silent wail of pain. It was then that he realized his left arm had been bandaged carefully from near his shoulder to his hands. He examined it cautiously with just the tips of his fingers. His breathing became more shallow as he preoccupied himself with judging how damaged he was and how he had been bandaged. Dialing in his focus also afforded him the opportunity to take note of two voices engaged in conversation outside the room he was in.
“I can’t wait any longer to see if he wakes up,” the first woman said sternly. “And, honestly, I’m not sure I want to be around when he wakes up.”
“He’s not like that!” a more familiar voice responded. “I told you, I know him and he’s not like that.”
“Sydel,” the first woman continued, “far be it from me to tell anyone how to live the perfect life, but as your sister I feel I need to remind you of how horrifyingly bad the last time you decided to pick a guy up at a bar went for you.” She paused. “I still can’t process how you let that go on for so long without telling me-”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly something you just pick the phone up and tell your big sister about! Can we please not go there right now?!” The sound of Sydel’s hands falling heavily on her lap in frustration was loud enough to reach Richard’s ears. The conversation held more than his attention – it kept his body in place.
The sound of slow and thoughtful footsteps treading across the hardwood floor could be heard. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.” A deep breath. “You’re all I’ve got, Sydel. Others have come and gone, but you’ve always been the one I could call my own. I don’t want to see you hurt…again. Ever.”
“And what about your hurt, sis?” Sydel’s short reply seemed to give her sister more than a moment’s pause.
“I’m healing in my own way.” The words of the woman were heavy laden with meanings that required even more words to explain. “And we will talk about that later. I’ve got to go now. There’s something important I have to do tomorrow.”
Richard could hear the sound of clothing and jewelry coming together briefly as the two women embraced, followed by the sound of two sets of footsteps heading for what could only be the exit, and only one set continuing past it.
“Oh wait!” Sydel called out to her sister. “Magda, how often am I supposed to change the bandages? And what about the meds?”
The reply to those questions were beyond Richard’s range of hearing. No sooner did he give up on trying to discern the faint words than the sounds of a door closing and footsteps heading in his direction filled his ears. He gripped the edge of the sheet with the fingers of his good hand.
A thin column of golden light appeared off to his left, just beyond his leg. It flashed into view quickly, then slowly grew in width and height until it became a large box of light that poured into the room. Richard clasped his eyes shut for a moment in response to the unexpected light. When he opened them again, he saw that a slender figure had come through the light and was now reaching over him for something behind him. A moment later, a dim lamp beside the bed clicked on and the last of the darkness he was once immersed in slipped out of the room.
“So how long have you been awake?” Sydel’s voice now had a face behind it, and he recalled how he found that face to be most agreeable earlier in the night. She smiled widely, and her eyes told him the tale of the relief she felt at his being awake without the inconvenience of spoken words.
“Your name,” Richard realized his mouth was dry. “Sydel. What does it mean?”
“Now that’s something you’ll have to tell me,” she replied. “I’ve spent the better part of my life disliking my name.” She flashed another smile and the hint of a laugh escaped her mouth. “I’m glad you like my name, considering you didn’t ask me for it when you were at the bar and you left so…abruptly.”
“I suppose I did.” Richard fixed his eyes on hers. “But when I left, I didn’t think I would wake up here.”
Sydel pulled an old cushioned steel chair close to the edge of the bed and sat down. She leaned in closer to his face. Richard could smell the sweet mix of her perfume, liquors, the rain and her skin. “After we got you back here, I’ve found myself wondering where exactly you planned on waking up.” Her voice had become as soft as a whisper, but her words carried the sharp edge of discernment, and they found their mark.
Richard let his eyes fall towards the doorway and took a deep breath.
“You came into my world singing the song of Hope to me. You inspired me, if only for a moment. Yet here I am, sitting next to what might have been Hope’s dead and rotting corpse.” Flecks of anger and disappointment found their way into Sydel’s gaze.
Richard’s spirit rose. “Don’t speak to me of things you do not understand.”
“Make me understand! Your arm was covered in glass shards – the biggest of which was lodged in some major artery, damned near your bone. You were slowly bleeding to death. And when I found you a few blocks from the bar…the way you were sitting there…it was quite clear to me that you knew you would bleed to death too!” Richard could see tears forming in the corners of her eyes as she went on. “I didn’t know who you were, or if you were in any trouble. I didn’t know if I should do anything. All I knew was that I wanted you to be okay. So I called my sister, and…” She sobbed briefly, but went on after knuckling away a few tears. “So explain it to me. How does someone who speaks to me of hope and healing end up like this?”
Richard felt his brow become heavy and his resolve start to falter. He felt his heart pounding in his throat. What is it about her? he wondered silently. Nevertheless, he steeled himself once more and spoke calmly. “I’m sorry, but I cannot. There are parts of who I am that-”
Sydel stormed to her feet and moved away from the bed to a pile of clothes on the floor in the corner of the room. Richard watched and realized quickly that those were his belongings. She knelt to rifle through them, and when she found what she was looking for, she stood up and held it to her chest. She turned to face him and walked to him slowly with heavy footsteps that sounded full of determination. She placed the object in her hands squarely in the center of his chest, seated herself on the chair again and brought her face close to his own. “Explain. And start with this.” She gestured towards the object with her eyes.
Richard had not taken his eyes off of Sydel since she first rose off the chair. He searched her eyes for a moment hoping she would relent, but given the insistence he found in them instead, he placed his right hand on top of object and lifted it into the light of the lamp beside him. He didn’t need to see it to know what it was. Beneath his fingers that were outlined in dirt and dry blood, his eyes made out the shapes of the title written in his own hand with black ink on the hard paper cover of a book: The Tragedy Of Richard Black
Magda was accustomed to long hours in the OR and coming home at hours most people label ‘ungodly’. The work she did, however, was anything but. In the years since she became a surgeon, she had loosened death’s grip on the souls of those who came to her with gunshot wounds, stab wounds, collapsed lungs, swollen brains and bleeding hearts. She even undid the will of those who meant to end their own lives. For all the goodness the fruits of her labor made her feel within, they also left her with a question that she could never seem to reconcile – a question that she most often pondered behind the wheel of her BMW as she drove home in the stillness of night, just as she was right now. “If I can save so many lives, why can’t I create even one?”
Two years ago, Magda learned she could not bear children.
She had only driven a few blocks from the hospital parking garage before she started to think of her ex-husband and how the news of her infertility devastated him. All the hours they spent dreaming of starting a family, debating baby names and thinking of where they’d like to buy a home big enough for the kids all suddenly seemed like an exercise in futility to him. The seemingly endless happiness they felt with each other seemed to disappear overnight. As second opinions from other physician colleagues came in confirming the initial findings, the distance between them grew. Having their own children and going through the experience of pregnancy was a dream they both shared, but it was one for which he could make no substitutions or exceptions. Blaming herself for the loss of their happiness, Magda did not raise an objection when he somberly asked her for a divorce during a Sunday morning breakfast a few months later. The love she thought was the stuff of legend had become the stuff memory in such a short time. It wasn’t until a few more months had passed that she had allowed herself to freely grieve and mourn the ending of her marriage. For a time, she went to sleep every night with the salty taste of her own tears on her lips. As she turned her car onto the street she now called home, Magda forced herself to remember the resolve she felt when she came out of that period of mourning. Enduring the pain of learning she could not birth a child of her own and of saying goodbye to the love she thought she would have forever had given her a new strength and determination. It allowed her to open herself to the idea of doing what her ex could never do – adopt a child.
Magda parked her car on the street in front of her apartment and shut the engine off. With her hands still on the steering wheel, Magda closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The act of filling her lungs with air and then emptying them allowed her to push away all of the negativity that was woven into her recent memories and to breathe in the feelings of hope she enjoyed during her meeting at the Catholic orphanage she visited last week.
Sister Moravec greeted her with a warm smile and a soothing voice that carried with it a Slavic accent that had been softened from years of working in the United States. The nun’s habit she wore looked old but was well maintained. The coif seemed as white as the day it was made, and the veil was without a single wrinkle. An ornate yet humble silver cross hung from a worn black cord and rested neatly against her bosom. She had dutifully managed the orphanage for the past 20 years, and knew the personalities and back stories of each of the children she looked after. She insisted upon meeting each prospective parent personally and matching each child with parents based on their personality and disposition. Magda and Sister Moravec spoke for over an hour, during which time Magda related the painful events of the past two years of her life and expressed her desire to be a mother to a child in need. When Magda had finished, Sister Moravec spent a few moments considering all that she had heard before she spoke.
“God sees our suffering, child,” she said calmly as she rose and turned to the file cabinet behind her. “In your voice and words I hear a sadness and a desire to love that is not unfamiliar, and I feel that one among my precious little ones here would be well-suited for you.”
Magda allowed herself to smile slightly in light of the nun’s words. She watched intently as Sister Moravec produced a folder from the cabinet, pulled a photograph of a child from it, and slid it across the desk between them towards her. She studied the face in the photograph closely. A beautiful dark haired girl with stunning blue eyes stared up at her from it. “She’s beautiful,” said Magda.
“This one came to me unexpectedly without explanation or name,” Sister Marovec went on. “For the past five years, I haven’t found anyone I felt right about entrusting her life to, and in the meantime she has become the apple of my eye.”
“No name?” Magda asked curiously.
“This is not the case anymore. On her first birthday, I decided to give her my mother’s name, Vera. It means ‘faith’.”
“That’s beautiful,” Magda said. “It suits her.”
The two spoke for a little while longer before Sister Moravec gave Magda an application and the photograph to take home to consider and fill out if she wanted to move forward with adoption.
Sitting in her car tonight with her eyes closed, Magda was happy that the photograph and completed application rested on Magda’s kitchen table ready to be turned in to the orphanage tomorrow. When she opened her eyes, she stepped out of her car, locked it and walked to her front door to enter her apartment. Once inside, she kicked off her shoes and headed straight for the kitchen table to look once more at the face of the child she hoped would become her daughter. Holding the photograph in her hands, she smiled again and let the hope of a brighter tomorrow wash over her. The application was just the first step, she knew, but the lines of Vera’s face made her believe that the hands of destiny were at work and that the child would soon look to her for a mother’s love. Being wrapped up in those pleasant thoughts it startled her all the more to hear her cellphone ringing in her handbag.
Magda put the photograph back on the table and reached inside her bag. She picked it up trepidatiously wondering why someone would call her at this time of night. When she saw the name on the illuminated screen that rested in her hand, she became concerned. Nevertheless, she pressed the answer button and spoke into the phone. “Sydel?” she asked. She listened to the voice on the other end of the line for the next few moments and realized that her trepidation was justified. She could not believe what was being described and asked of her. Though she was full of questions to what she had just heard, the urgency in Sydel’s voice only allowed her to say. “OK. I’ll be there soon.”
With that, Magda hung up the phone, grabbed a different bag from her room, put her shoes back on and reached for her car keys once more. The only thing she knew for certain about what would happen next was that the late night drive she was about to take would not be one where she reminisced about the past.
Pick yourself up
Grab yourself by the collar
With all you can
With all you are
With all you can be
You are here by the love
Of those who came before you
And for the future
Of those who come after you
No time for tears
But shed a few if you must
No time for regrets
But take one last look behind you
No time for fears
But know your weaknesses
For the harvest is here
You just need to ask for it
Reach for it
Cry out for it
Embrace the light
That rains down around you
But you’re too blind to see
Blinded by your own arrogance
Your dependence on yourself
So stand up
And you will not fall again
Never like this
Because He said so
Searching no more
I have found it
The truth of me
The essence of my spirit
It stands before me
In its enormity
Just being this close
It drives vigor
Into my veins
I have but to let go
And let God
To fall into it
Fall where I may
But I don’t
My heart screams “Go”
My mind whispers “Not now”
And so I stand
On the precipice
Of living my dream
The life I only dream of
The weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting Nicole attended in the basement of the Presbyterian church on Chestnut Street was her place of solace – an escape from all of the things she hated about her life and herself. It was in the meeting that she confronted truths about herself, accepted that she needed a new way of living, and discovered her higher power. Still, the specter of alcohol haunted her dreams and reality alike. She didn’t miss waking up in strange places next to even stranger people or having no recollection of several days at a time. Instead, she craved the sweet fiery feel of liquor as it slipped past her lips and onto her tongue for the first time, and the freedom it gave her to be someone very different while it stirred in her blood. In spite of those wants, the meeting allowed her to stay sober for the past five months. But it wasn’t the Big Book, the speakers, the testimonials, or even her higher power that kept Nicole clean. The truth of the matter was that the meeting had given her an even more powerful drug to put in place of alcohol – Jordan.
For the first month of meetings, Jordan sat quietly in the corner of the room – eyes fixed on the floor, staring off into some deep chasm of hurt that existed within. No one seemed to notice Jordan, so Nicole assumed things had been this way for quite some time. Nicole always took note of Jordan’s whereabouts whenever she entered the meeting room. Despite the silence, Nicole found herself drawn to Jordan’s brooding gaze, auburn hair and lean physique.
During one of Nicole’s testimonials a few weeks later, she was shocked to find Jordan looking intently at her as she spoke to the gathering of her battle with alcoholism. To the best of her knowledge, that was the first time Jordan had looked up at anybody. For the remainder of her testimony, her eyes never left Jordan’s. Drawing strength from those intense blue eyes, the words in her heart left her mouth without her mind’s permission for the next several minutes. When she concluded, she peeled her gaze away from Jordan long enough to make her way back to her seat and allow the meeting leader to end that night’s session. Nicole stepped out into the cold night air afterwards and noticed Jordan leaning against a battered old Chevy, taking a deep drag of a freshly lit cigarette. In the cold, the smoke gathered and hung in the air like a fog, slow to dissipate. But when Jordan looked in Nicole’s direction, those icy blue eyes cut through the smoke and seemed to peer right into her soul once more.
Jordan tossed what remained of the cigarette into a small murky puddle of water that formed on the road. The cigarette hissed its disapproval before disappearing into the puddle entirely. Nicole stepped in Jordan’s direction with a mix of trepidation and curiosity spinning through her mind. Before she could get much closer, Jordan’s words sliced through the air and stopped her in her tracks.
“Why did you get those?” Jordan asked while gesturing toward Nicole’s forearms.
Uncertain about what the question was in reference to, Nicole glanced at her arms awkwardly and thought for a moment.
“Faith and fear.” The impatience in Jordan’s tone was tangible.
Nicole then realized that the object of Jordan’s interest were the words she had recently tattooed to the undersides of her forearms. “Faith” on her right forearm, “Fear” on her left. “How did you-”
“You had short sleeves on tonight,” Jordan said with an outstretched index finger aimed at Nicole. The heat in the church basement was turned up unbearably high that night. Nicole had taken her sweater off before she got up to speak, exposing the short sleeve t-shirt she had on underneath. A strange feeling of self-consciousness and delight washed over her when she realized Jordan had noticed her.
Nicole stepped in closer. “They’re the two things that seem to be keeping me in check these days,” Nicole said cautiously, trying hard not to bear too much more of her soul to the pair of blue eyes that stood before her. “Two extremes of the same scale, but both keep me from using.”
Jordan seemed to measure Nicole’s words carefully then stood up straight, no longer leaning on the car. Nicole felt heat rise in her cheeks as Jordan exposed a tattooed hip. Amidst the twisting bodies of red Chinese dragons, Nicole read the words, “Faith” and “Fear”.
The smile they exchanged there in the cold four months ago was the beginning of an uninterrupted string of post-meeting rendezvous. Much to Nicole’s dismay, that string was broken tonight.
Jordan did not attend tonight’s meeting.
Heavy rain pelted the windshield of Nicole’s car as she raced down city blocks heading toward Jordan’s apartment. The thoughts going through her mind, however, raced much faster. She feared the worst, but tried to keep herself composed as she navigated her car through streets that were beginning to flood. She steadied herself by praying, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can…” Saying the words aloud seemed to make the miles go by faster. Nicole hastily parked her car across the street from Jordan’s apartment, and ran out into the rain.
The apartment sat above a flower shop and dry cleaner on a block lit by a series of old street lamps – remnants of the city’s former glory. Though she had never gone inside, Nicole had met Jordan outside the apartment enough times to know which door to enter from the street. Once inside, she climbed the narrow staircase that led to the apartment’s front door. She knocked at the door a few times before she called Jordan’s name. A moment later, Nicole heard the sound of door chains and dead bolts coming undone and the squeal of rusty hinges as the door opened.
What Nicole saw on the other side of the door made her eyes go wide and her heart break.
Jordan stood there crying. Her long auburn hair was disheveled and hanging aimlessly about her shoulders – not pulled back tightly in a ponytail the way Nicole was used to seeing her. The fitted T-shirt she wore was damp and stained in spots. Nicole did not need to guess what was on the shirt – the biting scent of whiskey filled her nostrils the moment the apartment door opened. A near empty black labeled bottle sitting on the kitchen counter in the background only confirmed her suspicion. All of this Nicole could handle. What unnerved her, however, was what Jordan held in her quivering right hand. The slender tattooed fingers of that hand were wrapped around the handle of a handgun.
“I let her go,” Jordan cried. “Today is her birthday, and I let her go!” Her tears pulled the mascara down her cheeks like streams of black water.
“Who?” Nicole asked calmly. She wanted to reach out and touch her, but she was too scared to move. “Who did you let go of?”
“What kind of sick monster carries a human being inside her for ten months and lets her go without even giving her a name?!” Jordan flailed the pistol about the room recklessly as she hurled the question at Nicole. “I didn’t even give her a name!”
Jordan turned and retreated into the kitchen behind her, sobbing intensely. Nicole took the opportunity to step further into the apartment and close the door behind her. But a fleeting moment was all she had. Just as quickly as she retreated, Jordan came back towards Nicole with what looked to be fury, but what Nicole knew to be the pain of a love lost before it was fully known.
“I’m a monster!” Jordan roared. “A devil who traded away the life of her daughter just so nothing would get in the way of my next fix…of my next mindbender! And I didn’t even give her a name!” With that, Jordan pressed the gun into her temple.
Tears filled Nicole’s eyes. Seeing the woman she had grown to love relapse and falling apart made her heart hurt. But in that hurt, Nicole discovered a courage that welled up inside her. She stepped towards Jordan slowly and deliberately. Jordan’s blue eyes began pulling the words out of Nicole’s heart once more. “Then name her. Right here and now. Name her!”
Jordan looked at Nicole for a long lingering moment, then closed her eyes and spoke through sobs, “I…can’t.”
“I’m not going to let you run from your fears and give up on yourself.” Nicole closed the distance between them and placed a hand softly on Jordan’s cheek. With her other hand, she gently lowered the gun away from Jordan’s head. Jordan’s eyes opened and met Nicole’s. “Name her. Don’t let her continue to be the object of your fears. Make her real.”
Jordan took a deep breath and looked at the person who was desperately trying to bring her back from the brink. She dropped the gun onto the floor and held Nicole’s forearms with her hands instead. With her gaze fixed on Nicole’s arms, Jordan found the strength to give the daughter she gave away years ago a name. “Faith,” she’s said. “I’ll call her, Faith.”
They embraced tightly and held each other for several minutes. In that embrace, Jordan cried some more, then fell silent, and eventually, smiled for the first time in years. She allowed herself to think of Faith in a positive light for the first time in her life. While she would never get to go back and rewrite her own history, she realized that she could spend the rest of her life trying to make amends for the wrongs of her past.
“I often wonder how I ended up so…broken,” Jordan said in a moment of reflection.
Nicole smiled. “Have I ever told you how I ended up in recovery?”
Jordan shook her head. “No. I don’t think you ever have.”
There in that small apartment, Nicole told Jordan about the stranger she ran into a few months ago when she had hit rock bottom and the conversation they had. “One thing he said inspired me to get help,” she said. “He told me it’s the broken people of this world that he has the most hope for…because only broken people can heal.”
I didn’t expect you
But you appeared
Wrapped in an opportunity
I couldn’t see coming
At least not then
Like I do now
The sight of you moved me
You made my heart smile
I started to believe
I could love again
In that way
The one before you
Was loved by me
You challenged me
Tested my patience
Pushed my buttons
Made me laugh
Gave me hope
Taught me about me
All without saying a word
As quickly as you arrived
You’ve flown away
To light the heavens
With your soul
And the endless love
In your heart
For now it’s goodbye
From this earth
But only for a little while
When I’m raised up above
I’ll find you again
The little spirit
Who found me
[For anyone who has ever had to say goodbye to a pet. -M]
Sydel was all too familiar with the clinking of glass. In the last seven years of bartending at taverns and pubs across the city, she had become fluent in the different types of glass clinking sounds and their meanings. There was the high pitched and resonating clink of the Chardonnay glasses, commonly heard at tables with groups of women getting their ‘girls night out’ started. There was the sharp, brief and muted clink of full pint glasses, heard at the bar during Happy Hour as the construction workers from the nearby site congratulated each other on a job well done. There was also the annoying stinging clink of shot glasses slammed down and slid into one another by a wannabe Romeo, not man enough to shoot whiskey, throwing back several fruity shots to impress the ladies at the bar. But the clinking Sydel was most familiar with was the sound all the different types of glasses made when she gathered them into her hands and brought them over to the sink to wash them and dry them, so they could be clinked by patrons of the bar once more.
When she finished washing another basin of glasses, Sydel glanced up at the clock mounted above her on the wall. “Half hour to closing,” she thought to herself as she deciphered the time amidst the neon ring that encircled the face of the clock. As her eyes made their way back down to her work, she paused when she caught a glimpse of herself in the small mirror that hung on the wall, nestled between the bottles of vodka. She stepped in closer to inspect herself. Her short dark brown hair was the same as when she left her house – a light colored bandana held most of it away from her face, and a few pieces fell over her forehead and touched the soft line of her brow. This part of the inspection, however, was only a prelude to the real reason she paused by the mirror. For that, she moved even closer to it and turned her head gently to the right. There, under the neon purple glow of the clock above, was the outline of the bruise around her cheek and temple she so carefully concealed with makeup before she came in.
Six days had passed since he left her with that bruise. “Presents,” he would call them – undoubtedly because he viewed them as such. Each one was a present to himself, reminding him of a time he ‘won’ an argument or simply ‘made his point’. But this ‘present’ would be his parting gift. After six years of fights she could never win and nights without sleep from blinding pain, she decided that she could endure no more, and saw to his arrest. She spent the first two days after his incarceration alone and in bed, hoping her homemade Mind Erasers would kill both the pain in her face and the memories of him. When she realized the drinks did more harm than good by the third day, she came into work, and did so every day since. No one at work asked her where she had been on the nights before or about the bruise on her face she made a futile attempt to hide. Perhaps they didn’t notice. Perhaps they knew the answers already. Or maybe they just didn’t care. It didn’t matter. Tonight, she was pleased the bruise had healed up considerably, and that her face – much like her life – was regaining the semblance of normalcy.
The Thursday night crowd started to dissipate a few hours ago. At this hour, the only patrons remaining were a mix of regulars. Some closed their tabs a while ago but still lingered, dreading whatever it was that awaited them at home. Others, who didn’t know when to say when, sat in their places drinking water hoping to sober up enough to make it home on foot or by taxi. So it surprised Sydel all the more when the side door opened and an unfamiliar face walked in.
He was tall and lean of build, with a darker complexion and thick black hair that was flattened against his head – a byproduct of walking in the rain without an umbrella. His trench coat was sopping wet, causing a small puddle to take form by his feet whenever he stood still for more than a few seconds. He scanned the room around him briefly before making his way to the bar and seating himself on a cushioned bar stool. A gaunt expression had been fixed to his face from the moment he walked in, and the sullen eyes that sat behind his glasses spoke of a great sadness his mouth was reluctant to share. But there was a kindness to his face that was almost palpable to Sydel. So much so that she resisted the urge to remind him it was nearly closing time when he asked her for single malt scotch neat.
He dispatched the first glass quickly and gestured with his hand at Sydel for another. She lingered near him a bit longer than she had when she brought him the first glass – curiosity surely was to blame. She did this by wiping the bar down from the end closest to him. Her eyes swept over the lines of his face and frame. His gray coat seemed to dry quickly, revealing some smudges and stains the rain had done a splendid job of covering up. She proceeded to get closer to him as she worked the rag over the wooden bar, feeling the damp remnants of spilled spirits and ales on her skin as the rag sucked them up hungrily. He held the whiskey glass delicately in place against the bar with the thumb and middle finger of his right hand, just as he had the first glass. But Sydel’s new vantage point and the time that had passed since this stranger came in from the rain afforded her a view of his left hand that brought her cleanup of the bar to an abrupt halt.
His left hand rested in his lap awkwardly. The full weight of it did not press into his thighs – he held it up intentionally and carefully. The pale yellow light of the fixture that hung above him revealed the sparkle of small shards of glass that pierced his skin randomly from knuckles to wrist. Thin rivulets of blood streamed down from the shards, soaking into the dark fabric of his pants. A faded gold wedding band sat loosely on his ring finger, marred by some sizable dents in the metal. The sight of his hand made her heart hurt as a deluge of memories and experiences rushed through her mind. Sydel was no stranger to the sight of broken glass or bleeding skin – quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” The sound of the man’s voice ripped her from her thoughts into the realization that her closer examination of his hand had not gone unnoticed. He was looking right at her, peering into her eyes calmly. A faint smile had appeared on his face.
“Not really,” she blurted as she resumed cleaning the bar, hoping her stare from before had not exposed too much of the fascination she had for his left hand. “Then again, I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about, and I’ve got to close out, so-”
“It’s amazing how so many of us are…broken things.”
It was then that Sydel realized the man had taken note of what was left of the bruise on her face. While her instinct told her to turn away from him, a strange sense of relief washed over her, compelling her to stand her ground. For the first time since she returned to work, someone had acknowledged her and her pain. And in that acknowledgment, she found a freedom she had not experienced before. She put the sodden rag down on the bar beside her and walked over to stand face to face with the stranger. “So what of it? Broken is just another way of saying hopeless.”
“On the contrary…hope is the one thing that our futures are full of,” he said as he swallowed the last sip of his scotch. He reached into a pocket of his coat with his right hand and pulled out his wallet to pay her. He fumbled the wallet with his good hand as he tried to take out the cash. Seeing him struggle, Sydel reached over the bar, took the wallet from him and pulled out enough money to cover the drinks and a modest tip for her. She waited for him to nod his approval at the amount she withdrew before folding the wallet up and returning it to him.
“What makes you so sure about the hope?” she asked as he rose slowly from his seat.
He paused for a moment and glanced at his wounded hand, then leaned in close as if to whisper a secret in her ear. “Only broken things can be healed,” he said, “and healing requires hope.” His eyes referenced the fading bruise on her face once more. “It would seem you’re quite aware of this already, yes?”
Sydel noticed the smile on the stranger’s face had widened when he leaned away from her. Another moment passed before she noticed something else quite unexpected. For the first time in a long while, she smiled from the inside out. She did not know how or why – something in the man’s words had unearthed an emotion long since buried within her. While savoring that feeling, she almost failed to notice that he had made his way to the side door to leave. She pulled her thoughts back into the present situation fast enough to call out to him, “Wait…your hand-”
“Richard,” the man said. “My name…is Richard.”
The door closed behind him with hardly a sound.
Sydel looked at the empty bar stool before her and smiled once more. Two empty whiskey glasses sat on the bar, right where Richard had left them. She reached over and gathered them together with her hands to take them to the sink. The glasses clinked. “That’s a new one,” she thought. “The soft and subtle clink of hope.”
Into our hands each one was entrusted,
A precious treasure from Heaven above.
With sweet little faces cast in our image,
They teach us all how simply to love.
We hold on well to our precious treasures,
Watching them grow by day and by night.
The world in their eyes is so full of wonder,
Yet to us they are its most blissful sight.
We stand in awe as they start to imagine,
Color the world and brighten our homes.
Unburdening us with their childish laughter -
They make us smile with their smiles alone.
We hurt inside and tears fill our eyes
When from us a precious treasure departs.
It matters not if they were our own,
Seeing them go breaks our spirits and hearts.
So when we cry as these little gifts leave,
And reel from a pain that cuts deep as bone,
A great truth of the world is revealed -
These precious treasures were never ours alone.
For each lovely child parents have in their lives
Is a treasure that comes to them through birth.
But the power children have to enlighten their lives
Can also shine light across the Earth.
No matter the cost, these gifts we must guard
That they might help cast this world anew.
Remembering all the while, we’re here only because
We were all once precious treasures too.
[Inspired by the tragic events of the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school shooting. No words of mine can offer solace to the family members and loved ones of the children who perished. I just want them to know that I grieve with them, as I know many of you do. -M]
My eyelids fall
There you are
In bits and pieces
In clips and phrases
The lines of your hips
The curve of your smile
The shape of your fingers
The sound of your laughter
My senses come alive
Yet I search for breath
It was swept away
Along with my heart
Stolen by you
In an instant
Never to be returned
My eyelids rise
Here you are not
And you won’t be
Until I blink again
I breathe you in.
You fill my lungs with the sweet scent of falling leaves and cold earth.
You renew me -
The crisp breeze made flesh that moves and refreshes me.
My kaleidoscope -
You draw out the color in my world my eyes alone could never see.
You break me down.
With word and deed you drive me to the ground that I might rise again stronger.
I am helpless before you.
You sweep in and tilt my world on its side effortlessly.
You comfort me.
The textures of warmth and love and home find their beginnings in your touch.
I savor you.
The way you seep into the whole of my being – my breath, my thoughts, my senses.
I wait for you.
Each moment we’re apart, I long for you…
My Eternal Autumn.