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Category Archives: Short Fiction

Solitary Confinement

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“I don’t even care anymore. They can go kill each other. I swear I won’t even care. I won’t even cry.”

I put my phone beside me on my bed and breathed out slowly. They were duking it out in the kitchen again. It didn’t seem to matter that we lived in a three-floor house, the kitchen being the furthest from the stairs leading to the upper landing. The shouting during their “discussions” permeated the floorboards and traveled up the heating ducts. Closing doors and covering your ears with a pillowdoesn’t help. I should know.

And so my room became my refuge, a place free from whatever storm was raging outside of its walls. No matter how angry they got, I always knew that I could walk into my room, sit on my bed, and forget they existed. And I always knew that Rhea would be there, ready to help me with my homework, watch a movie, or just talk.

Without her, my room was beginning to feel more like a prison. An empty silence had taken over the house. No Backstreet Boys blaring from the stereo, Rhea singing along. The space above her bed was bare, clear of the posters that now hung in her dorm at the university. Our walk-in closet was now three quarters empty; she always had more clothes, and I used to borrow from her instead of buying my own. Now the closet was too big; a lot like everything else in my life. Her bed was across from mine, and some nights I would stare at the empty space, wishing for her so that I could have someone to talk to.

“….how bad is it this time?” Rhea texted back. I shrugged, but then remembered that she couldn’t see me. The truth was I had no idea what they were fighting about. I had lost track of who-did-what after Rhea left. I walked to the door and stuck my head out into the hall. I could hear Dad’s deep voice, his words slow and measured. That always pissed Mom off; she felt like he was treating her like a child. I strained to make out his words.

“…….and we’re not getting anywhere. Nowhere. So we can keep yelling or we can do something.” I heard a snort. Mom.

“You know what? Do something. Get up, get out of this house, do something. Nothing’s ever good enough for you, so why don’t you change it?” Her voice went up at the end, and I could imagine her, standing at the opposite end of the kitchen counter, one hand on her hip, eyes blazing. Dad would have his head in his hands, leaning his elbows on the counter. He would still be in one of his two work uniforms; both were faded from spending too much time in the washer.

It was always like that with them; Mom would be angry, Dad would be patronizing, which would make her even angrier, which would lead to further patronizing, until Mom stomped off to her room or Dad left. When we were kids, I would always cry when he left. I was afraid that he would never come back, and Rhea would stand with me at the door until he did. My dad wasn’t perfect; I knew that now. But as a kid, he was the one who came home with ice cream as a surprise, the one who taught me how to rollerblade. And the idea of him walking out of my life forever was enough to make me stop eating for a week. That was when I still cared. Now, if either of them decided to leave, I would feel relief; maybe they would remember I existed.

I shut the door and locked it. I tossed my phone onto the bed and looked around the room for some sort of distraction. Staring at the bare walls, twin beds, and the black writing desk that was never used for writing, I realized that the room was beginning to resemble a prison cell. I walked to the window and pulled up the blinds. As I did, I noticed a thin layer of dust had formed on it and the writing desk.

Opening the window, I took a deep breath. A musty odour had taken over my room, and the windows were beginning to look more translucent than transparent. It had been a cloudy day, and the clouds cast a dark shadow on the houses. A sea of yellow dandelions had taken over the backyard, the only thing that had bothered to grow. Year after year. Mom had a gardening phase at once. She tried to grow pansies, tulips and any other seed she got her hands on. The third week into summer vacation, she joined the community book club, leaving the flowers in the care of an eight year old. The plants didn’t make it out of the ground.

The phone on my bed vibrated. Reluctantly, I left the window. Picking up the phone, I felt an unfamiliar openness in my chest.

“That bad?” she texted. I forgot that I hadn’t replied. I immediately punched back a reply, knowing that if I didn’t, she would call me to hear if I was still alive. Rhea was all about honest feelings and talking things out. They never used to fight as much as they have been, now that she’s gone. She used to play the mediator, trying to understand what they were going on about.

“No, sorry, they’re fine……or not.” I paused. “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” I wasn’t their mediator. Let them fight it out. When they were done, I would grab something to eat and go to sleep. Some nights lasted hours and I would go to bed on an empty stomach.

It took me a few seconds to hear it, but then the yelling got louder and I could make out their words clearly. Their quarrels had become the soundtrack of my life, but this wasn’t arguing anymore. My dad rarely yelled, but now I could hear him over my mom. I felt something prickling my stomach. I heard the scrape of a chair on the ground, and his heavy footsteps on the stairs. I was barely aware of my phone vibrating in my hand.

Someone was fumbling with the doorknob.I remembered locking the door, and was dimly aware that I should go open it. But my body remained rooted to the bed. I heard my dad’s voice on the other side, but I couldn’t make out his words anymore. I don’t know how long he stood there. Then I heard his slow steps moving away, back down the stairs. I heard the sound of the front door opening, and then shutting. The sound of the car engine coming to life drifted through the open window. The crunch of the wheels on the gravel, growing distant. And then silence. Inside and out.

My phone was ringing. I didn’t move to answer it. For once, I just sat there, staring at the white walls, wondering why I didn’t paint it another colour after Rhea left. I leaned back on the wall, the open window letting a light breeze into the room. The sky had turned a darker shade of grey, hinting at a storm on its way. The phone went dead. I closed my eyes and, breathing out slowly. And then it began to ring. Again. This time, I answered.

“Hello? Hello? Hey, Taryn? You there?” I felt my throat constrict. Breathe, I told myself. Breathe. Everything’s fine. “Tary, you’re really scaring me. Are you okay?” I opened my mouth to tell her I was fine. I was just overreacting. I knew he would be back. And even if he didn’t, I wouldn’t care.

But this time, I knew he was gone. Gone forever. And so I opened my mouth.

And cried.

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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Short Fiction

 

Life from Rain

The sky was blue yesterday. It peeked through the drawn curtains in the classroom, teasing me. I wanted to sit outside and study. A classroom with no walls and natural air conditioning. The sound of cars would definitely effect the nature classroom thing, but it wouldn’t be as artificial as the stone floor and wobbly desks that we use. At any rate, I was sure that it would be better than this.

Fast forward twenty-four hours and I am hugging my wobbly chair and loving the artificial roof. It is raining cows and elephants outside, the sky a heavy gray and the sun completely blanketed by the dark clouds. There is no sense of time when it rains. Drop after drop the rain falls, dragging time stubbornly along with it. Morning blends with the afternoon, minutes stretch into hours, and the whole world seems to be at an eternal standstill.

I wonder how many plans the rain ruined today? Maybe a celebration picnic outdoors. No sitting on the grass today, that’s for sure. A field trip to the zoo, or an outdoor sports game. I could see it playing in my mind. “She’s sprinting down the field. The defence is slipping in the mud. There’s the opening. Good speed, perfect angle. She shoots, and—oh! She slips on the mud! What an upset! The rain is really taking prisoners today.” Perhaps a tree-planting group must postpone their meeting today. Or the thief who was going to case the bank. Although I would expect the thief to be a better planner than that. Check the Weather Network. There’s a seven-day forecast for a reason.

The rain is probably not appreciated here, I thought, because we know that it’ll be back. If it falls today, well, it’ll probably be back in a week or two. What a luxury. The idea of a drought is foreign to us. If we could collect barrels of the rain and ship it to the drier lands, we would be hailed as heroes. The drips of water that ruin our perfectly done hair and dirty our brand new shoes are the unsung rhythm of life. Here, in North America, just as much as in the rest of the world. It’s just that, like everything else, we have more than enough of it. Water bottles. Drinking fountains. Filters in every building. Tap water. Flavoured water. We can bathe everyday and not worry about running out of water. Can we imagine our lips chapped and our throats dry, begging for something wet to sooth them? Cracked skin, unwashed bodies, hollow bellies. Where there is no water, no food as well. Shaking limbs and hardened hearts. More cut-throat than the corporate world. Do what you have to, if you want food on your plate. Empathy is imposed. Sympathy dried up long ago, with the rivers and the crops that are now limp stalks of nothing. Skeletons of livestock, no longer alive but still haunting. Take a look at your arms, your toothpick limbs. You see where you’re headed. What you would do for some rain. Those sweet drops of clean, pure water. You would open your mouth wide and soak it up like a dried sponge. You would stand in the middle of an open field, nothing in between you and the pouring sky. You would love the rain. You would never put a hood over your head, mutter darkly about the curses of being wet. You would know what it was like, being deprived of it for so long. No umbrella for you. You would welcome the rain like a lost friend, clinging on until it is time to go. Not relief when it stops falling, but an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Rain did not ruin your day. It saved it.

The bell rings and I pack up for the weekend. Standing at the door, I watch the rain splash as it hits the pavement. It is transparent, but always there, a wall of water. I put my umbrella in my backpack and take off my jacket. Rushing through the doors, I do not feel it right away. And then it hits me. Again and again. Like bullets against my skin. I can feel it through my clothes, through my shoes. I turn my face upwards, towards the open sky. I feel my face opening up, my lips slowly parting. I taste the rain as it lands lightly on my tongue. I smile to myself. This is what life tastes like.

I hear someone stop beside me. I turn my head to look. An old man stands beside me, his face turned up to the sky. The rain drops land on his round glasses, a smile playing softly on his lips. Hands in his pockets, he turns to me.

”It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he asks. I watch as the rain lands on his face, watch as he takes off his glasses. No umbrella, no jacket. What a sight we must be, I wonder.

”For all of our theology, our philosophy,” he slowly continues, “for all of our science, can we ever explain rain?” He looks at me, and I wonder if this is a rhetorical question. His slow manner of speaking relaxes me. He sighs, puts his hand on his wet face.

”What is rain?” Water, I think to myself. Water falling from the sky. Drips of evaporated rivers, coming back to us again. I think of those dried up rivers, those starving plants, animals and people. Water. It is more than water. I touch my wet clothes, feeling a little cold.

I see a smile forming on his lips, as though he could see something that I couldn’t. Slowly he turns, walking away with his hands firmly in his pockets. I watch him go, a small hunched figure taking his time in the rain that has chased so many others away. I smile. What is rain? I ask myself. I feel the cold seeping into my bones and shiver. Walking home, I remember the man’s question, the way he looked at the rain as though he was seeing something else. Something bigger, something greater. I think of the first rain after a drought, and smile. The droplets of rain, bringing back what was gone, what was dead. The light in the faces of the people, a revival of spirit. The rain bringing something more than wet grass and drinking water.

The rain brought life.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2011 in Short Fiction

 
 
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