The End

I walk up the flight of stairs and through the hallway. The sensor lights come on one after the other as I make my way up each floor. The building is as empty as midnight, bearing no signs of life. Here, I will not be seen, making my way step by step and up through different floors. The lights flicker as they come on, but there is no sign of people. With only a window to the outside, I turn around to look through the large stainless glass, to witness the occurrences of the evening but there are none. The ground outside is cold, peppered with rocks and an unfinished cement sidewalk which has been in the same condition for months.

When I arrive at my door, I turn the keys slowly. There is no rush to enter into anonymity, no need to hurry into silence. The winds outside create a low whistling, with the soothing whooshing of the trees the only sound in the distance. I turn on the light in the doorway and see my reflection in the window. My vision is blurred by distance and weakened eyes, the silhouette of my stature appearing as it always does. I close the front door, turn the lights off and stand quietly in the darkness. I can no longer see anything. I take a couple of steps in through the apartment and find the couch without much difficulty. I put down my work bag, and look in the direction of the wall facing my bed. I am soon engulfed by the darkness, weightless as air as I sit patiently. Emptiness surrounds me and I am left without sense. Slowly, my thoughts leave me one after the other until I am void. I am almost asleep when suddenly, I hear loud voices from the neighboring apartment.
“Surprise!” they scream and shout in unison before clapping.

Things we aren’t told

I was about 17 when I first saw him. He never talked to the other neighbors or chatted with anyone. I heard from my girlfriend at the time that he lived alone and that he had recently lost his wife. There was nothing extraordinary about his appearance but every time I walked past him, I felt gripped by a cloud of anxiety and silence. I would stare at him awkwardly not knowing whether to drop my head, say hello, or keep walking nonchalantly.

I never said hello and more often than not, I dropped my head to avoid awkward eye contact. Still I noted his appearance every time I saw him. He seemed quietly desperate, almost bursting with something but I couldn’t figure out what. When I was told he had recently lost his wife, I felt immense pity. Imagining a life of such startling sadness was difficult. I was hardly an adult and this man had seemingly suffered beyond my comprehension of what life could do to people given the chance to go awry.

I feared such an existence but also wondered what sparked the silence around him. Being fairly innocent, I assumed he was just weird or that something else was wrong with him. Maybe he was simply crazy and everything that happened to him could never happen to someone like me; someone so favored by luck and good fortune.

He was worlds away when he would walk past and I let him disappear from my mind for weeks only to be reminded of him when we would occasionally cross paths in the neighborhood. My life was so busy with parties, friends and fun that I had no time to wonder about the fate of such men.

One day, while I was feeling particularly happy, I felt the need to acknowledge him so I said hello. He didn’t say anything back. I considered if he was rude or maybe even a snob. How could this weird guy think he was better than me? He hadn’t given that kind of impression before. I set aside my feelings and settled on the thought that he was probably strange, just as I had imagined earlier, or arrogant.

Soon after 9/11 happened, things changed forever. Our lives were never to be the same and tragedy had struck through the middle of our city and through the heart of my fragile young existence. People disappeared from each other’s lives and society had been rocked at its foundation. I didn’t understand much about what had happened and how it would impact us.

One evening, I was walking through the neighborhood with my girlfriend when I saw him again. She greeted him and he smiled and waved. I turned to her surprised.
“You know him? He’s weird” I said, taken aback.
“I know. I feel bad for him,” she said.
I wondered if he lost more family in the terror attacks.
“I know he lost his wife. I hope he didn’t lose more family?” I said.
She looked at me and her tone changed. I felt the strange silence again. I turned around to see him walking off in his yellow polo shirt and khaki shorts, alone as always.
“Many years ago, a plane crashed in the Potomac river. He jumped in the water and tried to drag people to safety. A lot of them died in his arms. He’s a hero. I didn’t tell you this?”

 

Don Quixote’s laboratory

Don Quixote entered the science lab on a broom.
“No brooms in here”, he was told immediately by a scientist, horrified at the sight of the strange Quixote.
“Where many I tie my horse, then, good sir? Perhaps to the side of the barn?”, Quixote spoke with refined elegance, eloquent in his timid question.
“Give it to me!”, the scientist shouted, snatching Quixote’s broom.
“You shall not butcher my animal, good sir”, Quixote said, marching towards the scientist.
“I can’t experiment on a broom”, the scientist said, confused.
“Thank you”, Quixote replied, feeling assured of the safety of his “animal”.
“Follow me, Mr Quixote. I believe you had requested an appointment to see the gerbils”, the scientist began a quick paced shuffle into the laboratory.
“I have heard of that pigs that are capable of scaling and standing firm on windmills”, Don Quixote said, once again making his royal presence heard.
“Yes…Pigs”, the scientist smirked before turning the corner.

The room was a physiology lab, designed by veterinarians to conduct research and medical treatment on animals.
“And finally!”, Quixote shouted. “There is my Pig! Release him at once.”, he stomped his foot and demanded.
“Absolutely not”, the scientist said, standing firm. “If you like, I can have him put on a treadmill and he can run a little”, he said, unsure of how to calm Quixote down.
“I shall witness no such thing.”, Quixote snatched the broom from the scientist’s hand and smashed the glass cage with the rounded wooden end.
The gerbil ran out through the corridor with Quixote following sprinting closely behind. Soon the scientist stopped giving chase, watching Don Quixote on his broom and the gerbil flee from the laboratory.
“Free at last, my little pig”, Quixote said outside the laboratory, petting the gerbil.
The gerbil bit Quixote on the finger and scurried off through the grass.

Drive

We drive around in his car with no real direction. There isn’t anything we particularly want to see or anywhere we even want to go. We do this once every few months. I grab a drink from the store, and jump into the front seat. Usually, we greet each other with a smile but today he doesn’t smile back, appearing more focused than I have seen him in a long time. Sometimes, there are others whom he brings along, friends of his from work or from school but this time it’s just the two of us. We talk for a couple of minutes but trail off into silence.

There isn’t much we ever really wanted from our lives. Our stories and backgrounds are similar and we met as friends in different parts of the world, by chance and circumstance. Our failed pursuits follow us wherever we go. We haven’t amounted to much so far but in this world, with our windows rolled down, the wind blowing through the small car, and the sunshine sparkling down around us, we have found a temporary escape from our unpleasant realities. This is the peace and tranquility afforded by good weather and accidental tradition.

The music blares from the speakers and I sink into the seat. I don’t care for a smoke. Within a few minutes, clouds appear, and the sunshine turns to rainfall. We keep driving until the weather turns wilder. He pulls the car over under a small bridge as balls of hail fall from the sky. It is nothing too surprising for this time of year, and we wait for the inclement weather to pass. He turns down the music.  We can hear the hail rattling down onto the street in violent spurts with ice splattering the road. There are no cars for around, no people, just trees and a few old houses.

When the weather clears dramatically and the sunshine reemerges, more powerful than before, the car once again becomes hot and summer rears its head from behind the clouds. He speeds up and the streets appear dry, as if untouched by rain or hail. I wonder if this is how my life should be, if we should have waited out the hailstorm or just moved forward for something unusual to our typical drives. I don’t know if it will hail next time, or if we will even share such a ride again. An electric energy runs through me as he drops me off at my home. I feel invigorated by the fresh wind.
“Next time, I’ll just drive through it.”, he says, looking over to me and smiling.

Peas in a pod

We were close friends with the world to gain. Parties, weekends, and friends were just a few of the pleasantries we shared. As teenagers, we lived like peas in a pod, but more like a mismatched pairing fused into a whole, eclectic being. We never passed judgment on each other when we met to share the stories of our young lives and the excitement that built around school, relationships, and the debauchery we could indulge in, as innocent as we were. I listened carefully when she told me about her relationship with older men. She was concerned when I told her about the fights and trouble I would get into but no matter the worries or hardships, we always ended the night laughing, hugging, and parting ways happy to have seen each other.

As we grew older and moved on with our lives, I stopped seeing her as much as I wanted to. I heard rumors about her well-being, as I am sure she heard about mine. She lived in the corner of my mind, holding a small but firm space within my life and memories of brighter and more care free times. We eventually lost touch for a few years and I began to stop wondering about her and our times together as friends. Sometimes, I thought I saw her from the corner of my eye but when I looked closer, it would always be a stranger.

A few days ago, I was riding the bus home from work when a car pulled up next to my window seat at a stop light. It was a small, rickety vehicle with little holding it together. A young girl sat in the front seat. Her silhouette appeared identical to my old friend, and for a brief moment I thought it was her so I knocked on the bus window to catch her attention. When I noticed a small stream blood on her forearm, I stopped knocking. I couldn’t see her face but I thought she was hurt so I kept looking to see what I could. We were separated by the glass, my world to hers. As the large arm of a man reached over to shift the car into gear, the girl brandished a needle, poking it into her arm. I gasped in shock at the sight of her seated stoned cold the passenger seat. Before the car took off, she came into view. She was beautiful and pale as she looked up from her lap. Her eyes were cold to the sunlight and she looked straight down the road into oblivion. It wasn’t the girl I had known.

Many Years

The rum drips down the front of my shirt. It is warm spring, a season for celebration but I am alone on my front porch. I swipe at my chin with my forearm, the thick liquid sticking to my shirt sleeve. The cool brown alcohol slides into my gut but almost comes back up. The sip I took was too large, and the liquor from the night before refuses to share space inside my stomach. I should have put more ice cubes in my drink.

My red lawn chair is out of place but I sit on it regardless, my ashtray blooming like a spring flower, an assortment of brown and white cigarette butts poking out from the glass. I lean back into the sunshine with nothing to cover my eyes. My arms are thick and musty, the unwashed skin smelling of stale cologne and sweat. The sunlight proves too strong so I get up and stumble, blowing out the last puff of smoke before making my way into my condo.

Inside, I step onto the stained carpet that has been tread upon thousands of times by dirty shoes and bare feet, with ashes and splashes of drinks. It feels thick and soft beneath my feet. I look across the television. A game of baseball is on. It will be a long season and I never get caught up in the details of the game for long enough, as much as I would like to.

It won’t be long before they’re here. They said they would arrive within the hour but I can’t remain standing. I fall asleep thinking about my leather-bound desk chair. It has endured, but unlike the folding chair outside, this one hasn’t been rained or snowed upon. Simply sat on for hours. The leather is cracked, still holding firm to the metal and plastic frame keeping it upright. I am startled from my sleep by the sound of knocking. I propel myself up from the flower printed sofa mattress, a couch refusing to fit in with the rest of the decor, and open the door.

First Dates

Maria called William out of the blue one Monday morning. They hadn’t seen each other in forty years. The years gone by had brought sweeping changes but William concluded that it wouldn’t hurt to meet her. They decided to see each other in a small café.

William arrived first, unsure of himself but sitting patiently with a newspaper in hand. He looked over the current events section. Avoiding the obituaries had become a pattern over the years, not wanting to see familiar names printed within the pages.

Maria’s hair was streaked grey and William wore a hat to cover what little was left on his head. She appeared from nowhere, surprising him just the way she had years ago. He didn’t take her hand and they didn’t hug. She simply sat in front of him, a large smile appearing on her face. It hadn’t changed in the slightest over the years.
“You want ice cream? A scoop of vanilla and a scoop of chocolate, wasn’t it?”, William asked, embarrassed that he still remembered her tastes.
“How on earth do you remember that?”, Maria said, bursting out laughing in pleasant surprise.
“I’m old, but not senile.”, he replied, grinning.

It was freezing outside but they removed their coats and sat across from each other, digging their spoons into the glass bowls.
“I never thought I would see you again.”, he said abruptly. The cafe was full but had fallen silent.
“I didn’t know if you would ever want to.”, she said.
William looked down into his bowl, swirling the strawberry shortcake with his spoon.
“Why didn’t you ever call earlier me then?”, he asked.
“I couldn’t wait forever, William. You were always around but never really there. I could never get through to you. I told you what I wanted but you didn’t move fast enough.”, she replied, ashamed but shaking herself into a stern posture.
“Why did you choose this place to meet?”, he asked, knowing that they had been on their first date there decades ago.
“I just thought it was a nice place that we might both know.”, she replied, searching his eyes for any hint of his memories. They sat in silence for a few seconds before they tried speaking. They stumbled over each other’s words and went quiet again.
“I can’t believe they’ve stayed open so long. Everything else has gone out of business from our days in school.”, he said, looking around.
She dropped her gaze to the floor. She didn’t care about businesses.
“I used to bring my kids here.”, William said, trying to change the subject.
“Me too!”, she said, almost shouting in delight. “But my husband is gone now, and my kids hardly ever call. I’m always chasing them just to hear their voice.”, she said.
“I’m sorry to hear.”, he said. “I never got that far.”
“You never got married?”, she asked.
“Never. Got engaged once but never married. Don’t regret it one bit. I’m happy having my kids but relationships….”, he said, stopping himself and laughing.
Maria looked away saddened.
“I’m sure you made a good dad.”, she remarked.
“You think so? I’m not really the patient type.”, he said, putting his hand on the table and looking at their reflection in the cafe window. The wrinkles on his face pressed together as he smiled.
“I’m happy to be able to see you after all these years.”, she said.
“You going to finish that?”, he said, pointing to Maria’s bowl of ice cream.
“Glad to see you haven’t changed a bit”, she said, laughing and shaking her head.

Incidents

“Life will kick me down he had said”, Samuel spoke into the glass. “Get back up he had also said”, Samuel said, looking down at his breath covering the window with a film of fog. The words had lost meaning. He only repeated them to himself. He had heard somewhere that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. “I have been punched in the face plenty”, Samuel said. “And I have never dropped. I never stopped”, he said. “Never broke, hardly bent, never came to a halt requiring a moment of silence or any pity”, he assured the man who was standing behind him. Samuel said he was ready to take on day after day, ready to take on the world, and ready to take on his life. “There is little to stop me from rolling, barging endlessly into the unknown with confidence and coming out on top”, he said, clenching his teeth.

The doctor nodded without any emotion.
“Do you feel like you’re up now? Do you remember anything from the incident?”, the doctor asked Samuel. Samuel shook his head, thinking the doctor was playing a joke on him.
“I shouldn’t be here, man. I should be out there”, Samuel said, pointing out into the building’s parking lot. It was a windy and rainy evening, and not a soul was to be seen outside.
“I’ll give you time to think it over. You’ve been through a lot and you should probably lay down and rest.”
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. I cannot be defeated”, Samuel said, patting his chest.
The doctor bowed his head slowly before walking out of the room. Samuel expected resistance and protests to his stance and began shaking. The blue ceiling lights flickered, the white sheets on his bed sterile and uninviting. He looked out into the evening through the window. He could hardly see himself in the reflection.

Survival

art-prompt-for-writing-cotnest

*I wrote this story for a flash fiction contest based on the work of artist Adam Kluger*

I gave him my back as I always did when I could no longer bear to look him in his face, even after years of looking up to him in admiration. He was my father, the only man I truly respected, and the only one whose expectations I could never seem to live up to. I was nearing forty, he was well into his sixties but age was insignificant in our relationship. I closed my eyes to think back to our days as children, on the beach building sandcastles and playing in the water in a setting of bright sunshine. This was my place of happiness. He was always in the backdrop, detached from us through work, on the phone or reading his newspaper. He seldom looked up to see what we were doing but we paid full attention when he did.
This was the first time I turned without anger or without a feeling of inadequacy. I had aspired to be like him, to be a commanding figure in the eyes of my children but never lived up to the larger than life image in my mind. Now, after all these years of seeing him on rare occasion, he was present and had offered me undivided attention. He had greeted me with a firm handshake as he always did. After an hour of dinner without a hint of distress where we had laughed together more than I could ever remember, I was left disappointed and hurt. More than anything, I was terrified. My father was only human.
“Don’t worry, son.” he had said looking me straight in the eyes. “The doctors say there is still a chance I may somehow survive.”