the End of the World (as we know it)

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John Vicary is the pseudonym of an author from Michigan. He began publishing poetry in the fifth grade and has been writing ever since. He’s published in many fiction compendiums, but his most recent credentials include short fiction in the collection “The Longest Hours”, “Anthology of the Mad Ones” , “Midnight Circus” and issues of “Alternating Current”, “Timeless Tales”, and the Birmingham Arts Journal. He has stories in upcoming issues of Disturbed Digest, “Creepy Weird Horror Stories”, a charity anthology entitled “Second Chance”, and “Dead Men’s Tales”. He is the proud parent of five kids. You can read more of his work at  keppiehed.com.

 

Chasing Butterflies

“I’m going to tell you a story,” he’d say. “One with a princess and a tiny gold dragon—”

“Butterflies,” you’d insist, every time. It was something of a game.

He would groan, slightly less amused. “Not again. Aren’t you tired of that? At least let me tell you one with fairies or something a  little bit magical. What do you say?”

But you would smile and shake your head and he’d give in, just like you both knew he would. And he would tell you stories of his trips down the Amazon, of how he hiked through a dappled forest in Paraguay in search of the rarest of them all. He never understood that no fairy tale could ever compare to his own adventures, that you were content to imagine him in the exotic flora of a world you would never see for yourself.

“You’ll come with me someday. I need a navigator, you know,” he would say. “Sometimes the river floods and washes away the footpaths, and I could use some help with the maps. You’ll love it. Cool under pressure, you are. That’s my girl. My little girl.”

You’d nod, but your eyes were already closed to sleep, your dreams full of floating.

You were sick then, too sick, but he wouldn’t admit it. He could never accept those things. Not that you blamed him. He was made for chasing butterflies, and that’s how you liked him best. He wanted to tell stories, make it right, but the end came anyway and the day you died he cried as no one has cried before or since. You wanted to tell him that, later. You saw how much he missed you. You thought he might want to know that.

Sometimes you think he knows you are there. It’s hard to leave when he still holds onto the memory of you. You see him staring at the space you left behind. You see him sitting in the dark.

His actions are without meaning now, like when he sat for days and days bent over his worktable. You watched over his shoulder as he picked apart the wings of the very creatures he loved. The morpho rhetenor flaked under his watchful gaze and unwavering hand. In the end he crumbled whatever he had made into his fist, the blue dust rising in iridescent elegy.

“I’m going to tell you a story,” you whisper, and sometimes, once in awhile, you think that maybe he can hear you through the static of his grief. You will keep trying until you finish the tale, until he hears that there is a happy ending. You have not disappeared, you are just floating. Until then you are never far, and you hope that while he sleeps his dreams are full of floating, too.

 

In Consolation

If it had not been for the larkspur, they might have forgotten. There had been a chance that this July would have been the first to go unmarked in a slew of years that added up to an ocean’s worth of time as uncountable as the tide itself. Tears might be tallied, and shovelfuls of dirt, but not the static between seconds that stretched into infinity. It seemed that they existed more in that space, not less, and people could only offer casseroles in consolation. The larkspur bloomed as it did every season, the blue blossoms a reminder of eyes now closed.

 

What Remains

They threw me off the hay truck about noon after we’d been riding the rutted roads for the better part of six hours. They gave me a dented canteen still mostly full of warm water and pointed me north to a border that no one but me wanted to cross. I shook hands with all of them except Wilford and I would have watched them pull away, but there wasn’t any point. They were already gone, whether I watched it happen or not. I hitched my pack onto the shoulder that wasn’t broken and started walking.

A different sort of man might have enjoyed the scenery; the ruined path that had proffered pain in the riding now provided a breathtaking vista by foot. Perhaps that same man would have taken the chance to turn inward along the way to examine the thoughts and conscience that had led him to undertake such an arduous journey. I was not such a man, however, and I walked northward with a numbness of purpose. Each step was a buffer against pangs and ruminations until I found myself alone in some dark unknown place.

Even a man such as I must rest sometimes, and that place between sleep and dreams is when memory lays down the weapons of day and allows unwelcome remembrance to breach the gate. There is nothing left in this wide world during the nighttime except the star lanterns shining overhead; that is when what is left of you crept in. I saw your face in Andromeda and Virgo, and the cloud veil hid your smile. I knew then that they were right to leave me at the border. They were right about all the things they’d said. Even Wilford hadn’t been half wrong, but I’d broken my hand in two places against his jaw trying to shut him up and make the words stick in his throat. It hadn’t worked.

The next morning the stars had burned themselves out against the trenchant dawn, and I was alone again. This time, I hefted my pack onto the injured shoulder and pretended the tears were for that tender broken spot. A slight breeze brought the smell of hay from the west, where I imagined they had made good time and were safe by now. But, then again, it might have been my imagination and I was just picking up a whiff from a fallow field down the road. Whatever the case, I had my own sojourn to make. I drained the last sip of water from the canteen and left it in the hollow where my head had rested last night. If my finger lingered in the dent, it was just for a moment, then I placed it with care against the cradle of dry prairie grass. I turned my back to the rising sun and headed into the unknown to find you in the missing blue of every day.

 

Advice

Death takes time to mend
Let him scream, his broken heart
will yet mend itself

 

Cincinnati

The inkstained paper is the only thing to connect them, the only remnant she has that he exists somewhere in time and space other than her own imagination. Sometimes she fears she may have dreamed him, that she called him forth in longing from the confines of the fragile bones that house her thoughts, spilling.

Then another day comes and there is one more letter in his handwriting, so distinctive. There are things she wonders but will never know about him: why are his Hs so different from hers? Did he save the last bite of pie for good luck? Was he afraid of the dark and sleep with his closet light on, ashamed, long past the age he should have given up terror of the night? Somehow she thinks not but wonders anyway these questions with no answer, contenting herself with the slant of his script, the blot of the blurry i. As if the fabric of his character might be discerned by the downward strokes of his pen and absorbed as easily as page mates ink. It is not much, not nearly enough, but it is all she has and she holds it as dear as she dares.

Her world is the smallest thing, the squeak of the hinge, the opening of the post-box door. Before him, she did not know that love existed in between lines and in spaces silent. She holds in her hand the bit of himself he has sent with no return address and the rain falls in steady drops around her, but she pays the weather no mind. She only watches the rivulets as they collect around her feet, as they trickle down the path that winds to the street that runs to the great highway that surely connects them in this vast world. Their feet are sharing the same road that brought her this very letter. She has only to take a step forward … And one day she would.

But for now she holds the letter close and breathes in the faintest scent of him that still lingers and takes comfort that he is out there, somewhere, waiting just for her.

 

You and Tomorrow

“I had that dream again last night,” I say.

“Oh?” you ask, tilting your head. That’s how I can tell you are interested.

“The same one,” I continue as I open the cupboard. Our mugs are there, side by side. I take them down and pour us each a cup of coffee: yours first, as always. “I was walking in a field. The grass was really long. It was almost to my knees.”

You reach for your mug, your fingers wrapping around the cup itself instead of the handle, and I am momentarily enchanted. I have always loved your fingers. “Go on,” you prompt, smiling behind the rim as you take your first sip and sigh into the rising steam.

“It was morning. Dawn. And I was walking into the sun,” I say, lost in the memory.

You swallow. “It sounds lovely. Peaceful.”

I nod. “But I was searching for something. I can’t remember what.”

You make no sound. But then, you were always comfortable with silence.

“Anyway, there were all these dandelion heads. You know how we call them wishes when they’ve gone to seed?” I ask.

You nod and take another sip.

“Well, the rising sun had lit them all up. The whole field. They were like little lanterns the way they were glowing with the light and dew. It was so beautiful. I can’t describe it; I wish you could have seen it.” I pick up my own mug and take a drink. It burns my throat, but I blink back the tears.

“Then what happened?” you ask.

I stare at the tile countertop. There is a crack in one behind the canister of flour that always draws my eye. No one else can see it, but I know it’s there. I keep meaning to replace it, but I haven’t yet. I probably never will. “The same thing. It always ends the same way.”

You set your mug down without making a sound. “How is that?”

“I come to the edge of the field, and there’s a fence with barbed wire. I want to cross because you’re there, but I can’t. I know you’re out there, somewhere, but I can’t get to you. I put my hands on the wire and try to pull it away, but the barbs cut me. Then I wake up.” I clench my fists as I remember the end of the dream and how the blood trickled through my fingers.

“It’s just a dream,” you say.

It’s just a dream

And I realize it’s true, either that or I am going crazy; your cup sits across from me, untouched. I am still as alone here as I have been, talking to an empty room, every morning as I have been in what feels like forever. I drain my cup and wonder if I’ll have the memory of you to keep me company tomorrow or if that will finally be the day when I’ll be left truly alone.

I still don’t cry, but I pour your cold coffee down the sink and wait for you and tomorrow.

 

The Endurance of Lovely Things

He isn’t here.

There are two mugs set out by rote; her hand moves through the motion worn familiar by time before the fact of his absence can stop it from unfolding. She frowns at the counter, the twin cups an ambiguous assault.

She pours the coffee—Arabica now, instead of the French he always insisted upon—and forgoes the creamer she always preferred. She is different now. She lets the coffee scald her tongue and does not—will not—wince at the bitterness as it slides over her tongue.

As she sips, she lets her thumb worry the old chip in the handle. A memory rises of how she dropped the mug while unwrapping the set from the box.

“Oh, it’s broken!” She frowned, disappointed. “I’ve ruined it. And all the way from Italy, too.”

He took it from her hands and held it up to the light. “It’s fine, love. You’ve christened it. This one will be mine and I shall always think of you when I drink from it.”

“You’ll always think of me when you see a broken mug?”

“No, silly. It isn’t broken. You demonstrated that beauty is not as fragile as it appears, that even lovely things have the ability to endure some bumps. This mug has some staying power, you wait and see if it doesn’t. We’ll be drinking from this set on our fiftieth wedding anniversary.” He laughed, but his eyes were serious.

She took the cup from his hand and turned it over in her own. He was right, it was barely a scratch …

She swallows her tears with the coffee as she thinks of how not everything is made to last forever.

 

END

 

copyright by author, defenestrationism.net: 2013

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