Like I said, I’ve been working on a writing project with my longtime friend Kiersten. In the throes of it all I’ve decided to redirect my focus to fiction.
We’ve been chosing one word and writing a short piece on it. Here are the first two instalments: Joy, both horror pieces, and then Distance, snippets that focus on women and relationships. Our current project is called Burn, and don’t even ask because I’m stuck in the mud with it.
She woke choking for air, but her instincts kept her still, rigid. She felt his breath on her naked spine; his hand combing upward through her hair, cupping her skull.
“You’re just having a nightmare.”
Her heart pounded against her ribcage as she stared into darkness, quietly working at catching a breath. A nightly ritual – the battle to breathe – but her body wouldn’t let her. It was cruel, nature allowing the body to betray itself – to be indifferent toward its own perils. Distraction was key, so she stared at the darkened door with fury, and it stared back – mocking; threatening.
I dare you.
I’m here. Come on.
He’ll stop me. And then –
Run. Scream. At the top of your fucking lungs!
You know what he’ll do to me.
He’ll kill you — eventually.
Thea Bright closed her eyes and drew breath, silent and small. Finally, it caught. She exhaled and let herself slowly sink into the mattress. Her captor’s piano fingers scooped her breast, pulling her into his angular form and let the stubble of his hard jaw press into her neck.
She imagined the door melting into its frame, sealing off every hope in hell. Vacancy lulled her toward sleep as she fixed her gaze through a strip of bare window. She listened to the buzz of the rusted neon sign as it blinked the word JOY.
Read Kiersten’s JOY on her new writing blog, Love Her Madly
It didn’t matter: time, miles. She’d packed those boxes long ago, yet he was in her dreams more frequently than ever. She hadn’t seen him in 17 years. He’d been married – twice now – and she was certain he had a kid, but there didn’t seem to be contact between father and child.
She’d kept a finger on him in all the ways people do: a search here, a click there. It was eerie how machines detected feeling, yet equally unsettling that people no longer disappeared. No time to mourn, no space to grieve. No distance to forget. The new world had ripped romance and melancholy from life, and Beth hated that. The last time I laid eyes on him or I’ll never know what became of him was defunct. Even the idea of what if had fallen flat because there was no what if. It was simply what was, wasn’t and the cruelest: what is, which glared at her from a luminous screen.
She could pretend that access to him wasn’t possible, that she didn’t choose to seek him out. But it was too easy. The first time she typed his name – one she hadn’t uttered in years – she felt her insides contort. She was being dishonest and childish. What if Ryan found her scrolling through photos in earnest? There would be no explanation for that.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to say she was happy, and impossible now to believe Ryan was. He was never home. But somehow they were content. In fact, the fear of losing Ryan and the contentment was more than she could bear. What if he just went on one of his trips and never returned? Maybe they’d be eating dinner and he’d throw down his fork and say, ‘I’m fucking bored to tears, Beth!’
It wasn’t an outrageous thing to imagine; it happened every day to ordinary people.
A growing part of her was hoping it would. What would she do? Call him up and ask what he’d been doing all these years? Or would she find someone else? Maybe she’d find fulfillment in being alone. Sometimes she imagined a caricature of herself in New York, writing and and walking the streets. Not joyful, but not unhappy either. She imagined a woman without wistfulness or longing.
But what she dwelled on most was him. It was almost as if his memory had crystallized. It wasn’t he, the person – it was he, the cloudy, balled mass of memory. The smooth and fuzzed feeling that welled in her when she thought back to that slushy winter they shared an apartment in town. Just one winter, but no amount of distance would allow her to forget it.
Read Kiersten’s brilliant piece here.