Short Story: The price of love

Love is stupid. Yeah, I said it. Maybe love makes people stupid, or at least makes sane people do stupid things. Maybe it’s part of it, or all of it, or maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. I used to know, just like everyone’s an expert until you’re mired in something and you realize just how little you know. I just don’t know.

Right now she’s clinging to life on the barest of threads. The doctors say she’ll go at any moment, but they’ve been saying that for almost a week. Experts my ass! It hurts to see her like this, a woman in the prime of her life. She should be living her life, but the irony is that if she were, she wouldn’t be here with me. Like I said, love makes people stupid, me included.

I was never the kind of guy girls noticed. Sure they were nice to me, smiled at me, became my friend. I was, as I later learned, non-threatening. I was safe, the kind of guy they could trust, the guy they could talk to because I was understanding, and kind. I was the kind of nice they all claimed they wanted, but in reality didn’t. I soon came to believe that nice was code for loser.

Then I met Carly. Carly was like the rest of them, except she gave me something no one had ever given me: a chance. We started dating my sophomore year of college. She had broken up with her boyfriend, a star on the basketball team. He was the typical douche athlete, and all the women wanted him, and he obliged, never mind that he had a girlfriend.

So she dumped him and soon started dating me. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but I was just a rebound, worse still that she used me to make him jealous. Losing out to a guy like me made him crazy jealous, and I was too blind to see it. She soon dumped me and took him back. I was devastated.

Carly, just so you know, was, in those days, a beauty. The years and her illness have ravaged her, but beneath her withered and pained expression lingers the ghost of her former glory. She was blond, with hazel eyes, pale skin, and the cutest freckles on her nose. She had a magnetic personality, and she could make friends with anyone, even a recluse like me. She drew people to her, a flame pulling in another moth to become her next victim.

She was my first girlfriend, my first grown-up girlfriend, I should say. I had a few summer flings in camp growing up. Hold hands, an awkward peck on the lips, that sort of thing. I lost my virginity with her, fell madly in love with her, and it tore me to shreds being dumped the way she did me. I was just a cog in her plan to win back her dream boy.

I fell to pieces. No one knew it by seeing me. I was so straitlaced that no one would ever have seen my inner turmoil, not that anyone was close enough to have known. I was for all intents and purposes, friendless. I suffered alone. I just turned my attention to my studies to cope.

But I had become obsessed with her, but I just accepted it. What could I do? Even I, for all my naivette, understood that I had no chance to win her back. I could admit defeat and walk away with some vestiges of dignity, or I could pine for some woman who had made a fool of me.

Funny thing is that dating her had made me seem more interesting to some other woman. I began to date. I found a serious girlfriend my junior year, and we dated for almost two years, up until a week before graduation. I found myself as I broadened my horizons, and I found some confidence as I came into my own. I had become a man.

But I never got over Carly.

She would come around every so often, this damned woman. Every time she dumped a guy, or they dumped her, she would come by. I broke off a few relationships because of her, including that serious girlfriend, someone with whom I could have married. I know because she had been hinting at it for months. I loved her in a way, but she wasn’t Carly. She couldn’t compete with her, and she never knew she was competing with her. I did her wrong. I did to her what Carly had done to me, and I regret it.

Carly knew that I was obsessed with her, and she took advantage of it. She used me to boost her ego when she was feeling down. She used me to get over her failed relationships. I was nothing more than a plaything to occupy her time until some more suitable asshole stole her attention.

It went on like this for a couple of years, until the year we became 27. Almost everyone we knew was getting married, having children, settling down. Carly decided it was time to grow up and get with the agenda and get married, so she did, to a guy named Kurt. Just like that, I was cast aside for the last time.

By then I had grown used to it. I was tired of it and it came as a relief. Yes it hurt, and yes I cried, but I was also glad that I could gleam some measure of closure. This cruel game had come to an end, and I could finally move on.

I met a girl, dated, and we became engaged. Everything was going great, until Carly came into the picture to ruin my life one last time. My engagement fell apart, mainly because of Carly, but also because my fiancee was cheating on me with one of my friends, something Carly was all too happy to point out.

Carly’s marriage had fallen apart because her husband wanted a family, and she couldn’t conceive. It was impossible. Uterean cancer had taken her chance of having a family, and with it her hope for the life she had wanted.

The cancer was in remission, she told me, but I think she knew something that she didn’t let on, that the cancer would return, which it did a couple of years later. In the meantime, we rekindled our relationship, and this time it stuck. Carly had become domesticated. Gone was the wild girl I had fallen in love with. Her love was subdued, tamed, and I think it was because she knew she was dying soon.

We got married as soon as the ink from her divorce had dried. At thirty-one I had my dream woman, but I could sense that it was not going to last. Her fire had been extinguished, and she no longer felt the need to lead me on. I knew she was using me again, and because I was so in love with her, I let her, and I let her to this day.

She came back not because she loved me, but because I loved her. She knew no one would take her. Carly was damaged goods. Those are her words, by the way, not mine. She didn’t want to die, and though the doctors had told her that her cancer was gone, she felt that they were wrong.

After four years of marriage, the cancer came back. This time there was nothing to be done. It had spread to her lungs, her kidneys, her brain. It was attacking her, killing her slowly, and no chemotherapy, no radiation, could save her.

Now, a week before our fifth anniversary, she lays in our bed, a hospice worker coming in daily to check up on her, and a nurse does as well. She didn’t want to die alone and she knew I would take her back.

I hate myself for letting her do this to me, but I am powerless. I’ve come to believe that I don’t really love her. I think I’m obsessed with her as the woman I couldn’t hold on to, Now that I have her, I’ve come to see that I don’t love her like I thought I did. Even so, I never walked away. I’m a nice guy after all. I ended up with the girl, though not in the way I might have wanted, but I have her. Til death do us part. I just wish I hadn’t had to find a way to give her cancer to make her come back to me. I wish I didn’t need to kill her to keep her from leaving me again.

She’ll never know that my work with cancer was never to find a cure, but to learn to manipulate it, to weaponize it. She’ll never know, and soon, she’ll never know anything again.

Love is stupid? Maybe, but love turned me into a monster, and I’ll never be nice again.

 


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Short Story: Sacrificed Death

I celebrated my 181st birthday yesterday. I call it a celebration because that’s what people say, but my longevity is not a blessing. It’s a punishment for daring to seek immortality. You may not believe it, you probably don’t want to. There’s this fear of death that permeates through this society. A fear that I find ironic considering the state of the world.

You won’t find my name listed on any record books. I’m not a celebrity, though I was briefly a well-known actor on Broadway and Vaudeville. I starred in few early films, all during the silent age, before disappearing for an age, returning to enlist in the Great War, hoping that death would find me on the battlefield. He saw me and turned away, my sacrifice an insufficient penance for my act of insolence those many years ago.

I was born on a plantation in 1834, the son of wealthy landowner who grew tobacco in the fields, along with a few other crops. He also owned a distillery in town which brought enough money that we would never know want. We had it all, the extravagant home on the rolling green hills, an army of slaves to tend to everything, from the fields to our home. It was a simple time, one that seems idyllic in a sense.

Of course looking at it from our current vantage point, our family were the oppressors of a people, though we treated the help well when you consider the period. I didn’t understand it at the time, but we owned actual human beings. How grotesque is that? I’m ashamed of that history.

Some have the benefit of being separated by generations from that abominable age, but I don’t. I lived it. It’s because I lived it that I’ve come to my current situation. While it wasn’t uncommon for the white owners to sleep with the slaves –  with or without their permission, consent being a modern invention – I went a step further and fell in love with a girl.

Maybelle was a beautiful girl of fourteen. I was a few years older at nineteen. When you apply modern age differences, it would seem to be scandalous, but people matured younger in those days. You had to. The concept of adolescence had yet to be invented. Lives depended on growing up. It was a harsh world, but we were strong. We had to to survive.

So our ages weren’t what caused a scandal, but the color of our skin. I was a free white man. She was a servant of color. It didn’t matter that I loved her, nor that she loved me. What mattered was race. Miscegenation was considered by some in our community, reason enough to be killed. Our preacher taught it was an abomination against the Lord for the purity of the race to be diluted by inferior blood. I began to deplore my family, and my race, and my God.

Maybelle would often speak frankly to me, believing that a time would come when a man and woman could marry regardless of the color of our skin, but lamented that it wouldn’t be in our lifetime. An obsession was sparked in me, to defy the laws of Heaven and Earth, to deny Death another mortal trophy. I sought a way to prolong my life, and in so doing prolong my beloved Maybelle’s as well.

I dabbled in the occult, I confess. If God would deny me the woman I so loved, I would turn to his adversary. I sold my soul to the devil, though at the time I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t consider that evil would betray me with a worse fate than death.

“Please,” Maybelle pleaded with me, “don’t you dare do it. I would rather die than live with the shadow of the betrayer looming over us. Let’s run away. Let’s get married. Let men kill us if they want to, but please don’t sell yourself to that fell demon.”

“Don’t worry,” I smiled. “It’ll be alright.”

I walked away that night, to a clearing outside of town, hidden from the prying eyes of the living. In that copse the shadow walked towards me, and I swore my allegiance to him. “For ever after,” he grinned, “Death you pass you by, but know that I demand a payment in kind.”

“That wasn’t part of the bargain,” I cried. “You swore you could forestall death. You never stated that there was a price to pay!”

The shadow lowered its hood, and I looked upon the visage of Death. He smiled, his eyes alight with mischief. “You turned away from life and I granted you passage into immortality, but your Maybelle will never go for it. She’s too pure of a woman for that.”

“She will,” I protested fiercely. “She has to!”

I ran away from the copse and all the way into town and to the other side, several miles, until I reached the plantation. I had been so desperate to get Maybelle to swear allegiance to Death that I hadn’t noticed that I was not out of breath. I ran past the house, and to the shacks where Maybelle and her family lived.

“Don’t you come into this house, boy!” Her father yelled at me, fear dancing in his eyes. He had never spoken to me like that. He had never dared raise his voice at any white man and I knew then that something evil had happened.

I pushed my way in, and her family shrank back. There on a cot on the floor laid an emaciated woman, old and and feeble. Her breath came in raspy bursts, with fits of coughing that spewed blood onto those who attended to her during her throes of death.

“Who is she?” I demanded. No one spoke. No one dared speak to me. The cowered before me and I didn’t know why. Finally she opened her eyes, and her eyes spoke to me. Her body was dying but her eyes were bright with the raging fire of youth. Maybelle looked at me, and I could tell though she wasn’t angry at me, she had chosen a noble path instead of my choice.

I watched in horror as her face contorted in pain as she convulsed and shrank again, wasting away until only a skin-covered pile of bones lay before me, and the light in her eyes dimmed until they went out.

“You did this, boy,” her father shoved his finger in my face as the family wailed in anguish. “You, the devil’s child. You killed my girl. Now I’m going to kill you.”

And he did. Then buried my body. My father found out about my murder and had me dug up. Her father was hanged and buried in the shallow grave he had buried me in. Then I was given a proper burial. Only I was not dead. I could see everything. Death had not taken me, like he promised.

I dug my way out eventually and left town. I wandered the countryside until the first horrific war began, and I traveled north. I fought for the union to end slavery, and I died to save the union. I died so many times it became a game of how-long-can-I-last.

I lived, and I never forgot my Maybelle. I got married eventually, had a family, and watched them all die. I married again, and again, and each time I watched as they withered before me. Sons and daughters passed away, as did my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I’ve been alone for fifty years now. I’ve seen and done everything imaginable. I conquered the unconquerable, and I’ve mastered everything. I’ve become a poet, a writer, a musician, and an actor. I’ve fought for what I believed in, and sought to find that path back to mortality, but there’s the price I have to pay.

Maybelle’s death was not the payment I had to pay. Far from it. She chose to die instead of renouncing that gift like I had. The price I bear is to never see her again in my lifetime. Sacrificing my life means nothing, I suppose, since I can’t die. I sacrificed my death, and that is a fate worse than I could ever have imagined.


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Again, goodybe

I made the funeral early this morning, and though it wasn’t easy to attend, I’m glad I made the drive. For those of you who hadn’t heard, my ex-wife informed me that her grandmother passed away during heart surgery Friday evening. She was 70 years old.

Brenda – Nanny to her grandchildren and just about everyone else – was a source of comfort to me during some hard times. Nanny, along with her husband Bob “Papaw”, accepted me for a person, even if as a Catholic Mexican I was different from their White Protestant heritage. That didn’t matter. I was family, and that was good enough.

They were a Christian couple in a very un-Christian world. Though far from perfect, they lived their lives trying to live up to that ideal. They accepted many, helped those in need, and tried to be an example of what living with Christ meant. They were selfless in a world that seems to reward selfishness. They gave of themselves and blessed everyone around them with the blessings they received. I’m proud and honored to have called them family.

Papaw died about three years ago due to his struggle with ALS, and Nanny died last Friday after suffering a heart attack. It’s hard to imagine that they are both gone, that I’ll never hear them laugh or be able to sit and have a conversation with them. I’ll never again have Papaw try to teach me how to play golf. I’ll never feel Nanny’s maternal embrace when I feel as though I can’t survive.

Even after me and their granddaughter divorced, they never stopped loving me, and I never stopped loving them. Though it’s been years since I took the opportunity to visit with her, I’ve never forgotten their generosity. I now bitterly regret not taking the time to talk with Nanny one last time, to thank her for giving me love and support, for laughing and crying with me, for being an example of a good Christian woman.

Some of the family was touched that I took the time to pay my final respects to the matriarch of the family. I hope it was some small comfort that I held her is such high esteem. Some would not have taken that time to make that drive. I knew I had no choice, my conscience wouldn’t have allowed me to miss.

Tomorrow I’ll head home, knowing that her remains have been consigned to the Earth. As a Christian, I have the hope that I may see her again someday, though I hope that day will be long delayed. It’s a comfort for me to know that her suffering is over, and that she’s been reunited with her beloved husband. For me, however, I’ll admit that I’m selfish and I wish she was still here, but isn’t that true for all those we have loved and lost?

The unexpected goodbye

It’s late, and I’m going only on about a couple of hours of sleep. I just didn’t sleep much last night. It was just one of those nights. Tonight, I had hoped to get to bed early and get some much-needed sleep, after doing a little writing, of course. Life, however, intervened.

A little more than an hour ago, my ex-wife sent me a text informing me that her grandmother had passed away. At first I was stunned by the unexpected news and I didn’t know what to feel, or even if I was allowed to feel anything at all. It was a rather curious sensation, and not one I ever want to feel again. If I feel this way, I can’t imagine the trauma the family suffered, and are continuing to suffer, at losing the matriarch of the family. I can scarcely imagine.

My ex called me, once she got home, and as one would imagine, she’s taking it hard. My step-daughter is also taking the news hard. To have someone ripped from your life so suddenly is a life experience you can never prepare for. It’s one I’ve been fortunate enough not to have faced. I feel for my ex-wife, my step-daughter, and the family as a whole, though I’m estranged from them.

I’m struggling, I’ll admit, to figure out what I’m supposed to be feeling. It’s all a jumble at the moment. I’m saddened, naturally, that someone I knew has passed away. She took me and my wife in at a low point in my life, right after I lost my job. She let me stay for several months after me and my wife split. She forced me to move out, which I was upset for at first, but was really a necessary step at the time, for me to reclaim my independence.

I feel guilty that I lost touch with her, especially after the death of her husband about three years ago. I should have tried to stay in touch with her. I should have kept a line of communication with her since she always treated me with love and respect even though I was no longer a part of the family.

I want to cry, but there are no tears for me to shed. I few sobs have escaped my lips, but they were fleeting. I wonder if the news will hit me in the morning, and if I will break down then. I don’t know. I’m too exhausted at the moment to deal with the news, and other than to offer my condolences to the family, and to offer up a pray for the repose of her soul, my body begs me to lay down and drift off to sleep.

For now, all I can do is wait to hear from my ex-wife so she can tell me when the funeral will be. I need to talk to my manager at work and try to work something out so I can attend the funeral. She might not be family any more, but I feel it would be disrespectful for me not to go. I just pray that the family finds a measure of peace in knowing her struggles have ended, though I know there’s no consolation to be had. I just have to say good-bye, and may God welcome you home.

Flash Fiction: Time

I’m astounded by the capricious nature of Time, how it ebbs and flows much like the waves of an ocean against the beach. At times it’s gentle as it caresses the coast like a besotted lover, and at other it wreaks havoc like a jealous cuckold, destroying everything in it’s path. Time, I fear, has become the mistress that’s getting away from me.

Age is creeping up on me. I’m reminded every morning as I roll out of bed, by the aches in my back and by how my knees threaten to give out on me. I’m reminded as I look at the sagging spectacle of a naked man staring back at me in the mirror. I’m confronted by it when my younger wife goes out without me only to return tousle-haired in the wee hours of the morning, smelling of cheap booze and stale cigarettes.

She tries to hide it, but I can tell by the satisfied look on her face that she’s fooling around. I cry myself to sleep at night, knowing I have never seen that look after our lovemaking, even when I was a much younger and virile man. I never heard her cry out, I never heard a murmur out of her. She just laid there, an unwilling sacrifice as the dutiful wife, performing solely for the benefit of her inept husband.

I can’t recall the last time we made love. I can’t recall the last time she cared to initiate physical contact. I don’t remember what it feels like to have a woman who cares. She has her lover – or maybe multiple lovers – but yet she stays, my labor financing her betrayal. I’ve often wondered, as of late, how much of my money has gone to lavishing gifts onto those undeserving scoundrels.

It’s getting late out, and I see my wife, in a short skirt, walking out the door without so much as a goodbye. I won’t be here in the morning to witness her return. I won’t be here to play victim, willing or otherwise. I’m done being played the fool. I’m done being less than a man. Better off dead than to remain the joke that Time has made me. Perhaps Time has only granted me the wisdom to see that I’ve always been the joke.


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