Short story: The raging storm

He sat stoically as he read her text. He couldn’t fall to pieces in public. He had clients to deal with, coworkers to work with. No, his private hell would have to wait. He’d have plenty of time to fall apart when he got home. All the time in the world. Maybe all of eternity to piece himself together.

She had been his saving grace, his last hope at finding love. While he seemed uncaring, he was in fact an unrepentant romantic. He was the type to cry at the movies, to be moved whenever he saw a beautiful sunset. He appreciated art, and music, and he felt keen and deeply. He was a passionate man, a man of strong emotions. Often those emotions were like a tide, drowning the weak with it, leaving him alone on the banks of the shore.

But Toni was not like other women. She matched his passion. Their love was a tempest at sea, waves crashing upon the other, winds howling, the fury of the rain destroying everything in its path, but always they remained at the end, their lovemaking the more satisfying. No one doubted that they belonged together.

They had lived together for several years, planned on getting married some fine day, though neither was eager to disrupt the status quo. Nothing was amiss that morning when he went to work, nothing until he read the text.

“I’ll be gone by the time you get home.”

No explanation, no warning, it was just over. He tried several time in vain to text her, to call her, but her phone had been shut off. Calls to her mother we also ignored. All her friends claimed that they had no idea what was going on. He had been cut off, left in the dark. The storm had been replaced with a dangerous calm. He feared what the silence portended.

He went through the motions, and no one knew that something was amiss, except for a few that actually knew him. He went through the day, dealt with his clients expertly and professionally. He knew how to control the raging storm within. It would consume him at nightfall, but for now he had work to do.

Somehow he managed to survive the day. Already he could feel the veneer peeling back. He needed to be strong just a little longer. His goodbye to his coworkers was a little more curt than usual, his smile seemingly forced, but they were all professionals. They gave him his space. They knew he would come back in the morning, and whatever issue was bothering him would be dealt with.

But he had no plans on returning. Not tomorrow, not ever again. He drove to the nearest liquor store, bought a bottle of their most expensive whiskey, and drove home. He opened the bottle as soon as he shut off the car and downed as much as he could handle. Already the tears began falling, the first signs that presaged the impending storm.

He took a few more swigs, and stumbled out of the car. He could not handle his liquor, which was why he rarely drank. He was all about controlling his emotions, but he intended to lose control. He had no need of restraint. The full force of his fury would be unleashed.

He walked to their bedroom, ignoring everything else. In the room, her clothes were strewn about, as though she wanted to make a hasty exit and couldn’t decide what to take. That more than anything, even more than the one solitary line defeated him. She was obsessive about keeping her spaces clean. She had no intention of returning, of that he was certain.

He stumbled down the hall to his office and fell onto the sofa and continued to drink. Already a quarter of the amber liquid was gone. He drank some more and broke down, racked in rolling waves of sobs that seemed unyielding, so utterly despondent that he didn’t hear the alert notifying him that Toni was messaging him.

He drank until he could feel nothing, or maybe until he felt so much that he became numb to it all. He tried to stand, stumbled a bit and fell face first, grazing the side of the end table with the side of his face. He briefly registered the throbbing pain, but he pulled himself up, crawled to the safe, and managed to enter the combination on his forth attempt.

Once inside, he opened a small locker, the one where he kept his gun, and pulled it out. He laughed because he had always kept the gun loaded in spite of Toni’s protestations. Had he had needed to load it, it would have defeated him in his present state, but all he had to do was to release the safety, put the gun into his mouth, and press the trigger….

 

When Toni returned the next morning, worried as to why he hadn’t called her after her last text, she raced into the house. Her father was doing okay after his heart attack. Fortunately it was a minor thing, not requiring open heart surgery. He’d have to undergo a procedure soon to open up a couple of blockages, but he would be okay.

She walked into the office to drop off a couple of packages that were left on the front door when she saw his legs from behind the desk, and the walls behind him splattered with his blood and Toni screamed.

It took the investigators only minutes to deduce what had happened. He had only gotten the last line of Toni’s message, the one telling him of her father’s emergency, and that she needed to race the three hours to where he lived, that she we would be back as soon as she could, but that she would be gone by the time he got home.

And he never read her last message, telling him that her father was okay, and that the worst was over. “I love you,” she wrote him the last message, the one he would never see, “and I’ll see you in the morning.”


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Short Story: Shards

The look in Timothy’s eyes said it all. Grace saw him as he rounded the corner of the aisle as she stocked the shelves of the toy department. She had dreaded seeing in him for some time, dreaded the look he was now giving her. Her hands instinctively went to her belly, protecting her baby from his anger, though he was never prone to fits of outrage. His reaction was all the worse for it.

With one glance at her pregnant form, she could see waves of shock and surprise fighting with jealously and anger. She thought there was revulsion in there where, but she wondered if she was reading her own feelings in his eyes as they stared silently at one another. Her customers walked by them, oblivious to the awkwardness of the reunion.

“His?” Timothy muttered at last, once he found his voice.

She nodded. “Yeah, sorry I didn’t tell you. Me and Ken are, well…”

“I can see that,” Timothy said as he grappled with the unexpected feeling of betrayal. “You and him, huh?”

Grace nodded again, rubbing her belly absently, regretting the chain of events that led her to this moment, and not for the first time. “It was an accident, you see. Didn’t mean for it to happen.”

“Didn’t mean for it to happen,” he sighed quietly, closing his eyes as he tried to make sense of everything. “I thought he was only a bit of fun after your divorce. Wasn’t that why you and me didn’t happen?”

“I know,” she whined. “I know. He was only supposed to be someone to  play with before I settled down with someone a little more stable. I’m sorry. I know we were supposed to, but,” she shrugged helplessly. “You disappeared, and I know we kept in touch, but I thought I would never see you again.”

“I moved an hour away,” he retorted angrily, losing control of his emotions. “Promoted and moved one fucking hour away. I tried to call you, but you never answered. I text you, and the same. Oh, and you blocked me on everything. I guess you didn’t want me to know what was going on.”

“That was Ken’s doing,” she protested weakly. “Didn’t want me to get any ideas. He’s kind of controlling, and he’s always been jealous of you. You know how he’s like.”

“Oh, I remember Ken. Spent his whole marriage, or all three of them, controlling them, cheating on them, and just plain treating his wives like crap.”

“I know, but he promised it would be different this time.”

“Different? This time?” He said inquiringly as he pieced it all together. “You and Ken are married?”

“Well, no,” she shook her head, “but we’re supposed to get married in a month, once his divorce is finalized. “I don’t want to raise this baby without his father.”

“But you had no problem raising your other ones without their father,” Timothy argued heatedly. “What makes him so special.”

“I don’t know really,” she furrowed her brow in concentration, trying to explain the unexplainable. “It just is, you know. We’re together now. We’re going to have a family.”

Timothy scoffed, shaking his head in disbelief. “I must be the biggest fucking idiot.”

“No you’re not! Why would you even think that?”

“Because, I was hoping that maybe me and you could, but now this,” he pointed at her pregnancy. “I mean, holy fuck woman! You’re having Ken’s baby. And you’re marrying him? How fucking stupid can you be? How fucking stupid am I to hold on to the hope that maybe you’d finally decide to give me a chance. I mean, you said you loved me. You said you were in love with me.”

“I was,” she cried. “I still am, but it’s complicated.”

“No,” Timothy shook his head. “It’s simple, or at least it was. You chose him over me,” he said, tears streaming down his face. “Funny how everyone says I’m a nice guy, but it’s always the asshole that ends up with the girl. Either no one wants the nice guy, or maybe I’m really not as nice as everyone pretends I am.”

“You are, and I’m sorry,” Grace pleaded, sobbing into her hands, longing to fall into Timothy’s arms once more. “I fucked up. I should have picked you, but now I’m having his kid. I’m sorry.”

“No,” he shook his head. “Don’t be. I’m the one who should be sorry. I wasted all this time hoping that you’d give me a chance, but of course it was just that. I colossal waste of time. I – I have to go. Um, see you around, but probably not.”

He turned to walk away but Grace grabbed his arm and turned him around, pulling him towards her and kissing him. His resolve melted as he kissed her back, his need pulling him towards her in spite of himself. He ached for her and now there was nothing for him to do but walk away, but he couldn’t tear himself away.

Finally he wrenched himself from her grasp, unable to control the sobs tearing down his pride. “I love you, but I can’t do this. Not again. I’m sorry, but – goodbye.”

Without giving her a chance, he raced away. Grace stood there, rooted to the spot as he disappeared back around the corner, watching the man she was in love with get away, and she died a little.

***

A little over a year later, Timothy walked around his store, making sure the workers were busy with their tasks when he got a text. “It’s Grace. I need to see you. Can we meet?”

He stared at his phone the rest of the day, not knowing how to respond. Once he was home, he picked up the phone and replied. “I guess. I’m off tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

They agreed to meet at the city park. He waited on the bench by the pond as Grace walked up pushing a stroller and followed by her two other children, a boy and a girl.

“Thank you for meeting me,” she said timidly. “Can you guys go and play? I need to talk to Timothy for a minute.”

Her children ran towards the playground, not bothering to wonder why they had driven more than an hour to meet the strange man. She watched them for a moment before turning around and taking a seat next to Timothy who sat impassively watching the ducks waddle by.

“You wanted to meet?” He said in a cold voice.

“Yeah, I did,” she replied timidly.

“Ken know you’re here?”

“Me and Ken are getting a divorce,” Grace replied, picking up her baby from the stroller.

“That him?” Timothy pointed.

“Little Dexter,” she said lovingly. “He’s turning one next month.”

“Time flies doesn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“So why are you here?” Timothy asked at last. “I mean, I don’t mean to be rude, but why bother driving all the way up here just to tell me you’re divorcing that sack of shit. I suppose you caught him?”

“Three times, the last time in my bed, while the kids were sleeping,” she whimpered. “That was the last straw. I kicked him out. That was last month. He doesn’t care enough to call to see how Dexter is doing.”

“Okay, but why are you here?”

“I fucked up, okay?” Grace choked. “I choose the wrong guy and let the right one walk away. I should never have decided to play with him and lose you in turn. That was not what I wanted.”

“But it’s what you did, and what you got. You can say sorry all you want, but it’ll never change the fact that you picked him over me. He was the one you wanted, not me. Why should I give a shit that you’re here apologizing?”

“Because,” she begged, “I was hoping you’d maybe give me another chance? Please?”

Timothy laughed. “You’re fucking unbelievable. You expect me to take you in after what you did?”

“I expect you to tell me to get lost,” she shook her head wearily, resigned at the idea of losing him for good. “I had to try anyways. I have to see if you’d give me another chance.”

“I don’t know,” Timothy shook his head slowly. “I’m tired of always coming in last. I’m never anyone’s first choice.”

“You’re my first choice now.”

“No, I’ll never be your first choice. You made sure of that the moment you went with him. I’ll always come in after that asshole, no matter what you try to say on the contrary. He married you, and you had his baby. No matter what, you’re linked forever. I can’t compete with him.”

“You don’t have to,” she cried. “He gone. Out of the picture. He moved in with that whore of a homewrecker.”

“As I recall, you broke up his last marriage. Don’t get mad that he treated you like he treated everyone else. You knew what he was like, and you choose him over me anyways.”

“You made your point. I guess I drove out here for nothing then?” She looked at Timothy, and he could feel his resolve slip away. She had a way of doing that when no one else could.

She stood and he joined her, looking deep into each other’s eyes. He had forgotten the striking blue of her eyes, or the dimple on the corners of her smile, or the way she’d squint when she smiled, as she did right now.

He had to have her, but he knew it would end in heartbreak. He also knew his heart would fail if he allowed her to walk away. Either way he’d end up hurt. It was a no-win situation, and he hated no-win situations.

They fell into each other’s arms before their lips met. She fit perfectly in his arms, and she felt it too. They were perfect for each other. They held on for a minute or two before they broke their embrace. He had to answer her. Yay or nay? Either way he would end up broken, and he wondered if he should bother. He looked at her, ready to give her the answer, wondering to himself as he spoke if there would be enough shards of his broken heart to put back together again.


Short Stories

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Previous story – Noticing James Smith

A writing assignment

I wrote this as part of my final portfolio for my Creative Writing class back in 2013. It’s probably the most intimate portrait of what I went through during 2011, and the most painful experience I’ve lived through ever committed to writing. It’s not easy putting it out there, but here it is.

If you’re interested in seeing the video to the song, here it is on YouTube. It still moves me to listen to it, and I think it’s probably one of Pink’s most powerful songs to date, and the reason I’m one of her fans.

~Joe~


Far from perfect

(Discovering a truth in an unlikely way)

You’re so mean when you talk
About yourself, you were wrong
Change the voices in your head
Make them like you instead

Lyrics from Fuckin’ Perfect by P!nk
From her album: Greatest Hits… So Far!! 2010
Written by: Pink, Max Martin and Shellback

The one thing about my ex, you have to understand,
Music has meaning, a true and undeniable significance.
On her computer she created and saved several playlists
All personal, speaking about what she felt in her heart.
This she confessed to me when we first found ourselves free of
Our respective spouses, and after we finally got together.

She played one of those playlists for me,
Telling me as she did so that she created it for me.
She would sit and drink,
Wistfully listening to those songs as she though about me,
While her children ran around her,
While her husband sat there enjoying the music with her,
Oblivious to the fact that his wife had another man on her mind.
And that man was the most unlikely person
But one the husband always feared because he knew
Deep in his wife’s heart she felt she made a mistake in choosing him over me.
He knew she loved me but she thought she lost her chance.

What could I say to that?
I probably made some self-deprecating joke,
The kind I use to protect myself from pain.
The kind that tends to piss people off.
And that always has gotten me into trouble
Especially with the other loves in my life.
But I can’t deny who I am
I won’t deny what I am.

One day when we were still in the everything-is-wonderful stage,
She emailed me a link to a video and I played it at work

Made a wrong turn once or twice
Dug my way, blood and fire….

I listened, trying not to let my tears show
I listened as the singer reached the chorus

Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel
like you’re less then fucking perfect…

All I could do was sit there in my office
At my desk on the computer at work
And all I could do was play it again
All I could do was look up the lyrics to the song
To grasp the meaning behind the song –
To understand why she might have sent it to me.

I confess:
I am guilty of belittling myself
I am guilty of putting myself down –
Of trying to use my jokes as a way to protect myself –
Of trying to diffuse the pain by laughing instead of crying.

I try to cover my shame and guilt of never achieving,
Of finding myself with someone I despised,
Of having a dead-end job.
I felt trapped and forsaken,
A complete and utter failure –
Dejected,
Rejected,
Ashamed of who I had become,
A loser – a waste of space.
I fucking hated who I had become.
I wished I were dead.

But…

I was sent a link by someone who said she loved me,
And I listened to this song,
One that I had heard before but never paid attention,
But this time I listened
This time I heard what I needed to hear.

…you’re fucking perfect to me.

At my lowest she picked me up,
At my lowest she told me what I needed to hear.
And although it wouldn’t last but a few months,
I felt that someone actually cared.

She burned a CD for me that I listened to in the car.
The third song in and the powerful ballad would come on
I listened intently, especially to this one.
Every song was precious to me,
Knowing that she chose them with great care,
But it was her music that would become our undoing.

Her playlist changed.
Not gradually, not subtly
But radically.
All of a sudden it was about partying and drinking.
Avril Lavigne’s “What the Hell” and Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night”
Sure enough we broke up.

What of those songs she said belonged to me?
I could no longer stand to listen to them
I threw her CD out my car window,
On a dusty dirt county road in Hunt County.

To this day I can’t hear any of those songs because they remind me of her,
And my stomach tightens up and I want to punch a bitch.
Does that make me a bad person?
I don’t know, but at least it makes me an honest person,
Even if it makes me uncomfortable to accept my own darkness,
My own personal shortcomings.

But that one song?

It became something more –
It became, not a love song, strange as it may be to say,
But it transformed into an anthem,
A mantra,
It was – it is – a song that speaks to me,
Deeper than any other song before or since.

Yes, it will forever remain intertwined with her,
But it is separate from her, too.

In spite of what I may feel,
Despite the ugliness I fear I wear,
Maybe I have value, perhaps I have worth.

I no longer am the pitiful person I was a couple of years ago.
I no longer feel as dejected as I did then.
I no longer feel the all-consuming anger towards her.
But neither have I forgotten,
And I struggle to forgive
Her,
My ex-wife,
Life,
God,
Myself….

I’ve accepted that it was my own life choices that led me to my downfall.
In the midst of my personal Dark night of the soul,
I found a strand of hope to hold on to,
A tether to this most perishable life.
I found an affirmation in a rather profane song.
Isn’t it ironic that sometimes the message has to come from the most unlikely of sources?
Could this be why Life-Destiny-God, sent her to my life –
To give me the message and then slowly drift away?
And I hold onto it, a life preserver in the rough seas,
A reminder of the bad and of the good still to come.

…you’re fucking perfect to me.

(end song)


Short Stories

Next story – Lina
Previous story – Open Secret

Short Story: Shattered

I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment my heart broke. There has to be a moment when it’s whole and well and in the next it’s shattered beyond recognition, beyond hope of ever being whole again. In my mind’s eye, I picture a high-speed camera recording it happening, and then when I replay it time and again, I can see the seismic event as my heart flutters and contorts violently, before the trauma rips through the organ, shredding it into uncountable pieces.

I replay the event constantly as I try to sleep. I try to divine meaning or purpose from it. I wonder if I had missed any warning signs. I pray for healing, but I’m left barren, an unbeliever in a miserable dark night of the soul. I’ve been hurt before, but never like this. Never have I been left questioning even my own identity. Maybe I should tell you what I’m talking about.

I met her a few years ago at a 5K event, a fundraiser with proceeds going towards cancer research. I lost my mother to breast cancer the previous year, and I wanted to do something to honor her memory. I took up running, hoping to help the cause. Sandra had also lost a loved one, in her case her favorite aunt. We met at the sign in table, and we started to talk. She was actually one of the first women I initiated a conversation with. I felt a pull from her, a well of gravity that captured me and placed me in her orbit, though I hadn’t recognized it at the time.

We exchanged phone numbers, and within a few days I called her, wanting to hear her again, needing to see her. The sensation was unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was utterly intoxicating. We went out for dinner, and then the next week to a movie. Soon we were dating fairly regularly. I’m not even certain when we became a couple.

All too soon, we ended up moving in together. I, who had spent a lifetime taking things slow, never wanting to rush into anything, fell headlong into a relationship. I realized quickly that I was attracted to her, that I felt a rush of emotions when I was with her. The heady feeling of euphoria clouded my judgement, but I didn’t care. I was in love with her, and she told me constantly that she was in love with me. It was bliss, or so I thought.

There were signs the entire time, of course, but I ignored them. I was too in love to see clearly. I cast my doubt away and allowed my heart to blind me. She, I believed, could do no wrong. She would never betray me, yet there was a nagging suspicion in the back of my head. I shouted it down, but the voice became louder. Still, I ignored it. I was, after all, in love.

As time wore on, however, the little signs became clearer. Maybe it’s because she became emboldened by my refusal to see what was in front of me that she no longer felt the need to hide it from me. I accepted her fidelity as a given, but her actions clearly betrayed her. Even my friends could see what was going on, and though they tried to warn me, I ignored them as well.

We were together for a year before the truth became brutally clear. Sandra, in her arrogance, started being careless. I would read texts between her and her friends. They were clearly romantic in nature. I’m not sure romantic is really the word I’m looking for. There were explicit, but I tried to rationalize it. I wasn’t giving her my full attention. I was clearly working too hard and not being available to her.

So I left work early ond day, wanting to surprise my lovely girlfriend. I got home, noticed several cars in the driveway, cars that I didn’t recognize. Curious, I crept quietly into the house. That’s when I heard her. From the doorway of the house, I heard her moaning, moans that I had never heard escape her lips. It sounded ravenous, guttural, with a kind of savage ferocity that I had never thought possible to issue from a woman’s mouth.

My heart seized in my chest, but I was still in denial. I had to be imagining it. I hung my jacket in the closet before sneaking up the stairs. The moans became louder and clearer as I crept up. I heard the voices of several men, in addition to hers. I heard her utter words I didn’t even know she knew, profanities and invocations to a deity I was beginning to lose faith in.

I opened the door, hoping not to see what I knew very well was happening within. On the threshold into the bedroom, I felt my very soul torn asunder. Something in my mind broke the moment my heart was shattered. When I came to myself, I was surprised at what I saw. I was covered in blood, the bodies of two men strewn along the floor, their bodies broken by my hand, and the wooden bat I must have picked up from the coat closet by the front door.

Sandra cowered in the bathroom, having witnessed my break from sanity as I swung against her lovers with an anger I had never displayed in my life. The aggression that had built up during a lifetime of submission washed over me, like a dam spilling over after a flood. Nothing could hold back my anger, and in those moments she came to discover that even the meek can only by strung along for so long.

I felt the power pulsing in my veins as I drank in the fear from her eyes. I must have looked mad, drenched in the crimson life force of the lovers with whom she had mocked my own manhood. At that moment, my tenuous grasp at sanity was fleeting and I felt a surge of hatred overpower my control. This time, however, I was fully aware of what I was doing. I knew what I had to do to regain my battered manhood. I would have to kill her.

I lifted my bat above my head, relishing the terror etched onto her face. I thought my love for her was intoxicating, but having control of her life, and now her death, was empowering. I laughed a mad laugh as I walked towards her, watching her shrink back against the vanity, having nowhere to flee. Her life had been forfeited for having been a treacherous bitch.

In my righteous anger I hadn’t heard the muffled, pained breathing of one of her lovers. I was deaf to everything but Sandra’s pleading for mercy. I didn’t hear anything until the loud pop from behind me, then the eerie warm sensation of something viscous pouring from my side. Then the searing pain as another bullet ripped through my body and I fell onto the floor, my consciousness floating away.

I’ve been told that I failed to kill those two bastards, but that the one who shot me lost the vision in one eye, and the other may never walk again. No one will tell me what happened to that bitch of a girlfriend of mine. I hear precious little in here, and the nursing staff will not talk to me. My therapist is trying to put my psyche back together, but I don’t think there’s much left of me to fix. The man I was is dead. The woman I loved killed him with her betrayal. I wish I didn’t miss her. I don’t understand how I can still love her with my shattered heart.


 

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