Heroes in the Ceiling

It was raining outside. The light patter of rain helped ease him out of sleep, but waking up at 2 a.m. to the sound of your little brother’s wracking coughs is never a pleasant experience. You never quite get used to it. Not even after four years. Selasi rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling for a while, to allow the sleep to fade, and to see if the coughing would abate soon, as it sometimes did. As his eyes adjusted to the moonlight filtering in from the cramped room’s only window, he mentally traced the pseudo-constellation of cracks and stippling in the ceiling, out of habit.

When was the last time he’d done this? He remembered how he used to imagine they were the features of a map that charted the geography of some other world, and how they eventually became so ingrained in his mind that until about a year ago, he would dream about all the fantastic routes and locales every other splotch and fissure represented. He’d created an entire mythology for the world in the ceiling, a myriad of conquering heroes who defied the gods of Mount Yimano (the dark, weirdly shaped watermark exactly above his head), slew the demonic legions of the Abyss of Nod-A-Ba (the deepest fissure in the plywood above), rescued fair maidens from the overgrown geckos of Dragon Ridge and carted them off to the Isle of Alafina (a curiously bare patch in the chaos of mottling), where they had their happily ever after, free from worry and strife and pain. He used to tell Edem his stories; he had lapped them up, his eyes wide as he tracked the heroes in the ceiling, whimpering when they found themselves in dire straits and giggling excitedly whenever they vanquished foes. Aunty Adjo had banged on their door more times than he could count to get them to shut up.

But that felt like a lifetime ago. He sighed and rolled back onto his side. With each passing day, every distortion in the ceiling had taken on a different symbolism. It wasn’t Nod-A-Ba he saw up above; he saw instead a reminder of the gutter Dad’s car had crashed into. Dragon Ridge instead now represented the daggers of impotent worry for Edem that kept him up most nights. Yimano was no longer the dwelling of the deities of some other world’s pantheon; it was the twisted blackness deep inside, to the right of his heart. He hadn’t slept on his back in a year.

Edem had stopped coughing. Selasi glanced over at him. He looked so small, curled up on his side like that, as though if he didn’t hold the pieces of himself together he would fall apart if he coughed too hard. Selasi looked away and tried to swallow the lump in his throat. The lump, however was indignant and refused to be merely swallowed away. He’d been planning this for the past few months. There was no point feeling guilty. Why was it so hard to breathe, then? He picked himself off his mat, pulled Edem’s covers a little higher over his shoulders and tiptoed toward the window. The lump did not approve his abandoning Edem and rose higher to express its outrage. He gritted his teeth and shut his eyes tight as he moved to jump out, tossing up a prayer for Edem’s safety. Aunty Adjo would take care of him. He would come back someday, he reasoned.

“Selasi?”

Halfway out the window, his heart exploded.

“Edem! What are you doing awake?” he exclaimed as he scrambled back inside.

“I was cold. What are you doing?” he asked in his small voice, sitting up as he spoke.

“I heard a weird noise and went to check it out,” he lied.

“Oh. I’m cold,” he whispered, pulling the covers tight around his frame.

Selasi rushed to his side, sat next to him and gathered him in his arms. He could feel Edem shivering. It wasn’t that cold, was it? He frowned, wondering if there wasn’t something else wrong.

“I’m only cold. I know what you’re thinking,” Edem said softly, his eyes half-shut as he leaned into Selasi’s chest.

Selasi was silent. He knew what he was supposed to say, but instead he reached for his own covers absently, draped them about his own shoulders and then wrapped them around Edem, cocooning them in cloth.

He worried for Edem, all the time. He had to. Aunty Adjo was old and would not be able to care for them much longer. She had her own brood to care for, and was becoming increasingly snappish and cold toward Edem and him. He’d realized this a while ago, but had instead chosen to clutch at distractions.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Edem tried again, his voice soft.

They hadn’t played this game in a long time. Why not indulge him just this once?

“How do you always know what I’m thinking, little bird?”

Edem looked up at him, a small smile on his face. He buried his face in his chest, as though to dig his way into his heart.

“I always do, because you’re easy. You love me and I love you, so I’ll always know you.”

Selasi sighed deeply. This had been something of a call and response they shared: I know what you’re thinking, Edem would say. How do you know? he would ask. Because you love me and I love you, Edem would reply, and that had always been enough for them.

“You haven’t called me little bird since you stopped telling me stories,” Edem said softly.

Unbidden, the memory of the last time he’d cared for a little bird came to Selasi.

It had been a rainy day, much like this one. He was from school, and right in his path was a tiny bird that had been caught out in the rain. He stooped next to the precious thing for what felt like hours, wondering what to do. The thing could barely move, its eyes half-shut. He carefully scooped it up, cupping it in his hands, holding it close to his body. He’d kept it close the rest of the day, whispering softly to it the whole time. Edem had been sleeping; he’d just got back from the hospital. Aunty Adjo hadn’t looked him in the eye that night, muttering under her breath the whole time. He hadn’t cared. He had two little birds to care for. He remembered how he’d agonized about keeping the bird safe through the night. Not knowing any better, he put it in an empty Nido tin and went to sleep.

The next morning the little bird was dead.

He pulled Edem closer, shivering at the recollection. He was not a good person. Every time he loved something, it died.

Edem continued talking. “I liked your stories. The blowman always won and beat the kakalikas, but then you became sad and wouldn’t tell me stories anymore. Then I was sad, ‘cause I didn’t know if you loved me anymore.”

Out of nowhere the lump returned, uppercut his eyeballs and left him choking back tears.

Edem didn’t know he was a bad person, that everything he loved died. He didn’t know about the bird; he didn’t know it was his fault Mum and Dad died, that they’d gone out to pick up his birthday cake.

The stories had been a distraction, something to think about other than the truth of what he was. He’d kept himself distracted with lies; what is a story, after all, if not a lie one was applauded for telling? He could no longer lie, he knew, but still he lied every day. That he was strong, for Edem. That he could handle things, for his sake. The lies were a tenuous web that held him together. Without them, he would fall apart.

“Sometimes I remember the way things were before, you know,” Edem said suddenly.

“Really, you do? You were so little.”

“I know, but I remember the way things felt. I remember things were simple. Mummy and Daddy loved me, and I loved them. And somehow, I still feel that way. Especially knowing I still have you.”

Selasi sighed again. He looked down at the top of Edem’s head, at the rise and fall of his small chest as he breathed softly, and knew he could never abandon Edem, could never stop loving him. He was a little bird out in the cold, and Selasi was all he had. He would just have to get it right this time. He would have to get it right.

“Hey, little bird, wanna hear the story of how Tanarak slew the Priest-King of the mountain-eaters?”

Edem’s eyes lit up, and he nodded excitedly.

He was tired of telling lies. But maybe, just maybe, love was not the lie he thought it was.

Maybe it was the light in an eight-year old’s eyes. Maybe it was truth.

Miles and miles of wire

I hate how Dad sounds over the phone lately.

I remember when I was a kid, I thought voices I heard through phones were some compression of the other’s soul, their essence miniaturized and compacted, then shot through miles and miles of wire; the faint static that tinged a voice’s edges was the soul’s frenetic crackling, unable to keep still after having lightninged its way to me.

I know now that’s not the case–mics and speakers convert audio to electricity to audio–but still the image saddens me, because these days my father’s voice sounds far too soft over the phone, as though his soul is fraying at the ends, becoming too weak to travel long distances.

Do you have enough money to last the weekend?

“Yeah,” I say, knowing full well I don’t.

That’s good, that’s good. Are you studying?”

“Yeah, I guess,” I mumble.

He sounds so tired. I am not used to Dad sounding weary.

My dad is not an imposing man. He is slight of frame, not small, but by no means large either. I’ve been taller than him since I was fifteen, yet I remember the night I was being rude and he grabbed me by the front of my shirt and yanked so hard my t-shirt ripped at the seams, and I went to bed shaking and respectful. I’m supposed to be in my prime and he’s a retiree, but I still hand him jars I can’t open. He is seventy kilos of quiet strength.

I fumble through a conversation with him, my mind racing for things to talk about. I don’t want to hang up. I want to have a robust conversation with my father, the kind you hold between both hands and examine from several angles, proud of how full-bodied it is.

Okay,” I hear him say eventually. I panic.

“Are you eating well?” I blurt. He laughs. I can’t help but smile. It’s nice to hear him laugh.

Yes son, I’m taking care of myself. Your mother won’t let me do otherwise.”

“That’s good. I’m happy to hear that.”

He says something about living to be ninety. I whisper a fierce Amen, almost harsh in its force and exuberance.

He laughs again.

Amen. Alright son, we’ll talk later,” he says, and in that moment my hands shake.

How long until there isn’t a later? How long until his face is the memory of a memory of a memory, and I am ashamed that I need to look at pictures of him to remember it?

I swear to myself that next time, next time I see him I will crush him in a hug so tight and bad it’s a vice, and have a long conversation with him. I tell myself I will forget I hate soccer and sit down to watch a game with him. I will look forward to the car rides in which he probes and asks me personal questions and I will not grit my teeth, to cage my words. I will tell him I love him, and I will not feel awkward at all.

I want to tell him now.

It’s on the tip of my tongue. I want to say it. I start to say it.

Instead I say,

“Goodbye, Dad.”

 

© 2016 k.amoh

The Weight of a Breath

They sat under the open sky, at the base of the acacia tree. Night had swept her arms through the heavens, sowing the stars liberally across the expanse, and the pinpricks twinkled mightily, as though to break the dark, like seedlings strived to break the soil. They loved it there under the acacia, in the starlight. It was their own kind of booth, with fireflies for dimmed lights and cicadas for mood music. They came often to talk.

Tonight they got into one of their good-natured arguments, this time about what a ten-second hour might be. He said it was something something time dilation, a pocket of sped-up time. She thought it was a metaphor, for how eternities could fit between seconds. They laughed as they spoke because they both knew it was a question of perspective and didn’t matter at all, but they loved the excuse to talk. Anything to hear each other talk.

For all their words there was some unspoken Thing that hung in the air between them like the silence after prayer; almost tangible, except to disturb it bordered on the unholy. It charged the space between them like a force, the gravity of hearts that yearned for each other. She felt it every time she smiled at him, in the way he let her smile hold his gaze like a mother’s arms hold her babe. He felt it every time she threw her head back and laughed, and his heart beat faster to match her ha ha has. It was a tenuous thing, and they didn’t dare speak of it. It was still barely a spark, too delicate to bear the weight of a breath, and so they talked about everything but this thing. In the pauses between words he would admire her round eyes, the angles of her face, and he would hate that he couldn’t love her yet.

He was afraid to commit to her, because she had the bothersome habit of being less than perfect. Things would be wonderful, then the light would catch her face at an awkward angle and he’d notice some new flaw. It was some of her tics as well, like how she was a tad too loud at times, how she talked snidely about feelings and love and romance and seemed to hold back; he wondered if he could live with that. She didn’t fit his ideals, at all. He was afraid of the day he would look at her and feel nothing but irritation for the things he was blind to now, and her heart would become another promise he couldn’t keep, so he contented himself instead with loving the idea of her. An idea was safe and compliant with his fantasies. He could live with that.

She couldn’t love him because she wasn’t sure she knew how. She’d been infatuated before, but never in love. She’d been told love was like a light in the dark, but from what she’d seen love was a lot more like a worm in the dark. It sought the hidden places of the heart because it reveled in them, fed on pain and secrets and insecurities until it became a bloated, inert mass of memories and baggage and heartache, and one had to resign themselves to its presence. Love meant being vulnerable, entrusting your quivering heart to the indelicate hands of another, and that terrified her. It didn’t help that he was still a boy dreamer, building sandcastles in an hourglass, never committing to any one thing, perpetually chasing some idea or other. Not exactly a paragon of dependability.

They were a cliché and they knew it; the lovers too afraid of making a mistake. They knew once they spoke of this thing there would be no going back. They would have to either commit to it, look each other in the eye and laugh at the rules, or turn away from it, walk away from each other and learn to live with the regret. There were too many questions. There was too much self-doubt and fear of bad timing, saying the wrong thing, ruining what they already had.

Maybe a day would come when they learned love was worth the struggle; that love was not so much the falling as it was the landing; that love was often nothing more than a patch of grass and taking a stand to fight for it, and maybe then they would be ready to address this spark of a thing, to beg and cajole and coax it to full flame.

Tonight under the acacia, they would content themselves with enjoying each other’s company. They would roll the idea of what could be like a ball between their fingers, but that space? They would not fill that space with words. They would hold off speaking about the thing another night, another month, another year. Until they knew better safe was easier than love.

© 2016 k.amoh

 

*thanks for the advice, Vicky!*

Ball don’t lie

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

Dribble hard to the left, crossover, two dribbles to the right, pull up jump shot.

Brick. Get the rebound.

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

Size up the defender, jab step, pump fake. Pretend he jumps, lean into him and draw the foul on the shot.

Brick. Get the rebound.

Wonder how long I’ve been out here. Legs are sorta numb, but it’s the good kinda numb. The no-pain-no-gain kinda numb. Guess I’m supposed to like it.

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

Post up on the low block. Two hard crab dribbles into the lane, Hakeem dream-shake into Jordan fadeaway.

Brick.

Gaddamit.

Damn. Been working hard on these shots and still can’t get nothin’ to fall. Screw this. Gonna go get that damn ball and go.

Where’d it roll off to? Over… there.

Go get it. Hm, haven’t shot any threes. Maybe shoot some threes, get an ego boost. Yeah, do that.

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

Top of the D. Step back, shoot the three.

Brick.

Hm, maybe I need to warm up. Another one. Step back, shoot the three.

Brick.

For the love of –

Get the rebound. Try a shot from the corner. It’s a shorter distance to the hoop, right? Yeah.

Pump fake, crossover right, corner three. Oh I feel good about this one, this one’s gonna –

Airball.

I’m done! Forget this bull. I’m gonna go get that traitor ball and go. Gaddam.

Go get the ball. Pick it up. Feel the leather, dribble once. Feel the leather, dribble again.

Sigh. Who am I kidding? I love this too much.

Wonder if I’m gonna make the team. Coach says I’ve made progress, but I dunno if I believe him.

Two dribbles behind the back, fake a spin right, shoot the fadeaway.

Miss.

I mean look at that. Call that progress? Sometimes I feel Coach believes in me more than he should. I remember at last practice he told me to believe in the process. Trust the basics.

What does that even mean? Sounds like something from a fortune cookie.

It’s funny, I don’t think I even know what simple looks like. Selasi’s always saying I overthink things, and ever since she said that I’ve been overthinking about my overthinking. I have a problem.

Trust the basics. Play simple. Remember why you love this.

Sigh. Let go, man. Let go. Can’t control a damn thing by worrying it to oblivion. Gotta believe in the process.

Dribble low and slow. Feel the shock travel up my arm as the ball meets my hand. Remember. Feel the hard court beneath my feet. Remember. Feel the sweat down my brow.

Trust. Basics.

Two dribbles into the arc. Simple jumpshot.

Trust the basics. Believe in the process.

Trust Coach.

Swish.

Get the rebound. Two dribbles right, crossover. Simple jumshot.

Swish.

Huh. Maybe Coach is on to something.

plantain chips

He was almost there. He shivered as he walked, despite his brisk pace. It was cold out, and the air smelled of oncoming rain. The moon hung full and polite in the night sky, casting its borrowed light sparingly, as though it didn’t dare expend too much of it. Well-mannered celestial bodies know you aren’t liberal with what isn’t yours.

Moonlight. He imagined he could see it take time to float down, falling softly to break apart delicately, blanketing everything with a glow so soft it played at the edges of his vision, like a half-conscious dream. Or maybe I’m just being melodramatic, he thought.

Melodramatic. He liked that word. Hold on, it reminded him of the one he’d learned this morning. What was it–

“Mellifluous,” he said out loud. “Mel-li-FLU-ous. Mel-LI-FLU-ous. Mellifluous.” He rolled the word on his tongue, like alewa. He liked how it sounded like what it meant: sweet and smooth, pleasing to hear. What an honest word.

Selassie sat waiting for him at their favourite haunt, the park bench where they’d first met six years ago. Her eyes lit up as she caught sight of him, and he felt a broad stupid grin part his lips. That day he’d tried to hit on her with one of his lame pick-up lines. He couldn’t remember the one, but she probably did. He was still grinning as he sat next to her, taking the open bag of plantain chips she offered.

“Hey Lassie, do you remember the line I used when we first met?”

“Of course, it was pathetic,” she chortled. “Hey babe, how’s about we fix the alphabet and put U and I together like it’s supposed to be?” she said, doing her best impression of a tool.

He laughed out loud, spraying plantain chips. “Good Lord, that was awful!”

“You’re telling me. I rolled my eyes so hard I wonder how they didn’t fall out of their sockets.”

She reached across his body for a handful of chips, popping them into her mouth one by one. She hadn’t become his girlfriend, but instead had over time become the best friend imaginable.

“What’s your word for the day?” she asked, popping a plantain chip into her mouth.

“Mellifluous. It means sweet and smooth, pleasing to the ear.”

“That’s a good one,” she said with a smile.

He sighed contentedly as they shared the chips in silence. He liked being with Lassie. Everything was so uncomplicated and drama-free with her. He had enough internal angst to deal with, and between struggling to find the meaning of life and figure out his place in the world, he didn’t have a lot of wiggle room to accommodate external angst.

“What’s wrong with you, Dodzi?” she asked, breaking the silence. “You’re doing that thing where you stare off into space and mouth things to yourself,” she said, then skyed the bag of chips, emptying the last bits into her mouth.

He opened his mouth to tell her he was fine, then hesitated. This was Lassie, his best friend. He could talk to her about anything. He had nothing to hide.

“Well, I’ve been thinking of ending things with Aseye,” he said, not looking in her direction.

No reaction from her. He continued.

“Lately I’ve been feeling distant from her. I love her, but sometimes I feel she’s more in love with who I could be than she is with who I am at present. I feel she loves a version of me that happens somewhere down the line, who has it together, knows what he wants and knows how to get it.” He glanced her way.

She stared at him blankly, the beginnings of a confused look readying themselves to be called upon. He wondered at that, but continued.

“Because I’m in love with that guy too. And I feel I should be pursuing him instead,” he finished, glad he’d finally said those words out loud. He’d rehearsed this conversation so many times. This was the part where she nodded in understanding and said –

“Good Lord, what?” she exclaimed, an utterly bewildered look on her face, now fully formed.

“‘Guy’? What guy? What the hell are you on about? Wait, are you coming out or something?”

“What? No! I’m saying I feel Aseye and I should take a break from each other.”

“Where’s this from? I thought you guys were happy!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms in the air, obviously frustrated.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, but like I said I just feel we’re not in the same place, y’know? I just feel I’m not good enough for her,” he said, looking her in the eye.

And just then, she rolled her eyes.

Selassie’s eye rolls were, as a rule, the stuff of legend, masterful in their execution and epic in magnitude. He couldn’t help but feel a little emasculated every time she hit him with one of those, and this one, this one was Richter-scale worthy. He felt himself shrink a little.

“Oh, cut the crap Dodzi, you’re taking the moral high ground? Seriously? You’re going to break up with her because you think you’re ‘bad for her’? You only get one lie, Dodzi, you don’t get to lie to her and to yourself. What’s this really about? Drop the bull, fool.”

He stared at her in shock. Why was she reacting this way? He opened his mouth to continue but she held up a hand to stop him.

“Do I look like I’m finished? Don’t speak until I’m finished!”

“But you just asked–”

“Shut. Up. Look, Dodzi, I get you. I really do. Sometimes I wonder what that fact says about me, but that’s beside the point.

“Most days I love how smart you are. Every time you talk about some dead philosopher your eyes light up in a way that should be disturbing but is just adorable, and I love how you can go on and on about existential angst and absurdism or whatever else catches your fancy despite the fact it’s all so mind-numbingly dull, but I’m starting to wonder if that stuff isn’t just some kind of defense mechanism for you.

“I feel you ask questions for asking’s sake, and ignore the possibility that maybe there are answers to them, or that the answers don’t matter, because you’d rather cocoon yourself in uncertainty. And honestly, as far as defense mechanisms go, that’s a pretty lame one.

“You spin your own reality around you, with all your thinking and philosophizing. You think reality is affected by your denial of it? Because you don’t ‘see it the same’? Your ‘existential anguish’ is a lame excuse for putting off responsibility. Your head is so far up your philosophical colon that you don’t see life happening all around you!”

He sat there open mouthed, shocked and frankly, a little hurt.

“It would have been easier to say ‘I’m fine,’ when I asked how you were doing, don’t you agree?” she asked as she sat back, the corners of her mouth twitching slightly.

He resisted the temptation to sulk, choosing instead to sit in silence. Was all that stuff she’d said true? If it was, she’d given him a lot to think about.

She leaned back against the bench, staring up at the full moon.

“You should be a writer, y’know. You know a lot of big words and big ideas,” she said after a while.

He glanced at her, feeling his resentment fade. He sighed.

“I don’t know how to make the words come alive,” he said.

“That’s easy. Ask them to, nicely. You’d be surprised how far manners get you,” she said with a smile. He loved her smile. “You should totally follow your dreams,” she said, her eyes twinkling. He caught that.

“I think I’ll pass. Dreams are overrated. They don’t buy bread,” he said with a grudging laugh. “Besides, you don’t believe that stuff.”

“Of course I don’t. It’s a little known fact the Association of Self-Help Gurus had a meeting and invented that idea to drive book sales. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you.”

He laughed out loud. Lassie smiled, glad to see he was no longer sulking.

“I’m serious, though. You could pass for a half decent writer. A lot of them get by just pulling Rumplecrapskins.”

“They spin gold out of crap?”

“You bet you they do.”

He laughed again. She always made him laugh.

They lapsed into a companionable silence, the weight of the words Lassie had spoken earlier laid aside for the moment in favour of a shared laugh. He still didn’t know what to do about Aseye, but maybe Selassie was right, and he wasn’t confused for the reasons he’d given. Man, she’d given him a lot to think about.

“Dodzi,” she said suddenly.

“Mm-hm?”

“You know how clarity is easy when you aren’t neck deep in the thing?”

“Yeah.”

“And how if the roles had been reversed, and you were asked to give advice to someone in your situation it would have been crystal clear what they had to do?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“I dunno. It was just something that crossed my mind.” She reached into the satchel at her side and pulled out another bag of plantain chips. “Want some?” she asked as she opened it.

He exhaled loudly, feeling the weight lighten, as though it had deflated a little.

“I love every single fiber of your being, Selassie.”

“I know you do, silly, I’m delightful. What’s not to love?”

confession

 

**an unfinished draft.

 

I knelt in the confessional, waiting for the priest. He entered, cleared his throat, settled down. He gave a blessing, a greeting, and shared a Scripture. I crossed myself and said:

“Bless me father, for I have sinned. My last confession was four months and three days ago.”

“Go ahead son, I’m listening.”

I fidgeted a little, not sure where to start. I would start from the middle.

“I pray to God to save me from my dreams.

“I see what dreams do to people. What a belief that there’s a version of you that has it together can do to a person.

“They’ve told you dreams are what you should live for, but for how long? A dream is the labour pain of an unborn future. Time is pregnant, and life is the midwife. Reality should have been the umbilicus to these dreams but it is more often a noose, and so our dreams are miscarried.

“Dreams are fine in so long as they give us anchor points to the future in the present, but when they become more than anchors? When they become a frame of reference mocking us with what could-have should-have would-have been? They become tyrants, chaining us to any-when but now, with the regret, and the pain, and the misremembered futures.”

I heard the rustle of his cassock as the priest shifted in his seat. He must have wondered where I was going with this. I plowed on.

“Even worse is when you get them. When you get the one thing that was supposed to make you happy, the life you were supposed to live that would have completed and fulfilled you, the you that was supposed to be better. Even worse is when you catch up to the you you’ve been chasing all your life, and it turns out the future you is just like every other infatuation you’ve ever had. You built them up so much in your head, and when you finally met – when you finally met, there was nothing. They were a flat, cardboard cutout; and now you are that cutout. Just like every other infatuation – it was better when you were in love with the idea of it.

“So I pray to God to save me from my dreams. They’re a hole in my head. I don’t want the company of ghosts that watch silent as I slave under their haunting.”

“But what is your sin, son?”

I don’t know what I expected, coming here. I guess I just needed someone who had to listen to me talk.

“I have murdered my darlings, Father. I am sorry for these and all of my sins.”

I stood up to leave.

“Hold on son,” the priest said. I waited.

“In thirty years of ministering I must say this is the strangest confession I’ve ever had, and I’ll tell you, there have been some strange ones.

“But I sense that your real need is for someone to listen without reproach or a bow-tied solution, and so I will offer neither. What I will tell you – what I will tell you however is it’s okay to let go of dead dreams and embrace new ones. If even the umbilicus feels like a noose, it doesn’t have to be a ball and chain as well.”

I breathed deeply the smell of old wood and varnish. The weight in my chest felt a tiny bit lighter. I smiled a small smile and said, “Amen, father.”

“God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to confess my sins, do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.”


	

trigger

He put the bottle to his lips, took a swig, set the bottle down on the table, cursed, picked it up and put it to his lips once more. He was tired of what was happening with Selassie, but he was not frustrated by it. Because he understood. Hell, five years ago their roles had been reversed.

He remembered when he’d first met her. He’d been a mess. The depression he’d battled for years had reached a tipping point, and he’d begun dying on the inside. Then she burst into his life like a sun and breathed colour into his gray existence. For some reason only she could fathom, she’d decided to love him. She’d pulled him out of his self-pity inch by wretched inch and showed him love. She broke down his walls, and taught him how to live again.

Two years later they married, and for a while they were happy. But then, on the second anniversary of their marriage she miscarried. After hours in the emergency room she went into forced labour. They lost the baby. That day, something else inside Selassie died. She somehow got it into her head that she had failed him, and it had eaten at her soul. A part of her had died, and she was not the same.

A few weeks ago she found his gun. She fell into the habit of taking it from its hiding place and staring at it for hours. They both knew the gun wasn’t loaded, but her behavior unsettled him still. He knew Selassie. There was no “try” with her. There was only do, or do not. In her mind, intention was not divorced from action. She would think long and hard about a thing, but once she made up her mind about it, it was as good as done. Because of this single-mindedness he knew the day she died would be the day she pulled the empty gun’s trigger. It did not matter whether the gun was loaded or not. The gun did not need physical bullets to kill her spirit.

He sighed, and startled at the whistle of his breath in the bottle. Lost in thought, he’d forgotten he still held it to his lips. He downed the rest of its contents in a few gulps. He would need all the liquid courage he could get.

“Selassie? Selassie where are you?” He made his way through the dark hallway. Whenever she got like this, Selassie hated light. She would slip out of their bed into the living room and sit in the dark, the gun in her hands. She never made a sound, but her silence tore at him like no sobbing ever could.

He could only just make out the shape of her body in the dark. She sat curled up on the sofa with her legs tucked under her. He couldn’t make out her features as he sat next to her on the creaky sofa. Despite the dark, his mind’s eye saw her in detail so sharp it was almost painful. Her eyes, shut tight against the pain; her nostrils, flaring as her breaths grew sharper; her lips, pressed tight to stop their quivering.

God, he loved her. God, he hated her pain.

He sat next to her in silence, listening to her breathe. He’d long ago learned words were useless. He tried reaching an arm around her shoulders, but she pulled away from him. He sighed and leaned back against the sofa, the ancient relic creaking in protest. He cast a glance at Selassie’s shadowed form.

Dammit, tonight would be different.

“Mmm. I don’t think I ever told you that one story, the one about the boy who thought he had a cavern in his chest? He felt so empty inside. That one’s good. It’s all jumbled up in my head and might not make any sense when I’m done. But it’s good. Are you listening?

“This boy was a reader, see. He also thought too much. One day he read about a man that lived in ancient Greece called Daedalus, who built a labyrinth to imprison a monster. He thought about it, and got it in his head that the cavern inside him was a monster–can you believe this kid? Who thinks like that?–and he built all these walls around it, see, and called them names like I’m Fine, It’s OK, There’s Nothing Wrong, and Don’t Worry. He thought that way, the monster would get lost in the maze and he could forget about it. Are you listening, Selassie?” He could feel tears welling in his eyes.

“Then he read about Daedalus’ son, Icarus, who thought he could fly into the sun with wings held together with wax. He fell to his death when the wax melted. The boy thought about it and decided the melting wax was his tears, so he made himself forget how to cry so he’d never…” He drew in a sharp breath and took her hand. “Dammit I’m not making any sense!–before I met you, Selassie, please–you helped me make sense of myself. You loved me when I didn’t love myself, Selassie! You taught me how to break down my walls, I don’t know what I’d do without you Selassie, please please don’t, please don’t pull the trigger please–”

She threw her arms around him and let the gun drop to the floor with a clatter. He hugged her tight, and wept into her shoulder. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried. He would cry as hard as he could tonight. He was crying for the both of them.

“It wasn’t your fault Selassie,” he whispered. “It wasn’t your fault.”

She held him tighter and said nothing. It would be a while before she got better, but she would get better. It was his turn to love her to recovery.