SHORT STORY | LOSING HOPE
(A Year of Aprils)
The first time I met Hope she was standing barefoot in her mother's flower garden, giving me the finger. I never knew exactly why she did that but there she was knee deep in a sea of chrysanthemums completely impervious to the fact that our life together was about to become a perverse, Twilight Zone version of "Romeo and Juliet" on acid, only, hopefully, with a happier ending.
Even after all those years later, in spite of what a bright and ferociously beautiful child she still was, I was about the only person on earth willing to put up with the green-eyed monster that she thought she'd hidden away in the back of her mind. She did her best to keep it chained up but I think I always knew just how vicious that black hearted bastard would eventually turn out to be. If I could have found a way to tear its face off, rip its guts out, and neuter it I would have but I never did.
The last time she stuck her head in the oven after accusing me of boffing some bed board banging nympho cheerleader I didn't even know, I thought about going over there and actually turning on the gas for her -figured I'd be doing us both a favor. But instead I just sat there in a stupor and watched her wander around the house in a jealous frenzy, smashing her head against the wall, and breaking about everything we owned worth breaking over nothing, and I mean nothing. I hadn't even met the girl she was talking about.
In spite of her treacherous bitch of an insecurity issue I stayed faithful, and she knew it; she just didn't believe it, and there lay our twisted little conundrum. I was nobody special, just a guy so sick in love I could barely feed myself. But it was as if Hope had become possessed, loving and leaving me so fast I never knew if she was even there half the time. I don't know what it was. Even when she was there she wasn't there.
Unfortunately the price of happy endings had gone up and later that night, after she'd finally put the brakes on her runaway train of a jealous rant, she dragged her frazzled sleepy self to bed and nodded off, as if nothing had ever happened. I stayed up half the night watching her float away on a sea of regret, feeding a fire she never started, and lying there all alone in the ashes of all those boats she'd burned, just a tiny, vague, shadow of the self she could have been, all that brainpower and brutal beauty lost.
I think we both knew that if we didn’t find a way to kill that tormented monster in her head soon it would be a miracle if either one of us survived long enough for it to make any difference. But nobody was kidding anybody, time was running out on our not so quiet country life together.
It's hard to remember just when Hope went missing exactly. I knew she'd been watching me at the bar that night, but, when I turned around and took my first hard look into the demented face of that green eyed monster of hers, the one I used to think was nothing more than a figure of speech, I swear to God it stared right back at me from behind her bitter black eyes in such deranged fury that I had no doubt whatsoever that she was really gone this time, and that she wouldn't be coming back anytime soon. Just like that. Gone.
I can see the half-starved cows out there now, roaming around in trances in the parched and barren fields. Two chickens are perched on the open kitchen window sill, clicking their beaks against the last of the bone dry sweet corn. I don't know why they don't just move in. Everything's falling apart. Even the barn door's clapping like a trained seal, flapping it's busted hinges against the wind. But what do I care? Without Hope none of that matters anymore. Her shattered tea cups lay in the ghostly dust that hides beneath the bed and her broken dolls line up in crooked rows along the shelf like wounded sentinels, guarding a house nobody really lives in anymore. It's as if she'd died. Or moved to Iceland. Oh, her body's still there, crushed up against a wall of pillows on her side of the bed, but there's not much life left in it. Just a whisper of the girl she could have been, crying on the shoulder of a dead end road, rusting in the rain, wishing she were someone else, the treachery of suspicion still welded to her long white bones.
It was just a kiss. And Hope knew that's all it was. A simple, drunken kiss in a bar on a street in a one horse country town in the middle of nowhere. I never even saw the girl coming. She just staggered drunkenly up to me out of the blazing blue neon fog, stood up on her tip toes, and kissed me wet and hard right smack on the lips. That's all. A girl I'd never seen before and whose name I can't even remember. April, I think it was.
Tonight, Hope is over there on her side of the bed plastered up against the wall, thrashing around in her sleep like some smack happy, acid-popping Ahab, firing harpoons at imaginary whales and ignoring the bloody school of sharks rumbling against the bottom of her sinking ship. And then with no warning, she dives head first into the churning sea, smiling as she goes under. At peace at last.
My greatest fear is that someday I'll have to watch in horror as the sharks suck her down into a mysterious whirlpool that only she can see. If I knew how to kill all those monsters in her head I would but she won't let me. "I'm on my own now," she says, but that's not true. We're both trapped here together like two stranded pirates whose boats have all been burned.
"You can't save me now," she says, "go save yourself," and then slipping back into the shimmering depths, she slips away into the gleaming foam, hurling her body against the raging tide, her face glowing gold in the savage moonlight, swimming home alone. She, the brave ghost, and I, haunted, marooned on the widow's walk. .
I'd wait for her forever if I could, but I know someday she won't be back. It's only a matter of time they say. As it turns out, it's not just the one monster that has her by the throat but a malignant legion of demons. "Some kind of mental aberration", the doctors tell me. "An anomaly or perhaps a genetic malady of the mind," refusing to give it a name. But what do any of them really know? They don't know Hope.
When my shy little rock and roll angel stumbles through the back door that next morning and sits down in front of the fireplace in the far corner of her other world and begins singing and playing Silent Night on her air guitar, her fingers begin to flutter like drunk honey bees and the words of the song nestle up tight inside her mouth, but nothing escapes. "It's Silent Night, silly," she says, reading my face, smiling her crooked little angel smile; "you're not supposed to hear it."
Hope turned twenty-one today. The storm has calmed, but I'm not buying it. I can still hear it echoing up from beneath the fault line that runs between the two of us now. And when the salty breeze blows out all the candles on her birthday cake I made for her, her hands fly to her face in mock horror and the child in her beams, the look on her face an elegant study in bewildering grace. I reach out for her but she's not there. I fight until my heart breaks and my fingers bleed, but it does no good; I know in time I'll lose. But the only place I'm going is down with the ship, just like I promised her I would. What else can I do? That's what loving Hope does to people.