a short story by Charlotte Zerz
It all started with pain. I remember feeling pain. Not the physical kind; the one that makes you stay awake at night; the kind of longing that makes you go insane. The radio had reported the hottest day in a decade. I was wearing nothing but a bikini as I was standing in the bakery, ordering my usual. The baker’s teenage son gave me a big smile, his mother gave me a scowl. I was about to pay for my carrot bread and two bagels when I saw them.
He was gently touching the back of her neck, leaning in and kissing her, like he used to do with me. I wanted to say something, embarrass him in front of his new girlfriend, scream, yell at him, hit him. Instead I paid and left the bakery unseen. When I came home and handed the bread to my mother, trying to hide my sunken heart, I could see that it was useless. I could never hide anything from her. It hurt her to see me hurt like that. Mothers are pitiful creatures, they love their children, no matter what, they suffer with them and they laugh with them; if no person in this universe would love me, I knew my Mum still would. Like my grandmother had always done. Maybe that was why it was them I wanted to see first, that day of too much heat. Mum didn’t do much; she just held me in her arms and rocked me for a while. Grandma just sat there and watched over me in silence. But it helped. At least, I didn’t feel like I would tear apart any more, I just felt like all joy had gone from the world.
That week I went to a bar. I could have gone with friends, but I wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to see anyone. I didn’t want to tell anyone anything. All I wanted was to get drunk and sulk. The bar was empty. People were probably still outside, enjoying the warm weather; having a cider under a tree, playing the guitar, going to swim, getting a tan, fucking in the bushes. The bar keeper served me without asking questions or judgmental looks, he didn’t comment on my wearing a bikini, which I appreciated because I was there to get drunk, to forget; not to be cross examined. The last nights had been awful. I hadn’t slept at all. That image was still lingering in my head. That image of two people kissing in a bakery, under a rack of bread, smelling fantastic. So now I needed vodka. I was exhausted and in pain and drunk when I met the last person I would have expected to meet. I heard him talk on the phone next to me and recognized his voice. For a moment, I couldn’t believe it and then I turned to look at him and there he was. He saw me, looked at me with a surprised smile and sat down next to me.
“Hi there, Ferguson,” Mr. Drake said.
“Good evening,” I replied, trying not to sound drunk.
“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked and I nodded.
When he raised his hand to order, I saw that he wasn’t wearing his wedding ring. He usually did.
“Haven’t seen you in a while,” I said.
“Yeah, I was on a vacation.”
“How was it?”
“Didn’t I tell you not to mix work and private life?” he said, looking at me like a strict parent talking to a bratty child.
Only then I think did he notice my outfit.
“You look different,” he said.
“So do you. You’re really handsome all of a sudden.”
I was drunk enough to be cheeky and he seemed to like it.
“It’s really inappropriate to talk to your boss like that, Ferguson.”
“Not tonight,” I said and knocked back the drink he had ordered for me.
“The vacation was pretty shitty,” he said out of nowhere.
I kissed him.
It turned out that Mister Drake’s first name was Alan and that his wife had left him on that very shitty vacation and that they were going to get a divorce and that he was devastated. I guess we were both trying to comfort each other over our previous losses, over losing the most important person in our lives.
“Do you often do that?” Alan had asked me that evening, lying in bed next to me, shortly before falling asleep.
“Go into bars wearing a bikini.”
“I figured,” he said and then he fell asleep.
I watched him sleep and was jealous of his ability to stop thinking, to stop hurting and just sleep. If only I had told my grandma about Alan, if only I had told her anything, if only I had talked to her more often. Time runs through our fingers like sand. Why can’t it stand still? Just for a moment.
“If this moment could last forever, I would be the happiest man on earth,” that’s what Sam said to me one time we were kissing. It was the most beautiful thing anyone had ever said to me and I could feel my heart melt because I knew that then and there he had meant it. He had meant it all. He had loved me as insanely as I had loved him and sometimes being with him was too intense and I wished to never have met him, to never have hurt him. Why is it that we hurt the ones we love the most? Why do we need sadness to feel happy? What I should have said to him when I confessed my unfaithfulness to him; when we had that very long and very ugly conversation; would have been this: “Being with you is like coming home from a long exhausting journey every single day.” Instead, I let him break up with me.
Alan was greedy, he wanted too much too soon and when I told him that I felt too young to settle down, to marry or have kids, he knew it was a lie. I would have married Sam in a heartbeat, I would have had a dozen children with him, I would have gone to the end of the world with him. The heart is a muscle like every other, when worked out too hard, it needs time to recover. Alan didn’t get that. He was forty eight and I was twenty eight and when we reached the point of deciding for commitment or against it, I left him and he fired me. Why do we fall in love with one person and with another we don’t?
After I got out of that unhappy affair and fired from my job, I got the call. That grueling, horrible call. My sister sounded so calm. Grandma had said “goodbye to the world and her spirit had gone to a better place”. That was the way my sister expressed herself. She should have become a fucking poet.
“Can’t you just say she died?”
“What difference does it make?”
It made all the difference in the world to me, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t say that I needed her to say the words; I needed her to say that grandma was dead so that I could believe it. I needed to hear her say it. But she didn’t. So when I saw grandma lying in the coffin, my heart stopped, just for a moment, but it stopped. I felt a strong urge to lie in the coffin with her, to hug her and listen to her breathing; but, once again, I resisted. Sam was there; he had come to my grandma’s funeral and broke my heart all over again. He came even though I had hurt him so badly; he came because he knew how much I had loved her, because he had loved her too. We didn’t really talk but it was nice to have him there. I wanted to speak to him, more than I could say, so I kept silent. Shortly before he left, I scribbled on a piece of paper: “I would do anything to make you trust me again,” and sneaked it into the pocket of his jacket, hating myself in that moment for my cowardice. He’d probably never find the note. Or would he?
Charlotte read this story at our very first meeting on the 24th of April, 2017. Definitely check out her personal writing blog.