This story is one of the April Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
I stumble across dead roots, poking up from cold dirt like the scraggly, unwanted teeth one might find in a child’s mouth. Unwanted, pointless, but there, visible. My feet thud on frozen ground in an irregular rhythm that doesn’t quite match the racing tempo of my heart.
No one knows I’m here today. No one knows because I haven’t found a way to tell them yet. How do you explain this type of situation to someone? I can just picture how it would go over.
“Hey. I’m going to visit a river, to sit and think thoughts of loss and love and dead boyfriends who may or may not be entirely responsible for the aforementioned depressing thoughts.”
Chances are the response would not be along the lines of:
“Cool, be home in time for dinner.”
Sitting my body down on the river’s edge, I sit with my feet dangling over the water—barely skimming the surface as I’m just the right height to sit here without getting my feet wet at all. I detach myself from everything, or at least try my best. When it’s peaceful around me is when my brain turns its most chaotic, when the thoughts I try to suppress bubble out, overflowing.
A troubling observation: The skin around my neck has turned green. Why is it green? I could say that it’s a visual representation of the things eating away at my very being. But really, it’s from the key.
I wear it constantly. To take it off would be a betrayal, and if nothing else I’m loyal to a fault.
I loved Jacob like his heart was mine, enough for our souls to become one, for the sun paled in comparison to the fire and light of simply us. Even when the cheap brass metal started to tarnish, I kept it on because, really, what else would I do with it except to wear it? What does one do, what options does one have to make use of the key to a dead man’s figurative heart? You can do nothing else except keep his key close, hold it to your chest in the knowledge that you own his heart, no matter how useless and still it may now be.
I had no control over his heart while he was alive. Even though I had its key, it had many holes—to the point where anything could invade, take over. An infestation of girls, eating away at the boy I loved. That’s what I’d seen it as. And sometimes, an extermination requires a willingness to do whatever is necessary.
I unwrap the scarf from around my neck, shivering as the cold air hits sensitive skin. Feeling the soft fabric between my fingers, I slowly bring my arm out over the river. Look at my arm, holding it out. Slowly let go and relish the freedom that comes with the simple action. Who knew that opening up your hand could be a sanctifying sort of thing?
Now all that I can do is remember the good times. It’s hard sometimes. But the scarf was the last tie I have to the unpleasantness, and now that it’s gone, I’m finally free.
I sat outside a half-frosted window, gazing in at a scene that left me feeling colder than the early winter chill in the air. Jacob sat at a table, smiling, laughing, eyes bright and fixed on a girl who is most definitely not me. I stood there, staring. He must’ve felt my eyes on him, because his own raised to meet mine. He gazed at me without remorse while she giggled, touching his arm. And I watched, and I broke inside until nothing’s left of me but a little screaming girl clinging to a shred of sanity. I became desperate.
I’d gathered my thoughts, gone over every possible option. The only one that guaranteed the outcome I wanted was drastic, but as drastic as it was, it obviously worked. Jacob never glanced once at another girl, never cheated again.
He never breathed or spoke or walked or lived again, but that’s unimportant because of the one detail that matters the most:
He’s mine forever now.