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Old Scottish Drinking Song

by A Baptiste 5 months ago in Short Story
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TW: Mental Illness, PTSD, War, Blood

Old Scottish Drinking Song
Photo by Lucas Santos on Unsplash

The light of the pub is low and golden, illuminating the dark rings of the wood with glowing circles. I trace them with a crooked finger, slowly, with my cheek on the cold oak. My eyes droop closed before snapping open. The chattering of the other patrons has become a buzz in the back of my brain.

I think that someone is singing.

And all the harm I've ever done

Alas, it was to none but me

The low tenebrae washes over my dulled senses like the waves lapping the sand. She calls name softly, breath warm on my ear and fingers curling around the thick canvas of my coat. I pull my eyes to her, half-delirious and half-drunk off hard liquor and the sleep pulling on me. It blurs the edges of my vision and fills me with a warm numbness in the bottom of my stomach. I realize that, somehow, I am still breathing.

"Come on, love," She coaxes, softly as the snowflakes drifting and melting outside. "Come on, my darling girl. Let's go home."

I can never go home again, I want to tell her.

I've been lost at sea, and all that drifted back on the wine-dark waters was an empty shell. When she put me to her ear, she could surely hear where my heart used to be, where it now whistles eerily.

But I don't say that. I can;t.

My lips are impossibly dry. My tongue darts over the flakey skin and bloodied cracks. The air hums with the chirping of crickets, and a soft breeze rolling from the water. I want to pry my lips open, force them apart with my weathered hands, but my arms are too tired.

I do not allow her to help me walk. I stand a little away, shuffling forward awkwardly.

Wispy smoke puffs from her lips.

The frigid wind slaps against my cheeks, and for a moment, I am in the trenches once more, muddy and blood-splattered and heavy beyond belief. I drag my shoes through the mud, trudging through but sinking, sinking every step. The cricket's chirping increases in volume, becoming the drone of overhead Bombers. Slumping against the wall of the trench is a boy, one of my boys, his eyes lifeless and shining and hollow.

She must notice, for she takes my hand and curls our fingers together. The snow crunches under our feet, snowflakes dying silently around us in our hair and in her eyelashes. A yellow street lamp cuts through the inky darkness like a lighthouse in the fog, its shadow stretching into the black.

She helps me shed my coat, one sleeve at a time. The small television drones on in the living room. I hear the wood creak under our steps, feel her toes poke my heels.

I drop onto the faded quilt, not bothering to climb under, burying my face into the pillow. She sits on the foot of the bed and taps my angle, carefully removing my shoes. Right first, then left. I turn over, sliding my elbow over my eyes.

"I'm sorry," I rasp. "I'm sorry."

I can feel her eyes cutting though the dark. "For what?"

"I'm sorry that you love me," I say. "I'm sorry that I'm not - Nevermind."

And more words are crowding my mouth like the bodies in medical tents. And I can't bear to look at her and see her eyes, full of love and pity, flowing as the seawater does, and I can't bear to think any more.

I can't seem to cry, either.

I cover my face and breath raggedly, then steadily.

By her presence alone, I am guided like a ship on choppy waters to the dreamless dark.

Short Story

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A Baptiste

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