Gazing into the misty embrace of the steamed-up bathroom mirror, his desolation weighed heavily upon his soul like an anchor dragging him down. His pallid skin mirrored the color of despair, and his bloodshot eyes told tales of countless sleepless nights. “Never again,” he whispered, the words etching themselves into the depths of his weary being.
His trembling hand reached out for the tube of toothpaste, a feeble attempt to regain a semblance of normalcy in the face of overwhelming turmoil. Wrapped in a suffocating shroud of anxiety, his entire being yearned for a small indulgence, a sip of liquid solace, just to pacify the jangled nerves that threatened to devour him whole, so he could muster the courage to confront the challenges that awaited him with each passing day.
He hated Christmas, a burning fire of resentment fueled by countless chaotic and anxiety-filled December mornings, that raged internally. Festive cheer did nothing but add flames to the emptiness and despair he cultivated within. The weight of expectancy, like a lead burden, made every forced smile a demonic chore. A beckoning call from the sanctuary of the bookstore, fog-horned out across the morning winter smog.
Trampling through his austere and barren apartment, he frantically searched for his coat as his head pounded. Muttering to himself, he fumbled through the dingy and dimly lit corridor, spotting his grey, woolen jumper. The exact location of his other garment was unknown, and frankly, he didn’t have the patience or time to search for it like buried and forgotten trinkets.
An icy blast of frigid wind assaulted his exposed skin as he walked down the frozen cobblestone street. Somewhere in the distance, the merry sound of discordant singing could be heard, cutting the chilly day like a knife through a steaming fruit cake. Grimacing, he tried to block the cacophony of horrendous noise caused by a child gleefully shouting the lyrics in a high-pitched shrill.
“Merry Christmas,” brightly squeaked the tiny child as she lifted her hands to secure her antennas on her head. “I’m Cindy Lou Who,” she cheerfully said with an exuberance that made him quicken his pace.
“If you were really Cindy Who, all of your pretty and brightly colored presents would be stolen by an intruder,” replied the man with a taunting grin as he sped through the throng of laughing and cheerful people, sighing in relief as he reached the heavy bookshop door.
Peering through the smoke-dusted glass pane, and disturbed by the lack of movement from within, he cautiously turned the brass handle. Stepping inside, he noted the eerie stillness of the usually bustling library of books. Wafts of smoke from recently extinguished candles faintly perfumed the air as scattered pages of literature drifted like tumbleweed across the darkened oriental rug like ghoulish remnants of forgotten knowledge.
Pausing, he let his eyes adjust to the dim illumination of the room, calming his fraying nerves as best he could. An elegantly decorated and hard-covered book seemed to call to him with the seductive wail of a siren as he nervously inspected the gold lettering on the cover that formed the title, “Fleeting Memories.” A shiver of trepidation scurried up his spine, like a panicked mouse. Yet as if by possession, he slid the book onto the red oak table, quickly opening the cover.
He sat motionless for what felt like hours, engrossed in every detailed word situated between the long-forgotten covers. His heart slowed to a consistent beat as he thumbed each page, slowly he melted into each paragraph as if he were becoming the very parchments himself. The room around him faded into a blur of forgotten thoughts and memories.
Thud, thud, thud, sounded the noise from upstairs, jolting him from his distraction as his eyes quickly darted around the dimly lit space in search of danger. Placing the book instinctively back on the wooden top shelf, he attempted to compose himself as his heart clashed like a drum in his chest.
A feminine and exuberant laughter echoed from the old and splintered walls of the elegant building. Twirling in front of him, a tiny woman clapped her hands together in excitement, “I love our story time,” she stated, as she grabbed his hand in sheer exuberance. “Please read another one. Just one more. I promise.” she pleaded as she looked on in expectation.
Bewildered, the man’s face twisted into a state of terrified confusion before he spoke, “You have me mixed up with…”
The woman quickly placed her icy fingers on the side of his face, as if trying to embrace his essence, causing terror to cascade through his body. Cold and clammy fear enveloped him, not because her calming presence was disturbing, but because he knew her from a distant past life. A torrent of energy passed between the two entities. Perhaps, he was simply dead and decaying in the moist ground, he reluctantly thought, or maybe this was a nightmare from which he could not escape.
The woman’s eyes filled with compassion as she mouthed the words, “No” in a type of assured whisper. Raising her calm voice, she replied to his musings, “You aren’t, Sir.”
Ironically, he felt like a disembodied spirit left to wander the earth in search of something precious, a vital puzzle piece that would ignite his fractured spirit. Opening his mouth to formulate a response, she interrupted him by letting out her breath in a huge sigh.
“Sorry, I think you were going to say something to me, Sir.” Looking down in regret at her brightly colored Disney skirt, she continued, “I do tend to interrupt, and I have apologized so much to you before.”
“Just a tendency,” the man stated with a rarely shown smile and a wry laugh. “How do I know you,” he pondered as he tightly closed his eyes, letting the comforting darkness descend upon him like a warm blanket.
Allowing a colorfully hued crystal to catch glimpses of light, her delicate fingers began spinning the rounded stone across the smooth surface of the desk.”
With his outreached arm, he stopped the pebble’s revolutions with the tip of his finger. “Such small trinkets bring you so much joy, yet even I can see the tormented sorrow within your eyes, little one, what happened?”
The atmosphere struck a deep winter chill, as the silence cut the air like a hot knife through butter. She looked up at him briefly, before dashing her gaze away. “Don’t you remember?” she spoke, her voice holding back a painful hurt.
Steeply cloaked in a wave of perplexment, he replied, ”No, should I?”
“I live sheltered and loved in the recesses of your fragmented memory,” she replied with an adoration in her shaking voice as an image of a big black bird and a fox took shape in his mind. She continued with confidence, “My Raven, I am your wife.”
Staggering from the wooden seat in disbelief, he gaped at her wide-eyed as he recalled her happiness and her inner fire. The woman seemed to slowly disintegrate from his vision as he leaped to his feet in joy.
“Now, I know,” he exclaimed in childlike joy.
He bolted upright, his body soaked in a layer of sweat that chilled him in the draft of the room. Rubbing his eyes, his mind raced, “Was that just a dream?”
Staring deeply once again into the morning dewed mirror, he wiped the condensation with a single brush of his hand, revealing the ashen silhouette of his being. He wore a glint of a smile as he recoiled the memories of his apparent vision.
Turning the slightly skewed key in the entry of the store, he noticed a misplaced book sleeping on the counter aside from the chair. Picking it up, he turned the pages, only to discover they were blank.
Written by Raven Black and Isabella Rose - November 2023
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