The afternoon was scalding and inhospitable. The man and the woman walked slowly down the sidewalk. They walked in silence, looking straight ahead. They passed many lawns and different colored houses, a few they had fantasized about buying. That was the past. Now loss walked with them. A dog barked. It broke the quiet for only a moment, parting it like a curtain. Their paces held even. They were almost to the convenience store, their excuse for a destination, when the man spoke.
“Have you even thought about the end of the world? What it would feel like?” His voice was low, his throat calloused.
The women didn't answer for four or five paces.
“Doesn't the world end every day? For someone, at least.”
He shook his head like he was trying to ward off a wandering thought.
“Yeah, but everyone loves to talk about the world ending like it's goddamn collective obsession. I just wonder if it could feel like today.”
“Maybe,” the woman said blankly. Her hair was stringy and unwashed. Her eyes were glassy like the koi they had seen at Sakura Express weeks before. He noticed the blue veins under the skin on her hands. It looked fragile, like rice paper. He gritted his teeth.
The bell rang sharply when those small hands opened up the large door to the convenience store. The store was empty except for the cashier in her plexiglass box. The man and the woman took their time until a mother and her son entered.
A sight or a sound can render one defenseless. It is no one’s fault. The mind simply grabs onto memory, lashes out and strips you down. The boy looked so much like him, they both thought, and were overcome. The man grabbed at emotion, shoved it down his throat, hid it in a queasy stomach. The woman felt a wave of numbness wash over her. She imagined a vat of lidocaine spilling down and over her. Her cheeks tingled and her eyes moistened of their own accord. The man and the woman each
grabbed a random item that they didn’t care for, paid for it, and left as empty as they came.
The sun was lower in the sky and the shadows were longer. They had taken only minutes in the store, but it felt like hours. This was happening too often, the woman thought. Time was slipping through her fingers, squirming away. Where did it go? She looked at the litter by the curb. A grocery list. Candy wrapper. Candy wrapper. Receipt. A lost pacifier. Soda can. Chip bag. The things that we forget, what we discard.
The man and the woman shuffled back to the house. He grumbled about stale chocolate. She could hardly taste her treat. The sidewalk was long and the grass between the cracks was parched by the heat. They entered the cool air of the house.
It felt just as stifling.
“Maybe we should move,” the man said, swatting at a fly.
“Maybe,” the woman replied.
She looked out the window at the long shadows on the jaundiced lawn. The flowers on the windowsill, delivered the day before, were already wilting and curling in. The floor next to the door was dirty and cluttered with discarded leaves, a forgotten fortune cookie slip, a medley of dirt from their shoes.
“I'm going to lie down,” she said.
He nodded and she left. The grey light in her room was some comfort. She pushed all the blankets and pillows off the bed and lay on the faded blue sheet. Her limbs were splayed like she was falling. She felt this feeling of falling even when she was standing, a constant free fall.
In the darkness of her room she lay, but she did not rest. The misery of an active mind when sleep will not come sat with her and she stared, eyes open, past the ceiling, trying to stem the wandering. You will never have a family, the thought kept returning again and again, no matter how many times she pushed it away. But it was better to lay herself down than exert the effort of living, living in a world that refused to give her what she wanted most.
The man sat in his chair, its arms worn with use. He watched a rerun of the latest game, one he had missed. Anger simmered. Outrage bubbled. His shout pierced the silence of the house.
“Goddamnit!” he shouted at a missed pass.
“Areyoukiddin’me,” he growled at a flag on the play, his mind red hot.
He let the game overtake him. His emotions moved through and over him, crawling across him, into his mouth. They loosened his tight throat.
He watched the television until the sounds became too vibrant and the sights too loud. He paced the room, searching his mind for anything. The yellow sun fell in the sky and turned red. The woman had not stirred from her place in the bed. He was alone in this desert.
He made the effort to pick up a picture frame that was face-down on the mantle, to look at the three of them -- father, mother, son. He threw it back down. Darkness came. He sat with it, raged against it. At midnight, he nodded off in his chair, fist-clenched, and night overcame him.
S M Van de Kamp is a creative writer living in Los Angeles. She believes that story has the power to change our world. It has the ability to soothe, to foster empathy, and to bring us into understanding with one another. S M Van de Kamp is currently finishing the first draft of her novel, actively working on a full-length book of poetry, and preparing to apply for an MFA in creative writing. Her work has often centered around the schisms and duality that exist in daily life and how people process difficult emotions.