On the cusps of a new beginning, a flame from the past threatens to incinerate the prospect of a life beyond the hurt…
by: Claire Meyer ((Header art by Johnson Tsang.))
As Sam stares at the blank screen before him he ponders what he’ll do after college. In his peripheral, he catches the street lights snap on. Has he been there that long, he wonders. The time on the library clock reads seven thirty. His stomach gurgles. A sigh escapes his lips. He gathers up his belongings, logs off, and heads for the exit. He can still see the neon white of the monitor when he scrunches his eyelids shut.
On his way out, Sam passes a friend of his ex working the desk at the library. He turns his head the other way, a dull ache overtaking him.
Walking home across campus, the setting sun paints the sky a demure blue. He opens the door to his empty darkened apartment. His roommate must be out. After microwaving his prepackaged Indian food for one, he collapses himself on to the couch and opens up his laptop. The blank screen confronts him again.
Blowing air out of his cheeks, he sits up and puts his fingers on the dusty keyboard. “The Bolshevik Revolution was…” Believing he starts to many sentences with “the,” he deletes and starts over. “If one looks closely at the Bolshevik Revolution…” Too vague, he thinks. “When one thinks of the word revolution…” For some reason, he hates it.
Sam takes his phone out of his pocket, pulls up Facebook, types his ex’s name into the search bar, and hits enter. As he watches the loading wheel spin for almost a full minute, his fingers pick at the skin around his cuticles.
When the screen finally comes to life, his heart sinks. The first picture in the results is her face with some guy’s lips pressed up against it. Xavier, a published photographer who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro the previous summer, he discovers after some digging.
Sam lets himself sink back into the pliable cushions, and his eyes focus on the Wi-Fi router in the corner, flickering like a flame.
She had been on that couch before. It was where they’d kissed for the first time, come to think of it. He remembered feeling both cold and sweaty. He remembered trying to hide the shaking of his palms.
A pit of unrest settles in his stomach.
For months he hadn’t let himself check her profile, and he felt a sense of accomplishment. None of that mattered now though. It was back to square one.
The screen of his cell phone goes black. He presses the home button with underserved force to turn it back on, but the phone only blinks on and off again. He repeats the process a few times until his jaw is clenched and shaking, and then he sits up and slams the phone into the edge of the table with all the strength he has, and it tumbles to the floor surrounded by shattered glass. The room around him remains quiet for a while after that. No people are around outside and cars whir by undisturbed on the street. He rests his head in his hands. A few minutes pass before he looks at the crushed metal remnants on the ground, and whatever had taken hold of him before begins to wear off.
“Shit” he says.
The next morning as a thin, promising ray of golden light hits the wall, Sam swings his backpack over his shoulder and leaves his apartment. On the walk to the library he watches the street car go by, the passengers looking through the window with vacant stares. He searches for her face among them, almost without thinking.
The air is humid and warm outside and the grassy park is littered with students lying on blankets and teetering on slacklines. He wants to fall asleep in the hot grass. Later he tells himself before opening the swinging door, the cool stagnant air of an enclosed building coming to meet him.
He finds a vacant row of desktops, sits himself in front of one, and starts again on what he had failed to do the night before.
As the time icon on the bottom of his screen reads 12:04 am he types the last words of his essay — the last essay, of his college career. All at once, the stiffness in his shoulders seems to evaporate. He feels as if waking from a dream. He twists his back and scans his surroundings. He’s the only one in the room. He shuffles his belongings together and heads for the exit.
Outside, just as he had promised himself before, Sam lies down on the grass, gazing up at the few stars in the now black sky.
Almost a year prior, during one of the hottest summer days, they had brought towels and a Frisbee to that same field. They’d been dating for a week at that point, and they wanted to see if they could go at least one full day without touching each other.
Before getting lost in a day dream, he turns his attention to the excitement of finishing school, and begins fantasizing about all the new places he’ll go now that college is behind him.
That night Sam dreams that he walks by the desk at the library and sees her instead of her friend. She doesn’t notice him at first, but when she does, he feels the type of euphoria you only feel in dreams.
He wakes the next morning, an hour and a half before his alarm clock goes off, a restless melancholia lulling him out of bed. Brushing his teeth, he tries to recall his dream, as he eyes the toothpaste dripping out of his mouth and down his chin. He can’t remember what happened at all, only that she was there, and he berates himself for it.
Without tasting it much, he devours a slice of toast in a few bites as he scavenges around the apartment for his backpack. After downing a cup of instant coffee, he’s out the door.
The cold air of the library is a welcome escape from the beginnings of stifling heat outside. He logs onto a computer and navigates to his email. He had no new messages, not even from the two jobs he had applied for a week prior. He wants to scream.
Suddenly, Sam’s lack of a real phone feels unbearable, like a fading tank of oxygen. With no employment offer emails to respond to and no more school work, he decides he’ll make the ten-minute walk to the smartphone store. It will be strenuous in this heat, but it’ll be worth it.
On his way, he passes children on bicycles, unbothered by the sun, and a couple who block the narrow side-walk and slow his pace. They’re deep in conversation and don’t notice him.
“Excuse me,” he says, sounding a bit more sour than he meant to.
“Sorry,” says the woman, touching her boyfriend’s shoulder to maneuver him out of the way. He watches them grow further behind him in the reflection of his sunglasses, wishing he’d sounded kinder.
“Almost here?” reads the text that pops up on Sam’s smooth new cell phone screen.
“Be there in ten,” he responds, returning his attention out the train’s window at the river beneath him. He had always reveled in going over the river;,it was his favorite part on the journey to her old apartment.
Sam becomes a bit unnerved by thoughts of being in her area, but soon he’s thinking about getting off at the right stop, his knee bouncing. As he gets closer to his destination he hears muffled music booming and sees a teardrop of people bustling at the entrance of a door with a neon sign above it. After navigating the shoulders and elbows of the crowd, he’s inside where a stern-faced bouncer stops him in his tracks. He hands him five dollars and an I.D. The place is lit by fixtures as dim as candles, and is ringing with music so loud you’d have to shout into the ears of someone next to you.
At the bar Sam orders himself a beer and strains to spot his friend in the mob. Finally, in the back corner, he sees him standing in a sparse circle of people he doesn’t know. He downs a few sips of his drink and snakes his way through the dense crowd to the back of the room.
His friend greets him with an unrestrained smile and wide, outgoing gestures. He must have beat him to the bar, Sam thinks. He introduces Sam to the two boys next to him, and Sam pretends to have heard their names over the heart-vibrating bass.
They had met at an overcrowded party like this, and he could still recall the exhilaration of having to get close to an enticing stranger in order to talk over the noise. They’d tried sips of each other’s drinks, and it felt like a prelude. Sam is snapped out of his daydream by his friend asking a question, and he begins nodding and inserting commentary when needed. He feels another bubbling rage building in his stomach, or rather a helpless sense of frustration.
Almost all at once, he feels the sway of near full glass of alcohol he’s consumed and looks down at his drink like something in it might steady him.
Cassie, he thinks to himself.
It’s almost eleven thirty when Sam finally allows himself to check the time on his screen. All around where he sits on a bench in the back of the room, people chatter into each other’s ears. Across from him, bodies mush together on a dance floor, moving to the beat of monotonous remixes.
Sam’s intoxication is starting to fade. He finishes the last sip of beer at the bottom of his cup and starts to snake his way through the crowd towards the bar. When he reaches it, he flags down the bartender, who nods once and tells him to wait just a moment.
“Here you go,” says the bartender to someone a few persons over as he hands them a small glass drink.
“Thank you,” the person yells. The voice is a bit raspy, though high pitched and sing-song-y. He recognizes it and his heartbeat spikes.
All of a sudden he’s aware of his aloneness. She’ll wonder where his friends are, or if he has any friends at all. Has she seen him already?
Sam leans a bit forward, as to see, but not reveal himself. For an instant, he catches a glimpse of her red hair and leather jacket, the one that always squeaked a bit when she walked. She’s drinking a clear, bubbly liquid that he knows is a vodka and sprite. A powerful urge to run almost overtakes him, yet at the same time, he can’t shake the thought that her she might love him again, if only she sees him.
“What can I get for you,” interrupts the bartender, cleaning a shot glass in rushed, manic motions.
Sam looks at a drink menu on the counter to buy him some time. His intoxication is almost gone now and pulsing adrenaline has taken its place.
Pretending to read the fancy cursive on the piece of paper in front of him, he remembers the day she didn’t love him anymore. They were sitting on a bench outside of his apartment, and he mentioned something about getting lunch. When he met her gaze, she looked bored and uncomfortable.
“I’m ok,” he says finally looking up at the bartender, who responds with a grunt and moves on to the next in line.
He turns his back towards her, and makes his way towards the exit sign.
As he walks home through the lukewarm night, he lets her memory grow around him like moss, soft and suffocating.
Claire Meyer is a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English. She writes short fiction stories that center mostly on realistic, everyday life.