Broken - short story

This story deals with the theme in two ways: The girl unleashes, as in kapow; the boy is unleashed, as in unbound.

Broken

I was unconscious when she arrived, bringing a bitter gale that tore through my dream. My eyes cracked open, painfully, like cobwebbed doors on broken hinges, revealing her slender figure framed in the doorway, watching. Her hair was tied at the back, exposing the face I’d fallen for when we were kids, except, now we were almost real adults, it was beginning to change. Between the symmetrical eyebrows a wounded frown split her forehead like it was the Grand Canyon of consternation. An overnight bag crouched warily at her feet.

My room was a mess. Noodle wrappers, empty cans, broken cigarettes and endless reams of paper, pockmarked with the acne of my thoughts, lay scattered. From it’s pedestal on the desk a green lamp cast a murky layer of doubt as far as the bed. Shadows owned the rest of the room. From under the bed an ashtray expelled air like breath from a dead smoker’s lungs. The only sound was my own coughing and rain exploding limply against the greasy window.

A violent urge to tidy up, set the room in order, came and went. I stuffed a pillow under my armpit and tried to figure out why she was here.

We’d parted company that morning, sometime after she came down from the country and I went to meet her at the city train station. We’d just taken our seats on the train that would shuttle us to my college when, perceptive girl, she asked me what was the matter and why was I being so quiet. On the advice of a mutual friend I told the truth. I explained it was nothing to do with her but things weren’t working out. I said she was still welcome to come stay at my dorm but there was no more ‘us.’ She said, ‘Just like that?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ The following silence morphed into a gigantic oxygen-absorbing sponge, like something out of Star Trek. Or maybe I imagined it. In stressful situations some people fight, others run, but me, I get tired. We all have our differences. The smooth rocking of the carriage didn’t help. Besides, after dropping my bombshell there wasn’t much left to say. I only nodded off for two minutes as the train docked into some random metropolitan station. I surfaced in time to see the platform fall away. She was already gone.

‘I didn’t think I’d see you again,’ I offered. It wasn’t a biscuit but it was all I could think of.

‘May I come in,’ she said. Formal, assaulting me with politeness.

‘Sure,’ I smiled, hating her.

She crossed the threshold in a pair of designer jeans, hips moving with the grace of a feather falling from heaven through a windless sky, making me tense with desire. I wondered why I came clean so quickly, a real man would have fucked her first.

‘Nice room,’ she said looking around, absorbing every atom, as if later she’d be asked to describe the room in minute detail. A gust of wind rattled the window.

‘How did you find me?’ I said.

‘Your letters,’ she replied, allowing enough of a pause for me to feel like an idiot for not catching on, ‘You wrote your address on the back.’

Six long letters, every word dripping with the pollen of my love. Each page adorned with pictures of our imagined embrace. We were in love and my letters will always be proof. I wondered if she would keep them, leave them behind for her grandkids to discover in the attic one wintry day, long after she and I are gone. They could take turns guessing who had been the author, wondering what antique, unfathomable love could have possessed her to hold onto them.

‘I need a drink,’ she said.

’There’s tea,’ I said, ‘or coffee.’

‘No,’ she said, ‘I need a proper drink.’

‘Of course,’ I said, wondering what she could possibly want. ’There’s a bar down the road.’

I coughed. She folded her arms. Our eyes locked. I made a show of frowning. She did something with her lips.

‘I need to get dressed,’ I said.

She clenched her jaw, slowly, then unclenched, and clenched it again.

I threw back the blanket expecting her to look at my dick, predicting she would attempt to humiliate me in this way. Instead, she bore through my skull, carving out the flesh behind my eyes with the sabres of her gaze, electrocuting students at the other end of the building with her newly acquired invisible death ray. I imagined hearing their screams as I shoved my legs into a pair of corduroy flares. I pulled on a crumpled top, slipped on my sandals, grabbed my coat, then I stalked out.

She said, ’Don’t you lock the door?’

‘If I did you’d still be outside,’ I said, ’Wouldn’t you?’

Once, after we made love, I asked her to tell me my flaw as a person. She answered immediately. ‘Your words,’ she said, ‘Sometimes you say the most beautiful things. That’s when girls fall in love with you. Other times.’ Her sentence dropped away like a continent falling into the sea. I teetered on the edge, waiting for a truth to be revealed. Her voice, when it returned, was like a volcano quietly erupting beneath the water’s surface, causing, without the slightest malice, silent waves of destruction to fan out towards the horizon. ‘Other times the things you say can be so hurtful,’ she said, ‘I don’t think you realise how much.’

We exited the lobby. Rain started spitting carelessly into our faces. I almost said, ‘Nice weather.’ Hunched like Arctic explorers we pushed our way along the hard pavement under orange streetlights until we arrived at a chipped blue building on the corner. I held open the door. She brushed past me, didn’t look up.

The air inside the pub was warm. It had the texture of velvet dipped in treacle. A log fire crackled to itself in the centre of the main room. Heavy wooden tables squatted over a thick maroon carpet, separating chairs like bouncers anticipating a brawl. The place was empty.

‘Where do you want to sit?’ I said. She ignored me and took the chair nearest the fire. I thought about running back to my room, locking the door, ordering the porter to call the police should some crazy girl come looking for me.

I leaned against the bar trying to anticipate the future. A girl appeared. I ordered two whiskeys, neat, no ice. We always drank whiskey. It was our thing. The girl behind the bar had the hard body of an athlete, the poise of an actress. I’d seen her before in one of my lectures. I hadn’t realised she worked here. As she pushed the glasses up to the optic, she watched me watching her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I smiled, she smiled back. A shot of static flicked up my finger as she handed me the change. We both laughed.

I took over the drinks, clunking the glasses on the table. A rush of air made the fire bloom, scattering sparks like tiny, molten protesters running from a water cannon.

‘So how do you explain it?’ she said.

’There’s nothing to explain,’ I said, ‘It didn’t work out. That’s it, the end.’

‘Just like that?’

‘What do you want me to say?’

She swallowed like a TV contestant needing extra seconds to think of an answer.

‘I don’t want you to say anything,’ she said. Emphasis on ‘want.’

‘Then why did you come here?’

She exhaled deeply through her nostrils, began gnawing at her thumbnail. Suddenly I felt sleepy. I thought, ‘Imagine what she’d do if I passed out again.’ I smiled for the same reason some people laugh when they hear other people’s parents have just died.

She said, ‘You let me come all the way down here just to laugh in my face?’

‘No,’ I said, defensive, then, ‘but you never told me you were coming.’

‘It was meant to be a surprise.’

‘I hadn’t written for ages.’

‘Two months.’

‘Exactly.’

‘Exactly what?’

‘You know what.’

A tear teetered on the sharp edge of her cheek like a trembling skier about to drop down the side of a mountain. I thought about the afternoon we lost our virginity, wondered if it meant the things we said.

’There’s nothing to get upset about,’ I said, ‘Shit happens. This was inevitable. We both knew it.’

Her eyes begged me to shut up.

‘If you’d told me you were coming I’d have saved you the trouble,’ I said, ’It’s not like I want to be in this situation, Christ. Can you stop crying?’

In one beautiful, fluid motion she pushed back her chair, stood up, sucked the whiskey from both glasses, and flicked out her fist like a lizard’s tongue, catching me sweetly on the lips. ‘Our last kiss’, I thought afterwards.

I spat blood and said, ’I’m getting another drink, would you like one?’


craig scutt
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