The below is from Craig Henderson’s In Too Deep…
WHAT IS IT ABOUT CHRISTMAS that you want to nail it to a cross and set fire to an effigy of all that has been taken from you?
What phoenix would rise from the ashes of Christmas past and, clasping you in its talons, wheel off into a sky ripped asunder by the conflagration of all your hopes and dreams?
This is how it begins, questions taunting me between the half-light of sleep and wakefulness. I’m aware of my body twitching, snaking out its feelers into the unknown.
When the dreams begin they’re so vivid, truth and myth, legend and lies merge until there is no longer a clear indication of reality, of experience or fabrication, only further questions dragging me back into the vortex of denial.
Water rushes by in a never ending wall of white noise, blanketing the sounds of revelry that are already a distant memory. Naked apart from her bikini bottoms, she kneels in the icy river, hands cupped as she flings water over her head in some silent benediction.
You watch the water streaming over her breasts, her head flung back to the heavens like she’s part of a Sports Illustrated photo shoot. This hurts more than her words, this flaunting of what is no longer yours, perhaps never was. At the same time, you’re aware of a total lack of contrivance in her actions. Her mind operates on some instinctual level you have never been able to penetrate, no matter the promise of her body.
And yet, this realisation brings no relief, only adds to the sense of disbelief sucking your world inward with the inexorable pull of gravity, as you stare at her crumpled clothes beside you on the bank, nonchalantly discarded like your heart.
Part of you wants to stride out and thrust her beautiful face under the surface, snap her out of this madness with the threat of something unimaginable. But to touch her would be to die, you know it as clearly as the water that seems to have borne all this from out of nowhere, over some horizon you have never seen and cannot envision.
It’s beyond comprehension. You’re a few feet from the only person you care about, and so alone you can hardly breathe. Isolated in a world far removed from all you know. Stranded by a high tide you didn’t see coming, deposited amongst the flotsam of your own expectations.
Heart threatening to explode in your ears, you turn and strike out into the undergrowth, oblivious to the voice that no longer has a face, to the light-hearted banter drifting like smoke on the wind, taunting you with its irrelevance. Darkness settles through the forest, a whispered revelation. Branches slap at your body, ineffectually, painlessly, after her words.
I burst out of the forest, the dream, to the sound of banging downstairs.
Almost tripping down the steps, I rush to the front door and then hesitate, contemplating the implications. It’s her, I know it, coming back to me as I knew she would. Taking a deep breath, I pull the door open, but there’s no one there. The screen slams in front of my face, yawning open again with the breeze as I stand there, bewildered. I think of ripping it from its hinges, but a light comes on in the flat opposite, so I drag it shut, close the door and slump on the lounge.
The heat forces me back upstairs, where the ceiling fan distributes the warmth evenly around the room, sucking the moisture from my body as it does so. I reach out to her side of the bed out of habit, pulling her pillow to my chest as if I can squeeze life out of the hopes and tears distilled within it.
Rolling onto my back, I hug her to me, watching the fan revolve with such concentration the blades stall and send the room spinning into orbit.
Why did you offer up your heart so readily? I love you, you’d said, three words that had fallen on deaf ears and returned to haunt you with the spectre of your own longing. Could you not see what you’d thought had been love welling up inside, constricting each breath, quickening your pulse—had been merely anxiety? The desperation of a lifetime of loneliness, the neuroses of unreturned feelings that flowed like charged particles beneath the surface of your skin.
About the Author
Craig Henderson has written several prize-winning short stories, notably the joint winner of the 2012 Trung Sisters Creative Arts Competition, one of six winners in the 2012 National Year of Reading Learn to Read Writing Competition, and highly commended in the 2012 Ada Cambridge Prize for a Biographical Short Story and the Melton Short Story competitions for 2010, 2011 and 2012. His work has also been published in Offset magazine and various other magazines and websites. He has always been fascinated by the power of the written word to explain what common sense cannot, is studying Professional Writing and Editing part-time and is a full-time child wrangler.
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