I’m a bit of an insomniac sometimes. Case in point: it’s almost 7am on Saturday but I refuse to accept that it is Saturday because I haven’t been to bed yet. Until I sleep it is still Friday, damnit!
But while I was sitting here, unable to write anymore for the evening as my brain hit that cut off point where it was too tired to do anything but not tired enough to sleep, I was reading back through a few short stories I’d written over the last couple of years. I came across one I remember particularly enjoying writing (though until I stumbled across it buried seven levels deep in my writing folder I’d forgotten about it entirely), so I thought I’d share it (especially since it has a bit of a Halloweenesque slant to it, and it is that time of year).
Now I would note that according to my computer (hooray file created/last modified dates) I wrote this about three years ago. But I still like it, even if it is a little rough in places.
The Final Goodbye
by J.S. Joyner
The blanket rose and fell slightly with each breath. I watched it for a long time that night, softly backlit by the streetlamp’s fluorescent glow seeping in between the cracks in the blinds. I knew that it should have brought me comfort and eased me off to sleep, yet I lay wide awake staring at the rhythmic movement for hours. In hindsight I wish I had appreciated that evening; I wish I had understood the significance of that life force pulsing next to me. Had I known then what I know now, perhaps I would have relished that evening more, but as it was I simply cursed my brain’s inability to shut itself off.
We had been married for three years, long enough for the honeymoon phase to be long dead but still too early for the monotony of married life to siphon off the romance completely. I still brought her flowers on occasion, not as often as I should have, and there was still passion in our lovemaking. Our marriage was no different than that of any number of other young couples, and yet it was destined to end abruptly.
The morning of the eighth day of May began like any other. I rose from bed shortly before dawn, cursing what little sleep I had gotten the previous night. Stumbling through my morning routine half asleep, I shaved, showered, and dressed for work. Had I known it would be our last day together, I would have done more than simply look in on her. I would have taken her up in my arms and lavished love upon her and held her. But instead I simply smiled in the doorway at her sleeping form, the blanket still rising and falling in a slow, gentle rhythm. Then I was gone, out the door and in my car sipping the morning coffee from my travel mug as the sun broke over the horizon.
It was a beautiful sunrise, the sky exploding into shades of purples, reds, and oranges as the sun made its fiery presence known in a nearly clear sky. Looking back on it now, it must have been the type of sunrise that has inspired painters and poets for centuries. But at the time all I could do was grimace and grope in my center console for sunglasses as I squinted into the fireball rising ahead of me, there was no time to enjoy its inherent beauty and awe inspiring power. There never was.
Even now I am unable to fully explain what happened next, there are some moments in our lives so unbearable that even the healing power of time cannot allow our minds to make sense of them. It began with an all-too-familiar screeching sound and I felt my body tense instinctively. The collision itself has been blocked from my memory, all I have is a snapshot of the moment that the other vehicle rode up over the top of my car’s hood, blotting out the sun that had been burning itself into my eyes a moment earlier. Then there was darkness, an inky black that enveloped me completely. Rather than hearing the carnage happening around me, I could hear nothing but the low, almost electric hum of my own body that we hear only in those moments of the most abject and total quiet.
I couldn’t say how long this state persisted, there was no sense of time passing as I was surrounded by this complete sensory depravation. It could have been seconds or hours, I had absolutely no way of knowing. It was an indescribable sensation, the best approximation I can offer is that it was like sensing that you can sense nothing. I am well aware that statement is itself a contradiction, and I can offer no clarification for it. I was simply existing in a state of nonexistence, I knew only that I existed because I thought that I must exist. Descartes would have been proud.
Eventually, or perhaps instantly since as I said before I had no concept of time, the veil of darkness lifted and I was standing at the foot of our bed. My wife lay before me, still fast asleep, looking exactly as she had when I left her that morning. For a few moments I simply stood there, trying to reason away what had happened as a dream. But deep down I knew that this was no dream, and I wouldn’t be able to stay for long. I stood there a moment longer, just looking at her, then spoke softly.
She didn’t stir at first, but after a moment she turned over and mumbled something. I moved to my side of the bed and slipped gently down next to her. With tears in my eyes I reached out and wiped the hair out of her face, causing her to stir again.
“You’re going to be late for work,” she mumbled without opening her eyes.
I smiled slightly and curled up next to her. After a moment I spoke again in a soft voice, “I don’t think that will be a problem. I want you to know that I love you, I always will.”
I put my head down on the pillow and looked at her face. I felt tired, more tired than I had ever felt in my life. My eyes traced her form and came to rest on the blanket, rising and falling exactly as it had been the night before, backlit now by the morning sun rather than the streetlamp. I mustered all the energy I could and whispered quietly, “I just wanted to say goodbye, sweetheart.”
Just then I felt myself receding away, leaving the bed empty save for her as I floated upwards.
“What the hell are you…” she trailed off as she opened her eyes and found herself alone in the bedroom. As I receded further she rolled over and sat up, reaching for her cell phone to call me.
But I was already gone.