“I’m not happy anymore,” I whispered reluctantly, my eyes fixated on a turquoise speck in the industrial-grade carpet. Colin and I exchanged a few more empty words, too cliché to recall. Going through the motions, I robotically picked up the phone and dialed my mom to ask if I could move back home, if Sunday was too soon. She didn’t ask questions, said she’d start cleaning out my room that night—the same room I cried in when my heart was broken for the first time, where I danced to Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” on repeat, and snuck in late from prom with a hint of cheap vodka on my breath. The dial-tone sounds, relief washes over.
Sunday breaches and the morning rays beckon through the dusted mini blinds. I sit alone on the now-sagging IKEA couch Colin surprised me with, after I’d broken down between housewares and textiles because I didn’t want to live in a bachelor pad with someone else’s love-stained futon anymore. But today, there’s nothing left to break down. The house is hollow except for the ticking of a clock I cannot see—the seconds relentlessly pulsing, one to the next. Finally, I hear the brakes of the rental truck shutter and clink as my parents pull up across the street. Two knocks and the brass doorknob twists left.
I close my eyes and smell the Bulleit on his warm, stale breath. The moisture of his mouth pressing firmly against the space between us, his hand too tight around my wrist. An anchor pulling downward. My lungs compress, the compass spins. True north abyss. I gasp—
“Are you okay?” my mom interrupts. I tell her I’m fine.
The last box hits the truck bed like a thunderous wave colliding with a rocky cliff. I wipe my already-clean hands against my distressed denim pants, a reassuring gesture of completion. I’ll meet my parents at their house, a quiet reprieve from the tumultuous months preceding. On the other end, a cheery rose-trimmed yellow house waits for me on a cul-de-sac in Templeton—a three-exit ellipses on the 101 between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
For the last time, I stand on the postage stamp porch where Colin and I used to drink IPAs and watch the sun set in the west, between two palm trees floating in the sky. The Porch, we called it. Sometimes I’d hula hoop, safe within my sacred circle, the world twirling around like a VHS on rewind. He’d always scoff at passerby, a business man’s shirt too finely pressed or a girl’s blonde dreadlocks too far-fetched.
I close my eyes and feel the changing tide encompass every pore, blurring notion and reality. Ocean waves lapping tiny beads of sand, swallowing them one-by-one with each seaward retreat. Drifting farther from familiarity, the solace of the shore waning. Atlantis, alas—
An afternoon breeze brushes by, coercing a strand of hair to tickle my cheek, snapping the present into focus. The block is quiet except for a bright-eyed young couple teetering on a slackline in the park catty-corner from the porch. The girl, a pretty brunette wearing a cutoff tank top with the words Stay High scrawled across her chest, loses balance as the boy reaches to save her. His effort futile, they both fall to the grass, giggling and kissing beneath an umbrella of magnolia trees. I watch wistfully, envy skirting my peripheral. The afternoon sun scolds my eyes as the silhouette of the rental truck sinks into the horizon. So, I turn my back to all of it.
The brittle wood-framed screen door slams behind me and I’m alone again, standing in a stranger’s kitchen, surrounded by unfamiliar objects of a distant narrative. A blistering red teakettle we brought home from the Alameda antiques faire sits poised atop the stove, waiting for someone who’s not me—who will never again be me. It’s fine, I tell myself, I prefer coffee anyway. My fingertips brush gently against a matching red barstool, wandering their way up to where a letter sits exposed upon the countertop. A simple farewell contained within: You taught me what it is to love, and what it is to fear. I guess all good things come with a price. The concluding chapter, sealed with a kiss of whiskey from the night before.
I close my eyes and feel his hands on my shoulders, pushing and pulling. My head bobs back and forth with each jerk. A buoy adrift. Vociferation muffled by waves of memory. I blink my eyes open—
I am unmoored.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
When asked to speak of beauty, I always turn to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition,” in which he writes, “That pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure, is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the beautiful.”
Beauty, in and of itself, is pleasurable. And to contemplate beauty is to evoke pleasure. Not to be mistaken with aesthetic beauty that pleases the worldly senses, beauty in its most true form is an effect that elevates the soul.
This beauty can be found in joy and in sorrow, in the everyday and in the unexpected, in the mundane and in the extraordinary, in beginnings and endings and everywhere in between.
This beauty is universal.
Erika Fitzgerald is a professional writer and short fiction hobbyist living in California. She earned her B.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. This is her first fiction publication.