Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ruins

 A short story by Elizabeth Collins

The coffee was hot, black and bitter. Meg took another gulp, willing the scalding liquid to make her feel something.  From the table, Jason was watching her over his mug. She leaned into the counter, and wrapped her fingers tightly around her cup.

Jason cleared his throat.  “I heard you last night.” Discomfort showed on his face like oil on water.

“I’m sorry if I woke you up.” She barely recognized her own flat voice.

“I’m worried about you.” The warmth of his voice traveled through her like the warmth of the coffee. She loosened her grip on the mug, and imagined clasping his hand instead.  His fingers had once fit casually between her own.

“I was thinking,” he said. “Maybe we should put some of those things away for a while. Turn the third room into an art studio for you.”

Her head whipped up and the words died on his lips.

“Forget it.” His face was slack.

Dizzy, she turned and clutched the counter. “No,” she whispered. “I appreciate it; I really do.”

Outside, a distant leaf blower whirred to life. A car hummed by.

“I’m sorry.” She turned to face him, but he was looking down at his phone.

The coffee was unpalatable. She had lost count and added too many scoops.  Slowly, she set the half-empty cup in the sink. “I’m going for a walk.”

Without waiting for a reply, she grabbed her coat.

Outside the air was damp and held the chill of an inevitable winter.  Leaves as brittle as old, yellowed paper crunched under Meg's feet as she ducked under the pine trees dense behind their house.

Last night, when Jason’s breathing had become soft and even beside her, she had slipped out of their bed and stumbled across the hall and into the nursery. Fumbling on the rocking chair for the plush bear, she had curled up on the floor with it and cried into the sleeve of her t-shirt. Even in the dark, she had known the undisturbed white crib and the sheets dotted with tiny blue elephants.

 “It’s never too early to buy furniture!” a glossy brochure had lied.

She stopped shy of the ruined house tucked back in the woods. Stubby remnants of a brick wall and a chimney were all that were left. From where she stood, she could barely make out the original outline buried under leaves. She never grew tired of looking at the skeleton of rooms and imagining the family that had gathered around that fireplace.

Stepping over the bricks, she gathered up a pile of leaves accumulating in the corner of the wall and dumped them on the other side. They fluttered to the ground like dried-out butterflies. She gathered up another pile and then another, systematically clearing the ground of leaves.

“You can try again,” the doctor had said from the safety of his white coat. Jason had shaken the doctor’s hand and then retreated into his own version of silence. Try again. Like it was easy. Like it was putting a quarter in the claw machine at the mall.

The dust from the leaves and debris burned her eyes and choked her, but she kept clearing.

All she had left was the wasteland she shared with Jason – the person she couldn’t look at without seeing all her suffering reflected in his eyes. If she faced that, then the only thing still holding her together might crumble like the leaves in her hands.

She kept gathering leaves and throwing them over the side. Scoop, dump, scoop dump.  When, at last, the entire area was clear, she sat down and leaned against the brick wall. Cold seeped up through the grass, but she didn’t move. She ran her eyes over the exposed foundation of the house. No one had warned her how painful love could be. How it could be like a million slivers of glass, shining and blinding, trying to come back together again.

There was a crunching of leaves, and she looked up to see Jason standing near the edge of the wall.

“Hey." It was the best apology she could muster.

Awkwardly, he held out a thermos. “I brought you some coffee. Thought you might be cold.”

Once again, the warmth began to stir in her stomach. She inclined her head. “Do you want to sit down?”

In two strides, he covered the distance between them. “Here.” He shrugged off his coat. “Sit on this.”

Meg adjusted her weight until they were both sitting on his huntsman jacket. Jason unscrewed the thermos, poured coffee into the lid, and passed it to her. The steam was thick in the damp air. She took a sip and felt the warmth spread. They sat silent, sharing the coffee back and forth until the cup was empty.

She pulled at a loose thread on the lining of his jacket.  "Jason."

He pulled himself up. “Wait right here.” He gathered up an armful of leaves and carried it to the fireplace. Pulling out a lighter, he lit the debris then came back and joined her.

Fire licked over the leaves then burst up into flames. Meg leaned her head against Jason’s shoulder and watched as one more fire burned in the ruined house.

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth, that was amazing!!! That's all I can say -- amazing! <3


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