East Meets West

Image of Short Story
She stepped out onto the porch and shut the door behind her in a quick yank. A whoosh of air smacked her back like a wide plank of wood. She slightly lurched forward in a jerk of surprise. A dense buzz resonated in her ears. It rattled in her head and wriggled down her spine before settling deep behind her sternum with a thud.

“This isn’t love” she silently reminded herself. Like she has every morning since that night, when he tried to tell her the truth. She remembered clearly how his low voice was so quiet.

“Something happened” he murmured, trying, but his eyes kept looking down at his shoes. He continued to speak, telling her what, but she could only hear strangled sounds. Her sight blurred as the walls began to spin. Her head was bobbing timidly, uncontrollably alternating between a nod and a no.

“It’s over” she interrupted him, looking up into his dry eyes, lost. She remembered how she’d backed away from him. Both hands pressed against her chest, pushing on the bone between her breasts, forcing a breath as she gasped between sobs.

She stood now on the porch in the damp morning light, stiff and shaking. She couldn’t keep her mind from replaying all those spiteful moments. His face twisting with resentment. Her voice was almost unrecognizable. They were loud memories in disgusting shades and tones.

A sudden sliver of sharp panic snaked through her body. It stopped abruptly at the base of her skull in a shudder that bounced back down her spine. The breeze was blowing in from the west, pushing against her. Her shoulders crunched up toward her ears, stuck in an almost shrug.

“Breathe” she begged, gently. It reminded her of the morning after. In those first, foggy instants when waking from a dream in the darkness a silent bedroom. Her heart thumped in broken spurts. She pushed out a shaky sigh.

Just then, a flash of light reflected off the window and disappeared into the dark earth beside her, on the front lawn. She looked over and saw her shadow leaning awkwardly. She could feel the pull. She closed her eyes, letting go of the helm. Losing her grip. Just for a moment. The wheel spun furiously faster as the ballast was lost. The ship slamming on the rugged rocks of an unknown shore somewhere in her mind. She was slipping from the deck into the churning water as the hull cracked open, gaping with splintered wood, like teeth smiling. She was sinking. She opened her eyes and sharply sucked in a gulp of air through her nose. It was cold.

“Don’t go back inside” she told herself. Her body was tingling, struggling to resist the urge to move.

“Don’t turn around” she pleaded with herself, wincing. Tears puddled along her lash line battered by thick, salty waves, crashing in unmeasured heaves. Her arms dangled at her sides as she balled her hands into fists, clinging on as the swell raged.

She tilted her head slightly downward and saw the tips of her shoes. They were bright against the grey concrete speckled with dark, wet splashes. She inhaled deeply and lifted her head up. Standing straight, she looked around and listened, focused. Hoping, for just a second, that between the happy chirping of waking birds she’d hear the door creaking open. It didn’t.

She watched how strings of pink clouds drawn out in orange and yellow linings streaked in the bruise colored sky. A hearty exhale filled her nose as the old air warmly left her body. The storm was breaking. The tension shattered and flaked. She twitched. Like an ice cube dropped into a glass of water fractures and pops, melting down as it transforms.

She took a first step forward. Encouraged, she took another. She started walking away from the small, brick house, stepping down from the porch to the sidewalk. Her pace grew brisk causing the strands of her long, black hair to brush against her face.

Using both hands, she pulled her jean jacket across her chest. Hugging her body. She turned right, heading down the street. The car she borrowed was parked under the streetlight. She walked to the driver’s side door and reached for the handle, halting in the flutter of a pale-yellow flicker.
She squeezed out a blunt sigh, remembering how her mom cried softly into the phone that morning. How her throat was clenched as she broke their silence, explaining that it’s over, and why.

“It’s about you now” her mother sniffled, and said, “He can’t be what you need him to be, sweetheart.”

“I know” she mumbled aloud, responding faintly to the distant voices of a fading memory.

“I don’t want to have to choose this” she then thought angrily, tightly gripping the car door handle. She held herself in place, staring down the road. She wanted to relax but there was a riot in her stomach, pounding and shouting in an exaggerated protest. Tears fanned out along the outline of her cheeks. They gathered in sloppy drops along her jaw line before falling harshly at her feet. She intensified her stare, trying to make a detailed memory. Her eyes narrowed as her chest puffed up with the crisp, dewy air.

“Get in the car.” The voice in her head was impatient, but calm. She gritted her teeth and threw open the car door. She slipped into the smooth leather seat with a schluff. Her hand reached to grab the handle from the inside. She sat there, hesitating for a few seconds with the door open. Then, she pulled it gently closed with a soft click. She flipped on the head lights, fastened the seat belt, and started the car. Low voices hummed over the radio about traffic and the weather. Throwing the throttle into gear, she drove straight out of the neighborhood, without checking the sight in her rear-view.

She turned a corner, heading toward the main road. While she waited at the light, she noticed a coolness against her cheeks. They were moist and sticky from drying. Taking her right hand off the steering wheel she palmed the right side of her face. She faintly pressed her finger tips into the squishy flesh. It was warm.

“... be what you need.” Her mother’s words seeped back into her mind in a partial thought. A jitter then jumped from muscle to muscle. It startled her. Her whole body was trembling within, as if her bones were splintering in slow motion under a blanket of goosebumps.

“What am I so afraid of?” She thought, and huffed, frustrated. Daybreak was cutting through her eyelids, blinking in punctured flashes. Her eyes had to adjust. It was all whipping past her, but she wasn’t moving. Not yet. She wondered if she had made the right choice to leave. Just then, the light turned green. She pulled her hand from her face and sternly put it back on the wheel.

“Which way do I go?” She asked in whisper, still unconvinced. She was alone on the road. She looked left, and then right, pulling up slightly on the steering wheel to get a better glimpse, just in case. No-one was coming. She sat back, released the brake, and reluctantly pressed her foot down on the gas pedal. She spun the wheel, turning to head east. Squinting, she peered into the hazy horizon.

The sun was rising higher, beaming into the car. The rays spread out across her face. They dragged down her neck and stretched, bending through the windshield onto her hands. It crept up her forearms, crawling in every direction, heating her skin. Her lungs were heavy making it difficult to breathe. The thud of the front door shutting echoed behind her sternum; again, and again, and again.

She stared out at a sprawling sky. A blaze was gaining ground in the space where east meets west, hanging above her. It was both night and day. The vibration from the motor quivered excitedly beneath her foot, drawing her focus back to the road. The signs flashing as she sped by.

“He said, ‘Do what’s hard’.” She recalled her father’s voice as he quoted “a wise man”. It rang clear in her mind like a song on repeat, stuck and insistent. She tightened her grip, and firmly pressed the gas pedal further down.