What I owe the world is insurmountable. With our earth as it is – sweltering, overcrowded, painfully violent – I shouldn’t owe it anything.
But even as I feel despair, I feel hope. Bittersweet hope, which may prove futile. But hope all the same. Like a dying man’s last breath of oxygen, it is what I see when I close my eyes. It’s what I smell every morning, in the split second before consciousness. It’s all I know.
I place my hand up to her face, caressing her cheek with a gentle thumb. When I am not quite myself, I know that our time is short-lived.
Tonight, I am me.
I owe this crazy, mixed up sphere of dirt in the infinite. I owe it so much. For it gave me my heart, my ability to love and to be adored in return. Without it, I wouldn’t be escaping from the treacherous truths of hatred.
She stretches her hand up to meet my face, copying the movements with uncanny accuracy. We have perfected this strange ritual in our time together. For a pair so badly matched, we have somehow made it click. She knows how I like my coffee, I know how she brushes her teeth.
I swallow. The action stings at my throat. And then I take her hand.
“I’ll be fine.”
Even my words sound hopeful, for a second.
“Caroline,” she chokes out. I can see it now, from the tears in her eyes to the holes in her confidence. She is terrified, the whole weight of the world falling on her shoulders in this split second of time, like Atlas on that godforsaken mountain.
I squeeze her hand again; more tightly this time. “I’ll be fine,” I repeat, a little more force behind the words I know to be false.
She hears the crack in my own tone this time. I open my arms for her to fall into her rightful place. And Zoë accepts, arms wrapping around my shaking chest.
I barely ever cry. I haven’t, not since the day of my Grandma’s funeral. And yet now the floodgates are opening, tearing my every defense down like it is fragile, flimsy sawdust.
Sobbing on the shoulder of a girl a foot shorter than yourself isn’t a recommended activity, but Zoë was warm. She smelled like Nutella and lemongrass. And she was hugging like me as if afraid to let go.
“Zoë,” I choke out through my sobs. “I’ll be fine.”
“You’d better be,” Zoë murmured. “Or I’m walking right out there to get you home myself.”
I bark a laugh, interrupting my tears momentarily. We both know she’s lying. Zoë’s place is here, with the charity bake sales and finger paintings given to her by sticky-handed five year olds. She doesn’t belong in a warzone.
And I don’t either, in a way. If life had gone as planned, I wouldn’t have to leave at sunrise. I wouldn’t be haunted at night.
But then I think of the hope I hold, the hope that I am doing the right thing. The hope that things will get better. The hope is my goal. The hope makes me stop crying. It makes me straighten up, adjust the lapels of my uniform.
“Caroline,” Zoë’s voice is stronger now. It bears no wavering lilt. I press a kiss to the corner of her mouth, memorising her smell, her taste, the bright blue of her eyes.
“Zoë,” I answer. Her hand drops from mine. “I’ll be fine.”
I think we both knew, then, that I wouldn’t be.
Hey! Welcome to the very first post of my blog. I’ll mostly be writing short stories, occasional poems and the like. But if you ever think that something is worth continuing, then feel free to leave a comment about it.