He let out a wince of pain, his aching joints reminding him of the follies of the previous night. His fingers brushed over the scars, and his breath hitched. It had been years, but her absence still hit him like a body blow.
It was times like now, when sentiment snuck up on him, that were the worst. The physical scars were very obvious, but nothing could compare to the gouges she left on his heart.
His foot struck a bottle as he made his way painfully to the balcony, staring blindly at the beautiful savannah landscape. His mind was elsewhere as he leaned over the dizzying drop, thinking maybe, maybe, this would be the time.
As always, he withdrew.
‘Too scared to live, and too scared to die,’ he exclaimed, laughing wildly as he clutched his hair. Oh Lord, what was wrong with him. This was not how normal people lived, was it?
His mind reeled, and he was dragged along helplessly by the torrential force of his traumatic past.
They were arrayed loosely around the table, their conversation breaking and shifting like an eddying stream. All of them were well to do, the cream of the crop. Each had traveled separately from their home countries.
In this strange land, they gained succor from each other’s company.
He enjoyed being with them all, but tonight, he had eyes only for Selene. A girlfriend’s girlfriend, she looked succulent and sparkling in her white dress.
She blushed, even though she wasn’t looking at him, and he grinned wolfishly. She was his, and she knew it. He grinned again, realizing she might be very well thinking the same.
He rose during a lull in the conversation.
His foot struck a bottle as he lithely made his way to the balcony, staring wide-eyed at the beautiful urban landscape. His mind was crystal-clear as he leaned over the dizzying drop, thinking maybe, maybe one day it would all be his.
A scuffing sound alerted him to her presence.
She walked over to him, and he shifted to allow her into his personal space. She fit herself in snugly, then turned to him expectantly. He laughed as he looked at her, falling a little more in love as he took in her sparkling eyes, her slightly parted lips, her figure-hugging dress. Her eyes sparkled stronger as she smiled, looking up at him through her lashes.
“Shall we?”, he asked through the broad grin on his face.
She linked her arms with his in answer, and as he walked, he turned inwards.
He couldn’t remember the last time he was this happy.
The couple strolled out of the club, alcohol adding zest to their gaits and giggles to their conversation.
He was drunker than planned, carried along by her spontaneity.
“We’re having Jagerbombs!”, she squealed, and the next thing he knew, he was drinking the digestif neat, herbs and spices mingling on his palate to create the smoky sweet flavor unique to the drink.
Now he regretted the extra alcohol, especially as he’d driven to the club. He didn’t look forward to returning, tired and hungover, for his car. He pulled out his phone to call up an Uber, but she was already waiting for him by his car.
Pride, that ancient tormentor of mankind, rose like a sharp-fanged serpent in his breast, and he put his phone away.
Engine roaring, wheels rumbling on the tarmac, music blaring from the car radio, wind whipping through their hair. They’re looking up, laughing, full of life and love and hope.
An ancient drama plays out in the darkness of the Spanish countryside; a drama as cliche and unoriginal as it ever is, yet as unique and vivacious as it always is.
Both harbor the desire for something more. Beneath the camaraderie and banter, both feel the ache in the other’s breast.
Both know it’s not enough; both want more.
But for tonight?
This will do.
End of interlude.
It was dark, so dark, and he flailed, his mind reeling from all the stimuli. Discombobulated, he looked around him and noticed… an ambulance?
Dread speared his heart with poisonous fingers.
He couldn’t breathe.
A pressure built up inside of him, and he felt he would burst.
Something imperceptible popped, and memories whirled in through the crack in his subconscious shield.
He was content, peaceful, and slightly drowsy.
She was looking up at the stars, pointing out mythological figures striding across the firmament.
He was half-listening, but on hearing the swell of excitement as she pointed out yet another one, he looked up.
“That one?”, he queried, pointing up at the twinkling dot that went by the name Sirius.
Something jerked his attention away from the star.
Time slowed down, sickeningly syrupy before his eyes.
Alarm bells blared in his mind, and he was reacting before he knew what he was reacting to. His hands on the steering wheel spun hard as he watched, disembodied, as if they belonged to someone other.
In the same slow motion, her focus shifted from the sky to him, sensitive to the alteration in his attention. Her mouth opened, her eyes flicked to where his faced, and she aborted her own question with a rising scream.
The massive headlights were barreling closer and closer. In his disjointed mental state, he saw large, demonic eyes, heralding the approach of a monster that would inevitably consume him.
A massive horn bellowed once, twice, thrice, and he knew, he knew he could not escape this demon. He looked at her, disappointed in himself at the terror in her eyes, and mouthed the words ‘I love you’.
Motion. Violent, jerking, snapping motion that lasted forever before stopping abruptly.
The world spun in front of his eyes, and he closed them before vomiting out of the open window. His vomit fell past his head, and he realised he was upside down.
He cataloged his bodily functions, relieved that everything appeared fine. The effects of the alcohol long forgotten, he replayed the events of the last three minutes, swiftly exculpating himself in an impromptu mental courtroom.
The truck driver was driving on the wrong side, weaving erratically. He was drunk, which would complicate things, but he was sure the other guy was drunker. The car might have to be written off, but insurance would take care of that.
Relief flooded through him. It was going to be alright.
He turned to his right, his eyes meeting her sightless ones.
Something broke in his soul.
Everything went dark.
- This story is inspired by ‘Tender is the Night’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Some elements I borrow from the novel are:
- An attractive, charming, and ultimately tragic protagonist
- The use of flashback and in media res to create a nonlinear narrative
- The descriptions of social interactions, although I do not claim to match Mr. Fitzgerald’s ability in this regard.
- An attractive female character who (arguably) leads the protagonist to his doom
- To the Lady B, it had to happen. I’m still open to another collab. Hmu.
- Last but not least, don’t drink and drive, people!