Categories
short stories

Hollow Boy and Fire Girl

I waited for you. Hour after hour, day after day. We spent more time together than this. Usually. Finally, I heard a knock on my door. Relief, then trepidation. Tentatively, I turned the brass knob and opened it. Relief again. “Hello,” you said. The door flung open. A tight hug. A joke. A smile. Shutting the door behind me, we walked from the porch and the street and the civilization towards the ocean.

She calmed me. Her waves, her color, her tides. You sat on the sand, as gray as the sky yet still as tragically beautiful as ever. With a hand clenching the earth below you, and teeth barred into a smile, you said, “life’s a little too gray for me today”. I laughed.

That was my first mistake.

We returned and watched the sunset through my dirty kitchen windows. You said goodbye. I smiled and waved until the door closed. After a few minutes of starting at the spot where you used to stand, I went to bed. Said my goodnight to the moon and her stars. Buried my head in dreams and today’s memories. Your words were left on my nightstand. Alone. Forgotten.

The sun rose. A new day. I grabbed for the phone, dialed your number by heart. It rang. One. Twice. Three times. Your voice clicked, but it was nothing more than a recording. I frowned but carried on.

That was my second mistake.

The day came, the day went. Business kept me from calling, as more and more responsibilities dropped onto my heavy shoulders. No worries. I burned through them all, for I was a fire girl. You were my hollow boy. We were an unlikely pair. Sometimes my flames charred your flesh. Sometimes you extinguished my blaze. Most days, we found a balance. A thin wire we walked on precariously, together.

Another night passed, and this time my dreams were tinged with your grimace and the smell of the salty ocean brine. When I awoke, there were no new messages. Concern gnawed at my edges, distorting my disposition. I called you. No answer. Again. No answer. Again. Again. Again. Finally, in a final act of desperation, your mother. She hadn’t heard from you either. With dread looming over my head and licking at my flames, I took a day off and walked to your home.

It was a little dinky suburb, just like mine. Same paint, same cookie-cutter format. I jumped up the steps, two by two. Knocked twice. Waited for five minutes. No answer. Finally, I sunk down onto your welcome mat – the bristles tickled my legs – and I waited.

Hours passed.

Days.

A week.

A month.

I went out, every morning, and waited for you. Some days, I slept on the old wood made of fireflies and questions and music. Others, I glanced at your home before traveling to work. Every day, I called you. One. Two. Occasionally eight times. Once, two days ago, twenty times. The same voicemail, every time. “Hello. I’m not home right now. Leave a message.” Eventually, I stopped calling and just waited. It’s okay. Despite my fire, I was patient. There wasn’t anyone else I’d rather wait for.

That was my third, and final, mistake.

Finally, someone came. Relief, then trepidation. I looked up. Disappointment. Two men, two blue uniforms, two badges. “Ma’am? Do you know this residence?” one asked. Slowly, shaking, I stood. The dread that sat in my stomach for the last thirty-three days still ate at my mind. My flames burned blue, simmering instead of their usual passionate red. Blue as the police uniform.

“What happened?” I asked, and one gave me a gaze full of unwanted pity. I didn’t need comfort, or reassurance. I just wanted to know what happened. Where were you? It had been too long. Were you hurt? Vacationing in a far-off land? Taken? Pulling a joke? Despite your hollow inside, you still loved humor. And the sea. Almost as much as me.

“I’m sorry,” one of the officers said. His mouth continued to move, but I didn’t hear him. I couldn’t. My knees buckled and I collapsed onto the welcome mat, one that you would never wipe your feet against again. The two officers stood over me, two giants. Two reapers, with only useless words and condolences.

Your funeral was small. Me, your parents, your little brother. Everyone else wanted nothing to do with it. They said they found the gun in a different place. Of course you couldn’t do it here, I thought. Not with all the memories. Not with me around. I thought of the last time I saw you, on the beach, one hand clenching the sand while your face contorted into a smile unnaturally. “Life’s a little too gray today.” My first indication, and with every second I felt your death haunt me. The body in the casket wasn’t yours. It was a husked out shell, a hollow boy more hollow than you. You still whispered those words in my ear, over and over, until I wanted to scream.

I waited at your porch again. Lied against the welcome mat. The bristles no longer hurt because there was nothing to feel. Once my cheek pressed against the worn wooden door, I cried. Cried for your absence. For my absence. For your family. Most of all, I cried because your heart was broken and you never told me. Now, you would never tell me anything again. A small verse came from my lips, words I must’ve muttered before or scratched into my journal or the neighbor’s tree.

“You are my hollow boy

And I am your fire girl

Together, we’re broken

Inside a tiny fragile world.”

The words repeated over and over, raking its claws in my heart and picking up every buried emotion with it. You are my hollow boy and I am your fire girl together we’re broken inside a tiny fragile world. You are my hollow boy and I am your fire girl together we’re broken inside a tiny fragile world. Hollow boy fire girl broken fragile world. Boy girl broken world. Boy girl broken world.

My fire roared for the first time in months. It destroyed everything around it. Devoured your home. Our home. Our memories. Our lifetime. Charred the welcome mat. Blackened the wooden door. Melted the brass doorknob. Finally, it burnt out. And so did I.

“You were my hollow boy

And I was your fire girl

Life was a little too gray today

So we both left this world.”

***

This is the tragic story of two friends who couldn’t live without the other, a realization made only after the death of one. I’ve never experienced such loss, but it’s always been a great fear of mine that someone I loved should decide that their life wasn’t worth living. I hoped to capture this fear, and its reality, in the most artistic way possible while still writing a short story. For anyone who may relate to this story, whether they’ve been the fire girl or survived being the hollow boy, you have my condolences.

Categories
short stories

The Guitarist

The night was young and whispered as the moon illuminated the grey streets of Florence, Italy. Dogs howled and screams echoed against the dirty brick buildings, yet they were as familiar as birdsongs in the forests. Garbage crashed against the moist pavement, its trash soaking in with the rest of the liquid trickling through cracks. Even as misery seeped deep into the bones of the city, even as despondent inhabitants wondered what kept them going for the next day, a single sound cut through the darkness like a knife. Strings of a well-worn guitar caressed like a lover and played like a lament. Notes plucked out from its steel and fell through the air like raindrops. Soon, the clouds overhead joined in with the music, creating its onomatopoeia of precipitation, percussion for the sweet strings. As the music swam through the air and echoed as a beacon of hope, it intrigued one particular habitant of Florence. Agatha rose from her fitful attempt at slumber and shuffled outside in her bathrobe. She had never liked guitar players, especially ones on the street who played their music late at night. It was almost second nature for her to scowl at such things, yet her scowl turned to anger. A lean man in shabby clothing became drenched in the rain, slicking back his raven curls and thumping against his old guitar. When he looked up at her, she saw eyes older than her own and a smile that radiated respect and pleasure of life. “Good evening, bella. Do you have a request?” he asked. Bristling at the endearment, the word brought her back to when Agatha was not a crone, but a beautiful young woman. Her husband used to call her by that name until he found a lover to call it by. Now, the words cut deep into Agatha and hardened her already prickly edge.

“Yes. Get out, beggar. You’re interrupting my sleep and I don’t want to listen to your caterwauling guitar all night,” she snapped, her voice rough as sandpaper. Instead of protesting, as guitar players usually did, the man’s grin widened. He stood up slowly, graceful as a dancer, and picked his guitar up tenderly by its neck. At his full height, he stood well over Agatha’s stout form.

“Of course, bella. I’m sorry I interrupted your evening. Have a good night,” he said, bowing so low his head grazed his knees. When he straightened again, Agatha felt a pang of guilt as he strode down the street, barefoot with his guitar slung around his back and sopping wet. However, he disappeared into the night before she could call out to him. As she walked back up her steps and hardened her heart once more, she stopped for a moment. Her brain racked through her memories to find what song the man had been playing until she recognized the tune. Tears spilled down her cheeks; tears that hadn’t been shed for almost thirty years. It was the first song she ever slow danced to with her husband, and its sweet melody brought up the scent of her husband’s cologne and the warmth of his hands and smile. She sprinted out of the hall, the worn boards of the hallway screaming in protest as she threw open the door and ran to the center of the street. Rain fell in buckets, yet all Agatha saw were the cloud’s tears. There was no sign of the guitarist, and all that remained was the faint echo of a heartbroken string.

***

This is an excerpt of a novel I started yet never finished. While the entire tale focuses on the mysterious guitarist, this particular part is written in Agatha’s perspective, third-person limited. A lot of books today tell stories of the young and beautiful, people we look up to yet still have so much to learn. There is something special about tales of the old, the imperfect, and those who stumble and fall through life. It brings out a different level of humanity in stories. However, stories about youth should never be easily dismissed. They may have much to learn about what their future holds, but no one, newborn or ancient, knows exactly what lies ahead.