Short Stories

Out of Breath

end

The silence was deafeningly loud and thick. Her voice had faded into the emptiness of the room and I was speechless. Listening to the story she was telling had sent me into a trance. I came back to my senses only to find myself staring at the same floor she had previously described. They were still barren and cold.

It was a cold winter afternoon; the rain outside was relentless and the wind was creating eerie whistles through the cracks in the large windows of the living room. I raised my eyes to look at my brother, who sat across from me with visible tears in his eyes. He was staring at her lovingly. He had always been a tough boy, ever since he was young. Daring and bold, he was one of the few men I had admired. And he still is. And yet her words were able to transform him into the little boy he had once been.

I looked at her; her many cigarettes had – one by one – turned to ashes that hung from the filter and were about to fall to meet their inevitable death. I could see the pain in her soul radiating in the single tear drop that escaped its prison and rushed down her cheek. I was still speechless as I had never seen her tears. To me, she had always been an iron lady – the super woman who could handle anything and not be moved. It was not easy for me to see her like that; for the first time, her scars were visible; and that was something I was not accustomed to.

The ashes of her cigarette fell to the floor next to her feet. She looked down at it and smiled.

“I tried to find her.” Her choking words broke the silence. “I looked everywhere for her”. She put off her cigarette in the ashtray, then removed her hair from her face.

He stood up and seated himself next to her. His head rested on her shoulder; she let him. I froze in my chair. I could still remember her face and her smile. I could still remember how she used to play with us every time she would visit.

“In the end, when I had finally found an address – the hope I was looking for – I decided I was not going to waste any more time.” She paused for a second, as though reliving those moments. “I packed my bags and booked on the first flight to Los Angeles. The flight was long, but that did not matter. I was anxious to see her, to hold her, to tell her how much I loved her, and to ask her for a second chance. We still had time; we were still young, and this time I was truly free.”

Silence again; she pulled out her hand and reached for a tissue. She wiped the teardrop from her cheek, and said nothing. A multitude of tears followed, and her tissue could no longer grasp them. She reached out for another one. I waited impatiently for what was to be said next. He kept his head on her shoulder as she ran her fingers through his silky black hair.

“At first, all my efforts were in vain,” she continued. “I was disappointed yet, determined to find her. I tried to trace her through her social media – links and check-ins and pictures… anything was a clue.”

She continued to caress his hair. Her tears now had mutated into a silent waterfall. I could see the exhaustion on her figure, and on her face. I sensed the sadness inside of her materialize and take shape in her.

“It did not take too long to finally find an address. I felt like life was going to flow in my veins again, that I would be able to breathe – just as I did with her.”

She smiled through the tears. I did not know what to feel. I wanted desperately to know more, to understand the whys and where’s and when’s.

“That morning, I woke up really early. I did not care to have my coffee. There would be plenty of time to have it with her. After all, she did love coffee… and me. But I was also scared; so many what ifs ran through my mind that I was paralyzed, unable to think or function. I sat on the bed in my hotel room for almost the entire day, contemplating what I would say and then rehearsing it. Those were the longest hours of my entire life.

Finally, by early evening, I gathered all the strength I had and called a taxi. I remember riding in that small, weird-looking yellow car, oozing down the crowded streets of Los Angeles and imagining all I would say, or do… or both. My thoughts were chaotic; all I knew – and wanted – was to see her and hold her tight. I am not sure how long the trip was, and I did not care. She was all I cared about at that moment in time.

The yellow car stopped in front of a beach house somewhere along the coast. It was dark. I got out of the car and walked towards the house. It was everything we had ever imaged our home would be – cottage-style with large windows and a front porch. I still recall smiling like a sixteen-year-old. When I got to the front door, I froze. All the courage I had in me suddenly disappeared. What was I going to say when she opened the door? How would she react? Would she like it? Would she be happy? Mad? A million images rushed through my mind, and I stood there for what felt like an eternity.”

She reached out for her pack of cigarettes, pulled one out and lit it, then leaned back and let him put his head on her shoulder again, as though it was mandatory.

“You know? I do not think I had ever felt this cowardly. It was the most terrifying thing I had ever had to do. But, instead of reaching for the doorbell, I decided to walk around the house. I wanted to see all of it, and to do so I had to walk around a huge pile of rocks. I could hear my footsteps on the sand and wondered if she heard them too; if she would figure out that it was me.”

More tears flowed down her cheek, this time accompanied by a smile. I was about to burst at her, and demand that she continues telling us. It was at that exact moment that she wiped her tears with her hand and said, “I know you both want to know what happened.”

We both nodded in unison.

“I found her, yes. I found her sitting on the porch on the back side of the house – that same porch we pictured ourselves sitting on, waiting for you two to drop by for a visit. And she saw me coming through the dark, and she offered me a drink, and she asked me the same question a million times. All I could say was ‘the boys have grown, they keep asking me about you’. I did not know what to say, or how. So many years had passed, and I had broken her heart, so many times and in so many different ways. I did not feel I had the right to even talk to her!

Finally, the only answer I could utter was ‘I don’t know’. She was mad at me, but although I had known exactly why I was there, I still was at a loss. And she, as always, silently understood my lack of words and abundance of tears. She offered me a drink and we sat there in silence.

The silence encompassed us for a while and I was enjoying it. It was as though our souls were communicating without us having to put any effort into it. The world around us was playing a beautiful symphony for just the two of us. I was happy.

Then, the door opened and a soft voice said: ‘you didn’t tell me we were having company tonight’. I froze again, not sure whether I should turn towards the voice or sit still. I so wished I would disappear; that the world would stop and I could run far, far away. But none of that happened, and from the corner of my eye I could see a beautiful woman standing beside her.”

At this point, her voice was choking and her tears were unstoppable. He hugged her tight and sobbed. Her pain was something we were not familiar with at all. I froze in my chair; the sadness was overwhelming and crippling. But somehow, I gathered the strength to move. I stood up; she was still crying; his head was still on her shoulder. I took one step closer, then I went down on my knees. I took her old hands and placed them between mine, squeezing them gently, trying to convey the love and respect I felt for her.

“I am sorry,” I uttered. I was not sure what else to say, or how to start, but I knew I could not stop there. My words were not to end there. “Thank you… mother.”

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