Emily II By D.I. Jolly
“Here we go again, damnit James, you always act like you’re the only one who lost someone that day!”
“That’s because I’m the only one who had to watch her d…d… … I’m… to hear her screaming. Screaming in pain, screaming in fear, screaming the worst sound you’ve ever heard until … until you hear the silence that comes after it. So, I’m sorry if you felt alone, but I was drowning! While you complained that I wouldn’t get in the boat with you, and then… and then you just left, just rowed away. And you left me there, and I’m still there. … Why did you come here today? What did you hope to prove, to find? What more do you want me to lose? I…”
His rage had turned to sorrow, to defeat, and as his words trailed off and his vision lost focus through the tears, he let his shoulders drop and his face grow old, and grey.
Across the table Helena sat staring, taking short sharp breaths as the fog of her own blinding grief was blown away and she finally saw the truth sitting in front of her. She could see the cracks and holes in his armour, and through them she could see the ruined man cradling the memory of his lost child. The memory that he’d build a wall around, and then built a whole new life on the other side of, just so he could hide from it. The memory that followed him everywhere anyway.
A thick silence fell between them, that spilled out to fill the room. The bar had grown quieter and quieter as their fight had escalated, until its climax rendered everyone still and silent. Some people had turned to see what was going on, while most forced themselves to look away. That much raw reality didn’t mix well with good times and alcohol.
Her voice was low, and careful, but it still rang out in the room and made him look up as if waking from a dream.
“Why… why didn’t you tell me that before?”
For a moment his eyes focused on her again, but they had no fight in them, no energy, then they unfocused again.
“I didn’t know how. I failed so, completely, that I thought I … I thought I would simply die myself. And, I just didn’t, everyday I was still alive, and I didn’t understand, couldn’t understand. And you looked at me, needed me, wanted me to take your hand to get through it together with you, and I just… couldn’t understand why I was still alive.”
“No, no, I’m sorry. I failed you when I failed her, and then I failed you again and again and again, every day. And I couldn’t break the cycle and I couldn’t understand. You were right to leave. I wasn’t really there anyway.”
Helena blew out a long breath as she tried to hold onto herself for just a little longer.
“I failed too. I blamed you… for everything. And I knew you were in so much pain, and so was I, but I was glad you hurt, glad that it seemed so much worse for you than me. It let me tell myself that it really was your fault. But that was a hateful lie. I needed to blame someone because I couldn’t believe that it had simply… happened, and you were the nearest, safest thing in the world to me. So, I blamed you. You were the wall I could scream my fear and hatred at. You were the vent for all the pain that built up inside of me. But I never, not for one second, thought that I could scream that wall down, until you just… crumbled. And I was so scared and so… ashamed, that I ran away. … I came here, today because I wanted to apologise, to try maybe, fix some the damage I had done. But then I saw you, smiling and laughing and looking like your old self and I felt… betrayed, and then I realised that you were pretending she had never existed, and I got angry all over again. Because I thought that you’d just let her go, forgotten…”
“I could never! …”
“I know, I know. I saw what I wanted to see, or rather, I refused to see what was really there. James, I don’t know if it’s possible to ever recover from what happened to us. But I have to hope that we can at least make amends for what happened afterwards.”
She watched his head bob for moment and his lips move, but no sound came out. Then she saw a look she hadn’t seen in eight years. The look of the man she had once loved so much that she couldn’t picture a day without him. The look of a man trying to pull himself out of the abyss to do what he feels is the right thing despite everything else. Then he lifted his head to look at her and really see her, and in a caught, quiet voice, he said, again:
“I’d like that.”
He then reached out his hand, in a gesture reminiscent of their first date when he wasn’t sure how to show his affection so just tried the first thing that came to mind, and he scooped up her hand in his, gently kissing her ring finger.
“I’d like that, very much.”
Sound slowly started to leak back into the bar around them as they just sat, quietly, his head against their hands letting time separate them from their fight, from their confessions and maybe, just maybe, from their pain.