P. R. O'Leary
He was scarred, and she was vacuous. They were perfect for each other. One was a shell that the other would fill. A square hole for a square peg. Together, they made a whole square. It was a match made in heaven. Well, maybe not heaven. A match made late one night on a slick oily city corner. Still, it was heavenly.
First her. She was the empty one. Not dumb by any means, just vacant. She was always alone. Mentally, socially. But this time physically. And not in a good time or place either. Midnight. The bad part of the city. The part filled with grimy alley cats and rats and charred, blackened old men and women with shopping carts.
Why was she here? Who knows. When one's life is empty they seem to gravitate towards these places. Like mercury spinning down a funnel. She was here, she was alone. Then she wasn't.
A man figure jumped out from the shadows. Or the other way around. A flash of light, a knife. It all happened so fast. The ground rushed to meet her. The cool pavement felt hollow when she hit it, or was it just her? Warmth spread under her body, but she was getting cold. Chapped hands fumbled at her shoes, her purse, her necklace. Away they went, thump thump echo down the street.
Darkness came. Then light. She was lying there on the ground. Emptying out.
Images began to flash. Face, blanket, building, stairs, doorway, bed. Light. Darkness. The whole shebang. Faintly she was near-aware of someone moving her. Hovering over her. Keeping her alive. Wrapping her up in blissful nothingness. She was neither cold nor warm. Caring nor ambivalent. Knowing nor unknown. Quietly, she disappeared into womb-like decadence.
Years passed and she phased out of sleep. Slowly. A near- sleep waking dream. Time-lapse photography for the conscious mind. She was in a room. She was alone. She could see a table, a milk crate chair. She was in a room. A man was sitting on a crate, heating a mug of something over the radiator. She was in a room. A man stood over her, tenderly dotting her forehead with a cloth. She was in a room. Words were being spoken. Being read to her. Gentle words dripping from a soft warm voice.
"An empty womb, does not regret, that one was born."
Poetic, lyrical. It was like a little gift she was unwrapping. And then, as an afterthought, softly, to itself, the voice whispered "but sometimes, it would be nice if it did."
Now onto him. The scarred one. Not physically scarred. Some events scar our minds and souls more than they scar our bodies. These wounds can't be stitched with thread like a whiskey cut, but they can be dulled by the drink.
Not him though. He is one of the rare few (or all-too-many) that decides to just remove themselves from the picture. Things happen that leave marks, and those that have been marked for one reason or another can't stop dwelling on these invisible tattoos. So much so that maybe they aren't worthy of a normal life. A life amongst the living and the giving and the walking, talking elite. Those that tread their paths through the world with confident steps, leaving marks on others to show where they have been.
He removed himself from them. Quarantined in this seedy city. Afraid his cancer would rub off on those more deserving. Still, he made this place his home. A sleazy building on an ugly street in a rotten town, housing a humble one-room apartment.
This is where he brought the girl. The empty one. The one that was lying on the street corner, two crusty masses shuffling toward her with greedy gleaming eyes. He shoved them off and leaned over her. She was still breathing but her body was slowly deciding not too. He stopped the bleeding and covered the hole in her with strips of his jacket. A skill he thought he would never have to use again. Then he picked her up and started walking. In a city like this, no one stopped him. Soon he was in his apartment, and the girl was safely in bed, clean and healing.
When he found her, she was blank. He didn't know why he felt a need to help her. He just did. It was a strange pull. A child taking care of a bird that flew into a window and broke its wing. A natural thing that was strange for him.
Now color is coming back to her. She is filling up. Hours pass. She can't talk. He gives her water. He feeds her soup that he heats with the radiator. Days pass. He reads to her. Poems he wrote. Feelings made into words that he dropped like breadcrumbs onto the page while he moved through life.
He found himself reading from the beginning of his battered notebook. The beginning of that hidden timeline. After reading each poem, he felt like he could let go of them. Let go of the feelings that each brought up. He kept going. Tearing out each page as he read it to her aloud. Burning each and then continuing on. With each burning page the girl seemed to gain more life. The heat or the words was doing something to her. Her breathing relaxed from jerky huffs to deep sleep breaths. Her color returned. Pale skin grew warmer.
He too, began to heal. With each poem and each page going up in flames, a weight was being lifted off his shoulders. Feelings turning into words, turning into flames and finally ash and dust. Soul suturing.
When the notebook was finished, the girl awoke.
Her eyes opened. She was smiling. A healthy, full smile. Then she spoke.
"I know how you feel."
He smiled. It's been so long that the corners of his mouth hurt, but he welcomed it. He wanted to tell her that he didn't think anyone would ever understand. She wanted to tell him that she didn't think anyone would ever care about if she lived or died. Instead, they asked each other their names.
"I don't have a name. I lost it long ago."
So they named each other. And from then on they were together. Living and loving. He was healed, she was filled, and away they walked with confident steps. Behind them, you could see one set of tracks.