by Kactus Berry
Short Story about a man who goes insane from a broken marrage.
|Love Is All That's Left
Charles loved his wife, Marie, very much. After a tragic accident in his family, they met at a fundraiser set up to collect money for the family's medical bills. Part of his attraction to her was the warm, soothing reassurance that she used to help him through his crisis. The other came naturally to him. She was a beautiful woman and he found himself falling in love with her almost from the start. Their relationship blossomed immediately and grew romantically into marriage. Within a year they had married and began the life of a committed couple.
Their marriage lasted for three years. He asked her to leave just one week after their third anniversary. His greatest pain and sorrow drew from knowing that he loved her so very much and that she also loved him. It wasn't a matter of love or loyalty that destroyed his life. He had come to his departing decision, thinking that it must have been the family tragedy that fixed their bond together, not the joining of two wonderful personalities; and as time revealed the bond's strength couldn't hold him to her.
Fights and arguments made their witness, as it is with all couples, but theirs became frequent and significant in ways that burn scars still showed. Their issues of distress really held no meaning, themselves. Trivial concerns that, at times, reserved no rights to live among them at all. But as it was then, without compromise and understanding, the ending arose to turn them away and set their lives to history.
He hasn't seen her for three months now. He developed a practice of avoiding her at all costs. His only motivation was to seek numbness from life and only enjoyed feelings when those feelings were nothing at all. Any view of her created pain and wonder, so he drove, walked and traveled with paranoid observance. Any place that she might be, he distanced himself with prejudice. He only shopped late at night so as to be free from any accidental encounter with her. But even then his concentration is only half toward his duties while he thought about what he might feel if he turned down an aisle to see her standing there.
Charles no longer worked and he didn't have to. The family accident involved his father and brought him to his untimely death. But with that, Charles inherited enough subsistence to survive for what he considered the rest of his life. And now the only pleasure he found was with the company of crystal glass filled with fuel for memories and the occasional chat with a bartender, named Ray.
Charles patronized a little tavern not far from his home named "The Chaise Lounge". This was convenient on those days when the past drowned him miserably. He could just walk home. He had taken a liking to Ray and Ray returned the favor, more from sympathy than friendship. They would speak in only short sessions and at first it was no more than pleasantries. But as time passed, Ray was able to fit together the ragged puzzle that made Charles's insanely driven nature apparent to him.
While sitting in his place, Charles spoke only to Ray and to the "other" that made his nights a tremendous groping of conflicts. Charles arrived as one but emerged as two with each spokesman having a side to argue. He slipped away into an older world that forced him from knowing any future. The love-hate relationship within himself captured him each night and blindfolded his eyes to all those around him. Ray would often look over to the young fool and watch him chatter away to whom must only have been seen in his mind.
"I love her!"
"No love between you, I pray, sir, this cannot be!"
"I miss her so very much."
"Remember you not, the oppression bestowed upon you? Trapped and beaten, all that was known to you. And lived so forcefully within your breast, nightly shears of agony. Have you lost you senses, man? Free yourself, away with this trollop. She means you nothing but harm!"
"I remember very well the wonderful conversations that we had. We would simply sit in front of the television and just chat for what seemed like hours. Nothing in particular, just talking about this, that and the other. I loved talking with her."
"And remember you this, days just past your marriage be held, a front over your television which you could not sleep by and that she must. A fight ensued and return your action, did she, by destroying your cigarettes and retreating to your car just outside. And did you not, sir, displace your wedding ring from your hand?"
"I wasn't being understanding that night! I should have been more understanding. And she put my ring back on for me. We were ok after that."
Ray looked over at Charles and sadly curled his mouth at the display. Wondering if he should interrupt but thinking who's to interrupt? Charles's drink was a Rum and Coke and sometimes served with little or no ice. Ray no longer needed to ask so he abruptly jumped to business and fixed Charles his passion. He walked over but stopped short so that Charles would notice him and bring himself back to the present sorts.
"Here you go, Charles," Ray said.
"Your welcome," Ray began, "you ok?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Charles said, "nothing ever changes for me."
"Still missing her, huh?"
"Maybe a little," Charles said, "but I'll get through it. I always do."
"Things will get better, Charles, just wait. You'll see," Ray said with a smile.
"I hope so," Charles whispered.
"Well," Ray started, "let me know if you need anything."
Ray walked off but not without looking over his shoulder in concern. Charles looked down at his glass and paid no attention to Ray as he left. Twirling the little stir straw Charles whispers again, "I hope so."
Charles sat for a while trying to recover from being jolted back to reality and listened to the noises that bounced about the room. Never looking up, he focused on different sounds pounding into his ears, conversations being held by others, oblivious to his observation. He choose only to hear words spoken by couples. Those expressed over work, life and other general things that's expected to be told in such an establishment. Gently, the words he was hearing turned from unfamiliar voices to conversations locked away in the recent past. One of which was about a little boy being taken by his mother to a certain place and something about toy trains. He was confused and almost amazed that he couldn't fully remember the entire moment. He started to smile because the strong point of that feeling was recalling that it was a gentle night without the frustrations that embedded themselves, uninvited, into their lives.
"Why must you smile? Feel not you the struggle to lift you face to anything, now?"
"I remember her voice, like it was just yesterday. So pleasant and cheerful."
"Good heavens, man! Recall if you will the shouts and screams that abound. Does not the bleeding of your ear drums inform you so? Cannot you feel the whips of her hatred lash out at you? Allow me to re-inform; remember you know, the time about those living room lights. For you, it is to be turned off. For her may it be on. Foolish people! Fight you must, over artificial sunshine."
"If I had only been more patient!"
"And what of her, not for her to command patience? Have you not the same right to respect as she?
"If I had only been more patient."
The night had passed and closing time was near. Charles walked home that night, leaving with only a wave to Ray as he took his departure. Coming home was the same every night. A dark house entered only by the unlatching of several locks created in different manners. A short step to the living room where his alternate time machine was built. Along with a meager storage of nutrient supplies, he maintained a wealth of liquor design to replace the flow of his blood in hopes of sleep. A few hours more, he thought, allow me just a few more hours; delay that time just a bit for I need to finish with these memories.
Sometimes he would sleep where he last sat. Other times he managed to drag himself to bed but not often because it reminded him of when it occupied two. He despaired this one memory greatest at bedtime. Her gentle touch, soft skin and warm body was lost to him. He no longer felt her hand upon his chest as if to reassure that his heart still beat for her. He could not hear her mumbling voice in the night while she entertained a pleasant dream. Taken from him were the morning kisses, given at daybreak, which was a simple routine confirming a coming of another day.
But as each morning became known, he mind was clear and a bit more logical in process. He realized that it was not to be that their lives together could survive. His "arguer", as he called him, would not appear until he soaked his soul, as he did, each night at the tavern. But his loneliness for her would never leave him. A direct contrast entity lived within his mind that continually bombarded him: his love for her and his hatred for their fights. He constantly wondered how it could have been changed; what could he have done to make their love stronger than the self-defense he needed to protect his feelings. And as each day progressed, he would slowly lose the battle for his sanity. His only retreat would be his usual setting among strangers with their painfully-joyful conversations that forced him away from reality.
"Hey Charles," Ray said as Charles walked in., "Rum and Coke?"
"Yeah, that'd be great, thanks." Charles makes his way to his reserved spot at the bar.
"Beautiful day, isn't it?" Ray always spoke cheerfully to his patrons when they arrived.
"Yes it is," Charles said pointedly.
Ray took a glance at Charles as he fixed his drink. Charles just waited and acknowledged very little around him as he always did. Ray brought him his drink and the two men chatted for a bit over the weather. Ray needed to get back to business. Charles looked up and spied his face in the mirror bounded to the wall behind the magnitude of bottles full of feelings and memories known only to those who partake. Looking at his reflection, he became insulted and hated his appearance. He wondered if he was disgusted more by his demeanor or by his situation.
"You bring me, sir, to a state of emetic illness."
"Yeah, I make myself sick, too."
"Have you no pride, man! Where is your sense of dignity? Peer into the looking glass and see that you live well, not knowing her presence."
"Maybe I should try to talk to her. After all, she really didn't want to leave."
"Are you idiot born? An invalid of the mind? Enfeebled by stupidity? What do you, sir, hope to expect from such a ridiculous endeavor?"
"I love her so much; maybe we could work things out."
"Have you grown accustom to pain that much, now you live not without it? So then should you consider an easier avenue to this self destruction you so long to seek."
"All I want is to love her forever and forget our problems."
"Would it not be better to throw yourself down from atop this building. Lasso about your neck a tight noose affixed upon a large stone, hence drown quickly. Alas, you may take your pistol and breathe its lead into you mind. Your fleeting moments would bring you more calm then a lifetime with her."
"I can't live without her. I know that now."
Ray busied himself along tending his counter and pouring his flavors. Customers came and went. Ray made their drinks and popped their beers open. Charles sat in his usual corner. The night was as it always is without much significance. A man comes in and sits at the bar.
"What'll ya have, partner?" Ray said smiling.
"Give me beer, on tap" he said.
"Which type you want?" Ray asked.
"Give me your favorite."
"Coming up!" Ray returned.
Ray poured a glass and waited for the foam to settle and filled again. He turned around and saw this man smiling in Charles's direction.
"What the hell is wrong with that freak?" he asks.
"Leave him alone," Ray jumps in, "he's going through a hard time."
Looking back confused the man asked, "What does he do… Just sit around and talk to himself all night?"
"Everybody works through their problems in their own way," Ray began, "Charles is a very nice man just trying to deal with a problem, that's all…. And he's not a 'freak'!"
The man noticed Ray's tension and apologized and started sipping his beer. Ray went back to business.
Closing time was near once again and Ray walked over to Charles and stopped short in his usual "warning" manner. He was going to ask if he wanted anything else but he noticed that Charles looked different and strained. Knowing that the best approach to Charles's personality was the use of casualness so he started out with the same line he always did with Charles at this time of night.
"Last call, Charles, can have another made up real quick." Ray smiled.
"Yeah, fix me one more, Ray, and thank you."
Ray walked off to fix another and suddenly realized that Charles never called him by his first name before. Concern drove him to attempt to investigate this unusual difference about Charles.
"Here you go, sir," Ray said putting his hands in his pockets.
Ray paused for a moment until Charles looked at him.
"You ok?" Ray asked showing concern.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," Charles said reassuringly.
"You look a bit different tonight," Ray started, "a little more depressed than usual?"
"No sir," Charles spoke up brightly, "I'm feeling better. As a matter of fact, I've decided to let go of all these burdens that follow me."
"You've found another girl, hopefully." Ray pointedly said.
"No," Charles responded, "No one will ever replace Marie, but I've found a 'different' life to venture on."
"I see," Ray began, "so no more lonely nights sitting at my bar, then?"
"Yep, you might not see me for a while."
"Where will you be going?" Ray asked.
"I think I'll take a vacation," Charles replied.
"Any place in particular?"
"Well," Charles replied, "I think so but not sure as of yet."
This confused Ray but another customer called him away. Charles got up; he didn't finish his last drink and left for home.
A couple of weeks passed and the Chaise Lounge was exposed to the normalcy that it was accustomed to daily, save the absence of Charles and a weariness that became known to Ray with a package he received a few days after Charles left for his "vacation". Ray did his rounds, mixed his drinks and carried along as usual but bearing a feeling he wished he didn't have to know. The same man that came in a few weeks ago that mocked Charles had now returned and sat at the bar.
"What'll it be?" Ray asked.
"Give me beer," he said.
"Give me your favorite."
Ray, at this time, was not as cheerful and simply poured a beer from the tap not caring the brand. He gave it to him and went about wiping off the counter. The man drank his beer and asked for another. He received it. He looked around, checking out the occupants and looked back at Ray.
"So where's the freak," he stopped suddenly and said, "I'm mean that guy who talked to himself."
This infuriated Ray and he ignored this insensitive person and went about sorting the wine bottles.
Thinking that Ray didn't hear him the man said louder, "That guy that use to sit over there, guess he don't come here any more?"
Ray turn around quickly and said, "Nope, he don't come here anymore."
"Suppose he found another bar," the man said, "can't make any money off him now, I guess."
Ray looked him square in the eyes and in a rough voice said, "He's dead. He committed suicide two weeks ago."
The man froze with embarrassment. Ray having endured two weeks of dismay and grief let his anger out on this stranger.
"FREAK!" Ray shouted, "you call him a freak! Let me tell you something about this 'freak'!" There was a slight pause as Ray glared into the man's eyes. "Charles fell in love with a woman that he loved so much that it killed him. I watched as he withered away, sitting at my bar. Their marriage went sour and he left her but not because he didn't love her. And that was something he just couldn't live with. So he decided one night to end his misery by putting a gun to his head."
The man feeling very embarrassed now didn't know what to say.
"You want to know how I know this, pal?" Ray continued angrily.
The man could do nothing but blink.
"He sent me a package. In this package was a letter and a dozen dead dried roses. They were dry and withered and would crumble when I touched them."
Ray put his hands on his hips and looked down at the ground and said, "The letter was a 'thanks for being my friend' note and said that he had become lost without a love that he couldn't live with. That all was gone except love; his love was all that was left inside of him. And all that this love did was remind him that his life would be 'living' without his wife and that the flowers represented what had come of it. The path their love had taken."
Ray walked away to the other side of the bar and faced the wall to regain his composure. He stood there where Charles normally would sit and thought to himself: "His love for her was all that he had left. If she had the same love for him, would that have been enough?"