(Excuse the fact that I’ve probably repeated myself a lot, any typos and grammatical/punctuation errors — I’m very tired, team.)
“Same as usual?” The bartender scrubbed down another mug whilst gazing over at me.
“…you know it”, I replied, with weary eyes and short yet unruly hair.
“Looks like you’ve been at it again. I don’t s’pose you managed to get away unscathed this time, eh?” Placing the mug down, she slid across my glass before leaning on one arm, staring at me.
“Oh no, they got a decent hit in. Took a souvenir from my mouth, along with a couple other discrepancies”. I threw back the shot — ensuring it didn’t touch my tongue — and sent a huge smile her way.
“Shit sweetie, I could park my car in that gap! I have to confess that I never thought I’d see you of all people with a missing tooth. Well, damn they must’ve really done a number on you”. She gave me a look of slight fear, before placing both her hands on top of my right hand.
“Stop trying to get yourself killed, Tom. You’re going to die anyway, so just take it easy and quit this whole ‘reckless abandon’ thing you’ve got going on”.
Within the blink of an eye, the woman in her late-twenties who’d served me countless drinks over the past four years had vanished, and their stood… her.
“You can’t be serious…” Looking around me then back at her, I brought my sanity into question over just how such an occurrence could be possible.
“I mean, yeah, you look pretty serious to me. But seriously… You… Of all people, you decide to show up here and now?” Wishing my glass would magically refill itself, I relented and finally made eye contact with her.
Those fuckin’ green eyes of her’s… I never could escape them.
“You’re really going to undo everything you did to stay alive within this one-fell swoop, and for what? A little peace and quiet? To end all the fighting?” She paused to glance away, pursing her lips to say more. I’ve never liked the sound of the Australian accent, but she’ll always be the exception. After the first words she ever sent my way, I noticed a complete change in tone with every word she sent after. She was, in the purest sense, ‘music to my ears’.
“What more could you have expected of a sly fox — a mere wild animal — but an issue for pest control and yet another reason to put your shotgun to good use?” Her voice became slightly hollow then faint as I closed my eyes, only to open them and see she’d seemingly vanished.
A sudden exhalation pierced my left ear; she sat on the stool beside me, her body facing mine.
“But unlike every other hunter, you did not shoot me. I gave you every reason that any one person would ever need to inflict violence upon another, and yet you didn’t”. She became visibly distraught with that remark. I turned to face her: first with only my head, and then with the rest of my body.
“You’re right — you did give me every reason, but the blame does not and never will rest entirely upon you. We were in this together, and in some sense we still are, but the fact remains that I had a hand in this also. To let you shoulder this all on your own would do the memory of you & me a great injustice”. I said this to her with my trademark gruff and ‘hideous’ westie twang.
“Maybe if we didn’t try hiding our true selves from one another to begin with, things could’ve been different. Well… they should’ve been different to be honest, but neither of us was accepting of such a change or willing to take that step back”. I sat myself up straight when delivering these specific words. She put herself upright in unison.
“…so now what? I’m here and only because deep inside you, you need me here. Spit it out, already”. Her face remained calm, her eyes still gleaming through the dimly lit pub.
“Why am I here, Tom?” She said. My heart sank, as I glanced away. She grabbed ahold of my hand, tracing around the wedding ring that would’ve been her’s.
“I don’t want to be alone anymore, but I can’t be with the others unless you give me permission”. She looked perplexed and huffed with disbelief. I just fixed my eyes upon her’s, waiting for a response.
“Don’t you think I’ve been following your lead for far too long already? You may feel like it’s the other way around, but I only did what I had done because it was you who set the standard”. At first she squinted her eyes, ready to retaliate with some choice words of her own. But she exhaled sharply instead, smiling as she faced downwards, before looking back up.
“…and I s’pose I’m your ‘runner’ in this song of yours? I still remember how you introduced me to Lykke Li [Sidenote: How the fuck could she have not heard about her till this year?! Son of a biscuit…] and I get the feeling that, once again, you’re going to use a song and/or its lyrics against me”. She now placed her hands on my chest, moving them to my shoulders and fixing her eyes with mine.
“My word still stands: you die, I die. I can pretend like you dying won’t do anything to me, but I know just as well as you do that it’ll fuck me up. This ‘deep sea’ is going to drown the both of us; not just you”. She paused to shift my hand away from my forehead, placing our palms up against each other, our fingers joining our hands as one.
Both pairs of our hands were now fused together. She removed her jandals to stand up on her tippy-toes: her delicate feet pushing into my worn dress shoes. For once, my foot wasn’t in pain. Blinking my eyes to glance down, I recoiled ever so slightly at seeing my shoes now mirror shined and in one piece. The pub had given way to a grassy hill with only a lone tree and a cool summer’s breeze as our surroundings. My trusty suit replaced with that of my khaki service dress uniform — lemon squeezer hat with red infantry band and general service badge, name plate with single ribbon, and white ’37 pattern belt fitted above my waist. Looking towards the front after piecing together the clothing I now wore, I let out a sigh of pleasure.
Still pressed up on her toes, her hair waved down to her waist and tapered off both shoulders. Her smile gave light to her neat summer dress, with a frangipani nestled atop her ear and my dogtags around her neck. We both smiled at each other, happy to see that we were once again — and for perhaps the last time — whole. Without uttering a word, she leapt up to wrap her legs around my waist, my arms shifted to below her thighs and on the back of her neck.
Posed in the very same manner in which we had first met in the physical sense, and running our hands across the other’s face, I removed my hat to place my head against her’s. With one last look into each other’s eyes and readying to have one final kiss, I took in a small gasp of air and produced my parting words:
“Dark doom honey; I follow you“.
…and that, folks, is why I’ll never love again. Not because I can’t; but only because I won’t.