Photo Credit: mikerolls (Flickr)
By Gabriel Quigley
The fluorescent lights reflect off the laminated cover of the book on the small round table in front of me. I hadn’t cared what it was when I picked it off the shelf, and I still don’t. It was, it is merely something to pass the time. Just like all the other books in this store. Why is it that just now I question what it is I’m doing and why?
Why do I suddenly feel the need to care? I’ve never cared before. These books are pass-times. They’ve never been anything more. Until today. Today, I find the title sitting in front of me…intriguing? Is that the right word? No, I don’t think it is. I give my head a thorough shaking in an attempt to stave off these unsettling thoughts. But they won’t leave. They stay rooted at the center of my attention. Everyday since I moved to Seattle I’ve come to this book store. Not for the books, of course not. I just needed something to eat away at the early hours of the morning. And that’s all it’s been. Why is it changing now?
Maybe I’m just overthinking it. Maybe I’m just working myself into a panic. Yeah, that must be it. I’m just tired is all. I need to relax. But you came here to relax, notes a small voice in the back of my head. I can’t say it’s wrong. I take a few deep breaths, feeling my heart pounding in my ears. This shouldn’t be such a huge issue, but it is. And I can’t help but let it consume my mind. My eyes refocus on the white-letters splayed across the hard cover of the book. I look the words over again and again but each time it feels like a wall erupts in front of my mind, only growing taller every time I mange to knock it down. After the sixth or so time, my eyes finally comprehend what’s in front of them: What They Leave Behind: Coping with the Loss of a Loved One. I’ve been staring at these words for what feels like ages and yet, I feel like this is the first time I’ve seen it. Almost as if my mind was shielding the words from me.
Why did my hand reach for this? There has to be a reason. Everything happens for a reason, right? Why was it the one that came off the shelf? A burning sensation wells up behind my eyes and I clench them shut. All feelings of panic and uneasiness vanish only to be replaced with a feeling like a hole has been torn in my chest. Deep down I realize, or maybe I knew all along, that my sub-conscious directed me to this. It knows I need it. It’s only thinking rationally, after all. But I don’t want to think rationally. I’ve managed to avoid it so far. Why is it today that it finally overwhelmed me? I realize I’m asking too many questions. With no one to answer them but myself.
The hole in my heart slowly drains of sadness and refills with a stinging frustration. A frustration at my own unwillingness to accept reality. It’s over. You can’t rewind time, the tiny presence insists. My frustration explodes into rage and bitterness as I stand, grabbing the book and hurling it at the opposite wall. It crashes against the shelf and falls to the floor along with several other loose tomes. My knees buckle and I collapse to the carpeted floor, my seat having fallen due to the force caused by my abrupt change in position. I pay no mind to the few people witnessing my breakdown. The tears fall freely now as I draw my knees close to my chest.
I feel something rectangular slip out of my pocket and go to reach for it. Realizing it’s only my phone I prepare to toss it aside, only to have my thumb move less than half an inch, hitting the power button. The screen brightens, revealing the picture I had set for my lock-screen. Vibrant pink hair and sapphire eyes fill my vision. A perfect smile plays across her face. I remember telling her how the lighting at that moment was perfect and how I begged her to let me take a picture. She always claimed she wasn’t very photogenic, but yet, here she is. Her eyes hold mine and I feel like I’m drowning. Not in sorrow or self-pity, but in something…else. A new, much stronger feeling rings throughout my head. I can’t tell if it’s desperation or determination. I decide that this might be the one question I don’t want the answer to. The new unidentified feeling summons it’s voice, She’s not gone. Not yet.
I look over at the book I threw, dragging my sleeve across my face to dry it. Slowly, I get up and walk the few feet that feel like a thousand miles to pick it up. I carefully place it on back on the shelf and make for the exit. She’s still here. She’s not gone.
Check out some more short prose here.