This is an old story I entered in a competition years ago. The competition doesn’t exist anymore, unfortunately (so the links below do not work anymore) but the story is still here and I spruced it up a bit. Gave it a little make-over, so to speak.
I’ll leave the original post here, and below is the story, slightly revised.
I entered a story into this Global Short Story Competition in April. I wrote the story in a day and then, of course, I did some fixes. I have written some short stories in my life but never focused on keeping it as short as under 2000 words, which this one is. The competition has a max word count of 2000 words. It was an interesting experiment, a fun thing to do and of course I wanted to win.
But I didn’t. But I did get short listed. [See Here] I don’t know what it means.
Anyway Here is the story I hope it’s readable:
by Eygló Daða
He had been away all day. She didn’t like it when he was away that long but they had to eat and they had to pay rent. So she spent her time painting a picture of the dreamscape they spoke of when they lay in bed together. She painted two clowns dancing, hand in hand. She painted the soft waves of the ocean, a palm tree and a bright moon reflecting on the waves.
She was still wearing her nightgown. It was an old fashioned white cotton gown with lace on the short arms. He had given it to her for her birthday and she wore it every night. She knew it would wither away with wear but she couldn’t imagine not going to bed in it.
And sometimes she spent the entire day in it as well.
Especially when he was away.
But he had work. He had to make a living and they were lucky when he found work for the entire day.
“Lucky,” he’d tell her in a stern tone of voice and kiss her nose.
He loved her. She knew that for a fact. More than anyone had before, more than her own mother had loved her. He loved her and she loved him. It didn’t matter that they were poor. It didn’t matter that she sometimes didn’t feel right. She knew it was all in her head, but she couldn’t help it. It was out of her control.
She sometimes screamed at him. She would scream so loudly that the neighbours would call the police. But he was always patient with her and he talked to her with his calm, soft voice. And at the end of the night she would be in his arms, sobbing, begging him to forgive her.
He always did. He always said that there was nothing to forgive.
“You are me, I am you,” he would say and together they would fall asleep.
She put the brush, she had been painting with, in the plastic cup filled with turpentine. Then she walked into the kitchen, curling her toes from the cold. She put on the radio. A soft classic tune, she didn’t recognise, emanated from the speakers and she started to dance, slowly, with herself. Pretending he was there by her side and that they were dancing, dancing like they often did.
She danced thinking of how he looked when he didn’t worry. When he didn’t look sad. She knew that he sometimes went hungry just so she could get her medicine. And she would give him some of the food he meant for her, even if he refused she would smuggle it onto his plate.
He was just skin and bones now, her man. Just skin and bones. And she felt guilty. She wasn’t doing her duty. She wasn’t getting better. She wasn’t pulling her weight. She wasn’t shouldering the burden of life with him.
Instead she was the burden and he carried it all alone.
But sometimes he danced with her and they would forget the rest of the world. Forget the harsh reality outside and they would create their own reality inside of their humble one bedroom apartment.
When the wind blew heavily a soft whistle was heard from the rooftop. It always reminded her of the story about Charlotte the spider. And she would start to sing Itsy Bitsy Spider. He liked to hear her sing and he urged her on when the verses were over. Urged her to sing something else. He liked songs about the sunshine and happiness and so she sometimes sung those to him.
But sometimes she forgot and she screamed instead. Sometimes she forgot and she hurled things at him. Sometimes she forgot he was who he was and she thought he was someone else. Someone from her past, someone dark she didn’t quite remember. She was sure that figure had red fiery eyes though and hard, hurtful hands.
She knew he would never hurt her. Not like that other man had. Her dream boy would never hurt her and she sometimes sang that, it was her mantra. And often all he had to do to remind her was to whisper, whisper softly.
When the song came to a halt and a woman started to introduce the next song she turned the radio down and poured some cold coffee into a cup. She sat down by the kitchen table and looked out the window. The table had a white cloth and there were white curtains for the window, white curtains with yellow dandelions.
She sometimes called him her Dandelion and he called her his Rose. She was his thorny Rose. She liked that. She liked his soft compliments, the way he made her sound like a goddess and she sometimes believed him too, sometimes she got lost with him in his fantasy. And it was alright to get lost sometimes, she was a goddess and he was hers and they wore expensive gowns and walked on a sunny beach somewhere far away from the cold outside her window. It was alright to pretend sometimes, as long as she didn’t forget.
As long as she remembered who she was and how to get better.
She needed to get better. Then she would be able to get a job too and they could travel and later, when the time was right, they could have a baby. A miniature version of him and her running around in the world. The thought of that always made her smile.
It was getting dark outside and she started to worry.
“Where are you my sweet?” she asked but only got a soft echo of her own voice as an answer. The kitchen was strange that way. If you sat by the window the sound of your voice traveled strangely around the kitchen and then returned to you.
“Where are you my sweetheart?” she heard the echo whisper towards her.
He would get home soon. He always came home before it got completely dark. he knew she hated the dark. He knew she had it when she was alone in the dark apartment and that whistle in the roof started to sound like a phantom warning her of impending doom.
She moved back towards the bed and continued to paint. She made the contour of the clowns clearer and started to colour the funny hats on their heads. She forgot herself in her work for a while. Forgot the darkness falling outside. Forgot the whistle in the rafters. Forgot her hunger.
When she looked up again she noticed it was dark. She stared out the window, her eyes wide open. Her heart throbbed and her mind closed shut.
“Where are you, dream boy?” she whispered but all she got instead of an answer was the phantom whispering in the rafters. She put her pencil down and moved towards the window again, like a frightened animal she switched on the lights.
But it was still dark. Nothing happened.
“Where are you?” she whispered again and her voice broke.
She looked outside towards the hallway, hoping that he would come rushing in with his happy smile, the one he had on when he danced with her. They would watch a funny film and fall asleep after making love. He would tell her of his dreams as she fell asleep. He would whisper to her comforting words. Words he knew she liked hearing.
He would tell her everything was going to be fine.
But she was afraid now. And he wasn’t there to sooth her. He wasn’t there to comfort her.
“Where are you?” she shouted angrily. But then she remembered that she shouldn’t shout and she crawled into the bed, pulled the covers to her chin and waited while the tears trickled down her chin.
“Remember me,” he had whispered, “remember me, will you? I forgive you, I always do.” he had whispered the words but she couldn’t remember when. He sometimes said funny things. He sometimes said things she didn’t understand.
It was star bright and windy. She listened to the phantom rage and she tried to sing but it was of no use. Her voice broke into thousand pieces and she cried again.
Then she heard a sound. It came from the outside and she jumped up.
“Dandelion?” she whispered, but she got no reply but the windy whispers from the roof.
“Dandelion?” she said and moved towards the window. She swept the cover from her bed around herself and walked slowly towards the door.
“Dandelion?” she sang but he didn’t answer.
She could hear something and it could only be him, it had to be him. So she walked towards the small hallway. The door couldn’t be seen from anywhere in the otherwise airy apartment. Frightened she switched on the light in the hallway but it didn’t work either.
“Please answer me,” she pleaded. “I’m afraid.”
But there was no reply so she walked briskly to the door, almost falling over something he had left lying on the floor. She didn’t look down, didn’t pay attention to it, didn’t want to see what it was. She just wanted to go to the door. She just wanted him to stand there telling her he had forgotten his keys.
But when she opened the door all she saw was the neighbours cat lurking by her door, leisurely sharpening its claws on the carpet. It meowed softly at her.
She slammed the door shut, covered her face with her hands and sagged to the floor.
She sat there for a while. Trying to calm herself, to gather strength.
“I’m a grown up,” she told herself. “I can handle this. I shouldn’t panic.” What had he told her about panicking? It can happen and that’s alright.
“Just sit down until you find your calm again,” he had said.
She was afraid, so afraid and she hoped there was no good reason for it, but she feared there was.
She had been afraid yesterday too. He had come home late. It had been dark then too. She had screamed at him. She had yelled at him, awful words. She had told him to go to hell. She had … and then he had spoken to her softly. Hadn’t he? And she had calmed down. And they had danced in front of the window by the light of the moon and she had laughed and she had giggled and she had promised she would try harder to get better. Hadn’t she?
If only he would come home now and laugh with her. If only he would be there with her, dancing and smiling that calming smile of his. But all she had as company were the whispers from the rafters, the phantom saying evil things to her and she tried not to hear, and then she did try to hear.
“You,” it whispered, “You did it, you finally did it.”
She put her hands to her ears so she wouldn’t hear, not covering her eyes anymore.
There was something on the floor in front of her. Something lay there. She had almost fallen over it before. What was it? What was so big, lying there so still? What could it be? They had big pillows. Or perhaps it was his leather coat? He usually wore that to work. He always wore it outside. It couldn’t be his coat.
“You and me, babe,” he’d say, “We’ll be fine together.”
He had probably left it this time. Perhaps it was too warm for it. It had to be the coat that was lying there.
“It’s just his coat,” she told herself out loud, trying to use his voice. Trying to hear his voice and not her own. His voice would calm her now. But her heart was throbbing even harder, and she felt the panic setting on.
“It’s just my coat,” she whispered to the rooftop phantom who laughed at her.
She braced herself and stood up to get his coat from the floor. She started pulling at it, but it wouldn’t budge. It wouldn’t move.
It was too heavy.
It was his coat.
But there was more and as she pulled at what was lying there, and it turned and suddenly she saw.
He was lying on the floor with the kitchen knife sticking out of his chest. His broken eyes staring emptily at the ceiling.
“You finally did it,” the phantom whispered from the rooftops.
And all she could do was scream.