Loneliness: a short story

“may come home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as a stone.” e.e. cummings, from RAIN.

It was a slow autumn night and she liked the autumn. The leaves had turned to happier colours, creating a deep longing within her. The one thing she didn’t like about the autumn was seeing the birds flock together and start their journey to whatever destination they were headed and she didn’t like that the lingering hope for summer was slowly dying.

It wasn’t that she chose to be different, or a loner. She never chose to be single at the age of thirty-five. She never chose not to have a husband or a kid. It just happened that way. She had been focused on the career at first and not the boyfriends. They had all been wonderful, but for one reason or another things hadn’t worked out. She thought it was because there was something wrong with her. She wasn’t beautiful enough. She wasn’t cool enough, not smart enough, not caring enough. Not good enough.

The autumn night tickled her. She liked the cool breeze on her skin and she loved being lost in the dark. She didn’t fear the park at night. She brought a little flashlight with her, but it was in her pocket. She liked it dark. There was something wonderful about strolling underneath the crescent moon.

She never felt lonelier than on those nights. But she was used to that feeling and somehow the moon always signified some kind of company for her. Someone out there was bound to be watching the moon at the same time. Perhaps that person was on the other side of the planet but there had to be at least one pair of eyes at it at the same time she gazed at it.

It wasn’t like being stuck in that cubicle day in and day out, sitting besides thirty or forty other people while calling countless of numbers, talking to strangers and still feeling completely alone. That was gutting. That was desperation.

No, the loneliness of the night didn’t bother her as much. And at the apartment back home she had the cat waiting for her. It was cozy enough, and the cat was company. It understood her.

She walked through the darkest parts of the park and back to her apartment. She greeted the neighbour on the fifth floor. He glared at her, raised one eyebrow and blinked at her. He always did that and she wondered what he wanted. Was this his form of communication? Or was it the best pickup method he knew? She didn’t know and she didn’t care. She didn’t like the way he smelled and she didn’t like the way she could hear him breathing all the time. She didn’t like the way he greased his hair each morning either, he looked like he was desperate to have been a teenager in the 50’s. Not that she could afford to be picky, it wasn’t about high standards but about connection.

She walked the stairs, didn’t like the elevator. It was always getting stuck and sometimes people had to wait in there for hours to get help. So she walked the four flights of stairs, hauled the keys from her pocket and went inside.

The cat meowed as she came inside.
“Hey Zeus, are you hungry? Or just lonely?” she patted the cat, went into the kitchen and filled his bowls. The cat started eating immediately, devouring everything on its plate.
She made a microwave dinner for herself and then she sat in front of the television with a bottle of cider in her hands. There was a game show on TV and she liked those, but sometimes she just sat and listened to the radio. There was something comforting in listening to the radio. The radio host sounded like he was right in the room with her, like an old friend, and at the same time he was alone in a room too, talking to whoever wanted to listen, and perhaps no one at all.

Falling asleep on the couch wasn’t anything unusual. It happened every other weekend. This time, though, she didn’t wake up at three o’clock to crawl into her own bed with the cat in tow. This time she woke up at four, there was a strange noise coming from somewhere and the cat was nowhere to be seen.

Instead of heading into the bedroom she started to look for the cat. It couldn’t get out by itself. They were on the fourth floor and the only way for it to go out was if she let it out. During daytime her elderly neighbour looked after the cat and sometimes let it out, but she would never do that in the middle of the night.

After a time she realised it wasn’t in the apartment. There was a window open in her bedroom, but it was high up and she didn’t think it would, or could, get out that way.
She looked out the window. The lights of the city were as they always were at the middle of the night. Tantalising reminders that even in the middle of the night there were people everywhere.

The thought came to her then and not for the first time, but maybe with a heavier burden, “Why are we all so lonely, if there are so many of us gathered in one place? Or is it just me who feels this way?”
She sighed and that’s when it started.
It looked like a meteor shower. She had never seen anything like it. Like small crystals or diamonds raining down over the city. She quickly pulled on a warm coat and shoes and ran down with her keys in hand.

It was spectacular. She ran the streets, looking for a spot in the city that allowed for better viewing, less light and soon found herself in the park again. It was the only spot nearby that wasn’t perfectly illuminated, even at such late hours.

She watched the streaks of lights enter the atmosphere for a long time, but it finally subsided, with just a few remaining stones still burning.
She started to focus on her surroundings more, wondering where all the people where. Surely there had to be those who yearned to see this sort of thing and knew it was coming? And what better place to see that, if you couldn’t leave the city, than right there? Though she expected that people who were interested travelled outside the city to see such things, the sight must have been even more impressive without all the lights disturbing the experience.

She started to walk home slowly. Feeling a surge of panic within her.
It started as a fierce pain in her chest. She recognised the pain, it was the pain of anxiety except this was much worse than she was used to and it seemed to sprout roots and spread from her chest, her heart, her soul and out towards the rest of her body, slowly moving into her limbs and finally into her head. The pain was total. She couldn’t stand it. She fell down into a small shrub and withered in agony. She thought it would never end, she hugged herself and tried to withstand the pain the best she could, but she could feel the change, bones shattering, transforming, metamorphosing, the blood oozing. It was excruciating and somewhere in the midst of the change she blissfully lost consciousness.

It was still dark when she came to. She breathed in, a surge of horror surging through her mind. She felt a nightmarish panic as she started running on all fours through the park. She was fast, she could feel the strength in her hind legs and she could avoid people by just smelling the air.

The senses rushed at her, all kind of smells and sounds she wasn’t used to. It confused her, made her panic further. And she felt hungry. In fact she was starving. Not just for food, but for other things as well. All the feelings hidden inside her before, now rushed at her with animal speed and she couldn’t handle them, couldn’t contain them, couldn’t but howl out the devastation and loneliness, hoping that someone or something out there heard her agony and her despair. It was uncontainable.

She didn’t know how long it lasted. She didn’t know exactly everything she did during the hours she was lost. When she felt her old self starting to protrude she felt bad. Her skin slowly became the same again, the hair on her body vanished, her jaws popped into place and somehow she was back to who she had been before. Naked, in the park, fiercely wishing she could turn back because howling out whatever she was feeling had felt so much better than tiptoeing in her own skin, hoping not to disturb anybody.

She found the clearing she’d started in and could get dressed in the tethers of her clothes without anybody seeing her, but a single hobo who glared at her and gave her that same kind of wink her neighbour always gave her. She found herself smiling apologetically to him as she put her sweater on. He just continued staring until she was dressed and could rush away.

When she came to her apartment she was bewildered and out of breath. She went straight into the shower, washed off all the dirt and whatever goo she had on her body. She threw the clothes she’d had on in the washing machine down in the cellar and made toast for breakfast. She didn’t eat it though, found she wasn’t very hungry.

Zeus appeared from underneath the sofa when she got back from the laundry room. He rushed to his bowls and lapped up some water. He didn’t come when she called.
And she didn’t blame him.

She knocked on the neighbours door and asked her to look after Zeus for the day. Told her that she’d be away and asked if the cat could stay with her during the night. The old lady was delighted, took the cat under his belly, stroked his head and spoke to it about treats and the good blanket.

The cat would be safe there.
Then she rushed out into the park again. She ran for forty-five minutes, but she didn’t feel any better afterwards. Only felt as if she should run more, search more, only she had no idea what she was searching for.

She went home and hid in her bed, wishing for the oblivion of sleep, but it didn’t come. She kicked her blankets off in frustration and went and made herself a cup of coffee and she spent the day anxiously pacing around the apartment, trying to figure out what had happened to her.

The next night she bolted the door closed, pulled the curtains before the windows and settled down with the radio on. She sat in the couch, hugging her knees rocking back and forth. It wasn’t something she had done since she was an agonised teenager, hoping to be included.

The hours ticked away and she realised that the ups and downs of this anxiety attack couldn’t be fought much longer. She’d lose the battle and the thought of that spiked her heartbeat again.

With the heartbeat came that pain again. She hugged her pillow, biting into the fabric hoping to ease the cries, hoping the neighbours wouldn’t hear and then it happened again. Exactly like it had the night before, except this time she was locked in a room and she found herself tearing at the furniture, pacing around, claws on the parquet floors and she knew somewhere deep inside that this was a bad thing for some reason, but couldn’t remember why. She just wanted to get out, wanted to see the moon and feel the earth underneath her feet.

The next morning her apartment was in devastation. She woke up on the bathroom floor completely exhausted. She showered and crawled into bed, waking only to a slow knock on the door hours later.

It was her neighbour. She had a curious, but slightly frightened look in her eyes.
“What happened dear? Have you got a dog now?”
She glared at her, tried to swallow but couldn’t. She managed to shake her head and mumble something. She knew the lady couldn’t hear her, but she apologised and asked if everything was alright. The lady just nodded and said that there was a lot of ruckus last night. Of course most of the house hadn’t noticed, it wasn’t unusual to have noise in the house, though they were usually different noises.

The lady went back to her place and left her alone again. She almost called her back, just to have some company, just to have someone to talk to. She thought about calling Lola. Lola had been her best friend through their teenage years, but it was hard talking to her now, hard to acknowledge that the connection that had been so strong then was mostly built on tradition now and the rift had become too wide. Lola had a husband and two kids and was busy with her own thing. When she had the time she liked speaking of them, or of old times and it was sometimes hard to listen to. And usually just made her feel more lonely.

The third night it happened again. The transformation was starting to take its toll, but she had the wisdom to be in the park again. It would have to do. It would be better than being evicted for keeping a pet she wasn’t licensed to keep in the house. It had taken her a while to get to keep Zeus. Now the cat wouldn’t come near her and she didn’t blame him. She probably smelled like a dog, but thankfully the lady was thrilled to take care of him.

When she woke up in the park on the third morning she just lay still. She couldn’t move. She was completely exhausted, though in the end she was forced to get up and find her clothes. She snuck in the bushes lucky not to be spotted by some runners, she found the tethers of her clothes and headed home.

There was a note waiting for her when she got home. It had been snuck underneath her door. It was a small envelope, and inside was a yellow post-it note. It was still sticky and it read: “You’re not alone.”
Nothing else.

She stuck the note on the television, and stared at it for a long time. When the fourth night approached she thought about ending it. But the note kept her going. Who had sent her this? What did it mean?

She went into the park again, but this time nothing happened. She roamed the park alone but nothing happened and when it was well past midnight she went home and she slept in her own bed.

Even the cat seemed to forgive her a little and came nuzzling at her, stroking its forehead towards her cheek as if he’d missed her. She found it soothing to lie under the cover, stroking the cat, listening to the radio and looking at the strange note which she had moved and was now stuck on the bedroom window.

She had the curtains pulled away from the windows and she decided she would try to clean the apartment. It was a mess and the parquet was badly scratched, she would have to get someone to polish it. She fell asleep and when she woke up there was a gentle rain beating her window.

She got up and got ready for work. There was no reason to stay in, she had to try to live like a human being, no matter what she was transforming into. She had to get rid of this feeling at the pit of her stomach that everything was turning upside down on her and just continue through the anxiety. It made her feel things, it made her imagine things that never came to be, and she was now sure that lately it was making her hallucinate. That had to be it. And she would get help, if it continued she would get professional help.

She had checked the note thoroughly and while she didn’t think it was her own handwriting she couldn’t dismiss the thought entirely. Maybe she had written it herself to get some sympathy for whatever madness had taken her over? That had to be it, but now it was almost over. She just had to proceed with her days like she normally did, act like she had before and it would all go away.

She had a good day at the cubicle, calling people, trying to convince people that they desperately needed more insurance. It was fine. She ate her lunch by herself but had a little discussion about the weather with the guy in the next cubicle.

Half a year earlier she would have swooned at the thought. She had liked him in a way that was ridiculous given the fact that at that point she had never even spoken to him. He was good looking and funny, a thing she knew only because she had heard him speak to her coworkers.

The infatuation had slowly diminished, but as she was speaking with him about the chill in the air, she couldn’t but to get a little lost in the shades of green in his eyes and the way his lips vibrated a bit before he smiled. She felt the feelings surge underneath the surface, hibernating but ready to burst out at any moment. She tried to cut the conversation short, and it’s not hard when you’re awkwardly discussing the weather, but he said something that triggered her. And it was good, but it wasn’t at the same time.

“Do you want to catch a drink after work some day?” he asked, “Maybe Friday? They’re having a 60’s night at the SLOWHOUR, maybe they’ll play some Johnny Cash?”
“Was he a 60’s thing? Wasn’t he more a thing in himself, they’ll hold a Johnny Cash night when they play him?”

She twisted and turned and couldn’t believe she was standing there contemplating saying no. In the end she didn’t find a way to say no to him. She said yes and when she went home she felt all those feelings returning. Those pesky feelings she had worked so hard on getting rid of, because they were so stupid and unrequited and useless. She slept well that night with the cat by her side.

When Friday came closer she felt as if the nightmare of the wolf was ending. She realised it had been a bad spell, but it was over now and beside the state of her apartment there had been no real damage. She had cleaned the mess, but the floor was still in bad shape and she would have to get that fixed sooner or later.

When Friday approached she was nervous. She didn’t know if she should dress up or act if this was just casual for her, no big deal. She tried to take the middle ground but when she was at work she felt stupid in her semi-heels and tight clothes. He didn’t act differently during the day, didn’t say much to her either, and she started to think that he didn’t remember, or had just been pulling her leg.

But then the hour arrived and he held his jacket over his shoulder and leaned up to the pillar next to her working space. The sleeves of his shirt were up by the elbow and she could see tattoos gracing his arm. She had never seen that before.
“Ready?” he said, “You look nice today.”

She tried not to blush, but it was impossible to tell the chameleon not to change colours when its surroundings did. He just smiled and they walked out together.
Her heart almost skipped a beat when he opened the door for her. Such a simple gesture and there she was completely floored.

They walked to the place he’d talked about. She had never been there before but it was nice enough and surely did have a certain 60’s feeling about it. Sitting at the Doc of the Bay was playing when they arrived. They sat down by a table and ordered hamburgers and beer. She wasn’t used to drinking beer, but she felt it was the right thing to do.

The conversation was slow at first. She wasn’t used to small talk and found she’d completely forgotten how to do it. He didn’t seem to notice though and was happy talking, telling her about the movies he liked and the bands he listened to. He was a big Johnny Cash fan.

When they’d eaten their food he asked if she’d have another beer and she said sure. In her mind, though, she was panicking about the fact that he had asked her out for drinks and now it had transformed into dinner and a date and she didn’t want him to believe that she had been expecting that but was anxious that he would think that. It was a tricky thought to keep in mind while trying to discuss the pros and cons of disposable diapers and she had no idea how two singles, both childless at least as far as she knew, had arrived at this topic.

When it was nearing midnight she felt the anxiety build in her. Was he having fun? Or was he just humouring her because they worked together. She tried to push the anxious thoughts out of her head but they wouldn’t go away. Then he suggested they get out and walk and she thought that was an excellent idea and so they got out into the cold weather and walked the streets.

He walked close to her. It made her feel suspicious and when he leaned over to kiss her after standing by a tree discussing work for a little while she just stood there like she was one of the trees and couldn’t move a muscle.

He saw it as an invitation and suddenly the kiss became warm and eager. She tried reciprocating, but it was hard, she wasn’t used to this. She longed for her lonely Friday nights with her game shows and radio. This was too hard. But realising what she was thinking awoke something in her.

He kissed her and he seemed to like it. She had fantasised about this moment. Fantasised about what it would feel like and here she was throwing the moment away for anxious, fearful thoughts.

He invited her home. “I live just around the corner,” he said and pointed and she figured she could be the kind of person that did that. She could be one of those so she shyly nodded her head and they walked up to an ugly apartment building, hand in hand.

The night was fierce, long and satisfying. She was insecure and backwards at first, but then the wild beast in her took over and he seemed to like that.

It was six o’clock in the morning when they even thought about sleeping.
When she woke up at eleven thirty she snuck out without waking him. She didn’t leave a note or anything. They would meet on Monday and she didn’t want to wake him. Didn’t want to face up to the man she had scratched the back of until he bled.
He hadn’t minded, but now she felt she’d taken things too far. She’d been too much. Too eager.

She went home to greet Zeus. The cat meowed at her and she fed it, though it seemed perfectly happy already. She let him out and went to sleep. She half expected him to call her. She’d put his number into her phone during the evening, but she was too embarrassed to call him. When there was still no word from him at six thirty she started to panic.

A surge of pain started to hammer through her chest. She recognised it, though she tried her best to ignore it. When it became unbearable she went to the park. She wanted to text him, say something cheeky as if she didn’t care but she couldn’t, her hands were shaking too violently so she left the phone at home. She just missed his text that said: “Had great time. Sad to see you’ve left. Can we do this again?”

Her pain expanded throughout her body and she let out the first howl before she was fully transformed. The giant wolf ran through the park, howling to find her pack. It would have been a sad sight had anyone been there to see it, and a terrifying one. The rumour that there was a wild beast running through the park at night had already started flourishing.

She came too outside of the park, naked on the street. It was still early, but there were people about and she was dirty and disgusting and if anyone saw her they would surely call the police and the police would send her directly to some form of mental facility.
She hid behind a trashcan and when she couldn’t find any other methods she fished out an old plastic bag to shield herself with and then she ran, the fastest she could, towards his home. It was closer than hers.

He was home, thankfully, though she wished she’d gone home instead.
“What on earth happened to you? Where you robbed? Where you…?”
She just shook her head and signalled for him to let her in, which he did.
He invited her to take a shower and made her some coffee and prepared sandwiches while she did it. When she came out again, wearing his fluffy bathrobe, she felt like an idiot.
She tried to apologise, but he wouldn’t have it. “I’m just glad you came here,” he said. “I had a great time you know, I really…” and he didn’t continue, apparently he didn’t know how to.

“I enjoyed it too,” she said. “I don’t quite know what happened tonight, I was …” and she didn’t know how to continue either. And for a while they just sat there in silence. He with his hand resting on her shoulder as if he was trying to comfort her and it was comforting. The agony she felt in her body seemed to vanish slowly, the comfortable feeling moving through her body from the place he touched her.

“You don’t know many in the city,” he said finally. She just shook her head. “I don’t either, but I guess it’s not as hard on everybody.”
She ate the food he had prepared for her and when he offered her a shoulder to lie on in the living room couch she took him up on it. She wanted to tell him what had happened to her, but she didn’t want to be labelled insane and he would surely think she was bloody mad.

And then a voice rose within her, a voice telling her that somewhere she’d need take a close look at herself, she would need to trust someone and open up if even just an inch.
“You’re a bit wild,” he told her, “I like the way your hair is always so tamed at work, but when you’re not there it seems to turn into a lions mane,” he said.
“Or a wolfsbane,” she whispered.

She knew she’d have to explain herself, say something that made sense but she had no explanation. So she did the only thing she knew to do, the thing she wanted to do instead of explaining herself. She kissed him and his robe fell off her shoulders quickly and they ended up spending more hours in his bed. She tried to go easy on his back this time but apparently, when it came to him, it wasn’t in her to hold back and he didn’t seem to mind. It seemed to enhance his experience if anything.

When they were lying side by side, completely exhausted, she told him.
“I don’t know what happens to me, it started a while ago. I’m either going crazy, in that case you should run, or I turn into a wolf at night, and then you should definitely run.”
And she felt the agony seep out of her body. It was as if something just let go and left. A sense of anxiety, a tiny portion of it, but the portion that had brought her over the edge just leaked into the sheets and vanished. She heard the howl in her mind. It was a distinct feeling, a sound of the mind, a promise of sort, a promise that it wouldn’t leave her, not ever but keep in the shades.

He turned, leaned on his elbow and looked at her. “I don’t understand why we never talked before,” he said. “I’ve had this little crush on you for ages.”

She laughed at that. She laughed until tears flowed down her cheeks and she noticed the hurt in his eyes. Then she took his cheeks in her hands and kissed him.
“I’ve been sitting in the cubicle next to you, feeling the same thing,” she said. “It’s insane.”
He was serious. “It’s loneliness, you know,” he said.
“What is?”
“That feeling that turns us all into beasts”.
She nodded her head and kissed him again, then she got up and went to the bathroom.
She noticed a post-it note on the mirror. He had written a note to himself. “Remember to fix the file before Monday!” it said.
It was the same handwriting as the one on the note she had received under her door.

Suddenly she heard two wolves in her head howling.

© Eygló 2016

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