Forgive me if this story is error-filled — it is way too early in the morning to be posting this one, but inspiration has a knack of striking in the wee hours, and once the story is done, I have to post it to feel the finality. Thankfully I have a wonderful hubby who will most likely come in during normal-people hours and tidy it up for me ❤ ❤
This picture comes courtesy of author and artist Jean DiFalco! Be sure to head over to her Instagram account and show her some love! @jeandifalco
Also, keep in mind that late night/early morning hours tend to feed melancholia… Consider this a warning…
Here is, ‘Beyond Those Bars’:
My watcher always says wishes change faster than they can be granted, and dreams are nothing more than dreams. To that I’ve always responded, “But what if my wish has been the exact same for a while now? And what if the dream repeats itself over and over again so that it has become more real to me than reality?”
Never any response. Just those brows, more straight than curved with nothing more than a millimeter of bare skin between them, raising ever so slightly. Even so, with pale blue eyes and barely there freckles dotted across her nose, my watcher is beautiful. I’ve always wanted to look just like her. My genetics mean I match her coloring, but even so, I will never have that understated carriage of my head. The look that carries so much wisdom and the hint of deep waters within the soul.
As I stand outside, I study the cool, aged metal that makes up the bars of the balcony railing. Rumor has it that the man who created those thin slips of grey was mourning when he formed them. No one ever says what it was he mourned, but the fact alone that he was in despair seems to add an element to otherwise boring and inanimate, material things. The fact makes me feel close to that man, though I never knew him. I feel as if we are deeply connected, though I can’t say why.
“Maybe tonight,” I say, the metal becoming almost blurry since I’ve been staring at it so long.
“Not tonight,” my watcher says as she comes up behind me and lays a coat over my shoulders. The nights have begun to turn cooler, but I’m not quite cold yet. It’s too early in the season for that. Even so, that hint of a chill is enough to make me grateful for the extra layer of warmth.
The witch hazel trees are sending their sometimes floral, sometimes herbal scents to me. They always bloom one last time before the warm months end, like the last, deep breath a man takes before he passes away. At one time I enjoyed the winter, heralded in by that scent. Now, I feel it only signals that it will send me into an abyss. Unless I can get there. Beyond the railing of the balcony to what lies beyond.
“But maybe tonight,” I whisper.
“Not tonight,” my watcher repeats, then she turns me and guides me into the house.
If you ask me what I’ve lost, I will tell you the world. Beyond that, I can say no more. There are no words to describe this feeling, like I’ve misplaced something, but it’s a something that will never be found again. Unless I can get beyond those balcony rails.
Over and over the phrase repeats in my head. “Beyond the balcony rails. Beyond the balcony rails. Beyond the balcony rails.”
Even when my watcher tucks me into bed, I am trying to see beyond her, as if the windowless wall will suddenly turn to glass and let me see beyond. Pure, clear glass that gives not one obstruction to my view.
She thinks I am crazy. I know it even if she won’t say it. That’s why I’m not allowed beyond those balcony rails. I’m supposed to stay where I am, day after day after day. Maybe I am crazy. Now, anyway. That could be cured, though, if she would let me go where I wish. Why can’t she see that?
It is an hour, two, three, or maybe not even ten minutes before I wake soaked in my own sweat, that terrible moisture that causes the clothes to stick to my back like a second layer of skin. Unnatural skin that I feel I must shed or it will surely suffocate me.
The room is dark. Why did I wake? Ah, the rush of it is coming back to me now. The dream. The same dream over and over again. In it, I am there, beyond the rails of the balcony. In my arm I hold this rare and beautiful treasure. There has never been one like it, and there never will be again. I know it instinctively. For fear of losing it, I pull the treasure in tight, wrapping my other arm over it. My eyes scan the ground ahead of me. All seems flat and smooth, but even so, I can’t risk losing my footing. I can’t risk dropping the treasure.
Despite my best efforts. Despite watching that ground. Despite scanning my surroundings. Despite holding that treasure in tight. Despite all of that, when I look down at my arms again, the treasure is gone. Gone, gone, gone. Dropping to my knees, I begin to feel around. Though I can see everything around me clear as day, it’s as if I feel this treasure is still near. That it can still be found if I just feel around a little more.
“What’s wrong?” My watcher heard me moving around and has come to check on me. The one, small light in the room barely reveals her face. With her features lost to shadows, she seems to be part of the dream, and I wonder if I’ve truly woken.
Even without being able to see her clearly, I know her features soften before she says, “Dreams are nothing more than dreams.”
“What if the dream repeats itself over and over again so that it has become more real to me than reality?”
Her brows raise ever so slightly, but she says nothing. Knowing she will continue on in her silence, I sigh and lay back down, pulling only one quilt over me as I still feel too hot and smothered.
The next morning dawns cold. True chill, not just the hint anymore. When I open the window and feel that nipping wind, tears begin to stream down my face. Moisture that cannot be explained or defined. Perhaps this is what the end feels like, a hopeless and lonely feeling.
My watcher comes up behind me and gently pushes me aside so she can close the window and block out the depressing fresh air.
“Maybe…” My lip is trembling, and I have to force it still so I can finish. “Maybe today.” I turn away from the window and toward the shadows of the tree branches dancing along the opposite wall.
“Not today,” she replies, her voice no more than a whisper. She’s sad, too. I can see it in the drooping shoulders, the thoughtless sighs.
I need to reach those rails on the balcony. I need to get past them. Only then will everything be okay. Only then will I find my treasure.
For too long I have listened to my watcher’s words of ‘not today’ or ‘not tonight’. Too long have I had those dreams and wished for my misplaced prize. Tonight, after she is asleep, I will finally do something about it. I will go beyond that balcony railing to what lies beyond.
If the day had not warmed, I would have faced my decision to act in extreme discomfort. I could not reach beyond the balcony railing encumbered with a coat for warmth. I will need to move freely and without extra weight if I am to make it. Now I do not have to face the bitter cold with only a thin layer of fabric to protect me.
“Goodnight.” Is my voice normal? Do I sound as I always do? Will she suspect something?
Her hand smooths over my hair in that familiar way, and she pats my head right in the center of the top. I don’t know how she always finds the exact same place, but she does. Will she ever comfort me like this again when she finds out what I have done?
“Goodnight,” she says back to me, and there is no feel of suspicion about her. “May your sleep be dreamless,” she says. I don’t know whether to be comforted or insulted, so all I do is give a small movement of my head, one impossible to interpret from a negative or affirmative action.
She’s gone. I hear the bed creak, creak, creak in the next room. How can she stand that noise every time she moves? No matter. Her sleep is deep and peaceful I imagine. Though I hear from my own bed as she adjusts through the night, the noise is probably imperceptible to her slumber-plugged ears.
The moon-soaked night surrounds me as I slip out the door. My eyes first land on the mulch in the yard, which the lunar light seems to be ignoring in favor of more luminous surfaces. How vain that it so badly wants to see itself reflected back. In comparison to the white moon, the mulch is black to highlight the pink flowers that have since given in to the oncoming season. My watcher always commented on how pretty those flowers were, but I thought they got too much credit. After all, without the mulch, they would barely compare to the vibrant green of the grass just beyond the flower bed. Black mulch and male ballerinas, both existing to enhance the beauty of others without taking much attention themselves.
A giggle breaks past my lips at the thought, and I smash them together as the sound hits my own ears. I pause, crouched low to draw less attention. As I listen for signs my watcher heard me, I realize tears are falling down my cheeks again. Tears because I laughed. Tears because I dared to feel a moment of mirth when my world is lost.
Not for long, though. My eyes leave the mulch and settle on metal. The railing. The balcony railing made by the depressed man. Why was he depressed? Why does no one ever say? Maybe he lost something incredibly valuable, too.
Valuable. My lost treasure is valuable, and I am close to finding it. I am alone. There is no one to stop me. With nearly silent steps thanks to the stone beneath my feet, I move closer. So close. Just a climb. A brief climb. I know it won’t feel like much when I’m so close to reaching my goal.
There is a tree, a great oak, naked now save for a dozen or so gold and red-tinged leaves. The first branch is low. I wrap my arms around it and begin to hoist myself up. This movement feels familiar, like my arms have their own memory of doing this same thing before. Not once or twice, either. Over, and over, and over again.
The witch hazel greets me again with its fragrant caress as I climb. It seems to be the only living thing that encourages me on in this great quest. It follows me all the way up until I have reached the branch that reaches over those rails. I have made it. I am here.
“No!” She shouts from below. Within a minute or two, she’ll be here. I know she can get into the room from inside because she has a key hidden somewhere. I’ve tried to find it many times. I have to hurry if I want to beat her beyond the balcony.
The branch’s rough skin leaves kisses down my arms and legs as I scoot along it, as if it’s grateful to have some interaction. The tree’s affection stings, but I think all loves does a little bit.
Pollyanna. The name jumps into my head. There was a book, I think, that was called Pollyanna. In it, I believe a young girl tries to get inside by climbing up a tree much like I am doing, but she falls and gets hurt. Perhaps I will fall and get hurt. Haven’t I been hurt for a long time, though? Wait, am I hurt now? It feels like it. Not on the surface. Deep inside where only the knitter can see. If I can reach beyond the balcony, though, everything will be better.
I reach out and take hold, a silent sound of awe escaping my lips. No, the metal is not as smooth as I imagined. It’s only smooth in some places, but rough in others. That’s how sorrow is. At times smooth as you remember fondly, then rough as you remember the loss with the cries and shouts of turmoil and agony.
Once my feet touch the balcony’s cement floor, I take no notice of anything else other than moving through the doors and to what lies beyond.
The smell hits me with such familiarity that it hurts. A subtle mix of bergamot and vanilla along with something else that my memory can’t quite grasp. My treasure smelled just like that. My fingertips meet and begin to rub together, as if they can feel the fine substance that isn’t actually there. I know I am close, and the excitement begins to build in my chest. Tears again, but this time happy ones. So close.
New bars before me this time, these ones made of light wood that my memory knows will be polished and flawless so that my world will not be hurt by brushing up against them.
I peek between those bars, the smile so big across my face that my muscles hurt with the strain of it. And then my heart bounces painfully in my chest as I realize. My treasure isn’t there. Where is my world?
I straighten so quickly that the protesting pops of my spine echo in the quiet room. Too dark. I can’t see. I find the switch and flick it up, spreading a warm, yellow light from the fixture above.
Green walls, but a pretty green, not the kind that reminds you of sickness. More like a clover picked in the ripest part of its youth. Green because I didn’t want to know ahead of time, so I had to pick a neutral color. Green because he said yellow was too girly, and he had a strong suspicion it was going to be a boy.
“Where?” I turn to the woman who has finally made it to the room, her chest heaving as her lungs fight for air. I repeat my question. “Where? Where is my treasure?”
The whites around her pale blue eyes turns a telltale red. I know it means she’s fighting tears, because mine do the same thing. I get it from her. My treasure had those same eyes, too. I remember them right now, the image in my mind so clear and crisp and perfect that it feels I’m looking into those eyes. But then I blink, and the image is gone. No matter what I do, I can’t conjure it up again.
“Where!” I scream, but not at her. At me. At me because I couldn’t do anything to protect my world, and because of it, I’ve been unable to go on with life. Neither has she. Neither has the man who used to try and come to see me before giving up. Staying away because of the fits I’d throw when I’d see him. Screaming and rolling around on the floor because he was supposed to keep the treasure safe, too, but couldn’t. He left. Another treasure gone, though somehow I hadn’t seen that until now.
She shakes her head. And that’s it. With that small movement, I finally realize. My world is gone. That small, most perfect and valuable of things will not be found again. Not on this side of Heaven.
I sink into the glider and feel almost nauseous at the movement. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It’s a little different without the extra eight pounds in my arms. My throat begins to close up, and the heat is forming behind my eyes. The rough part of my mourning is coming, the one where I will be screaming and crying, angry and sad, pounding my head and fists into walls. But first, I want to talk about my lost treasure. About what happened. I want to hash out every minute detail of that winter day a year ago until everything is out there. I want to bring that man here and do the same with him. That man. No, not ‘that’ man. My man. Maybe. I hope.
“Today,” I say quietly.
“Not today,” she whispers. Now I know what that means. She’s trying to protect me, yes, but more than that, she’s protecting herself, because she really doesn’t think she can do this.
“You were right,” I tell her. “Wishes do change. I wished to forget, now I wish to remember.” I look into her face. “But you were also wrong. The dream wasn’t just a dream. It wasn’t even a dream at all. It was my world. It was…” I look down to where my arm has bent, cradling something that isn’t there. I let it drop. “Him.” Taking a deep breath, I face her again and say, “So it’s today. Right now. Please. I want to live again.”
A hush surrounds us. In those deep, soulful eyes of hers there is a battle being fought. Those straight brows are smashed together. The red deepens in the whites until moisture begins to brim at the edges. Finally, she sinks to the grey carpet and gives one, small nod.
“Today,” she says.
There, in that space beyond the balcony, the scent of the witch hazel and baby powder around us, those iron bars formed by sad hands just outside, the moon joining in with the light from the ceiling, cool autumnal air wrapping itself around us, we talk about my treasure. And though I know I will never physically have that treasure again, I feel that he’s not completely lost after all.