Moonlight

He held her unbuttoned black shirt away from her body, like a pair of dark curtains. The view beyond was a pale, sickly, winter white. That desolation seemed beautiful to him.

He fingered the edges of the twin lacy scallops where skin met cloth.

“How can you feel insecure with a body like this?”

She glanced up. The moonlight threw the sharp lines of his face into gleaming relief and his eyes shone in the long shadows cast by his eyelashes. She was mesmerized.

“It’s my body. I have the right to feel insecure about it,” she said nonchalantly, casting her eyes back down at his wandering fingers.

Everything looks beautiful in the moonlight.

Revenge

“Five o’ clock? I’ll be there.”

My lips curve into a smile as I finger the edges of a small black and white square of paper. It’s a photograph – a lithe figure, a white sheet carelessly thrown over half of her naked body, her unruly waves splayed all around her face, like a starburst. Me, one year ago.

The inscription on the back is branded onto my brain: “You little temptress. Love you forever- Zafar.”

An hour later, we face each other over tea. Everything seems slow, as if we’re underwater. He’s speaking. I look up.

“I regret marrying her, yes. But I wouldn’t leave her. No. We have a son.”

His calm makes me want to scream. I get up.

“I’d better get going. Oh, and this is for your wife.”

I reach into my bag. Part of me, a large part, had hoped it wouldn’t come to this.

I hand him a parcel- flowery blue paper, wrapped around a red shawl, a small black and white square of paper buried in the folds.

Smoke

We walked in the dew-soaked grass in the shadow of trees and out of reach of the streetlights. It was hours past midnight, and the dark had not yet spent itself.

“I’m not in the mood for wet feet right now. Couldn’t we walk on the road?” My feet slipped about in my sandals. I imagined my toes leaving little muddy crescents in my shoes when they would dry.

“I like it here,” she said. That settled it. We walked on in silence for a while.

“What was that on your shelf? It was wrapped in newspaper. Looked like mud.” My voice sounded detached and almost childlike as it broke the comfortable quiet.

There was a moment’s pause as she inhaled deeply from her cigarette.

“Oh, that? It’s this thing. You smoke it.” she said

A passing car illuminated the wisps of smoke hanging about her face like a swirling, silver mist. It was a beautiful sight- ethereal, haunting, dreamlike.

The car passed. In the dark once again, she was a dim silhouette and a tiny, hovering smudge of orange light. I felt strangely alone.

Departure

The moment passed slowly, as if in a dream.

As the door swung towards me, what I saw was like a series of frames, moving slowly, as if suspended in the jelly-like past.

The paper snowflake hanging above my single bed. The faint marks from when I painstakingly turned the ceiling into a glow-in-the-dark starry sky. My small, white desk and the funnily shaped lamp on it. The dent in the wall where I once hurled a Jawbreaker against it. The purple-red flourish on the warm yellow wood of the chest of drawers, from the nail polish flying, swooping out of the bottle as it broke. The faint ink stains on the marble floor from when I used fountain pens to write. The books lined up on the shelves in ascending alphabetical order of the surnames of the authors. Rectangular, blurry halos of blue on the balcony floor, a side product of a spray-painting spree. The round cane chair by the window, where I lay curved against its back, mechanically barreling through books when I couldn’t take the world beyond the window.

In that moment, I wanted to lock myself there, in my room, my refuge through eleven years of my life. I wanted to curl up in the chair by the window, surrounded by my little scratches and dents and my pieces of the world that I had obsessively arranged around myself.

The door swung shut on those blue walls and the green, rain-washed world beyond.  As I wheeled my little red suitcase down the hall, I pictured other halls, hours away, and red brick smothered in green ivy. I lifted my suitcase to carry it downstairs. It felt surprisingly light.

Sheets

It is dark, intensely so. With their lights off, the houses on the right are nothing more than large, geometric shadows. Down below, on the left, the stream murmurs, whispers, shifts over the rocks- ceaseless white noise. The moon is smothered by clouds, and the wet, rain-washed road before me glistens dimly in its weak gleam. Leaves are scattered in my path, green and brown, damp and leathery, like a frog’s skin. My flashlight casts a grey-white antiseptic halo on the road. Everything beyond that circle of light disappears.

I walk down this deserted street barefoot, in my nightclothes, a white sheet wrapped around my shoulders.

I’m scared. My skin prickles and jumps; something, somewhere in the wet, clogged cotton wool of my mind, tells me that this is unusual. I live on this street, and I do not usually feel afraid outdoors, not even on a cloudy, moonless night. All the night sounds- crickets chirping, leaves rustling, the odd hiss from the bushes- are expected and familiar. There are no rattling windows, creaking doors or bedposts to collide with. Outside, there are less sharp corners and oddly shaped shadows, and I feel safe.

But I feel afraid now. Afraid that somebody, anybody, will materialize out of the dark and walk into me – me in my nightclothes, wrapped in a sheet.

I gasp quietly, and my feet freeze, my sore, bare heels smarting. One of the shiny leaves slithers and glides into the grass fringing the road. I watch it disappear, then walk on.

The gate to my house finally appears out of the grey-black gloom. It is bolted from outside. I slide the bolt noiselessly. The spaces between my toes feel gritty as I step into the garage.

For a few seconds I can’t find my feet and the world is aflame as the fluorescent sun glares off my glasses. My vision returns to find me peeking between the bars of the garden gate. There is a river in the garden, and a man swimming in it, his arms breaking the water rhythmically as he slides against the current. I shudder at the grotesque bulkiness of his muscular shoulders.

My feet slip and slide over the slick marble as I mount the steps to the house. The cat slips in from between my legs as I open the front door to go inside. It whizzes about, a brown blur. I bolt after it, flying up and down staircases, taking the steps two at a time. I finally catch it, burying my fingers in its fur, and carry it towards the back door.

Approaching the kitchen, I glance down at the furry ball I carry. A young girl, at least five years old, but frail and angular, rests in my arms instead.

She reaches up with a small, white hand. A cold, horrified quiver chills my veins as she runs a thin finger along my jaw line. Her voice is soft, and oddly clear.

“You look different from this close.”

I wake up.