Sans Toi…

by Sarah Downey

A soft heated wind blew around us, whistling and waiting for us to speak. His eyes were loving, gentle, and brown, conker-filled pools of deceit and lies.

“I think I love you,” I said inside, not daring to let such vulnerability escape my mouth. But then he looked again, and I think he knew … that I felt emotions that he would never have for me. It was devastating, heartbreaking, a reminder of loss.

“You’re breaking my heart,” I wished to cry. The water rose in my eyes and surfaced like an implacable wave on an empty beach, wanting to break and waiting to die.

Thin wisps of curly smoke ascended from his mouth. He fed his body the addiction. In this way, he wouldn’t have to concentrate on me. Yet I could depend on the cloudy appearance. It seemed real at the time.

He sighed deeply, gazed on our surroundings and twitched his fingers in an irate manner. Click click click went his thumb against his forefinger. It was the rough skin of a tempted man; click-click-clickI am bored, it said. Let me go.

“Any trouble finding the place?” I asked.

Silence hovered in the air, and faded purple stretched for miles across a chilly autumn sky. A sweet smell of oranges from local trees and a damp wetness dripping quietly from the grass melted through the air and aroused my senses.

“Can you smell it? Isn’t it lovely?” I tried.

Silence faded in and out again. He breathed in heavily and released a puff of mist. It penetrated the fresh crisp air and I wanted to say stop. But then he took out a handkerchief—my handkerchief—the one I always had up my sleeve, until I gave it to him.

“The war is over, Sophie.”

His melancholic voice rang true and sharp, but what he said seemed impossible. The war … the war they said would last until Christmas but which still managed to consume us for four years. Deepening red blood, the pounding in our ears, the roars of the Republican dreamers—”Up the Irish Volunteers!”—as they terrorised each town and city, searing fear into our hearts, warning us to stay and fight for Ireland, and then … the wet tears of pubescent boys begging their mothers to let them stay home.

“Today is the 11th of November, 1918. They called an end to the atrocities—isn’t that what you used to call them, Sophie?—at eleven o’clock this morning. Didn’t we say we’d get married in the snow one early winter’s morning? You said you’d wear my mother’s pendant—the one with Parnell inside, staring back at you with those big stern eyes—and I said I’d keep you warm against the snow and give you my coat if you got cold.”

He wiped a tear with my lavender handkerchief and placed it back in his coat.

“If that’s true,” I wished to shout, “then why do you come and go as you please?”

But I didn’t. I kept silent against the better judgment of wind and rain, an anger rising inside me as I felt our time was nearly up.

“I came back for you once,” he said.

I started to ache. He came back and I wasn’t there but in a heap on the floor of our upstairs bathroom, clutching my heart and wondering if the pain would ever go away. I didn’t think it would—I didn’t believe it would.

A swallow circled above us. She faltered unknowingly, and memories flooded back to me. She fell … magnificently through the struggle of cold air; he rushed to reach her, but time went first. She landed with a soft crunch on dewy Autumn grass. He knelt like a god beside her, and tearfully felt the warmth dissipating from her feathers; delicate blue and purple hues ran through her like a river before dawn.

I remember him kissing the bluish skin of my mouth, the warmth of his lips like a poppy against a breeze.

He saw in her death our missing love, and placed her lifeless body under the soft, crumbling soil beside me. “Goodbye, Sophie … I’ll see you next November.”

Then he turned and left, his broad shoulders a shadow, the orange tinted air and the memories of our last kiss drifting away too soon. I wanted to shout, to tell him I am still here, a tortured soul in a wooden box.

But I never could say what I felt. Now my voice is buried with the soldiers from Somme.


Bio: Sarah Downey is Irish and a college student. Her work has previously appeared in Bewildering Stories, Four Volts, The New Storyteller and Twisted Tongue. She is currently working on a novel, Jack’s Clare.

For broken links or other errors, contact Asher Black via his website.