Here’s the link to read from the beginning Part 1
Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness
Word Count: 1,900 (approx)
Reading time for average reader: 10 minutes
Cassie… I’ve been quiet.
What if Eric is right? What if that vast grayness is all that is real? Then what should stop us from shaking off these shackles – these traditions of men – and running away together, holing up in some cabin in the woods to watch the stars flicker out of existence, one by one, keeping each other warm with our bodies as the earth grows cold?
And yet, I know what you’re thinking: how many dead bodies and ruined lives will we leave in our wake? What if there really is some thickness to life that will keep that vast grayness from having the last word?
Yes, I used to think that was true. I’d have bet my life on it until I got to close to Our Dark Friend. I hate him. I think even Eric hates him. But hasn’t he shared wisdom with us?
Or has he just given me an excuse?
I feel like my body was not designed to withstand such intense longing.
Can you even hear me, Cassie? Or am I already lost in that vast grayness: screaming, screaming, screaming…
Can you hear me? Do you really feel my voice inside your dreams? Maybe even your nightmares? Do you sometimes feel my breath on your neck when no one is around? Do you see my shadow out of the corner of your eye?
I wonder if I am even human anymore. Have I turned entirely into a ghost? Do I merely exist to haunt you? Would I lament such a fate? My ethereal fingers continually in your head… It seems more dream than a nightmare to be such a ghost.
How can I stay quiet?
But reality, normality – such as it is – invades. That is what normalcy has become to me, an intruder to be resisted. But no Molotov cocktails can keep normality at bay for long.
Normality made an incursion the morning after Abby told me she knew about you. I hadn’t seen her all day after her revelation. I wasn’t sure she was even coming home. But I woke up and there she was clicking away on her laptop in the bed next to me.
It was just like nothing had happened. Morning came and went. I kept expecting some kind of blow up or confrontation. Was it all my imagination? Is this how she must have felt when she started to put the pieces together? And what were the parts? How did she discover this?
She left for work without saying goodbye. That was odd, but not unprecedented. I didn’t hear a word from her during the day. Again, unusual, but not unheard of.
Every time an email showed up in my inbox, I cringed. Would it be Abby telling me how much she hated me? Every time my phone buzzed, I jumped. Would it be some agony filled text or voicemail message?
Dread. I wasn’t even really sure why I dreaded Abby’s return, but fear was all I felt.
Abby walked in the door, placed her laptop case on the dining room table and said, “Everything has changed. I tried to pretend it hadn’t because I know I’m supposed to win you over without a word. I can’t do it. Can’t pretend.”
She didn’t wait for a response. She just walked into the bedroom and closed the door behind her.
I cobbled together some dinner for us, but she didn’t come out. So, I drank her share of the wine. I felt relieved. The silent treatment was annoying, but I much preferred it to yelling and the throwing of kitchen tools.
The evening dragged on without a sign of her. I figured I needed to get myself ready for bed. I fully expected to have to sleep in my office, but I went into the bedroom to grab my pillow and toothbrush.
“Listen to this, Sammy,” she said and then read from her thick, study bible:
He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
“Lamentations, I think,” I said. “You stopped too soon, just before the lines about the Lord’s mercy,” I said.
“Which of us needs to know about the Lord’s mercy right now?” she asked.
I felt my stomach drop.
“I’m sorry, honey,” she said, “but you need to hear the truth. Between my physical and emotional health, I can’t just beat around the bush.”
I picked up my pillow and started to head for the bathroom to get my toothbrush.
“You don’t need to go. This is your bed as much as it is mine,” she said.
I stood perfectly still.
She sighed and said, “I’m not going to stab you in the middle of the night. And you can trust me. I’m not the liar here.”
I felt my shoulders tense, and my eyes burn a little. But I kept my mouth shut. What else could I do? She was right.
I changed and brushed my teeth and got into bed. She was on her laptop. The only light in the room came from her screen
“They’re making a Mary Magdalene film. I’m sure it will be terrible. I can tell they are going to trot her out to shore up some political agenda. I hate that, women as prizes. Jesus was so kind to women. That’s why he appeared to Magdalene first event though it meant the gospel would be harder to believe. He didn’t care that women couldn’t even testify in court.”
“That’s a gross oversimplification. Women were allowed to testify when no men were present at the event in question. And if Jesus appeared to Mary first, she’d certainly be allowed to testify that he was alive. I’m not saying 1st-century Jewish culture was egalitarian, but when I hear people pull that tired old argument out… Of course, I can’t blame you for thinking that. A lot of biblical scholars haven’t read the Talmud very closely.”
“Don’t throw your scholarship at me. The point is that Jesus loved women, he cherished them. He didn’t play games with their lives. I want her to be left alone so she can speak for herself. Don’t you think Mary has turned into a #MeToo story? She’s defenseless and being used by any hack who wants her. And she doesn’t even get a share of the profits.”
“Yeah, it’s terrible,” I said, staring at the ceiling. I could barely move, barely hear her voice over my pounding heart.
“Really,” she said, “but aren’t you doing the same thing? Aren’t you playing with Cassie’s heart like she’s some kind of game? And mine, for that matter?”
I kept my eyes fixed on the ceiling, waiting for some appropriate words to come. They didn’t.
“I love you, Sammy,” she said as she closed the lid of her laptop, letting the darkness take over the room.
At some point, I started floating in the expansive, cold grayness. Never has the meaninglessness of the universe given me such comfort.
But the comfort didn’t last long.
Eventually, I started dreaming. I dreamed I was on a subway platform. It was crowded. I saw you on the other end of the platform. I began to run toward you, but my feet moved like they were rooted in tar. The train screeched into the station. I heard the brakes engage harder than usual – sparks jumping. Then I heard the screaming. Suddenly, I was across the platform, looking down on you.
Cassie, I saw you, tears streaming down your face. You were cradling the head of a young woman. Was she hit by the train somehow – in some freak accident? You were talking to her, trying to encourage her to hold on, but even I with my almost non-existent medical knowledge could see the life draining from her face. Her eyes got real cold, full of that grayness that haunts my dreams.
I felt like an intruder, but I couldn’t leave you. How could I leave you to deal with this alone? But I know you couldn’t see me or hear me. I wanted to reach out and touch you, but you I knew you wouldn’t be able to feel me. I just stood there, wishing I could do something. Until…
Until I saw Eric lurking in the crowd, smirking at us.
I turned and ran toward him. I grabbed his shirt and lifted him and pushed him into the wall.
“You think you can hurt me? I wasn’t expecting such a hostile reaction. Especially when you seem to be getting everything you want.” He wasn’t smirking, but he hardly looked afraid. Even though my dream body seemed supernaturally strong, what could I do to a dead man?
“Everything I want? Watching all this suffering? I think you’re playing me for a chump.”
He laughed. His laugh, Cassie, was like a piercing shrill shriek, but at the same time, it had some sort of deep bass that shook me down to my intestines. I thought I would be sick right there from all the vibrations. The walls seemed to shake, and the bricks seemed to loosen, spraying dust and grit. Was the ceiling going to fall down on me? On you?
“You think I am behind all of this? Ask yourself a question, Sammy. What if I am just a conceit? What if I am just an illusion, an excuse for you to reach out to Cassie and ruin her life? Why didn’t you leave her alone? Your sweet Abby is right. You are no better than all those Hollywood scum bags.”
I let go of him. “I’m no better than them,” I said, and then I woke up.
Abby was already awake. I looked at the light coming in through the cracks in the blinds. It was late. Was she going to work today? I was too scared to ask.
“I’ve been researching your old friend, Eric. He was a pretty sick guy, wasn’t he? He wrote some pretty horrifying stuff. He had some fans, too. They posted comments on his blog. It was like some weird little blogger universe. I researched them, looked at their blogs. They all seem so normal except for their infatuation with this sick pervert, Eric. What did you see in him?”
“I don’t know. I thought he could give me something I wanted. I don’t even know what it was.”
“Yes you do, Sammy. Why won’t you tell me?”
I turned over and tried to go back to sleep. The rest of the day made me long for the relief of that ever-expanding grayness.
Listen! Listen! I’m talking to you, Cassie! If this were a play, I’d be the narrator breaking the fourth wall in some egregious way. None of these even matters – not Eric, not Our Dark Friend, not my wife’s illness. It’s all about reaching you and letting you know I still think you’re precious. I miss you. Never forget that.