Fiction: She

Micheline performed her heroism under cover of night, and without drawing attention to herself, either then or during the subsequent daylight hours.

This made it easier to focus on the real work of living a just life, more than pursuing any specific definition of justice, which she had found to be an at best amorphous, at worst corroded term.

It hadn’t rendered the difficulty of coming up with a consistent definition for justice any less potent, to have become a superheroine (even a legitimately secret one). In fact, the decision made her grappling with the issue that much more desperate an exercise, at time. But it did help her to sleep at night, after she had finished doing what she could to save the world.

So, no, Micheline did not seek perfection in fulfilling her duties. She only attempted to make an honest try, with each new day, which in her view brought with it a fresh opportunity to earn and honor the gifts she had been given.

She had adopted an alter ego and donned a costume (as one did), to protect her identity and to adequately anonymize her exploits. And among and around those she had saved along the way, rumor had spread of her bravery and awesomeness (their words), but Micheline neither pursued nor wanted this fame.

This was why no one knew the name of her alter ego, except for herself.

Her powers helped her keep others from learning it, or from forming their own name for her. It was an honest trade, she believed, and one honestly if not simply transacted.

If her rescues did not exactly know that they had prevented themselves from remembering her name, they had in a way still allowed it. Never once had she suggested they keep the secret, or misused her powers to ensure they did. It was just that in the presence of her powers, her rescues simply agreed, silently, authentically, without question, to honor her wishes. Her powers helped them to understand not only her needs, in this respect and others, but their own of sympathy, reciprocity, and esteem.

They did not completely forget about her when she helped them, and were not bothered when they found themselves unable to enunciate a name for the mysterious super-woman who had been their heroine, but they would never know who she truly was, and for her that was part of the deal.

She and her, they would call her, with a smile full of both thanks and awe. And rather than stress over a lack of credit or recognition for what she had done, rather than feeling depersonalized by whatever pronoun, Micheline simply focused on the universality of who “she” was in relation to and among “them”, and what, as “she”, she felt called to do, as a woman among woman and man kind. And then she moved on the next situation that required her service.

Tonight this commitment had led her, in costume and a very long way on foot, to a dark place.

She had arrived here while in pursuit of a specter.

Specters had confounded her before. They appeared to come and go in the world, sometimes in batches for days at a time, and always they showed up without warning, appearing to choose their victims at random.

The difficulty was that Micheline’s powers, best summed up as a sort of extendable intuition and empathy, that if she concentrated hard enough could take on tactile, energetic, harness-able (if not malleable) qualities of foresight and understanding and influence, powers that time and testing had proven she could almost always rely upon and sometimes even leverage as a sort of compassionate weapon – they happened to automatically sever the parasitic link between a specter and its quarry whenever she found herself in the presence of both.

This tended to happen often, because as a heroine she sought every opportunity to lend her talents towards the betterment of the world around her.

In such cases, the specter, alienated and confused but still a specter, would then flee, back to wherever it came from but now, unfortunately, trailing a new link between it and herself. This link was reversed from the previous one, in that she was not in danger as the non-powered person had been, but its effect wasn’t necessarily reversed in similar fashion.

Micheline could, by her powers and with a great degree of concentration, resist the pull to pursue the specter if she wanted that. She was not a hunter, after all, and further felt she didn’t know enough about what a specter really was to assume the responsibility of potentially harming one (if she could help it). And yet it still always felt right to follow, and to learn more, and to make sure the specter didn’t go after another unsuspecting citizen, and so she usually pursued them.

On every other occasion before now, her eventual tracking of any one specter had taken her to some shadow of the waking world or another, itself always tucked behind some everyday place that she (had she been out of costume) and most others might walk right on by, on any other day.

There and then, almost as if it had run out of room or time on whatever plane it came from or still partially existed in, the specter would turn, and it would see her, and just as a chill spread through her heart it would scream and disappear into a suddenly-appearing void she dared never go in herself. The void would go away, shortly after that, if she waited.

Micheline suspected she knew that void already, and had no interest in knowing it again.

Life had gifted her something greater that the void, something brighter, which she intended to hold onto even as she was sometimes diverted by her mission and by the natural flows of life to a shadowy corner, now and then, in pursuit of some specter or another.

This is what worried her about the dark place she had come to now, and the particular specter which had shown up tonight. She was not sure of her footing, which does admittedly happen sometimes in the heroine business.

Looking around, she sensed she was still nonetheless safe, and in the world even if it felt like she was not. But she also felt much lonelier than she usually did while on a mission. She felt further from home.

Still, the specter fled farther into the dark, and she followed.

The more ground they covered, she and the specter, the less their surroundings looked like a place, and Micheline began to fear that she had made a mistake, and had unknowingly entered the void. But instead of panicking, she paused, and breathed, and let the specter get ahead of her.

Extending her powers out from her body, she took stock of her surroundings, not shrinking from their dark unknowns. In doing so, she found that she was safe. The shadows did not consume her.

In fact, they appeared to melt away, under her light.

Micheline remained still, even as the specter stopped in its “tracks” ahead of her (specters had no feet that she could see, that was partially how they had gotten their name).

Her light.

She had not recalled giving off actual light before, when using her powers. But she was.

The light was gentle and warm and its colors shifted, from white, along then what seemed like an infinite spectrum of energies, to which she belonged and was also suddenly channeling.

It was a new manifestation of her powers and it felt wonderful, and right, and above all – essentially heroic.

Her fear and her worry disappeared.

The specter turned, and the chill it brought upon facing her would have been the worst she had ever felt, if her powers hadn’t absorbed into their light with ease, as they now did.

She stepped forward, towards the now-shocked-and-alarmed specter. In place of where in a human face there would be eyes, the sad creature had only wide, swirling white circles of what looked suddenly not like manifest malevolence, but severe anguish.

And her heart went out to it, as it went out to herself, in kind.

She had definitely never experienced her powers in this way before. As she continued to send them out, unafraid and unwilling to hold back, they fed back into her, in a continuous loop of sustained, regenerative energy.

The dark place filled completely with light. The specter cowed before her.

But Micheline had no intention of harming the creature.

Instead, she took off her mask.

She opened her arms and wrapped them around the specter, and together they felt love, and the joyfulness of light.

This story was commissioned by Rebecca De Ornelas, as a gift for Micheline Auger. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, consider sending $1 or more to the author via Venmo or PayPal.

Fiction: Ashes

Paige had three days left to live before she had to lock her screenplay, and she intended to burn every one of them.

She would burn them cleanly, maximizing each joule of energy, until there was nothing left but ashes. Then she would mix the ashes (with whatever people mixed them with), to create a sort of metaphorical, celebratory war paint.

Because on the fourth day, she too, as she existed — as The Screenwriter — would be dead. And like The Phoenix, in her place, The Filmmaker would rise.

Paige rubbed her right temple. The responsibility of finalizing her script was having a deleterious effect on her everyday metaphors. She was tired.

Paige’s boyfriend stumbled into the kitchen, still dumb with sleep.

“Morning.”

He touched her shoulder. The gesture warmed her, but it also seemed to pull her in two, acting as it did in opposition to the inescapable gravity of her laptop, and the latest draft on its screen.

“Again?” he asked.

Paige did not answer. She gave up on him, and turned her full attention back to the screen. She stabbed a few keys, and drew blood with the stabbing.

“It’s done, babe.”

Paige waved him away, answering both him and herself.

“No. It isn’t.”

 

***

Two days.

Paige had not showered for a while, and probably wouldn’t yet. She had at least eaten today, but not much.

Of coffee there had been plenty. And water to stay hydrated. And more coffee to keep up her baseline, to avoid the migraines.

An untimely migraine would be disastrous, not that there was ever a timely migraine, although she supposed upon reflection that it was possible, and could even think of a few select people she would wish a well-timed migraine upon, had she the power.

Later that night she would offset the wakefulness of too much caffeine, if it happened (it probably would happen) with herbal tea and a long hot overdue shower and maybe some prescription drugs.

She was in a cafe. She only dimly remembered how she got there.

The printed sheets that made up the made-up thing were stacked in front of her, along with two pens. A red pen and a blue pen, both among her chosen standard, as they contrasted nicely with the black and white of the page. Paige hated missing her own notes, which could happen if she moved too quickly through annotations made with sneaky black pen ink.

Paige felt less-than-fine this afternoon.

She could no longer remember the difference between her red notes and her blue notes. There may not have been one, in the first place. She sipped coffee. It was bitter and cold, which pleased her in its unpleasantness. She wanted to feel unpleasant, at the moment. 

There hadn’t been a difference between the pens. She remembered now. She had started with the red pen but after a while had found it too aggressive. Blue had felt gentler.

Three hours passed, during which Paige successfully took a ten minute break to talk to her boyfriend, who seemed to miss her but he didn’t push it. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she placed a reminder to appreciate his patience, at a time wherein she’d be more capable. She was decidedly not capable in the short term. God have mercy on anyone who loves a writer.

She also succeeded during the break in not crossing the street to buy cigarettes.

Paige hadn’t smoked in ten years, and even when she had it had only been two or three a day. But she fantasized about cigarettes all the time when on deadline.

It was the idea of ashes, again. Of finding herself that much closer to the combustion of life. Physically a part of it. Sucking in the toxic vaporous remains of eradicated organic (and chemical) matter, consequences be damned.

Manmade climate change suddenly made a perverse, death-obsessed sense to her, which was too big a thought to entertain at the moment and so Paige tipped back her cup and swallowed the dregs of her cold coffee which this time tasted like failure and imminent doom.

She eventually incorporated only two of her twenty-plus red and blue notes that day. On her way home she stopped for a few drinks with a friend. While waiting outside the bar for her ride share home, she asked a nearby woman for one of her cigarettes, then took one drag of it before offering the thing back.

This action not make any sense to the disgusted woman, who was also clearly unhappy with Paige’s waste. Paige had failed to measure up as a true partner in suffering, which was probably true. Hers was a deeper commitment to dying alive, one that mostly dispensed with aids and props and relied more frequently on the tried and true practice of constant, unfettered, often dark (but not always) introspection.

Paige thought about offering to repay the woman a dollar or two for her misplaced trust, but her car arrived. And, besides, she felt she had already done a service to her sister-in-arms, by illustrating just how easy it was to start small in embracing the absurdity of daily life, and then combatting it in kind by countering with such small rebellions as an under-utilized, cast-off, cigarette.

Her boyfriend had already fallen asleep by the time Paige got home. She woke him up in a way that she felt acknowledged his patience and faith but also gave her the relief she needed to get to sleep without the pills.

She took the pills anyway and didn’t feel bad about it.

 

***

Paige woke late on the final day, mildly hungover and faced immediately with the challenge of lassoing her desperate, wildly rioting anxious mind, which flailed in pursuit of any escape out of the present moment and into a future to which it would never belong.

Once this was done, and after two aspirin and some water, she felt calmer.

She read a clean printout of yesterday’s draft over coffee, while seated comfortably on her couch, under a blanket even though it was a warm day.

When she was done she put the pages down and went for a walk, marveling at how simple it could sometimes be to walk out the door and into the world (it did not always feel so simple).

The day seemed brighter and sharper than any other had been in months. The air held a sweet freshness. Images danced in her head. Feelings swelled in her that were not entirely her own, but were yet still a part of her.

The Filmmaker was rising.

 

***

When she returned from her walk, Paige regarded the stack of pages — from a comfortable distance. They looked the same as they had when she had left, although she herself had changed.

It had been right to pour herself into the script as she had, to agonize over it, to bargain (carefully, as much as that can be said) with her sanity and physical health, in order to deliver it to this moment.

But now the moment was here. Things would of course change, but probably not by much, and not in any way that would resemble The Way It Had Been over the course of the past many months.

Then she read the script one last time, languorously, tenderly, and with a detached awe that separated its genesis and iteration from the woman she had been during its creation.

This story was commissioned by Liz Manashil. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, consider sending $1 or more to the author via Venmo or PayPal.

 

Fiction: Real Sleep

Jim didn’t have it today. He had lost it, as he had been losing it for a fair string of days, before he had even finished his wake-up poop.

There was a special sort of irony in that, Jim thought.

He proceeded through the first hours of the day, and then basically all the rest of them as well, as if in a dream, but not one of those dreams you want to either stay in or completely wrap up, because isn’t it better to be dreaming at all, than to be awake?

It occurred to Jim as he showered and dressed that maybe it wasn’t better. Regardless, he did not feel awake, and had not for awhile.

He didn’t feel awake after his coffee, or after checking Twitter and Facebook. He even responded to people on each platform, but couldn’t recall feeling awake during either “interaction”, when they lit up again later in the day.

He didn’t feel awake after scanning the news, which, as was the new normal, seemed its own level of surreal. The dim voice in the back of his head, hoarse from screaming about the dangerousness of such a persistent state of unreality, didn’t wake him either.

The people bumping into him on the train didn’t wake him. The second coffee he drank quickened his pulse and sharpened his fogged sight, but still he did not feel willing or even able to exit the simulation.

Work got done. His hands and his computer took care of it. Conversations were had with coworkers. Heads nodded. His own head took part in the nodding.

All done asleep.

On his lunch break, Jim waited in line for a sandwich, which with its hidden sugars and added fats and salts, in tandem with the act of paying for it at “such high savings”, spiked his brain. After eating the sandwich he thought he had awoken, but then a few minutes later his body crashed and he felt certain he had just stirred and turned over and was still asleep.

There was a beautiful woman with brilliant red hair on the train home. Between her attractiveness and the additional magnetism generated by the money which she clearly had (an only two-stop traveler, to be certain), that had helped keep her rested and fresh and in such nice clothes, and with such confidence exuding from her as a result of all these things and probably also her great achievements in life, Jim was wildly aroused and so he tumbled further into nothingness because he surely was not real in comparison.

At home again Jim drank three beers with dinner and they brought the fog back into his eyes. He watched TV and again his brain spiked but then he was out of beer and too tired to go buy more and so he crashed again and surrendered right there on the couch to the sweet blackness of real sleep.

In his dreams he was awake. He was healthy, wealthy and brilliant and loved.

When he woke he remembered this, and determined to believe it could be possible. Then he went to the bathroom and toggled his phone and lost it all over again during his poop.

 

This story has been freely offered. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, consider sending $1 or more to the author via Venmo or PayPal.

Fiction: Home in The Cold

Aisling declined to flinch at either the cold or the challenge.

The cold she found clarifying, as she always did. It had never been lost on her, that she seemed to have always existed in a minority when it came to her comfort with low temperatures.

This went beyond the baseline acclimation of her body to the chill winter shores of Eastern Massachusetts, growing up. She had taken that even further, in moving to Syracuse for school, and then in staying there. It was more about something fundamentally essential to her person. She could just handle lows, of all kinds. They didn’t bring her down with them. Aisling took pride in this.

Besides, not everyone she had grown up with had enjoyed or even completely accepted the reality of the winters. Too many of them spoke too fondly of their increasingly frequent (one day, probably permanent) trips to Florida, for her to believe that her comfort could be wholly attributed to prolonged conditioning. No, there was something more to it, even if that thing could be originally attributed to a partiality within her own biology, to DNA more than anything else.

It went further than that, Aisling though, but she wasn’t really the type of person who needed to explore such an impression more deeply. The cold was never permanent, of course, but at least at the appropriate time of the year when it came and stayed – it was home.

And there was opportunity in the cold, as far as Aisling saw things.

There was opportunity everywhere, she had learned. It could be that simple. In the warmer months there was the chance to run free, to swim and lounge and perspire. In the cold, by contrast, there was work to be done, plans to be made, new sources of energy to be found. The winter could be a time to reflect and assess and then act, in the same way that the summer often prompted people to relax and explore and experiment. Opportunity was a matter of perspective and of commitment to growth, at all times.

Sure, Aisling had experienced her share of pain, and regret. Like anyone else, she had fallen victim to certain basic fears that chased her as they did everyone else. But after enough years out in the world on her own she had decided that even in the dead of winter it was an overall benevolent, abundant universe.

If certain people, through their exploits and via their attitude, and by their failings, if such people clouded the ability of others (even herself at times, to be fair) to recognize and accept this truth, well, there was only so much Aisling could do to change their minds. Really, she could only remain steadfast in her beliefs and committed to her perspective and methods.

Aisling’s favorite of these methods was presented to her now. Growth. The opportunity to learn and strive, to continue to explore.

A new path would likely open up to her today, within minutes possibly, from out of the smaller universe of her life. She intended to approach the situation without expectation of anything more than that.

Something new. Something new. From out of something old and, up until recently, mysterious to her.

There was snow on the ground, days old but stubbornly remnant during the current stretch of sub-zero temperatures. She’d moved only slightly south on this trip, from her new home of Syracuse back to Boston, and in opposition to the standard measure it was colder where she was now.

Life had become basic again, during the cold snap. She didn’t mind the prolonged difficulties posed by its persistence any more than she might have on one single, randomly cold day. In it cold she found the same quiet, the same clarity, the same compulsory comfort to bundle up and stay warm (with the help of friends, food and drink) that she always defaulted to in winter. She never tired of these basics, though. There was a freedom in them.

And yet, despite all her general confidence and acceptance of the cold, in a more personal way, of late, Aisling had shied away from one fundamental, essential task, which all people who have left home, in her experience and judgment, at some point in life have to face. So there she was, returning home, ready to confront all the feelings and sensations typically inherent to such an act.

There would be questions, from her family. Eventually. Maybe. She couldn’t even be sure.

Her mother, who Aisling loved dearly, after “catching up” might very well also, in her own, unconscious way, attempt to unload years of fear and regrets upon Aisling, her oldest child and only daughter, as she had so many times before. And, of course, there was also the secret between them, of which Aisling’s mother didn’t yet know anyone else was at all aware. She had been very careful to hide it. To never speak it. To wish it away, perhaps.

There was no telling what it would be like seeing her father again.

Her father had changed in recent years, with the changing of the times. But while other similarly confused, scared, angry old men like him had reacted to the new economy, and the shifting mores of the culture, by yelling and fighting and digging their heels in at all times, in an effort to hold on to influence and power (or to scramble for a paycheck), by contrast Aisling’s father had retreated into himself.

He’d yelled and fought and dug his heels in his entire life, and seemed by now to have no more energy for it. Instead, he puttered around, tired and depressed. He drank a little too much but never enough to really concern Aisling’s mother and he took on whatever jobs he could find just to make ends meet. Aisling’s mother worked, and made a small stable income, but Aisling herself had been sending her mother money for years, officially without her father’s knowledge but he must have known.

As she exited the cold, finally, and entered the warmth of the pub, Aisling wondered if her father knew how completely he has passed on his often useful original attitude (of being frequently if not always in the right, and remaining willing to fight mostly anyone to prove it) on to her. She then further wondered whether she should or would tell him, not only this fact but the other she had been keeping from him for so many months now. For herself, she obviously now felt finally ready to let it go, but in the moment she couldn’t be sure what he could or would even do with the information if she were to deliver it. In a way, it was only partially hers to give anyway.

Regardless of these complications, Aisling found, as she breathed in the stale, many times warmed-over air of the mostly empty pub, that she was not only ready but looking forward to seeing her family. It had been too long, even as it had been just as long as she had needed for it to be. And it wasn’t as if any of them would have asked her to come sooner. That just wasn’t done.

But first, food, and a drink. And her first step down her new path.

Even in the warmth of the pub she felt cool inside still, thinking about what was about to happen (and, with a glance, she had confirmed as soon as she had walked inside that it was in fact going to happen). After all the therapy and all the searching she had done up to this point, following that nagging question wherever and whenever it would lead, all the while living and striving in parallel to the search, quite apart from but not discounting all the personal and professional success (which she intended to keep) that had come out of that other part of her life along the way, here she would start again, back where it all started, whatever that might mean.

Even if the door she was about to open closed right back up in her face, at least she will have tried it.

She looked around. She liked the pub.

Upstate New York was not necessarily short on Irish pubs, but there was something about the sheer number of them that dotted the streets of Boston that instilled in her just a little bit more of a sense of being at home.

This one wasn’t quite what she was used to, though, in these terms.

Even at a time wherein everyone seemed to still need a place to drink, just a little sooner and more often than in each of the previous few years (for how long had that been true?), there remained the pressures of novelty and rising rents.

As such, there were fewer of what her father called a “good old, no-nonsense pub” around than there had been when she was growing up. But the one Aisling had just entered seemed at least the next best thing, an update to the traditional version, with fancier (if also pricier) food and a curated craft beer list that existed alongside the old mainstays on draft. Novelty with a respect for history, or at least a quiet yearning for the owner’s particular idea of it.

It was early still. No one was inside except the bartender and a quiet old man alternative sips of whiskey with beer.

Aisling approached the bar and shed her gloves, coat and scarf, stuffing the smaller articles into the pockets of the coat and hanging it on the wall. She chose a stool about as far away from the door as she could go. As friendly as she was with the cold she nonetheless felt she could use some warming up in the short term.

As such, when the bartender arrived from the back she ordered her own whiskey, with a water as well, to help her rehydrate after so much time in the dry chill air. She also asked for a burger with fries and brussel sprouts, and a soup. Between the cold and her quiet nervousness about the task at hand, she felt hungrier than she had in a long time.

When her drinks came, she slowly downed half the water.

Then she took a long deep breath and lifted the whiskey. She made eye contact with the old man nearby, who smiled meekly and raised his beer in kind. The rest of his whiskey had disappeared quite suddenly from its glass. There were about ten feet between Aisling and the old man, but in the quiet of the bar and with the raised drinks it felt like no space at all.

“Another whiskey, John?”

The old man nodded. The bartender went about getting it for him.

Aisling knocked back half her drink. She looked again at the old man, who replied in kind with a second smile but appeared uncomfortable.

“John?”

“Yes?”

“John Quinn?”

He hesitated. “Yes.”

She finished her drink.

“I was told I’d find you here.”

He seemed at once to know what she was talking about, and who she was. He had seemed to know as soon as she walked in, if she was telling the truth.

“We should talk, John.” She hesitated. Then she added:

“I’d like to talk. Need to, actually. To you.”

John Quinn took in his own deep breath. He drank all of his next whiskey when it came. But the smile returned for a third time.

“All right.”

 

This story was made possible by advanced payment from Kathleen Polito. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, consider sending $1 or more to the author via Venmo or PayPal.

Fiction: Climates

It had recently been Gloria’s experience that the simplest of tasks could require of us the most monumental of efforts.

Admittedly, her sense of this truth was complicated not only by her prolonged exhaustion but also the multi-layered pressures of what might be called “the climate” – though that term didn’t really work for her, any longer, on the whole. It had long ago begun to buckle and crack under a steady stream of the increasingly heavier modifiers with which it was often paired.

The “political climate”.

The “climate-climate”.

Climates-of-change. Climates-of resistance-to-change, and then climates-of-resistance-to-the resistance.

Then there was the sexual climate. The shifting grounds upon which men in particular were finding it difficult to “find their footing” (these, exact words she had overheard from a “well-meaning” man), which may have been a definite climate of late but was decidedly not her problem, from that point of view at least. Except that it of course was.

Gloria wasn’t just scared, of this nominally simple thing she knew she had no choice but to go ahead and do – in fact, desperately need to do, for so many reasons – it was also that, in considering it, she felt the full force of every possible reaction her decision might prompt, from any of a number of environments which, so long as she kept her eyes and ears open and waited long enough, would present the right evidence (regardless of its truth) to discredit her.

So, she hesitated.

At the very moment upon which all of it, all the years and months of fear, shame, guilt, doubt, fury and sadness – so much fury and sadness – at the very moment it was all due to finally begin to change, Gloria hesitated.

She froze.

It was okay that she froze.

She was allowed to freeze. She knew this, instinctively, and knew also that, among those who counted, she wouldn’t be judged even if she did ultimately fail to complete this heaviest of simple tasks, that in the moment seemed to be pushing down upon her with more gravity than all others she had ever undertaken over the course of her entire life, combined.

And then, subtly, slowly, something began to change.

Despite the high-level of anxiety that she had carried with her at most times even before it happened, itself a sort of humming, charged suit of armor, that brought its own costs along with its only half-delivered protections – Gloria recognized something bright and buoyant working its way suddenly through her. It warmed her limbs, straightened her back and relaxed her mind.

She could only call it hope; this sudden, mysteriously manifest feeling, this certainty, that she would be ultimately protected, no matter the climate or what happened now or later.

Hope.

After all this time. She could almost cry, and probably later she would.

Hope.

She recognized it completely, wholly, as that promised thing that only seems to come either after we’ve given up grasping for it, or feel we have nowhere else to turn.

Hope.

She knew it wasn’t hers to keep, only to borrow, and so she breathed and prepared to use it, in full honor of the unexpected gift, and in line with what she knew for certain was, after all her time in the darkness, its purpose.

In this way, the very fears that had paralyzed Gloria, ironically set her free.

She suddenly didn’t care how “they” might be viewing her hesitation.

She didn’t care about the fear, the fury, the sadness or the shame or the guilt. It’s not that these feelings weren’t still there, just that for the moment they had receded in importance. They had paled in comparison with hope.

Neither did Gloria care what effect her decision might have on anything but the truth, which for her was an imperative that, despite her pain and exhaustion, needed protecting, here and now.

And so, yes, the small moment Gloria had involuntarily taken to think, to consider her own basic, immediate needs, possibly for the first time in months – it freed her.

The anxiety retreated. She didn’t need it or want it. It would be back, and that would be all right. She would deal with that then.

The swirling thoughts slowed to a stop, with several of them falling away entirely, at least for the moment. That, too, was fine. She was coming to believe that they were just as often her friends as her adversaries, depending on how she viewed things, or how much help she got from others like her, which always had the effect of at least temporarily getting her out of her own head.

And, finally, in the space created by these invisible, cascading changes, and with the aid of that warming glow of hope pulsing through her from the inside-out, the doubt that had crippled Gloria’s ability to do the simple thing she knew she had to do, transmogrified into its antonymous other: faith.

The task was here.

She had known it was coming.

They had told her exactly how it would happen. She had practiced. The practice had never felt real.

This was real, now, and it was time to act. She wasn’t alone.

“Is this him?”

It was. Of course it was. Everyone knew it was. But there remained the simple task of-

“Yes.”

 

This story was made possible by advanced payment from Sarah Schuster. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, consider sending $1 or more to the author via Venmo or PayPal.