Left Alone
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It was the first letter he had received in a while. Signed in scarlet, without a return address or label. Not even his full name on it, his nickname. Theo. What they called him, not what the people he interacted with every day called him, the people who he tolerated at best and despised at worst. Upon seeing that dreaded name, a controlled breath escaped from his lungs. Do not dwell, do not make it worse for yourself. Theodore made the short walk from his mailbox to the tiny shack he called home. He took a seat at his desk, and put on his glasses. Reading time.

He opened one of his many drawers. His eye scanned for one item in particular, a delicate image in his head of what exactly he sought. Everything else that did not fit that image was blocked out, lest the ache of memories make moisture wetten his vision. Finally he found the leather grip of the knife, and his fingers stroked the worn material, wrinkles and lines representing the passage of time from when he had gotten it, to now. He brought the worn knife's edge to the crease in the envelope. And with a side slash he tore through the paper, and pulled out a yellowed note.

He did not even read the note. Not yet, for something else had captured his attention. The handwriting. A series of swirls ending with an inky tail to add a sense of flourish. His handwriting, those scratches made by a bleeding pen caused his back to ache, old scars reopening. It was the handwriting of his father, that wizened linguist and professor. The man with the learnt mind and the deepest hatred for humanity, yet the greatest love for what it could become. He avoided looking at his old tomes, fiction and nonfiction alike. Theodore blocked out every bedtime story, every time he sat on his father's lap, where he was whisked away to better times, where you could tell who the bad guys were and the good guys always won. He shut his eyes so tightly that his forehead let out a single drop of perspiration. Then, he reopened them. Reading reality, no fairy story for him.

A list of names. Old names. Names that he shunned, hid from, loathed and loved. Names that he blamed himself for and blamed them for. They were in the wrong, no he was in the wrong! Names that were never black and white, names that were so grey he almost thought they were black. Her name, his name, their name. When they had met the world was bathed in such a holy light. He bathed in their holy light, their wonder, their splendor. He read every name listed, wondering who this mysterious sender was, cursing and worshipping whoever did send the bloodsoaked note. And underneath those shadowy spells of regret there was a single word. Apologize.

Theodore opened up another drawer, retrieving a device with a cracked screen, accompanied by several dents in the phone’s metal casing. The screen lit up, and he had four bars. A wonder he even paid the cellular bill. He never made calls, he just wanted to give himself an opportunity to call if he ever needed too. Which of course, he never did. Scrolling through the contacts, he wondered how many had blocked him. Perhaps all of them, perhaps none. Perhaps they all loved him. Perhaps they were just waiting, yearning for him to pick up that phone and dial their number. Well, unfortunately for them, he would only be dialing one number today. One ring, two rings, three rings, then a click. His wife. Clara. “Hello?”

He stood without words for thirty seconds. Her breath barely touched his ears, too, for her voice was mixed up in the dew of the morning and the storm of the sea. Yet though she was a storm, she was still that shining lighthouse when he was under the sea’s power. Though he was not, she was. And like the chaotic sea that rolled over him, barely letting him keep afloat. He too, let his words spill out incoherently, a hateful, loving, and jumbled mess. “How have you been, I missed you? The love of my life, the fresh sparkle of a clear pond. What have you been up to? I missed you.”

A sharp intake of breath, deep and resonant whilst aching his heart. But why would she sigh? Did she not accept his love, he tried to provide, he tried to do anything. Make sure she was safe. Ensure no one would hurt her. Be her light despite any wrongdoing or hardship. Just be her shield, a fortress she would never have to leave, never have to worry about the outside. Then, amidst his frantic thoughts, his angel spoke. “Please, leave me be. You shouldn't be calling me, not after all of these years, not after what you've done.Its too late”

While guilt blossomed, justifications crawled out from under his hardwood floors to meet their foe. Obsessive? What was she talking about? All he had ever done was be there for her. He was the bestest friend, the only companion she could ever desire. One of Father’s lessons came along then, an oh so inconvenient lesson that Father gave in response to his condition. Let people be people, not ideals.

But she was not an ideal, she was a person.

But how did you treat her?

Locked doors and windows, a smile around others, a frown when he was alone. A stone slab of rules written into his mind, reuttered and repeated so that his former wife would remember them. Make dinner at exactly five o’clock. Do not eat until I get home. Do the bedsheets, the laundry, don't go out with friends after nine. You need to stay here, you have to stay here. It's because the world will hurt you, it is because you only need me.

And the more ideas you had about what a woman should be, the more you found she loathed you, for good reason.

He flung his phone at a window, recoiling not as the force of his throw caused the phone to shatter the window. But before he made the toss, he caught a flicker of an image, one of paint and canvas. An abstract style, where every color and every hue blended together into a single landscape. No people or creators. Purely a wild, untrained, hellish mess. And he loved the artist for that. He loved that every emotion, happiness and sadness, anger and grief, had their place in her world. Even the addict, he thought as another drawer was unlocked, a bottle withdrawn, had their place in her world. He drank his bottle dry, the bitter juices dulling his mind so the ache would not hurt as much. And in the haze of his brain, he felt confined in his own house. Next name down, maybe paying a visit would yield better results.

He stepped over trash and rubbage, colorful rappers and remnants of sweet scents that a young child might have enjoyed earlier in the day. Though Theodore saw them as nothing more than colorful waste, she would have made a use for them. Her creations were always a product of her or the times, a way of venting or protest. Once, when she was just a little girl, he fondly remembered the time when she had gotten the bright idea in her head to tear up the illustrations of children's books. Clara and he were very puzzled why their daughter had been quiet for so long. So he opened her door to find her first leap into passionate creativity. A collage on her wall, held together by duct tape and glue, all forming a story out of many stories. There in the center of the wall all of the little fairytale characters were gathered as one, surrounded by forests and deserts and castles, a little girl's dream, and one Theodore missed. From that day on he kept a careful eye on his beautiful daughter, and watched her find her gift and develop it to its fullest.

And no matter what anyone else might say, I did her right. I was a steward of her gifts.

He walked up the steps to the house of many murals. The doorbell was brass, its sides spreading out into shining wings while its top had the head of a gargoyle. So much beauty, but he felt nothing. He rung the doorbell.

A pale woman of an olive complexion answered the door. Her hair was like fiery coals, and her eyes were tinted red like the reflection of the evening run displayed on deep waters. She looked Theodore up and down, her thoughts unknown to him as they always were. Unnerved, Theo let her speak first, hoping that the encounter with his former wife would not be repeated here. Finally, after a long period of his soul and mind being touched by the seeing stones that were her pupils, she spoke.

“What do you have to say? If its anything about college, I do not wish to hear it.”

The mention of the word caused his mouth to talk without thought.

“Darling, why don’t you reconsider? We can talk about thi-”

The door slammed in his face. Her footsteps grew quieter as she slipped back into a household where he was not welcome. And again, the memories returned to torment him.

You can’t get into your dream school if you slack off like this. Come on, throw that nasty sketch away, I know you can do better.

Dad, leave me alone, I’m just trying to have fun. Leave me alone.

But he couldn’t leave her alone, could he? Could he truly leave anyone alone? What kind of father and husband was he, if he did not look after everyone, nurture everyone, push everyone until they were setting on a throne upon the highest mountain. Yet they all couldn’t see that he was trying to do them right. They made him out to be some controlling tyrant. Not a husband or a father, but a worried and stressed old man.

He grinned as that bottle slipped out of his coat. He didn’t need to worry. The sour taste of alcohol on his tongue made him lean his head back, close his eyes, and laugh. He laughed for himself and those who had forsaken him. And they were better off without him, he supposed. It was funny, when he was sober, he was quite good at making excuses. When under its spell, he had little room to justify his sour actions.

Time to see the rest of those names. But damned am I if they even try to forgive me.

Though his hand bled from the shattered glass as he picked up his phone, he cared not. Every conversation was the same, every dialogue a reminder of his sins. They called him out on many actions. His affair, his debauchery, the nature in which he wanted everyone perfect, without a flaw or blemish, just to fulfill what he saw as just, saw as right. And after all was said and done, when their condemnations rose up to a throne of muck and disgust, he simply downed the bottle and put it into the drawer, along with the rest of the trash he thought had worth.

He crumpled up the note so that its crimson ink stained his palm. “Apologize my ass.” He looked straight into a nearby mirror, and looked at the man who was a culmination of many sins. It wasn’t the right time yet to apologize to others, it was time to apologize to himself.

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