I was seated at the kitchen table when it happened. My hands had been folded together, one within the other, upon the cold slate of wood that sheltered my legs. The eyes within skull, however, had been drawn to the world beyond the small glass window above the table. Further, the eyes within my mind were looking beyond the leaves blowing across the soiled asphalt. Yet I never really truly did see the scene that was to unfold before me. Nor did I understand it until, today, I was seated once again at this table but this time with a pen in my grasp.
As each pen stroke lands upon the soft white paper, I am once again whisked away to that time that I was seated at the kitchen table. It was, perhaps, seven years ago? I am afraid that I cannot recall. My mind seems to have erased any sense of time pertaining to this particular incident. And it is only now that I am bothered enough to acknowledge this self-inflicted censorship of my own design. But that is another subject to dwell upon entirely—a subject better suited for another day. Another piece of paper. Another pen stroke. But, most importantly, another day. This day, this paper, and this pen stroke, are reserved for one moment in time.
And this moment in time is one that, as painful as it may be, must be brought to light. There is a pause as my eyes wander back out the window. The neighbors that had lived across the street have long since passed through. After what had happened, I do not believe that anyone could ever really blame them. No matter how many times the sidewalks and the streets were cleaned, I am certain that they could still see that dreadful stain of such a tender, bittersweet wine that soaked through the very essence of the familiar blacktop. Some days, such as now, I am almost certain myself that I can still see and smell that awful, flowing crimson and scarlet.
I had been the last one to exit the houses when these precious liquids had been spilled upon the ground. The rest of the neighbors had been gathered around and, though they varied in appearance, they all wore simultaneous expressions of horror and contempt. Some had fallen to their knees, water spiked with salt flowing freely from their eyes. But mine had been dry. And I had remained standing even when the bravest and tallest of men had fallen to their knees beside their wives, sisters, and daughters.
There had been no one at my side. No arms to wrap around my waist so that soothing words might fall upon my ears. No, there was none of that to be spared for myself. At least, not in that moment. Perhaps if the mess had been differently conceived there would have been. That is not quite right. Not at all. There would have been arms to wrap around my waist, arms to meet mine, and sweet words to waste away within the fragile caverns of my mind. But not in that moment. Nor in this day.
Only in times before and further nevermore.
I knelt beside the dual crumpled flesh-ridden heaps, careful to keep my knees and my hands clean. A young couple, it seemed, had perished in some sort of accident. I had wondered about them then, in that moment. Who were they? Had they been happy together? Or had their last words exchanged been bitter resentments of false hopes, broken promises, and forgotten love? My emerald eyes softened at the sight of them. They were nearly tattered and torn beyond all recognition. But the woman’s face was rather undamaged. And though her hair was in her face, I could tell that she was quite pretty. She had taken very good care of her appearance. Hesitantly, I reached out to touch one of the carefully careless curls that stole away her beauty. There were no shouts of terror to stop me. My pale fingers graced the soft ringlets gingerly. Her hair was soft. Gently, I moved the curtain away from her face, tucking it away behind her ear and fastening it firmly into place. The stage before me was captivating. Such a beautiful shade of emerald shone from the painstakingly engineered lights that it nearly left me breathless.
So captivated by her eyes was I that I failed to notice a presence behind me. I turned, quite surprised, when a large hand landed upon my own, cupping my palm around her face. A shiver went up my spine at the sight. It was my next-door-neighbor. His eyes were full of despair. Tearful. And a sad smile was on his face. He stroked her cheek, moving my hand along with his. A gentle rain began to fall. First upon my arm. Then my hand. And finally her face.
As our hands lingered there, I wondered where the culprit responsible for this massacre was. Had it been a hit and run? Premeditated? Or, worse yet, random? The limited criminal justice knowledge at my disposal generated and acquired no solid answers. The old man’s hand squeezed tightly around her cheek, giving little regard to my own hand in between the two solid objects. My eyes wandered to the man that lay beside her. He was completely destroyed beyond any sense of discovery. I longed to see his face. A curiosity in me wished to hold it between my hands, as I am certain that she once did. I wanted to know and to feel everything that she had known and felt. A sharp pang of jealousy settled in my stomach. No one seemed to notice this sickening thought as it washed over my face. The rain, however, began to flow more freely—and from more than just the location above me. It was on every side, now. But never from within.
Now, reflecting upon this moment, is when I understand what I had been too naïve to understand then. Well, perhaps that is quite untrue. I think I had known at the time what had happened. What was left to happen. And what would never happen. I was just far too headstrong to ever admit it. That has always been a dreadful trait of my mind. And it proved to be the unwitting end to the life of that girl. The life that paralleled, intersected, and overran my own. I am almost out of ink, it seems, so I will conclude this as quickly as possible.
The old man’s hand was gently removed, taking mine with it. He took the girl’s hand within his own, gently placing my hand within hers. (I had never met anyone until then that had also possessed such small hands as myself. But this girl’s hands were identical to mine in almost every way imaginable.) Her hands had been stained with the wine that she and her love had both spilled upon the asphalt in front of my kitchen window. The hands that I had fought so hard to keep clean were now stained in every way that hers had been. A sharp ache panged within my chest. I heard sirens in the distance. But I knew that they were too late. I think the old man knew it, too, because he took his hands away from ours. His soft eyes lingered upon her face. Was it a look of love? Of pity? Or of remorse in a much larger sense than just the girl before him? He cleared his throat and my mind before I had a chance to properly work through all of the logical scenarios.
Then, slowly, he closed her eyes. The curtain was unfastened so that it was free to fall to its close. And now it hits me. The girl whose hands I clasped so dearly that day, had been mi—