Serena

“Not all clouds bear rain. Remember that.”

He flicked his cigarette and walked away, leaving me to ponder those words to death. It’s been three seasons and nine months since he left me standing on that sidewalk in the middle of the night. The street lamp lit a circle ten feet around me, but beyond that cone of yellow light was unfathomable darkness. I wasn’t lost, but I certainly didn’t know where I was going either.

It took me a while to learn the lesson he was trying to teach me, but once I did it was one I would never forget. I found my way home as the sun started coming up and decided I’d be better off not sleeping. I sat down at my computer and tried to distract myself from the stifling quiet of my apartment, but I couldn’t block out the loneliness. I opened the curtains to find that the sky had caught fire, so I stepped out onto the balcony and looked out across the rooftops.

~~~

Serena loved sunrises more than anything, more than I could ever love anything other than her. I lost count of how many times she’d sneak out of bed, make herself a cup of coffee and go out and stare at the sky. Eventually she’d come back inside- sometimes she’d even come back to bed, just to warm her cold hands on me- and she always looked so satisfied when she did.

What she didn’t know was how much I loved watching her engage in this ritual, even if it was just for a moment. Her hair tied up in a messy ponytail, no makeup on and one of my old t-shirts worn like a dress on her tiny frame; awash in the young daylight, she was the most stunning thing I had ever seen. When she looked at me, I felt the enormity of every dawn she’d ever witnessed spark wildfires inside me. That’s when I realized what love was, and that’s when I knew that I wanted to wake up to her sunrise eyes for the rest of my life.

I asked her to marry me down by the water, in the middle of the night as we counted stars on the beach. I told her that she made me feel human, that I felt temporary when she kissed me. She didn’t like that: she thought I meant I didn’t want to be there forever. What I explained to her right before she agreed to spend her life with me is that one day we’d both be dead, but that the music her laugh made and the way her fingers danced circles on my skin as we fell asleep made me feel okay about being impermanent. I didn’t want to die, but I knew that a life spent together is the only life I wanted to know.

That night seems so far away now, like another life where I once had the energy to stay up all night and talk about death like it was something off in the distant future. We were married for three years, eleven months and fourteen days before she got too sick to get out of bed in the morning. I remember the last time we watched the sun come up together; her hands were shaking and her eyes were hollow and fragile-looking but she still glowed when she smiled. That was the day she told me she didn’t know if she’d make it until Christmas. I took her hands and kissed each finger one at a time, told her that she wasn’t going anywhere. At the time I had no doubt in my mind, but three months later I was standing at her headstone with a handful of white roses and so many things I’d never get to say.

It was at her funeral that I met Adrian; he was a tall, imposing man with long hair who leaned against a tree at the perimeter of the congregation. He wore a heavy leather coat and boots, with thick sunglasses on despite a thick cover of clouds in the sky. He was the last person left at the wake; he must’ve been waiting for me, because he didn’t talk to anybody else that day. As I was about to leave, he grabbed me by the arm and asked if I had a minute to talk to him. At first I was terrified of this stranger approaching me on the street at night, but he reassured me that it was about Serena and that she had asked him to do this for her. Just hearing her name was enough to persuade me to follow him.

He took me to his car, then from there we drove for almost an hour in circles. He explained how Serena and him met in the hospital, how they got to know each other at the treatment centre and how she talked about me all the time. He told me he went into remission about a month before she died, and that in the last few weeks he had been in contact with her every day. He said that she talked to him about dying a lot, because she couldn’t bring herself to talk to me. She knew that it’d only break my heart and she didn’t want to make things harder on me. Eventually he pulled up to a house on the other side of town, turned the car off and asked me to step out. As we walked up to the front door, he told me to wait on the front step until he came back out. I did as he said, and when he reemerged he asked me to come in.

The house was empty, save for a covered painting on an easel next to the fireplace in the living room. He told me that she had started painting it in the hospital during her treatment sessions, but she never got the chance to finish it. There was a letter with it, which he handed to me before prompting me to look at the painting. He told me he was going to step out for a smoke, that I could come find him when I was ready. I heard the screen door slam behind him, leaving me clutching the envelope for my whole entire life and sorrow burning holes in my stomach. I decided I’d keep the letter until I got home, but once I took the sheet off the painting I lost all sense of where home was.

It was a self-portrait, which was something she had never done. She always painted nature scenes, mountains and flowers with pastel colours and soft textures. I loved her paintings so much, but none of them held as much significance as the half-finished piece in front of me. It was a portrait of her on our balcony, staring off into the distance with the sun on her face. She was wrapped in our blanket, her white mug half-empty on the table next to her. The sliding door behind her peered into our living room, while you could barely make out the tops of buildings in the background on the other side before the paint gave way to blank canvas. It was only the edges missing, but her face had the same expression I had fallen in love with a million times before. I collapsed on the floor at the sight of it, crying until my lungs ached and my eyes burned. She would never finish it, and that pierced my soul like an arrow.

After what I’m sure must’ve been at least four cigarettes, Adrian came back inside to see if I was okay. He helped me up off the floor, got me a glass of water and told me that he would take me home. We drove in silence for a long time, before he finally said that he would stop by during the week to bring me the rest of her things from the hospital. I was too choked up to talk, the weight of the past year seemingly tied around my neck. When we pulled up to my apartment, he stepped out with me to smoke. I stood with him in that pale yellow light, and he explained to me that life wasn’t fair and that the universe didn’t give a damn about any of us. I guess he realized that he wasn’t making me feel any better, so he elaborated by saying that when he was in the hospital they kept trying to give him these motivational talks but they never helped him feel like he was dying any less. He said that people died all the time and the only reason that matters is because we live off each other, and sometimes we live for each other. He said he could see that in me, in the way Serena talked about me, that we lived for each other through everything and that was what made her life worth living.

He took a long drag of his cigarette before saying that there was one piece of advice an orderly gave him that stuck with him more than any of the other inspirational seminars he sat through. She told him that clouds come and go without being noticed all the time, that the only time most people notice them is when they’re being rained on. She said that sometimes it’s better to be the rain on someone’s window pane than to be a passerby, drifting away without ever touching a soul. As he uttered the words, he scoffed to himself and took one last haul before leaving me to walk the stairs to my place.

~~~

I hung the painting in the living room, right next to the door to the balcony. Whenever I can’t sleep- which is more often than not now, despite the months that separate me from that last sunrise we took in together- I stare at it for hours, longing desperately to see her face again. When the sun comes up I watch it all alone now, but I see her in the orange and yellow shafts of light and for a second I feel alright. I realized at one point that in all of the beautiful things in life I see her, that contented smile of hers and her bright blue eyes. I see her in the white roses she loved so much, in the first snowfall of the year. I hear her laugh in all the songs she used to sing, and in all the songs I’ve written about her since she left. I don’t exactly know when it happened, but it became clear to me that she was the storm that couldn’t pass unnoticed. She rained and rained and rained on me, but during the downpour I fell madly in love with the sound of thunder.
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Glass Castles (Epilogue)

Hello everyone.

This is the rough draft of the epilogue for a fiction piece I’ve been working on for a little over two years. It’s called Glass Castles. I wanted to get some feedback on what I hope is a proper ending. I hope it speaks to you. Feel free to express your thoughts in the comments. Thanks again.

                                         ~~~
​I had it strung up all together; the Abigayle Stone in the middle, with all of the little glass shards streaming down around it like a wind chime. It actually made a nice sound when the pieces swayed into each other, just the faintest sound of glass clinking together. My mom thought it was beautiful, almost as much as I did. If only I could bring myself to tell her the whole story, then maybe she could see what I did. Maybe one day I’ll tell her, I thought to myself.

I went up to my old room to find that it had been cleaned up, to no surprise of my own. My mom had put away all of the things I had left strewn across the floor and the desk; now it was very neat and clean, something it had never been while I occupied the space. It still felt like home though, it still held that warmth and that feeling of comfort.

It was late in the afternoon and the sun was beginning to set. I could see the shafts of sunlight cutting through the trees and shining through the porthole window that once overlooked my bed. It was the same window that had shone the light through the castle the first time, the day Abigayle and I first kissed. It was here, in this cramped attic, that we could expel the darkness and dance in the sunlight. I fell in love with her here, lying on the floor for hours just talking about anything. I figured there was no better place for her to be.

I screwed the hook into the ceiling right in front of the porthole, then hung the Abigayle Stone on it. Immediately, the stone and the glass fragments became awash in the waning daylight and shot beautiful colours all around the room. It was just like the first time, but now I was a different person. I had seen so much since that cold November day, it was hard to imagine myself at that point being able to understand the significance of what was happening right now. I knew now that the dancing dots of colour on the walls was due to the white light from the sun passing through the stone and the glass and the science of it all, and I knew that white was Abigayle’s favourite colour simply because it was the manifestation of all colours and I thought that was so fascinating. 

My life was so drastically different now that it almost felt like another world, a parallel universe that I had somehow drifted into.  So much had happened that I hardly recognized myself anymore. Ironically, the only thing that hadn’t changed was how consumed by love I was- despite the fact that the vase that once held my flowers had shattered and now danced in front of my eyes in pieces. I felt the tears come up and overflow as they always did, felt the shiver down my back as I always did. It was always the same when I thought of her for too long, but this time it felt entirely different. Not because I wasn’t sad or angry or anything, because I still very much felt those things, but this time I could see that she was shining a light for everyone to see. She was beautiful- not just to myself, but to everyone- and I decided that she would’ve thought so too. 

Dorchester Square

Seated on a park bench in Dorchester Square, I’m observing everything around me. The trees, fully dressed and swaying in the wind to a tune we cannot hear, cast tapering shadows across the thick green grass. Squirrels scurry across the park, chasing each other’s tails and searching for nuts ahead of the impending fall. Business men in suits meander past, smoking and laughing while talking about sports and the economy. I’m watching all of this, soaking it in like the midsummer sun at high noon, and I have a sudden, violent collision with the concept of time.

This city block is a time paradox, I think to myself.

The bench I’m sitting in faces the Sun Life Building, an imposing marble business centre that looms over the park like a hundred-year-old school teacher. Beyond that is a cathedral, possibly as old as the city itself, that sleeps modestly nestled between two shopping malls. Then- directly across the street- is the 1000 building, the tallest skyscraper in the city. An overbearing testament to our present, overshadowing the worn-out relic from our past.

As I look around, casting my eye over the fast food restaurants and strip clubs that are sprinkled magnanimously and haphazardly throughout the city, I come to grips with the fact that we are not a permanent fixture in this world. We build churches and monuments to give ourselves some semblance of validation for our existence, but all we’ve really done on this Earth is stack some rocks together in hopes of pleasing some external forces. The law of entropy states that everything in the universe is bound to dissolve, and that our sticks and stones will eventually fall apart and all we will be left with is the memory of our ephemeral sense of purpose.

I try to picture it: the city falling apart, the Earth reclaiming the land that we had borrowed. I pictured the crumbling marble of the Sun Life Building, its Corinthian columns collapsing under the weight of the building. I imagined the steel and glass of the 1000 building raining down across the city, falling like a felled log into the Saint Lawrence River. And then I saw the old cathedral, covered in moss and ivy but still standing amidst the wreckage. For some reason, I didn’t see it ever coming down.

Maybe because our ancestors thought too much of the afterlife. They were much too concerned with pleasing their god that they spent their whole lives trying to please him, in hopes of receiving their recompense once they’d passed away. Pascal’s wager was a poor judgement call, in my opinion, but that’s easy for me to say. I was never indoctrinated, made to fear the possibility of an eternity of damnation. My parents granted me the freedom to look up at the night sky- to attempt to count the trillions of stars in our galaxy- and decide for myself that this universe could not have been designed like this. It is too enormous- too beautiful- to have been created by anything, regardless of how omnipotent and omniscient it claims to be.

I think that buildings should fall down; not while they’re still in use mind you, but once we are long gone and the world has forgotten about us. I think that our mortality is a blessing, not a curse. It is easy to feel entitled to eternity when you believe that the creator of the universe also designed you, and that between the two you are his proudest achievement. When I contemplate the majesty of the stars on a clear summer night, I feel relieved to know how insignificant I am. When I think about our cities crumbling and turning to dust, it reminds me that my life is only as important as I want it to be. It eases my mind to know that I don’t have to spend my life pleasing God or the universe- the only person whose happiness I need to be concerned with is my own, for as long as I live.

I look up at the sky to catch my breath and notice that the pristine blue sky has but one, solitary cloud rolling pleasantly along its vast expanse. It is unbothered by our presence, it cares not for our problems: it is perfectly contented to just stroll across the sky with no worries in sight, like the businessmen that walk past me on their lunch break. I stare at it for a while, watching how slowly it crawls across the satiny sky, and breathe deeply. How satisfying it is to realize that we are all just clouds, passing through.

The Traveller

Through misty green mountains a traveller treads, exhausted. He stumbles on a weather-worn inn, clearly one strong gust away from caving in, and enters in hopes of finding some rest. Inside he finds a sparsely-furnished room, lit by a solitary candle. He sees a handsome, old bearded man- perhaps even older than the inn itself- sitting behind the front desk, reading a large, leather-bound book. He approaches the man hesitantly, and asks,

“Excuse me sir, may I have a room?”

The old man smiles, his eyes crinkling at the corners, as he puts down his book and replies, “You can’t have one, but you may stay in one.”

Puzzled by this, the traveller is silent. The old man grins wide and continues.

“Tell me son, do you know where you are?”

The traveller ponders for a moment, then shakes his head.

“Tell me something else, do you know where you’re going?”

Here the traveller nods, as if awoken from a dream.

“I was looking for the tallest mountain.”

The old man laughs, stroking his beard.

“Ah, I remember being young like you. Were you planning on climbing to the top?”

The traveller nods and smiles weakly.

“Well, you’ll certainly be needing your rest then.”

The old man reaches under the desk and retrieves a ring of keys.

“You’re welcome to stay here tonight, son. But first, let me tell you something. When I was a young man, I built this inn with my own bare hands. It took me weeks to gather the wood, and months to put it together. By the time I was done, I was tired and sore but I looked at what I had built and I felt satisfied.”

Here the old man stops, looking the traveller straight in the eyes and asks, “Tell me son, why do you want to climb that mountain?”

The traveller lowers his eyes to the floor, breathes deeply and says, “My father left home a long time ago to climb that mountain and never came back. I want to do it for him, to follow his footsteps.”

The old man smiles, his blue eyes shining like gems in the dimly-lit room.

“Well that’s a very noble venture, son. Perhaps you can help me with something.”

The old man once again reaches under the desk and brings out three items: a map, a compass and a notebook full of pencil drawings.

“Tell me son, which of these items would be the most useful to you right now?”

Without hesitation, the traveller picks up the map and examines it closely. After a moment, his eyes widen and he points at the map.

“This is where we are! I know how to get to the mountain now.”

The old man smiles, a knowing smile.

“So, the map is the most useful item to you right now?”

The traveller looks at the map, then at the compass on the desk. He draws a line on the map with his finger, then puts the map down in favour of the compass.

“What made you change your mind?” the old man asks.

“Now that I know where I am, I only need to know where I’m heading. The compass is more useful now,” the traveller replies.

The old man just looks at the traveller, expectant. Then, he takes the compass back and carefully removes the needle. He then rips a portion of the map off, only a small corner. He places it on the table and hides the rest under the desk.

“Now son, which of these items is the most useful to you?”

Confused, the traveller looks at the map fragment, the broken compass and the notebook and frowns.

“Well, none of these are of any use to me now!” he exclaims.

“Ah, are they not?” the old man asks, his knowing smile growing wider.

The traveller looks again, still puzzled, and shrugs.

“Well, let me tell you something. I’ve travelled all over the world son and, believe me, there is far too much for any one man to see. Far too many people to meet and far too many lessons to be learned. That being said, the one lesson that I learned everywhere I went is that a beautiful life does not reside somewhere far away. The most vivid and pleasant experiences I’ve had happened right here on this hillside. I’ve watched the sun rise over the mountains far away in the distance every morning for years. I’ve had the most extraordinary conversations with wanderers just like yourself at this very same desk. Most importantly, I met the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on here. The love of my life walked through those doors some thirty years ago, and I would relive that day a million times over before I would ever leave this inn behind again.”

The old man stops, still smiling but his eyes have turned dim. His gaze falls somewhere far away, perhaps not even in this world. Then, he comes back into himself and continues.

“Son, what I’m trying to tell you is that there’s no use in knowing where you are or where you’re going. These factors change from day to day and they are not as important as we might believe sometimes. What really matters is the beauty that surrounds you every single day. Stop fretting so much about destinations and open your eyes to where you already are.”

Here he picks up the sketchbook, flips through a few pages then closes it once more. He fixes the compass, retrieves the map and hands all three to the traveller along with a room key.

“Here, take these with you. I hope that you find your way, son.”

Bewildered, the traveller takes the items and looks at the old man in silence. After a moment of silent understanding, he leaves towards his room. Once the door has closed and he knows that he is all alone, the old man wipes a single tear from his eye and continues reading his book.

After the sun has risen, the traveller emerges from the room well-rested. He looks towards the desk and sees that the old man is not there. He leaves the money for the room on the desk then, gathering his things, leaves on his way. As he walks, the seed of what the old man had told him grows in his mind until eventually, after walking for quite some time, he can’t think of anything else. He retrieves the sketchbook from his pack and leafs through the pages. There are drawings of all sorts; trees, rivers, animals, mountains and then one that is not like the rest.

The traveller rubs his eyes, sure that he is still weary from sleep, but he knows that what he sees is true: a drawing of his mother, many years ago, sitting in the sunlight. Panicked, he flips to the front cover and finds an inscription in faded blue ink.

“For Jonathan, I hope that you find your way. Love, your father.”

Jonathan runs as fast as his legs can carry him back towards the inn. He always found that running downhill made him feel like he was about to take off into flight, and now he felt sure he would lift off into the sky. He runs for miles, his heart straining to meet his mind’s demands, until he comes up to the place where the inn is. As he does, it starts raining; a light drizzle at first, then suddenly a downpour. The weathered building seems to be straining under the weight of the water.

As he approaches it, he notices from a distance that someone is coming out. He immediately recognizes who it is, and stops in his tracks. His father smiles wide; neither man moves, despite the heavy wind and rain.

“Did you ever climb the mountain?” Jonathan calls, the sound of rain pelting the ground loud in his ears.

“I never had to,” his father replies.

Transparent

Taylor looked up at me from her cup of coffee, her chestnut brown eyes seemingly reflecting the steaming hot pool of liquid that she held between her hands. She sighed deeply, staring into me in a way I’d never seen. It felt penetrating, like she was exploring the thoughts that were bouncing around inside my head.

We were sitting next to the windows in a small, sunlit café. It was the early afternoon and the only people there were a few old Italian men, the two baristas and us. It may as well have been just her though, because I was starting to feel like she could see right through me.

She was absently circling the rim of the white coffee mug with her pinky finger, her eyes still burning holes in my cheeks. I didn’t know what she had to say, but I was hoping against all odds that it wasn’t anything serious.

“I’m not well,” she finally said, her voice barely a whisper. She looked out the window to her right as she continued, “the pills aren’t helping anymore and I feel like I’m falling apart.”

All I could do was stare. I felt a lump in my throat, then the tears started to well up. I just barely managed to hold them back, but I still felt them stinging the backs of my eyes.

Taylor was my whole world; she was my best friend, the person with whom I shared every part of myself. I had loved her with every ounce of what I had for so long, and to hear her say that she was sick again made me feel empty. I knew I had to wear a brave face for her, but I also knew that she’d see through the mask. She could always read me, like an open book.

“I’m sorry. Was it me?” I asked, wondering what I could do to help.

“No, of course not. You’ve been so good to me, none of this is your fault. I just don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

I could see the mist starting to form along her eyelids and I knew she was going to get upset. She hated crying, especially in public. I took her hand in mine, trying my best to comfort her when I had no idea how to make her feel better.

She sniffed, wiping her eyes and said, “I think you might be better off without me, you know. I’m not okay, and I’ll only make things harder for you.”

It angered me when she said things like this. She always made it sound like she was a burden on me, like I had to put up with her. I didn’t blame her, because I knew she was sick and that it wasn’t her that was saying those things. It just frustrated me to no end to know that she couldn’t see how beautiful and loving she was, how happy she made me. She didn’t realize that I was with her because she filled in the parts of me that were once empty, that she made me feel like a better person.

“I’m not going anywhere,” I affirmed, looking right into her eyes, “I’ve told you this already. I’m here because I want to be.”

“Well you shouldn’t want to be here. I’m a trainwreck, you shouldn’t love me,” she snapped angrily, her emotions overcoming her. She pulled her hand away, her curly brown hair falling in front of her left eye. It was hard not to take it personally when she got like this, but I couldn’t let her think that it was true.

“It’s not about whether I should or should not, Tay. I do, and I always will. There’s no reasoning behind it: I’m here because I love you and I love you because you’re you.”

She looked up at me, pushing her hair away from her face to reveal that a single, solitary tear had started rolling down her cheek. I reached over and wiped it away with my thumb, carressing her cheek with my open palm. The slightest implication of a smile turned one corner of her mouth up, as if her lips were trying to brush away my fingertips.

“I’ll never understand what you see in me,” she said, her glassy eyes almost orange in the sunlight.

I see you, I thought to myself. The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen…

…and in that moment I realized that I needed to be a mirror, not a window.

Heaven

“Listen here, kid. The thing about paradise is that it’s eternal. It never ends, see? It’s just good times, all the time, forever. Is that really what you want?”

The young boy, dressed in his best Sunday clothes, looked up at the disheveled man with doe-like eyes. He had clearly never put much thought into anything, let alone the notion of eternity. All of his beliefs came from his parents and his pastor; he hadn’t questioned the finite nature of his world yet.

The man, his beard unkempt and his clothes full of holes, sighed as he realized that the boy had no concept of infinity. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he searched for a better way.

“Look kid, you’ll understand all of this when you get older, as long as they don’t manage to completely brainwash you in that so-called temple over there.”

Here the man jabbed his thumb towards the church across the street, which still had people pouring out through the doors. It was a newer church, made of glass and metal. It looked more like an office building than a church. Throngs of people- young and old, all dressed as if on their way to a business meeting- were exiting out onto the street. The man scoffed bitterly before continuing.

“Tell me something boy, do you believe in God and heaven and all of that?”

The child nodded silently, his angelic features accentuated by his innocence and the bright daylight hitting his face. While it may have been a crisp autumn day, the boy didn’t seem too cold in his blazer and corduroy pants.

“And where is God? Is he in heaven? Where is that?”

The boy paused, looked up at the clear blue sky and shrugged, his eyes descending towards his feet. The absence of clouds might have been the source of his confusion, or perhaps it was something else.

“You can say that he’s in the clouds. That’s what they tell you in the church, isn’t it?”

The boy didn’t say anything, just stared back at the man with expectant eyes. While he had no idea why he felt the need to do this, the man persevered in trying to make his point.

“Well kid, let me tell you something. Forever is a long time, and even the best things in life don’t last forever. There’s a reason for that. The good things are only good because they aren’t forever, you see? Because if life were easy, it wouldn’t be worth living. There’s a lot of things I don’t know kid, but I do know this: heaven ain’t up in the sky somewhere. That feeling of a righteous forever, it’s in here.”

Here the man put his first two fingers on the boy’s chest, where his heart would be. Something about this resonated with the boy, because the tiniest hint of a smile tugged on the corner of his mouth. The man got a glimmer of satisfaction from this.

“That’s right, heaven is in your heart. It’s about love, kid: loving and being loved in return. Paradise ain’t hard to find, all you gotta do is find what makes you happy and keep it close to you. Hold onto your happiness and fight for it, never let it go. A peaceful forever ain’t easy, kid. If your life is easy, you’re doing something wrong. Just be nice to other people and let love take you where you wanna go. It’s that simple.”

The man quickly realized that had he followed his own advice, he wouldn’t be on a bus stop bench with nobody to talk to except for a child he had only just met. But when he saw the spark in that kid’s eye, he knew he had done something good. As the boy ran back to his parents, he looked towards the sky and let out a deep sigh, content.