Harley Jackson began clearing the kitchen table immediately following dinner, because that’s what one must do when one’s husband was like hers. Her tousled auburn hair kept getting in her eyes as she tried to balance everything. The room was weirdly dim, however, and the number of plates seemed to be growing, to the point where Harley could barely hold on to them. As she desperately tried to juggle the rapidly increasing number of plates, she heard a weird thrumming sound, like something large and creepy and medieval.
Suddenly, her husband, Marty Lloyd, was in front of her – dark, menacing and pissed off. You know, his usual self. He was soundlessly yelling at her, his mouth matching the rhythm of the weird noises that filled the room. Ugly bands of energy in angry colors emanating from him wrapped around her, binding her tightly.
As she tried to not let him see her flinch and as she battled to hang on to the plates, he started to grow. And grow. And grow. Very quickly, Marty was looming over her – giant, frightening and Alice in Wonderland disproportionate to her. His eyes became black and his furrowed brow was deep enough to plant crops in.
As Harley finally lost control of her delicately balanced platters, Marty’s jaw unhinged and he plunged over her, swallowing her whole.
* * * * * * * *
Harley woke from her dream disoriented. Echoes bounced around the bedroom as she rolled over in the bed. The other side of the bed was decidedly empty, despite the ghosts of Marty looming everywhere.
Harley stood in the middle of the room from her dreams. Whispers faded in and out as she turned slowly around. Despite the space having only a few pieces of furniture left, images of the life she lived here with Marty flashed before her eyes. Where her drawing table sat was where the dining room furniture was not so long ago. The single cheap Swedish chair took the place of a couch and table and other things. So much that was once there was now gone and only their echoes remained. Echoes mixed with snippets of her life with Marty – some good and fun and just what they should be. Others, dark, mean, cruel and bordering on violent. In all of them, Harley was left alone and battered emotionally.
Harley walked to her drawing table, touching the artwork on it as though this somehow would ground her to the space. Pages of her comic book in various stages covered the table – a dark, edgy book with a noir feel to it. A copy of the comic book, “The Wraith of Love”, was on the table, featuring a cover with a woman whose face was covered by a low-slung hat and the high collar of her coat.
Marty walked into the room, breaking through the past and bringing Harley back to the present. In the light of day, Marty was just a guy – middle-aged, hairline getting higher by the day, a few pounds extra around the middle. Weak bands of dull-colored energy tried to connect to Harley but they almost short-circuited as they struggled to reach her. The once-couple stood apart in the empty, finally quiet, space.
“I’m just about done,” said Marty, as he picked up the last two boxes and left again. Harley followed him out the door, leaving the past behind them.
Outside, Marty loaded the last boxes into his car. He slammed the trunk shut harder than necessary, causing Harley to inadvertently flinch. For a moment, years of apologizes crossed his face before his usual scowl returned.
As the two stood there, trying to find the words to say after all of the words have been said, a battered Mustang pulled up across the street. Ben Christopher stepped out of the car, watching his best friend try to say good-bye to her husband. Wisely, he chose to stay by his car and give them the space they needed.
“You got everything?” Harley could barely look Marty in the eyes.
“Okay.” Now it’s her energy trying to reach out to him but it fell at his feet. “I’m… I’m sorry, Marty. I just need some time to…”
“Yeah, I got it.” Marty slammed the door to the car, leaving Harley with her heart straining from her chest to go after him.
As Marty’s car pulled away, bands of warm-colored energy reached around her and wrapped her up as Ben joined her on the sidewalk.
“Hey, you,” he whispered as he put out his arms. Harley turned into his burly embrace, bursting into tears.
Back in the apartment, Ben took the chair as Harley settled on the floor near him.
“How’re you doing?” he asked as she pulled herself together.
“After ten years, I thought there’d be more.”
Ben slid off the chair to sit next to her, putting his arm around her. His gentle energy wrapped around her as she leaned her head on his shoulder.
“It seemed like such a good idea at the time,” Harley sighed as she looked around the almost-empty apartment. “End a bad situation, create a better one. But is this better, Ben?”
“You know what would make this better?”
Harley could only shake her head.
* * * * * * * *
It’s one of those places where you can get anything for only a buck an item. Packed and noisy, Ben and Harley were oblivious to the chaos around them as they consumed their plethora of dollar foods.
Ben gestured emphatically with his chopsticks as he talked. “That’s when I decided it would be better to get dressed and leave rather than to try to defend myself against a naked woman wielding a potato peeler.”
“Good choice,” Harley replied.
“Lesson learned. Never go home with a drunken woman during Mardi Gras.”
Ben held up his chow mein-laden chopsticks. “To lessons learned.”
But Harley put down her chopsticks without partaking of the chow mein goodness. Ben’s stormy green eyes watched her for a moment, trying to decide how to proceed.
“You want to talk about it?”
Harley pushed her food around on the plate before answering. “Not much to talk about. Ten years of emotional abuse. Crippling depression. Suicide attempt.”
This stopped Ben cold. “What?”
Harley was silent for a moment. Ben watched her closely, willing to wait for her to speak.
“That’s when I knew it was over. When I… well… I don’t know if suicide attempt is the correct term. Suicidal consideration, maybe. I had a very dark night about a year ago where Marty was out, left me alone. I was very depressed and lost. I took everything I had – scripts, drawings, art supplies – and divided them into piles. Things to go to the church, things to give to friends, things to throw out. I was determined to give up everything if it was going to make him happy and save our marriage.”
With perfect timing, the waitress decided to choose that moment to refill their water glasses. Harley took her time sipping the water before continuing.
“I went through the house and put together all the pills we had, intending to take them and drink them down with a big glass of that god-awful cheap whiskey he likes. But I didn’t think six five-year-old Vicodin, a half a bottle of Tylenol PM and a bottle of vitamin C would quite do the trick. And he had the car so I couldn’t even go out and buy something stronger. And all I could think about was how angry he’d be when he found me on the floor, not dead, and how he’d hold it over my head that I couldn’t even manage to kill myself properly. And god forbid if I managed to just put myself in a coma or something. I’d never hear the end of it and I’d be a captive audience as he lectured me for the rest of my life about what a failure I was. That was when I knew I had to do something. Otherwise, the next time I would do it right.”
Even with all of the people around them, there was a long silence between the two best friends. Slowly, Ben’s energy wrapped around Harley’s hand a moment before he actually did reach out for it.
“I’m glad you’re still here.”
Harley squeezed his hand back. “Me, too.”
The rest of their dinner returned to the type of intimate conversation that best friends have once the heavy stuff is out of the way. Their laughter mingled with the other noise and cacophony around them, enveloping them in the simplicity of life.
After their feast, they headed out to their cars in the parking lot. They were as close as they could be without touching. A ghostly image of Harley’s hand reached out and closed around his, but then faded away quickly.
“Well…” Harley stopped beside her car.
“Well…” Ben responded, waiting for her to unlock her door. “You gonna be okay tonight?”
“Sure. Tonight. Tomorrow night. The night after that. Cuz I have you.” Harley stood on her toes and kissed his cheek. For a moment, time stopped as their energies mingled. Finally, Harley moved away.
“G’night,” Ben said as she got into her car. He shut the door, placing his hand on the window. Harley smiled and placed her hand against his on the other side of the glass. He gave her his sweetest smile and walked away, his hand leaving a frosty imprint on the window. Harley didn’t move her hand as she watched him walk away. The impression finally faded and Harley let go of it. She finally started the car and headed home.
At her art table, Harley took the impressions for the night before and turned them into a blue line drawing on a comic book page. She made one last flourish and then put down her pencil, admiring her work.
She stretched and rose from the table, going to the fridge and grabbing a drink. The room was completely devoid of sound, save the sound of her own breath.
Harley sat on the rickety Swedish chair, looking around the almost-empty space. This time, no ghosts greeted her, only the blank walls. Out of the corner of her eye, a shade of Marty hovered but never quite manifested.
Overcome, Harley fought back the tears. The silence pushed against her, suffocating her.
Finally, Harley let out a deep breath and the silence broke, bringing back the gentle sounds of the world around her. Pulling herself together, Harley moved back to her drawing table and put aside the page she was working on, pulling out a clean layout board. She put her head down and began to draw again.
The light in the room grew darker as Harley drew, finally lost in her art. She reached out instinctively and turned on the light without missing a beat. Finally, as the night was almost ready to give way to the morning, Harley put down her pencil and got up. Shaking out the stiffness of sitting for so long, Harley made her way to the bedroom.
After getting into her pajamas, Harley sat on the bed, grabbing a small notebook off the barren nightstand. She flipped through a few pages, re-reading some of the handwritten poetry inside. She settled against the headboard, taking a fountain pen off the stand and thought for a moment. Once again, the emptiness of the room and the sound of silence consumed her. She put a hand on the empty side of the bed, and for a moment, the sheets seemed to take on the shape of Marty, his back to her, almost breathing. But then the sheets went back to being sheets and Harley was once again alone in the bed.
She finally put pen to page and as she wrote, the words floated around her head, taking on a life of their own. “I grieve for/the life I’ve left/behind/that could have been/but wasn’t.”
A chime from her iPad startled her. She put down the book and pen and checked her email on her iPad. It was from Marty.
“How are you? I was just thinking about you. Found a few things of yours. Thought maybe we could get together so I could get them back to you. And maybe we could talk.”
Harley studied the email for a moment, long enough for the screensaver to turn the screen dark. Instead of answering it, Harley returned to her poetry, filling the air with her words