A Relationship

“I can’t take it anymore!” Nell screamed. “I just can’t! I don’t know what I can do anymore, I really don’t!” She was at her wit’s end. It had gone on for far too long, and she had no idea how she’d let things get to this point. “What more do you want me to do for you, huh? What more can I do to please you? I can never win with you, you know that? It’s a lose-lose situation, no matter what I do!”

She huffed, and paced, walking from one side of the carpeted living room to the other. Her hands clasped behind her back, she tried to calm down a little. “Is there something I can be doing that I’m not? Tell me – is there? I’ll honestly do whatever it takes. I’ve been with you too long to give you up, even though I’m this close,” she held up her hand, forefinger and thumb almost touching, she was holding them so near. “But I’m not going to run from this – relationships are something you need to work on, everyone says so.”

Continuing to pace, Nell waited. And waited. The silence lingered. She burst out again, unable to restrain herself. “But how can I make you happy if you don’t tell me how?! I feed you, I clothe you, I bathe you – I take care of you, damn it! But you keep saying it’s not enough! I try to do things for you, I really do, I swear I do!”

Tears now stained her face. Her voice broke and she sat down heavily on the couch, pulled her legs up and hugged them tightly to her chest. “Tell me, please, I beg you, tell me what I can do,” she was rocking back and forth, sobbing, her anger evaporated. Only a deep, heavy sadness remained. “Please… please tell me… Tell me how I can make you happy – I’ll do anything, I swear, I promise, I really will,” she looked up imploringly, her eyes two pools of salt-water, pleading, waiting for an answer.

There was no one else there.

Two

“It’s  a long story,” he said, frowning slightly, before smiling again. His hair was brown, his face thin, and his expression let nothing away. His smile was utterly disarming, and he didn’t seem to be feeling a thing except the usual cheerfulness he displayed to the world. He had his work spread out in front of him, the usual scientific jargon he was so into, and he slid his eyes back to it easily and went right back to studying. His shirt, bearing the logo of his workplace, was tight, as all his clothes usually were. He was attractive, there was no doubt about it, and his cheerfulness was like a sun, drawing unsuspecting people to him and making them think, naively, that everything was alright with him. Everything was always alright with him.

The girl, clutching her book, wasn’t so naive. She had her guesses, and she voiced them in a cheerful tone to match his own. He laughed, brushing them away, and went back to studying. She took note, though, of the slight glint of panic in his eyes.

____

“It’s a long story,” he said. His hair was black, his face thin but muscular, and his expression was fraught with pain. His eyes glinted with unshed tears, but they never leaked out, not once. He laughed at himself, laughed at his emotions. “It’s a long story,” he repeated, but he went into detail. Not much detail, but enough for the girl, clutching her book again, to understand. Her heart beat within her breast, pounding with emotion for both of them. She could see his pain, and suspected the other’s pain even if he wouldn’t voice it. She hugged him, murmuring “Aw, honey,” and made sure to let him know that she felt for him. It wasn’t easy, she couldn’t imagine it would ever be easy for the two of them.

____

Alone in her room, with headphones in her ears, she thought about them. She wanted to help, somehow, for some reason. Maybe it was only that her own experience was so much happier than theirs. Maybe it was that she knew what it was to trust someone implicitly and she wanted them to feel it too. Maybe it was just the fact that she was so far away from her love that she needed to see others flourish as she couldn’t in her current situation. Maybe it was, quite simply, that she wanted to befriend them both. They were too pleasant to give up, and she wanted to find a place for herself. She had always done this – reached out instinctively to others, lent herself as a support to those who needed it. It was one of her joys.

With music throbbing in her ears, she noticed the lyrics suddenly. “This night has only just begun. If there’s discretion that you’ve not abandoned, now’s the time.” Fitting, she thought, and closed her eyes and listened hard until the next song came on.

One-Eyed Steve: Part III

“Ah, my little ones, and so, all atremble, I went out into the inn and walked up to the barkeep. The innkeeper always worked at the bar, and half the people in town didn’t know he was the owner of the inn, so friendly a barkeep he was. So, as I said, I walked up to him and told him what One-Eyed Steve had said. I told him the eye-patch man was there to see him and that he better come right quick ’cause I’d left him in the kitchen alone. The innkeeper, instead of lookin’ confused, looked at me with a fierce look and asked if I was sure of what I was sayin’. This was a big man, mind, and I was already feelin’ faint from bein’ so close to that old pirate in the kitchen.

I told the innkeeper that One-Eyed Steve was in the kitchen as sure as the nose was on my face and the sun rises in the East. He wiped his hands on his cloth then, and he took me by the elbow, takin’ me back to the kitchen with him. Steve was still there, and he was pale and sweatin’ again. The innkeeper let me go after orderin’ me to put a kettle on with boilin’ water. As I was doin’ that, I got to hear what the men were talkin’ about.

‘What is it, old man? Is she alright?’ the innkeeper was speakin’ quietly with Steve, and he seemed worried. Steve answered him in the saddest voice I ever heard a man use.

‘Nay. Nay, brother. She left us in the night.’

The innkeeper froze for a momen’, and then he was huggin’ Steve fiercely, and I could hear both of the men weepin’. Me, a boy of thirteen, couldn’t believe these two grown men was cryin’ – I still thought that men didn’t cry back then, and I damned well hid my tears from anyone if ever I had ’em.

‘She had a long life, Steve, and she was happy with ye. Ye helped her and nursed her and fed her and cared for her when no one knew or cared about her anymore.’ the innkeeper spoke into Steve’s shoulder, still weepin’.

‘Aye. She was the best mother a pair like us could ask for, and she tried to be strong till the very end.’ Steve was holding the innkeeper up now, and he was speakin’ fiercely into his face as the innkeepe  seemed about to fall over with his grief. ‘I’m sorry ye didn’t get to see her, brother, but she sends her love. She told me so right before she closed her eyes and went to sleep.’

My kettle was boilin’ by now, but I didn’t hardly notice it. Only when the whistle of it made the men look up and remember me did I get the tea and mugs. I splashed some strong stuff into each of their teas – they seemed to need it, and I wanted to do somethin’ to help ’em if I could. Eventually, as you may imagine, the innkeeper had to go back and be barkeep and work the night out. Seems no one knew that the mother was still around – she was in bad shape, or so I came to understand later, and she didn’t want people to see her.

My ducklings, don’t fret, this isn’t the endin’ of my story. After this sadness, I wanna tell ye what happened after the innkeeper left the room. I was still in there, continuin’ to wash dishes as I was told to, when the innkeeper dried his eyes and went back out. Steve was still there, and he spoke to me again.

‘Bet you thought I was  a villain and a pirate, eh boy?’ he growled at me. I wasn’t so frightful of him anymore – seein’ a person weep can do that to ye. I looked him square in that one blue eye of his, and I said ‘I thought so, sir, but now I know ye ain’t no pirate. Yer a noble man, takin’ care of yer ma like that.’ One-Eyed Steve looked at me as if he’d never seen a boy before.

‘Well, boy,’ he said, a bit of his wicked grin comin’ back. ‘Ye better not tell anyone a thing about tonight. Nay, won’t do to have the boys comin’ to look for me house. I’m fine with bein’ feared. But as a reward,’ and here he started to laugh a little to himself, ‘as a reward let me share a second secret with ye. Aye, me ma was decent as they come. Still, she had her wild notions when I was a lad, just like any ma.’

And then he lifted his eyepatch. Instead of a mangled scar, instead of an empty socket, instead of even a blind and staring eye – all of which I’d imagined to meself – instead of any of those, there was a reular eye under that patch. The skin around it was whiter, bein’ hidden under that patch, and the color was brown instead o’ being ice-blue like the other one, but it was a seein’ eye alright.

‘Ma seemed to think the boys might laugh at me bein’ all dog-eyed like this,’ said One-Eyed Steve. ‘And then I jus’ got used to bein’ a pirate to people.’ He put the eyepatch back over that normal eye, and left the kitchen the same way he came in.

Which only goes to show, my ducks, that ye never know. Ye really never know abou’ a man by his looks. Not ever. And don’t ye forget it.”

The three little figures on the carpet uncurled themselves from the positions they’d kept during the long story. As soberly as any statesman, they all proclaimed that they “will remember, Papa!” and then were scooted off to bed. The man, though, sat for a while longer in front of the fire, and thought about One-Eyed Steve.