When Jessica was seven, her father walked out of the house and never returned.
She stood by the door, her hands pressed against the cold glass, her breath fogging her view of that large world beyond. She was certain that if she waited long enough, if she looked hard enough, if she was a good enough little girl… He would be there. She longed to see his tattered brown briefcase, his work-worn smile. She wanted to see him wave again, like he used to, with just the slightest of twitches in his upraised hand and a sparkle in his eyes she could see even across the lawn.
She wanted to hear him laugh.
She wanted to see him smile so kindly at her when she asked him why the world existed as it did. She wanted to see him again, hug him again, cry on his shoulder again…
But no matter how long she waited, no matter how many years passed, her father never returned.
She watched for him still, her faith as strong as a disbeliever turned religious. She knew that she just wasn’t looking hard enough. Her father was down that street, inside that café, across that stadium… Everywhere she was, her father was. He was waiting for her to find him.
He was waiting, for her.
* * * *
“Jess…” his voice struggled to free itself from his throat but came out as a groan. “Jess…” The second time was barely better.
She stood by the window, staring out at the postcard lawn with its twinkling snow and feathers of bunny prints. The wind was soft, but still it found the strength to howl quietly against their house. She could feel the impact of the air against the windowpane, struggling to claw its way inside and turn her body as cold as her heart felt right at that moment.
No one was down the street, and no one had been for three hours.
She needed him. Why wasn’t he there? She loved her father and he left. She wanted him back. It wasn’t fair… It wasn’t fair…
“Jess, just… give it up…” Rowan groaned into his pillow.
For six years he had been with Jessica. Every morning on the anniversary of her father’s disappearance, she waited five hours instead of the normal two, and she looked four times as hard when she went into the city.
He had tried to tell her he wasn’t coming back.
But Jessica refused to listen. She told them she was her daddy’s girl. She told them he loved her. She told them they could never understand what it was like every night…
“He always rocked me to sleep and read me stories. He kissed me goodnight when I got afraid during the night…” Her broken whisper was barely louder than the muted wind from outside, but the way her voice cracked and trembled under the power of her words betrayed her intense need. The litany fell from her lips like it did every year, and like always she waited for her prayer to be answered.
Every year she stood there.
Rowan shifted on the bed, his body so comfortingly encased in cozy blankets and fluffy pillows that he didn’t want to leave. Already he could feel the chill of the air against his bare arms, the way the cold from outside seeped through their shoddy window and pressed frost-laden kisses against his exposed skin. His face always felt the coldest in the morning, especially around his right eye.
But that was the way it had been for years, ever since that accident…
* * * *
It was during the same year that Jessica’s father left her when nine-year-old Rowan was walking through city alone. No one remembered why no one was there with him, just that he was alone with nobody to hold his hand and lead him through the streets. The sky was dark, Rowan says, but many claim it was the middle of the day. Rowan says it was raining and he was cold, so cold, but others think it was so sunny that they recall being burned. Rowan says he was on 12th street but others protest it was 11th.
The story changed each year, individual by individual, detail by detail, until the tale of Rowan’s accident became nothing more than a gossiped half-truth of a time long ago and a boy now long dead.
Rowan refused to acknowledge the others with his story, for he was certain he was right. Much like how Jessica insisted her father would return seventeen years later, Rowan knew he was right and everyone else was mistaken.
So it was on 12th Street at night in the cold, hard rain when nine-year-old Rowan was walking down the street alone. He was humming a tune he liked very much. He was forgetting the words and inserting his own. He was singing off-key and listening to his echoing footsteps and the voices reaching back to him from alleyways as he passed.
The moon was out, Rowan recalls, but shuttered by indigo clouds that shown like halos of angels against the muted stars above. A plane flew by, merely a flashing dot in the too-large sky; three dogs barked loudly, a symphony of poverty and the need for protection; and a woman laughed abruptly, her disembodied voice enveloping him in mildly hysterical delight. The wind was low, maybe non-existent, but the stench of the city was overwhelming, and Rowan remembers stumbling right before going to walk across the street.
That, they say, is all that saved his life.
A car was driving down the street, its lights on and flashing pretentiously against bits of metal and glass scattered around the sidewalk and buildings. The car was black, Rowan says, and sleek. Its windows were tinted, its driver was cautious.
The squealing of tires was all that alerted Rowan and the driver to a new presence. From around the corner came a truck, weaving in a mesmerizing pattern over the sidewalks and road. Its lights were bright and obnoxious and the smell of alcohol could almost be detected on the breeze the car left behind as it streaked by.
The driver of the sleek car slammed on the brakes as the truck flew past, and Rowan stood still as he realized just how close the car had come to being hit. The truck was long past now, but its memory was haunting, like the last smile seen on a loved one before their death. It was something so strong, something so vivid, something so disturbing that he knew he would never forget it, for good or for bad. On those nights when he would replay this memory for years afterward, he would yell at himself, “Look away! Don’t stand there! Keep walking!”
But memories are just photographs of times long gone. Now, years later, when he knew what had come of that night, he wished he had listened to the voice in his head that urged him to keep moving.
But he didn’t.
Instead, he stood there, stunned by something he had not seen coming.
Even now he could remember the truck so clearly… the way it streaked right between Rowan and the car… the way he knew that if it had been just over one way or another, one of them would have been killed.
At the time, it was speculation.
Now, it was fact.
Maybe seconds had passed, maybe more. It was enough time for Rowan to shake his head and start to turn to move again, enough time for the sleek black car to be put in gear once more and start down the street. It was enough time for Rowan to wonder at the fragility of life and wish he had his mommy there with him.
It was enough time for destiny to catch up to both.
This time there was no squealing, no drunken breeze trailing behind. There were no lights bouncing off the road, nor was there laughter to alert them to someone else’s presence.
There was only death, sudden death, in a large green minivan and a woman on her cell phone.
Later, the authorities would express their surprise at the strength of the explosion. Later, the police would wonder how a car and a minivan going opposite directions and slamming into each other could create such a magnificent accident. Later, the coroners would proclaim there was not enough evidence to rightfully identify the victims. Later, Rowan would wonder why he stood there watching the whole thing.
But then, in that innocent moment between citizens passing each other by, and an accident gone horribly wrong, there was only the confusion of the timing and the fear of the outcome. There was no one questioning the witnesses or examining the burnt remains of the vehicles. There were only squealing tires and slamming brakes and lives passing before startled, haunted eyes.
The minivan crashed into the car head-on. Why it happened, no one knew, save Rowan who claims she didn’t stop and the car didn’t slow down. All they could say was that they crashed together so violently that the woman’s cell phone flew from her hand, falling out the open window to skitter across the ground and spin innocently at Rowan’s feet.
Somehow the van plowed the car into a nearby building. The moment was fast and furious and had no reason to listen to logic. It knew only the building that was hit, and the family that was cooking in that apartment with their window open. It knew only the faulty gas lines that may have been at fault for the resulting explosion.
It knew only the screams of the victims and the dial tone of a forgotten cell phone.
In the span of a few seconds, the scene went from a normal walk through the streets to an exploding apartment building and a fire raging through two broken, bitter vehicles. Rowan, across the street, was watching this all with wide grey-green eyes. When the shockwave crashed into him he was thrown against a fence and battered with blistering heat and debris that showered him with cuts and bruises.
Later, the doctors would wonder how he made it out alive, the only survivor to a freak accident. Later, the doctors would ask how he felt and why his eyes didn’t meet.
Later, the doctors would proclaim him blind in his right eye, and would stitch up his wounds. Later, they would send him home, alone once more, now only able to see half the world half as well.
Some said it was impossible that Rowan should lose sight in one eye and not the other. Some said the car and van should not have caused such an explosion. Some said Rowan should not have even been hit by a shockwave while others said Rowan should have been killed. Some said the buildings nearby should have gone up in flames, some said the buildings nearby should have exploded. Some said this could not have happened, for it was too fictional, too much like a story one sees made into a television movie so middle-aged women can cry over their half-mixed cookie batter.
Some said all this, but Rowan merely pulled back the jagged hair he let fall over the right side of his face. He stared at them with one glimmering grey-green eye, and one blank grey eye, dull and lifeless and utterly blind.
Some said, then, that Rowan saw the future in one eye and the past in the other. They said he was destined to watch that moment repeatedly with his blinded right eye, as he witnessed the death of twenty-seven people and the destruction of so many lives. Some said, maybe, Rowan was watching their souls ascend to Heaven in one brilliant, blinding second that forever would steal his sight from this world and hold it captive in the realm of spirits.
Some said this, but Rowan told them God did not exist. Some said this, but Rowan ignored them.
* * * *
The snow was bright against her eyes as Jessica stepped out onto the driveway. Her coat hung barely past her waist, but it was overly large and filled with down. Her ears were covered in a headband that held her semi-curly brown hair away from bright and anxious blue eyes. Her hands were encased in burning gloves fresh from the dryer and her lips were covered in SPF-15 chapstick, claiming to help prevent and heal dry, chapped, and sunburned lips.
Like always, she turned to smile up at the second-story window, her breath making crystalline fog clouding her features. Her smile was brilliant and hopeful, like it was every year, and just as always she lifted her hand in a familiar wave. She tipped her head, her loose ringlets bouncing against her shoulder and yearning toward the frosted ground twinkling at her feet. Her hand came to her lips and was held out as she blew a loving kiss up to her boyfriend once more.
With a playful laugh that tinkled through their faulty window and fell upon her soul mate’s ears, she opened the car door, jumped in, and started the ritual anew for this year. The engine revved, the gears were shifted, and the gas pedal was pressed. With cautious eyes, Jessica watched her mirrors and twisted in her seat as she backed away from the house. Over the lumps of snow piled at the joining of the street and their driveway, her car bounced then balanced itself on the still somewhat-icy road.
She turned again and smiled up at Rowan in one everlasting moment of love. Rowan wanted to remember that moment for eternity, holding it against his frozen skin and dead eye, but as always time shifted and the moment passed.
Looked determinedly in front of herself, Jessica and the car moved between those similar lanes of trees and cookie cutter houses as she passed through their suburban neighborhood. Barely moments later, she followed the street and disappeared around the corner on her way to the city and, she hoped, her father. Already, the exhaust from her muffler was fading from his view, dispersing into the cold winter air… almost as if it had never existed in the first place.
But it had.
Rowan knew it had.
And every year, when Jessica went to the middle of the city to search for her father, Rowan stood at the window with his forehead pressed against the merciless pane, his hand splayed against its cold surface, his one seeing eye clouded with fear, pain and hope.
He watched her go, and he wondered if he would ever see her again. He watched her go and thought maybe this time she would disappear just like her father did for her, just like half his sight did for him, just like his mother did for his family.
He watched her go, and he prayed to a god he didn’t believe in that this would not be a moment he would forever relive behind a lifeless grey eye, forever caught in the regrets of a twenty-six-year-old writer.
He prayed, and he watched, and he waited… He waited, and he watched, and he prayed…
Still, he knew his hope could be as unfounded as the freak accident seventeen years ago that no one remembered, and when retold people still disbelieved. He knew there was a chance he would never see her again, the woman he loved, the only one who could understand him.
He knew all this, but he trusted her, and he trusted life.
Destiny, he dreamed, would be kinder to him this time. Destiny, he dreamed, would forever give him the sight of her exhausted smile as she walked through the door hours later, hands clutching bags of purchases, eyes fighting against broken tears.
This, in the end, was all he truly wished for on these cold winter days as he pensively stood beside a window, watching his breath fog the world beyond with crystalline hope and frost-laden fear.
This, in the end, was his only winter prayer.
NOTE: This was originally written as a story to be included in a doujinshi compiled by a friend. It was accepted but the dj was never made. Below are the original author notes. This was originally written probably around 2001-2005.
About the Author..
__ (I NEED A PENNAME geeeeeez)__ is a loser college student who spends way too much time talking and writing and not enough time on legitimate homework. She loves to talk about herself in third-person (can you tell?) and has a thing against lying. And before you ask, her favorite number is 8… or 2… she sort of oscillates between the two.
Visit decisive.seldomly.com to read more about this loser college student and maybe let her know what you think… She dreams of someday being a real, honest-to-some-deity author. Wouldn’t that be fun? Yeah, she thinks so too. So she needs you to give her your opinion. And maybe she’ll babble at you about existentialism and the need for more smores if you contact her!
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