Tears of Salvation (By Cat Matchuk)
Hands instantly reach up, cradling a broken nose. No matter how tight my hold is, the blood still seeps through my fingers. It drips down my arm and grows cold against the warm summer air.
And this is the way it has to be.
With a heavy sigh, my hands leave my face to push myself up from the ground. I begin walking down the dirt road. Trees are silhouetted against the setting sun, and really, it’s a gorgeous town.
Except the crops.
The dry, dusty ground won’t let anything grow. It’s the town’s own little curse, and some people think I’m the cause.
In one swift movement I bring a hand to my nose, cracking it into place. It’s my best attempt to surprise myself. The searing pain pulsates through my body before turning into a dull numbness. My eyes drift to my surroundings once again. I watch as curtain after curtain begin closing. They like to pretend this doesn’t happen, that way they can plead ignorance.
Poor little, ignorant town.
The further I walk, the fewer houses I see. Small rocks crunch under my feet as I make my way up the driveway. When I’m up the steps and through the door, I know I’m finally safe for another day.
I feel the door vibrate against my back. They followed me home to finish the job. I must’ve been hit in the head because for a moment I consider opening the door.
“Devlin, are you okay?” It’s a woman’s voice. I rest the back of my head against the door and close my eyes.
“Never been better,” I mumble to myself.
Knock, knock. The wood rattles against my head.
“Devlin?” I sigh loudly before spinning around and pulling open the door.
A pale face hides behind red curls.
I stare intently at her as she brushes away the hair from her face. Even in a small town, I can’t recognize every single face.
“I work at the hospital.” Realization strikes me. I nod in understanding, but stand my ground. I can’t trust anyone in this town. “Let me take a look at you.” Before I have a chance to even open my mouth, she pushes past me into the house. I survey the bleak surroundings then tightly close the door.
She’s sitting on my couch with a first aid kit open on her lap.
Sure, I remember her.
“I dyed my hair if you’re wondering. Is there something wrong with your throat?” She asks me, looking up from her lap.
She takes out a pair of latex gloves and laughs.
“Nevermind. You’re just very quiet.”
“I’m not exactly Mr. Popular.”
“I always thought to myself, ‘why doesn’t this guy just leave the town. Pack up and move far away.’”
“You know why,” I reply, which seems to shut her up right away.
I stand my ground in the doorway. Is this a normal conversation, or something more? Something else. I sway awkwardly on my feet, making sure my eyes follow her every move.
“You don’t trust me?” She questions, holding out a gloved hand.
“No,” I tell her, shaking my head. And it’s that simple.
“My name’s Grace.” How nice. I just stare at her. I stare and stare and she’s looking right back at me. Her smile suddenly turns into a frown. She closes her eyes and nods, as if trying to convince herself everything’s alright.
Do I tell her everything’s fine?
Do I lie?
Instead I tug open the front door and motion towards the dimly lit street. She understands instantly and stands up.
“Do try to clean the wounds,” she tells me just before disappearing into the night. It’s a comforting isolation that surrounds me.
That night, I toss and turn in my bed. The thin sheets tangle tightly around me, binding me. I struggle weakly. My body lies in utter exhaustion, but that’s not the problem. The problem is my mind; I can’t find the off switch.
And Grace, I can’t get her off my mind.
* * *
Hospitals are so ugly. There’s a strong smell of disinfectant, and it’s covering up an even stronger smell of death. I would’ve thought I’d be use to this by now.
I clench the white roses in my fist. White roses are her favourite. She’s too out of it to even realize they’re fake. Her room’s full of white roses, you can barely move.
I weave my way through the floral maze and sit down on the edge of the bed.
“I brought you flowers,” I tell her, placing the roses on the bedside table. Beneath the piles of tubes, she smiles, her eyes twinkling.
“They’re lovely, baby,” she mumbles, her eyelids growing heavy.
I clasp my hands together on my lap and frown. It begins to get eerily quiet to the point where I need to break the silence.
“I met a girl.” I don’t know why I’m saying this, I sound like a naive, teenage boy. She doesn’t say a word, just smiles, and that’s good enough for me.
Silence fills the room once more. The nurse pokes her head in the room to tell me that visiting hours are over. She says this with a sneer so I hop off the bed quickly and stare her down until she decides to leave.
“Leaving already?” she whispers through cracked lips.
“Yeah, see you later, Mom.”
* * *
People throw things at me. Rocks. Food; tomatoes to be more specific. Tomatoes are never cliché.
Sometimes, throughout the intense pain, I pretend to cry. I drop to the ground, cradling my face in my hands and let out loud, heart wrenching sobs. Everyone around me freezes, standing in stunned silence.
Then my sobs turn into laughter. I peak through my fingers and catch each smile flip into a scowl. I laugh so hard my stomach begins to burn. That’s when I get hit with another tomato.
Grace is the face of this torment. She’s made a habit of waiting for me outside my door, asking me if she can help in any way.
I wink at her through my swollen eye, declining her offer.
Eventually the weeks drag on and I’m stuck in a dull repetition. Finally, I tell her,
“Okay, if you want me that badly.”
* * *
Here’s where I lose my mind, I’m in love. I love her.
She doesn’t just come by to patch me up anymore, she’s here for me. The urge to be together without any obligation, I think that’s love. Being together for several years, I think that’s strong love.
I don’t care though; do I even need a clear definition? Boyfriend, girlfriend. Do I even need to label us? I’m floating. I’ll sweep her off her feet and we’ll leave this town behind.
I check the display of my phone before sliding it back in my pocket. I’m sitting in the crowded restaurant. I can’t stop my eyes from drifting back to the door. She’s 20 minutes late.
30 minutes late.
45 minutes late.
The restaurant remains unusually jam-packed, like everyone in town is here. Metal forks scrape greedily across the plates, until I just can’t take it anymore. I push up from the table, throw a few bills down and leave the restaurant.
* * *
There are a lot of songs out there about broken hearts. Inside my heart is black. Inside my heart is in pieces. I never believed this to be true until Grace told me she couldn’t see me anymore.
“Did you cheat on me?! Is that why you didn’t show up?” The ring feels heavy in my pocket and my back seems to break from its weight. I had planned on throwing it in her face. Grace’s eyes dart around the features of my face, searching for something. I frown at her, dropping my arms down in frustration. “What the hell is going on in this place?” Her gaze is so frantic it’s making my head spin.
“Devlin…” she begins calmly, “there’s no way this can work out.” She presses her lips into a thin line and finally meets my gaze.
I plead for her to stay, but to no avail. I’m yelling at her retreating back, eventually I’m yelling at empty space. My own voice echoes back to me and that’s when I feel it.
Inside my heart is tearing in half.
I can feel the seam splitting open, and it happens slowly. Painfully.
My hands rub against my dry eyes. I grit my teeth tightly before slamming the door shut, causing the walls to shake. But it’s not just the walls, I’m shaking too.
I stagger through the rooms of my house in a daze. My hands wrap around a large, black vase which I raise over my head and throw to the ground. It shatters to pieces at my feet. I begin pulling books from the shelf, tossing them into a pile. I tug the shelf from the wall before kicking it over, watching it topple and smash against the hardwood floor.
I’ve created a pool of trash. My heavy panting eventually evens out and I fall backwards against the front door. Who knew losing your mind could be so messy? I hit the back of my head against the door before letting myself slide to the ground.
I feel the clenched fist banging on the other side. I pull myself to my feet and swing the door open.
It’s Grace. Her eyes are burning red as tears begin to well up. She smiles, causing a single tear to roll down her cheek.
“Remember me?” I raise a questioning eyebrow as my torn heart begins to beat again. I can’t seem to grasp the idea that all this is happening in one day.
Without warning she leaps into my arms, and I hold her tightly, bringing her body closer to mine. Her breath burns my neck as she leans in to whisper in my ear.
“I never meant any of it. They wanted to make you cry, and I couldn’t take a second of it,” she says. I’m struck by her confession.
“It’s okay, I mean…” I trail off, my thoughts are cut short. My vision blurs, I begin to blink rapidly. My eyes begin burning, hot and watery and painful. The salty tears glide down my face. The taste is bitter-sweet.
Outside, the sky begins to fill with grey clouds instantly, as if by magic. As if by fate. Rain begins to fall slowly, almost hesitantly. Each drop is absorbed into the dry ground, refreshing the earth’s thirst. The rain picks up, more and more. Faster and faster. The droplets bounce off the dead crops.
And really, it’s a gorgeous town.