Chapter 45 – Vivid
A strange calm set over me. The moment I’d anticipated for so long finally arrived. I assumed I’d need to quash the more giddy or gleeful feelings like in the days leading up to this, but now I found myself almost…serene. I could feel the world around me, the gentle breeze coming in from outside after it rustled in the trees, the gentle hum of insects as the sun came to rest and the stars came out to play. The cycle of the day continued on as if nothing out of the ordinary would happen, and for all the world, today was not any different from any other. And there I waited.
Hours must have passed, but the only movements I made were to periodically stretch out my limbs, lest they be stiff when the time came. Not long after darkness fell, I heard what I’d been waiting for. The thrum of the vehicle as it pulled into the driveway, and the sputtering of the engine as its power source was cut off. The quiet slam of the metallic door, and the sound of shoes clip-clopping their way up the paved walkway to the door; all through it I waited, my skin prickled in anticipation.
The door opened, and I saw the light flick on in the entryway from my vantage point in the living room. The footsteps now headed for the living room, and as soon as the lights came on, they started with a jump and let out a small yelp. I watched as their chest heaved from the sudden onset of adrenaline in their fright.
“Don’t scare me like that!” They swallowed while still trying to catch their breath. After they calmed down some, they asked, “I wasn’t expecting you, is something wrong?”
When I didn’t answer immediately, their brow furrowed, trying to figure something out. I just sat there, in their house, on their couch, my elbows propped up on my knees as my clasped hands held my head aloft. I wasn’t even looking in their direction. But they had no reason to be suspicious, not for the reason they should be. For my part, I contemplated what to say. Did I start off with pleasantries like nothing was wrong, or did I begin with the accusation? I knew before they came home what I’d wanted to say, practiced it over and over in my mind, but now with them in front of me, knowing what I knew, the words I planned to say escaped me. The heel of my right foot began to fidget up and down as my nerves got the better of me.
“Are you okay?” they inquired again after my long silence. My eyes darkened at their attempt to sound concerned, and my hands clenched harder to the point that my nails threatened to break the skin of my palm.
Finally, I settled on one of the questions I’d been dying to ask. “How do you do it?”
They seemed confused at first, and wondered aloud, “Do what, exactly?”
“How do you live each day like nothing happened?” My voice unintentionally choked up a bit. “Do you just pretend like everything’s okay?” I practically spat out the word ‘pretend’.
The confusion fled their face, and a pitiful sigh escaped their mouth as they looked upon me with warmth in their eyes. “Is that what this is all about?” They walked over and sat on the couch next to me. “Listen, I know it’s hard. I lost family that day too. It’s nothing compared to your loss, but it’s still the kid of my only sibling. I haven’t even had kids of my own yet, so I guess I kind of felt like a parent vicariously through you two. I mean, I always envied the relationship you both had, and I always wondered…what if I’d found you first, would things be different? …But, you can’t dwell on the past like this forever; eventually, you’ll need to move forward.” I could feel bile rise in my stomach at their musings of a happy life with me, and my whole body went stiff when they laid their hand on my shoulder in comfort. “I could help you move forward.”
The way their soft voice hit my ear triggered warning bells inside my brain. Sudden connections were piecing themselves together, and I finally felt as if I started to see the whole picture. “You…you were jealous of us?” I forced the bile down, eager to hear their reply, though I felt I already knew the answer.
“Well, yeah. I mean, you two had everything. You were happy, you had a kid, a house, a loving relationship as equal partners. All my relationships led to dead end streets and one way tickets to heartbreak.” Envy. The source of everything came from that one deadly sin. The deadly sin that took everything from me. “I mean, I finally have a house now. It’s not big or beautiful, but it’s mine, so I kinda get how it would feel to suddenly lose it…” They tried to sympathize, but it didn’t reach me. Anger boiled beneath the surface of my skin.
“Is that why?” I finally unclasped my hands, red marks indicating just how hard I’d held them together, and reached behind me. I felt for the familiar grip and slowly closed my hand around it—firm, but gentle.
The confused look returned to their face. “Why what?”
And here, the moment of truth. I almost bit my lip before I quietly said, “Is that why you did it?” I turned to look at them, finally. I’d seen them out of the corner of my eye, but now I finally looked them straight in the face. I could see their eyes widen as they searched my face, puzzled at the emotions they saw there.
This was the person that offered me a place to stay after my partner left me, but I’d declined. Whenever I needed help they were there for me. They always tried to get me out of my past and to face forward, but never forced me like the others. They were content to believe I’d move on when I was ready. They even helped me look for the one that set the fire. Of course they did. They did so they could make sure I never found out. But I did.
The already wide eyes grew even wider when the realization hit. “W-w-what are you talking about?” They stumbled over their words as their hand released its vile contact from my shoulder. I didn’t pull out my weapon, not yet. I turned my body towards them, leaving it in the blind spot by the side of my leg.
I didn’t bother to clarify myself as I repeated with more confidence and volume, “Why did you do it?” My head sank and I yelled, once again, “Why?!”
They reeled back from my sudden outburst, but didn’t stand up; a mistake. Their mouth was agape and eyes darted back and forth trying to think of an answer that could pacify me. Let them try. “I-I-I didn’t…I just…I didn’t mean to…” Their brain malfunctioned in a useless attempt to sate me. Seeing my lack of response to their quibbles, they came at me with a different question. They asked it in a very hushed voice, almost a whisper; the voice of fear. “How…did you find out?”
I raised my head to look them in the eyes, the calm from earlier in the day returning as my emotions stifled themselves. I came at them with a very clear, unwavering, almost placid tone, and spoke very slowly. “Does it even matter?” Of course it didn’t matter, only one thing mattered now.
The more calm I became, the more panicked they became. With my accusation hanging heavy in the air, for the first time since they saw me, they looked down, avoiding my gaze. “…no.” It came out at the end of a breath—a quiet resignation.
“No,” I confirmed. My eyes bore holes into their head as they squirmed beneath my gaze, the guilt finally showing itself on their face.
“I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…It wasn’t supposed to…”
If my world could be fixed with a simple ‘sorry’ I wouldn’t even be here right now. I’d be with my partner, embracing their love. Instead I was here, simmering in my anger and hate, confronting my child’s killer, someone I once called family. When I first found out they were the guilty party, I’d retched the contents of my stomach into the nearest toilet. I’d let them touch me, I’d let them console me, I’d let them into a world that continued to grow ever smaller. I’d been a fool. I would not be such a fool again, and no amount of remorse would grant them clemency. Not now.
“M-my life was in the gutter back then, I thought I would n-never be happy. And every time I saw your family, that terrible darkness inside just kept…growing, reminding me of what I didn’t have. I just wanted you…what you had. I-I only meant to burn down the house, I didn’t mean to kill ░▓▒▓██▒, I—”
All during their confession my heart never wavered. Their sobstory fell upon deaf ears, right up until the end. But when they said the name of my child, when they dared say that precious name with their dirty lips, it broke my calm, and the flood of my hatred poured out.
Like a snake’s bite, my weapon whipped out of the blind spot at my side and the blade sank deep into their shoulder, causing them to fall back to the empty cushion beside them. The rage fueled my muscles giving them more power than I would have thought possible. Blood erupted, staining the couch, and their surprised scream stripped away the charade of normalcy in the room. I didn’t even give them a moment to breathe as I launched into my tirade, “You dare, you dare, You Dare, YOU DARE SAY THAT NAME?!” I ripped the blade from their shoulder, pulling a stream of blood with me. “After what you did?!” I jabbed it into the center of their chest. I felt the sharp blade easily cut through the soft flesh and plunge itself into an inflated lung. “You are not worthy of that name!” I screamed at them with all the rage in my heart.
Terror struck them like a deer in the headlights, and other than quivering, they made no move to protect themselves, only scream as the blade penetrated skin. I saw blood begin to stain the fabric of the couch as I loomed over their body. The thirst for blood coursed through me; such a paltry amount was not enough, not nearly enough.
After the second stab they finally tried to writhe beneath me, to throw me off, but I had the advantage. They were losing blood, and with the stabbed lung, their breathing turned haggard. I could feel their heartbeat through my blade, thumping wildly against their chest in panic. Their mouth opened and screamed half-formed words in short gasps, ‘stop’, ‘no’, ‘please’. They never asked why; no, they knew. They knew what they had done. “You knew, you knew all this time!” Tears began to stream down my face, and I only noticed because of the sting of the salt on my cheeks. I ripped the blade out again, and this time aimed for their side below the ribs. I jabbed over and over again with increasing strength. I was losing my mind as I screamed at them. “You did this! You took away my family! You ruined my life! You turned me into this!! It’s ALL. YOUR. FAULT!!”
I didn’t even feel in control of my hand anymore as it continued to stab. I was detached from it, a stranger’s hand now held the blade. At some point, I don’t know when, they stopped moving, stopped yelling. Blood splattered over the carpet, over the furniture, over me. My haggard breathing matched the shaking of my body, and as my breathing slowly improved, the tremors also lessened. The knife slipped from my fingers and clattered to the floor. I clutched at my chest in an attempt to slow my wild heart.
Eventually, my heartbeat and breathing returned to normal. The villain of my story lay slain beneath me by my own hand. I looked at my knife hand, stained red, and expected to feel…something. Anything.
But I didn’t. There was nothing there but the darkening blood of my enemy. Shouldn’t I feel happy again? I finally achieved it, my one goal in life, I should be elated, right? But instead, I got nothing. No perverse pleasure in their death, no feeling of righteous revenge, it was just…nothing.
“……Ha…haha…ahahaha…Ahahahahahaha!” I laughed. I laughed because I didn’t know what else to do, because nothing made sense. I thought it would now, but still it eluded me. The laughter kept on, getting more ridiculous the more time passed by. I gripped my own shoulders trying to contain it, but it wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t make it stop. Maybe I didn’t want it to stop.
I think I already knew then what I’d find when it did finally subside. I would find me. And that would be all there was. Just me. Me with no purpose, no goals, no love, no life. No loved ones, no friends, no enemies. No more laughter, no more happiness, no more hatred, no more anger. Nothing else.