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Prompt and Circumstance

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Is meaning intrinsic or achieved? Is philosophy forged or discovered? Explore hope, hopelessness, and all in between in this series of short stories. This series of short stories is chiefly a collection of my efforts to grow as a writer. In them, I experiment with a variety of techniques, styles, and tones from story to story. Underneath process, however, lies this pursuit: to map the mind of man and develop the implications of its ideals. Obviously, this is an unachievable endeavor, to completely comprehend the human soul. But I believe it is necessary to try. To journey while knowing there is no correct destination adds value to the journey itself. Enjoy these short works and feel free to critique. It is my hope that they cause you to reflect upon the natures of the characters' ideals as well as your own.

Drama / Other
Stephen Matthew Brown
Age Rating:

The Choice

“Right now, I don’t know if I should kiss you or shove you off a bridge.”

The words began ringing in my head, with tones of ferocity bouncing off every corner of my mind. No need to say it: she was angry. Luckily, we weren’t on a bridge. It was just the highway, not very far from any rivers or lakes, but far enough that shoving me off a bridge would be inconvenient. Probably uncomfortably awkward, too. What kind of feeling would that be, driving someone around that you intend to throw off a bridge? Is that an emotion specific to hit-men? Some taxi-driving-serial-killer should write a book...

A car zoomed past, swirling the snow around us. The gust of wind brought a chill with it, reminding me that it was December and frostbite exists. I instinctively crossed my arms a little tighter, doing my best to keep the body heat in my pretty-average frame. I looked at her as I did so, accidentally meeting her intense, unbreaking gaze. What was going on behind those eyes? Did she read my crossed arms as weakness? A barrier between us? She didn’t seem to be studying me, but it was impossible to know. Awkward silence ballooned between us, pushing aside my reluctance to answer. I offered a measly excuse of a comeback:

“Can I pick?”

She immediately rolled her eyes, briefly letting go of the grip she had on my own. “I don’t want sarcasm right now. Just your honesty.” Her eyes narrowed. “Why should I forgive you?”

I had no idea how to answer that question. Forgiveness wasn’t an easy topic for me - it was barely in my vocabulary, along with “geothermal” and “bullion.” I knew what it meant, but it wasn’t something I thought about, much less brought up to people. Now she had brought it up to me, of all people. This entire conversation just wasn’t going in my favor. First she wanted to kiss me, then shove me off a bridge, then to have my honesty, and then I have to stand trial to earn her forgiveness?

I quietly bristled in the cold. I looked at my hastily-tied shoelaces, the still-running car, the scarf I got her for Christmas--anywhere but her face. I knew I was right, and now I was angry. Why was her forgiveness some ideal trophy I needed to chase after? To compete for? What was so desirable about it that she thought she could hang it over my head and make me beg, as if I needed it? The questions welled up, finally spilling out. “What makes you think I want it?” I exploded.

Her face furrowed in confusion. “I don’t--”

“What makes you think I want your forgiveness?” The words I’d been wanting to say for months were finally breaking loose. “I didn’t do anything wrong! You said you wanted to meet up, to have closure, right? Well, here I am. Let’s do some closure--”

“Stop! Just.. stop.” Indignation rose in her voice, crackling over everything she said. “This isn’t what I wanted. This isn’t what I meant...” Her voice trembled a bit on that last word. I couldn’t tell if it was the height of her anger or another emotion. Surely she had other feelings, right? Maybe just complete regret for me, but something else had to be there. I just looked back down at my shoes, tracing shapes in the snow, ashamed for thinking I knew what was going on in her head.

She sniffled, quietly. I looked at her, trying to see if that “something else” had surfaced, only to be met with a solemn stare. Her next words were careful: “You need to go.”

Another car drove past. A blue pickup with a broken taillight. The snowflakes swirled again, settling on the ground just a few moments later. Maybe that’s all this was. Everything felt chaotic now, but it would eventually settle. Every detail, every moment would fall in its proper place, like it’s supposed to. I watched the falling snow drift follow the quick breezes down, landing on her hair and shoulders, taking its time to melt into the material.

“I--” I coughed unexpectedly, clearing my throat. “Don’t worry. I’ll go, I’ll head out.” She nodded, looking away. The wrinkles in her forehead seemed to soften. Bravery swelled in me. Would she give me a chance? Not to play with her heart again, but to earn… well, her forgiveness. I guess I did need it after all. “Before, though,” I stuttered as she turned back towards me. “We could hit up Barney’s again. Just for a minute. Maybe catch up.” Why were bars always named after somebody?

She shifted her stance. Her eyes cut back to her running car. “No, I can’t, I--” She stopped herself, shifting her stance, looking almost guilty for words she didn’t say.

I glanced at her car and finally noticed: the top of a car seat, sitting in the back. The air in my lungs immediately left me, my knees barely holding me up as I barely held it together. Everything in my mind rushed and churned. I tried to speak. “That’s not…”

“She is.” Her voice was frigid. The furrowed brow returned as she made her way to the driver’s seat. I could have sworn she paused for a second, ready to turn back. Maybe there was one inkling of something in her, some sort of compassion, or a thought of a second chance. But maybe that was just wishful thinking.

She sat down quickly. Before she closed the door, she placed an envelope solemnly into the snow. I only heard sounds after that: the door slamming shut, the ice scraping the tires, the car being guided onto the asphalt. They were gone.

I approached the envelope, each step more queasy than the one before. Dread planted an empty pit in my stomach, growing deeper as I got closer. I reached for it, wishing I hadn’t. The return address had a street and box number I didn’t know, but my hands didn’t care as they tore it open. My eyes scanned the pages blankly, seeing the words but not wanting to accept them: sole custody.

Bile filled my mouth, and I swallowed hard, trying to anchor myself in some semblance of control. The snow continued to swirl around, but the beauty wasn’t there. Just the chaos of flakes running into each other from miles above, and eventually melting out of existence.

I should have picked the bridge.

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