Once in a while, a story of uncommon power lands our e-desktops here at the Cafe. This is one of them. We think “Cherry Black” will keep you on the edge of your seat right up until . . . the end.
Biting cold slowly moves up my fingers as they hover just above the doorknob, not close enough to touch it but close enough to feel the cold radiating from the shiny silver metal. How long have I stood here, frozen in place? It exhausts me to even consider turning the knob.
A familiar sensation on my thigh distracts me from the looming dread of reality and before I’m even conscious of it, my hand has moved away from the doorknob to grab at this welcome distraction. I unlock my phone and open the messaging app I received the notification from.
Sender: Cherry. “I’m not sure if I should do it. Won’t it trouble my husband?”
Unable to come up with a reply right away I start to walk away from the door to think. The three stairs leading to the porch are covered in snow. As the steps creak from my weight I wonder pointlessly if the old, rotting wood will last much longer before we have to replace them. I don’t know why I would even bother considering it though. I’m sure my mother will deal with it before it ever becomes a problem.
The snow crunches as I make my way to the mailbox and start pushing it off the curb with my shoe. Around thirty seconds later I feel like I’ve cleared enough space and sit down next to the mailbox. I look at the freezing landscape all around me. Why is it that they call it a blanket of snow when everything gets so cold?
That’s no good,.I’ve got to focus. Cherry is expecting a response.
Sender: Black. “If he avoids you as much as you say he does then I’m sure he will be fine without you. Besides, it’s your life. You get to make the decisions, not him.”
After sending the message I sigh and watch the air leave me as steam. Cherry’s reply will certainly come soon so I don’t bother putting my phone to sleep. I opt to sacrifice the battery for the convenience of not having to press a button and enter my password into the screen. Weighing the value of a sliver of battery to my convenience, what pointless calculations. As expected it’s only a matter of seconds before the gentle shaking of a notification draws my attention away from my mind’s pointless wanderings back to the vibrant screen.
Sender: Cherry. “He’s usually home by now. I think he’s avoiding me. I’m doing some work around the house and had a fantasy about taking this fork I’m washing and just jamming it in the electric socket.”
Sender: Cherry. “It would hurt but the release would just be so wonderful.”
Two messages back-to-back. Probably a sign that she’s excited. She tends to get excited when she talks about ending it all. Just as frequently I find myself wishing I could feel that kind of enthusiasm toward something.
Sender: Black. “I envy your bravery. I don’t think I would be brave enough to do something flashy like that. I’m scared of anything that seems like it would hurt.”
Sender: Cherry. “I used to be afraid of the pain too. But after a while, I just stopped caring. Nothing could hurt as bad as my heart does every day.”
Despite myself, I felt a smile creep onto my face. Cherry always uses these cliches to communicate her feelings and I think it’s kind of charming in a way. I like the freedom of expression we share between us. The two of us can share things I could never say to anyone else. So when she tells me how bad she’s hurting I know that means she trusts me. Ah, even in these moments as she is hurting I’m finding ways to enjoy it.
I hate myself.
Sender: Black. “I’ve read before that people usually fall unconscious before they die doing stuff like that though. If you’re gonna do it then you should find a more surefire way.”
The last thing I want is for Cherry to try killing herself and failing. My grandfather, who had served as a volunteer firefighter when he was younger, told me a story once of a call he had received about a suicide gone wrong. Apparently, the man had tried to kill himself with a gun in his mouth but had managed to miss anything that would kill him, how I could never know. As my grandfather described it, the man’s jaw had been entirely separated from the rest of him but he was still conscious when they walked into the room.
I don’t know if that story has any truth to it but it did the trick: I’ve never once considered a gun as the way to get myself out of this hellhole we call life. If I go, I want it to be peaceful and easy. The pills I’ve been stashing as an escape plan of sorts give me comfort looking at them. That’s a way out that won’t have to hurt.
While waiting for Cherry’s next message (it feels like she’s taking a while) my mind wanders again. I think I heard once that men usually use violent ways of killing themselves. Does that make me feminine? Maybe that’s why Cherry is the only person I can really get along with. Although it doesn’t explain why I can’t even hold a conversation with my own mother so perhaps I’m just overthinking it.
A vibration in my hand brings my attention back to the real world once again.
Sender: Cherry. “I just read an article about that exact type of thing happening. I don’t think I’m going to fantasize about that one anymore.”
Now it makes sense; she was taking longer to respond because she was fact-checking what I said about the fork thing. Although now that I think about it I just took away one of Cherry’s fantasies she uses to cope with her horrible life. What was I thinking I was doing? Am I some kind of preacher? Forcing my values onto someone else? What a joke.
I’m just like my mother. We both try and make others like ourselves and just end up making them worse for it.
Deciding there’s no real point to sitting in front of my house if I’m not going in, I stand up and start walking down the street. Cherry sends me another message before I can even think of how to reply to her first.
Sender: Cherry. “How are you and your wife doing? Have you decided to break things off finally?”
An uncomfortable metal spike made of guilt lodges itself into my throat. Thankfully Cherry and I never speak over the phone because I have no idea what my voice would sound like if I was to try and force it out right now.
On the forum where Cherry and I first met, I pretended to be older than I am. A lot of people don’t take a high schooler’s problems seriously. If I went onto a forum and said I was a high schooler dealing with a controlling mother they would ask me if she beats me. The moment I say no they would never take me seriously ever again. Instead, I pretended I was a thirty-five-year-old married man.
But does my being in high school mean my problems aren’t real or valid? Every step of my entire life is dictated by my mother. I tell her I want to go into writing and she tells me it’s not a real career. Every time I bring it up she says that being a writer is why Dad left us. According to her the low sales and the debt is what drove Dad to run away from it all. But I think she’s just upset that she got stuck with the debt and the kid. It’s not my problem. If I’m successful then I won’t have those problems.
Just because Dad ruined her life she gets to ruin mine?
Shit, I got distracted.
Sender: Black. “Not well. I’m trying to find any excuse to avoid the house again today. One day I’ll find the courage to just leave this damn place, one way or another.”
Of course, in reality I don’t have a wife. Hell, I’ve never even had a girlfriend. But there was one day when I wanted to tell Cherry about a fight I had with my mother. I was just so frustrated and needed to tell someone, anyone. Deciding I couldn’t tell her that a grown adult who was married was still living with his mother, I just said the fight was with my wife. Since then, all of my complaints about my mother I’ve passed on to Cherry, claiming they are about my make-believe wife.
Without noticing, I’ve walked all the way to the end of the street I live on. The apple tree in the yard to my right has completely frosted over and only a bare husk remains.
A sigh slips out of me and becomes steam before my eyes. There’s nothing past this point, just a forest I really don’t want to go into right now. No longer can I pretend there’s any point in walking in this direction, in walking away from my house. I guess I have to stop putting it off and just go home. Even after reaching that conclusion, it takes a full minute to force my leaden feet off the frozen ground and toward the house.
Another excuse to stop moving arrives on my phone.
Sender: Cherry. “Remember that promise we made before? Maybe we should just do it. I don’t know how much longer I can wait.”
That promise again. Since we made it last summer, Cherry had been bringing it up with increasing frequency. Why had we even started talking about it in the first place? I think I mentioned hiding in the bathroom during class and that eventually led to a conversation about a singer who had recently died in a hotel bathroom.
Sender: Black. “I remember. You thought it was romantic how that singer and her boyfriend both killed themselves after writing half a poem in blood on their mirrors. You said that we should do that if we were both still unhappy in a year.”
The singer and her boyfriend had died in completely separate areas. One died at home and the other in a hotel half the country away. But each killed themselves in the bathroom. The woman wrote the first half of a famous poem, I can’t remember which, on her mirror with her own blood, and the man wrote the second half on his.
After she told me about the story, Cherry suggested we promise to do the same in a year’s time. She told me that we should use the promise as motivation to get out of our miserable lives, basically giving ourselves a deadline to make our situations better or else, but in the six months since then, neither of us had made even a single improvement. I remember promising I would start submitting my writing to get published. Six months later and I don’t even know the first step to doing something like that. It’s all just so overwhelming that I can’t even begin.
No, that’s nothing but a lie I tell myself. I could try if I really wanted to. I could ask someone for help, I could put myself out there. But I don’t. And I know why.
I’m terrified of trying.
Escaping from misery isn’t so easy. The misery I’ve lived in for so long is like a lukewarm soup; always unpleasant but never enough to completely break me. But I have lived too long comforted by this unpleasant stewing. My bones have started to soften. My existence is breaking down. I fear I can’t stand in the cold, harsh world outside my pleasant misery.
What if Mother is right? What if the moment I try, the moment I submit to something, I just get shot down in return? Laughed out the metaphorical door. I would freeze. My blood turns to slurry as the freezing rejection destroys me completely. No, I can’t. I can’t risk the cold, the rejection, the ridicule. I’ll stay right here, right where I am. I’m comfortable here. I’m comfortably uncomfortable. This misery is my companion. Not warm and rewarding nor cold and unforgiving.
Lukewarm and unpleasant misery I slowly rot away in.
A vibration shocks me into dropping my phone. Panic shoots through me and I rush to grab it out of the icy slush. My phone is my most important possession. If I were to lose it, I would lose the one thing connecting me to Cherry.
Sender: Cherry. “Yes, that one. I’m so happy you remembered. I think if it was right now I could do it, I could end it all. I’ll cut my wrists before he comes back and I’ll write the first half of the chorus to our favorite song on the mirror.”
Sender: Cherry. “If you do it too then people will know our connection. We’ll be remembered. It’ll be beautiful.”
Two messages again. She’s serious about this.
Normally this is where I would tell her to calm down and think this through. The cold rejection of the world outside my misery stew frightens me, but so does the alternative. Deep down I still have hope that something will change, that things will somehow get better. I’m too afraid to try anything but surely a time will come when things will get better. Right? One day I’ll find myself enveloped in a warm blanket of happiness all to myself.
But I’ve started losing confidence that my happiness will ever come. Instead, I feel as if the lukewarm misery has been growing slowly colder with every passing day. I can feel it, the rejection and the despair closing in on me.
After all, I’m in my senior year of high school. How much longer can I hide behind my dreams while pretending there are no consequences for my inaction? Sooner or later I’ll have to surrender my dream or face my fears and actually submit something. But what point is there to even try? I’ll have to give up on my dreams in the end and submit myself to some miserable day job where I slave my life away, unable to do a thing about it.
Plus, the longer I wait the more Cherry is hurt by her own toxic relationship with her husband. I don’t know too much about the guy but he seems like a real piece of work. He always hides from her and won’t ever tell her about what he’s thinking. The few conversations they have usually just turn into fights and screaming. But just like I’m too afraid to show someone my writing she’s too afraid to try and leave him. She says she’s too old to try and redo her life now, but I know. She’s afraid that even after she leaves him she’d still be unhappy.
And then she wouldn’t have anyone to blame for her own unhappiness.
Sender: Black. “Yeah, maybe you’re right. I’m pretty sick of all this.”
I promised Cherry that we would go together. Every time she mentioned a night when her husband didn’t speak to her even once I would feel a little guilty, knowing that if I had let her she might have already escaped her pain. I can’t hold her back anymore. But killing myself by bleeding out like that, I don’t know if I can do it.
Maybe I’ll just write the song in my mom’s lipstick. There should be some in the bathroom I can use. I still have the pills; they should be more than enough to kill myself and I won’t have to hurt that way. I’ll feel a little bad for Cherry but at least the message should still get across.
Sender: Cherry. “All right, I’m going to do it. I can’t remember the last time I felt this nervous.”
Sender: Cherry. “It’s like I’m a kid on prom night again.”
Prom night huh? I never got to go to my prom now that I think about it.
Sender: Cherry. “I’ve got the knife in my hands. Oh God, I’m so nervous. Promise me you’ll do it Black? I’ll write the first line and a half, you finish it for me. Then we’ll meet up again in the afterlife.”
Sender: Black. “I promise. I’m on my way home now. As soon as I get there I’ll follow you. I’ll see you on the other side, Cherry.”
After closing my phone I break out into a run. When was the last time I even ran? It was probably for gym class, but I guess but that doesn’t count. Unlike class, this time I’m running because I want to. I have something to do, a purpose. It will be my last purpose, sure, but it’s mine. Nobody can take this from me. This is my choice and no one else’s.
As I get to the base of the steps, I pause to catch my breath. I guess not running for a long time really catches up to you, huh? Oh well, it won’t matter for much longer anyway. But before I start up the steps my phone shakes in my hand again. I didn’t expect another message but maybe it’s a final goodbye.
Sender: Cherry. “I’ve done it. The blood is on the mirror. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to stay conscious. This is goodbye Black, I think I may have loved you.”
Attached was a picture, she probably sent so I could know exactly where to pick up the song when I go to write it. While the picture downloads I consider how to slip past my mom so I can make my way to the bathroom. Should I swing by my room to put my jacket and school bag in my room so it’s not suspicious?
As my hand reaches for the cold silver metal of the doorknob, I find myself hesitating again. Why is the simple act of entering my own house so terrifying? I imagine the pain Cherry put herself through to end it all. In comparison this is nothing. I can do it. I can face her one last time.
My hand touches the knob.
A few steps inside the house and the kitchen is on my right side. The stove is on and a few pots and pans sit on the various burners; something is even coming to a boil. Is that rice? Where is Mom if she isn’t here?
On my phone the picture finally loads and I see the bloody mirror. Clearly, Cherry’s hands were shaking as she wrote it, but I can still make out the first line and a half to the chorus on the mirror. A giddy tension bubbles up inside me. Is this what a high feels like?
Disregarding everything else, I run into my room and throw my jacket and bag onto the bed. I quickly reach into my clothes drawer and grab out the pill bottle I had stashed under my underwear, then run out of the room for the bathroom down the hall.
The door is closed when I get there. Oh, is this where Mom was? Well, that’s a pain. We only have one bathroom in this little house, so I’ll have to wait for her to get done. Feeling impatient, I decide to knock on the door, just to be sure she’s actually in there.
No response. I knock again, but still nothing. I guess she isn’t here?
With a shrug I open the door; it isn’t locked. I guess she really must be somewhere else. That makes me just a little sad. At first I thought I didn’t want to see her, but when I consider that I won’t ever see her again I guess I kind of wanted to say goodbye.
The first thing I see upon entering is the bathroom mirror on the right wall and also the poorly drawn red letters on it. It’s only then that I remember when I first heard that song.
My mom used to sing it to me as a lullaby when I was sick.
A weak voice from the floor calls my name. My mind can’t keep up with what is happening. When I look at my mom on the floor, a knife from our kitchen lays by her side gleaming under the bright lights of the bathroom. The contrast between the shiny steel and the dark blood on the blade is surreal. Is that really what blood looks like? Oh God, there’s so much of it. Slowly my mouth cracks open and I force a sound out from my tight throat.
Sender: Black. “Cherry?”
Sender: Cherry. “….Black?”
Her eyes start to close. I think the color is already leaving her face. It might already be too late, but I drop to my knees and try to cover the open wound on her wrist with a towel as my other hand desperately dials 911.
Even as I speak to the operator, my brain screams internally how this can’t be my fault. Surely it’s all some big mistake. But the warm, sticky sensation on my hand is all too real.
Over and over and over again I apologize to my mother, but as her eyes cloud over and lose focus, I doubt she can hear me any longer. Am I apologizing to her or just for myself? Yet another selfish, loathsome act I make while trying to act like I’m better than I am. I hate it. I’m terrified, confused, and alone.
But most of all I hate myself.
Levi Dodd is an amateur writer and professional game developer from the Pacific Northwest. He has a passion for language and music.
Great twist at the end.1.com
Agreed! Caught me totally by surprise too! 🙂 Jack