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ordinary lives

Heat and ashes

Stirring the remains of her spiced cider, Dania watched the couple walk towards the outdoor café, boots crunching on crisp fallen leaves. The two traded words through woolen scarves, their cheeks reddened from the cold or from an excess of emotion — it was hard to tell which. They looked like they were posing for a portrait on a Christmas ceramic, Dania’s ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend. They sat down not far from her, with their chairs drawn together and gloved hands clasped tightly. A sappy Christmas ceramic.

Dania stared at the dregs in her cider, bitter flecks of nutmeg and cloves. She gulped it down quickly, let the heat burn her taste buds until they were numb. And ordered another cider.

“Stings like a rug burn on the fat of your ass, doesn’t it?”

Dania swung around. Jake. Her ex-boyfriend’s ex-boyfriend. The hostility between them had once sizzled. Now Patrick had been filched from him just as Jake had taken Patrick from a desperately longing Dania. And now Jake was the one who looked like a corpse still walking.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“Same as you, mourning what was, or should’ve been, never fated to be.” He pulled up a chair next to her.

“I’m not in the mood for company,” she said tightly.

“Neither am I.” He sat down.

Dania glared at him, then returned her gaze to the new girlfriend with aching fascination. The delicate upsweep of her cheekbones, the innocence in her tiny face, the bright twinkle of her eyes that flashed a certain alertness of the mind — there must be a flaw, something to mar the beauty that had replaced her. Not that it would matter. Dania was numb, so numb, from those damned antidepressants. Nothing fazed her, nothing even touched her. The beauty and hell of it all.

Jake was unmoving beside her, fixed on Patrick with smoldering eyes. His yearning contempt roved over his ex-lover, the square hands that had caressed him, the thin lips that had kissed him, the frame of muscle and fat that had lain beneath him. Such a fraud relationships were, the pretense and masquerade. To be one thing on top of another — straight when you’re gay, gay when you’re bi — to be pleasured with a gilded tongue that later scorched you in the name of love. He reached a hand into his pocket, for the bottle of Zoloft no longer there. Years of habit were hard to break, even habits he’d given up by choice.

“The dead and the numb, watching the start of a new love,” Dania muttered next to him. “How pathetic.”

Jake looked at her thoughtfully. He played with the flame of the table candle, keeping his slender fingers in the fire until the heat forced him to take them out. A child’s game, he thought. Dania was right.

“Time to rise up, look beyond, live again once more.” He pinched out the flame and rubbed the ashy soot between his fingertips.

They both stood up to leave.

As they left the couple behind, the vices in their chests loosened ever so slightly. For hurt and burned as they were, discarded by another, who were they to cast shadows on someone else’s joy and happiness? They were learning to move on.

Vanitha Sankaran is presently writing a collection of vignettes, to be titled Ordinary Lives. Her recent work can be found online at Prose Ax, The Independent Mind, Orchard Press Mysteries, and The Paumanok Review. Her current print work will appear in up-coming issues of Mindprints, The Guild, and FUTURES. She is also an editor at the new e-zine flashquake.