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Shadows in the Sea

Published on 13th June 2019

Originally Published on Adelaide Literary Magazine - Issue No. 24


She's like a wave; mesmerizing from afar, charming up close, and exhilarating when you travel with her, but deadly if you aren’t careful. And there she is, sitting across from me on a silver bullet of serenity.

Dark brown hair. Dark brown eyes. A face made of marble. A body made of clay. And a beautiful black negligée barely covering the threads that hide beneath. My best friend, stunning me with her smile. These are the things I see while the train glides along the tracks, taking us and all the others that I cannot see with it to the big city.

She throws her legs onto the seat that had laid bare beside me, and I throw mine onto the opposite side, mirroring the tracks below and beside us. My cheeks rise, and hers do the same. We start to talk, and the words curl and cross in the air like yarn being stitched into a new sweater. She makes me laugh, and I her. These nights are always perfect; these Saturdays we spend together.

When the train stops, we rise from our seats, wait by the door, and exit as it opens. She takes to the stairs, placing her hand in mine as her heels trace along the edges. It’s only when her feet seek stability that she looks for it in me. As the stairs end, so does her hand, disappearing once again, only to return later when the ground starts to shake.

Outside, the wind hits our faces, and her hair starts to blow. She looks at me in surprise, and then back out towards the cataclysm some call the city. Endless towers rise up from the ground, kissing the clouds, while cabs and cars alike crowd the streets, crushing the concrete. And then there’s the sound; shoes stomping, horns honking, sirens shouting, children chatting, sewage sinking, and everything in between. It all mixes together to form a stew strong enough to make the most durable ears go deaf. But to us, the sound is soothing. It makes us feel at home, and we swim through and flaunter on to our destination: the sky.

Walking into the hotel, I hold the door for her, follow the path laid out in front of us, and head for the elevator. Once inside, I hit the “R” button, rest my back against the wall, and wait. She starts to dance and sing in excitement, creating a crescendo of a once better song. I try to quiet her, seeing that we are nearing our floor, but it is of little use. She is a free spirit that can only be willed by a worthier warrior.

The doors open and the man outside them guides us to the true outside. Swimming through like sharks, we make our way there and take two seats. I order the strongest drink on the menu, while she orders something more fun. Turning towards me, she raises her glass in sync with her cheeks and her teeth start to show.

“Well, here’s to—rekindling our friendship for the—40th time.”

Her smile only widens with every word that leaves her. It's an infectious smile, capable of captivating even the most lost soul. My lips curl up, while my eyes stay sagged, and a few light laughs escape me. Then, after clinking our glasses and chanting our cheers, we take our drinks, down them just as fast as the elevator rose, order another, and race over to the railing.

Standing twenty stories high, eyes set wide, drinks in hand, it’s like we’ve stepped into a new existence. The city that sits below us is something else now. A different plane, it’s not the same when you stand above it. The buildings no longer loom over you like titanic tombstones. Now, at eye level, they exude a different kind of beauty. Each on their own is simple, but as a whole—as this crazed compound, this myriad of millions, sprawled together as one complete body—it's breathtaking. Yet all that changed was the angle of our necks.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Architecture.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Do you like my outfit? Do I look pretty?”

“Stunning.”

She says nothing in return. She never does. My time with her is nothing but a one-way street. I drive down it, faster and faster, never looking back, as if the road will change when I get to the end. But roads don’t change, and neither does life. You drive down that same road, over and over again, thinking it will be different this time, thinking you won’t crash and burn when you get to the end, but the road doesn’t change. There’s no circle at the end that’s going to magically appear and lead you the other way. The only thing that changes is you and your ability to see what’s in front of you.

“I can’t wait to live here. I love this city. I love being here.”

All I do is smile. And then, suddenly, she curls closer, puts my arm in hers, and rests her head on my shoulder.

“I love being here with you. I wish we could do this every day.”

With you.

“That would be nice.”

Then, she bounces off me, bulges her eyes out, and stares at me square.

“We should just do it. Yeah.”

The moonlight radiating off the buildings hits her as she transforms into a bewitching beacon of light.

“What?”

“Move here! Get a little two bedroom close by. We wouldn’t have to waste time on the train anymore. We would just be here. Every night.”

Standing there, thinking about, it was a nice thought, but I knew it would never work. On paper, it seemed almost perfect. Who wouldn’t want to have their best friend to come home to every night? To laugh with, talk to, eat dinner with, in the place you call home. But all it would take was one thing, one person, one hand holding hers, leading her through that entrance, into the place that was supposed to be ours, to place that paper on a pike and burn it where it was written.

“Maybe one day.”

“We should do it. What’s stopping us?”

“I mean, first off, we can’t afford it.”

“So, we’ll get better jobs. Something over here.”

“I also just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Why not? We already spend all our time together.”

I say nothing in return, staring off into the distance instead. From the corner of my eye, I can see her looking at me, her lips drawn down.

“Talk to me.”

“About what?”

“What’s bothering you.”

“Nothing’s bothering me.”

“Then why are you being so quiet? And acting like it’s such a burden to be with me?”

“I’m not acting like that.”

“You are. I give you affection and make this grand suggestion that I find so exciting and all you do is stand there and sulk.”

Is this who I am? Someone who needs to be pulled like a puppet in order to talk? Can I not just say what’s on my mind? Must I always force someone to drag it out of me, acting like I’m not aware of what I’m doing? Acting like I’m not the one playing puppeteer; manipulating them with these moods so that they’ll be the one to initiate me, instead of me initiating them. Is this who I am? A coward?

“I just...it just hurts sometimes to know that I’ll never be enough for you.”

“You are enough for me... I’m just not attracted to you in that way.”

“And, therefore, not enough for you.”

She stops looking at me and turns her head, staring down at all the other small people below.

“I don’t know what you want me to tell you.”

“I don’t want you to tell me anything. There’s nothing for you to. It’s like you said—it is what it is. And it hurts. But there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“I just wish you wouldn’t get so worked up over me. I’m not worth it, really.”

We stand in silence, slowly stirring our drinks. I start to ponder all the things my therapist has said. All the things my friends have said. All the things my damn parents of all people have said. And I start to think that maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s my heart that’s wrong.

“Maybe we should just end this.”

“End what?”

This.” I point to her, then myself.

“What?” Her heels are nearly digging through the floorboard at this point.

“I’m always going to want more, and you’re never going to feel the same. I just don’t think it’s worth it.”

“If you really cared about me, you wouldn’t be saying this.”

“That’s not true.”

“Well, it seems pretty clear to me that it is.”

“Why do you even care? You just said you’re sick of my sulking. That’s not going to change. You’re always just going to be annoyed by me.”

“I’m not annoyed by you. I love you. And I care about you. You make me happy. I just get frustrated that you get so upset over me. It’s silly.”

“I love you too, but I think it’s best if I just try and move on.”

My feet leave the ground as I turn from her vantage and plant my foot towards the entrance. As my other foot rises, she takes hold of my arm, forcing it to fall back where it was. Looking back at her, I see her eyes have started to swell with water.

“I don’t think our friendship is worth giving up on.”

Deep breaths.

“I can’t live on a friendship. Sometimes the only thing that keeps me level, keeps me projecting this false contentment, is knowing that I make you happy. I hold onto these small memories of your smile and these small spurts of affection like they're enough, but I can’t keep holding onto a happiness that isn’t my own.”

“So, you’re just going to throw it away? Because I can’t be everything to you, I have to be nothing?”

“I... I can’t—”

“You can. All you ever say is ‘I can’t this, I can’t that.’ It’s such bullshit, and I’m tired of hearing it. Tell me this: do you have fun when we’re together?”

“I do.”

“Then what’s there to be sad about? Look around. You’re in the best city in the world, with your best friend, and instead of enjoying it, you’re staring out into space, stuck in your head, acting like an asshole. And instead of just telling me how you feel, the person who’s always there for you, you just blame me and try and push me away. I know this sounds harsh, but what kind of friend would I be if I wasn’t straight with you?... I get it, okay? I understand it’s hard. But you have to understand that your behavior affects those around you. You've said all you want to do is make me happy, but when you’re in that mood, it’s honestly hard to be around you. I can’t be happy when I’m looking over at you and I see how miserable you are. How do you think that makes me feel? You think I don’t want to make you happy, too, just because I don’t also want you in that way? Because that’s bullshit. I wouldn’t be telling you all this if I didn’t care. Especially after all that shit you said to me.”

She pauses and takes a deep breath.

“We’ll get through this, alright? I’m not letting you walk out of my life.”

Brows furrowed, heart sinking, I stare up at her, into those hazel hollows, but the words don’t follow. So, she continues.

“You’ll find that person. You just have to have some faith. You act like it will never happen, but just look. Look.” She pulls me closer to the railing and we turn our eyes over the metal. “Look how many fucking people are out there! I know it’s cliché, saying ‘there’s so many fish in the sea,’ but it’s true! Just think of how many other pretty girls we passed just on the way here. One of them will be the one for you. It might not happen today. It might not happen tomorrow. It might not even happen this year, or in five years, but it will happen. You just need to hold on, okay?”

She always uses this analogy. Everyone does. But the sea is always darkest when it’s full, and I’ve never been able to find solace in the shadows.

“Okay.”

I guess there’s just no escaping this. This “friendship.” This prison. This endless pursuit. Traveling down a road that will never change. Maybe the only way out is just that. To crash into the end. To escape. To use the only method guaranteed to relinquish myself from this madness. She will never let you go. She will always ring you back in. You have to do the one thing you’ve always feared the most, yet fantasized about just as much. This pain will never end if you don’t. She will never be able to cure you. And no one else will be able to either. She’s wrong. There is no “one” out there, waiting for me, as I’m waiting for her. There’s only me. And I am broken.

Staring out over the railing, watching all the tiny people pass through as the wind ruffles through my hair and my best friend stares over at me, I stand and wonder...is this the way?