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The Slip of Paper: A Short Story

The Origin

This story came to me in the middle of the night. I awoke at two a.m., the words “slip of paper” branded on my memory, and upon waking in the morning, 75% of the story had written itself. I simply filled in some gaps along the way so that it could be presented to you.

It is not a happy story, but the simple truth is that many people struggle to find happiness during the holidays, and writing cannot always be about sunshine and rainbows. I just go where my muse takes me.

Leaving home as dusk falls on the city

Leaving home as dusk falls on the city

The Pain

He reached into his right coat pocket. Felt the slim piece of paper, no more than a post-it note in size, and immediately felt the pain of intense heat. Cringing, he removed his hand and continued stumbling down 5th Avenue.

A mist was falling, reflected in the street lights and car headlights, a chilly evening, mid-thirties, breaths from shoppers pluming into the dark night, heads scrunched into heavy coats, eyes downcast, their pace quickening with thoughts of home and comfortable warmth.

Cardboard shacks leaned against storefronts, their inhabitants buried within under threadbare blankets, passed out from fortified booze or the cruel kiss of the Mexican horse. Prostitutes stood guard on the street corners, their empty smiles attempting to entice the lonely hearts on that December evening, promising companionship, fifteen minutes of human contact, for those in need.

In the distance, a gunshot, or was it a backfiring car, hard to tell under the din of holiday shopping; still, window shades were pulled down, in choreographed fashion, in a number of lofts above storefronts, as though the shade itself could provide protection from a nine-millimeter slug.

He reached, once more, into his pocket. Once more the note burned him.

complete and total agony of the soul

complete and total agony of the soul

Against the Wind

A right on Miller Avenue, the north wind now in his face, no protection from it, eyes watering, nose dripping, a million little ice-pricks his punishment, memories swirling in his head, trips to Disneyland, the Magical Kingdom, movie night under the covers, making love until dawn, plans reaching into the new decade and beyond, camping under stars with lightning bugs dancing for their entertainment alone, promises and dreams and everlasting declarations, eyes flowing freely now as crowds disembark from buses, join the sidewalk throngs, movie theaters vomit the entertained, and candles adorn tables in restaurants, friends and lovers lean close, share secrets, gaiety abounds, dressed in greens, reds, and golds, the colors of the season, their season, not his.

The heat from the note radiates outward, he can feel it as his hand approaches, dips into the pocket, once again rewarded with sharp pain.

Bent forward then, into the wind, slowly progressing as carols are sung in the distance, as street-wise Santas, smelling of Johnny Walker, ring bells and thank passersby for quarters and dimes.

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye

Left on Ethridge

A left turn on Marion, the smell of the river finally assaulting him, coinciding with the complete lack of hearing, the sounds of the crowds muted, the horns, the garbage lids, the shouts of angry lovers, the hailing of cabs, the moans of the forgotten, all gone, replaced by a strange, unwelcomed ringing in his ears and the awareness of his heartbeat, increasing in volume, increasing in speed.

The chill invaded his jacket, far too lightweight for the time of year, punctured through his shirt, his undershirt, his skin tingling, and then numbness, spreading from his puddle-soaked shoes, splashed upwards in defiance of the laws of nature, his thighs, his waist, his chest, until the entirety of his body screamed for warmth, screamed for respite, screamed for someone to notice the depths of his frozen misery.

Only the note, wedged in the pocket, provided any heat, a searing reminder of sins ignored, sins festering, sins consuming, never to be rectified.

Her Name Was Marion

Marion, she had said, when they met and he asked, and he had tried, over the years, to be her Robin Hood, a love affair for the Ages, but only if the Ages lasted five years, the span of time it took for him to become too busy at work, to miss too many anniversaries, to forget too many other important dates, to drink too heavily, to berate her too often, to do all those things he had once promised never to do, all gone with the raising of a fist, a drunken flash of anger, an insane response to an innocent question, guilt flooding forth, spewing forth, like the projectile vomit of the Exorcist, overriding all the goodwill, all the fading memories, all the love once seemingly invincible.

The crowds thinned as he approached the bridge, the ringing still the only sound, the air thick now with decay, so cold now, so cold, her face coming to mind, the flowing blond hair, the quick smile, shy and yet enticing, the shine of her eyes when she said “I love you,” the childlike wonder on her face, the innocence, not even aware of her beauty, alluring with nary an effort, that mind portrait changing, a trickle of blood above her eyebrow, where his fist had made contact, the absolute look of shock and betrayal on her timeless features, his heart pounding a drumbeat as he began to walk the giant concrete span, the wind impaling him, the note searing him upon his arrival at the center.

The Note

There was no traffic on the old bridge that night, scheduled to be demolished in a month, barricades with flashing orange lights blocking vehicles, only room for brave, or lost souls, to squeeze by the barriers and push against the wind, high above the muddy, murky waters of the Ohio.

How had it all gone so wrong, so quickly?

Wincing, he grabbed the note from the pocket, held it up, under the faded overhead lights, saw the words once more, “I don’t love you anymore. I’m leaving,” words which prompted a search of the house, all her clothing gone, all her personals, two suitcases missing, her scent weak but still apparent in the bedroom, a photo of the two of them, happier then, accusing him from the nightstand. He held the note over the iron guardrail, released it, watched as the wind caught it and blew it outward, ten, twenty feet, horizontal, then caught by a downdraft and sank from sight into the darkness below.

He heaved himself up, and over, following the note into the night, into the darkness of his heart.

PLEASE

Thank you for reading. Please, if you suffer from depression, if life seems overwhelming and without hope, reach out and contact someone. There are solutions. There is help for you. You are not alone.

I have lost loved ones to suicide. Although I am not suicidal, I have visited the depths of despair, back during my drinking days, and I know all about the darkness of the heart. If not for friends and loved ones, who simply would not allow me to quit, I would not be here now to write this story, to plead with any of you, gripped by paralyzing sadness, so seek help.

There is help for you. You are not alone. Reach out. Make a phone call. Send an email or text message. Tell someone, anyone, even me if you want, that you are struggling.

Please!

You are not alone!

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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