IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME
A SHORT STORY
It was the biggest moth he had ever seen. He watched, momentarily transfixed as it hammered silently against the kitchen window. Its wings were two blurred clouds of motion, beating far too fast for his eyes to follow. Through the window he could see the full moon hanging against the velvet curtain of the night sky, and being the hopeless romantic that he was, he chose to believe that the moth’s bid for freedom was in the pursuit of reaching that scarred silver ball in the sky. In reality it simply wanted to be free to fly through the summer night air and find the glow of a streetlamp to worship along with so many others of its kind. But that reality was a lot less interesting than the story he imagined, and he preferred to think that its escape plan was for a much more exotic endeavour. He smiled at the idea, and sighed at the futility of it. Even without the barrier of the window the moth stood no chance of ever reaching its goal. It was an impossible feat, a mountain without a summit. It was the reason why he hadn’t gotten up and opened the window, releasing the moth into the night. He didn’t want to be the gatekeeper to its inevitable and crushing disappointment. It was better to let it hope than it was to discover the awful truth. In some respects he was similar to the moth, as his adult life had been consumed by a single minded pursuit, an all encompassing objective, the search to find the perfect woman. He had been unsuccessful thus far, though there had been several worthy contenders, women who were almost perfect but had fallen short of the mark. He wasn’t going to settle for anything less than perfection, just like the moth he wasn’t going to settle for slumming it in the lazy haze of a run of the mill streetlight. Why accept what is within arm’s reach when the Heavens promised so much more?
Pay attention you little ************** drifting again! His mother’s voice was a whip crack in the dark recesses of his mind. It was still as fresh and as hateful as it had been before she had succumbed to cancer when he was eleven years old, and no matter how much he hated her it didn’t alter the fact that she was right. Even though she was calling from the depths of Hell, the ***** still had a point. He was drifting, he was being rude, and poor Clara deserved much more than that. The girl in question sat at the opposite end of the kitchen table. It had been hours since she had uttered so much as a single word, instead she just sat frozen, her delicate lips forming a shocked ‘o’ of disbelief. Her green eyes that were once vibrant and full of love were now almost grey. Whatever light that had burned behind them had been extinguished with the breaking of her heart. He hadn’t wanted to do it, but he had no other choice. He couldn’t keep up the façade anymore, he couldn’t live a lie. It wasn’t fair to either of them. He tried his best not to appear condescending, he wanted her to know that he took no pleasure in what he had done, but it was difficult and the most he could manage was a weak half smile. He was about to play another hand in the long game of finding his perfect woman, but before he could move on he had to tie up the loose ends of this now defunct relationship. He tried to find the right words to say, pondering with an intensity that was almost Shakespearian, trying to conjure up an explanation that made sense and felt sincere, but he only ever arrived at the same place every single time.
‘It’s not you, it’s me.’ The embarrassment he felt at the sound of his own voice left hot, prickly fingerprints on his skin, and he felt similar frustration as he had done during past breakups. For some unknown reason he was always unable to explain himself outside of the same tired and worn cliché. It felt wrong to break down months of getting to know someone, learning about their hopes and fears, their secrets and those little endearing imperfections they kept hidden from the outside world and reduce it all to those five ugly little words. The phrase seemed to have been a part of humanity’s lexicon since time immemorial, just as much a part of our history as fire and war. For a moment he conjured up the image of a Neanderthal scrawling those words in whatever passed for language at the time onto his cave wall, much to the bemusement of his cave woman.
Focus you ungrateful little shit! His mother thundered in the back of his mind, dragging him out of his current fantasy and bringing him back into the room. Clara simply stared at him, as if she were unable to offer any measure of a response. She wasn’t staring at him, but through him as if he wasn’t there at all. He was thankful for her silence, as it afforded him the time to elaborate on what he was trying to say, even if the words still refused to take shape. It was a shame that it hadn’t worked out between them as on paper she had been perfect, but in reality she had fallen short, though not of her own doing. Every woman in the world was an exquisite creature of beauty in her own way, and all of the women he had ever dated had been no exception. His first Allison had been a free spirit, adventurous and spontaneous, with fiery red hair as wild as her personality. Then there was Jessica, she had a touch that stopped his heart in its tracks and could lift him from the deepest pit of despair and make him feel safe. Lexi had her tattoos, her body was a beautiful tapestry of ink, and he would sit and listen for hours as she talked fervently about how each tattoo represented a chapter of her life, both the good and the bad. Finally there was Clara and her green eyes. He never thought himself capable of swooning, but the very first time he looked into those twin pools of deep Jade he knew he’d found his home. Unfortunately that home hadn’t been a permanent one, more of a halfway house, that offered a pleasant stay for a while, but wasn’t enough to keep you forever. He searched her face for any sign of a reaction, but he found none. She just continued to stare through him. He began, stumbling over the words at first, but he was determined to see this through and close the door on their time together once and for all.
‘I really didn’t want this to happen Clara, you have to believe me. And I know it’s a cliché to say it’s not you, but that doesn’t make it any less true. You did nothing wrong my love, absolutely nothing.’ He wasn’t lying. She hadn’t done a single thing to ruin their relationship, not so much as a single misstep. But one day things had changed just like they had done before. It didn’t take much to bring about this change, he would wake up one morning and realise that the woman lying next to him wasn’t the love of his life anymore. It was as if something was missing, something he didn’t notice in the beginning amidst the throes of passion and infatuation. It was a lack of an x factor, and though he could never identify what this x factor was, he knew it immediately when he felt it. This realisation was always a death sentence for the relationship, his doubts were a cancer that spread quickly and without pause, infecting every part of their union until it rotted from the inside. He soon found himself cringing at her touch, and where he once felt excitement at the sound of one of her text messages, he now felt annoyance, as if her love was suddenly a chore. Their lingering kisses that had once made the whole world melt away were now quick pecks, and the periods between intimacies stretched from hours to days and into weeks. The little quirks he had once found so endearing now filled him with disgust, and with each passing day he found himself pushing her further and further away. A lesser man would have handed the blame over to her or justified his actions by claiming she had become predictable and boring. He wasn’t prepared to do that. He wasn’t like other men, who were weak and insecure. He felt nothing but indignation for them, he despised how they carried themselves, and everything about them was cowardly and repugnant. He absolutely loathed those kinds of men. He had no problem admitting that his relationships failed because of him, he was willing to carry that burden as a real man should. He took pride in his ability to accept the blame; it separated himself from the con artists and the pretenders, the men who treated love like a tool to get whatever they wanted. He felt guilty afterwards, but he never let that guilt hold him back, no matter how heavily it hung from around his neck. Guilt was just a natural part of the process, his price to pay and he knew that it would eventually pass like a summer storm. He had one goal in his life and he was going to see it through to completion, no matter what the cost. There had been yelling, there had been tears, there had been words screamed in anger just as before, but once again he had weathered the storm and when it all finally came to a stop he found the time to explain himself. He could have kept it simple, he could have just told her it was over, walked out of the door and left her to her own devices. He could have just called it a day and moved on, but he couldn’t do that. Clara deserved an explanation, it was the least he could do.
Well aren’t you a gentleman. His mother pointed out sardonically from somewhere in the dark, her words were fuelled by a loathing that matched his own. Watching her die had been the only joy he found as a child, witnessing her slow decay as cancer ravaged her body was his first memory of true happiness. He remembered taking a particular delight in spitting onto the old ***** coffin when it was finally planted in the ground. Every single part of that day was recorded and stored in his mind’s eye, preserved perfectly, right down to the smallest detail. The smell of the rain, the silence in the church, the look of horror on the Vicar’s face as he gobbed onto the top of the coffin, all of it had survived the passage of time. It was one of the few memories from his childhood that he visited on a daily basis; each detail was a succulent mouthful of an exquisite mental meal. Even thinking about it now caused a smile to dance across his lips.
You stole my life from me! She wailed from his subconscious, and though he could feel the hatred in her words, it didn’t hurt anymore. Her words were just scars left behind, as real as the ones that criss-crossed his back from one of her daily beatings with her favourite tool, a roll of clothes line. The scars were a part of him now, a reminder of the Hell he had survived and emerged on the other side, much stronger than before. He felt the rumble of his phone vibrating in his jeans pocket, and the lightning strike of excitement that followed caused his smile to suddenly widen. It was bad form on his part, and he immediately felt guilty. His guilt was rooted in the knowledge that he had once felt the same excitement for Clara when they had first met. He remembered fondly how they had crossed paths in the middle of a crowded dance floor, sharing a look as the bodies around them gyrated to the sounds of This Charming Man. He recalled the lust he had felt when she snatched his bottle of beer and drained what was left before handing the empty receptacle back to him with all the confidence in the world. The kiss that followed was magical, and the taste of cigarettes on her soft lips filled him with a desire that hijacked his senses completely. A night of furious passion followed, and his carnal needs were more than satisfied. The morning after, he watched her smoke a cigarette by the window. She looked out into the city wearing a Boba Fett t-shirt that was far too big for her, looking sweet an innocent as the morning sun danced off the slip of her bare legs. She was a far cry from the demon that had occupied his bed the night before. He found her to be absolutely wonderful and in that moment he knew for sure that he had to have her all to himself. And when he swept her up and felt her legs wrap around his waist, he knew she felt the same. But now, as he sat across the kitchen table and looked into her eyes, it all felt as if it had happened to somebody else, in another life. He knew that he loved her, but that love was only at ninety nine percent capacity, and that wasn’t enough.
The moth continued its desperate bid for freedom, but its efforts had finally begun to take a toll. After each subsequent burst of energy it fell back onto the ledge, and each time it got back up it took a little longer to right itself. It was slowly killing itself to reach its objective, and even though he knew it was a pointless endeavour he respected its determination, as mindless as it might be. It would stop at nothing to succeed, even if the cost of trying was death, and he took inspiration from that. Emboldened by this small display of defiance in the face of adversity, he leaned back in his chair, gathered his thoughts and finally began.
‘My mother didn’t like me very much. It’s not an exaggeration to say that she downright loathed me. She would remind me on a daily basis just how I had stolen her life from her, how my very existence had robbed her of her dreams and the chance of a better life. She would bombard me with criticism, off hand remarks, or hate fuelled rants, doing whatever she could to make me feel worthless and guilty. If she couldn’t hurt me with her words she would get a little more creative. She’d strip my clothes from me and with a piece of clothing line proceed to beat me until I bled, and if that wasn’t within arm’s reach, there was always a shoe or a rolling pin nearby. She was careful not to hit me in the face of course; we wouldn’t want the people of the town to think that I was being abused. But as hard as she tried there was the odd occasion where anger would get the better of her and I would end up with a black eye, a busted nose or a swollen ear, and if anybody noticed she would simply state that boys will be boys. Her only source of viable income was earned through entertaining the men of the town, mostly the factory workers, and drunks and whenever a gentleman caller would come around, which was quite often she would lock me in a small cupboard under the stairs. She told me that if I made so much as a squeak, I wouldn’t be waking up in the morning. I would spend hours inside that tiny little space, sitting in the dark listening to my mother make her living twenty minutes at a time. There was a lot of grunting, a lot of groaning and bumbling as another dreg rocked her bed with the rhythm of a drunken brick. My mother, like all other ****** was very good at making the right sounds, saying the right things at the right time to make the slab of meat pile driving away on top of her feel like a stallion. I could recognise all of her tricks after listening to her for long enough. She had her technique down perfectly, and I suppose I should give her some credit for that. There were times when her client would try to rip her off, or refuse to pay and if she gave them any lip she’d receive the back of their hand, or sometimes much worse. Of course, whenever this happened she would seek her retribution through me, I was an easier target after all. Eventually cancer got the better of her and she died, much to my delight, and after her funeral I was sent to live with her sister on the other side of town. My aunt didn’t loathe me as my mother had, but she didn’t love me either. I was clothed and fed, and she never so much as raised her voice towards me, but otherwise I was left to take care of myself. She would never admit that I was a burden, but I sometimes got the feeling that I was unwanted. My aunt was an unhappy woman, twisted by the hardships of her own life; I think the word barren was used during one of my mother’s many drunken tirades. Yet despite her unhappiness she wasn’t cruel or spiteful, she was just cold and when she died I mourned her death far more than I did for the ***** that gave birth to me. My aunt was the closest thing to a mother I ever had, but it wasn’t enough. I believe that love is every child’s birthright and I got the short end of the deal in that regard. I had a father who ran at the first sign of trouble and a mother who would have drowned me at birth should she have been able to get away with it. I was denied that love, and I have spent my entire life trying to find it. I can’t stress how close you came to providing it, you were almost perfect. But almost isn’t good enough, and I can’t settle for anything less than perfection. I can’t and I won’t.’ Clara didn’t offer a response; she just continued to stare in bewilderment from across the table. Her expression was one of abject horror, and a silent scream seemed to permanently haunt the edges of her lips. His heart felt heavy, and even though he would carry the guilt with him for some time afterwards, he knew that he had done the right thing. He looked to the window to see the moth now lying on its back, its wings fluttering spasmodically as its life force slowly drained away. It would never reach its destination but a part of him hoped that it could at least take pride in its efforts before the darkness took it completely. He took some solace in the fact that he was different and he knew without a shadow of doubt that when his own life finally came to an end his efforts would not have been in vain. He will go gently into the good night feeling the love he had been searching for. He was sure of it. A moment of silence passed between them, stretching into eons as he planned his next move. Then he pushed the chair back and got to his feet.
‘I’m sorry things had to end this way Clara. You really didn’t deserve this.’ He said as he crossed the kitchen towards the pantry door. He took a single key from his jeans pocket and slipped it into the lock.
‘I want you to know that I will cherish our time together and that a part of you will always be with me.’ He turned the key and opened the door. Inside, the pantry was shrouded in darkness, with one hand he searched for the light switch. Suddenly the small space was filled with light from a hanging bulb that swayed slightly. A pair of shelves sat in the centre, on the bottom of which sat three large, clear glass jars, and should Clara have turned her head at that moment she would have been horrified by what she saw. In the first jar, a clump of fiery red hair and scalp with ragged edges, in the second a severed hand and in the third, a piece of torn flesh decorated with a spiders web tattoo. In the corner of the webbing sat a plump Black Widow spider with a ruby love heart in the place of its traditional red spot. Each jar was filled with a thick, transparent liquid that perfectly preserved his little keepsakes, his tokens of love lost. As he regarded each jar one by one, he was filled with warm and happy memories.
‘It’s never pretty when love dies.’ He remarked to himself. Even at the sound of his voice Clara didn’t turn her head. She couldn’t, not anymore. Her head only bobbed slightly as he swiped the jar from off the table top and stared longingly into the dead girl’s eyes. He placed one long, lingering kiss onto the glass before finally placing the jar onto the shelf with the others and killed the light. He then closed the door and locked it, relieved that he had finally closed this chapter of his life. A new chapter was about to begin and with childish excitement he eagerly dug his phone from out of his pocket. A text awaited him and he felt his heart flutter when he saw that it was from Estelle. Sweet Estelle with her lip rings and the faded scars on her wrists. He longed to kiss her and taste her once again, and as he opened the message and read the words Can’t wait to see you xxx his smile widened. Overcome with lust and the anticipation of what this fledgling romance promised he hurriedly shoved his phone back into his pocket and snatched a jacket from a hook on the kitchen wall. He wouldn’t fail. Not this time. He was sure of it. Finally he walked out of the kitchen, turned off the lights and closed the door behind him. Silver moonlight crawled through the window, cutting through the darkness and the moth lay still under its gaze.