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Perishable Night

by Annette Aryanpour


2.00 AM

The night was thick with darkness, drowning out the life of the city. No cars in sight, no people to be heard, just white noise that crackled through the stillness. Aimée's saphire eyes were puffy and red. They followed the indicator across the fm band as it crossed station after station until it halted at a comforting monotonous voice that read the sea weather report in coded language. "Strong south-west wind, two knots per hour at 32É latitude." It reminded her of ... She closed her eyes concentrating hard on what she couldn't remember. This night was old and yet, she had to wait four more hours til sunrise. Two hundred forty minutes, fourteen thousand and four hundred seconds that were chained to her and weighed her down like a millstone around her neck.

I don't want to hurt you anymore.

Aimée wiped the snot from her lips. No more tears to witness for Sam.

I don't want to hurt you anymore.

She shivered. The hardwood floor was cold. Sam had put his arms around her so tightly that she could hardly breathe. She didn't want him to think that she didn't want to be near him, but she needed air.

I don't want to hurt you anymore.

A whole night of arguing, a whole night of tears. Now she was dried up. No more tears, no more feeling. Just that gob in her throat, hard and unforgiving. Aimée stared into space and Sam turned to the wall. "I can't do this much longer", he mumbled. "I really can't stand this anymore." He had a tendency to overemphasize a point already made. "I know. I'm sorry." Aimée felt the guilt chewing her heart into pieces, but that had never stopped her from making the same mistake twice, three times ... She knew she would wind him up again next time out of fear, because if she didn't, he'd roll over her and flatten her like a cartoon figure and that's why she had to be the one who barked first or else get bitten. He was bigger, he was louder, he was stronger. He was a man and she had to survive and that was the truth, depressingly so.

Sam held his head, sighing. "What's up, baby? Is your head hurting?" she whispered. He panted angrily. Aimée laid her hand softly on his forehead, but he pushed her back. "Suit yourself!" she snapped. The walls of the room began to close in. The ceiling slowly descended and the sidewalls inched forward. Soon they were boxed in by their immobility to give in. Aimée jumped to the window. The night air tasted of rotten leaves and garbage wafting up from the open trash cans that were lined up in the street. Slow wheezing traveled from the bed across the room. In ... out. In ... out. Louder ... louder ... until it amplified to a bestial snore. Bastard! He could make her so mad sometimes. She plunged onto the bed. The mattress shook and she hoped that it would wake him up. He only snored louder. A protest song for the wasted hours.

3.10 AM

The street light caressed his face. He was beautiful, but that night they had grown apart a couple of inches more and a pretty face could not fix it. She broke into a silent, violent cry. If only I could take everything back, she thought, the first word that set everything off and all the dirt that came after. He'd come home all smiles, a genuine happiness that she hadn't seen in him in a while. Someone else had made him laugh and it hadn't been her. She got mad.

"I am happy, happy to be. I am happy, happy as can be," a happy voice bellowed from the radio. "That's a real dumbass song!", Aimée shouted at the radio. Grandpa's radio never played silly stuff like that. Short were those precious weekends when she was dumped in front of her grandparents' house and grandpa picked her up and carried her inside. In the evening he sat her in his favorite armchair and switched on a big, wooden box with ivory push-buttons. "6.30 sharp. It's story-time," he'd say simply and she'd let her legs dangle. "Look, the radio man has turned on the light," she'd cry out, excited. Whenever grandpa turned away, Aimée slid off the armchair and peeked into the light of the radio, hoping that this time she'd see the radio man. Very tiny, she imagined him to be, and dressed elegantly in a black suit with bow-tie just like the musicians she had seen in the theater. No matter how hard she tried, she always missed him. She thought if she could trick him and get there a little earlier than usual, maybe she'd get lucky. Grandpa consoled her with a caramel and another lie. He told her the radio man was very busy as he had to read bedtime stories to all the other children in the city. She ate a lot of caramels in those days. Grandpa. Only a few things stuck with her. Memory was capricious like a butterfly. With a blink of an eye, a flutter of a wing, it was gone. She did remember his hands. He used to be a carpenter and the pinkie on his left hand had become a casualty to his profession. Grandpa also had flaky hands and when he shook them, the flakes snowed down on the ground and left a winter landscape. "It's the nerves," her grandma told everybody who cared to know. Aimée loved her grandpa, the radio and his flaky hands.

She pressed her eye into the green ON-light. To her surprise, she actually made out a movement and yes, there he was, the shadow of a man so tiny that only people in the know would recognize him. "Twenty-one years later I finally catch you, you little bugger!" she congratulated herself. Swiftly, the man swapped one instrument for the other. The flute for the horn, the horn for the bass. The bass for the drums. The man in the radio was an entire orchestra! If only she could hide away inside the radio and be his only audience. It could all be so simple.

"Come to bed!", Sam shouted from the bedroom. Hesitantly, she slipped back into bed. Sam smiled at her and for that she kissed him. Felt his tongue. The kiss had a foul aftertaste. Was it the taste of a relationship gone bad? Perishable love. Sam jerked his head back. "You taste like an ashtray!" Hurt, she got up from the bed.

"I can never do anything right."

"Don't even go there. Brush your teeth and come back to bed!"

"I'm not a fucking child. You can't just order me around like that!"

"Nobody is saying that."

That was the longest they had spoken since the afternoon. He sighed and opened his book. The bookmark dropped to the ground. Was life meant to be so complicated or is it us who cause wanton disasters? he wondered sometimes. Maybe we choose to live in misery, because the thought of happiness is just too unbearable. It was strange, though. For the first time in a long time he'd felt good. Just a simple event at the supermarket had put a smile on his face. There was a boy, young, maybe 2, in a shopping cart with a box over his head. "Gagaga, coo-coo, coo-coo," he said and soon a group of shoppers gathered around him. Sam found himself laughing with the other shoppers until the embarrassed mother pulled the cart and the boy in the box away. Everybody went about their business again, only Sam couldn't remember what he'd wanted to buy. Aimée had probably given him a whole list of things to buy, but his mind was blank and he settled for an apple. Just one apple he bought and through that simple action he felt a sense of lightness that made his feet lift off the ground. Where had all the spontaneity gone? Annoyed, he flicked through the pages. Somehow he remembered where he'd left off. They used to make love on a children's playground at night underneath the slide or in the car park or just get off the exit and find a quiet spot. They had the will and they found a way, but those days seem to be forever gone. The years passed by and their souls fermented. How long had it been since he'd done something foolish? He began to read and after the first couple of lines he'd already forgotten about the argument, the room he was in, Aimée. He must have read close to five hundred books since their first year together. Considering that he had lived only a third of his total life expectancy, he still had another thousand books to go. His eyes scanned and registered every single word. He hated leaving out words, superfluous or relevant. He would go as far as re-reading a page if he had to. Sometimes he would even read the lines in-between. His eyes got tired and the words somersaulted in front of him as if to fool him. It seemed impossible to catch them all.

It's her fault. He remembered Aimée, who was standing by the window brushing her teeth. The night was spoiled by nasty words and bad breath. He hated her smoking. In a few years the cigarettes would draw deep lines into her face and turn her teeth yellow. The glow of her skin would be replaced by gray and she'd breathe heavily walking up the stairs. He wasn't sure whether he wanted to stick around for that. Aimée watched the moon from the window. It wasn't quite full yet. A gust of wind stirred up a burger wrapper and lifted it up to her window. "I think I love him," she thought to herself, then opened the window and spat foaming toothpaste onto the street. "I love the fact that he writes neatly. I love the way he uses aftershave for special occasions. I love the fact that sometimes he misses a patch when he shaves his head."

"Why the hell did she have to spit out of the window?" Sam wanted to strangle her. Sometimes just a twitch of her eyebrow infuriated him. She was splendid, yet deep down buried in her round bosoms she was all but pure. He closed his eyes, drawing her breasts in his mind. He hated the fact that her vile language turned him on. "I'm gonna wash your mouth with soap," he used to threaten her. "Come and get me," she'd reply, which sounded more like come and eat me as she pressed her crotch into his face. He could have cheated on her many times, but no other woman cursed the way she did in that innocent kind of way. He could have left her, but he didn't have enough reasons to live without her. A life without her would be a life still worth living, but it wouldn't be the same. Inside his head African war drums pounded on the one truth he didn't want to face. He was afraid of losing the sameness, because he had been across the globe vertically and horizontally and he was tired of running. He just needed a rest. He bit his lip until it hurt and for a moment the pain relieved the throbbing of his head.

4.03 AM

Aimée closed the window. Sam put the book aside. He could never resist her for too long. Sometimes he asked himself whether she initiated an argument for the precious moment of reconciliation. How he hated the way she stood there with the curve of her neck exposed in the moonlight. Maybe if I just put my hands around that neck ... She twitched underneath his cold hands. Good girl, have a caramel. Nice. Nice, nice. Have a cookie. I don't want to hurt you anymore. Sam pressed his thumbs against her throat. Deeper, harder. If he followed through, the sameness would be gone. He didn't have to listen to the things she forced upon him with that mouth that wouldn't stop blurting out self-righteous gibberish about what he is and what he could be. They'd throw him into jail. It's not such a bad thing, jail. In prison he could read. Read, rest, read. Maybe he will read a hundred books a month. "Why are you hurting me?" her eyes screamed. "I don't want to hurt you anymore!" his lips cried. Sam turned his head. Her dead gaze scared him. What have I done? He gasped for air instead of her.

Aimée tumbled into darkness like a snow flake, a snow flake from her grandpa's hands. She felt herself descending from the night sky onto the glowing city down below. And as she passed storey after storey, window after window, she felt at peace. If only she was able to sit by one of those windows and watch the families sleep in their beds, hear their babies breathe. If only ... She watched Sam's red face and wondered if hers had turned purple by now. It didn't matter anyway. She was a snowflake, carefree, careless. Free. In the morning, people would see the tiny crystal by their window and announce that winter had come. Sam let her go. Aimée hit the ground hard. "What the fuck is wrong with you?" she sputtered first thing after coughing some air back into her lungs.

"I suddenly felt very passionate. Strangulation is a sensual thing. I saw it in a movie." Sam grinned. He'd lost control and it felt good. In a way, he didn't lie. He did feel passionate. Passionate to rinse the foul kiss from his mouth. Passionate to push back the walls that made the room so small and bent him over like an old man. Passionate to come home with a smile on his face and an empty shopping bag.

"Passionate my ass!" she said. A moment ago she'd been at his mercy. He'd held her destiny between his thumb and index fingers. A pathetic gesture that could have ended deadly. It didn't make a difference anyway.

"I'm gonna leave you."

"Haven't I heard that one before?"

Sam raised his arms to the ceiling and gave his back a good stretch. Aimée did the opposite. She crouched down in a corner and drew her long, dark hair over her face. Now she remembered what the monotonous radio voice reminded her of. "North-by-north-west, heavy storms and rainfall ..." It reminded her of going inside herself, the safest place on earth, and sometimes when she couldn't find her way around her insides, she'd let the weather report lull her to sleep.

5.48 AM

The night sky was turning light blue. Morning had broken like a cheesy Cat Stevens' song. Clonk click. Sam aimed at Aimée and pushed the release of his 1970s Nikon. She was still bunched up in the corner. He thought it was a funny picture with her hair over her face and all. Cave woman. No more nice, nice. Not even that pretty. He loved her more than ever before, so he drew her up by her arms, a rag doll of some sort, and led her to bed.

"The night is over, my love."

"Yes, it's over."

More Fiction:

~ Sundowning ~ Tanuki ~ A Way into the Woods

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