the short story project


Ariel York

Part I: The Day A Convicted Murderer Sang To Me

”Once upon a time there was light in my life, but now there’s only love in the dark. Nothing I can do, a total eclipse of the heart.”

I had to leave it to him, the convicted murderer sure could pull off a tune.

He just seemed to have any song lyrics embedded into memory, ready to sing at a moment’s notice.

”I almost sang Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ at karaoke recently, but I chickened out”, I announced. The convicted murderer loved karaoke.

And so, he sang it to me. 

That was after our greeting. When he walked out, I pointed to my forehead, and he kissed it. I kissed his, too. That replicated our first-ever greeting to each other, back on the Autumnal Equinox. We kissed each other’s third eyes, each other’s souls. Very spiritual. One might even say it was sacred.

He could be really nice when he wanted to be. The convicted murderer.

Believe it or not, he was the only man who ever sang 1950’s love songs to me. And I LOVE 1950’s love songs.

He did a lot of other things, too…

For instance, he named my shelter cat.

His name is Reggie, by the way. The cat, not the convicted murderer. ”Since you were going to adopt a dog named Archie, and you have ended up with a cat, you should name him Reggie. That was Archie’s enemy in the comics. The convicted murderer loves comics.

He picked out my front door color, Pinwheel Pink; ”Bubblegum was too pink, and Cotton Candy was too purple”, he said upon announcing his decision.

He reminded me to take my vitamins; ‘B12 complex is better than B12. And you should add B6, too.”.  (Clearly he had taken quite a shine to B vitamins.)

He read books with me. We were reading Sylvia Plath; ”But how do you KNOW she stuck her head in the oven? I mean, you don’t REALLY know. They could have said that as a means of selling more books…”. He remained unconvinced.

He also saved me. That’s right…the convicted murderer saved me. He really did.

It was a very dark time in my life. Isolating. I was a year out from surviving breast cancer, a newly-divorced. My family was a thousand miles away, my friends all busy with their lives, families, husbands. 

I was very lonely.

And the convicted murderer and I crossed paths, and became friends. And then, he asked me to be his girlfriend. And I agreed. He called the occasion, ”momentous”.

Shall I stop for a moment and put a name to the face, to make the convicted murderer, our unlikely and off-kilter protagonist, a bit more, oh I don’t know, human? Zubin. His name, for all intents and purposes, shall be Zubin. And should he ever read this, he will laugh heartily.

Life was good with Zubin. It really was. He called me everyday. We talked about everything, happily planned my next visits. He was my intellectual equal. We just…connected. I thought we were compatable in a plethora of ways.

He became a fantastic confidante, companion, romantic interest. I soon began to fall in love with him. 

Then, right before Christmas, I received a letter from him. He was suspended and could not use the phone or receive visits or email for thirty days. 

He wrote that we should break-up while he was on suspension, asking how many more children I wanted, saying he wanted two and there was a ”measure of incompatability…”.

A measure of what? I was stunned. Confounded. He had never even mentioned children before. I was only just about to tell him I loved him at our next visit. Couldn’t he have mentioned this then, let us have a discussion? It was so out of the blue. The last time we spoke, he sang to me. Said he couldn’t wait to see me the following weekend. And then…this? It made no sense to me.

Either way, I knew that I could never be involved with anyone who could so easily discard me, the minute a better opportunity came along, or on a whim without so much as a conversation. I was no longer in love with him. I did, however, still love him. Platonically. Love is not shaken away so easily. I wish that it was.

I had told him that I would have loved him unconditionally. Been unwaveringly faithful to him. Chosen him over anyone else, under any circumstances. Spent the rest of my life making him happy. I would have been honored to marry him one day. But still, that was not enough. And I knew that those were things I needed and he was unable to give me. I wanted someone to love me unconditionally, to be faithful to me, to choose me and spend the rest of their lives making me happy. Who would be honored to marry me. I deserve that, and so I suppose he was right, there was a ”measure of imcompatability” after all.

Now I know what you are thinking…why would you give so much of yourself to a MURDERER?  

I should mention that Zubin has been proclaiming his innocence for the past twenty four years. The last five of which have been in a psychiatric prison unit. Zubin suffered from severe mental illness.

There is often the question of the chicken or the egg; did Zubin always have mental illness, which caused him to kill, or did he become mentally ill after wrongful imprisonment? 

I had always thought it was the latter, but, upon closer reflection, the former became just as much as a probability.

I had researched his case extensively, and held steadfast in my belief of his innocence. His opponents had called him cold, cunning, calculating. A psychopath, a liar, a master manipulator. I thought that was ridiculous, until I found myself on the receiving end. Still, just because Zubin was a terrible, and I do mean a terrible, boyfriend, and person with a question moral-compass, that still did not make him a killer. But knowing Zubin, getting close to him, being the one he lied to on a daily basis for months on end, it did really make me wonder. I made me think that perhaps he was capable after all. I really did not know what to think, and that scared me. Learning the truth about him, our relationshop, everything, shook my belief system entirely.

I thought, intially, perhaps Zubin was going through some emotional issues when he wrote the letter, being suspended and all. I knew he had been seeing a lot of a foreign female visitor, whom he made up an entire story about. He told me day in and day he ”wasn’t interested in her”, she wasn’t his ”type”, he chose me. 

I had a visit planned for after his suspension lifted anyway, and told him I had every intention of still going and seeing him to say goodbye.

”Another girlfriend?!!!”, the guard exclaimed as I signed in.

Ex or not, it isn’t the kind of greeting one expects after a three airplane, eighteen hour, trans-continental journey.

”No, I am not his girlfriend. Not anymore. Are you referring to the foreign lady?”.

”Oh yeah. Her. And the other one, too. They’d both fly in. But they have not been around for a while. What do you see in this guy, anyway? I would really love to know. We all wonder. When we first met you we thought, ‘She seems so nice, intelligent. What is SHE doing with HIM?’. Really, were worried about you. Let me tell you something about him…he is a player”.

Shortly after this exchance I found myself sitting at the table, waiting for him to come in. Still digesting the news. Sure, we were broken up. And yes, I was not going wanting back his affections in any romantic regard. But this? Not one, but two girlfriends? Flying in? Coordintating our visits? I was livid. LIVID. But also, as one gains with time, I had patience. A sense of calm soon took over.

And there he was. He looked pretty rough, if I may speak candidly. His hair was oily and had dandruff and he looked like he was half asleep. His face had dry skin, his lips looked painfully chapped. His embrace was icy. Perhaps it was a maternal instinct, but I found myself wanting to scrub his hair, comb it neatly, give him a thick cream for his skin and vaseline for his lips. He looked like he needed some help.

His greeting was friendly, but his embrace was cold. Icy. 

”So…two other girlfriends, huh?”, I asked, disappointedly.

”Umm, well, yeah. But not anymore. I don’t have any girlfriends now. Who told you?”.

We sat silently for a while, which is when I noticed him rock back and forth more so than usual, fiddling with his hands as they made repetitive movements.

”Well, don’t you have anything to say to me?!”. I had broken the silence.

”I am sorry. I have regrets. I let things go on for too long. I was…fond of you”.

We sat there for a while. It was a short visit, since my travel time took so long.

I said I would come back the next day.

That night when I got home, to my rented room, I had a message waiting for me. From someone who told me all about Zubin, and just how deep his lies really went.

The next day, I was back at the prison. I wore a pink lace dress and black boots.

”You look beautiful. I like the way you dress. You remind me of myself, how I used to dress.”

”Oh, really?”, I asked. ”And how did you used to dress?”.

”Weird”, he said.

And so it went. For seven hours.

I poked fun at him, said in terms of procreating I would be more worried about him than me, saying that by the time he had the opportuniy he would be pushing 50 and undoubtedly have some sort of erectile dyfunction from age and all of the medications he had been on for years. 

He seemed surprised; he was impervious to the fact that certain medications caused fertility issues. As smart as he was, he was impervious to a lot of things. 

I said he was starting to get white hair, but it made him look ”mature”.

I said that he was starting to get ”a tummy”, but not to worry because ”a lot of men your age get that.”

Truth be told, having fun at his expense really amused me.

I wanted to say a lot of things to him, but didn’t.

I wanted to tell him that I baked croissaints on Christmas morning like his mother used to, and they were a success!

I wanted to ask why Franny lies to Lane and tells him that her copy of ”The Way of the Pilgrim” is from her library and is overdue, when really she got it from her late brother, Seymour’s, room. I mean, why lie? Am I missing something?

I wanted to ask what his favorite work of Shakespeare was. His favorite story from the King James Bible. He is an avid reader of both.

As one may imagine, it is easy to lose your voice when you are so taken aback by a situation.

It wasn’t just the shock of the lies, which turned out to be extensive.

It was also seeing Zubin for who he really was.

On the phone, in his letters, he bursted with charm and intellect.

But in person? 

The veil of charm and intellect was lifted.

The mask of normalcy removed.

And I could see Zubin in all of his insane glory, right before my very eyes.

I could not believe it. Really, I couldn’t.

He rocked back and forth, constantly.

He motioned with his hands, twisting them in repetition, hour after hour.

He blew air into his cheek, then popped it. Over, and over, and over…

He sat there staring at me, minutes at a time. Smiling, but a creepy smile.

Sometimes he would stare at me, stone-faced. 

Several times I asked, ”Should I go…?”. 

But he would snap back into reality, smile and say, ”No! Please stay”.

And so, I did.

Despite my anger, my disappointment, my frustrations with him, I felt nothing but pity for him. I still possessed the instinct to take care of him, and when I saw the lunatic before me all I could think was how I wanted to hold him and tell him it was all going to be okay and make him feel safe and loved. Even though I had absolutely no reason to. Even though he betrayed my trust, hurt me, used and manipulated me. Still, the love remained. Not romantic love. Just…love. 

”This is our last day”, I announced.

”Why? Do you have plans tomorrow?”, he asked, child-like and innocent.

”No, but today is the day of the lunar eclipse, so it’s the best day to say goodbye. Good energy and all of that.”

The irony is, I had booked that weekend with the eclipse in mind months earlier, because the eclipse symbolized new beginnings. I had no idea at the time just how poignant that would be.

We ate, talked. About Salinger books, independent 90’s movies, obsure music. If you needed to talk about obsure 80’s music especially, Zubin was your man. Twenty years could by, and I will still hear Huey Lewis and think of him.

The hours passed quickly.

I looked at the clock, it was after 7 o’clock. The visit ended at 7:30 p.m.

”It’s almost over”, I remarked. 

”Really?”, he replied, surprised. ”I feel like you only just said we had an hour.”

”How are you feeling?”, I asked.

”Sad”, he said.

”I am sad, too”. ”Sadder than I thought I would be, actually.”

At my request he sang me one last song. ”Sing one applicable to this moment, one fitting for a goodbye”, I told him.

And so he did. He sang, ”A love that should have lasted years…”.

I asked him to write down the lyrics on the back of our photo together, along with a message for me to read after I left.

We talked about a concept discussed when we first talked, as friends. About the invisible red thread, how it connects people destined to meet regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.

We talked about what we gained from our time together. I told him that whenever the opportunity to sing at karaoke presented itself that I would sing, and think of him. I told him about something I read on a tree trunk in his native city when I went there for a visit, written in someone’s garden as I walked along. It said, ”The past is the past, and the future has not happened yet. Only the present moment is real”. I told him not to live so much in the past, and not make so many decisions based upon the future. I told him to live in the present, because that is what is real and certain and true.

I told him that while it was unwise, in the clear light of the many lies he told me, of the depths of his manipulation, that we part not even as friends, that nevertheless I would always be there for him if he ever really needed me. He said he would always be there for me, too. That if I ever needed him, he would be there for me. 

”It’s time”, the guard announced.

We rose. This was it. This was really it.

”Don’t forget, only the present moment is real. And our threads will always be connected. If you ever need me, just tug on the thread.”

He kissed my forehead.

I kissed his.

We held them together for a minute. He thought the guard said we had to stop, so we did. But he didn’t say that, so he connected them again. I stoked his hair to the right of his face with my hand. We hugged. He held me tighter and for longer than I expected.

”Goodbye”, he said. 

I walked out to leave, the metal door slamming shut behind me, solidifying the finality of it all. He was on the other side of the glass, waving at me. 

I pointed to my forehead, and he pointed at his. 

And that was it.

The most beautiful goodbye of my entire life was given to me by a convicted murdered on a cold winter’s day, beside a vending machine and a trash can.

”There is a whole city out there with nice guys who will treat you right. You are young, beautiful, smart. You still have your whole life ahead of you. Leave this place and never look back. I have been here a long time and can tell you; nothing good ever comes out of here.” The guard was right. It hurt like hell to hear, but he was right.

I walked into the night air, the sun setting. The eclipse would start soon.

It was hard to walk away. I wanted to breath the same air as him once more.

So I stood there, outside the prison gates, the cold January air caressing me. Breathing life into me. Awakening me.

I turned over our photograph, cautiously. Nervously. I had no idea what he had written.

The very last sentence of his message to me read, ”Thank you for welcoming me into your life.”






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