the short story project


Kathleen Rock

The Space Between

She went out to the bar patio, drinking her watered beer and smoking a cigarette. She watched as the smoke curled up into the air and blended with the storm clouds. Her eyes were fixed on a small white wisp of cloud, contrasted against the darkest night sky. It rocked to and fro with the wind until eventually it dissipated and was gone. Like her. She felt that cloud in her soul. The cloud knew its purpose, the cloud knew what it was supposed to do, but the cloud made a mistake and went to the sky on the wrong night. The storm night. The wind took hold of it and beat it against the sky. Back and forth huge gusts of wind pummeled it further and further until it finally gave up and just disappeared. She choked back a tear as the door opened behind her.

She ignored the motion behind her and sat on the bench, watching the shadows from the highway skitter across walls. Her mind raced like the semis on the northbound. Everything her ex had said an hour before was rattling in her brain causing a headache. She couldn’t cry again, it had already been three hours of that. She could feel it in her but pushed it back down. Not again. That’s enough for today. Stay strong. Don’t let them see.

Although she wasn’t sure how much stronger she could be. The last conversation they had took it’s toll on her, beat her against the sky like the cloud. And that’s when her brain started doing it’s terrible dance.

Well you’re just garbage aren’t you? You have ruined every life you’ve touched. You are the reason the marriage failed. You are the reason everything is wrong. Every part of this is your fault and you know there is absolutely no way in your lifetime you’re going to be able to fix it. Because you’ll just make it worse. It’ll be fine for a few months, maybe a year, but then how else will you inevitably fuck it up? He’s right, you are a child, look at the list of things you need to change, the list of things YOU need to fix. Lock everything you want away. it’s the only way. Hide in a box. It’s the only way. You can’t fuck anything else up if no one can find you.

And the other dancer starts.

But wait. You’re not garbage. Yea you’ve made some mistakes but you’re human, it happens. He says you’re mean to him. You’re sarcastic, that’s how you talk to people. That’s not what he meant. But he didn’t give any examples?  Everyone saw it. Who’s everyone? He didn’t say. But you’re rude to his friends. You don’t remember when. You’ve always strived to be polite as much as possible. Aah but the camping trip. You were adamant about not wanting to go. And that makes it ok? You were scared. Paranoid. Doesn’t matter. You were a bitch. Your best friend’s brother died while you were there. But you weren’t talkative enough. What else? His friends and brother hate you. He said they don’t. You know better than that. What else? You spend too much time with your friends. Maybe you do. But you’re working. He doesn’t see that though. So why do you spend time with them? Because they listen. Go on. He didn’t. He wasn’t there. They were. What else? Why does he even want you back? If you’re such a terrible person, why would he want you? That’s the question of the day isn’t it. Because you’re his wife, because he’s alone. Because he’s stressed and needs a buffer. Because he’s alone. So are you. He wants you to change everything about yourself.

She snaps back, ending her inner argument abruptly to let more tears come. But they wont quiet. Not without a few more words.

He doesn’t actually love you for you. He loves the idea of you. The idea of a wife. He was mad for you never being there and then made you leave. How could he truly love you anyway? You’re shit and you fuck up everything you touch.

And here. Here is where she shuts off communication with people. Here is where she gets in the car and drives. Here is where she disappears for several hours. Here is where she cries herself to sleep and starts all over again the next morning.  Here is where she is scared to go out in public. Here is where she stops caring.

This is where he cares. He saved her six months ago. But her insecurities, paranoias, and feelings of uselessness came and attacked her. He took her under his wing, having been through similar circumstances. The two cried together, became closer in their own misery, two raindrops settled on a windowsill. As friends they were inseparable. They were the personification of Billy Joel’s “sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone.”

Neither of them wanted to admit what was actually happening. For months they had played it off as friendship. Lying to each other and to themselves that there was actually something much deeper happening. Both living in a constant denial that emotions had crept back in, no matter how high they built their walls. Each of them had their baggage, their guilt, their heartache. Each of them had their hesitation in moving towards feelings, relationships, even love. With their pasts haunting them at every turn and eyes watching around every corner, they wholeheartedly fell into the lies of simple friendship.


A silent pact floated between them. Simple rules neither of them had to say out loud. Sit on opposite ends of the table. Leave at least six inches of space. Only hold eye contact for a few seconds. Never say the words out loud. The rules became harder to follow as the months carried on. Each day she floated closer to him. Nights at bars he let his eyes linger too long.


But on that particular night, as she fought her demons and cried into her cigarette, he did not sit across from her. He sat next to her, closer than ever before. She looked up at him briefly and forced a smile. Breaching barriers, he gently took the cigarette from her lips and took a drag. His smile calmed her as they watched their clouds of smoke join together.

And there they were. Sitting on another dark bench outside another dark bar. Passing a foggy cigarette back and forth sharing the tar and the vapid emptiness between them. He fumbled in his pocket, bumping her arm.The slight brush of skin sent a message to the other that the silence was ok and that it will soon be broken. That brush of skin. In that brief space between them before the long awaited touch, they felt each other in their silences. He felt all of her. Her pain, her love, her passions, her confusion. And now in the silence he felt a slight gut wrenching fear. Should he tell her? No. Let the silence and the space speak for now. The space.

She looked at the black between them, his arm there, her arm here. So close and yet a canyon.

His voice broke the silence like a violin softly playing in the background of a movie. She closed her eyes for just a moment to take it in, and the space behind her eyes burst with color. The violins stopped and she opened her eyes, bringing them from the empty up to his eyes, to him. And it’s here the space closed. Here in the connection between them. Here in the mutual understanding that they were, whether they liked it or not, fucked.

He saw in her eyes that she falling. And she saw him falling too. And simultaneously they reached out to catch each other while pushing each other further to the edge. The catch: his hand slowly traveling her way and gently touching the top of her fingers. The push: interlacing of the finger. And here her throat caught, she felt her eyes sting, and he was beautiful. His thumb brushed the top of her hand. The most beautiful silent way to say we’re going to be ok.

We’re going to be ok. Whether it’s with each other or not. But in that moment they were together. In that moment they were exactly what the other needed. In that moment they exchanged their pain and tears and nicotine. In that moment, in his eyes, wrapped in his fingers, she was safe. Cherished. Maybe even loved.

They were both disillusioned with love. Two hearts trying to find each other while trying to lose what they left behind. How many broken pieces need to come together before something becomes whole again? Maybe it never would. Maybe it didn’t need to. Maybe they had just enough broken pieces to fit something together. Something new. Something beautiful.

Beautiful like him.

She knew he didn’t know how beautiful he was. The way he saw himself is not how she saw him. In his eyes she saw a wide sky of untapped potential. An entire world waiting for him to explore it. But there. Right there. A small ocean, black with fear and uncovered secrets. And she knew he wouldn’t let her in there. And that was ok. It was his ocean. His space. It was safe there for him, she understood. She had a space just like it. A space where he could throw all his darkest feelings and thoughts, a space where he could scream as loud as he wanted and it wouldn’t matter because the roar of the waves swallowed all the sound. She didn’t have to go there, but she could see it. And while she looked, she thought of her own. And there was the fear. How would she inevitably hurt him? How would she repeat the pattern of her own fuck ups on him? She didn’t want to destroy him. She couldn’t give him the pain of having to throw her into his ocean. She should run away.

And then he squeezed her hand, bringing her back. Back to him. Back to them. He asked if she was ok. She said yes. She asked if he was. He said yes. They were lying. And they knew it.

But they were ok. Even if not in the future. Even if not the past. But right then. That moment. That space. That dark bench outside a dark bar. Passing a foggy cigarette back and forth. Sharing the tar. And sharing the moment. The beautiful moment that was the beautiful them.

To her, the violins came back to break the silence. Rules broken and unspoken truths exploding into the open. In an instant everything changed. He could not keep the silence. He could not follow the rules. As the words floated through the air with the cigarette smoke, like the cloud, her mind raced. His voice.

“I love you.”

How could he? In such a short amount of time, how did he know her so well? She should have scared him off by now. He should have run when he had the chance. But there he was. And here she was. A hopeless undesirable mess, and yet he stayed. Why?

“I love you.”

A girl who grew up believing too much in fairy tales and romantic comedies. It couldn’t be this easy. It never had been. She had been thrown into a state of over trusting naivety. So she jumped at every sweet word every pretty boy threw at her. And once they reeled her in she was trapped in her fishbowl looking through the warped glass at the world outside her that could have been hers. They tapped the glass, they laughed and then they got bored. And no one saw her tears because she was already drowning. Then she would build the strength to jump out of her bowl, but land right into another one. Until she jumped out of the bowl and went careening to the floor where she lay dry, forgotten and unloved.

“I love you.”

He says that. But she knew one day he would get bored. That had always been the pattern in her past, that was all she knew. And she would hurt then too. He would never do anything to hurt her, he said. She knew he wouldn’t. Not on purpose. But one day, a seed of doubt will plant itself. He will become comfortable, it’ll become easy, coasting. The seed will grow. And then he will go. And she will hurt for a while. Just a little while though. And that was ok. She wouldn’t hold any resentment towards him, she never could. She would just adjust from fishbowl to floor as she had done before.

“I love you.”

What even is love? For years they’ve said it to her in passing, nothing behind it. Love is not sex. Love is not flowers. Love is not dates.

“I love you.”

Love isn’t a white dress, love isn’t just spitting the words out because it’s an obligation, love isn’t just having things in common. It’s deeper than that right?

“I love you.”

Love was him. Love is a deep understanding. Of what? Of being able to look into the others eyes and know exactly what they’re thinking. To feel that hole in your chest when they’re not with you. And not just to understand their words but also their silences. The silence is where all the complexities hide. Love is silence. In that silence she felt them. His joy, his pain, his mistakes, his laughs, his tears, his passions. His breath. There is such a deep understanding in another person’s silence. To be able to feel the everything about them. She ccould feel him in the silence. She knew him. His complexities, his layers, his fears, his pain, his joy. Him.

“I love you.”

He loved her. He felt her. In her silence. He could hear the poetry she wanted to scream. He could feel the desperate need to hold her. He could feel her holding back. He could feel her wanting to shout from the rooftop. He could understand silence.

“I love you.”

His soul.

“I love you.”

His silence.

“I love you.”

Her love.

“I love you.”

I love you too.


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