How to Make Lemonade

                The lemon came to a halt from its dash across the grocery store to find itself resting against the toe of his shiny, black shoe. He had just gotten off of work and was still wearing a suit, his tie remained taut as though, at any moment, he might rush from the store and plunge into some corporate meeting.

                Linda strode toward him to retrieve the lemon. As she went she couldn’t help thinking how absurdly out of place he looked. She had hoped the list she gave him would have claimed his occupation for longer. Yet, there he was standing in front of her. She gazed at him for a moment wondering if her disgust was palpable.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yes Alec, I’m fine.” She replied curtly, bending down to retrieve the lemon. “I’m almost done, just finishing up in the produce section if you want you to go ahead and get in line at the checkout.”

“Okay.” He touched his lips to her cheek, lightly, before he walked away.

Linda waited until he was a few feet from her, staring at the back of his suit jacket as he went, before wiping the back of her palm against the cheek he’d kissed, her newly acquired ring marking a small scratch onto her skin as she did so. She glanced at the ring; it glinted in the fluorescent light of the store like a newly polished dagger. Taking it off, she slid the item into her pocket and finished up her shopping.

                As she approached the checkout she dug for her ring in the fabric of her coat. She placed it back on her finger, in just enough time for Alec to see her, the band was light, but felt heavy as it returned to her left ring finger. She rolled her eyes as Alec waved her over.

                They didn’t speak on the drive home. Linda pretended to be asleep against the cool glass of the passenger side window. She could feel Alec glancing at her intermittently throughout the drive. Opening his mouth to speak and then quickly deciding against it.

                At home, Alec asked if she wanted help making dinner, but she declined. She was tired and wanted some time to herself, she said.

                Linda riffled through the bags until she found the one with the lemons. She put them on the counter next to a pitcher of water and a bag of sugar. Making the lemonade helped her take her mind of Alec. She focused on the steps, lettering her mind go blank as she felt the skin of the lemon, the knife slicing it open, and her hands squeezing the juice out until she had exactly two cups. Once it was done Linda opened the refrigerator door and placed the pitcher inside it. She thought about tasting it, but didn’t, she had followed the recipe exactly, so it had to be perfect. The rest of the meal had been prepared in advance, Linda only needed to heat the components in the oven and wait.

                As she was finishing up the last few touches Alec reappeared in the kitchen. Linda felt his presence as though he had reached out and touched her, although her back was to him. She took a deep breath and turned around. 

“Welcome back” she smiled.

“Happy to be here” he replied, grabbing her waist and pulling her against him.

“Now, now, we aren’t married yet.” She scolded him playfully, pushing him off.

They ate dinner, laughing and talking effortlessly, almost as though nothing had changed in the past twenty-four hours. Yet, as they began to clean up, the familiar feeling crept back into Linda’s heart. She began to feel cold again. The ring on her finger became like a stone, strapped to her hand. She offered to finish the dishes, seemingly to be kind, but really to be alone.

                The kitchen was nearly spotless before she remembered the lemonade. She chuckled to herself, a little annoyed that she’d forgotten. The cold of the fridge was like a gentle caress as she reached in to retrieve the pitcher. She poured herself a cup, anticipating the cool, refreshing taste as she brought her lips to the glass. Surprise washed over her face when she drank. The lemonade was sour. For a moment she considered consolidating the glass back into the pitcher, adding more sugar and re-stirring the batch, but she had just washed the spoon. Besides, she realized, she’d need to add more water, which would mean dirtying another pitcher or throwing some of the lemonade away. She hated to be wasteful and she didn’t want to start over. She thought all of this in a matter of seconds and decided to just drink it sour.

                She brought the glass to bed with her sipping it one last time before placing it on the night stand and climbing into bed. Alec went to kiss her and she recoiled slightly.

“Hey, is everything okay?” He asked, for the second time that day

                She wanted to tell him the truth, that no, everything was not “okay”. The words burned on her tongue just as the ring burned on her finger. She’d wanted to tell him yesterday; when he asked her, but the words got stuck in her throat and she couldn’t force them out. She had to do it now though. This was her last chance. If she didn’t tell him now she knew that she would marry him. She had to tell him, she resolved to tell him, she opened her mouth to tell him.

“Yes, everything’s fine.” She said, reaching over him to turn off the light. She closed her eyes and went to sleep.

Sisters In Mind

She was insane, and I discovered it in the absolute worst way that one can discover such a thing. As I sit down to write this I think I always knew, but here in lies the moment, the day, the hour, the minute, the second, that I finally admitted it. I was alone at first. It was pouring rain that day, which wasn’t particularly unusual; anyone who’s stepped foot in Portland can attest to the fact that it rains nearly every day. I was walking as fast as my long, slightly too skinny, legs would carry me. Trying to escape the rain and her. I heard her call my name; she was running down the stairs from her apartment, slipping on that ugly orange rain jacket, as she went. “Alice! come back, stay a little while longer, wait for the rain to stop at least, Alice, please!” she said and

I remember I stopped. I stopped and I… I looked back at her and she, well, she smiled at me. A sad, dead smile, but a smile nonetheless. I just stood there, frozen, feeling the rain drench me, seeping into my pours. I stared for what felt like an eternity. Examining every inch of my, sorry her, face. Her smile was a tiny bit lopsided. Her hair, which was not quite straight, but not quite curly, invariably ended up looking like she just got out of bed, no matter how much she tried to tame it. She wasn’t perfect, which meant that I couldn’t be either. I hated her for that and every day I had to looked at her, and was forced to see a mirror image of myself reflecting back at me.

We were the same, the kind of twins where even if you’d known us for years you wouldn’t be able to tell us apart, our personalities, mannerisms, even the way we walked were identical. Our own parents would mix us up sometimes. I hated her so much it burned, and I had finally admitted it to her that morning. This is why she followed me when I left her apartment at 2:15 in the afternoon. Thinking back, I know she recognized how much I really meant it, because we always fought, but she never followed me. For the past 18 months our fights had been solely the result of the pills they made me take on a daily basis. She wanted me to stop, she wanted to help me. So she would leave, thinking that if I realized I was losing her I would quit. Invariably, she was always right. Yet, on this particular occasion she realized that tactic would no longer work, because I didn’t care if she was gone, I wanted her to be gone. I finally hated her as much as everyone else and there was nothing she could do about it. Ha ha I had won!

I was standing in the middle of the street. I wanted to move, but I couldn’t look away. It was like I was in a trance, permanently tethered to this inch of pavement. I watched as she walked closer to me, never letting that ugly smile drop from her face until she was practically standing on my toes. If I had leaned forward half an inch I could have kissed her. From the corner of my eye I saw the cab coming, quickly, too quickly, but still I didn’t move. Instead I said, “there’s a car” and she replied “I know” as she gently, so gently it was almost imperceptible, placed her hand on my chest, her middle finger pressing, somehow devoid of pressure, against my clavicle. We never broke eye contact. Even when she shoved me backwards I could see her glistening, opal eyes. I stumbled back a few feet, still not moving my eyes from her face. “Move!” I shouted just as the cab hit her. It never stopped, not even for a moment, the driver didn’t hesitate. It was pouring so hard I am sure he didn’t see her until it was too late, but after he hit her, he knew, of course he knew. Why didn’t he stop? I ran to her. I wanted to help her, but I didn’t know what to do. You want to know how I knew she was crazy? It’s because she never stopped smiling. Not even once, I held her in my arms as she died, blood poured from between her lips and she laughed a little. As I watched the blood mix with her hair, the colors so similar they were almost indistinguishable from one another, I realized she was laughing at me. I knew she was. I was in pain once again because of her and she couldn’t have been happier. She saved my life that day and I hated her for it. That was the last thing I felt, hatred. I tried to call an ambulance, but she grabbed my phone holding it tightly to her chest. I thought to argue, but what was the point? I knew she was going to die either way. So, I just stared, looking into her eyes, screaming for answers to questions I would never be able to ask. She had time to move, why didn’t she move? She wanted to die. She wanted me to see her die. I tried so hard to think of something to say. The tide of my emotions streaming out of me like waves, so strong I knew everyone from miles around could feel them. So, I said nothing, worried that I would regret whatever emotionally driven words might ooze out of my mouth, her blood drenched smile remained the only communication between us. I stared until the light left her eyes, until I felt her go limp in my arms, until that smile finally faded away from her face. Once I knew she was dead I called an ambulance. I drug her out of the street, onto the sidewalk and then I moved away. I sat next to her, put my head between my knees and felt. Nothing. I felt nothing. I guess I should have been sad. She had been my life long companion. I tried to feel something, some vague part of me desperately wanted to, but I couldn’t.

A week later, my friends and family gathered to celebrate her death. It wasn’t really a funeral, they were all so happy she was gone.

They always celebrated when she disappeared. So many times, in the last year and a half she had vanished from my life completely. She always stopped existing in my life because of the pills, she called me a “drug addict” and would leave me, alone, desperate, and depressed until I would stop taking them.

This however, was inarguably more permanent of a disappearance. Everyone spoke to me as if I were in shambles, but I really was fine. In the past I would search for her, I would cry and beg my relatives to tell me where she was. I say this because it did make sense that they all thought I would be destitute with her passing. They spoke to each other in thinly veiled whispers, saying that my apathy was an act, that at any moment I would break down and admit that I was crushed, but of course I never did.

I did however; give a speech for her, standing in a corner, staring at a wall, pretending someone cared enough to listen. I said “There is a connection between twins. We could always sense when the other was in pain, I knew when she had her heart broken the first time, I knew when she wrecked her first car.” One of my favorite lines from my speech was “that connection has not been broken with her passing, she lives on through me and for that I will forever be grateful.”. They pulled me from the corner after that line. It was honestly appalling how little they tried to hide their hatred of her. I guess they must have known how much I really meant that, how similar we really were. Maybe they even comprehended how much that statement was steeped in insanity. The thing I hate about crazy people is that they never admit that they’re crazy. I for one, know that I am not sane. Every day that passed after my sisters’ death I realized with increasingly prevalent urgency, the almost incomprehensible fact that we were intrinsically intertwined. I was she and she was me. Somehow, together, we composed a singular corporeal entity, yet maintained entirely contrastive personalities. I came fully into this acknowledgment, because when they interrupted my speech to the wall, I smiled. The same sad, dead smile that had marked her face the day she died.

I still take the pills and each time I take them I become more aware of my existence and the lack of hers. I have always perceived reality as existing in layers. I know that to most people she was never alive at all. Yet, to me she was. Everyone I know says I am a better person now that she’s gone. The thing is though that I don’t agree, I think she was better than me, I think that’s part of the reason I hated her so much. It isn’t fair that I get to live, and she must survive only in my hallucinations. Only when I stop taking my medication. So I have decided to do the only thing I can that does justice to her and to everyone else. I hope my passing brings peace to everyone who has been forced to care for me and by default her, our whole life.

I beg of you not to feel sorry for me as you read this. Know that what I am about to do brings me nothing but happiness. I smile now, the smile of a person who is finally free.

 

Red Lights

Few were aware of the book’s existence and even fewer had actually seen it. Those who had laid eyes on it had never been allowed to view the entirety of its contents.

Nevertheless, the story, affixed forever between the first and final drawings, had garnered a following which had endured for decades. A phenomenon which is best understood through acknowledgment of the inquisitive nature of human beings. Unanswered questions have driven people to discover gravity, atoms, electricity, that the earth isn’t flat, and of course, have led to the plaguing prolificity with which we peruse the contents of articles with click bait titles.

The story, which had gained such an exceptionally large cult following, was contained in a series of illustrations and their titles. The first of which appeared as the winner of the BP Portrait Award. The image was of a girl; the title was unconventionally long, a snippet of it is reproduced below:

“Drawing 1: Heaven kisses the earth where their feet touch the ground. They are as close to perfect as people can be. They are the people who are too good for this world. They are the ones whose motivations are so pure and their passions so just that they inevitably reside amongst those ten percent of individuals who actually change the world.  They are a light in the life of those who know them. They are destined to be great and no one begrudges it, because we all know they deserve it. The only person who dares to doubt them is themselves. They do not believe they are special; in fact they refuse the very notion that such a thing is possible, which only serves to heighten the adoration they evoke.”

The author of this portrait, James Addison, was not one of the aforementioned ten percent. In fact, he was distinctively ordinary in almost every way. He had average ambition, went to a mid-level college and worked an ordinary job. His life would have been completely unremarkable had it not been affected by two variables. The first was his unparalleled ability to turn led and paper into the most intricate drawings the world had ever seen. The second was his dorm’s coincidental proximity to that of a girl’s by the name of Mary Peterson.

Mary was the story. She was the light of James’ life. He devoted himself to her, he drew for her, was consumed by her secrets, because without her, he was the embodiment of mediocrity. This is in no way meant to convey that James used her to avoid being average. No, the whole thing happened quite by accident.

Their friendship was initiated under somewhat unusual circumstances. Mary and James shared a proclivity for seclusion, which was intensified in their collegiate years. James required it in order to draw; Mary pursued it in an effort to study. In Mary’s first year and James’s second, at university, they both found their haven in the old art building. This structure was essentially abandoned, the new art building was located across campus, leaving the old one empty until such time as the administration saw fit to repurpose it. On the particular occasion which resulted in their bizarre introduction, James was walking past one of the many abandoned classrooms inside the building, when he heard a sob. The sound halted his steps. He peered into the room from which the noise had emanated and saw a girl sitting on the floor. She was glaring at a substantial quantity of paper scattered around her with tears streaming down her face. James was immediately struck by how uniquely beautiful she was. She had high cheekbones and brilliant green eyes that were striking against the backdrop of her long, red hair. He stared at her for what felt like an eternity before she noticed him.

“Oh, hi,” she said, wiping the tears from her face. “I’m sorry. Am I? Are you? I didn’t know anyone else ever came here.” She fumbled, hoping that he would explain why he was staring at her, or better yet, walk away.

“I didn’t know anyone else came here either,” he finally remarked.

“Oh..” was the only response she could manage to articulate.

“Sorry, I just, I mean, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I.. umm, yes, I am, thanks.”

“Do you want help or something?”

“No, thanks, I’m just frustrated, sorry.”

James chuckled a little before replying, “Why do you keep apologizing?”

“Sorry, I don’t know, I guess I just assumed I was disturbing you, sorry.” She smiled at the ground before looking up at him and laughing out, “Oops.”

This shift of tone generated a slightly more welcoming atmosphere and was all the invitation James needed to enter the room. He walked over and sat on the floor in front of her.

“So, what’re you working on?” he asked.

“Chem one,” she responded, staring down at her notes. As she looked at them her face developed a far-off expression, as though contemplating something entirely unrelated.

“That class is awful,” James responded, snapping Mary back into reality.

“You’ve taken it?”

“Yeah, I was pre-med my freshman year, but I switched to graphic design over the summer.”

“How come?”

“I just prefer art and honestly, I don’t want to go to school for half of my life. I got an A in that class though so I’m happy to help. My name is James by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, I’m Mary. I’m actually about to be late for class, but I’m here every day if you want to study some time.”

“I’m surprised I’ve never seen you. I’m here almost every day, too. Yeah, uh, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, Mary. Same time?”

“Yeah, I’ll be here around 2:00pm. See you then.”

James helped her gather her things before watching as she exited the room. He would never forget this first encounter. How disheveled her hair had been; even the way she smelled would haunt him for decades after she ceased to contact him.

Solitude is only joyful when it is sought. Aside from which it becomes loneliness. The difference between the two is subtle in verbiage, but drastic in emotional implication. For the rest of that day after meeting Mary, James felt lonely. He went about his day, driven only by the desire to wake again to morning.

When the next day dawned, James was struck by the intensity with which he anticipated 2:00pm. It was almost alarming to him the extent to which he valued his next encounter with Mary.

At 1:50pm James began his trek to the art building. Walking in the door at 1:55pm, and turning the corner he saw her, sitting in the same position, the top portion of her hair intricately braided while the bottom fell in waves over her shoulders. He couldn’t help thinking that she was too beautiful to exist.

She smiled when he walked in. “I’m honestly a bit surprised you came.”

“How could I not?”

She raised an eyebrow, “Helping a little freshman girl with homework doesn’t strike me as overly exciting.”

To that James could only manage a shrug.

Mary laughed, and then paused for a second before looking up “You’re going to think this is weird, but do you live at East?”

“In the residence hall?” James replied, surprised, “Yeah, how do you know that?”

“I knew you looked familiar. I live two doors down, across the hall from you.”

“Really? That’s crazy; I can’t believe I’ve never seen you.”

“Maybe you have and forgot.”

“No, I’m pretty sure I would remember.”

Mary blushed a little and pretended to become re-invested in her homework, an action which James used as an excuse to move closer to her under the pretence of providing his assistance. Mary permitted the advancement, but, whether by mistake or design, believed it to be a sincere gesture to transition into studying. So, for the next hour, General Chemistry One became the only topic of discussion. This however did nothing to inhibit the small jolt James felt every time her hair brushed his arm, or her leg accidentally leaned into his.

Others may have lent less weight to this encounter. Thinking little of the event, different people may have enjoyed the moment and gone about their day, eventually forgetting each other entirely. This was however not the case with Mary and James. In one another they had found a kindred soul. Without ever formally confirming it, their study dates continued for two semesters, always at the same time and place. As did their proximity in residence, at the onset of their third semester of acquaintance, being their second and third year in college respectively, they both transitioned into apartments. Not at all accidentally, their dwellings were located next to one another.

They had become inseparable companions and James had grown to develop feelings for her that surpassed the boundaries of their friendship.

Here it could end. The reality however, is that the harshness of the world would never allow it to.

For Mary, this story ends on a walk home through the trees to her apartment. For thirty minutes in the woods the universe closed its eyes, and when it opened them she was gone.

An entirely new woman exited those trees. She mumbled to herself, hands shaking, her legs coated in blood, trying to pull herself together until she reached her apartment. Every step felt like a knife. She reached her door, fumbling at the lock for a few minutes before making her way inside.

“Now what?” she questioned her empty apartment, fighting back a flood of tears.

“STOP CRYING!” She yelled, “Stop crying” she mumbled.

Slowly, Mary walked to her stove, walking herself through the steps in her mind. She opened the cupboard above the sink and brought down the kettle.

“Put the kettle in the sink. Turn on the tap. Fill the kettle with water. Go to the stove. Turn on the stove. Put the kettle on the stove. Go to the cabinet. Take out the box of tea. Pick a teabag. Reach back in the cabinet. Get the sugar. Wait for the water to boil, wait for the water to boil, wait for the water to boil, wait, wait, wait…” she trailed off, nothing to do but cry.

The water was boiling. As she removed the kettle from the stove, Mary glanced at the water. She went over to the sink and poured the boiling water onto her hand. Staring at her hand for a moment, she felt, nothing, for a moment and then she started to scream.

James heard her and immediately came running. Bursting through the door he saw her standing by the sink, covered in blood and bruises, holding her burnt hand. She stopped crying, looked at him and mouthed “help me”, before collapsing to the floor.

For James, this story ends when Mary woke the next morning in the hospital. She opened her eyes. Looked James in the eye and with the utmost sincerity said

“I never want to see you again.”

James felt his face go numb with shock.

“LEAVE” she screamed “GET OUT”

He couldn’t stop staring. Like seeing a car wreck in slow motion, he couldn’t look away.

“Please” her voice caught, holding back tears.

“Okay..goodbye Mary” he said, backing towards the door. He glanced over his shoulder as he left. Hoping to see regret, a change of heart perhaps, but all he saw was her stone cold gaze. He walked dejectedly out of the door and down the hall.

As soon as he was gone Mary exploded into tears. It was irrational, even to her, but she hated him for seeing her like that, hated that he knew or could guess what happened, hated that she was in a hospital. All she could feel was hate. It was easier to direct it towards James. The alternative meant admitting that she hated herself. She shouldn’t have been alone in the woods, shouldn’t have left her pepper spray at home, shouldn’t have left her door unlocked so that James could find her, shouldn’t have burned her hand, shouldn’t have screamed, shouldn’t have, shouldn’t have, shouldn’t have.

Mary never spoke to James again. Upon her release from the hospital, she disappeared completely, abandoning who she was, who she had been, gone.

James tried to find her, for years, but eventually gave up hope. Yet he was determined not to lose her. Wanting to keep a part of her with him, he did the only thing he could, he drew. He drew and drew and drew until his fingers went numb.

Thus, the story was created.

He entered the drawings in competitions around the world; the titles were intended for her. He hoped one of them would reach her. That she would see them and contact him. But she never did.

This was how he won the BP Portrait Award and The Frieze Artist award to name a few. Together they became a legend, everyone wanted to know who the girl in the drawings was. A secret he never revealed. More and more pictures appeared in various places. People started to piece together the portraits and discovered that they told a story. Everyone wanted to know how this story would end, the beautiful girl captivated the minds of many, until one day she just disappeared.

This was the greatest trick. The world loved the girl in a way one can only love a person they do not know. He never revealed the night before her disappearance. Those terrible drawings were only for him. He showed the world only that which flattered her, he made her perfect.

James’ death revealed the pages of the book he’d never shared. These images depicted Mary’s death, the drawings showed her morphing into a hollow frame, and she was nothing, merely a shadow of who she once had been. The last page of the book was blank, but this too was an image of the girl. The title read “For Mary, the light of my world, I give you a page to contain an alternate ending. For the life so wonderful it couldn’t be drawn.”