Coin Toss

NOTE: I am starting a small project called “Tales for a World Without Fairies”. I will try to write stories as they come to mind, in the rawest way possible. Eventually, I will edit and perhaps even rewrite them to compile into a short book with the stories which emerge from my wandering mind.


The first time I felt true regret was hopelessly surreal.

We spent most of our last day together with nary a word, unwilling to approach the uncertain future. We knew that when we reached the fork in the road, everything would lock in. The finale of our childhood story was being written.

As we made our somber procession side-by-side across the bridge, she suddenly ran ahead before turning back.

“Let’s do one more challenge.”

“… What?”

I reacted with both surprise and irritation that she would bring up our childish games. She seemed uncharacteristically thoughtful as she explained.

“Who knows when we’ll see each other next?”

“You said you were coming back…” My strained voice forced out a weak objection.

Instead of her typical carefree, smug grin, that smile exuded a serious air. An air of finality, of the end to youthful ignorance. Sorrow clamped around my chest, squeezing tears out of my eyes.

Her face flared with anticipation and she clapped her hands. “We’ll use a game to decide just that!”

I blinked, confused. “What?”

She searched her pockets. “Let’s see what I have…”

She eagerly checked her haul. Disappointment washed over.

“… Only a quarter.”

She scowled, then looked up with her usual excitement. Without warning, she threw the coin in a high arc.

“You get heads!”

Time slowed to a crawl as fate brought the coin closer and closer. It felt as though the outcome would dictate the rest of my life. As if a simple 50/50 would show the path before us.

No way could I accept that!

“No.”

My hand, outstretched to catch the quarter, fell to my side. The coin dropped cleanly between the cracks in the bridge. Her surprise at my act of defiance quickly eased into wistfulness.

“I guess that was pretty pointless, huh.” Perhaps her indifference back then was feigned.

“I dunno. It was the same as the rest of our games.”

We stood there, grappling with the weight of our situation.

“How can you leave me behind? Did all of this mean nothing?”

Of course, I did not say that aloud; I screamed it over and over inside, praying for our hearts to connect.

I stared her straight in the eye, and she peered straight into my soul with a commanding gaze. Abruptly, she turned and stretched her arms out, displaying the crossroad up ahead.

“The rest of our lives await!” She spoke with such hope. “So many experiences to be excited for, endless people to meet–“

She faltered.

“Plenty of time to make amends.”

She stumbled forward with a defined reluctance, as if she were on a plank. When she peeked back, her lips no longer formed a smile. No smugness, no odd sense of gravity. Not even wistfulness remained.

Close to crying, she waited for me to say something.

Caving in to desperation, I exposed my weakness. My powerlessness.

“I’ll write! I’ll call! I’ll visit! I’ll find you, I promise!”

Her laugh in response was charged with a sadness no infinity could ever express. “But you didn’t win that toss, did you.”

“Huh?”

She strode to where our paths would diverge, then halted. My mind screamed for my legs to move; they stayed frozen in place.

When she finally spoke, the strong person I had come to know appeared so fragile.

“Be happy, you hear? Or I’ll never forgive you!”

I watched her run to her house for the last time. Even though there was no point to say any more, I stepped forward to holler.

“Thank you for everything! I’ll remember you!”

She did not stop. Her body noticeably tensed up as she continued running faster and faster.

She left my life when she got out of sight.

“… I’ll miss you.”

I probably wondered if, down the line, this memory would eat away at me.

If I did, I was painfully right.


I return to the bridge on a chilly, overcast day completely unlike the warm, sunny day on which I had last seen her.

I lean on the rusty railing and smoke a cigarette while gazing out at the frozen river, lamenting how unfamiliar it seems from ten years ago.

How much time has changed everything, and yet how constant my spirits remain!

I look at the familiar fork beyond the bridge. Home is close: cross the bridge, take the left path, then continue until I reach my father’s never-ending stories and my mother’s delicious cooking.

I bitterly curse myself for getting into the habit of turning left.

I snuff out the embers dancing on the end of the burnt filter, then reach into my pocket and pull out a quarter.

One side is taped over. I inspect the revealed face and chuckle with self-pity.

Tails.

I never kept my promise. Whenever I think to find her, I remember that coin toss. Worse, I recall when I jumped into the water and pulled the coin out of the muddy stream.

Turns out, I’d lost. As expected.

I peel the tape off the other side of the coin and wonder:

“What if you were facing up?”

An incredible rage floods through my veins. I hurl the coin as far away as I can, then fall to my knees.

Through shimmering moisture, I see the snow and ice around me melt into the ground. I wipe my tears and glance up: the grey of winter has dissipated, uncovering a nostalgia-colored summer day.

Then, a most jarring sight…

She stands in front of me, holding a quarter.

I rub my eyes before daring to accept this magical moment. She smiles at me and tosses the coin in my direction.

“You get heads. Just like last time.”

I do not actually hear that long-forgotten voice, but somehow I understand.

I watch the quarter fly against a clear blue sky. My hands stayed at my sides. Unmoving.

“Catch it! Catch it! Catch it!”

My thoughts are frantic as I stand dead still, watching my opportunity pass by.

I think of those crushing defeats suffered at her hand, each one proving nothing could trump her skill and cunning. How ironic it is that in a game of chance like this, I have better odds than ever of winning. Of ruining that untainted streak of hers.

But what would that matter? Either way, we will soon be stepping into the unknown.

Once more, it seems as if a 50/50 will change everything.  In this instance of insanity, it becomes clear that it will.

Something tells me that I would be making the biggest mistake of my life unless I act.

“…”

The coin is falling right at the crack, like on that summer day ten years ago.

“Like I would deal with that regret again!”

My hand reaches out to catch it. On impact, the shiny quarter bounces off my palm and catches light as it tumbles towards the gaps between the wooden boards.

“No!”

The quarter barely misses an opening and rolls to the side of the bridge. As the coin nears the edge, my legs move of their own accord. I dive forward and hit the ground with a thud, reaching out blindly. As it rolls off the edge, the coin briefly suspends in time and space before gravity pulls it away from me. I stick my arm through the metal railings and swing my arm aimlessly, as if I can possibly succeed…

I feel a crisp impact and immediately pull my tightly clasped hand back.

I peer up at her from where I lay. I open my hand and reveal the result:

Heads.

She stands there wide-eyed, with tears slowly rolling down her face.

I stand up and stride towards her. I toss her the coin and she catches it clumsily. I offer my hand; she takes it.

We cross the bridge together, ten years after the previous time. With our fingers and souls entwined, there is nothing to say. We already understand.

At destiny’s juncture, we stop for a few everlasting seconds, enjoying the feeling of absolute peace. After a brief eternity, we let go of each other’s hands and go our separate ways in total silence.

But as I yet again turn left and the summer day fades back into a winter evening, I sense a distant message cut through the ethereal tranquility of this tragic sunset.

“You can be happy, you know?”

I choke up as my heart breaks.

“Yeah. Yeah.” I nod and brace myself against both the incoming cold and an overwhelming flood of emotion.

“I love you!” Her silent voice betrays much joyous anguish that it penetrates my entire being. I suppress the lump in my throat and utter the four words I always longed to say in response to those three of hers:

“I love you too!”

With that, she vanished with all other traces of that perfect, irrecoverable day.

I continue to the left, now with the lingering warmth of that wonderful eternal summer making this calm, quiet night that much more bittersweet.

WRITE TIME: Way too long

Coin Toss

Rhythm

NOTE: I am starting a small project called “Tales for a World Without Fairies”. I will try to write stories as they come to mind, in the rawest way possible. Eventually, I will edit and perhaps even rewrite them to compile into a short book with the stories which emerge from my wandering mind.


The days remembered with the most painful nostalgia are the first and the last days we see someone.

The winter wind blows against my shivering body, mercilessly whisking all the heat off of my skin. On cold nights like this, the sensation of freezing could be mistaken for the illusion of burning up. I move my hands to my ears and press against them gingerly, trying to warm them up while fearing that they might snap off.

As I take my now-aching hands away, I notice another person’s footsteps out of step with mine. I grimace. The sound comes from right behind me. The eeriness of having only streetlights as witnesses in this part of town lead me to hasten my step, in an attempt to outpace the stranger behind me. My legs make contact with the icy sidewalk warily, making sure that I will not fall. I step on a particularly slippery patch and slide forward the slightest bit. As I regain my balance, I listen carefully to my surroundings.

Quickened footsteps, matching the same briskness I was just walking at, which gradually slow down to closely match my current speed. I have the feeling that the stranger is walking the same distance behind me as when I first noticed his presence.

I turn the corner and take a peek back. The stranger is a young man with a serious but innocent face. He’s at a distance too close for me to pretend I am unaware of his existence, yet too far for me to stop and strike a conversation. I keep looking forward and continuing on my way.

The dread that I am being followed begins to sink in. It seems like an irrational fear, given that this street is a route commonly taken in this neighborhood. However, I cannot shake off my unease. I slow down and shift to the very edge of the sidewalk, almost stepping onto the street. This way, the stranger will soon pass me and I will no longer need to be concerned about a stalker. Also, my positioning is perfect such that if he is to attack me, I can quickly run across the street and lose him.

However, this ends up being simple fantasy. I notice that even for a while at this slower pace, no one passes me. The footsteps behind me sound quieter, yet they are still clearly discernible to me.

I look back quickly and see that the distance seems unchanged from the last time I checked. His pace evidently slowed down to match mine. I look forward and resume my usual briskness. The footsteps behind me picked up once again. We walk like this for quite some time. At some point, the sound of our shoes hitting ice and cement fall in line and create a constant rhythm. It’s a bit soothing, but mostly very worrying.

I get to a street crossing. The pedestrian light is red. The footsteps gets closer. And closer. I brace myself, both to guard against the cold and in anticipation of the need to fight or flight.

The footsteps change from being behind me to being right next to me. I glance over and see the stranger, standing there and waiting for the light with me. He looks forward stiffly, staring right at the hand signal. Soon, the green bonhomme arrives and we both cross the street. Before we reach the other side, I look over to him and see that he is mirroring my motion. We both turn our heads away quickly, not acknowledging that our eyes met.

“Cold day, isn’t it.” I make a comment as we get to the curb.

“No kidding.” The stranger replies as we start walking straight on the new street. We walk side by side in silence, with only our matching footsteps breaking the peace of the night.

In what feels like an eternity, we finally reach my street. I walk to the left, and hear that the stranger’s footsteps are becoming more distant.

“Enjoy your evening.” His voice cuts through the dry winter air. I look back and see that he went right. His head is looking back, awaiting my response.

“You too.”

I walk to my house, with fond but bitter nostalgia doubly tormenting my mind already.

WRITE TIME: 1 hour

Rhythm

Thimble

NOTE: I am starting a small project called “Tales for a World Without Fairies”. I will try to write stories as they come to mind, in the rawest way possible. Eventually, I will edit and perhaps even rewrite them to compile into a short book with the stories which emerge from my wandering mind.


Growing up, I always wore the same pure white scarf, sewn by the caring hands of my wonderful mother. It was perfect in almost every way, yet the other children pointed to the only thing wrong with it.

“Is that a blood stain?”

“It is. My mother made this herself before I was born. She went into labor as she finished it, and ended up pricking her finger.”

“That’s gross.”

But one boy came up to me after and told me something which I have been acutely aware of ever since:

“Your mother must really love you.”

I knew it then, and I still know it now. Yet I still regret not hearing her last words before she died, for maybe I might have heard those three perfect words one final time before saying goodbye.

That was all so long ago.

The boy, now a sensible and loving man, sits next to me in bed now, gently playing with my hair while I learn to sew.

“A bit more practice, and you might even get it done before the baby’s head pokes out!”

“Very funny.”

I pout at him, but still lean against his inviting shoulder as his arm wraps around me.

He takes my hand and kisses the many small pits on the tips of my fingers. “I really hope there ends up being more thread than blood in that scarf you’re making.”

I put down my newest failed project and sigh. “I wonder how Mother did it.”

I break away from him and open the dresser next to the bed to fish out the scarf which has remained unworn since its creator joined hers.

“To think both of you could have avoided so much pain and frustration by using that thimble of hers.”

I look at Mother’s thimble, which I placed right on the nightstand as a daily reminder of fond memories. I pick it up and roll it between my fingers with bemusement.

“What is motherhood but an accumulation of small pricks drawing blood?”

He is taken aback for a moment, but then moves over to me with glistening eyes. He takes the mostly-white scarf from my hands and holds it carefully in his hands as if he might hurt it.

“She really must have loved you. To give you something so irreplaceable and beautiful.”

I set the thimble back on the nightstand and guide his hand to the swell in my abdomen.

“I take back what I said back when we were children.”

He looks confused. “What do you mean?”

I beam and look at the scarf which has now found its way into the hands of the boy who saw its incomprehensibly deep meaning twenty years ago.

“There was nothing wrong with it, after all.”

WRITE TIME: 15 minutes

Thimble

Shards

NOTE: I am starting a small project called “Tales for a World Without Fairies”. I will try to write stories as they come to mind, in the rawest way possible. Eventually, I will edit and perhaps even rewrite them to compile into a short book with the stories which emerge from my wandering mind.


My routine before bed remains the same, day after day.

I turn the temperature all the way up and wait for the freezing stream to warm. Then, I adjust the knob until I feel the usual warmth. I step into the shower and gaze into the mirror on the wall. It always has a thin film of condensation so easily removed with a quick swipe; behind it, an unfortunately familiar face is revealed.

An utterly unattractive, unexciting, unbearable sight.

Or so I expect. But when I clear the shiny surface today, a most lovely visage stares back at me with a serene expression.

“Who are you?”

The face matches my speech! A look of shock displays before my eyes, just as it grips my own being.

But the surprise exciting my pounding heart quickly gives way to curiosity and awe. I warily lift my arm, as does the beautiful woman in the mirror. Gently but gingerly, I slowly move my hand towards hers. My breathing quickens as our fingertips almost touch…

I allow myself to calm down with my palm pressed up against hers, albeit feeling nothing but chilly glass.

The corner of her mouth rise at the exact moment elation overcomes my senses. “Nice to meet you,” we both say in unison.

We reconvene every evening like this for the longest time. Every evening, wiping away the tiny water droplets on that mirror uncovers the woman who lives as my reflection. I tell her of my worries, my struggles, my hopes; her lips outlines each of my words carefully and precisely. We laugh together so merrily, and through these intimate sessions I find myself enduring long hard days while beaming inside and out, anticipating the moment I get home and clamor into the shower.

But one day, discomfort begins to settle in. The echoes in the washroom as I make my daily soliloquy make my small apartment seem suffocatingly big. The more I look, the more I see a certain sadness in her face set in as she repeats my ramblings. The more I think, the more I am frustrated by how little I know of her.

Those precious times of shared laughter are cut short when I realize I only hear myself.

“How I wish you were right here next to me,” I lament to the mirror. “How I wish you loved me as I love you. How I wish I could learn your voice.”

A chill goes up my bare spine when I notice her mouth was not moving.

Pale, I watch her fiddle with her hair and gather the courage to speak. When she begins, I strain to read the message written on those perfect lips:

“I was just thinking the same thing.”

I desperately strike at the mirror with a crazed immediacy. She looks on wide-eyed, but with an undeniable optimism. Transparent but slightly red-tinted shards fly about and land on the cold, wet floor with a deafening “plink”. In spite of the sharp pain in my hands and wrists, I keep swinging my arms and wishing for the impossible.

Eventually, I entwine my fingers in hers, their softness helping me forget the stinging sensation coming from my bleeding cuts. Her face is barely visible through the opening in the wall, yet her smile is all I see in my mind as I listen to her voice for the first time.

WRITE TIME: 30 minutes

Shards