“The Light Around the Shadow Is Never Ready For the Night” by Donald Ryan

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The ceiling flickered psychedelic blue gray hues. Tinnitus from all directions muffled the sound of his heartbeat to the stillness of breathing. He only imagined an echo dancing in fusion. In and out. Free over his chest.

“I had a long day at work,” she said, wrapped around his arm, her voice the only part of her awake.

“I’m sure you did.” The rhythm slowed to the other side of the room, resting like low tide before stopping. “I know you did.”

“Can we finish the movie tomorrow?”

“Whenever you want.”

“No. Never mind. You can finish it.”

He lolled his head but failed to rock the ceiling back into motion.

“I’ll wait for you. I’ve seen it before.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. It’s been awhile, but I remember it.”

“No.” She massaged her nose into his upper arm.

“Yes.” He powered off the TV.

She was asleep.

 

 

He was dreading the coming days. The arrival. Their arrival. All unavoidable. Like mortality and the never knowing.

 

 

He woke. Or was he asleep? Lately through the dark there’d been no way to tell. He slowly shifted and tilted her off his arm. The vibration from creaky springs stirred her awake.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m thirsty.”

“Mmm.”

 

 

She was up before him, as was usually the case. She sat in her spot on the kitchen counter, her ritualistic morning tea hot in her hands. She watched through the glasses she only wore before the day began as he entered from the hallway, the hair on the right side of his head tangled every way but down.

“There any coffee?” Squinting out the fluorescents, he made out her silhouette pointing to the overhead cabinet.

“Where it always is.”

“Right.”

He poured out the remnants of yesterday’s offering. She refused to clean the stained ring two cups high from the bottom, the appliance only he used and immediately forgot daily. The pot forever sullied. His method of swirling water never removing the tinge.

“Did you sleep?”

“Soundly as always.”

“Are you nervous?”

He poured grounds into the filter. She took a sip of tea.

 

 

He didn’t hear her come in but felt her presence.

“Do you mind?”

“No.” He peeked around the curtain. Shampoo rippled down his face. She examined a nonexistent spot on her poked out and twisted chin.

“You shouldn’t pick at that.”

“I know.”

 

 

“Don’t wear the blue one with that shirt,” she said while he still had one foot in the closet. “Actually, don’t even wear a tie.”

“But it’s mandatory.”

“Then let’s skip work.”

“That’s what they expect us to do.”

“Then let’s not disappoint them.”

“Let’s not be predictable.” He draped the yellow tie around his neck.

“Forget it. Wear the blue one.”

 

 

They never made it to work. Instead they got biscuits. But the morning offering remained on the soggy end of a paper sack. The two parked at the open end of an overpriced parking deck, and she straddled him in the driver’s seat. Little honks occasionally echoed around the garage.

 

 

“The sunrise wasn’t as beautiful this morning as I was hoping.”

“Maybe you were over anticipating it.”

“Maybe.” She slipped her strap of underwear back up her skirt.

He glanced into the rearview mirror, disappointed by the black bags packed under each eye.

“I’m sorry.”

She squeezed his knee and smiled. “You should be.”

 

 

The sun, excruciating, punched though the windshield. He dropped the visor like she had done. The arm along the tracks mandated they stop, and the bells went off around them in tune with the lights. A jackpot of false hope. Little vibrations burrowed up from the road. Loose items rattled in the car. The train was otherwise silent, absolute and serene.

“I should have ran it.”

“Maybe.”

“Where do you think it ends?”

“Does it matter?”

“We’re going to find out eventually.”

“And when we do it won’t be together. We’ll go in separate direction.”

“I know.”

The tie was choking him. He took it off.

 

 

For dinner they cooked frozen hamburger and put the patties on toast. She drizzled mustard on the bread and spread a glob of ketchup on the meat. He used what was left of the ketchup, splattering the last where it landed. They sat on the floor in front of the TV, sound muted, radio up. The news crooned top 40 hits. They wanted to laugh, but they chewed, disappointed, mouths full.

 

 

He brushed his teeth while she flossed. He never flossed. He should have when there was no time like the present. But it was too late for that now. He spat the foam down the drain.

 

 

They came sometime before twilight.

She screamed awake into the nightmare but didn’t make a sound as they led her from the room. Natural tranquil willed bravery. Her soul stronger than his. He tried this. He held out his hands, palms up without fight. But panic, faulty flight filled panic, thrashed and pleaded against the ground as they dragged him from the room.

Through anger and tears, he watched a mosaic of her step into a van, separated from him and the one they threw him into. The door slammed, the latch clicked, switching off the light around the shadow. A shade darker than the night.

 

Donald Ryan’s words have or will appear in Cleaver, Unbroken, Hobart, Fiction Southeast, and elsewhere. He’s a full-time part-time librarian in the GA Pines. T: @dryanswords / IG: @dryansimages