Eyes

“I can’t believe I ran into you! It’s been too long.”

Renee nodded while desperately searching her memory for this woman’s name. What she said was, “I’m surprised you recognized me. Between my haircut and the masks, I’ve gotten used to friends walking right by me.”

“It’s the eyes,” she said smiling. “They gave you away instantly.”

“I guess they call them the ‘window to the soul’ for a reason.”

Exactly!” the other woman said. “That’s all we’ve got to go on these days.”

Renee realized that she had never actually made an effort to look this woman in the eye. In fact, she’d gotten into the habit of avoiding eye contact with anyone she encountered on her rare excursions out of the house. It took a surprising exertion of will, but Renee forced herself to look into the other woman’s eyes. And she saw.

Mirth
Uncertainty
The strain of trying so hard to accept that this was what life was like now
so that when she told herself, ‘it’s gonna be okay,’
she might actually believe it.
Loneliness
Determination
Confidence that everything really would be okay.

“Emina,” Renee said, recalling the woman’s name. “It’s so good to see you.”

     *     *     *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

Terminal

She called it her “sippy cup.” The water bottle had a built in straw that reminded her of a child’s spill-proof cup. Today, of course, she wasn’t drinking water. The vodka bottle from the duty free shop was buried in her bag, and she wondered how discreetly she could refill her cup in the busy terminal. She wondered if she looked as bad as she felt. She wondered why she should even get on the plane at all.

“Here you go,” a chipper voice said, cutting in on her ruminations.

“What?”

A large man with a round belly was leaning toward her and holding out a flower necklace. “This one’s for you,” he said. “I know, you’re supposed to get the lei when you arrive. But I figure, look at all these people. Vacation’s ending; they’re going home to everyday life. And travelling’s always stressful. Seems like they might need flowers too.

“Come ooooon,” he said when she still didn’t reach for the necklace, “you’ll be able to tell people you got ‘leied’ at the airport!”

To her own surprise, she laughed. Moments later, she was wreathed in pink flowers, and felt like she could face the future after all.

Photo by Killian Pham on Unsplash

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Dawn

The sun was rising slowly, persistently. Pale light illuminating gentle slopes, peaks casting shadows into the valleys folded around them. A world spread out around her, peaceful and still. A landscape of folded cloth.

Her phone buzzed. “Do you want to talk?”

Too much.

She retreated beneath the covers, back into darkness. It wasn’t that she wanted to sleep—not that her mind would let her anyway—another day was simply too much to bear. That growing light revealed the mess of sheets around her, the pile of unwashed clothes, the dishes in the corner. She couldn’t clean her room, couldn’t change her clothes, couldn’t even get out of bed.

Better not to try. Better to stay inside—to stay in the dark, where there was nothing to see and no one to see her. She recognized that she was cycling, but that didn’t mean she had the energy or willpower to overcome it.

Her phone buzzed again. A light beneath the covers. “I’m here when you’re ready.”

There was a whole world out there where the sun illuminated beauty as well as pain, cruelty as well as compassion. She wasn’t ready. Not yet. But she held her phone close.

     *     *     *     *     *

Photo by Hari AV on Unsplash 

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Dread (and Hope)

Part I

She waited.

She checked her phone. No missed calls; no new messages.

She watched the news until she couldn’t anymore.  All those faces. All that pain. Strangers who seemed all too familiar but who still couldn’t answer the question she really cared about.

She checked her phone. Nothing.

It got dark early. Severe, dense clouds looked down from the sky, ready to burst like the multitudes marching through the city streets. Watching the sky was as bad as watching the news. The dread, she realized, was inside her so it manifested in whatever she looked at: folded newspapers, cracked paint, sun-faded family photos.

She checked her phone. No calls. No messages.

Fear. Rage. Futility.

She hurled the phone across the room, and before it had even struck the wall, she let out one sharp, agonized sob.

She waited.

No one was coming to check on her; no one would help pick her up. Finally, she rose, retrieved her phone, screen now cracked, and turned the news back on.

Smoke. Scattered figures running. A flash from something off screen. Shouts and screams. A stammering newscaster. It was starting to rain.

Her phone rang. Emblazoned in the cracked glass, her son’s name.

*     *     *

Part II

“Here they come.”

The plaza had been slowly filling for hours, but now a tidal wave of protesters poured in from main street. He reached under the visor of his riot helmet to wipe the sweat gathered on his forehead.

“Hold this line,” the captain behind him growled.  There were already reports in of property destruction from some of the fringes of the demonstration and the direct command was to put an end to the hostile presence as soon as possible.

So many faces.  So much anger.

Distant thunder.

“Disperse!”

Fingers on triggers. Clouds of gas billowed. People shrieked, ran, fell.

He never saw the brick coming.

His world spun. The surrounding noise rose and fell like crashing waves. Rough stone rushed toward him from above and he lifted his arms to defend himself, gradually realizing he’d fallen to the ground. He lifted his eyes toward heaven.  All was dark and blurry, but his vision was no longer swimming. Raindrops spattered the visor of his helmet.

A single thought: he wanted to feel the rain. His helmet fell to the ground and he looked up into a concerned face. The black man extended a hand, offering support. He took it.

*     *     *

Part III

“We should go,” he said, speaking so low behind his facemask that she could barely hear him above the surrounding crowds.

“What?”

He leaned closer. “We should go.”

Monica’s face twisted in shock and confusion. “What are you talking about? We’re only halfway to the statehouse”

He jerked his head in the direction of two brash, strutting men nearby, both carrying a brick in either hand. “I don’t want to be around if this is going to get ugly.”

“Hey!”

“Monica, don’t—”

Hey, brickheads,” she shouted, drawing eyes all around them, including those of the nearby men. “Yeah you,” she continued.  “You best drop those before any cops see you. We don’t need nobody starting shit today.”

But the men just laughed. “Shit’s gonna go down anyway once the cops start shooting.  Might as well be ready for it.”

“They’re gonna ruin everything,” he said. “We should go.”

She faced him with a dark scowl. “I’m done with living in fear and letting people with hate in they hearts run my life. We gotta hope, or else they win.”

The crowd surged on, billowing and charged like the dark clouds above, and he moved forward as part of it.

*     *     *

Part IV

“I’m trying to get out of here, but I don’t know how.”

It was chaos. He’d seen people with upraised hands being pepper sprayed, cars burning, rubber bullets striking fleeing protesters.

“I’m trying, mom,” he said. “I’m trying to come home. I love you.”

Hanging up, he peeked out from between the cars that sheltered him. Groups were fleeing down First Street unimpeded. Walls of police blockaded every other road out of the plaza. He started running.

Shouts. Smashing glass. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a lone police officer crumple after being struck by a brick.

He slowed.

No more fear, he thought. No more hate.

He turned and ran to the injured man’s side. Confused, grateful eyes looked up at him. The man took his hand and rose. “Thank you,” the officer rasped.

Then he was plummeting. The ground slammed into his back, and two helmeted officers stood over him menacingly. He opened his mouth to speak, but then his eyes were burning. With a scream, he turned away from the pepper spray and tried to crawl, but clubs striking his back sent him back to the ground.

Wet asphalt.

Cold handcuffs.

Deep, deep pain.

*     *     *

Part V

A mother waits. Her son has not come home, and there have been no more calls.

A mayor reads the tweets of protesters while the evening news plays in the background. There’s a press conference tomorrow, but how can he possibly justify what’s happening? And what will they say if he backs down now?

An officer sits in his squad car outside the station.  He should go home and recover from the day’s trauma. He should not go to sleep due to his minor concussion. He should say something. He should not rock the boat. He should protect his fellow officers. He should protect the innocent. He should have ignored his orders. He should do something. But what?

A young woman clutches the hands of strangers and tries not to cry. In a darkened room, they wait for the National Guard to move through the neighborhood. The elderly man who opened his home to protesters shuffles among them, handing out water bottles, tissues, encouragement.

The most powerful man in the world rages against what he cannot control.

A young man with cracked ribs and red eyes leans his head against the wall of his jail cell and tries to hope.

*     *     *

Hope: an Epilogue

He was quiet, and she was worried. “You don’t have to come today.”

“And waste this sign?” he said, shocked. “Are you kidding?”

She studied him, trying to figure out if he was really as confident as he acted. She could see dry scabs on his hands and his chin and knew that there were deep bruises all over his back. He was still moving a bit slowly, a bit stiffly, and he would wince whenever he took a deep breath. The protest was marching to the statehouse again today. The same place the police had given him those injuries.

“I’m just saying, no one would blame you if you were scared about—”

A gentle smile made her pause. Such a warm, unexpected expression. He stepped close, taking her hands in his. “I’m doing what you said. No more fear. No more hate. If I have hope, they can’t hurt me in any way that matters.”

Together, they walked into bright sunlight, stepping almost immediately into a stream of protesters. There was anger on faces, but also resolve, love, and even joy. He lifted a sign above his head. In large black letters, he’d written, Today is a New Day.

Hope: an Epilogue

He was quiet, and she was worried. “You don’t have to come today.”

“And waste this sign?” he said, shocked. “Are you kidding?”

She studied him, trying to figure out if he was really as confident as he acted. She could see dry scabs on his hands and his chin and knew that there were deep bruises all over his back. He was still moving a bit slowly, a bit stiffly, and he would wince whenever he took a deep breath. The protest was marching to the statehouse again today. The same place the police had given him those injuries.

“I’m just saying, no one would blame you if you were scared about—”

A gentle smile made her pause. Such a warm, unexpected expression. He stepped close, taking her hands in his. “I’m doing what you said. No more fear. No more hate. If I have hope, they can’t hurt me in any way that matters.”

Together, they walked into bright sunlight, stepping almost immediately into a stream of protesters. There was anger on faces, but also resolve, love, and even joy. He lifted a sign above his head. In large black letters, he’d written, Today is a New Day.

chuttersnap-TSgwbumanuE-unsplash
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash 

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Dread 
part i
part ii
part iii
part iv
part v

Dread (part iii)

“We should go,” he said, speaking so low behind his facemask that she could barely hear him above the surrounding crowds.

“What?”

He leaned closer. “We should go.”

Monica’s face twisted in shock and confusion. “What are you talking about? We’re only halfway to the statehouse”

He jerked his head in the direction of two brash, strutting men nearby, both carrying a brick in either hand. “I don’t want to be around if this is going to get ugly.”

“Hey!”

“Monica, don’t—”

Hey, brickheads,” she shouted, drawing eyes all around them, including those of the nearby men. “Yeah you,” she continued.  “You best drop those before any cops see you. We don’t need nobody starting shit today.”

But the men just laughed. “Shit’s gonna go down anyway once the cops start shooting.  Might as well be ready for it.”

“They’re gonna ruin everything,” he said. “We should go.”

She faced him with a dark scowl. “I’m done with living in fear and letting people with hate in they hearts run my life. We gotta hope, or else they win.”

The crowd surged on, billowing and charged like the dark clouds above, and he moved forward as part of it.

pat-farrell-isqz9FtpDbo-unsplashPhoto by Pat Farrell on Unsplash

Story by Gregory M. Fox
part i
part ii

part iv
part v
Hope: an Epilogue