The End of it All
Key West is the end of it all, and at the end of Key West is festive Mallory Square, and at the end of Mallory Square is a cement platform, and at the far corner of this cement platform, dangling their feet above calm water, sat the two of them, watching the sun sink and darken their world. It hadn’t disappeared, though. Not yet. There was still light, if only the dying kind.
In this light he looked at her. He looked at her face shimmering in the orange glow, eyes green and defiant staring out against this dying light.
“Stop looking at me like that,” she said.
He looked at his dangling feet, then to the street performer in a strait jacket chained by metal links to the right of them, standing atop a black box, boasting to a growing audience that even though he was so tightly bound, “I will get out.” “Watch me escape,” he told the large audience. In their fascination, they moved closer.
“That guy,” the husband shook his head, sharing the audience’s fascination. The wife looked at the street performer. “If he says he can do it, he’ll do it,” she said. They watched along with the audience the street performer twitch, shuffle, twist and wriggle his upper body. At one point, the ball of his right shoulder lifted and stretched away unnaturally, the rest of his arm popped up and free, and just as smoothly the ball of the shoulder returned to where it was meant. The wife stopped watching. The husband watched the street performer do the same with his other side. Then the street performer stood free atop the black box, the strait jacket and metal chains clumped on the ground, defeated. He bowed and smiled in response to the audience’s loud cheers, then he quickly motioned for his assistant to make the rounds with the blue bucket.
The husband was amazed. He told his wife what the street performer did might have been the most amazing feat he’s ever seen. She wouldn’t look at him, instead peered at his hands. Finally, she did look at him. “Why don’t you toss it? I know you want to.”
He squeezed his right hand. Strange, how by itself in his palm it felt heavier and when on his finger so light as almost to be weightless. Light when it was all so good you hardly took notice. And now heavy, a burden of unhappiness.
“You’ve thrown everything else away,” she said.
The sun’s fire seeped into the horizon’s dark blue line, like a slow death. There was nothing to say, he knew. He could tell her that he didn’t want this to happen. He could tell her that all he had envisioned had now become no longer possible to see. He could say that he still cared for her, that three years was too soon, too goddamn soon. That he had pictured more for them, but she had heard it all many times, and so there was nothing to say. That her rings were still on and that his wasn’t said all that was needed.
When she cried her lips shriveled and quivered, then her eyes got nervous. On her face would be a moment of total blankness, as if all that had been before had departed to make room for what was surely coming. Her face would contort in a different fashion when processing one of his jokes, and he used to love to watch the transformation. Her jaw would slacken, and her eyes would shut. She’d tilt back her head, so little a movement but enough to notice, and then she would laugh, this loud and obnoxious laugh, and he would laugh too because seeing her happy made him happy. Until it no longer did. Until not much of anything could make him happy and then the opposite transformation occurred, at a more frequent rate, like what was about to happen now on the far corner of this cement platform in Key West, at the end of it all.
Her head tilted forward, her shoulders hunched, and her face disappeared in her falling hair and he knew she was crying, crying hard, and he didn’t say anything because there wasn’t anything to say.
The fiery curve of the sun was all that remained. Around them, people celebrated. They clapped and they hollered. Someone played the violin. This light they sat in, it was dying alright. Her face stayed hidden and he looked at his hands while he heard all around them the growing happy noise. He looked to the street performer and his assistant. They were packing their things into four plastic bags. Even they paused to look out at the sun. It slipped under amidst the happy noise and around them it went darker. He still couldn’t see her through her fallen hair, and that was probably best. He looked out at the faint orange haze on the dark horizon where the sun had died. Then he opened his palm, and felt what was so heavy in it become totally weightless.
James Hartman lives in Lexington, Kentucky. Currently a student in the Bluegrass Writer's Studio
at Eastern Kentucky University, he's at work on his first novel.