This is an extension of my previous Friday Fictioneers post, which can be found here.
I stand in the dark, with only the smell of urine to keep me company. I’m a trespasser, not just to this abandoned building, but to this country which you seem to have claimed for yourself. Every odd little custom and saying reminds me of the weeks in which we first met, where my looks of amusement would prompt explanations from you. “That’s just something we say where I’m from.”
I’m now in the place where you are from, in the very building you said you lived in.
“You fucking bastard.” I breathe.
That’s something we say where I’m from.
I try to breathe shallowly because the odour is becoming overwhelming. Ungraciously, I accept defeat and walk back to the only ground floor room where the boards on the window are broken. I have to stop midway to lean against the graffiti covered walls in the hallway. I hit the walls harder and harder, trying to force away the anger that’s constricting my throat and chest.
“I fucking hate you! I fucking hate you!” I moan through gritted teeth. The pain in my torso radiates throughout my body, and it’s really, really easy to blame you for it despite the fact it’s obviously not your fault.
Fucking ironic, right? I mean, I definitely did more than my fair share of research and testing to find a cure. Obviously didn’t contribute as much as you did, as everyone is keen to point out. Well, that’s a lie, nobody is actually comparing your work to mine. It just feels that way when someone mentions any articles you write, any conferences you speak at, and any documentaries you appear in. It happens suspiciously often, and I wonder how you can possibly have time to do so much.
Then again, I was always amazed at how fast you worked. I quickly learned not to compete with you in the same way that many post-graduate students in the same area compete. I revered you like a God at first, and you bashfully accepted my jealous praise. I’m not sure exactly how we became friends, but we were friends. Do you remember those lunchtimes where we’d sit together and make jokes about the awful cafeteria food? The times you’d come over and I’d make you “Proper English Food,” which seemed to consist of just about anything as long as it was smothered in gravy? The hours you’d spend talking about home?
This home. The one that I’m standing in.
And I’m such a desperate, pathetic idiot. I knew you wouldn’t be living here anymore. This is the address you gave the university when you first came to England. Just because you’re now working in the same city where you grew up doesn’t mean you’d be staying in the same apartment you were before. Even if you wanted to, this place became derelict a few years after you left.
Still, I pictured you being here so clearly, seeing this place as it is now makes me feel like everything you said was a lie. It’s so much simpler to see you as a villain, so much more satisfying for me to pretend you’re a bad person. If I think about this logically, I start feeling bad about tricking the secretary into giving me your old details. I start to wonder if I’m a bit crazy. I know I’m sick, but perhaps I’m sicker than I realize.
After vomiting, which actually makes little difference to the ambience of this corridor, I start walking again. As I get closer to the open window, the breeze highlights the clamminess of my cheeks. The light burns my retinas, and I place a shaking hand against my forehead to shield my eyes. Nausea bubbles up again, but I bite my lip until the feeling passes.
There’s going to be another few months of this, and then nothing. You probably wouldn’t even hear about my death. It pains me to consider that you might not care. A year ago, you were putting together a research team and I applied. Not just because of you, I hasten to add, but because it would have been a glorious opportunity to revive my floundering career. I checked my inbox every waking hour for a response.
I never despised you more than the moment I read the standard rejection letter that you sent. It was your name on the bottom of the email, the same bullshit about not having the correct skillset on top.
How fucking dare you.
We worked together. It was one thing for me to know that you were perhaps more academically gifted, but for you to not even consider me suitable to work on your projects? I suppose this research was too precious to you. You were finally starting the human trials of the wonder drug that had kick started your career. You were looking for the best, and I didn’t make the cut.
However, I have a sneaking suspicion that sending that letter made you feel good. You wanted revenge, didn’t you? You wanted to reject me like I rejected you.
I cried when you told me you were leaving England, but I was so happy for you. Your project had been a complete success, you’d gained massive attention, and I thought you deserved it. I smiled through my tears and told you that I’d always said you were a genius. You replied with something modest, and we stood silently for a few moments. I thought you were going to disappoint me, but after some tense heartbeats, you leaned forwards and pressed your lips against mine.
I backed away, confused and guilty. I had a boyfriend, and you knew that.
I would have kissed you back. I wasn’t in love with you, but even then I wanted to imprint myself in your life, which seemed destined for so much more than mine. I wanted you to revere me romantically in the same way as I revered you intellectually. Maybe you did at some point.
I tried to correspond with you shortly after you left, and you never replied. I broke up with my boyfriend. I worked hard with my research, but never came close to the success you currently enjoy. I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My life will end, and the only remarkable part of it is the bit which was illuminated by you.
I need time.
I need a miracle.
Isn’t that what they’re calling the drug you created?
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That’s awesome. And so very sad. Very good.
Thanks for reading, Al. I know it’s a long one!
Sometimes the long ones are worth it
I admit, I had to let go of my pre- conceived notions in order to rediscover this story. It turned into something completely unexpected, and changes the beginning for me as well. I now see this as a tale of absolute regret and disappointment – this man that she put on a pedestal reduced, in a way, to an abandoned dive smelling of urine. In this, it becomes something of a cautionary tale about how hard the fall from that pedestal can be.
I was a bit torn on the matter of the cancer – but maybe that is a good thing. I can’t decide whether she was trying to find him for HIM, or for his miracle cure. Lots to chew on here.
I think the cure is an excuse to see him again, a reason to invade his new life rather than just be left in his past. She desperately wants confirmation that he cares about the time they spent together, even if it’s only half as much as she does.
I ended up almost bringing back the story to my very first concept, which was someone hiding from their family and childhood friends because she was so jealous of this other, more successful person, who she feels has claimed her place of birth and all her loved ones.
Maybe this person didn’t steal her success, but he caused her to be dissatisfied with her own achievements, which are probably more significant than she feels them to be.
I admit the cancer aspect is a bit clunky. This story could be better with some work. I also considered telling part of it from his point of view, but I’m not sure what it would add to the story other than to give it a slightly happier aspect.
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I agree with Al. Sometimes the long ones are worth reading. This is one of those times.
Thank you! 🙂