Winter’s a lot Colder When You’re Alone; A Short Story

It was the dead of winter. Outside, the streetlights cast strange shadows across the snow that glittered beneath their beams of illumination. The snow was only disturbed by the tracks from one brave vehicle and a few footprints along the sidewalk. It had been awhile since any activity had occurred in this winter wonderland, the inches of snow that now covered these tracks indicated this. There was still some smoke lingering in the air from the last few flames being extinguished; most everyone else’s had been lifeless for hours. Everything seemed at peace.

The scene inside was much less pleasant. Smoke of a different kind hung heavy in the air, the whole house smelled of dust, sweat, and ash. Most everything was still, even the arms of the clock that stood to measure the time passed stood at rest. She removed the batteries the day he left.

She sat alone in the silence of the conservatory; the trails of mascara streaked down her face comparable to the scars left in the earth once a river dries out. Hidden underneath coats of days-old mascara and eyeliner that valiantly held its place on her eyelids through the floods, her eyes were bloodshot and devoid of all hope.

Who am I without him? I was just adapting to the arctic temperature he put off; I bundled up whenever I was around him.

Her fingertips lightly rested upon a black marble Rook, the accompanying pieces placed strategically across the chessboard in front of her. This game had gone on for days. She was determined to finish what she started, even if that meant she had to remain conscious until the game ended.

My tastes grew accustomed to the severity and insensitivity of his callused reasoning. Every time I fought him, he fought back. He struggled to stay on top, causing me to sink the faster and harder I tried to keep my head above water.

For just a moment her glance shifted to the stool situated across from her. Nicotine-stained court paperwork, the final decree for the dissolution of the marriage to the man that she believed she would spend eternity with. Placed carefully on top of that was a small rectangular mirror, covered in scratch marks from moments her need exceeded her patience and she cut a little too deep. Just a small amount remained of the delightful white crystalline substance, it took all of her strength not to lunge at it then.

Not yet.

The shroud of voices that singed her ears and mind was made up of excerpts found on bathroom walls and one-night lovers’ sweet nothings and empty promises. The monsters that hid in the darkest crevasses in her mind were ready to strike, they waited for the signal. They knew if their stomachs growled enough, she would soon feed them. She couldn’t let her babies starve after all, they were all she had left.

Not yet.

She pulled her gaze away from her sweet lady in white and returned focus to the game in front of her. She examined each piece’s position carefully, determining which move could finally end this prolonged engagement.

He blinded me with reassurances, I see that now. Point to point, things don’t match up. He never stayed late for work.

Her eyes scanned the board, her breathing growing shallow as she felt her throat tighten as she held back more blackened tears.

If I were to mark for every scratch on his back that signified it, my bleeding heart would be blackened from the ink; and if I were to add every breath I withheld while listening through the bedroom door, the house of cards he hides in would surely come crashing down around him in the most ravaging manner. He always found a way to accomplish his objective; I once admired that.

The lump in her throat began to swell and she felt her stomach tie in knots. The tears burned behind her eyes, then flooded down the ravines in her makeup like flood waters. Her body convulsed violently as she choked back her sobs.

I should have never left; I should have seized the opportunity when it presented itself. Now conspiring glances are shared, none of which I am surprised. I am at fault.

She stood for the first time in hours, her bones creaked and her muscles ached. Every convulsion sent needles down her spine. She gasped for air, bawling, begging herself to stop. Shivers coursed through her body and her shoulders and chest heaved with every gasp. After what she could best describe as forever, she had finally calmed herself.

Her eyes fell on the mirror; it beckoned her, seduced her. She approached it carefully, as if in fear that even the slightest quick motion would cause her white mare to flee. She slowly knelt beside it, her fingers grasping a razor that sat on the edge of the chessboard. With mastered skill she drew the remainder of the powder into a thin rail. She took a moment to admire the work of art she had created, and took a deep breath.

This was the signal.

It hit her instantly, she never felt so awake. Her face went numb, and she could feel remnants sliding down the back of her nasal cavity and into her throat. Her thoughts raced on the backs of demons, coursing through even the darkest parts of her mind. Her depression melted away, and fury began to consume her thoughts.

After all that I undertook and faced with him. I transformed the entirety of my soul, reshaped my future. All for him. He abused my emotions, neglected my affections, betrayed my trust.

She stood, catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror for the first time since she began her game. It pulled her from her anger as she recognized the same distress that she fought so hard to free herself from. Her eyes were wide and dilated and surrounded by smudges of black makeup. Her cheeks appeared hollowed, and her skin was pale and covered in a sheer layer of sweat. Her dark hair was oily and tangled, it hung haphazardly across her face. She noted that she looked a bit like a rabid raccoon. She couldn’t keep this up much longer.

She centered herself in front of the chessboard with new determination. Still standing, she examined the board from a new angle. She found it hard to focus; her eyes kept flicking back and forth between the opposing pieces as she played through each potential move over and over again. She had to find the move that made perfect sense, the move to end all of the inhibitions that he harvested in her mind.

He planted seeds of doubt and took years to cultivate them into the disaster I’ve become. I’ve no one to blame but myself. I allowed him to wreak havoc among my thoughts, permitted him to establish what was acceptable in our partnership, I convinced myself that was how one behaved when they were in love.

That’s when she saw it, the move she’d been looking for all along. She sat in the chair she had been in for so long, promising this would be the last of the bout. She carefully maneuvered the pieces across the board, removing one by one with fierce precision. There was a spark in her eyes as she placed the last piece.

At last, I can put this all to rest. No longer will I allow his opinions of me to manipulate the manner in which I view myself. My being has been cleansed of his influence.

Checkmate.