Imperfect Love

He had heard it said that happy families are all alike. They are warm and safe, an environment that people want to be in. He scoffed to himself because that wasn’t true. Not that his was a happy family. Happy families tend to lose their warm domesticity when the husband has been labeled a Ponzi-schemer.

Under normal circumstances, Everett Jones’s family would have been happy. Even after he was a wanted man, he told himself his wife and daughter could live a normal, if detached and roaming life. “I’m not in trouble, we’re just on vacation.” he said as the three of them clustered around a small campfire away from the city.

His scheming mind fought with his conscience, trying to justify his actions. But within his own mind was the only place he was justified, and a chorus of sirens screamed out all around them in the night. At the same moment, flashing lights lit the night on fire, and tires screeched over the earth. Cold, merciless handcuffs were latched onto his wrists, and he was pushed into the back of an armored car, leaving his family to stare after him in teary-eyed shock.

***

The outcome of the trial was a foregone conclusion. The hate in the jury’s eyes scorched Everett’s back through all the proceedings. They weren’t about to allow the next Bernie Madoff to tarnish the world as a free man. When questioned about his motives, he said nothing of his sick daughter, instead saying simply, “I did it for me.”

***

He was terrified of prison. His entire body shook as he was loaded off the bus, clad in orange, chained at the ankles to a line of criminals. He shouldn’t have been there. He wasn’t like these people.

He was served lunch on a tagged steel plate, heaped with unpalatable gruel, and left to find a seat amid the gangs in the mess hall. As he made his way timidly to a vacant corner, someone abruptly stood and turned into him. Their trays clattered together and their clothes were smeared with food. Before he even understood what had happened, Everett was on the floor in agony as a mass of bodies pummeled and kicked him. A whistle sounded dimly over the racket, and through wincing eyes, he saw several pairs of boots rushing toward the crowd.

***

“What have they done to you?” his wife whispered into the phone.

She was staring at Everett through the thick glass partition in visitation. His face was discolored and swollen, with two lines of stitches along his scalp. He said nothing into his end of the phone, joined to his wife’s side of the glass by a cable. He simply bowed his head as he was racked with uncontrollable pains throughout his head and torso. In a way he was glad for the spasms; they helped to hide the fact that he was weeping.

***

Everett died in that prison, alone, terrified. He was stabbed to death in a gang brawl he had no part in. Mrs. Jones was sitting on a park bench when she got the call. The phone slid out of her grip and struck the ground as she held her face in her hands and wept. A ways off, her daughter played gaily on a swing set. After a time, Mrs. Jones raised her shining eyes to her daughter. The girl’s multi-million dollar treatments had worked, and she was now in remission. She was her father’s legacy, alive now because of his imperfect love.

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The Beginning of the Idea of a Quest

The sky was empty and the moon was full, shining beams of iridescent light onto the earth below. The rays struck the trees and set them dancing like quicksilver in the slight wind. The moonlight played upon the rolling fields with liquid brilliance, setting them ablaze with motion and subdued white fire, each blade of grass a little flame in the inferno. Other than the breeze and the chorus of the July crickets, the night was still and silent.

Then an explosion pierced the air and filled the night with screams.

Daisy had been asleep until that very moment. It was nothing like a restful sleep- she had been twitching back and forth all night to some subconscious tension which haunted her dreams. She attributed the restlessness to stress, and had no reason to suspect it was anything more; her husband Tom was sleeping fine.

Then the men came. They wore kerchiefs over their faces so that only their eyes were visible- gleaming with cold malice. They carried revolvers that whistled menacingly as they were waved through the air. They spoke no threats, no curses, nothing at all. They simply shattered the oaken door to the bedroom and poured through in an explosion of skittering fragments and tramping, spurred boots. The room was filled immediately with the heated odor of several bodies packed close together, accompanied by the subtle but sharp scent of human fear as Daisy and her husband were torn from the bed and locked in merciless arms.

Daisy cried out, hysteria coloring her voice, and scratched at her assailants, tearing their masks and bloodying their faces. Tom roared and tried to dislodge the men crammed around him, but there were so very many. Two or three men crashed backwards, but they were immediately replaced by others. The steel spine of a revolver whipped Tom across the jaw, spattering blood onto the wall, and he went limp. The assailants began to drag him from the room. Daisy renewed her fuss and kicked wildly into the air. A sharp slap dimmed her furor and momentarily stole her vision. She felt herself being lifted up and into the air, and then her attacker threw her across the room. She struck the bedroom window- an array of cracks shooting throughout the glass- then crumpled to the floor. She looked through wincing eyes to see the last of the assailants disappearing out the bedroom door holding one of Tom’s legs.

Fortunately, the cacophony had awoken the entire household; servants and masters alike found themselves in a rush of movement and noise as a mass of men poured through the old manor. Arming themselves, the residents pursued the assailants into the yard, where the men’s restless horses were tied to the fence.

Daisy struggled to her feet as the report of gunshots raged outside. A stray bullet whistled through the window, missing Daisy by inches. The already compromised pane collapsed on itself, loosing fragments of glass onto the wood floor with a sound like a thousand little icicles breaking at once. Daisy hurried out of the room, past the frightened people in the long, broad hallway, down the splintered mahogany staircase and out the bullet-riddled double doors of the manor.

When she saw the scene before her, she thought she was back in the war. A mess of turfed, bloodstained loam and writhing bodies covered the yard. The assailants lay dead or dying, their horses scattered around the yard or prancing fearfully in the distance. The manor’s residents appeared hammered, but not beaten, and one of them made his way to Daisy.

“Where’s Tom?” She demanded, her emotion making her drawl even thicker.

“He’s gone, miss.” The burly man replied. “We- I- it’s….” He started over. “One of those bandits, we missed ‘im. He had Tom.”

Daisy felt her knees weaken, but at the same time, she was elated that at least Tom was still alive; that was more than she had hoped upon seeing the carnage outside. All the same, she knew a posse would take ages to start the search for him.

Steeling herself, she snatched the man’s revolver from his grasp, darted to the nearest horse, leaped onto it, and drove her heels into its ribs. The animal rushed forward, leaped over the fence, and galloped down the road. The residents behind her called out, but she was gone. Daisy well knew her foolishness, but she wasn’t about to sit and weep when Tom was at the mercy of a kidnapper. Whatever the men’s reasons for taking him, Daisy was going to get him back.

 

 

Abstracter Regret

By the time he realized how stupid he had been, she was already in love with him. Not because of anything he had actually done, but because of the circumstances. Because they talked in the rain until their bus almost left them behind. Because she fell asleep against him on the bus; and he could have moved- woken her up as he went to sit with his best friend instead, but that would have been rude. Right? In hindsight that would have been kinder, easier, simpler. She would have gotten the message. But he was exhausted and shortsighted and he hesitated, until he fell asleep too.

Because they sat in his car out of the cold and the rain until her dad came. And when she asked for his number he didn’t just say, “I would, but I have to hurry up and get home.” She would have gotten the message.

Because they watched a movie at her house with two of their best friends, who as it turned out were a couple. Four people. One couch. A three-hour movie.

But for all that he really did do everything he could think of- save telling her to her face he didn’t like her back- to try to lose her interest. It would seem that whole saying that ‘love is blind’ wasn’t just the nonsensical child of some romantic’s right-side brain. That’s usually how he wrote off most aphorisms. Not that he could talk; if ever he couldn’t find his heart on his sleeve he started worrying it was missing.

***

What really cemented her affection, however, was their experience at the Carnival.

The Carnival is the biggest race known to the solar system. Runners from the most obscure corners of the earth converge on Tiffin’s Hedges Boyer Park in the anticipation of a great miscellany of stampeding teenagers and obscenely-priced but delicious hotdogs. So great is the scope and prestige of the Carnival that even Canadians emerge from their cold and icy crags in order to compete. Canadians! They never go anywhere not within walking distance. The two youths had seen racing officials come within a hairsbreadth of their grisly demise at the Carnival as hordes of maddened runners rushed towards them at the sound of the gunshot.

The most infamous incident in the history of the Carnival must be the ‘Slice of 1972′. The just of it is this: somebody tripped. What ensued was a gory, writhing melee as the seven-thousand competitors behind her, wearing studded running spikes, attempted to stop or jump or otherwise dodge the helpless fool laying terrified on the soon-to-be-upturned loam. The mass of runners crashed together in a fray rivaled only by the stampede at Mecca. There were thirty-seven casualties, and fifty souls remain unaccounted for.

It was nearly as insane at the Carnival the year our story takes place. What occurred was treasonous and incomprehensible. It went like this: Westlake High, as a sub-par team, always held Keystone in disdain. They coveted the Keystone runners’ prowess and skill, and wanted their secrets above all else. And so Westlake sent their best spy to infiltrate Keystone’s tent in order to learn what made them so great. Westlake chose their most proficient saboteur for the job.

They called her the Hurst. No one knew her real name, or where she came from. All her team knew of her was that she joined them to throw off suspicion stemming from her former life as an international assassin. She now served as a sort of guided weapon during races, sent by her coach to disable rival competitors with a swift spike to the Achilles’. She was unassuming, with a dark complexion and a most dishonest air of innocence surrounding her, which made her wetwork jobs all the easier. Her brown, trusting eyes masked the cold capability concealed behind them.

The Hurst slinked through the Carnival’s maze of tents and caution tape until she had made her way to the Keystone tent. Slyly, she slipped inside, stepping over and around the heaps of dozing runners huddled in mounds under blankets and sleeping bags. The snoring of the anorexic rednecks masked her light footsteps that crinkled ever so slightly on the brown tarp beneath them. She wasn’t entirely sure what she was looking for, but she knew she’d know it when she knew it. In one corner of the tent she saw the edge of a leather-bound journal lying on the ground. Their secret has to be inside, she thought. She made her way over.

Fortunately, the two youths had anticipated some sort of Westlake trickery, and were merely pretending to sleep. Abruptly they sprang up and tackled the Hurst. The Hurst landed heavily, kicking and punching, holding the other two at bay. Hearing the Hurst’s distress, the rest of the Westlake team rushed to her aid. As more and more runners either were woken up or arrived at the tent, the small space became an all-out brawl. The two youths finally overpowered the Hurst just as Keystone’s runners drove Westlake out of the tent. With a furious hiss, the Hurst was hurled from the tent, bloodied.

In that moment of triumph, the two youths high-fived. It was a high-five unlike the world had ever seen; so precise and well-calculated that every single one of their fingers aligned perfectly, down to the seams within the quarks within the atoms within the molecules within the cells of their hands, which connected with an impeccably satisfying clap! Their jaws dropped at the existentiality of that high-five. Instantly the girl knew, This is the one for me.

 

 

(Very) Abstract Regret

By the time I realized stupid I had been, she was already in love with me. Not, I don’t think, because of anything I had actually done, but because of the circumstances. Because we talked in the rain until our bus almost left us behind. Because she fell asleep against me on the bus; and I could have moved- woken her up as I went to sit with my best friend instead, but that would have been rude. Right? In hindsight that would have been kinder, easier, simpler. She would have gotten the message. But I was exhausted and shortsighted and I hesitated, until I fell asleep too.

Because we sat in my car out of the cold and the rain until her dad came. And when she asked for my number I didn’t just say, “I would, but I have to hurry up and get home.” She would have gotten the message.

Because we watched a movie at her house with two of our best friends, who as it turned out were a couple. Four people. One couch. A three-hour movie.

But for all that I really did do everything I could think of- save telling her to her face I didn’t like her back- to try to lose her interest. I guess that whole saying that ‘love is blind’ wasn’t just the nonsensical child of some romantic’s right-side brain. That’s usually how I write off most aphorisms. Not that I can talk; if ever I can’t find my heart on my sleeve I start worrying it’s missing, but I digress….

Midas was almost as good as me at turning everything he touched to stone. And even though the girl he killed wasn’t a romantic interest, our two situations are still principally the same. We accidentally hurt someone we cared about, but with the best intentions. The difference is that for Midas, there was a time of perfect happiness when wherever he went, he made things better. His kingdom blossomed, his people flourished. On the other hand, I live in real life, and I was never rich. Or a king. But again, I digress.

Romeo Montague flippantly wooed an impressionable girl with tragic consequences. Namely, poison and a dagger through the heart. While my situation wasn’t nearly as dramatic and I tried not to leave an impression on the girl (who also wasn’t thirteen), her heart was still pierced and I’m still regretful.

The one thing I’d wish you would take from this is that a heart isn’t something to play with. It isn’t something to ignore but neither is it something to indulge. Doing so almost invariably leads to regret, which weighs on your steps, your pen and paper, even your dreams.

“Then Saul said, ‘I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have committed a serious error.'” -1 Samuel 26:21