Sandy Price was laying in the bed, hands folded on her chest, breathing slowly, eyes glued to the stucco ceiling overhead. She could remember it clearly. She could remember everything clearly. She rolled over and looked at Derek, asleep, and grimaced. She got out of bed and walked softly to the kitchen, where she took a glass out from the cupboard, walked to the sink, looked at it for a moment and then instead reached under the sink for the gin. She poured herself a glass and walked to the large window at the end of the living room of their studio apartment, glancing out at the city. Sandy had always liked the city at night. She’d always liked night, in general, but especially the city. How it lit up, looked so vibrant and welcoming and warm. She now knew it wasn’t, but as a little girl, it comforted her to think that there was this place that was so safe and cozy.
She sipped her gin and heard a groan behind her. She turned to see Derek standing in the door frame between the living room and the bedroom. She sighed as he rubbed his eyes and approached her.
“Are you ok? Why’re you up?” he asked, and she shrugged.
“Why not,” she replied, “What’s the point of sleeping. Doesn’t make me feel any better. All my dreams are terrible. Might as well be awake at a time when I actually enjoy looking at the shithole we live in,” she said, motioning her hand with the drink in it towards the cityscape.
“Is this about Rufus?” Derek asked, hushed, like he was afraid of what would come next. As if saying this name would spawn forth from the depths of hell a million demons hellbent on the destruction of the earth, and often when regarding Sandy’s anger, that wasn’t a far off analogy. Sandy slowly turned back to the window and swirled the gin in her glass.
“Rufus has nothing to do with any of this,” she said coldly, “Besides, how could he be involved in anything when he’s a thousand miles away…when did I get so cold? When did we get so cold, and not just you and but the proverbial ‘we’. Nobody asks how another persons day was anymore, and nobody seems to provide simple acts of human kindness like holding doors open for old people. This isn’t a rant about the death of humanity, god knows that’s been overdone to death by bleeding heart liberals writing for websites with cutesy names like ‘Boodles’ or something. I’m a liberal too, but I’m not the kind who thinks simple technological advances like smart phones are going to cause the death of conversation.”
Derek sat down on the arm of a chair and rubbed his shoulder, sighing.
“What is this about then? Just how distant you feel about everything?” he asked, and she rolled her eyes and snorted.
“Yeah, distant, let’s go with that. Everyone wants personal space in a city that thrives on community. There’s nothing wrong with privacy, everyone is entitled to it, it’s their right to want to have their own time and their own space, but engagement, even on a level as simple as saying ‘nice day, isn’t it?’ is so crucial to simply keeping the lines of communication between our own fucking species going. We cannot allow ourselves to become this cut off from another. Those girls I teach…”
Sandy sat down on the window sill and looked at her nails, exhaling loudly.
“…they don’t judge one another,” she continued, “They help one another figure out their moves if they’re having trouble, and they rally around one another as a team to support eachother and the team as a whole. People say evil is taught. That’s debatable. But what I can tell you is actually taught is cynicism. Bitterness. Coldness. It happens when you’ve been hurt one too many times, when you want to withdraw because you feel you can no longer trust anyone; including yourself, because you keep making the poor decision to open up to just one more person, always knowing the end result is the same.”
“Sandy,” Derek said, “…did I hurt you? I know we’ve had our problems, but we’ve always worked it out one way or another. I know Rufus hurt you. I’m sorry. But how can you stand there and honestly claim that the end result is the same when you live with someone who cares about you tremendously and only has your best interests at heart?”
“…you’ll leave too,” Sandy said softly, letting her hair cover her face so she could hide, “You will. Someone can only put up with negativity for so long before ‘love’ turns to ‘tolerate’. I try so hard to be who you think I am, who you would love for me to be, but it’s not me. I’m an angry, upset young lady. Is that really who you love? Or do you just love the idea you have of me?”
Derek stood up and walked over to the window sill, sitting in it with her, looking out the window at the city lights.
“Remember a few years ago when we went with my folks to that ski resort? We spent a lot of the time inside, just sitting by that giant fire pit, sipping cocoa and reading and just…enjoying something for once without worrying about the financial ramifications? You looked really pretty with that fire light flickering on your eyes, curled up in that chair, just sucked into your literature.”
“What’s with the nostalgia kick?” Sandy asked, swirling her index fingertip inside her empty glass, “You think this is how we fix our problems?”
“I’m just trying to get you to remember something nice, that’s all. If we could go on vacations like that as often as our parents could at our age, I would love it. You want to dance, you want to teach girls to dance, but then you go to work and you seem so miserable and you only seem happy when you’re alone. When you have no responsibilities.”
“So you’re saying my argument is hypocritical?” Sandy asked, sniffling.
“Well, who isn’t hypocritical?” Derek asked, grinning, “But no, what I’m saying is that a lot of people can’t do both. You can. You do. A lot of people are so…dead inside or something that they just shut off their humanity and do what they must to survive, even if it means only caring about themselves or their family and nobody else. But you can do both, and, hell that’s admirable. You’re mad because you don’t know why everyone else can’t do what you do. That’s what I’m saying. You want to grab them and shake them and scream ‘Why is this so goddamn difficult for you?!’ but that’s the thing, it just is goddamn difficult for them. I agree with you, it’s sad, but…it’s for them to deal with. You keep doing the good that you’re doing, and you’ll feel better I think.”
Sandy pushed her hair out of her face and smiled slightly at Derek, her eyes remarkably pale blue, her skin so pale in the moonlight. She looked out the window again and shook her head.
“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I want to just climb out this window and throw myself to the sidewalk. Just let it all end,” Sandy said, “But then I realize that suicide, at least for me, only seems like a viable option because I am surviving. The others who generally seem to kill themselves really do feel like it’s their only option, or it is their only option, as they’re perpetually unemployed or sick or homeless or something. But I have a place, here, and I have you and I have a job and I…I’m surviving. That’s why it’s an option, and not a necessity.”
“I’m glad you see it that way, because-“
“I miss my mom,” Sandy said, choking up, tears starting to roll down her cheeks, “I called her to talk about my first recital with the girls you saw and…and she wasn’t even in the least bit interested. She called it a ‘hobby’ the entire time. I want to please her so bad and yet I hate her so much. You have your family. Do you know what it’s like to not have family? To be that alone? I have your parents, and you, and the girls at the dance hall but…to not have family. A place you came from, a home…it’s exhausting trying to figure out where you’re supposed to be or even if you’re supposed to be. To not have a place of origin, a backstory, a prologue…is your story even worth reading?”
“You’re worth reading,” Derek said, “You’re the one who pays the majority of the rent on this place, that car is yours, you’re the one with meaningful employment. You’re worth reading. Each chapter it gets better and better, and we can make sure there’s a happy ending.”
“I don’t want to be distant.”
“I don’t want you to be.”
Some dogs barked in the distance, and a few cars drove by underneath them.
“Hey,” Sandy said.
“Yeah?” Derek replied.
“Promise me that if I do ever kill myself, you’ll write my sequel.”