The War Never Goes Home

This short story was inspired by Vision Writers’ writing prompt. It can be found here.

William ran his metal fingers across the oak table as if he was playing a poorly tuned piano. Each one clanked, indelicately, on the furnishing even though his left-hand’s sharp points made no sign of damage to the ancient timber. “Not much of a person,” he said, his long jaw dropping down and up and jarring motions. “Not sure why you’d ask me that.”

The woman opposite him, Jarelle, placed her hands into a loose praying position and leaned forward. She had five thick scars that ran diagonally across her round face, two of them streaking through her upper and lower lips. Her right eye sparkled like a sapphire catching a rare ray of sunlight on a cloudy day; her left only revealed its colours intermittently as her eyelid twitched and spasmed of its own accord.

She inhaled and inched closer, the metal struts in her fingers glistening under the light of the candles that the restaurant used. “That’s not an answer.” she said, her tone abrupt but also playful.

“It’s not the arm,” William ran his left hand over his right. The white skin and pink nails of one contrasted directly with the metal of the other. “Or my…” He paused, his jaw dropping and holding at the lowest point it could reach. The blackness of his open mouth and blue eyes made his face seem like an ornament wearing an expensive wig. Even his straight nose and flat ears appeared to have become abnormal, parts of a human placed in an exhibit.

His jaw snapped closed. “What’s my life compared to the geniuses before me?” he whispered. “How can I hold your attention with only who I am?”

Jarelle shrugged her muscular shoulders, and adjusted the black straps of her dress. “If I wanted text and debates about restricting nature’s atomic structure, I’d read books. More of them, at least. I don’t come out here, like this,” she ran her flesh-and-steel fingers down red satin cloth, “for nothing. For no one. Tell me about your day.”

Silence descended over the pair’s table. It was an awkward bubble that only went one foot from them. Everywhere else there was talking and chatting, white people laughing and chortling about their day. Glasses clinked together, a man with a moustache shared a joke; a woman with one earring made her partner blush. The stars shone through the restaurant’s glass ceiling, the waiters and waitresses in their immaculate black suits collected plates and dishes on silver trays. A male singer with only a jacket on, no shirt underneath, crooned to the audience about a war far, far away.

“I’m still waiting,” Jarelle said. “Are you going to tell me? About your day? About who you are?”

“I’m a smith,” William replied. Each word sounded long, dragged out as if  was painful to say. “I smith at …Luxvan.”

“Which is on your profile.” Jarelle pushed herself away from the table, her chair cutting into the rug underneath them. “Will, this isn’t my first fiery melt with a man. And I’ve met plenty who love to talk about my looks, their life and their deepest desires until the swill takes them home. You don’t, that’s great. But, I’m curious. I want to know you. You. You’ve got as far as Theodore Cleesvent is going to take anyone.”

“This isn’t some journey,” William replied. “I don’t need to go further.”

“Then tell me your horrid secret so we can stop communicating forever.”

“I have terrifying hallucinations. It’s hard for me to tell what’s here, in the present and what’s not.

“In smithing you can see the light, you can feel its burn. The spark, the flicker, the black and red simmering into nothing. It’s real, it’s the only thing that’s real. When my friend dies, again, there’s the light. Simply a faint white in screams. Those are my days.”

“And you’re a knight trying to save me from them?”

“I don’t want you to save me from them. I’m not looking for someone to come in and have to save me. They shouldn’t have to. No one should.” William’s jaw opened once more. His eyes flicked left and right, finally settling on Jarelle’s dark skin and purple irises. “I like listening to other people’s stories, it reminds me there’s a world out there. A world that’s not mine.”

Jarelle’s shoulders slumped. “You’re using me?”

“In a way, I assume. It’s difficult for me to know where friendship begins and use of people ends.”

“If I threw this napkin down,” she picked up a white cloth, “and stormed out, what would you do? Find another woman online and start the cycle again?”

“I’d sit here until everyone else had left, so I knew which people were only in my mind and then go home.” William’s hands slid horizontally across the table and then tapped the plate in front of him. “One person is difficult enough to remember.”

Jarelle’s left eye twitched faster as she lowered her head. She stared directly at the table, her glass of white wine still full and untouched. With a jerk of her right hand, she sat back up and focused on William. “I like you. I don’t know how crazy you are Will, but I want to find out. Perhaps too much, I don’t know; so I’m not leaving.”

“I hoped you wouldn’t.”

As if seeming to have not heard him, Jarelle continued, “And I’ve been asking the wrong questions. Tell about the dreams you had today. What did you see?”

“An antler with six teeth,” William started, “and a walrus that swallowed a kitten while singing a song.”

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