Fake Pearls

The morning the story was printed, I sat in a diner a mile away, a stream of engulfing black coffee. I laughed, thinking of how lost the reporters must have been, trying to find the road that frayed off into nonsense at the end. It could have bent either way when it was built, just turns out that it chose the wrong way. I can’t say the same for myself. They wrote that the fire didn’t make sense, and neither did the house, but I know that they didn’t see the half of it. By the time they got to the house, one side drooped more than the other, but both were pitch black. That was when I knew she was gone for good.

I pulled the scarf from my head, watching its carbon folds settle like oil in my lap. When I left, I had only packed black clothes. However, this morning, I was no longer afraid of being recognized. I packed black clothes because that’s what was on the clothesline the night I crept from his bed and walked until I couldn’t anymore. I brought no watch and I left no breadcrumbs.

The house at the end of Candlestick Lane was strewn to the side like a string of fake pearls, glimmer peeling away and exposing their rough insides. It slid to one side and there was a layer of dust on everything, thick as icing on the cake from a wedding called off the night before. I didn’t want to think about the wedding. The house looked like a widow from a distance, but as I approached, I realized that it was two houses pressed tight against each other. Two identical pairs of creaky shutters, two flowerboxes full of what were once sunflowers flinging themselves off the edges of cliffs, and two front doors that slid open in the same motion, with an identical puff of dust.

I knew that the right one was for me, with it’s roof that settled into the dust just a little more. And when I pushed open the door and felt the dust float like a wedding dress train behind me, I gasped at what I saw: tables, chairs, pots, and pans all filled to the brim with candles, burnt to stubs, wicks balanced anxiously on themselves. And through the window of the kitchen, I saw her. My shadow in reverse, my bride all along, and the thing that kept my trick candle flame rushing back up time and time again. She wore all white, and slipped past me like a ghost, hair streaming behind her. She did this day after day for the first week I lived there, and so I sat, writing and tearing up letter after letter, holding my breath for a glimpse of her. When she finally knocked on my door, sending a shudder through the halls, I answered immediately;. It was then that I saw her eyes for the first time: the kind of green that absorbed all of the light in the room and send it hurdling into my face. She lifted a rusty bucket to me, and with a smile, turned away.

The black paint had obviously been abandoned for some time, because it was cracked on the surface, separating in ivory swirls and dipping back into sickly grey. But I was under her spell at this point, so the next morning, I took to covering every inch of my side of the house in it. I set up a ladder to reach the top of the house, and she walked straight under it, daring me to wish her bad luck with those marble eyes. By the time I climbed back down, desperate to pull her close, she was gone. When I got back into the house, I scrambled about, knocking over candles and looking for a mirror. And when I found one, leaned against the piano with half of the keys dangling back into its body, I peered at my own eyes. Dark and hollow, they rejected any light that came near them. That’s when it clicked: white is the reflection of every color, screaming over each other’s voices in a room too small to fit all of them. My only job was absorption.

For years, it was just the two of us. We sat side by side on the porch at night, passing a bottle of whiskey back and forth, not a car to interrupt us. Sometimes, we would watch a candle burn it’s way down to its feet, seeing the wick reach its white hot peak before slipping into dark estrangement. Sometimes, she would lean in to kiss me, cool and dusty on my lips, never lingering for more than a few moments. But one day, she didn’t come. I sat on the step all night, waiting for her door to open, but it never did. The next night was the same. Each cup of coffee grew cold and black in the morning as I sat by the window, seeing the dust rise and fall with my exhales. So finally, I pushed through her door one day to see a house that looked exactly like mine, except for the fact that each candle remained unlit.

The morning the story was printed, I finished my cup of coffee, and read the final line of the article. “When we entered the home, the entire place was covered in candles burned down to the stub, as if someone had lit each one of them and then left, knowing full well what would come next.” I took off my jacket. Then my black boots. Then the long black glove from each one of my hands, laying them on top of each other next to the empty mug, a ring of milk on the table. As I left, I saw a woman watching me through the window, pausing mid sip, startled by the barefoot woman in white descending into the distance.


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