When You Come Back

This is my only published story, which I submitted to a student writing and art journal in college.

He places the last brick firmly into the corner. His arms reach down to control his fall to the ground. He leans against the wall. As he lifts his arms to wipe the sweat from his forehead, his shoulders fight him. He winces. It had been a long time coming. He stares at the crumpled papers near his feet. I know you will close us off, but I need you to know we still love you. We’ll be here for you when you come back. He squints: when you come back. Who were they to say he’d be back? Don’t they know how much work he did to be alone? Every crack that was letting in light had to be spackled again. He had to make that black air filter himself. The dim, red lightbulb illuminates his face. Another swipe of his hand across his face. Another wince. Solitude. That is what he had been working for. No other people to worry about. No reason to feel anything other than blissful solitude. Why did they try and tell him to stay?

He wakes up to the red light still on, unwavering. It seems to take an eternity for the light to reach the corners of the room. He pushes himself up and wipes the sweat away. He had never been one to perspire so easily. No hunger or thirst comes to him. An acute sense of numbness enters his body. He lies down and lets the red light wash over him with slow, measured persistence. This is solitude. He should be elated. The work he spent to get here was enormous. He thinks about the others. Why didn’t they try to stop him? They just let him walk away. No, they pushed him away. It was their fault. . . . when you come back. His neck tenses as he kicks the paper across the room. He wipes the sweat with his shirt. He gets up and paces around the room. What could they offer that was better than here? He had his room all to himself. He had built it alone. They tried to give him responsibilities, tell him how to live his life. They let others speak for them, other people who didn’t know any better than he did. Those three only gave him pieces of paper. Now he is alone. He had closed them off, kept them at bay. No knocks come to the door. They aren’t even trying. What sort of love is that? He feels weighed down. He put a lot of effort into making this place. His muscles are sore, that’s all. He has time to rest, and think, and pace. To enjoy solitude. Those three can’t interrupt him anymore.

Red. The overwhelming sense of red. It seems to pervade every part of him. The light is duller than when he started. The feeling is more intense. He mops his face with his shirt, pulling it up from his waist to rub his head. His hand begins to reach for the door. He falls to his knees, then on his back. He said he would stay. This is what he wants. He will not let those three get into his head. They would tell him to abandon all of the work he put in, just do something inane somewhere else for someone else. He is happy here. He is alone. He has won. He blinks. He shuffles to the corner so the red won’t come so fast and so strong. He smooths out the papers. He is going to be here for a while, and the light is too strong to be pacing. You think that you cannot talk to us, and we feel that deeply. The pain we have because we know you are leaving is immense. Though you are going to a place we wish you would not, nothing will make us waver. I know you will close us off, but I need you to know we still love you. We’ll be here for you when you come back. And you will realize you never left. Arrogance. The paper is covered in it. A small ray projects onto his thumb. He looks up. A piece of wall has flaked, and light is coming through. He smooths the papers and puts them aside. He fights through the red, moving along the walls to avoid the center of the room. He lies down near the flaked wall. The beam pierces the red. It shines straight across the room. He slowly lifts his head up. He shakes. He stops to wipe the sweat from his face. He takes off his shirt to wipe down his neck and chest. His hand comes back up. It touches the light. He shivers. He forgets the joy of his solitude, of the red, the bricks, and focuses on the light, and the flowing, rushing feeling in his heart. He jerks his hand back. He is not tempted. He is not going to sacrifice his freedom, his release from the world, for them.

Red clouds his vision. Nothing except the wash of red. He feels the papers in his hands. He cannot see the words, but he does not need to anymore. He knows them by heart. No. He just knows them. They do not live in his heart. Two more beams have entered. He sleeps in the center now, in the glow of the red, to avoid them. And you will realize you never left. He went as far away as he could. He isolated himself, and the light still followed. He just wanted solitude, to shut off the world and focus on himself. He was not bothering anybody. There was nobody that relied on him. But these three insisted he not leave. Why is that? They still let him leave. Alone. The joy of being alone. He tries to cry. He wipes his brow. His face is covered in sweat. Were there tears? He doesn’t know. He reaches out to one of the beams. He cannot see it, but it emanates through the red. He can feel its chill on his skin. He doesn’t need them. . . . when you come back. He stands up. When was the last time he stood up? He moves to his right, keeping his arm out. He feels the second beam on him, through him, within him. Are those tears this time? He stumbles on the papers beneath his foot. He clutches them to his weary chest. He is perfectly okay with the red. He will fix those holes today, and finally be able to rest. The beams keep shining. The red is fading from his vision. Another step forward. The third beam envelops him. He nearly collapses, but catches himself on the door. The door? He pushes open the door and stumbles into a blinding light, as soft and cool as a sunset. But he doesn’t fall. He is being held up. The hands are strong, compassionate. Surely these are tears on his face. He blinks. He looks around. Behind him was the Hell he had constructed. He feels arms around him. He is steps from where he began. “I came back.” “We’re here for you.” He had never left.