“A couple years ago I left Alex’s,” he stopped. His throat was dry. He tried to swallow, then kept going, his voice quiet. He stumbled over the words, pausing. “I stood in the middle of the street, unsure whether to walk down to the water, or go home. To accomplish the same purpose. I went home.”
He looked up at the trees, he tried to breathe. In. Out.
“I took a knife out of my kitchen drawer, went to my tub … I called a friend but it was too late. She wasn’t there.”
“I can’t talk about this,” he said. Every part of him was tense.
“But you didn’t do it?” Serendipity asked.
“I remember how red my arms were, but it’s like I couldn’t … I couldn’t break my skin. And I felt so ashamed, ashamed that for everything, I couldn’t even do that right,” he sighed.
He looked down the street.
“One of the women I dated, she loved to cook. She was an amazing cook. And she refused to let me help. She had me sit, drink wine, and keep her company while she made dinner,” Nicholas paused, remembering. “I really appreciated that. I don’t let people take care of me – she forced me to sit down.”
He looked over at Serendipity.
“She was using that knife to cut up some fish, and I asked if the knife was sharp enough – I could buy better knives. She laughed, and told me to stop worrying. The knife was plenty sharp. Everything was fine.”
He paused, thinking.
“That night when I came home from the bar and took that knife out, that was the only voice I could hear. ‘The knife is plenty sharp.’”
He looked away from Serendipity, letting his eyes wander down the street.
“A while after that night, I was chopping up something, I forget what. I slipped and the knife went right across my finger. I held it right away and just braced, waiting for it to bleed. It never did. It stung like hell, I had gone full force across it. But it never bled.”
A few people walked by, and he waited to continue speaking until they passed.
“The knife was dull. It had always been too dull. The knife had not been plenty sharp – she had just been trying to keep me in my chair. Her white lie saved my life.”
They sat in silence. Nicholas looked over at her.
“Who did you call?” Serendipity asked.
“She doesn’t live close. I just … she called back later. We talked and I alluded to having a bad night, but …” he shrugged. “I can’t talk about this.”
Nicholas was shaking. Serendipity took his hand.
“Why did you call her? Were you hoping she could help?”
Nicholas shook his head.
“She’s the only person in my life that I thought I could tell goodbye, and she would wish me well. I just wanted someone to wish me well when I said goodbye.”
He looked up and met her eyes.
“I’ve never felt completely right since. It was an accident that I got out of the tub that night, you know? I shouldn’t be here. Even in the best of times since – I feel like a piece of me has been missing.”
She squeezed his hand.
“It’s because you never really got out,” she said.
“Do you think it’s weak? That I’m weak?”
She stared at him.
“No, I don’t.”
“I do,” he said. He took a deep breath. “It’s no one’s responsibility that I should be alive. No one needs to worry about that. No one needs to feel obligated to check on me or care or do anything. I can carry myself, and if I can’t, then that’s on me and only me.”
“Have you tried any drugs?”
“Indicas are fine,” he shrugged. “Sativas – those put my mind right back to where I was that night. When things get bad, I don’t know – it’s like if life was a painting, but then that painting got too close to a fire and all the colors melted and streamed off it like water. The colors run, there’s nothing left on the canvas.”
“I meant medication or something,” she said.
“Oh,” he said, “No … I … I don’t feel like that … I mean, I don’t know.”
“I think it’s something in me – something I need to answer. And maybe pills would help me feel better, but I’m worried it would make me feel better about not having an answer. I don’t want that.”
“But you keep those other pills?”
He met her eyes and held them.
“Yeah, I do.”
“I think that’s the question you need to answer,” Serendipity said.
A car screeched in the street, startling both of them. They looked over and saw the black cat dashing across the sidewalk and down an alley. Someone from the car shouted, cursing at it.
“That happened yesterday too,” he said. “He’s going to get himself killed,” Nicholas said, pulling his hand away. He sat, thinking.
“Hey – I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t need to put all that on you. Just let it go. I’ll be fine.”
She stared at him, then smiled.
“Do you really believe that?”
“I’ve had stuff going on like this since I was young,” he said.
Another group of people walked by, talking and laughing. Nicholas saw Alex park his car and walk up to open the bar. He raised his hand to Nicholas, and Nicholas waved back. Serendipity smiled and nodded at him.
“Wonder what this looks like?” Serendipity smiled.
“Ah, don’t worry about that. I’m not going to put up with any rumors.”
Serendipity laughed and stood up.
“I have a few things to get to today,” she thought for a moment, “but I would like to listen to you play violin again.”
“Of course. You are welcome to come by my place.”
“Can I meet you on the shore tonight?” she asked.
“Yes. I owe you that,” he said, standing up as well.
“You don’t owe me anything. There is no debt between friends,” she smiled, “Let’s walk a little bit, I have to go up the road and then I’ll meet you later tonight.”
Nicholas nodded, and they began walking up the road. Serendipity stopped, bending her knees to kneel down near a gated garden. She held out her hand.
“What…” Nicholas began.
The black cat came out, reluctantly at first, but then leaned into her hand. She stroked its head.
“See, he’s a sweet little thing,” she said.
“Hopefully he moves on – this isn’t a good spot for strays.”
She began to scratch his neck. “Oh … what’s this?”
She reached down and saw that a collar was tight around his neck. She tried to take it off, but the cat backed away.
“It’s okay, it’s okay I’m trying to help you,” she said. “That must hurt.”
It stepped forward again. She tried to take the collar off, but the cat continued to squirm away.
“See if you can hold him for me,” Serendipity said.
NIcholas stooped down to help but the cat bolted away.
“If he has a collar, maybe he has an owner then?” Nicholas said.
“No, that collar is far too small for him. It’s digging into his skin. Someone put it on him a long time ago,” Serendipity said.
“He probably doesn’t even feel it anymore, only that it hurts when someone tries to take it off,” she stared after where the cat had gone. “Poor thing.”
She turned to Nicholas.
“Well, I’ll meet up with you tonight.”
“What time?” Nicholas asked.
“Whenever you normally begin.”
“An hour before sunset.”
“Enjoy your day, Nicholas,” she said.
He nodded, and watched as she walked away up the street.
He turned and saw the black cat peeking out after her. He looked up at Nicholas, and then darted back down the alley.