by Javier Puentes

I walked a few blocks in the cold, holding my coat close to keep the chilled air out.

Walking is comforting; it gives me a chance to relax. Walking home; I've always wondered

about the people I passed, every one of them unique in their own way. Worthless in their

uniqueness. Each one of them holding something that can create and conquer, or destroy

and relinquish. Something that could free them or keep them captured. We're all like that

though aren't we? Doesn't everyone have some dark truth that we wouldn't want the people

we associate with to know? I'll take me as an example. I don't have secrets that can hold

any worth. Nothing great that can tear apart, likewise nothing that can help or heal.

Secrets that to me are shattering.


This is the case with most people. I believe that there are very few among us that

truly have no demons to face. And those people are the lucky ones; because without these

fears, they can truly love themselves and live out their lives in peace.

So out of self-hate my paranoia was born. I figured, if I hate myself so much, then

everyone else must hate me as well. Maybe even harm me? That's the way I constantly

thought and felt.

Until the day I met Shelley. Incredible Magnificently glowing hair, and a

complexion to match. The first thing that attracted me to her was the first thing I noticed;

her hands. The smoothest, softest touch you could ever imagine.

She came into the store one day to buy a used paperback. I didn't notice her then

since I was too busy reading. I only caught a momentary glimpse at her to give her the

receipt, and felt the softness of her hands as they brushed against mine. That was my first

encounter with her.

A few weeks later she returned to purchase another novel. Having finished my

book a few days earlier, I now had nothing to do but wait on customers and stand idly by

waiting for the time to pass. When she came to pay for her book I noticed her hands

again; all at once I knew it was the same woman. I looked up from the change I had

placed in her palm.

I caught a full view of her as she brought her head up. She had a wonderful set of

sleepy doe-like-eyes wonderfully round, acutely aware and innocent. A thin wasp of hair

was hanging in front of her eyes. She reached up and brushed it back behind her ear as

she put the receipt and change in her purse.

"I remember you." I said.

"You were in here buying a novel a few weeks ago wheren't you?"

She turned her head up to me.

"Yes I was" She paused a moment."My name is Shelley by the way." She said

with the tiniest hint of a smile.

"Shelley..." I repeated.

"A little odd I know, but my parents liked choosing names for their children that

aren't really in fashion in anymore."

The store was empty, as it usually was on a weekday afternoon. This gave us

plenty of time to just converse about nothing in particular. Of course like all new

meetings we started off with the simple questions like, "where are you from?" and "what

type of music do you like?", The usual parade of questions that follow. Hearing her talk

was an experience. A type of high I guess would be the best way to describe it. Most

people usually get this feeling from doing drugs or getting drunk to the point where they

numb themselves. I got it from hearing Shelley talk. Intoxicating, and for the briefest of

moments I forgot myself. I forgot my paranoia, and the heart-ache and the madness that

accompany each other. I forgot myself in the beautiful, dreamy eyed Shelley.

After a few hours she said goodbye and we parted company. By this time we had

moved on to another section of the store and had been having coffee. I was able to watch

her move across the carpet and exit the building. A feeling of emptiness crept up inside


The days came and went and all I could think about was Shelley. In the few hours

we had spent together; thoughts and feelings had been replaced by her. The days at the

store seemed brighter, somehow less demeaning than they where before. The emptiness

was still there; but it was not as burdening as it had been.

I started to think that maybe life wasn't as bad as I had thought it was. That all the

wicked things I had done in the past no longer mattered. I had reason now to get up in the

morning, reason to fall asleep at night without fear and frustrations. I didn't know what

caused Shelley and I to meet at that point in my life, all I knew was that there was

no better time. What happened that day between us was a pure and simple connection. An

understanding of each other that had somehow connected us in perfect unison. Where

was she now though? Was all I wondered about. Had our connection been a pure fantasy

on my part? A delusion of something existing that simply wasn't there?

I didn't know what I would do if I never saw her again. At least for one talk. We

had poured our lives out to each other. Our souls, if you can believe in such a thing. But

the days came and went and all I could do was wonder.

By the end of the month the last leaves had fallen from the trees outside the store.

The nights were getting colder and the days shorter. Still thoughts of Shelley occupied

my mind.

The store was deserted this late in the evening. As families would be getting ready

for a nice sit in front of the television with a nice cup of cocoa or hot tea, to match the

season bell above the door jingled and I looked up to greet the customer.

It was Shelley.

She was wearing a beige colored overcoat and a pair of simple black shoes with

matching gloves to keep the warm inside.

"Hello..." she said.

I couldn't think of anything to say, so all I did was stare at her. Then finally my throat

decided to work again and I replied to her a simple,

"Hello Shelley."

It looked like it'd been days since she last felt a good nights rest. The beautiful

glistening eyes that had drawn my attention had been replaced by bloodshot, swollen

misrepresentations of their former beauty. Her cheeks where stained with tears. She had

been crying.

She had been crying hard.

She held a small box with a plain white envelope taped to the top of it. I didn't

know what was inside.

"I didn't know if I should have came back here or not." she said. I had been so

focused on the box that I jumped a little when she spoke.

"I figured I owed you an explanation, that much at least." She went on.

"Explanation for what? What's wrong?" I said. The words coming out like a first

grader stammering a sentence.

"Dear...Dear sweet...." She tilted her head to the side a little and reached up to

stroke my cheek, not being able to finish the sentence. I reached up with my own hand to

cup hers. I could feel a choke in the back of my throat. The tears where beginning to

swell up in my eyes.

"Dear sweet troubled....I can't speak to you anymore. I can't come back here

anymore. I thought that I could change things this time. After the afternoon we shared, I

was certain I could change things for myself. I was wrong. You spoke of your trouble,

but vaguely. I didn't speak of mine at all. I have too many ghosts to hide. To much

wickedness in my past to be able to find a peace. So much that I cannot bring another

person into it. I know that you feel we had something, could have had something more. I

feel it too. I've never felt it so powerful. It's enough for me to never see you again. I

couldn't live if I knew something happened to you because of the things I've done. I'm

sorry. Just remember the day we shared. A Love that grew from those very short, sweet

hours we spent together. I know you won't forget me; I know I will never forget you. I'm

sorry for the hurt I'm causing us both by doing this." At this I put my other hand on top

of our two already holding each other.

I stroked her hand a little before raising it to my lips and planting a gentle kiss on

her palm. She let out a sigh. I heard her hold back a choke as she pulled her hand from

mine and rushed out the door. My mind kept racing back to the start of her...

"Dear sweet troubled...." It was so hard for her to let me go that she couldn't even say my

name. Knowing that kept me from even thinking about the box she had left me.

It wasn't until a few days later that I got the courage to open the envelope she had

left on top of that little box. There was a sheet of paper inside. Neatly folded. I stared at it

awhile wondering what could be written on it...

"Dear," read the first line.

"I'm sorry for all the pain I know I'm causing you. I just wanted you to know that

I didn't see the same man you see; the ugly self-hating man you see everyday. Look in the

box and you'll see what I saw when we spoke."

The box was tiny. No bigger than a little music box. No design on the lid, just a

plain wooden box with a simple hinge.

I read the letter through twice before folding it up and putting it back in the


I looked in the box and found a small mirror. A mirror like a woman would keep

in a makeup kit.

Thoughts came to me about how I was before I met Shelley. I had been a man

unkempt. I never shaved or cared how I looked, in side I was a monster, a man with

nothing to gain or lose.. I had lost so much hope in myself that I didn't care what I was

like on the outside anymore.

Since the time that I had met Shelley; my physical appearance had changed along

with my inner appearance. I had a reason to be someone else. A reason to change the

monster that I was into a person, to have goals and ambitions. Even the creatures

of contempt and chaos that so intently haunted my nights where now gone because of her.

Something I couldn't possibly have done alone. Shelley changed all that in one simple


The mirror showed the person that I was now today. Neatly trimmed hair and

ironed clothing. Clean shaven face and clear complexion. My eyes no longer had a blank

listless stare to them. Instead they where now full of life and curiosity.

Shelley met me a dying man and looked past that. She saw in me what I saw in

the mirror. Myself...

It's another boring day. The people come and go. They pass me a few dollars for a

tattered paperback. Something to keep them occupied on those nights when sleep doesn't

visit. Those nights that sleep is scared away by guilty thoughts and pleasures.

Of course some of them are worse than others. That could destroy lives. It's their

entire fault though. Punishments for the choices they've made. But it doesn't bother me

anymore. I no longer look at them with disgust like I use to.

So I sit here and I write. Occasionally I'll look up towards the window behind the

register. Hoping that Shelley will forgive herself and she'd be standing out there in her

beige coat, with her beautiful hair blowing in the wind. The tears dried from her face and

a smile on her lips but all I see is the trees growing their leaves and the flowers

blossoming. Gently the spring breeze flutters across the walk, waiting and wondering.

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