He Knows The Familiarity: A Short Story

Previously published with Thread Literary Inquiry Spring 2016.

He finds himself sprawled on a sticky, damp concrete floor. A single light bulb illuminates the steel doors that line the walls around him. The light flickers, casting shadows on the rough ground beneath.

Nausea overwhelms him as a splitting jolt jumps through his arm, up his spine, and against his cerebral receptors. Horror and confusion ravage him as he stares at the gnarled stub of his missing hand. He questions why he’s in his current situation, but only for a moment, as tears stream down his face. Around him the room pulsates, expanding in and out. He pushes himself up with his remaining limb, rushing to the door in front of him. He is covered in blood. His hand slips, struggling to turn the knob of the metallic gate. He begins to scream. There isn’t a sound.

Only a dream; he awakes in the frustrated condensation of sweat and tears. A violent storm outside startles him to the comfort of his filthy living room. He holds his left hand in front of his face in bewilderment. Isolated from reality, he lays on a torn apart couch, only to leave time to time to restock a collection of open wine bottles smothering his coffee table–drinking straight from the bottle to avoid dishes. There is only a single light source from the bleakness of a corner lamp. On the floor, light reflects from aluminum beer cans and a slow revolving loop spins from a ceiling fan. He shifts his attention from his hand to the fan occasionally.

He takes a swig from an open wine bottle beside him. It’s sour from age. The red poison tears his throat as he forces the liquid down. He clenches his eyes to the burning desire and stares back at his hand. He contemplates the dream he had just awoken from and realizes it’s the first time he has dreamt in weeks.

 Heavy knocks startle him. He looks to the door for validity. The unpredictable white noise of rain and thunder rolls through louder, accompanying more impatient strikes against his building.

“Yeah, hold on!”

He worms his way off the couch onto his feet and places the wine bottle among its comrades.

“Always in the evening with this guy” he mumbles.


He places his hand gently on to the doorknob, creeping the gates of hell open, “listen, man, it’s late”, and sees nothing but the world of terror heard from inside his sanctuary. He freezes. Frightened by nature, or what demons could have managed to find themselves in–he looks back inside. The peripheral of someone, or something, rests among the mess beside his couch and coffee table. A gust blows the door against its hinges. He stares at the figure, a woman, alarmed. Only during eye contact, does he recognize her. Heavy dark brown curls fall over her smooth pale complexion as black and white floral outlines bleed through her dress onto her skin. The dress hovers over her dangling bare feet. She sits with her legs crossed, a pack of cigarettes resting on her lap. She takes one out, tossing the pack aside within the abyss of alcoholic clutter.

“Hey, Dirk” she says, lighting a cigarette daintily in her mouth. Within a motion she drags it and glides thick smoke from her nostrils and mouth. She looks at the clutter of bottles and cans, moving her finger around the orifices, and picks up the bottle of wine he had been drinking from before.

“It looks like you already started the party. Did you plan on offering your little sweetheart a drink or–”

“What the hell are you doing here, Julie?” He exhales his words in anxiety.

Julie smiles at him, taking another long drag from her cigarette.

“I guess I’ll just help myself then, huh?” She takes a swig from the bottle and coughs a little bit of the red sludge back up in displeasure. “Foul”, she struggles to articulate, “I wouldn’t expect anything less”.

He sits in the love seat adjacent to her and glances at the pack of cigarettes on the table.

“Says the one smoking American Spirits. Since when do you smoke, anyway?”

“Well, I figured any smokes will kill you, but at least these will make you feel like it”.

“Such a disgusting habit”.

“I’m afraid you and I both know there are plenty of other things that can make you feel disgusting, love”.

Julie looks into his stale blue eyes. “Aren’t you curious why I’m here?”

“I suppose that’s going through my mind right now”. He grabs the bottle from her hands to drink. “But then again there’s a lot going through my head”.

The two sit in silence staring at each other in dead air. She releases a smile, sending an electrical bliss through his reflexes. He flinches at her gaze. It had been a long time since he had seen such a beautiful smile on such an aesthetic woman. It speaks nothing but despair–her pity, his regret.

“Oh, cut the shit, Jules. What do you want? You don’t return my calls for months and now-”

“And the coward shows his true colors at last,” she exclaims. “You know avoiding the inevitable, that’s something, but-”

“But what? I’ve been waiting for anything to tell me that I can be regular again, that we can go back to the way we were, but you and I both know it can’t happen”.

“Oh, spare me”. She puts out her butt in an open bottle and lights another. “Haven’t you ever stepped outside to breathe? A minute to contemplate what you already had and lost?”

“Not everything is so black and white, you know”, he inspects Julie and sighs, “I haven’t felt right, how can I feel-”

“And there you go again. You made your decision and I made mine. Besides, we both know about Maria”.

He rubs his eyes to concentrate on Julie. “Wait, how do you-”

“Who really needs to cut the shit now? You think that you went to Spain and I got dumber?” She inhales. “Adulter”.

Dirk studies her. Her demeanor is cold, it chills the air around him.

“I’m not proud of myself. Impulse, if we can call it something, got the better of me”.

“And impulse left me alone after an unimpressive ‘fuck session’ didn’t it? Bravo, Dirk”.

His voice raises, “I don’t get this. Why are you here? What do you want from me?”

“To admit it”.

“Admit what? That I’ve repented?” He drinks from the bottle, catching the ash and cigarette bud in his mouth before spitting up. “Fuck”. He chases the distaste with the remains of a different bottle. “Two long months, months of running away from myself, running away from you, learning to overcome suffrage with salvation. Learning how to forgive myself-”

She laughs. “You’re pathetic. Do you really believe yourself at this point, love?”

He slams his fist against the table, knocking over some of the bottles. “So what do you want me to say then, Jules? That these past few months I haven’t been thinking about you? That one day you’ll come back and everything will be back to normal? This idealistic, naive thought that it’ll just be me and you again, right? Just Dirk and Julie? Do you want me to admit that I made a mistake? I know I made a damn mistake-”

“You tell me. After all, there isn’t a Dirk and Julie anymore. There will only be memories”. She sprawls herself out on the couch and exhales smokes, “Last I checked, it could be Dirk and Maria, right?” She puts her cigarette out on the coffee table and laughs. “You don’t know what you want anymore”.

He begins to cry. The same anxiety of his dream sweeps over him again as he quivers his sentiment. “It’s not that”.

“Then what was it, love. You knew the consequences of your choices”.

He looks down at his left hand. His whole body is shaking. “I just wish we could still be friends”.

“And why is that? After all-”

“Right. Memories are forever”. He looks back to Julie but she’s gone.

The shadow of the loop circles the room around and around until the knotted rope falls in the place she had been. He looks at the intricacy of each knot, the art of his noose, and back at his hand. It all feels numb to him: the bottle guided by the despair within himself, the light illuminating his angst, and the tremble of his non dominant hand. He lays down on his couch to stare at his hand, thinking about his dream. A part of himself, lost forever from his decisions. He looks to his left hand and ponders all he has lost. He looks to his right hand and sees what he still has.


9 thoughts on “He Knows The Familiarity: A Short Story

  1. Fleeing from his cave of pity and despair, Julie tossed the pack of cigarettes onto the rain soaked street. He was right, it was a disgusting habit. But his decisions had pushed her into making a few decisions of her own that she wouldn’t have otherwise chosen.

    She thought back to what he had said. If she was being honest with herself, she yearned for friendship too. But how could that ever happen? He had stripped away any chance of that when he betrayed her so haphazardly. And then again. And then again. He didn’t respect her as a partner, how could he respect her as a friend?

    It was a thought that tormented her and followed her like a low hanging cloud for the years to come. In seemingly random moments, a thought would appear in her mind, like a seedling that would continue to grow. Albeit stubbornly, because she had given it no water.

    Eventually, her curiosity got the best of her and she found herself walking down a deserted path of forcefully repressed memories. In her pursuit, she stumbled upon a beautiful, harrowing description of Dirk’s internal struggle.

    Without thinking, her fingers feverishly flew across her keyboard. She paused, and before her was her own articulate tale of a very different struggle. Her finger hovered above the submit button before reason took hold and she erased much of the painful memories. A smirk spread across her face. If only it were so easy to do the same in her mind, all those years before.

    Instead, she left only what she thought should be said before (regretfully?) pressing submit, hoping for a response but also pleading with the universe not to give her one.

                1. Lol that sounds mildly threatening. But I don’t think I’ll take you up on it. My intent was to post my response an leave it at that. To be honest, I figured you’d be a little more intuitive.

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