This story is by Tania Sholes and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Our Victorian style apartment is how I left it. His cane rocking chair by the fireplace. On the mantle are his round John Lennon sunglasses. The couch and stereo are still here. Everything is here, except the oriental rug. It’s gone just like him. Yet, I still feel him. His presence lingers in the air like his stale cigarette smoke. The album he played the last night we were together is still on the turntable. I turn on the player and lift the needle and gently place it on the record. It makes a scratchy popping sound.
The music begins.
The bullet hole and cracks in the plaster looks like a spiderweb. A reminder that we never had a chance.
The last time I saw Jake, he wanted to play a stupid game that turned deadly serious in a blink of an eye. I had been sitting on the couch watching TV, finishing my fourth glass of wine when Jake came out of the bedroom, carrying a plastic black case that looked like a small tool kit. He paused the movie I had been watching, saying he had something to show me. I thought it was weird he was so excited over a tool box. It took my breath away when he opened it and lifted a gun out of the case. I looked away as if bored even though my heart was beating a million beats per second.
“My father gave me this,” he said, holding it in his hands, studying it.
“Great,” I said. “Now put it away.” I went to the kitchen to pour another glass of wine. When I came back he was still holding that damn gun.
He lifted his blue eyes to look me in the eye. “I don’t want you to go.”
So we were doing this argument again. I took a sip of wine. “Or what? You will shoot me?” I sat back down next to him. “I’m not sure I even have the job.”
“You’ll get it.”
“You don’t know that.” I stared at the frozen face on the TV screen. He spun the barrel of the revolver. “I really wish you’d put that away,” I said.
“We’re happy aren’t we?”
“Yes,” I said and took a sip of wine.
“Then don’t go,” he said.
“Come with me, then.”
“You know I can’t.”
“I know you won’t.”
He looked hurt. His agoraphobia had gotten to the point that it was debilitating. He never wanted to leave the apartment.
“Jake, we can’t stay in this apartment forever,” I said. “Eventually we have to step outside and join the real world.”
“You can,” he said as he turned the gun over in his hands.
“So can you.”
He shook his head, still staring at the gun. “I thought we were soul mates.”
“We are.” I leaned over and put my hand on his pale face and turned it to me so I could kiss him. “I love you. Always and forever.” At first I thought he wouldn’t kiss back. Then he did, but quickly pulled away.
“You don’t mean it.” He sounded like a child.
“Then stay here. Don’t take the job.” He spun the barrel.
When I didn’t respond immediately, he jumped up and went over to the stereo to put on the soundtrack to Romeo and Juliet. The classic 1968 version, not the Dicaprio disaster of a film. I waited for him to ask for me to dance like he always did when he played this musical score.
“Let’s play Russian Roulette,” he said.
“If it clicks, you stay.” He put the gun to his temple. His blue eyes grew wide and he jutted out his chin. I swear I saw him smile. Before I had a chance to stop him, he pulled the trigger.
“GODDAMNIT!” I screamed and jumped up.
He laughed. “Relax. There are no bullets. Your turn.” He pointed the gun at me.
I had had enough of his bullshit and started off to the kitchen when the loud bang sent me to my knees. It was like a firecracker had gone off right beside me. My wine glass crashed on the dark hardwood floor. For a split second I thought the glass shattering was what had caused the noise. Wine splashed and ran down the white wall like purple blood. I clamped my hands over my ears to stop the sharp ringing, but it did no good.
“Oh my God!” Jake dropped the gun on the floor as if it had bit him and ran over to help me up. His hands ran over my body searching for a wound. The bullet had missed me and struck the wall. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered over and over like some twisted mantra. “I thought it was empty.”
I shoved him back. “Don’t touch me,” I said through gritted teeth. I was in shock and furious that he would play suicidal games with me. Still shaking, I grabbed my purse and slipped on my shoes.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m not going to stay here and watch you kill yourself. Is that why you play that soundtrack all the time?” My chest and stomach burned with anger. “I’m not your Juliet.”
“It was a mistake,” he said. “You can’t go. Not like this.”
There was nothing left to say. I had to get out of there before something bad happened. I just didn’t know how bad it would be. Maybe if I hadn’t run out the door – if I hadn’t been so scared – if I had only stayed . . .
I hurried down the stairs that led from his apartment to the foyer. The neighbor came out of her downstairs apartment, wearing her university shirt and shorts to see what was going on. When she saw me run by her, she let out a scream as if she had seen a ghost and retreated back into her apartment and slammed the door.
“Don’t leave,” he pleaded from the top of the stairs. “I’m sorry.”
I left because I was too scared to go back into that apartment with him. Part of me hoped he would chase after me. When I turned to see if he was behind me, I saw Jake standing in the window of the apartment watching me leave.
That was the last time I saw him.
I did get the job, just like Jake said I would, but I don’t want it anymore.
There are dark brown stains on the wall next to the window. That’s where he did it. The blood bleeds through no matter how many layers of paint the owner applies.
I can feel him next to me. He whispers,“stay.” It’s like a kiss on my neck.
“One more dance.”
The music starts again.
I take the gun from my purse. It’s not the same gun he used, but it is similar. A revolver. I release the cylinder and push it out of the frame. I slide in three bullets in every other chamber. Like a daisy. He loves me, he loves me not. I spin the barrel and push it back into place. Locked and partially loaded, it feels heavy in my hand. The sweet sad music of Romeo and Juliet’s love theme swells. I sway on my feet, rocking from foot to foot. “I’ve danced with you too long, Jake.” Hot tears run down my face. “I never wanted anything more than you.”
He appears before me like he has been waiting for me. I stare at his blue eyes and smile. “We’re supposed to be together forever.” I hold the gun to my temple. “My future was you.”
I shake all over feeling cheated somehow. He watches me. The music is almost over. I hear someone on the stairs outside the apartment. How many times do I have to keep doing this? It’s like I’ve been in this one place, dancing with him, forever.
He loves me, he loves me not. “He loves me.” I pull the trigger.
The door to apartment number three swings open. The owner of the old house comes in to check on his recent paint job. No matter how many air filters he puts in this apartment, he can’t get rid of the cigarette smoke. It lingers in the empty apartment, mixed with the smell of fresh paint. In his peripheral view, he thinks he sees shadows dancing in front of the large window. A chill tickles the back of his neck as he goes over to the wall and sees the brownish stain seeping through the white paint. It grows darker, almost crimson, right before his eyes. He decides to hire professional painters to see if they can’t get rid of the blood stains and hurries out of the apartment. When he gets to the bottom of the stairs, it sounds like music is coming from upstairs, from apartment number three.