Short Stories

Short Story: Stories of Nonexistence

She passed a man who looked like he had sold his world. She stopped walking and glanced behind at the man, who sat on the bench in yesterday’s clothes and bottle covered with a brown bag. Shit, she thought, taking two more steps onward, but then turning around. She slowly made it to the man, who barely registered her walking there. There they were around the usual morning rush to work, ignored by those who heard nothing past their headphones. She clutched onto her grandpa’s old satchel when she sat next to the man.

“Good morning,” she said as the man was going to take a swig of the bottle he had been nursing.

It took time for him to turn his attention to her. “Morning,” he grunted.

“A bad night?” she asked.

In response, he gave back a deep frown. Then, when she didn’t look away, the man said, “You could say a year.”

“I hear that a lot. It’s these strange times we live. Not us, but still us, if you get what I mean?” she proposed the exact words she had done so many times before.

Again, her words were met with a frown. The man looked at her from head to toe as if to assess if she was for real. Sometimes she wondered if she should be better dressed in these kinds of situations and not wear the skirt her mother had worn in her teens and coat she had found at a flea market. And her brown vintage mocha shoes weren’t convincing anyone she knew what she was doing in this world. On the contrary, it told anyone paying attention that she had no money to claim as hers or sense of style, as everything she wore clashed with each other. But what it always got was a sympathetic nod from the people like the man in front of her. They saw her as harmless.

“Yeah. Not us, but still us,” he repeated.

“That’s what I have come to think. So, how are things with you?” she asked, shifting her satchel from her lap to the bench.

The man looked at the workers hurrying to the bus stop right past them, saying nothing for a while. She followed his gaze, seeing this glass between the world of the bench and the one occupied by the others—both invisible to the one at the other side. She had never belonged neither nor anywhere. Like everyone, she had a history, but she had told herself so many stories that she wasn’t sure which one of them was the real deal. The one others would accept as a possibility. It was like light, the rays of suns with all its options, yet the human eye detected only a handful, dulling the world to be comprehended. She was like the tetrachromats. Instead of seeing pink and purple in the shadows, she witnessed the stories unfolding everywhere, like a mother whispering to her child when she persuaded them to leave the duck alone and hurry to the daycare. One more important than the other. She saw those choices. Or like the voice of the man she was sitting next to, his words that life was doomed; whatever he had done was unforgivable; made him nothing. It was the stories of nonexistence which made her heart break. She never told those to herself. She would rather be the forgotten princess of the universe, left on Earth by mistake, than invisible. That was the thing. The world had suddenly become full of invisible people whose stories were taken away from them and devalued as worthless.

“Theirs is theirs, and yours is yours. No one can take it away from you. So what do you want it to be?” she asked.

“A good one. The one where I wasn’t obsessed with the past and dwell on my shortcomings. The one where I saw those around me.” He swallowed, having not meant to say any of it aloud.

Sometimes she said that she had that effect on people, but somehow, such words seemed too detached after a declaration the man had done. “Then you will have it.” She leaned in, startling the man, but he calmed down as her words poured out, changing his life story to another. The lines on the man’s face melted away, the hair turned darker, the eyes sparkled, and yesterday’s clothes turned into jeans and a short black jacket. When she was done, the man jumped up from the bench and hurried to the coming bus, forgetting she had ever been there.

So it always went. She gave them a new story, and she never existed. But she had accepted that a long time ago. It was their story to keep and not her glory to have. She stood up from the bench, getting on the bus from the back door, heading home where the reality of her making bloomed.

Thank you for reading! Have a beautiful day ❤

© K.A. Ashcomb

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