The black arrowhead strung deep across George’s chest on a brown, gnarled cord, its outline sharp and pointed. He was sipping on his fourth whiskey and staring into the pockmarked wood of the bar top. Everyone knew who he was. Everyone knew where he sat — even when he wasn’t around, the center stool remained empty. As if it was irradiated.
I was feeling tipsy and brave. How are you doing? I asked.
Could be better.
I knocked back my drink and prepared for a raspy monologue, but nothing else leaked from the guy besides ethanol fumes. He gripped the bar top with scarred fingers, holding his own against the tide of whatever was dragging him deep into the ocean, past the surf foam, past the buoys that marked safe swimming, and past the distant pleasure boats that held close to the shore. I kept pressing with the questions. When I asked about women, he uncurled his fingers from the wood and pressed the arrowhead edge into his sternum.
Blood formed thin Rorschach blots on his shirt. His face didn’t change. He must be used to it. I thought of scars, crisscrossing his heart like the location of a treasure chest on a pirate map, and drew back. I wasn’t welcome in his world, but I couldn’t leave just yet. I ordered another drink. The haze crept on the edge of my vision.
One for you?
He shook his head.
What was her name?
He breathed out a syllable or two, like a sacred prayer, but I didn’t catch it. I almost asked him again but he pressed harder and the blot darkened and spread.
She came and left.
And that was that. In a moment of ecstatic clarity, I filled in the gaps and I knew. She had crashed into his life, a bullet train with its brakes cut, and he was powerless against her. When she had gone, she ripped off a chunk of him that he had never even known existed, and left the arrowhead as a constant reminder. I knew, and I swear to God I would have bet everything I owned, that he went to bed every night with that fucking thing wrapped around his throat like a collar. When he rolled over in his fitful sleep, the obsidian dug into his chest, tearing into his sternum as a bloody reminder that he was not powerful enough. That someone had bested him and they had reduced him to this, a near-catatonic drunk at some shit bar in some shit city. Talking with me. And I had nothing else to say about that.
I paid for us both and said goodbye. He must not have heard.
I walked past the fleet of cabs idling outside the bar. I kept thinking of George and his bloodied shirt. That woman destroyed him, whoever she was. She was a tornado, tearing through his neighborhood, reducing his home to a pile of splintered wood and broken glass. He was a cancer-stricken survivor of her nuclear blast.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. He would see her face everywhere he went. He would hear her voice in every song and in every conversation. He would compare her touch to everything that he brushed against, and her taste to everything that he put in his mouth. Nothing would compare, because she glowed so bright and hot that his eyes were blind, his eardrums pierced, his fingertips singed, and his taste buds burnt off.
And I was in love with that. I got home, changed, brushed my teeth and lay next to her. My ember. She was breathing, not snoring, and I wished she would have snored. I wish she would have groaned and moved around and maybe said my name and I would have said, baby, it’s me, I’m back.
We would have kissed and I would have held her and been left thinking about her. About the way we hold hands in private and in public. About her body, about her voice, about the things she says, over and over and over again because some people are like that. Some people are predictable and you like it one week and you hate it the next but it never changes. But instead she slept soundly and I was left thinking about the arrowhead. I realized I would never wear an arrowhead for her. She didn’t deserve it. She was still here, she was still mine, and I was still hers. No, it had to be someone else. Someone who flickered in and out of my life like an exploding sun, except I wouldn’t be watching through a telescope. I would be burning.
Did I ever have someone like that before? No one came to mind. I would have known. She was all I had, and she was sleeping so peacefully I couldn’t help but kick her. She woke up, smiled, and whispered my name. I whispered her name, rolling the syllables on my tongue like a cough drop. Suddenly, I had a thought that left me shaking and sweaty.
Maybe she would wear one for me.
Yegor Chekmarev is currently a junior studying engineering at Princeton University.