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shades; This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

I scrubbed as hard as I could, but the speck of brown would not go away.
I heard them arguing upstairs and wondered how finite love could be. If its glory shed with the seasons, except each passage of time would take years, and winter would always be the last to pass. I thought about badly written love letters and carefully wrapped chopsticks and expensive tweed sweaters, and how none of the vows you speak at the altar matter when your love is outgrown by responsibility. I wanted to know if true love even existed, if it were not just shades of a shabby magic trick waning with dulled senses.
I dreamed about what my mother saw when she first saw those eyes, those pitiless dark eyes. If she were afraid of how the entire sky fell whenever he stared at her, or if she was amazed by the way clouds of stardust replaced the silly blue.
Those were the flip sides to his obsidian nature, the raw and burnt faces of his wordless demeanor.
My father was quenched by millions of pounds of shifting tectonic plates, molded by eons of crushing heat. He hid under the earth, his existence a brewing mass of renewed vengeance. He was not meant to be touched but my mother brought him out anyway, expecting a diamond to cool underneath the soot. She was always naive, my mother. Life gave her some license to hope.
He was never that precious.
It took my mother years of jetlagged mornings and tenuous car rides, brutal work hours and sneaked trips to the mall, refusing doctors’ appointments and rationing her love and her life. Years of all that and more to rake away the grimy layers of black that cooked my father’s heart, boiled it until the blood that used to run down the sides in rivulets vanished as smoke the moment it trickled out. She dug so hard her fingernails became permanently caked in blood, alive with the stink of her loss and her suffering. But my mother never cared much for sacrifice. She believed in retribution.
My mother believed in a lot of things, including my father.
But even as a child, watching my mother stumble over in the waiting room, her body broken by childbirth but her spirit whole by motherhood, I could feel the perpetual absence of my father inhabit the cavities in my rib cage, the ruptures in my veins, the air in my lungs, like some invisible water that raced into my heart and dragged me down to his quiet cruelty, and know, that without a doubt, my father was as poisonous as the fumes he exhaled whenever his coal heart was burned.
I waited for the shouting to stop. I wondered how many souls blackened with age, how many men wasted with time, how many years it took for the disguises to slide off, how many romances were buried under the foul graves of tolerance. For that I was terrified—Terrified of giving myself away to a monster. I could burn myself on a pyre, I could throw myself off a building, I could pull the trigger of a pistol pressed against my temple, but I could never, ever forgive myself for repeating my mother’s mistake.
Later, he asked me if anything was wrong. I was unusually lively and I thought I was fine. I told him I loved him and classified the itching at the back of my throat as a suppressed outburst of untimely joy.
I was wrong. It was me wanting to cry, afraid more than ever, that I would end up like my mother.



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