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English was dreaming again. The stench of death filled his nostrils, and ravenous birds screamed from above.
A large man lumbered toward English. He wielded a massive weapon, which he hoisted over his head and swung down upon him. Ducking unexpectedly, English felt the man's surprise, then thrust his blade into the man's throat. Try as he might, English could not avoid looking into the man's dying eyes. It was customary for English's dreams to end with pain for both parties.
Battle glow lost from his eyes, English saw pain, then emptiness play across the man's face before he collapsed in a heap. English's throat throbbed, then he felt the piercing pain of remorse. He fell to his knees in agony, and woke on his side panting with small echoes of pain rebounding in his head.
Trina stirred beside him but did not let on that she knew of his nightmare, though she knew exactly what had happened. English had explained this phenomenon to her. The pain he felt was of the same intensity as that he inflicted upon others. Naturally, memories of war still haunted him.
She gazed upon English's now calm face with tenderness and envy. He was the most caring person. His greatest fear was hurting others; his level of remorse remained unchallenged by saints and messiahs alike, at least in her opinion. Trina knew she could never compete, but wished more than anything that she could attain that same level of selflessness. Then they would truly be equal.
English could not sleep. This dream had been exceptionally traumatic because it had actually happened. He remembered this particular battle because the pain had been so great, that it had driven him over the edge. He recalled later that night packing up his few possessions, and deserting the army. He had no other choice, his fellow soldiers saw him wince when he took another man's life. They sensed his weakness.
But even after he escaped the horrors of war, a new weakness awaited him at home.
The smell of breakfast drifted throughout the house. English woke, used the bathroom, then followed the appetizing aroma into the kitchen. He sat in the chair opposite his wife at their small kitchen table and began to eat.
'Good morning,' Trina said, smiling brightly.
English gave her a weak, morning-eyed smile, and cringed ever so slightly. This small cringe had troubled Trina for years. Every act of kindness English showed towards her was always followed by a slight grimace. This hurt her feelings immensely, but whenever her face showed she had been insulted, English's wince deepened. She no longer brought it up, but often pondered it. Trina glanced at him again. His appearance was bedraggled, due to the dark circles beneath his eyes that now seemed a permanent addition to his face, and his hair that stuck out in all directions. On the inside, his mind, as always, was whirring restlessly. He sat brooding over his bacon and eggs.
***days, or months, or years, passed***
Late at night Trina and English watched the news, as they had done every night without variation. A story came on about a woman who had died this morning; she had sacrificed herself for her children. They listened to the entire story with quiet interest but when it had finished Trina turned to her husband.
'Such a sad story' yet I do love hearing about this kind of thing.'
English searched his wife's face in shock and dismay. There was a satisfied gleam in her eye that terrified him. He took a deep breathe before asking: 'Why the hell would you enjoy hearing about people dying?'
Trina stared at him with a look that seemed affectionate, yet annoyed. English snarled internally; he despised condescension.
'Because it reminds me selfless love still exists,' she intimated. 'I know I would give my life for you.' She paused, and then said hardly above a whisper, 'It would be the greatest gift I could give you.'
English could only stare as fear gripped his body. A part of him processed the fact that Trina was now looking at him expectantly. If he didn't say something soon, English knew he would be assaulted by her emotional pain and embarrassment.
'Yes of course,' he said. 'And I, uh' I would certainly do the same for you.' This response sounded false to his own ears, but he had to get away from Trina. 'I'm' well I'm going to step out for a moment.'
English stepped outside, and the cool air greeted him, eager to pacify. He walked, while his mind ran. What a terrible joke his life was. He had deluded himself into believing that Trina was not genuinely in love with him.
He loved his wife, that much was true, but he also resented himself for feeling this way. English had never truly meant for their relationship to go this far emotionally. Deserting the army should have been escaping two limitations at once. He would no longer be forced to kill and feel the consequences. Surely his wife's perfect image of his faithfulness would be shattered, and she would leave him. His plan had failed drastically. His wife thought him a pacifist--not a coward and now he as doubly bound by love.
He loved her too much to leave her, and loved himself too much to go through the agony that would occur from hurting her. If something were not done soon he would find himself pledging his life for hers and actually meaning it.
This was the very reason he detested love. Instead of protecting himself solely, he now felt obligated to put himself in harm's way for another. Love and sympathy completely canceled out selfishness; something he'd been trying unsuccessfully to master his entire life. It was now more than ever that English wished his love were tangible, so he could give it and take it away without his heart's permission.
Deep down, English knew what he had to do. The answer had always been there, really, he had just been too cowardly to act. It would be extremely difficult, but if he succeeded, his unwelcome contrition would be conquered. If he could kill the only one he loved, and feel no remorse, that would surely end his selfless lifestyle. In order to do this English would have to be very straightforward with Trina and tell her the truth, she had the right to know why her death was essential.
English walked quietly through his front door. He turned around from shutting the door, to see Trina standing only a foot from him. Trust made people so vulnerable. She looked extremely worried, and tired. English did not realize how late it had been when he first stepped out.
'Are you ok?' she asked 'I was so afraid I'd scared you, please talk to me.'
'There's nothing I'd like to do more,' English affirmed. 'But first I'd like to get a glass of water.'
Trina nodded and left the room. Hands shaking, English poured himself a glass of water. This was only after he collected a sharp knife from the drawer, and tucked it beneath his jacket. Then, glass of water in hand, he went and sat down in an arm chair across from Trina.
Trina opened her mouth to speak, but English silenced her with a raised hand. 'I've been very dishonest with you.' He gave a small awkward laugh.
Trina stared back unblinkingly.
'I love you,' he stated without passion. 'But I am much too selfish.'
Trina, again, opened her mouth to protest. 'Let me finish,' English insisted a little too harshly. 'I am not who you think I am. I do not suffer for others by choice. I hate that I feel the pain of those I destroy, and I hate that I love you. It is my true weakness.' He steeled a look at Trina, who was now staring at the floor. English was grateful that she could not meet his gaze.
'I must kill you. If I can do that without remorse, I'll be free of all obligations regarding love.'
Finally, Trina returned his stare, instead of pain or fear, English saw that familiar gleam in her eyes.
She took a deep breath before saying, 'If it will make you happy, I will be only too glad to sacrifice myself. Finally we will be equal in our generosity-'
'This has nothing to do with happiness or generosity!' English had not meant to say this with such malice but his anger was relentless. Here he was trying to conquer love, and his wife was offering her life to him like a present which he could never return. Worse still she was only trying to make herself exactly as he appeared. Selfless.
Life was cruel. No matter how hard he tried, English became the merciful hero. How he loathed that word. He wanted to be merciless!
English grabbed the concealed knife and Trina stepped forward, beckoning death.
He looked at the glittering blade. How could he kill the wife he loved? He hated love; it was making him weak at this very moment. Did the hate negate the love? Of course it did, hate must always triumph over love!
And with this realization English knew what he had to do. English, the man who loved only himself, plunged the knife into his own chest.
Trina sank to the floor in sorrow as her husband's blood stained the carpet in a pooling crimson puddle. She cried for her dead husband. She cried for the sacrifice she could no longer make, and she cried for her husband's soul; which she felt would always be superior to her own.
But as she lay sobbing, English's spirit drifted from the house, and he felt no remorse.