Sweet Briar


He would swing by for a visit, usually once a week or so.

It was just to be together, he would tell himself. To remember old times. But, concern dragged him back to her fixations. The wasting. The slow, cold descent into shadow. The swarming parasites she felt were her friends and saviors.

“They got me through some really rough times! You have no idea what they’ve done for me,” he would hear her say.

Of course he knew. He also knew they had shifted like a nightmare’s shimmer from antidote, to addiction, to venom.

On Christmas, he’d bring presents. But, of course, she’d never open them. On her birthday, he’d bring milk-flowers.

She never had anything new to say. She couldn’t have. The same old arguments, same defenses, echoing forever. The same way of seeing things. The same narratives, recited like a catechism in his head until the words were less like talk than the clatter of a broken machine. The same songs, remixed and covered over in the dessicated earth of a salted field.

He let the harmonics of her apologies saw jagged parallels through the soft ether of his mind. Sentiment, fogged over by habit and the fear of new suffering, new rough times. Nobody wants to start over, to give up on a dead comfort.

Sometimes, he would just sit quietly with her. And struggle not to wish she had found other ways to pull herself out of the abyss of her history. Or fail and struggle not to even imagine her frustrated response.

She had been so brilliant. Her eyes would glisten like onyx buttons in a bread-brown face.

He finally decided that he was done arguing. After twenty years, on her birthday, he laid a cluster of eglantine on the stone and walked away.

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