Hello and welcome to “Old Habits Die Hard” a new short story from my upcoming anthology “Glimpses Across the Barricades”
Old Habits Die Hard
From the upcoming collection: Glimpses Across the Barricades
Suzanne Burke 2019.
Cassie sucked in a deep lungful of nicotine and waited for the coughing to start. She shook her head in acknowledgment of her own weakness and abject stupidity, coughed as expected and finished the cigarette. She grinned at herself. Old habits die hard.
The thought caught her unprepared. Were they all simply old habits? Did she cling to things so desperately only because they were familiar? Was it a comfort to know ahead of time how each would respond in any given situation? If that knowledge gave us the tools to avoid the more painful outcomes, did that automatically presume that we’d use that wisdom?
Cassie was irritated with herself for even asking the questions.
She looked across at her iPhone for answers, already knowing she’d find none waiting.
When had he become just another old habit to cling to?
Cassie drew in a shaky breath as the memory of their last conversation played out vividly in her mind.
The 5th anniversary of their sad farewell was tomorrow. They’d been friends long before they became lovers. Their lives had collided the first time three decades earlier. Each acknowledging the chemistry that lit up a room whenever they were both present. They both smiled at each other and refused to allow that fire to burn. Life moved on and so did they.
Then twelve years ago fate had flung them together again. What had been intended as a casual fling, a one-night stand, had become a passionate affair that neither of them had attempted to prevent from spiralling out of control.
She smiled briefly as a sweeter image tugged at her thoughts. The first weekend they’d run from reality, they’d danced on a rickety old pier in the rain. It was foolishly romantic and memorably perfect, and so was he. She could hear the music they’d played. “Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues had echoed out across the deep water of the bay. They’d made slow sweet love in an old fishing shed, and watched on in shared wonder as a violent summer storm came sweeping up from the south. It played out a symphony with shattering crescendo’s and their lovemaking met and matched its passion.
Cassie reached for the safety of the present moment and whispered into the darkness, “Stop it. Don’t do this. Think about something else.”
She stood then and moved about her apartment, only vaguely aware of straightening things on the mantle that didn’t need straightening, and moving books around in the bookcase that hadn’t required moving.
She walked across to the bar, poured herself a double shot of JD and sat back on her sofa and lit up her bong. The balcony beckoned and she moved into the cool night air and the silence, alternating the hits of good weed and the alcohol and waited for the calm she craved so desperately to envelop her.
Yet the memories continued to invade. She was too stoned to avoid them, and they came at her without pity for her vulnerable state of mind.
Her marriage of thirty years had limped to a final conclusion twelve years earlier. She’d initially clung to the memory of it, allowing her mind to paint much prettier pictures of what had actually happened; she’d clung to it long past its use-by date.
Her lover’s staunch Catholic upbringing prevented his long marriage from taking the same course. He never spoke of it. Cassie never asked the questions. It was so much easier to pretend that their relationship may someday lead to them being together.
The memories flowed now, but not in sequence. The laughter they’d shared echoed through time, and conversations that made sense only to the two of them etched themselves afresh in this place and in this moment.
A jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing. Pieces that she now went in search of.
They’d been fishing and hunting together often. They’d spent so many cold nights sleeping out under the stars, where their shared body warmth sustained them completely. They both loved the sounds of the night. Or the sounds of that long stretch of beach on the hottest summer days on record, swimming just after sunrise, cautiously waiting until the great white sharks had fed in deeper water off the reef. Cassie moaned as the sound of his deep voice surfaced unbidden, “We need to burn this into our memory. So, we can take it out and look at it when the world goes to hell.”
She brushed the moisture from her eyes. She’d never forgotten that moment. He had a way with words that echoed the romance of his soul.
The years had gone by so quickly. She watched and waited, wondering if she’d recognize the end if she saw it coming.
She saw it over five years ago. Phone calls that had begun every new day for years suddenly stopped coming, until they spoke only every couple of weeks. The visits went from a driving need to be together as often as they could steal the time, to a late-night knock on the door heralding a man who had only one need that remained to be met.
Cassie had tried so hard to ignore it, she floundered like a fish out of water on the sands of indecision.
She began wrapping her isolation around her like a comforting shawl.
The knock on her door at 3.30am on a hot summer’s morning had awoken her.
She knew instinctively who it was, and was angry well before she opened that door.
He stood there looking sheepish, then smiled. “Aren’t you gonna ask me to come in?”
Cassie stood aside without speaking and waved him across to the sofa.
He looked surprised as she stood there watching him, “What wrong, hon?”
“When was the last time we spoke?”
He looked away uncomfortably as he answered, “Guess it’s been a few weeks.”
“Try for three months!”
“Shit. Really? I’m sorry.”
“So, why are you here?”
He stood then, “You’re upset. I’ll call you later.”
She touched his arm. “I deserve better than this.”
For the first time in the thirty-plus years that she’d known him his dark hunter’s eyes filled with tears. She barely heard him as he struggled to speak, “Yes, honey. You do.”
She followed him across to the door and he turned and touched her cheek, then tucked a wayward curl behind her ear. He was shaking and his voice wavered as he spoke, “Goodbye, my love.”
Cassie felt the sobs tear through her, and she let them come.
He’d phoned after that, every couple of months and at ungodly hours. She’d register who was calling and declined the calls. The loneliness threatened to overwhelm her at first, she recalled using a telephone box to phone his work number just to hear his deep voice when he answered. She tortured herself like that constantly after they’d ended.
And now, what about now? She grimaced at her own question.
For now, she’d just get herself through the next anniversary.
And just before the alcohol lulled her into sleep on that anniversary morning her iPhone rang.
She was drunk, but not suicidal. She declined to take the call.
And for your enjoyment. “Nights In White Satin” by The Moody Blues.