by Elaine Kehoe
You first noticed it in that restaurant in Salt Lake City. Sitting at the bar, waiting for a table, you heard the sound of a glass crashing behind you. You started, looked at him and he at you. “Someone’s in trouble,” he said. You nodded but didn’t laugh.
Two nights later, in a little Italian place, right beside your table: a plate falling from a waiter’s arm, shattering, scattering food at your feet like scurrying lizards. The waiter apologizing, rushing to clean up the breakage. You excused yourself and went to the ladies’ room, sat there in a padded brocade chair, and wept.
After that it seemed to be all around you, breakage, everywhere you were. Rain taps against a window like fingernails on an empty wine goblet, and you hear the glass shatter. You look into a mirror and see the cracks in your own face, spreading through the glass.
Breakage. Even the word broke: that hard k in the middle, cracking it in two. You think: there is an ancient mythology, isn’t there, of a primitive people—you can’t think which—that tells of creatures, or maybe spells, that cause things to break in their presence. It is a sign of doom, of evil. Nothing can hold together. If there is no such mythology, you think, there should be: maybe you will invent one, the myth of the Glass-Breakers. Maybe they are among us all the time, you think. That would explain so much.
How have you not realized this, that the world is nothing but billions of tiny pieces held only by immaterial force, that anything can break apart at any second? You begin to hear music this way, too, not melody but staccato notes, individual pieces, each floating alone in the space between its source and its hearer. Broken.
He wants to go out tonight. To a restaurant. You haven’t been in one since Utah. You have always made an excuse, and he’s become impatient. He calls it stress. He calls it nerves. He tells you to get over it. But he doesn’t feel what you feel, the way the air breaks on your face when you step outside. He doesn’t hear the sounds of shattering all around you. He doesn’t see the two of you breaking apart, feel the fear. You married him to be protected from all this, the sharp jagged edges of life. And he cannot.
A child’s balloon bursts. A kicked stone fractures the surface of a puddle. And in the breakage you see the destruction of the world.
“I can’t take this anymore,” he says. You look into his face and see him crack down the middle, top to bottom, then left to right, like a cross.
Elaine Kehoe had her first publication at age eleven, an essay on friendship in a comic book, and she has been hooked on writing ever since. Many years later she was published again: first a poem in Rosebud magazine, then a flash fiction story online in Word Riot. She works as a freelance copyeditor, is a book addict, and has recently become “hooked” on crocheting.