By Neil Clark
When I saw that Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ was your Tinder profile picture, I swiped right immediately. I suggested we go for coffee, but you insisted we meet on a bridge in an unspecific location. As I approached, it became clear that your profile picture was in fact a true representation of you – no gimmick, no filters.
After a profoundly awkward exchange of pleasantries, you explained that your cultural infamy, coupled with society’s propensity to judge a book by its cover, had only served to propel you deeper and deeper into this state of everlasting gloom. When I told you I understood how you feel, you snapped. Said that everyone says this, despite not understanding in the slightest. You told me you weren’t actually looking for sympathy.
And so began an intense silence that stretched and swirled and rippled as far as the eye could see.
We stood watching the sunset until an icy chill began to slither upon the early evening air. I asked if you were sure you didn’t want coffee, or maybe some food? You said no. You said that drinking and eating and talking with so many people around makes you anxious. Said you find it deeply distressing – all these humans co-existing in such close proximity, watching and listening in on each other, engineering a social occasion out of the scourge on civilisation that is mass consumerism.
You then revealed that you’re kind of stuck on this bridge for eternity anyway, forever unclear of where you end and where the rest of the world begins. You told me you had friends over there waiting for you, and you would like me to please leave now.
I said that I consider myself an empath, and if you felt able to lower one of your hands from the side of your face, just for a moment, I would like to hold it.
As your trembling sgraffitoed fingers locked with mine, red hot locusts rose from the pit of my stomach and up through my chest, flooding the sky and shrouding us in a piercing racket. The void that was left in my ribcage and gut got filled with a cold and endless darkness that plummeted down my legs and out of through the soles of my feet, into the very core of the universe, from which all the violence and cruelty across all of time folded back on itself to bear its entire weight on my shoulders.
I held onto you for as long as I could.
Then I had to let go.
Through a flood of exhausted tears, I thanked you for carrying this burden. Now I felt far less alone.
Can I see you again? I asked. Next time I feel the creep of existential dread?
Sure, you said. I’m always around. It’s not like I have any place else to go.
Neil Clark writes micro and flash fiction from his tiny flat in Edinburgh. His work has appeared in Cheap Pop, Okay Donkey, The Molotov Cocktail and other places. Find him on Twitter @NeilRClark or visit neilclarkwrites.wordpress.com for a full list of publications.