A Neon Sign That Read Exit Was Glowing in a Bar


During their first month of dating, he often asked
“What are you made of?”,
and his eyes were always wide and hungry.
She would only smile strangely and say
“I have no idea,”
and kiss him with hot burning lips.

Her body felt like a flame dancing between his palms; after all, being around Mel had always been like playing with fire, but instead of burning him alive she burned it all clean. She was consuming, and he was hallucinating. For as long as he stayed, everything on the inside of him turned into an empty room with white walls, sunlight blazing through soft curtains onto the wooden floor and a vision of her, spinning around barefoot in his favourite white and navy striped shirt.

He thought he was in love when he was only on his way to it. All her combinations of twenty-six and spaces eventually sounded like a seductive Behold, I’m showing you a mystery. They found him still young and curious, like when he was twelve and went to a dockyard for the first time, excited at the promise of a tangible infinity. She was his ship, his dockyard and his sea now. After all, she was in his arms, like an exclamation, like an open road to forever, like a reality that if ever lost, he would have had to make back up again.

And his summer bloomed out of her tight grips.

Unlike other women he knew, she seemed more than sweet beginning and bitter endings, the only moments that shone. She was content, she was aflame, she was real every step of the way, every day of the unending summer. Whenever he touched her, her skin had the same temperature and every time she spoke, her voice sent the same shivers down his spine. He wanted to decipher her, but she was one of those magnetic people whom you would never dare to ask where they take their magic from, because they would look genuinely surprised and simply ask back, What magic? She was so alive in his hands that he believed in her force, and her strength, and everything that came out of her mouth. Even her silent presence could fill his voids with an energy that blocked any further thinking or doubting. She was truth, a suave, elegant truth that allowed no what-ifs and no lies a man can tell himself to forget a woman.

“I can’t imagine myself going anywhere where there is no trace of you,” he told her one night in July.
She nodded and smiled, while flickering through the pages of his words albums.
“Happiness can be found anywhere,” she said. ‘You only have to look for me.”
“Is that so?” he laughed.
“Listen, I like your stories and the way you collect and group them. I find these files fascinating. Why do you write like this?”
“Like what?”
‘Like the world is going to end tonight! Your words come out so strong, I feel like reading fireworks shapes into the night sky; and you are more of a cloud, darling.”
“Am I?”
“Well yes, you live like you’d rain on every parade if I wasn’t there to smile your way out, don’t you? I dare you to say it isn’t so.”
“In your stories, you leave no room for daydreaming. You explode!” she laughed, and he knew she was laughing at him. “But I’ve seen you at parties, at the local store, at night-time binge eating. You are not a man of such extremes. So why do you write like this?”
“I might just like writing as much as I like you,” he surprised himself saying.
“Oh, explain that to me.”
“Well, writing is like loving you – it comes from a place so deep inside that there can only be truth in it.”
And I think I like who I am there, a lot, he thought.
She smiled for a while, and eventually said, “I like the very best of you.”
“But what about the worst?”
“Ah, but who needs that? I don’t want it, and you don’t like it.”
He raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to say something, but she stopped him.
“Be who you are beneath the bullshit.”

In the now what? time of the night, when she was asleep in his bed, he slowly moved his hand towards her. She moaned a little, then went back to her dreamscapes.
If he learned anything from her, was that everything heals under the energy of passion. Energy that doesn’t move is dangerous, and he was the living breathing proof of that. She was a small war, fighting for and against everything in her world, always exhausted at the end of the day. She dreamed in colours and fidgets and sounds, while he lay awake next to her, struggling to find the words to define and sort out the chaos. He always came out bare-handed, but found himself wrapped in a veil that carried her smell. He could then rest assured that a gloriously free-spirited woman had chosen to spend her nights with him. This could only mean that he was worthy in her eyes. Fears couldn’t creep up his spine like spiders any longer, and only then he could sleep. In the morning, his silent war was all gone.
His biggest fear was a sudden death-by-mundaneness, a sharp knife that life would twist in his flesh at any moment as a final defeat, before they even had the chance to inspire each other. He had never praised cynicism until he became it; and his stories about superheroes and Mel’s approval were his only escapism from apathy.


“Don’t you have a world to see?” she snapped, then paused to think. “But your gift is turned inwards, no wonder the flow of your life is backed up. You really don’t have a world to see, do you? You just sit here and group your stories that nobody gets to enjoy anyway.”
“Mel, writing is like this. You wouldn’t know, you only live,” he groaned.
“That’s not true, I write too,” she said and lightened up again, as if sadness was never on her list.
“You write? What do you write? And how is it possible that you’ve never shown me anything?”
“Ah, but don’t get me wrong. I don’t write like you. You live through writing and only live a fraction of the life you could be living. I only write a fraction of the time I have in this life…”
“But why haven’t you shown me in all these months?” he cried.
“Because you write beautifully, and I write hurriedly. But even so, I understand writing. I just don’t understand you.”
“That wouldn’t matter to me. Did you ever write a piece about me?”
“Of course not, I don’t write about people. I write about the sensual experiences that I have,” she smiled.
“The what?”
“Paintings, open fields, houses on the South coast, morning light and shadows on my skin. The way such things feel to me. And you know what not writing about you makes me feel?”
“Light,” she smiled. “You are so dark, like your dashboard lights went out. I feel like I have torrents of light coming out of my skin. Like I could throw off sparks over the whole world. So I wrote those bright little descriptions of things that make me joyous. You write fantastic stories, but they only make me sad. If that’s the goal of writing, then you’re a terrific writer, but I’d rather keep it on the bright side of life. Do you know what they say about photography? That if you want to know what somebody loves the most, you should look at what they photograph. I suppose you can say the same about writing. You value the intensity of one’s misery, crave for other worlds, love complexity.”
She paused again to look at him and smile to herself.
“Guess I just like the open highway of my life.”

It was cold that night, windows closed all over the city. He could only think of pinning her down with his body and pretend that she was his.
He didn’t know how to say to her that he felt like a void disguised into a man, a man who sought to sew wings to his back with her blood and bones as thread and needle to fly away from his own nothingness. But of course, even if he knew how to say it, he would have never said it, because he knew the power of unwanted words. Hers, for example, reminded him of being in a hotel room in a beautiful European capital, where whatever they went through and whatever they did, they still had to return to their room, and the wallpaper dispersed with heavy words all the beauty they might have gathered in their souls. Death by mundaneness, and stabbed by her.

He always knew that the intensity of his sadness was something he had chosen himself, as a substitute for the intensity of the happiness he couldn’t put his finger onto. He had to bring himself to feel something, so that he could write and that he could live. It was hard for him to love her, he then realised, and he probably never really did. She was fluid, poetic and a little crazy, his ideal self’s kind of woman; but much as he tried to be that, he never was. He only let her touch his writings, because she was clean and beautiful and light, like ready to vanish into thin air but still going through his most precious possessions on the floor of his bedroom. But she wasn’t more than the illusion of a promise made to him, by someone he almost invented. He was fascinated with her beautiful being bursting with intensity, but never forgot that his could only come out as words onto paper, or loving her – and that had suddenly revealed itself under the shape of a question mark.

That night, he asked her, “But do you love me?”
and didn’t let her look away.
She said “Of course,”
but said it so quickly that she sounded like somebody else.

Either way, was hard to define who she was, because from the first glow of summer – their first date – to the coldest night of the year, she had been a storm of a girl, a June to December, a back and forth sway between everything he ever believed in and everything he still rejected. This made her highly attractive for the extremist hidden deep inside him and highly deceptive to the sad man holding her messy blonde hair on a winter night.

“But I can’t love you,” he finally said, “How do I make it work…?”
Her eyes were beautiful, and a little restless, like the eyes of a little girl who had to go on vacation with her family when her pet was sick. She seemed to have nothing to add to that, and he couldn’t stop thinking that from then on, Mel would become more and more of a memory in the next year. A memory so alive, that it would almost have a life of its own, but still a memory.
After all, it was high time for him to admit that she was never more than a movie trailer playing in the dark, a neon sign that read Exit glowing in a bar, his favourite singer’s voice fading at the end of his favourite song.

“Talk to your demons,” she said a little later. “Some of them are really nice. I’d like to have a chat with them one day.”

8 thoughts on “A Neon Sign That Read Exit Was Glowing in a Bar

  1. Completely mesmerized by this story.:D It is like you were putting down words from my imagination. It is exactly like it. Even the ‘Talk to your demons’ part is also exact – though, in my case the guy decided himself to talk with them after he realized that she will exit his life one day. Completely Mesmerized.


  2. Mia comes alive for me in that very final sentence, it’s a fantastic way to end. Having grappled to fully understand her throughout, there’s suddenly a very real touch of who she is. Beautifully written Anca, as always. Poetic, complex and intriguing.


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