A Neon Sign That Read Exit Was Glowing in a Bar

During their first months of dating, he often asked
‘What are you made of?’
and his eyes were always wide and hungry for her.

She would only smile a little and say
‘I have no idea,’
and kiss him with hot burning lips.

Being with her was like playing with fire, but instead of burning him alive she burned it all clean. His world was reduced to 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. No more ghosts, no more corpses, no more half people haunting half houses that only ever half existed, and only ever in his imagination.

Every time she spoke her voice sent the same shivers down his spine. To him, she always sounded like a seductive ‘Behold, I’m showing you a mystery.’ 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 only look at you surprised and ask you, ‘What magic?’ Compared to him, she was so alive that her silent presence alone could cancel out any lies a man can tell himself to forget a woman, and so he never tried.

“I can’t imagine myself going anywhere where there is no trace of you,” he told her one night.
She nodded and smiled, flickering through the pages of his new book.
“Happiness can be found anywhere,” she said. “You only have to look for me.”
“Is that so?” he laughed.
“Listen, I like your stories, but I have to ask. Why do you write like this?”
“Like what?”
“Like the world is going to end tonight! Your words come out so strong. Like firework shapes into the night sky. And you are more of a cloud, darling.”
“Am I?”
“Well yes, you’d rain on every parade if somebody else wasn’t there to smile your way out.”
“In your stories there’s no room for daydreaming, it’s like you explode on the page,” she laughed, and he knew she was laughing at him. “But I don’t know where it all comes from, for I don’t see any of this in you. When I see you beyond these books, you are not a man of such extremes. So why do you write like one?”
He raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to say something, but eventually didn’t.
She kept reading through, and eventually continued.
“They are good, your stories. I like what they do to me. I’m sorry, darling. I really like the very best of you.”
“But what about the worst?”
“Ah, come on now. Who needs that? I don’t want it, and you don’t like it.”

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 sleep.

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 and, maybe, on the way to freedom, too.

Fears couldn’t creep up his spine like spiders any longer, fears like a sudden death-by-mundaneness, or a sharp knife that life would twist into his flesh at any moment before they even had the chance to inspire each other. Only then, he could sleep.

“Don’t you have a world to see?” she asked another night, then paused to think. “But your gift is turned inwards. No wonder you struggle so much with coming out of yourself. 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.”
“But writing is like this. You can’t write and party at the same time. Introspection requires solitude. 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 your life. I only write a fraction of the time…”
“But why haven’t you shown me anything?” he cried. “I’ve shown you everything.”
“You’ve shown me too much,” she shrugged. “You write too much, it’d be impossible to read everything. But I’ve read some, and frankly, I’d be embarrassed to show you my diary.”
“I… why?”
“Because you write beautifully, and I write hurriedly. But even so, I understand writing. I just don’t understand you.”
It had started to dawn on him that maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t showing him a mystery after all.
“Did you ever write a piece about me?”
“Of course not, I don’t write about people.”
“What do you write about, then?”
“Paintings, open fields, houses on the South Coast, morning light, coffee rings, shadows that look like ropes wrapped around my skin. The way things look and sound and 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 not go there willingly. 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 it’s the same with writing. You value intensity, complexity, finding all possible meanings when, more often than not, things don’t mean anything at all.”
She paused again to look at him and smiled to herself.
“Guess I just don’t.”
Death by mundaneness, he thought, and stabbed by her.

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 all that she had just discovered in him. But of course, even if he knew how to say it, he would have never said it.

It was hard for him to love her, and he probably never really did. She was fluid, poetic and honest, his ideal self’s kind of woman. But he was not his ideal self, and he was the very opposite of her. He couldn’t help his curiosity for the strange wonders of her world, but he could never put his heart into it, for nothing in there said Home.

He only let her touch his writings because she was free and beautiful and light, and he enjoyed watching her going through his most precious possessions on his bedroom floor. But she wasn’t more than the illusion of a promise he made to himself come true; that one day that will be him.

It was cold that night, windows closed all over the city. He was watching her, her eyes beautiful and a little restless, moving from his pages to his own eyes. She seemed to know before he did that she was never more than a neon sign that read Exit glowing in a bar, but you can’t take your eyes off its glow regardless.

“Talk to your demons,” she said a little later. “Some are really nice. I’d like to meet 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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