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 just smiled a little and said
‘I have no idea’
And kissed 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 now just 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 existed in his imagination.

Every time she spoke, her voice sent the same shiver down his spine. To him, it always sounded like a seductive ‘Behold, I’m showing you a mystery.’ He wanted to decipher it, but she was one of those magnetic people you never dared ask where they got their magic from, because they would just look at you in surprise and ask, ‘What magic?’ Compared to him, she was so alive that her silent presence alone could erase all the lies a man can tell himself to forget a woman, and so he never tried.

‘I can’t imagine going anywhere where there’s no trace of you,’ he told her one evening.

She nodded and smiled as she flipped through the pages of his new book.

‘Happiness can be found anywhere,’ she said, ‘you just have to look for me.’

‘Is that so?’ he laughed.

‘Listen, I like your stories, but I have to ask you. Why do you write like that?’

‘Like what?’

‘Like the world is going to end tonight! Your words come out so strong. Like firecrackers in the night sky. And you’re more like a cloud, sweetheart.’

‘Am I?’

‘Well, you’d rain on every parade if there wasn’t someone else there to smile at you.’


‘There’s no room for daydreaming in your stories, 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, because I don’t see any of that in you. When I see you beyond these books, you aren’t a man of such extremes. Then why do you write like one?’

He raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to say something, but eventually didn’t.

She continued to read through and finally continued.

‘They’re good, your stories. I like what they do to me. I’m sorry. I really like the best of you.’

‘But what about the worst?’

‘Oh, come on. Who needs that anyway? 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 fell asleep again.

If he’d learned anything from her, it was that everything heals under the energy of passion. Energy that doesn’t move is dangerous, and he was living, breathing proof of that.

She was a small war, fighting for and against everything in her world and 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 up empty-handed, but found himself wrapped in a veil that carried her scent. Then he could be sure that a gloriously free-spirited woman had chosen to spend her nights with him. This could only mean that he was worthy and perhaps on his way to freedom, too.

Fears could no longer crawl up his spine like spiders, fears like a sudden death by-mundaneness, or a sharp knife that life would plunge into his flesh at any moment before they even had a chance to inspire each other. Only then could he sleep.

‘Don’t you have a world to see?’ she asked another evening, then paused to reflect. ‘But your gift is turned inwards. No wonder you’ve such a hard time getting out of yourself. You really don’t have a world to see, do you? You just sit here and group your stories that no one gets to see anyway.’

‘But that’s the thing about writing. You can’t write and party at the same time. Introspection requires solitude. You wouldn’t know that, you only live,’ he groaned.

‘That’s not true, I write too,’ she said, beaming again as if sadness had never been on her list.

‘You write? What do you write? And how is it possible that you’ve never shown me anything before?’

‘Ah, but don’t get me wrong. I don’t write the way you do. You live by writing, and you live only a fraction of your life. I write only a fraction of the time…’

‘But why haven’t you shown me anything?’ he cried. ‘I showed you everything.’

‘You showed me too much,’ she said, shrugging. ‘You write too much, it would be impossible to read it all. 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 hastily. But even so, I understand writing. I just don’t understand you.’

It began to dawn on him that maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t showing him a mystery after all.

‘Have you ever written a piece about me?’

‘Of course not, I don’t write about people.’

‘Then what do you write about?’

‘Pictures, 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 how I feel when I’m not writing about you?’


‘Light,’ she smiled, ‘You are so dark, like your dashboard lights had gone out. I feel like I have torrents of light coming out of my skin. Like I could throw off sparks all over the world. So I’ve been writing these bright little descriptions of things that make me happy. You write fantastic stories, but they only make me sad. If that’s the goal of writing, then you’re a great writer, but I’d rather not get into it voluntarily. You know what they say about photography? If you want to know what someone loves most, you should look at what they photograph. I suppose it’s the same with writing. You appreciate the intensity, the complexity, the search for all kinds of meanings, even though most of the time things don’t mean anything at all.’

She paused again, looked at him, and smiled to herself.

‘I guess I just don’t.’

Death by mundaneness, he thought, and stabbed by her. 

He didn’t know how to tell her that he felt like a void disguised into a man, a man who wanted to sew wings on his back using her blood and bones as thread and needle to fly away from all that she had just discovered in him. But even if he had known how to say it, of course he would never have 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 exact opposite of her. He could not suppress 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 writing because she was free and beautiful and light, and he enjoyed watching her rummage through his most prized 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 watched her, her eyes, beautiful and a little restless, moving from his pages to his own eyes. She seemed to know before him that she was never more than a neon sign that read Exit glowing in a bar, but you still couldn’t take your eyes off her glow.

‘Talk to your demons,’ she said a little later. ‘Some of them are really nice. I’d like to meet them sometime.’

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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