Spotlight: Dutch Courage by Kemberlee Shortland


Response to Writing Prompt Forty-Six: He stood beneath the windmill overlooking the bay. Salt air brushed away his beard revealing the scar hidden beneath.

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It had been three years since the accident.

He felt the briny Pacific breeze ruffling his beard hiding the only physical scar he’d sustained that day. In his mind, every other scar he carried tumbled against his skull and tried forcing their way through his skin. He itched and ached to rid himself of the sorrow he still felt eating at his insides.

He came to the Dutch Windmill in the west end of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park because this had been where they shared so much of their short history. Hoping no one saw him, he let himself into the tower and climbed out onto the top of the cap. He didn’t fear heights. The only fear he had was a life without her. He hoped by confronting his past he could release the pain.

Sitting cross-legged, he closed his eyes and remembered her.

She’d been a Dutch architecture student at USFCA. She’d been excited about studying in the City by the Bay. Within a few short months, she’d become a proper California Girl with her bronzed skin and sun-kissed hair.

He knew she was homesick and surprised her on their first date. Then, as now, the tulips had been in full bloom, despite the chilly sea breeze.

On the one-year anniversary of their first date, he brought her back and proposed. Not because her visa was about to expire, but because he loved her. Until he’d met her, he never knew what love was. Real love. The kind of love that punched you in the gut, but had you begging for more. She did that to him. Every damn day. Even now, thinking about her. It was almost as if she was here beside him, even though he knew she never would be again.

He shook the thought away and remembered her nuances — the way her long, wheaten hair rippled in the breeze; how her soft lips naturally smiled at the edges; how the color of her eyes mimicked the most delicate shades of the sea; and the light blush of her cheeks when she caught him staring at her. She blushed a lot. He stared at her. A lot.

Her boldness had startled him at first. But she was a woman who knew what she wanted, and he let her take it. Together, their naked bodies melded as one. Their time seemed almost . . . ethereal. Sure, they’d had their share of quickies and sweaty couplings. But the other times  . . . the times when she simply sheathed him and put her arms around him, and held him as she barely rocked against him . . .

The memory nearly ripped out his heart. He felt hot tears rushing down his face. The wind picked up and felt like her fingers weaving through his whiskers. He tilted his head in the familiar way, expecting to hear her soft, “I love you.”

It didn’t come.

They’d told him what happened when he’d awakened from surgery — weather conditions had been perfect, traffic conditions light.

They say people never remember an accident as it happens. But he remembered every second in slow motion. And relived it every day since.

Minutes before, they’d exchanged their vows in the registry office at City Hall, and he was anxious to get her across the Golden Gate before rush hour . She still held the bouquet of tulips he’d given her before the ceremony. His heart swelled, remembering how beautiful she’d been when he’d glanced over and saw how the breeze through the open window caught her hair.

He’d reached over and put his hand on hers. She’d turned, her eyes full of love. There was nothing before him but her. She mesmerized him.

Then the horns, tires screeching — parts of the car’s interior smashed against his ribs, his head, his shoulders as he tumbled inside the vehicle.

He’d seen her look of joy instantly change to horror, disbelief changed to pain. And once the vehicle had settled, how the light left her eyes. He couldn’t breathe, but now it was shock, and a broken jaw.

The last three years had been Hell. He came here every year on their anniversary, hoping he could move past that day. Today he would.

Opening his eyes now, he saw the sun licking the last of the horizon. Behind him, the night sky gave way to stars and a crescent moon. Before him, the last tinges of orange and gold faded away. Below him, darkness.

It was time to go. 

He stood and instantly felt the rush of the sea breeze through his hair and beard, felt the instant clarity it brought. He closed his eyes again, inhaled deeply, and outstretched his arms.

And fell into the dying sunset.


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