Fortresses of the Heart

There was just a bit of drizzle dampening the air as she walked along the almost silent beach. The air possessed a chill, but was not so possessive of it that it did not share it with her. She pulled her sweater more tightly around her shoulders and moved towards the rocks at the water’s edge, looking out towards the bay, and further towards the ocean.

It was autumn, early October, and the foliage in the area was just beginning to turn the splendid colors of the dance of death. Winter was not far off. The chill in the air, more noticeable by the water, was beginning to develop a bite.

She did not seem to mind. She just closed her sweater and kept walking. For her, the chill of the air was nothing compared with the coldness she felt deep within her soul.

She climbed the moss-covered rocks at the shore and stood atop them for a time. She stood motionless, the autumn wind fluttering her sweater and her hair. She just stood, looking out, but seeing nothing beyond the darkness she kept inside her.

Eventually, the wind and drizzle took their toll, and she gave in to the persistent battering. She climbed back down from her look-off and reluctantly moved back up the beach towards the road. She paused a moment, bent down to pick up a stone, smoothed by the relentlessness of the waves, held it in her hand for a moment, then put it back in its indentation in the sand, stood, and continued her walk.


Her cabin across the road was small, but it had all the necessities. As soon as she was back inside, she crumpled some newspapers and lit them in the wood stove. Before long there was enough flame to ignite the firewood she held at the ready. A few minutes later, the fire was blazing and the air in the cabin began to warm, ever so slightly. She pulled the old wooden rocking chair closer to the stove, peeled off her damp sweater, and rubbed the chill from her upper arms. It was small comfort.

Tomorrow she would return to the city. She would go back to her job, her friends, her family. But it would never be the same. Foolish of her to think that two weeks in the country would put everything back to normal. Foolish of her to even consider spending those two weeks in this place.

His place.

Their place.

She stared at the flames, wondering what had driven her to come up here, when she’d known that everything around her would just remind her of him. It seemed lunacy now. This was the place they had discovered together. They had fallen in love with the cabin, the beach, the rocks, the trees. They had fallen in love with each other here, and had kept this place close to their hearts always.

Her chin was almost resting on her breastbone now, her eyes moist with the tears she'd been trying to avoid but had known would come. So much for coming inside to be dry.

She almost chuckled at that, but a part of her wouldn’t permit it. A chuckle would be inappropriate. She seemed to be dominated by that part now. The dark part. The part that wouldn’t let her focus on life, on blue skies, on friendship, on anything that smacked of happiness. It was the part that kept her thinking about how empty her life was at this moment, how a huge bite had been taken out of her very existence, how nothing was ever, ever going to be the same.

It was getting dark outside. That suited her dominant part just fine. It had no need for sun, no need for light of any kind, in fact. Best for the outer world to mirror the inner. It seemed ... appropriate, somehow.

Since she had chosen to be technologically disadvantaged for this two-week period, there was nothing for her to do except read or go to bed, and she didn’t feel like reading.

She removed her wet sneakers and jeans, put them and the sweater on the floor near the stove, stoked the firewood one more time, and went to bed.


The morning was crisp and clear. Not a trace of the previous day’s drizzle remained. She awoke, bleary-eyed, and crawled out of the bed. She had slept marginally better than previous nights, but not as well as she would have liked.

Too many memories, too many emotions. They invaded her dreams, kept her mind churning, when all she wanted to do was rest, sleep, and get a few hours peace.

She would be glad to leave.

She took the box of cereal and carton of milk out of her cooler and had a hasty breakfast. Trying not to think coherently about anything, she packed up her things and put her suitcase in the car. A moment later it was joined by the cooler. She took a last quick look around the cabin to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything, then locked the front door behind her as she left.

A few moments later she was backing out of the dirt driveway and pulling onto the road. Taking one quick look back at the cabin, she accelerated and headed for the highway.


The day’s clarity did not reach her as she sped towards civilization. She kept her eyes on the road, her mind on her driving. Her two-week self-indulgence was behind her now, and she was heading back into normal life. She set her jaw, and focused.

Even the dark part of her that had so dominated her mind the night before was shocked into submission by this new determination. It receded, shook it’s phantom head in incomprehension, and went silent.

She actually enjoyed the drive. The hum of the tires against the road felt good through the rubber and carpet of the floor. The breeze that whipped in through the crack of the slightly open window felt good against her face. She adjusted her sunglasses, checked her mirrors, and accelerated further.

She would soon be home.


Her car slipped comfortably into the driveway of her apartment building only an hour later. She pulled the suitcase and cooler from the back seat and proceeded into the building. A short elevator ride found her striding towards her door, her keys in her hand.

She unpacked her suitcase with a verve and determination once thought reserved for members of the Marine Corps. She took the unused food from the cooler and put it away swiftly and efficiently. She took a quick shower, threw her clothes from the trip into her laundry hamper, and fixed herself a supplement to her earlier hasty breakfast.

Only then did she allow her attention to turn to the answering machine.



“Hi, Diana. It’s Julie. Just wanted you to know I was thinking about you. Give me a call when you get back. Okay? Bye.”


“Hi Diana. It’s Roy. I hope everything’s okay. I haven’t talked to you in a few days. Gimme a call when you get a chance. Okay, I guess that’s it. Bye.”


“Diana, it’s Mom. Let me know when you get back. I’m worried about you, sweetheart. Talk to you soon.”


Diana sighed. Friend, coworker, and mother, all in the same batch of messages. Reality asserting itself with a vengeance.

Her determination nearly faltered. For a moment, she pictured herself back in the cabin.

No, that wouldn't do. She couldn't let herself slip back now. She was just beginning to get her bearings again.

She would kick reality's ass.

The End

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