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  • Writer's pictureCandace Nola

05/17/2024 Flash Fiction Friday: Absence of Absolution

“What? You want me to tell you about her?”

The haggard detective flicked his cigarette into the rancid coffee that sat on his desk like old news. He sighed, scrubbed both hands over his face with rough palms, rubbing hard, as if the motion would both wake him from the nightmare and kill him inside it. The rickety chair squealed like an old door hinge when he suddenly sat straight up, dropping his feet to the floor like cement shoes over a bridge.

“She was broken before she entered this world. Pathetic creature, pretty but she never knew it, which just makes it sadder.” He shook his head, eyes drifting over coffee stains on the metal desk, the crumpled notes and takeout receipts, chewed on pens and random cough drops, the detritus of a cop's lonely life. He snorted to himself as if drawing the same conclusion I already had.

“She haunts me, you know? Those eyes, the goddamn eyes, shattered pools of sorrow, too deep for any man to wade in, too vast for rescue. Broken, decades of being broken, again and again. It’s a wonder she lasted as long as she did. God only knows where she found the strength. God knows I failed her too…”. He paused. A sob threatened to break free, he coughed, covered it, swallowed. Eyes, everywhere but on me. I waited.

“That was it. I was her final straw. The last break. The final atom of hope that she was clinging to, that was holding her together, withered and died when she saw my eyes. She asked a single question after she told me her tale. One. Question.” He looked up at the water marked ceiling, at the nicotine-stained yellow walls of the station, at the dirty floors and the dented file cabinets, back at his desk. His eyes never reached mine.

“That one question carried the full weight of the world with it. The entirety of her existence depended on it. I knew it too but I couldn’t help it. Goddamn I tried. But it took too long. I hesitated too long, far too long. I thought about her story. About every person that had failed her. Every humiliation, every loss, every abuse and degradation. I ran down the list quick as a blink in my mind. Her life carried a longer rap sheet than most of these guys in the back room. Not her crimes, but the crimes that had been done to her. A pattern of it. By design? Who knows? Gods plan?” He scoffed.

Rage darkened his features, tightened the already thin lips, storm clouds flickered in stony eyes. “If there was ever an argument for the toxicity of hope, she was its poster child.” I raised an eyebrow, not needing to ask. He would speak on his own. He was Mt. Helen spewing lava as fast as his lips could move.

“Hope. It kept her going. Day after day, year after year, decades of abuse, decades of just enduring and existing, and being punished for the same. Far as I can tell, her only crime was existing. And the universe hated her for it. But her soul refused to give up. She refused to stop hoping. She refused to believe that all people were cruel, inherently evil beings that collectively decided to destroy her, at every turn, in every way possible. She gave and they took, and took, and took. Hell, it seemed like the whole damn world took from her, made it a full time job to show her how unworthy she was.”

His eyes went glassy as another sob choked the words in his throat. I watched his stubbled throat swallow, his Adams apple bobbing as he fought for control. White whiskers were breaking through the cloud of dark five o’clock shadow that clung to his jawline. His eyes looked anywhere but at me, hollow and haunted, purple bags beneath them. He took a breath and continued.

“She followed the rules, the system, tried to be a good person despite all that had been done to her, in spite of it, you know? No one would have batted an eye if she had wound up an addict, a crack whore, another overdose. They would have nodded their heads and said ‘of course, she would be that, become that, what a waste.’ And move on, all while refusing to see that the world made her that, that we created her misery, forced it upon her, weighed her down with our perversions, our misery, our anger. We hurt, so we hurt her, collectively.”

His gaze finally met mine. Eyes so black with repressed rage they glistened in the dim fluorescents like ice on asphalt. A chill ran down my spine. I ignored it, waiting. He nodded; the unspoken communication complete. “It would be fate that I got the call. The ultimate ‘fuck you’ from the universe to her, or hell, maybe to me. Either way, I got the call. I didn’t know it was her until I got there.” I shifted in my seat, clammy sweat dripped down my spine. I stayed silent. I needed to hear this, to see it through.

“Soon as I saw her, I knew it was her. I had never met her, but my mom had. She had sent pictures, years ago, but I still denied her. It had been decades, and I was still a coward.” Self-loathing furrowed his brow, slumped his shoulders. Another deep sigh rumbled from his chest, a sound of defeat, and perhaps regret. Eyes traced a new path around the room, taking inventory of a career in ruins, a stain on his soul, a tragedy that had been allowed to play out for far too long.

“Anyway,” he continued, “the question broke us both. She knew it would. I had no answer, no empty promises to give.” A single tear slipped from one eye; he let it. “She jumped. I saw the acceptance in her eyes even as the last shred of hope died. She died…before she took that last step. What was left of her extinguished itself before her body hit the pavement.” Another long look passed between us when his eyes found mine again.

“Does my saying it matter?” He asked quietly. His eyes held mine this time. I waited.

“She was the daughter I denied. That I abandoned to the cruelty of the world. I told myself she would be alright. That someone would want her, that someone would step in, or step up. How was I to know that no one ever would?”

I looked at him for a moment. Then rose, set the pistol on the desk and turned on my heel and walked away. Stepping outside into the night air, the single shot echoed behind me as the door swung close.

It was done. The admission of who she was, the acceptance of her identity. Not justice, not for her, not absolution, not for him, not for any of us, but it was an acknowledgment of what had been done and what it cost. I slid into my car, blinked away the tears I had been holding and checked my list. It was going to be a long night.

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