THE ART OF LONELINESS by Catherine Akosile

     As Molly stood in the green pile carpet of her childhood living room, she was overwhelmed by the beauty of the deep red blood suspended from the carpet fibers like dewdrops dangling from flower petals. The blood swirled like a Christmas collage, an eerie finger painting of red and green, and she stood there mesmerized until the sirens shattered her reverie.

     Five weeks earlier, Molly’s mother had come to the conclusion that Molly was lonely. She was so convinced of this fact that she called Molly in order to inform her, in case Molly herself had not realized that she was lonely, which she hadn’t. Molly’s mother, Olivia, had decided that anyone who lived alone and had no love life would have to be lonely. It was a well-established fact that every person’s major goal in life was to settle down with someone else in order to end the pernicious loneliness that infused the life of singletons. Every film and every novel seemed to paint this portrait of the key to happiness as being the cessation of loneliness. And Hollywood’s dictations are, of course, always correct. So Molly, in her cramped, roommate-less apartment surrounded by neighbors she didn’t know, with only a few friends whom she rarely saw, and without a date in two years, had to be lonely by rational deduction.

     The thought of loneliness hadn’t really crossed Molly’s mind. "I like the quiet," she’d always said to her relatives’ queries regarding her lack of marital prospects. She didn’t give her mother’s latest insistence much thought. Molly never really gave her mother much thought at all. In fact, Molly rarely gave anyone much thought.

     It wasn't that Molly didn’t think. She thought quite a bit. She spent the working hours thinking of incredible (and successful) advertising campaigns. She spent her free time thinking about the characters in the novels she was reading. She spent her random time (walking, commuting, eating) thinking about all kinds of things, like war and etymology and song lyrics and the wonders of Velcro and other random thoughts, and this kind of thinking continued into her sleeping time. If anything, Molly thought too much, as she had been an insomniac since at least the age of 2. Molly simply couldn’t stop this parade of random thoughts that filled her brain. It wasn’t really a parade, she realized, because the thoughts were never ordered or straightforward; they were more like an angry cloud, a growing mass of disorder.

     But her thoughts rarely strayed to people. People she knew, at least. Which is why she had failed to send a birthday card to anyone in three years. Molly wasn’t self-centered; she just wasn’t very centered at all.

     After this lovely introduction about knowing her daughter’s loneliness better than Molly knew it herself, Olivia proceeded to discuss her own loneliness. How neglected she had always been, by both her parents and then by her workaholic husband, Frank (Molly’s father). This topic had been discussed many times previously, and Molly knew the feel-sorry-for-me routine by heart. But then Molly netted a new, unfamiliar word from the conversation: Greg. This "Greg" kept reappearing, in references to outings at the library and even dinner. And then came a particularly ugly word: Divorce. And by this, Olivia meant ending her thirty-four-year marriage to Frank. It was loneliness, she said, that drove her to this. Thirty-four years of loneliness, with Frank and his newspaper in the morning, Frank and his court cases during the day and often long into the night, shadowed in the solitude of his home office. So now there was Greg. Greg. Molly had never heard an uglier word, with the possible exception of "divorce."

     Molly didn’t cry. Crying was something she rarely did. What she did do was hang up on her mother and then sit in silence until morning, when she took a shower and went to work, and supplied more highly creative and eventually successful ideas for a series of toilet paper commercials.

     Several weeks passed, much as usual, with Molly’s ever-present thoughts, which were for the most part focused on childhood reminiscences. Laughing on the beach with her parents as they threw sand on each other. The three of them giddily baking cookies in the kitchen. Opening presents together on Christmas morning. Being carried on her father’s shoulders at the zoo while her mother recoiled at the snakes. There was no loneliness. She could remember no loneliness. Molly remembered Scrabble matches and birdwatching. There was no loneliness!

     Molly’s mother wanted to bring Greg over for dinner, but Molly kept declining. Molly spent her evenings alone in the silence of her apartment, listening to the ticking clock and the rustling curtains. One evening she accidentally dropped her Cookie Monster cookie jar so that it shattered on the linoleum floor, and she cursed aloud. Her voice sounded so strange and foreign to her, because it had been so long since she’d heard it. She realized then that she was lonely.

     She wasn’t lonely for a soulmate, as her mother thought. She was lonely for the man who carried her on his shoulders and taught her how to whistle. She realized then that she should have called him at some point in these last few weeks. She realized then that she’d wanted to, but she simply hadn’t known what to say.

     But now she longed for someone else to hear her voice, and for someone to reply, in an environment that wasn’t revolving around commercial spots. So she drove the 20 miles to her father’s house (formerly her mother’s as well), and as she was about to ring the doorbell she heard a shot.

     The door was unlocked, and there on the floor was the man who had bandaged her knees and sung lullabies when she couldn’t sleep. There, surrounded by a murky finger painting of green and red, there on the carpet where they had played board games and built forts out of couch cushions. There.

ENDS © Catherine Akosile