Christian Fennell

A Look Back and Say Goodbye

He sat on a bench in the town square and opened a beer. He took a sip and wondered, in the church of our knowing, the blood runs, it always runs, in the streets of our towns and the streets of our hearts.

He shaded his eyes to the rim of the sun low in the sky before him. He saw an old man with a shopping cart, stopped, smoking down a cigarette, looking off somewhere else. And he thought, you were to stay in your rooms, but you didn’t, you came to the door.


Bye, Mom.

I told em, in the dark, in the cold, she can’t hear you, your head bouncing against my back, long hair hanging down, your wrists bandaged, little emptied plastic bottles jangling in my pockets.

Beyond the intensity of the darkness, of that night, these real nights of us, there was no road to follow.

We turned around.

You slept for two days and your heart didn’t stop.

We knew the storm was coming and I had only just beat it out getting into town and back to get some things we needed.

I gave you your pill and waited until you were out.

It was one of those times it didn’t work.

You were sitting on the couch with the kids watching a movie, both wrists opened up, two puddles of blood on the floor.

She’s been talking gibberish.

What is madness and how did it find us? A last chance to reach out and find some handles and hold on?

How long?

Fight harder.

Be stronger.

A weakness in the heart of knowing, so much of everyone’s truth.

He took another sip of beer and stretched his legs out and crossed his boots and in his mind he searched for her, the very essence of her; her scent; her touch, all of her, and all that he wanted again right now, covering him—that calming.

On the porch stairs, you were there. The sun warming on your face, watching the kids walking down the long, shaded driveway. Walking and talking, playing, stopping to see the horses come to the post and rail fence to see them off. The horses’ tails flicking at flies, the school bus honking and waiting.

You wore faded and ripped jeans, a white tank top, and we stretched back to the warm porch boards and made love in the sunlight.

We smoked and we talked, time passing in our words like a faint breeze across our world—a world no longer ours in the making. The fog in your brain coming, going away, coming back, and settling again.

And it couldn’t be stopped.

Not by me, your doctors, meds, not by the letting of your own blood.

It would come.

He finished his beer and took another from his pocket and opened it.

Like the lily and the rose.

Je me souviens.

Like it never will be again.

He looked across the blurred square. We were always together though, weren’t we, Lizzy? Even then—always then, reaching, that same sun, same big sky, sheltering us, lazy and lingering in the tall grass by the big shady river. The purity of your heart bringing to us the rhythm of everything good.

He looked at the store that sold the beer. It was closed. He took another sip and leaned forward and put his finger to the dirt and wrote the words, In the wind: A refrain.

He spat to the dirt and lit a cigarette.

That night.

You drank a bottle of red wine, you took another one with you, and you drove away. You drove down a dark country road and you drove onto an irrigated field of beans and you ran a jagged piece of green glass across your wrists.

They said you wouldn’t make it. But you did. You stayed.

He shook the match out and tossed it to the ground, and he thought about that, what it must have been like, stopped, all that emptiness and darkness coming and settling upon you.

In the dark.

In the quiet.


He took a drag of his cigarette and kicked dirt onto the smouldering match. You wrote a note in red ink on the back of a cigarette pack, and I couldn’t make it out, what it was you wrote. Not really.

He looked at the old man, stopped, looking back at him.

That was the hardest part, wasn’t it, Lizzy? That knowing. The slash and burn of so many sharp declines, the going heavy in the darkness, and always waiting, the certainty of it coming, with little to do but try to make it through.

He took a drag of his cigarette and dropped it to the ground and toed it out. You woke from a late morning nap and walked to the window, watching for a while, crisp red-brown leaves whirling and tumbling down the vacant road.

You looked at me, and I could see it, the very same as if it were an object you held in your hands before me. Your wellness had surrendered, betraying you again, our hopes held tight beneath warm sheets in the night—gone. Fallen away again.

He heard the old man’s cart start up with its one squeaky wheel and he watched him push it down a narrow, shaded laneway.

Blood on the sheets, on the curtains, on the floor, down the hallway.

Here now, and with us still.

An altered state that became a constant, and it shouldn’t have been.

There were no other options.


It’s a good question, one you can hold up to the light and never be satisfied with what the reflections of you are trying to see.

An unrelenting death repetitiveness that you and your children could not stop.

They’d wash your current meds out and start a new round, something different. Anything. But it wouldn’t hold, it never did.

He watched the old man disappear, the squeak of the wheel still coming to him like some demented whistle moving over the empty courtyard, and settling before him. He leaned forward, his hand open to it, grabbing hold of it, and it made him feel better, choking the calling of it until it was rung out and gone. He opened his hand and dropped the deadness of it to the ground.

Once everything had failed, every possible combination of meds, all those rounds of ECT, everything changed, the being diagnosed as Treatment Resistant became a divide. The four to six week stays in the hospital, being moved to a university hospital specializing in mental disorders and studied for three months, it all stopped.

We so easily sacrifice science to the altar of our beliefs, and yet, we hide behind it, too, filling voids, segregating ourselves. Scapegoating. Because if we didn’t, we’d be forced to examine the other side of us, the collective side, the uncomfortable truth that it is all of us together.

One in five, how could it not be?

Locked in cold dead rooms with restraints.

Looking at you through heavy glass.

Little harmless beautiful you.

“I can show you how to kill yourself, if you really want to die.”


“You’re taking up a bed someone who wants to live could use.”

All too true and far too prevalent.

You escaped triage, broke out and ran, over Fiddler’s Green, picked up in the night by the police, and it did not matter if it was the hospital you fled because you needed to be there, you were charged and arrested and set free in the morning to the world, barefoot.

He took another sip of beer and thought, I really don’t care who you are, how old you are, your understandings, your beliefs, lack of them, healthcare professional, or not, family, or not—take your bootstraps and keep walking.

He looked again in the direction of the squeaky wheel sound that was not there now, the square lonelier for its absence, the stillness and silence heavier.

We’d moved to that little house in town to be closer to bigger hospitals and family. I went down into the basement, and I can’t remember why. And I’ve tried. Over and over, I’ve tried. I came back up and you were gone. And it wasn’t like before, there were too many places for you to go—too many side streets, dead-ends, parks, and strip malls.

They found you, Lizzy. Not me.

Not that time.

And there you were—alone again in the night, parked behind an empty building.

Why that?

Always that?

Did I do it? Put that there? Empty bottles squeezed tight at your feet.

I couldn’t be your witness, and I’m sorry about that, even though you wanted me to.

No one was stronger, fought harder, or longer. Not that I know of. And you deserved that witness, and I guess I was that, just not how you needed me to be.

Not in the end I wasn’t.

Where’s that sound, old man? Bring it back. Break the emptiness, and I’ll be your witness and you be mine.

He looked at the sun, almost gone and taking everything with it.


Bravery is caring. It’s understanding the weakness in the heart of all our truth and still caring.


And I wonder if you can understand that?

I’m right here, Finn.

I sat in the car one time, did you know that?

No. When?

I put you in the backseat, all torn up, and I didn’t drive, not right away I didn’t. I just sat there, wanting to yell—scream, so fucking loud.

But who was there to hear me? That’s what I didn’t know.

There was no one, that’s who.

What about God, Finn?

He turned and looked in the direction of the old man who was not there now.

What would you have said to Him?

I don’t know, Lizzy. I guess I would’ve said, hold on, what’s going on?

And what would He have said to you?

He looked at the coming darkness and thought, healthcare for humanity, how hard can that be to understand? Love and caring, Lizzy, that’s what He’d have said.

Yes, Finn, love and caring. It’s all we have and all that’s required.

No, Lizzy, all we have is the cold hard reach of science, new meds, and go home.

The old man was there, standing next to him, and he thought, how’d you get there? And he watched the old man tip his head back and close his eyes, scenting the coming winds, much the same as a dog might do.

He looked at the low, dark clouds moving quickly above him, the old man disappearing again across the darkening square, the sound of the squeaky wheel drifting and fading with the falling sun.

Will it never stop?

Say goodbye.

No, not today.

Say goodbye. It’s all that’s left.

He heard a cricket and he looked to a patch of dead weeds coming up from the dirt. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes and let the coming darkness take him. And it did, and in his mind, he ran, once again, these dark and empty streets of our hearts.

He felt a warm breeze, a light touch, a whispering: In the guardianship of perfect silence all shall be known.

He opened his eyes, unable to distinguish himself from the darkness, and you were there, with him now, your eyes so clear and blue, your long black hair, red lips.

The old man, farther down in the square, stopping and looking back, at their feet entwined, moving over the empty courtyard.


Under the moonlight.

As if touched as one by the stain of this life.

All their moments spent.

The man:

In the dark.

In the quiet.


Christian Fennell writes literary fiction and essays. He is the author of Torrents of Our Time, a collection of 22 stories, and the novel, The Fiddler in the Night. Christian was a columnist and the fiction editor at The Prague Review.

top photo “Bright Stairs” © Joanne Warfield