Photographs: The Lonely
At 5:23 p.m. on March 16th, 2008, in a coffee shop off Main Street, a bell rings. Sophie stumbles through the door, pushing her wild blonde hair back while the wind does its best to turn it into snarls. She’s met with her sister’s back. The cafe is quiet, so no one is there to see Sophie fall into the chair beside Candy at the counter.
“A double espresso over ice, no milk, and caramel drizzle, please,” she tells the tired-eyed barista. He jumps to the task, obviously happy to have something to do. “Mr. Bojangles” plays on the cafe radio. Sophie takes out a cigarette and lights it. Candy is already sliding an ashtray her way.
“You were supposed to quit,” Candy says.
Sophie’s used to the reprimand, not really paying attention anymore. She’s supposed to stop, promised she’d stop, but it’s hard when her hands start trembling around three, and she’s desperate for the taste on her tongue.
“I’m supposed to do a lot of things.” She’s not angry; she just doesn’t want to talk about it. That’s not why she came.
They sit in silence. The barista drops off her drink, a bright purple straw poking out of the top of the cup. Sophie crushes out her cigarette. It’s less enjoyable when Candy is glaring at her anyway.
“What was the verdict?” She slurps down the black liquid.
Candy plays with the handle of her saucer. The milky tea inside is long cold and has formed a layer of wispy strands of cream. “He wants a divorce. She’s pregnant.” She smiles, but it’s fake and too tight. “He said she makes him feel like a real man. He can’t be blamed if he wants to have a wife he can actually sleep with.”
Sophie chokes on her sip of coffee. Candy doesn’t sound upset, but she doesn’t sound like she’s thrilled either. Candy’s engagement and wedding rings gleam between them, mocking and cold.
“I thought he understood the–”
“The sex thing?” Candy interrupts. “I thought he did too. Apparently, he was just waiting for me to grow out of it.” She takes a sip of the tea. Sophie watches bits of it slide around the brim and trickle down her sister’s chin. The cup is set down, and pale droplets tremble on Candy’s upper lip. She looks tired. “I tried, you know?” she whispers. “I knew that’s what he wanted, but it just made me sick. Every time he started to touch me, it felt like spiders were crawling up my body. I tried, though.” She laughs. “I guess I should have tried harder?”
“You shouldn’t have to force yourself to have sex if you don’t want to,” Sophie fumes. “If you two love each other, it shouldn’t matter whether or not his dick is getting wet.” She sticks her cigarette back between her teeth, not lighting it, just desperate for something to chew on. A thought crosses her mind. “Have you met her?”
Candy nods. “She’s very sweet. Her name is Allison. She teaches elementary school.”
“Did she…” Sophie can’t finish the sentence. Her sister’s face pinches. Candy had always been the more stoic of the two, never revealing exactly what she thought. Kids in school had called her stuck up, and more than one boyfriend had called her a cold fish. Sophie had always known it was the opposite. Candy felt things deeply and got anxious easily. It’s why she was always so careful with what she revealed.
“She says she didn’t know,” Candy admits. “She never saw us together, and he always takes his ring off for work. I’m not surprised she didn’t realize.” She takes a deep breath. “It’s not like he paraded her in front of me. She’s just as much of a victim as I am, I suppose. After talking with her, I don’t think she’ll be very receptive if he proposes.”
Sophie snorts. “Good, the shitbag deserves it.” She sucks up the last of the coffee and grimaces when it’s mostly water. She glances at Candy. Her sister is stiff in her seat, her thumb absentmindedly running over the handle of her cup. With each pass of the digit, a droplet of tea gets smeared over the white porcelain. “How are you with all of this? I mean, you only found out a month ago? It’s understandable if you need to take some time.” Sophie waves a hand to accept the bill for both of their drinks. Her credit card clacks on the pad, and the pen runs out of ink halfway through her name on the receipt. Candy continues to consider her cup.
“Honestly,” she begins. “I’m more worried about the paperwork.” She pushes the cup away and leans on the counter, bracing her chin on her arms.
Candy sighs. “Divorces are nothing but paperwork,” she says. “One form after another, one packet to go through then throw away, lawyers trying to get as much money out of you as they can. We’re gonna kill at least three trees by the end of this process.”
Sophie hesitates. “Uh… I guess?”
Candy tilts her head to look at Sophie. She lets out a soft chuckle at Sophie’s uncomfortable face. “I know it’s strange,” she says. “I’m worried more about the paperwork than I am about my marriage ending. It’s weird, right?” She watches Sophie hesitate to answer and shifts, propping her elbows on the counter and resting her chin in one hand. The soft, fresh-cut hair around her face tickles her cheek as it’s smushed into her skin. “I know it’s weird. You don’t have to say it. There are worse things that can happen, though. I could be dying? I could not have hired an investigator. He could have created a whole secret family right under my nose. He could have told me himself before I confronted him.” She sighs. “Can I have a cigarette?”
“These things will kill you,” Sophie says, even as she hands Candy the requested tube and offers a lighter right after. “You never answered my question.” Candy looks at her with raised brows. The cigarette is already between her teeth, tip flame-red as she hollows her cheeks on an inhale. “Are you okay?”
“I already told you, it’s not the worst thing that could happen.”
“Candice,” Sophie growls. Her sister glares at her, chocolate-brown eyes steady and blank, thoughts hidden.
“Fine,” Candy snaps. “I’m as okay as can be expected, I think.” She blows out a cloud of smoke. “I’ll deal with the fallout like I always have. Eventually, I’ll move on, and he’ll move on, and it’ll just be one more broken promise between us.”
“Candy…” Sophie reaches out, stopping just short of her sister’s shoulder. There’s only a thin sundress preventing her fingers from touching skin. It’s pitiful armor to face the world in. When she finally makes contact, Candy slumps, all the fight falling off her frame and crashing to the floor of the coffee shop. “Hey, don’t cry,” she hums, pulling her big sister in for a hug. “He’s not worth it.”
Candy swipes at her eyes, forcing the tears away. “It’s not because of him,” she says. “I just thought it would hurt more, you know?” She sniffs. “Maybe he’s right. Maybe I can’t love people the way I’m supposed to.” Before she can start crying in earnest, Candy hides her face, tears dribbling down her cheeks past the cigarette clutched between her teeth. Sophie pulls her closer.
“There’s no wrong way to love, Candy,” she says soothingly. “You and I both know that.”
“Then why does this keep happening?”
“Because people don’t know how to love you.” She takes the cigarette and drops it into the ashtray. A curl of smoke trembles up from the ash and attempts to find the ceiling. It smells like rainy parking lots at run-down gas stations, but Sophie ignores it and pulls Candy in close. She tries her best to hide her sister away while she thinks about her soon-to-be-ex-brother-in-law.
She used to think he and Candy were the perfect couple. Sure, Candy was subdued and quietly determined, while Derek was outgoing and flighty, but they’d seemed to get each other. There were always soft smiles and teases over dinner and presents on every birthday and anniversary. She’d liked Derek. She’d been happy to be Candy’s maid-of-honor at the wedding. Now here she is, three years later, holding the consequences of that relationship. She lets out a small whimper at how small and alone her sister looks like this.
No matter what Candy thought, Sophie knew she loved deeply. But not everyone saw it like that. Candy loved people like a flower loved the rain. She stayed put through their tempests and soaked up the affection in the aftermath. She never sought them out, but when they found her, she never ran away. No matter how much she got hurt, her loyalty was unshakable, even if it hardly ever got returned.
And no one ever warns you about how damn lonely loving someone can make you feel.
If you check the security footage from Esspresso Yourself cafe on March 16th, 2008, and fast forward to 6:14 p.m., you can pause the frame and print it out. The photo you’ll get shows Candy Borough’s heart break for, not the first, but the last time, while Sophie Borough tries her best to put it back together. There are blurry figures moving around the floor in the image, but the two are still. They just hold each other in black and white.
Photo by Sunyu Kim on Unsplash