Note: This was written for the Review Game Forum's January Writing Challenge Contest. Check out the other entries and vote for your favorites the 8th – 14th. I would greatly appreciate feedback on this piece as I struggled to tie it all together.

The Fantasy

I burn incense while we fuck to cover the smell of mildew.

If I close my eyes and inhale it's almost like being in a far off hotel, on our honeymoon in India with spice and sunshine all around. The squeak of old mattress springs could be exotic birds chirping outside as we explore each other in wedded bliss. The cheap beer on your breath is the most expensive wine money can buy and tomorrow we'll wake tangled together, smile in the sunlight, and make love all over again.

No...

Here we cling and claw, grunt and gasp our way to completion and fall silent in the darkness. In the afterglow, you wrap your arms around me and I fall asleep imagining this is love. In my dreams you're the prince I was promised by fairy tales; in your dreams, who am I? Am I your angel? Am I the trophy wife you're just waiting for the right time to marry?

What role do I play in your fantasy?

I wear my rose-colored glasses all the time here. When you're inside me it's not just because I'm convenient but because I complete you and you complete me. Yin and yang, we could not exist without the other. Soulmates who found their matches. We're the stuff of legends, you and I.

But...

I wake to an empty bed.

I always wake to an empty bed as you slink off in the gray morning with the ache of overwork and unfulfillment in your movement. I feel it too. It's the sensation of childhood dreams, the sweet mortar of promise, slowly chipping away under the chisel of reality.

I step onto the stained shag carpet and get dressed on autopilot. I leave for my shit job and think of you all day. I tell everyone we're perfect together, but I'm fooling no one, least of all myself.

You're no white knight and I'm no princess. I'm a frightened little girl in a woman's body whose only knowledge of herself is a gaping lack thereof; you're a hurt little boy wallowing in a stagnant world with no place for you. We're both just driftwood, slowly rotting and hoping to find solid ground before we sink unnoticed into oblivion.

If I had not met you I would have been dragged to the depths long ago; you once confessed to attempted suicide before you met me and you think I'm the reason you failed. We were meant to meet, to have this shadowplay relationship.

To what end?

I drew a window on the brick wall of this shitty basement apartment when we moved in as a promise to myself, a promise to you that we would see the daylight on the other side before our lease was up.

You hung a curtain over that window because you couldn't destroy the lie without breaking your hand. 'It's not worth that much pain', you said. I thought, 'maybe that's why we linger in this purgatory'.

We spin future tales and dull the sting of disappointment with physical and chemical escapism. We're working, we're plodding forward, and we're pretending to be happy instead of fighting for true joy.

One day the fantasy won't be enough. We've settled for now, but that day, soon, one or both of us will be ready to quest into reality and brave whatever agony the world gives us in pursuit of happily ever after. One day we'll start our stories for real. One day.

Once upon a time...