I Left It In Myles Bay

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The snow fell in heavy lumps that really couldn’t be described as flakes. Nothing about them was flaky; they stuck to the ground and onto the windshield even though Diego had the windshield wipers working like the heart of a hummingbird. The inconvenient white powder continued to slam against the glass only to be wiped away, revealing a glimpse of the road ahead.

“You had to pick this day, of all the days in the world, to have a mental breakdown,” Diego grumbled and fiddled with the radio, trying to catch a decent station. “If you weren’t my favorite cousin I’d be at home, watching Netflix right now,” he declared.

“At least there’s no traffic,” I said, offering what little positive input I could.

“Joanna,” Diego said and turned to look at me with sincere wide brown eyes, “That’s because no one in this whole wide universe is dumb enough to drive in this weather.”

“I’m sorry,” I said and put my gloves on. The car was warm enough but my fingers still felt like icicles from running into a gas station and buying the huge map that was folded out on my lap.

I had to give Diego some credit; he had only started to complain after a full two hours of driving in silence. He was the kind of person you called up in the middle of the night and asked to get in a car and drive to an undisclosed location with no questions asked. He was also the kind of person who insisted on red Twizzlers for road trips, which is why we had to stop by a 24/7 Seven Eleven before we could head for the highway.

“Hey, didn’t you guys use to rent that summer cottage?” Diego asked.

“Yeah,” I answered.

Diego sighed audibly and danced his fingers over the steering wheel. “Joanna, Joanna, don’t tell me we’ve driven all this way for you to tell me we’re going to be doing some breaking and entering.”

“I know the code for the key,” I said and shrugged my shoulders, “It’s not a crime if you have a key.”

“Yeah, remind me to never hire you as my lawyer,” Diego remarked and went back to staring at the road, glaring at the snow as if he could melt it away with his stare.

“I need to go there,” I said, my voice quiet, almost washed out by the sound of the radio. “You don’t understand, but I need to.”

“Trust me, I don’t understand why you need to go to some shabby cottage in the middle of nowhere, but I do understand that you need to go there.”

Foggy roadI guess I felt thankful. He didn’t need to know why, and he didn’t ask. I wanted to tell, but I was afraid that it would ruin the trip and it wasn’t a very good trip to begin with. But I had managed to push It away, just for a while. And I needed It to stay away. I was so scared of It coming back. I’d kept It away by thinking of happy times and happy moments. Each one gave me only so much time. It ate away at my joyous memories and eventually burned through them like fuel. But I knew. There was one place, with memories too good, a place where every room rang with laughter and held the warmth of sun rays in the floor, a place where I had always been happy. It had always stayed away, never daring to enter this place, secluded by tall pine woods and water. I was out of fuel. I had no other choice but to go. So I packed a bag at five AM and called Diego. Then it was the concerned looks and awkward explanations.

“I need to go to Myles Bay,” I’d said.

“Yeah and I need a week in Cuba,” Diego had laughed, standing in my driveway on Markham St. his dark curly hair flailing in the wind. “What else is new.”

“I need to go,” I had insisted and looked back at the house, noticing my parent’s bedroom light switch on. “I need to go now and you can’t ask why.”

He’d given me this look, this look I’d seen on his face many times before ever since we were little kids. When I’d had tantrums in Walmart, embarrassing his mom who swore it was the last time she’d babysit me niece or no niece. When I’d spent my entire sixteenth birthday locked in my room. When I yelled and cursed at my parents, which was unheard of in this family. And when I’d come back from our trips from cottage country, he saw It settle in, and the look was there to tell me so.

“We are at Owen Sound,” Diego announced, snapping me out of my thoughts. “Are you sure we can’t stick around here for a while, it’s the first decent station I’ve found in ages,” he laughed triumphantly. And indeed the radio didn’t screech and rattle with bad connection, but played clearly, filling the car with a beat and melody.

I looked at my map, ignoring the music. “Thirty more minutes or so if we don’t stop,” I tried a smile, “Next pit stop is Wiarton, they have that huge statue of a mouse I’ve been telling you about.”

“Ah, the infamous Wiarton mouse statue,” Diego rejoiced, “Seeing that damn thing better make up for this trip, cuz.”

“It’s pretty glorious,” I said and smiled.

“Full speed ahead,” Diego declared and indeed did go above the speed limit. The drive to Wiarton passed in a blur. Diego was happy and excited about the music and seeing the mouse statue and I didn’t let myself think. When we finally drove passed the Wiarton mouse named Willie, Diego slowed down and gawked in awe. The thing was completely covered in snow; it looked like Santa Clause with a heavy beard of white. “How can you even tell it’s a mouse?” He exclaimed. “This, this is outrageous, Joanna.”

I gave him an apologetic look, tracing the roads on the map. “You gotta remember we’re on six not on ten anymore.”

“Wha- What does that have to do with the mouse?”

I furrowed my brow. “N-nothing?”

“That’s it. I see a Timmy’s ahead. We’re stopping for coffee. Who knows when the next opportunity will come along.”

“I don’t drink coffee,” I protested as he steered the car into the abundantly empty parking lot. “No drive through…We’ll wish me luck. I’m going out there.”

I waved him a meek goodbye and shuttered as the car door slammed closed. Diego was my oldest cousin. We had two others; Janine and Amber. They were twins. The lived with Uncle Harry and Aunt Connie in Brampton. We saw them for Christmas and birthdays and all the big holidays. Diego and I, however, had grown up in the same neighborhood a couple blocks apart. We’d gone to the same school and we’d played in the same soccer team. Both of us quit after a year. I’d known him all my life and he was more of an older brother than a cousin to me, but that was because my parents were very busy people and Diego’s mom, Christine, got stuck with me after school and on the weekends. I couldn’t remember a week that had gone by without us not seeing each other, except for those that I’d spent at Myles Bay with mom and dad. Four weeks out of the summer in complete isolation from the city, from Diego and Christine and from work and school and everything that messed things up. So I felt a bit guilty, for letting him come along this time. And I was scared that maybe the place would lose some of its magic having him there. But he had a car. And a driver’s licence. Two things I no longer possessed.

The door opened and let in freezing air. At least the sun had gone up while we made the drive. It made everything look so bright in a fresh coat of snow.

“I got you hot chocolate and a muffin,” Diego said and handed me a greasy paper bag. “And don’t tell me you’re not hungry because you haven’t eaten anything since we left.”

“Blueberry,” I noted. “My favorite.” I accepted the food and the warm hot chocolate because I saw no point in arguing, which was unusual for me. I had a tendency of always finding something to argue about. But Diego was very disarming with his concerned looks and his blueberry muffins and radio stations. So I settled with nibbling on my muffin as he continued to navigate us up a road that took us through fields and shaky looking buildings.

“You gotta make a right turn here,” I said.

“Into the woods,” Diego remarked. “Meryl Streep was great in that movie. Meryl Streep is great in everything.” He laughed to himself as we drove on a slippery sand road through a thick forest. I knew it wouldn’t be long now. Five minutes tops. I sat at the edge of my seat. Leaning in to see through the snow covered windshield. We broke out of the mess of pine trees and I saw the water. “Oh,” I gasped, “Look at that.”

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The lake thrashed with wild waves, the body of water too large to freeze even during the winter lows. The snow hurtled into the dark blue and sunk to join the waves. Behind it, in the horizon, a beach followed by the edge of yet another enormous patch of trees colored in various dark greens covered in snow dominated the view. Rows of summer cottages lined the other side of the road, I recognized every single one. I remembered walking up and down that road with dad, inviting people over for a barbeque. I’d never see him wear an apron anywhere else. Or flip-flops. Not even in the summer when the city sizzled and bubbled with heat.

“This place looks deserted,” Diego said and slowed down on the icy road.

“No it’s not. It’s so alive it’s almost scary,” I said and pointed towards a house with a wide terrace and a sloping roof, “That’s the one.”

Diego pulled over and I stumbled out of the car. The cold stuck to my skin as I scrambled for the door, carefully navigating the stairs. “Hold these,” I said and handed my gloves to Diego who was right behind me. I punched in the familiar code and opened the little vault, the key dropped onto my bare palm, the metal so cold it felt like hot needles. I tried the lock and it opened without any issues. Both of us hurried inside.

“The heat isn’t on,” Diego complained and quickly took in his surroundings. The whole place was very tacky, decorated with the most extravagantly horrendous furniture. For some reason the owner had decided on a rainforest theme for the living room. “I’ll go see if I can do something about that.”

I stood in the hallway. Looking at how the familiar tiles zigzagged on the floor. It was a little better. Not how it used to be. But that could have been because of Diego. Or maybe the snow. I hugged myself and pulled my jacket closer. “Something…” I mumbled and walked further into the house. “Why is this…” I opened the door to my bedroom. The bed was stripped and all the linens folded neatly in the closet. The wall was still as pink as it had ever been. But something, something was wrong, because I could still feel It. And It shouldn’t be here. Shouldn’t be able to come here. I became frantic, going through the rooms, the drawers, the kitchen cupboards. I could feel my pulse sky rocket and my face flush. I knew that wasn’t good. Knew it from experience. “Stop it,” I told myself, but my hands kept rummaging through the utensil drawer; I spilled forks and knives and spoons on the floor. They rattled like instruments on the tiling. “This is…this can’t be. It’s supposed to be good, so good…” I muttered and moved on into the living room. I stopped abruptly as I found myself staring at Diego, kneeling in front of the fireplace. He’d managed to get a fire going, effectively warming up the space.

“Check this out Joanna, I fixed it,” he exclaimed as he turned to look at me, his smile faltering as he noticed my current state.

“You didn’t fix anything,” I said, my voice strung high with panic. “There’s something wrong. There’s something wrong with this place. There’s something WRONG,” I couldn’t stop it. My plan had failed, the last scraps of power I’d clung onto were gone. It was over. It was here and I’d brought It here.

“Jesus, calm down,” Diego said. I waved him off and stormed out. I shed my jacket on the porch and enjoyed the numbing wind. I could hear him following me. “Wait, Jo!”

I kept walking until I reached the water. Dead plants and frozen soil made a barrier between me and a rickety dock. I slouched over the remains of weeds and stopped to wedge off my winter boots. “Oh shit,” I squealed as my feet hit the cold wet ground. But I didn’t care. Because I was going to drown It. Just like those snowflakes drowned, dissipating under the layers of dark and freezing waters.

“What are you doing?” Diego called. “Are you insane? Are you out of your goddamn mind? You’ll freeze to death, Joanna!”

I kept moving, keeping my steps quick. I glanced back and saw Diego hesitating on the road. He saw me look. “I’m not gonna come after you. I’m not gonna die of hypothermia because you’re having one of your freak attacks!”

I cringed. He wouldn’t?

He wouldn’t. That was good. I didn’t need to drag anyone else down with me. Let him go home and eat his Twizzlers and listen to the good station in Owen Sound as he drove down. I waded through the water, holding on to the slimy side of the dock so the waves wouldn’t wash me away. The water was up to my stomach. It was paralyzing cold. It was hard to keep moving so I stopped when it was up to my shoulders. My hands dropped under the surface and I found my entire body had gone numb. I couldn’t move if I wanted to. The dock was just a couple of steps back, but I couldn’t will my legs to move. I felt It. Stronger than I ever had. Clenching its fist around me, squeezing out my breath, holding me still even though the waves around me splashed and raged. It’s just a lake. It’s never been this angry. I’ve never been this angry.

“Joanna!” Diego called, he stood at the very end of the dock, peering at me. He was holding out a hand, but I couldn’t grab it, couldn’t move. “Grab my hand!”

“I can’t” I sobbed, not sure if the wetness on my face was due to the water or tears or the invasive snowfall. “I can’t. I can’t anymore. I can’t stop It.”

“Jo, Jo, please,” He begged and reached further. “Just get out of the water.”

“But it didn’t work,” I screamed.

“I know, I know. But we’ll fix it.”

“I can’t fix it! I’ve tried, but I can’t. It’s all over me and It won’t let go,” I breathed, my teeth rattling and my body violently shaking.

“Try just this one time, just one more time. You’ve been doing so good,” Diego coaxed, “You’ve been doing so much better…And mom’s not mad about the car anymore. I swear, she’s all giddy buying a new one. We can start having Sunday dinners again. Roast chicken and lime beans.”

“She’s not mad about the car?” I asked, sniffing.

“No, she’s not mad about the car. Just like she was never mad about Walmart or baking you a birthday cake you never ate. More frosting for the rest of us,” Diego argued, “Now, get out of the water.”

I stared at his hand sure I could reach it if I tried hard enough. The look in his eyes was pleading, convincing, bargaining.

I wondered for a second if grabbing his hand would be like reducing a hurricane into a gust of wind, tucking it neatly into a drawer in my bedroom, waiting for it to gain strength so one day it would burst out, wrecking everything in its path. I wondered if it would feel like crashing a car into a brick wall, pointless, splintering, and anticlimactic. And I wondered if it would cause more trouble than do good.

“Please.”

Wordless Agreements

cemetary

A funeral; people dressed in black, shifting awkward looks. They surrounded me. They encircle me, gazing at me with expectant eyes.

It was a cloudy day with a high expectancy of rain; I could practically feel it gathering up in the air. If life were a movie, this day would have been the perfect set for a funeral. I saw my grandmother clench her umbrella hesitantly. She was waiting for the rain as well. I suppose we were all waiting for something to relieve us from this suffocating moment.

I, my younger brother, and my father stood next to the casket opposite from the pastor. Everyone was looking at us or blowing into their handkerchiefs, which I was sure they would use later to dry their tears. I looked down. I was looking at my black heels that were digging into the soft grass. They were brand new and uncomfortable. They chafed my feet, making them bleed. I frowned, realizing they’d be stained.

I distantly registered the pastor speaking. I’m sure he was telling everyone present how good of a person my mother was. Had been. He went through the typical stuff people get graced with when they die. I thought it was nonsensical. Everyone here loved my mother, that’s the reason they were here mourning her in the first place. I stopped listening and concentrated on the grass that grew among the headstones with admirable persistence.

The casket was lowered, prayers were said, and I, I was still looking at the grass as I felt the first drop of rain fall into my court shoes. It sank through my stockings and wet my toes. I felt my little brother, Nick, squeeze my hand. I raised my chin to look at him. His round face looked devoid of color, practically lifeless.

“Everything is alright,” I whispered.

“I know,” Nick said, “But you’re crying.”

I put my fingers to my cheeks in confusion. They were sticky with tear stains. I wished that the droplets falling out of the corners of my eyes had been water, but the bitter salty taste they brought to my lips made me think otherwise. Crying was the last thing I wanted to do. I had no idea why I was crying. All day I had adventured inside my numb mind and I wasn’t nearly ready to step out from its protective nooks. It was rather amusing; it was as if my mind was completely isolated from my body, as if my body was just doing what it had been programmed to do.

Walk. I walk.

Speak. I speak.

Sit. I sit.

Cry. I cry.

But I could feel it disappearing. The shelter I had so gratefully accepted was falling apart. Little by little I began to hear people speaking more clearly. Little by little I started to feel the chill of the crispy autumn air sink into my bones. Little by little my feelings began to resurface. For weeks I had kept them to myself, buried somewhere deep inside my mind. I wanted to walk through them blindfolded in the dark. Unfortunately, now they started to wake. I quickly pushed them back before they made it all the way to the surface. I forced my gaze back to the grass. By now the small blades of grass were carrying the weight of huge water droplets. I had never identified with a blade of grass like I did just in that moment.

My grandmother opened her umbrella. People calmly made their way to their cars. They locked out the gloomy autumn day and drove off safe from the rain. I, my father, Nick, and grandmother stayed for a while, standing in the empty cemetery. Father didn’t say a word nor did he open his umbrella even though the stubborn gusts of wind and rain wet his best suit and tossed his blonde hair. His mouth was a tight line and his dark eyes were somewhere far away.

Nick and I gathered under grandmother’s big black umbrella. It wasn’t of much use considering that we were already soaked through, but it seemed like the proper thing to do.

“It really is terrible,” grandmother mumbled. I raised my brow.

“To go and tragically die like that,” she continued in an accusing tone.

I had learned not to let grandmother’s comments bother me. She had never had much discretion and wasn’t the most delicate person to begin with. It was no secret she’d never liked my mother. As far as she was concerned, father had been incredibly stupid and childlike to marry someone as reckless as mom. I didn’t know quite how I felt about it.

“What difference does it make how she died? You didn’t even like her,” I stated.

Grandmother frowned and crinkled her nose in disapproval. She grabbed Nick by the hand and told me to go wait in the car.

I sat in the backseat and stared out through the tinted window. Everything looked so much more depressing though it. Mom had always hated tinted windows. She always used to say that even the prettiest day looked like funeral party through them. I couldn’t appreciate the irony. We always fought about those tinted windows, every single time we got in the car. This morning, however, no one had mentioned them. Was a car ride even a car ride if we didn’t argue about the tinted windows? I didn’t know, but what I did know was that this morning had felt particularly empty.

My thoughts were disrupted as Nick opened the door, sliding into the seat next to me. “We’re leaving now,” he said, looking beyond relieved. He wanted to get out of here possibly more than I did. Grandmother sat next to dad in the front, getting ready to navigate. Dad turned the key in the ignition and the car purred into life. We drove away from sacred land, the gates closing behind us.

“Hey Bree,” Nick began.

“Yeah?” I wondered if he would bring up the tinted windows.

“My shoes got all dirty. Do you think mom would mind if I walked around the house with them?” He cocked his head to the side, waiting for an answer. Honestly, I didn’t understand why he would ask such a dumb question. He should’ve been more concerned with what grandma would say about the dirty shoes. I shrugged my shoulders. “You know, I’m not sure. I’m gonna have to think about it.”

I watched the corners of his mouth tug down, his entire being seemed to deflate. “You’re gonna tell me when you figure out, right?”

“Of course,” I replied, even though I didn’t want to spend another minute thinking about the dumb question. I leaned back and watched dad and grandma through the rear view mirror. Exhaustion shone on both of their faces, but they looked so very different. It was hard for me to recognize dad through the mirror. He looked so lost. All day he’d been wandering around like a puppy, having grandma order him around.

“Nick?” I tried. “Do you think we should get a new car? One without tinted windows.”

I saw the smallest smile flash across his face before he became very serious. “I think it’d be a really good idea,” he said and looked out the window.

“Dad.” I waited a bit to get his attention.

“What?” He answered in a monotone voice.

“Nick and I think we should buy a new car, one without tinted windows.” I watched his every move, through the mirror I saw his eyes sparkle a bit.

“That is not funny,” Grandmother snapped sharply and took a calming breath. I stared at her in awe. Why couldn’t she leave it be? Why was no one allowed to laugh? I crossed my arms, closed my eyes and leaned against the window.

“I thought it was funny,” Nick whispered.

“It was goddamn hilarious,” I muttered under my breath.

We had and old Victorian house. It was the American dream house with the white picketed fence and perfectly cut grass. Actually, right now the lawn was a muddy mess. As I stepped through our familiar front door, nothing seemed familiar to me. The bright colorful walls contrasted wildly with all the people dressed in black. My house looked like a bad music video. I walked into the living room full of people I was sure I knew but couldn’t recognize. We served coffee, cakes, cookies, pastries and everything grandma knew how to make. A constant hum of voices filled every room. I sat on the couch among familiar strangers and tried to make proper conversation. In no time I just began listening to others while untangling my long messy hair. I came to the conclusion that people talked about the weirdest things at funeral receptions. Almost no one mentioned mom. It almost felt like they were avoiding talking about her. When they talked about the food or décor they all wondered how my father had managed to make such a lovely home. The truth was that dad had nothing to do with our food or décor. Mom had painted the walls. Mom had mowed the lawn and picked out the decorative pillows. It was no wonder things felt odd, she had been gone forever, or so it seemed.

“Bree! Honey!” I heard a familiar voice exclaim. Looking up I saw mom’s sister, Elizabeth. She walked over to me and hugged me in the middle of the living room. It felt uncomfortable. People were looking at us; looking and judging everything I did.

We moved into the kitchen where grandma was busy trying to find space for all the food people had brought over. That too, I thought was nonsensical. We put out food for the guests and they lugged their own bodyweight’s worth of food over to our house. It was absurd. Mom never understood the custom either, but still she brought a casserole to every funeral reception we ever attended, because it was just what you were supposed to do.

“Were you there today?” I asked.

“Of course we were. Peter just got lost on the way there. I told him to bring the GPS but you know how stubborn he is,” Elizabeth said and smiled gently. I nodded, because I really did know what Peter was like. He was someone who danced between fine lines, someone you never quite managed to figure out, and someone who would definitely not listen to a GPS.

“Oh honey,” Elizabeth sighed, “I’m so sorry, I still can’t believe that Mary is gone. I feel like I haven’t grasped it yet. I keep waiting for her to walk through the door and give me some of her famous unsolicited advice. You do understand, don’t you?”

I nodded. I knew.

“She was always making the oddest remarks,” Elizabeth continued. She seemed to thinking back, almost nostalgically. She made it seem like she’d last seen mother years ago, even though we all visited grandmother for her birthday a few months ago.

“Do you remember how she always said I order Peter around too much?” Elizabeth asked, narrowing her eyes. She picked up a strawberry covered pastry and bit into it. “You know, Bree, I never understood that thing of theirs. You know, the one that made it seem like they had some kind of agreement that the two of them would stick up for each other till the end.” Elizabeth shook her head. “Like last week, I told Peter to get a haircut, because he looks so shaggy when his hair grows too long. And guess what he said to me?” Elizabeth crossed her arms. She was getting herself upset with her own words. She seemed to be inventing pain as if the pain that already existed wasn’t enough.

“Well?” I asked, not really caring about the answer. I glanced at the clock hanging on the bright yellow wall. Again the wall contrasted Elizabeth’s two sizes too small black dress strictly. Others didn’t really fit into our house.

“Well, he said that he wants to grow his hair out, like he had it back in college,” Elizabeth said, sighing dramatically, “You know, sometimes I feel like I have three kids instead of two.”

I nodded and tried to look like I understood even though I had no idea how we’d gotten from my dead mother to Peter not wanting to cut his hair. On the other hand, I understood it completely.

“He went to college with mom,” I stated as nonchalantly as I could. “Maybe he’s going through a mid-life-crisis or something. You’re lucky he’s not buying a Porsche.”

“That, Bree, my dearest, I don’t think I could handle.” She sighed again. She did that a lot.

I pursed my lips and looked out to the backyard where Peter sat on the wet grass next to the flowerbeds. He was speaking with Nick. Nick was smiling. I smiled. I wondered if Elizabeth would smile if she knew.

“Lizzie,” I began, “I think I need some fresh air. I feel like I’m suffocating in here.”

Elizabeth gave me a bland smile, not looking pleased at all. “Well, do put on a cardigan, I wouldn’t want you to get cold.”

I nodded once again and marched out without a second thought about the cardigan. As soon as I stepped out the cold hit my bones and I sort of liked it. A bunch of people stood next to our backdoor, lighting their cigarettes. The gray smoke slithering in the air, forming strange shapes didn’t bother me in the slightest. Not even the toxic smell made me go back inside. Instead it woke me up. I took off my shoes and walked across the grass, the mud and humidity soaking through my stockings. I sat next to Peter and Nick, cross legged, it wasn’t very ladylike. A small ray of late autumn sunshine reached my face as I took a deep breath.

“Nick, Lizzie wants to talk to you,” I said, lying blatantly.

“About what?” He asked. Again, it was a rather useless question. I would have told him had I known. “She said something about muddy shoes.”

Nick looked terrified for a moment. “Do you think mom saw the muddy prints on the carpet?” He looked at me first, then at Peter.

“Angels see everything,” Peter replied, smiling, “But I doubt she’d care about things like that.”

Nick seemed to calm down for a bit. Peter sighed,” Elizabeth on the other hand…Well she’s never been a fan of muddy footprints.”

“Oh man,” Nick sighed, copying Peter, and started his way back to the house.

As soon as he was in through the door I turned to look at Peter. He looked different from what I remembered. The Peter I knew was always smiling, and when he wasn’t, you could tell would have liked to smile. Now he was smiling, but I could tell it was the last thing he wanted to do.

“Do you have to feed Nick bullshit about angels?”

“Do you have to lie to Nick about muddy footprints?” Peter replied his voice gentle as always, calm and composed.

I balled my hands up into fists at my sides. “How’d you know I was lying?”

“I figured you might want to talk to me,” he said sincerely, “but don’t worry. If you hadn’t lied, I probably would have.”

“Figures,” I mumbled and stared at nothing.

We were quiet for a while. I patted the grass and finally spoke. “You know what I wish for?”

Peter gave me a quizzical look.

“I wish I was like Nick. I wish I could just feel sad and mourn my mother in peace, but I don’t think I can do that.”

Peter gave me a knowing look. “You’re mad.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t matter, because she’s dead. And I can’t be mad at a dead person, because it doesn’t make any sense.”

“Not everything makes sense,” Peter stated and handed me a white tissue.

I stared at it in confusion for a while before I felt the familiar taste of tears again. I was crying again. I could hear myself gasping for air as I grabbed the tissue and dried my eyes. “Y-you know, I don’t even f-feel like crying.”

“There’s nothing to be ashamed about,” Peter said and placed his hand on my shoulder. “If you need someone to be mad at, you can be mad at me. I’m alive. It makes more sense that way, doesn’t it?”

“I-I don’t really want to be mad at anyone.” I couldn’t stop the sobs now.

“Lizzie knows,” Peter said. He looked down at the grass, studying it carefully.

I wiped my eyes and tried to focus on him. “Um, Lizzie…She wants you to, um, cut your hair.” I watched as a raindrop slid down a blade of grass, releasing it from under its weight.

“I probably won’t.” Peter smiled to himself.

“I kind of thought so.”

Excerpts from the Life of an Interstellar Space Probe

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Day 1

My name is Voyager. I’m a space probe born in Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Today is September 5th, 1977 – the day of my launch.

I can’t tell you how excited I am. I’ve been preparing for this my whole life, dreaming of the moment of lift-off. Ever since I was a pile of bolts and pieces of metal, I’ve been lifting my gaze up to the stars, imagining all the magnificent wonders that the unknown reaches of space hold. I can easily tell that the NASA engineers that have been tending to me these past few months have been almost as excited as I am, and they’re not even the ones going to space! That should tell you how big of a deal this is.

Ah, here they are now! They’re moving me on wheels to the launch pad. I wonder how the lift-off will feel. They tell me it’s going to be rough, but I hope it doesn’t hurt too much. I hope my big space adventure will start off nice and smooth.

Oh, oh! This is it! I’m at the launch pad now and they’re starting the countdown. I’m situated pretty high up because I’m attached to the top part of Titan. He’s my launch vehicle, my rocket, which means that his powerful rocket engines will boost me out of Earth’s atmosphere into the outer space, where he will detach. I don’t know him too well, but judging by the time we spent together here at Cape Canaveral, he seems like a very nice and thoughtful person. Sadly, he won’t be coming with me on the trip towards Saturn. That’s the journey I have to make myself.

The lift-off is near! I can barely keep my stabilization gyroscopes together, I’m shaking with excitement. No wait, that must be Titan and his engines starting! Oh boy, here we go! Three, two, one… Lift-off! Whoo!

I feel a strong force pushing me up, higher and higher. My lower parts are trembling for the sheer pressure that the upward thrust produces. That Titan sure is a hell of a powerhouse for such a slender piece of metal, aerodynamically speaking.

Flying feels awesome! When I look at the Earth below me and the sky above me an exhilarating stream of adrenaline fills me and takes control of me. What an immeasurable joy! I can’t help but smiling. I feel invincible.

The space doesn’t seem to get any closer, but the ground is escaping my reach with an accelerating velocity. I can see Florida now. There’s the Gulf of Mexico. I can see parts of South America, too. How green and blue the planet looks from up here! I would’ve never guessed it if I wasn’t seeing this with my own eyes. Goodbye, Earth! You take care now.

Day 5

Things have gone according to plan for the past couple of days. I’m currently floating through the vast emptiness of space. The beginning of the adventure was full of action, but ever since I broke out from Earth’s atmosphere and Titan left me, I’ve had a lot of time to myself. Time to think. There’s not much else to do out here, really.

I’m not complaining, though. If you could only see what I see from where I’m floating. Millions, if not billions, of stars and other far-away objects dot the black curtains of the visible universe. At first I thought it would be dark here in space, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The stars light up the whole of my existence beautifully. The Earth is a small blue marble behind me, decreasing in size by the hour, little by little. Oh, I think my old friends in Pasadena would be very proud of me if they could see me now!

Day 28

The thing about space is that it’s huge. And I mean huge. You never fully understand the fact until you’re drifting right in the middle of it. There are countless planets and star systems and galaxies, but they’re all so far away. I haven’t flown past anything worth mentioning during my whole voyage so far. I can see Mars out there, and even Jupiter, but they’re all so far away and it doesn’t even feel like I’m making any progress. It’s really frustrating.

Thankfully, the NASA team back on Earth has been communicating with me semi-regularly, keeping me up to date with some important information regarding my mission. They tell me that everything has gone as planned, so that’s good.

One of my favorite pastimes is looking at the different bright spots on the distance, trying to guess which stars or galaxies they are and how far away they are. I usually need the help of the NASA team to let me know if I got it right or not, but I’m right surprisingly often! Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is an awe-inspiring sight. It’s wrapped around this part of the universe like a thick, wide scarf, decorated with an insane amount of glitter that sparkles in the wavelengths of white, yellow, red and blue.

Oh, and have I mentioned the Sun? I get so lost in admiring the far-off places that I sometimes forget to acknowledge the things closest to me. Way behind me, a long distance even from the Earth, is the Sun. It’s really bright, so I don’t like to look at it directly. But I can feel the warm radiation it emits touching the hydrazine thrusters on my backside. I plan to enjoy the warmth while it lasts because it’s going to be considerably colder when I finally reach Jupiter and Saturn someday.

Day 547

Boy, what a day it has been! I have finally reached Jupiter! I’ve been admiring and photographing the gas giant and its moons for some days now, but today was by far the most productive day in terms of the mission. I flew really close to Amalthea, Io, Europa and Jupiter itself.

The NASA team said they were really impressed by my photos of the anticyclonic storm on the surface of Jupiter and the volcanic eruption on the moon Io. Apparently, this was the first proof of volcanic activity outside Earth. And what a proof: I managed to get a picture of the plume of volcanic ash that ascended about 100 miles from the surface of the large moon!

I like Jupiter, I really do. It has been a long and lonely journey to where I am now, but looking at the massive orange planet and its moons, whose colors range from bright yellow to white, with red canyons embellishing the surface, to black with shades of purple, I can say with complete honesty that it has been worth it. The violently raging red storms the size of Earth on the surface of Jupiter make me wish I could get even closer to the planet, just for a little while. But, unfortunately, I still have another mission to complete after I’ve studied this Jovian system thoroughly. I am to continue my path even further away from home, to Saturn.

I have to admit the loneliness is sometimes unbearable. The only solace in my cosmic solitude is the company of the NASA team, when they contact me. But that doesn’t happen too often anymore, and I feel like every time they call they are only asking me to give something to them: information, photographs or a status report. I keep telling myself that they care and that I am not truly alone as long as I’m on a very important mission.

Day 1,165

Saturn and its rings. The view is almost unreal. The planet reflects the light from the Sun extremely well, which makes it look completely yellow, without any irregularities on its surface. The rings consist mainly of tiny particles of ice and some kind of rocky material, but I couldn’t tell that just by looking at them. That’s what the people at NASA told me when they were through analysing the readings that my remote sensing instruments provided to them.

I’ve been studying the atmosphere of the planet for a little while and it seems that most of it is hydrogen, and that there are horribly strong winds on the surface, blowing at 1,100 miles per hour. This is all very interesting, and it seems I’ve made a lot of scientists happy with the information I’ve provided. But lately I’ve been thinking of home more than ever. It’s been more than three years since the launch.

I thought maybe they would let me come home now. After all, I reached Saturn. That was my mission. But they keep telling me that that was only the original mission, the main mission, and now I have new orders. I am to continue my voyage towards the edges of our Solar System and beyond. It sounds terrifying to me.

I can’t even see the Earth without optical assistance anymore. It’s out there, but it’s nothing more than a barely visible dot to me. I can’t even tell if it’s blue anymore. I want to go back, but I can’t. I was sent on an adventure into the unknown, and that’s where I am heading. No one has been outside the Solar System before. However, the NASA team has told me about another Voyager; Voyager II, who is heading out of the solar system and into interstellar space. There are also two other probes that share my fate. But none of them are here to keep me company.

We are all alone, with millions of miles of space separating us.

Day 7,471

Is anyone there? It’s really cold. The Sun is so far away that it’s merely a dot of light, only slightly larger than the billions of other stars that are thousands of lifetimes away. I haven’t heard anything from the team back home in months. I am no longer able to send visual data to them, because the distance is too great. I feel like they’ve forgotten me.

But that can’t be it. It’s too cruel of a fate to impose on any spacecraft floating all alone in the deafening silence. It’s eerily beautiful how calm the universe seems to be, but at the same time it’s haunting and unsettling. I wish the stars would communicate with me. They’re all I have left, so I keep watching them all day everyday. Day – now that is a funny concept for measuring time, because out here every day feels like a month. The only thing that keeps me rooted in the reality is the clock they built inside me. Although, to me it feels like it’s the clock that is trying to fool me by advancing too slowly.

I mean, who’s to say what’s real and what’s not? There are no sunrises or sunsets. The seasons don’t change and in every other way things here seem like they were created one day, after which they have always existed and continue existing long after I’ve stopped looking at them. Everything seems to move only imperceptibly slowly, like in suspended animation.

I did manage, however, to spot a supernova just the other day. There was a star between the Tarantula Nebula and the R136 supercluster that seemed to me like it was shimmering in a weird fashion. As I was watching it with curiosity, it suddenly became brighter and bigger for a few seconds. I bet to witness it closer would have been wonderful; to see the huge explosion of different colors and to feel the unimaginable burst of energy shaking my very being as the star blows up and out of existence in one grand finale.

Sometimes I feel like a fish on dry land, a small piece of metal helplessly stranded in space, slowly suffocating. There’s nothing I can do to change my fate, and that’s the most unfortunate part. My thrusters are all either out of fuel or dysfunctional. I am to drift on forever in the direction I’m going, for as long as there’s still life left in me.

In the moments when I feel like that, I wish I could explode with the might and splendor of a supernova. To go out with a bang. There’s more dignity in that than in this.

Day 9,966

I’m finally here, at the edge of the Solar System. It took longer than I expected, but I’m here. How do I know? Well, not thanks to NASA, anyway. They haven’t talked to me in years, those bastards. I think there might be something wrong with my antenna, but they should’ve built a better antenna if they were to send a poor space probe on a suicide mission.

I don’t like to think about Earth that much anymore, it doesn’t do any good to me. I can barely even remember what home looked like, if I’m being completely honest. I’ve grown to accept the cold company and the silent approval of the celestial bodies. I’ve had time to memorize many of their names by heart. Their appearances and histories are just as richly varied as, I faintly remember, those of humans were. I can tell you that the spiraling blueish-looking formation over there is Messier 31, more commonly known as the Andromeda Galaxy, and in two o’clock from that you can spot, if you look closely, Arches-9 and Arches-6, two of the brightest stars of  the Arches Cluster. It’s the densest of all the known star clusters in the Milky Way, about 100 light years away from its center.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. I meant to report that I have finally reached the heliosheath, which means that I’m leaving the Solar System behind me and travelling beyond. Well, in truth, it might still take a couple of years to actually pass through the heliosheath and to travel into the uncharted territory. Many of my technical equipment will no doubt soon start to fail me, but I’m not too pessimistic about the whole scenario. As long as my antenna is dead, I wouldn’t have much use for any of the other equipment anyway. I say let it burn.

Day 13,455

Hello. It feels useless to even make these status reports anymore. No one will ever get the chance to read them. I’m out of the Solar System, and all of my means of communication are dead. I guess at this point I’m only doing these reports for my own sake.

I’ve seen scenes that seem unbelievable. I’ve seen peculiar pink cloud formations, that look like nebulae, but are not nebulae or any other beings that I’ve ever heard of. I’ve flown through some of those clouds, and it felt like going through a cloud of flames that are more freezing than anything that I could ever imagine.

I’ve seen stars and galaxies that explode into a million burning fractions when I look at them. I’ve seen colors that I never knew existed. I’ve felt shockwaves of energy that can’t be explained by any logical reasoning or science. I constantly feel a strong gravitational force pulling me off my straight trajectory, even though I don’t understand what is causing it.

I feel like there’s something wrong with me. I can’t feel parts of my body, but at the same time I feel something squirming and twisting and twirling inside of me. Something small, but something that I can’t quite locate. I can’t stop it or obstruct its work in any way. My constant awareness of the thing combined with the helplessness of not being able to do anything about it is maddening.

Day 40,897

Flashes of light. Flashes of warmth. Flashes of sound.

I can see a desert. A large hall with beings moving about like planets around their stars, although in a much more irregular fashion. I can see a beach. Clear blue water. Trees. A long stretch of hot tarmac.

It’s home. I can see home. It’s been a long time. I had forgotten. But it’s all coming back to me now. I wonder if anyone remembers, if anyone cares, if anyone’s coming to save me. They must be. I’m on a mission, I made them proud. They will find me and take me home and there will be a ceremony. God, how I have missed home.

I shut down my internal generators.

The Village Children

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We are not many. Very few of us have ever seen tall buildings or foreign lands with our own eyes. We do not know of hurricanes, divorces or inflation. Our parents dress us in shabby clothes so the dirt would not show so soon. In school we are taught where the best blueberries grow and how to play soccer with six people. There are no strangers, and families are shared – the village life raises us better than any parents alone ever could. Our only curfew is the setting sun: when the darkness begins to fall over fields and meadows, it is time to head home. We do not skip Sunday school. We are the most brilliant, radiant and imaginative bunch, yet we carry a mountain of envy in our hearts. We turn any abandoned site into a cheerful playground where we meet after school, eat biscuits and talk for hours. The oldest ones sometimes get a couple of coins from their parents, and we spend them to buy sweets from the lady at the barbershop.

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We take turns in ploughing the snow off the driveways that belong to those who are too old or sick to take care of their own yards. We are scared on our way to school because someone saw a wolf near their house. We smoke behind the windmill. When it rains, we stay in. The forests are quiet. We go on long walks on the lakeside. The street lights are turned off at midnight. Our homes are cold in the mornings. We fall in love, but never with each other. Sometimes our thoughts are dark and heavy, and our minds are shattered. Some families have mortifying cracks in their foundations, and they can never be brought up. We kiss on rowing boats, and we dance on docks. We dream of big cities and wide windowsills. When we must make decisions, we are afraid. We swim in rivers and go out to reach any star.

We have come far. Many of us are fulfilling our dreams. We got away. We are mothers, fathers, soldiers, unemployed and students. Some of us get lost. We succeed. We own houses, cars and big dogs. We look tired. We spread to different continents. We remember our adventures. We get together on holidays. It takes four and a half pots of tea and candlelight to catch up with familiar faces. We feel disconnected. We say Merry Christmas. We go home to our families and sleep in our childhood bedrooms. We inhale the silence.

Cat in the Box

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I was thirteen when my father came up to me with a box. He handed it to me and told that there was a dead cat inside and asked me to bury it. I took the box into my hands and obediently went outside. There I stopped, however, and instead of heading to the nearby meadow, I opened the door to our basement. I had come up with the idea of opening the box to look at the cat, but didn’t want to do it so that my parents could see. And so I walked the stairs down into the darkness and the smell of mold and sat down on the cold stone floor with the box in my lap.

The box was of brown cardboard and had been previously used by my aunt who had sent me birthday presents the previous week. Our address was still written on it with little hearts as the dots of “i”s and a stamp with flowers in the corner. But now the books and the doll had been replaced by a dead cat. My father had sealed the box with a string tied around it and I fingered it absent-mindedly. The box felt so light in my arms, it was hard to believe that there was anything inside. Suddenly I felt a shudder down my spine. I stood up and placed the box on a shelf between my father’s garden tools. Then I turned around and ran the stairs up.

At night, I couldn’t sleep. I turned and turned around in the bed and blamed my sleeplessness on the summer heat. But it wasn’t the heat, I knew. It was the cat. My thoughts kept on going back to it. Alone in the cold, dark basement it lay, I thought, and almost forgot that the cat was dead and could not feel the cold.

I spent the next day playing with my sister in the meadow, but throughout the whole time the cat was on my mind. I was struck with sudden fear that my parents would find out about the box that was still in the basement. If my father needed his tools, he would see the box, I realised with panic. When we returned home for dinner, I immediately ran down to the basement. The box was still on the shelf and I sighed with relief. I took the box and carried it inside the house and up into my room. I guess I was still afraid my parents would find out I hadn’t buried the cat. I hid the box in my closet and covered it with clothes to make sure it stayed hidden.

A few days went by and I forgot about the box. Every night, however, I had uneasy dreams in which someone scratched at my door with long nails and I would wake up in the morning with cold sweat on my brow. Then came a night when I woke up in the middle of one of these dreams and realised that the sound I had heard wasn’t only my imagination. There was a distinct scratching noise in the room and it came from my closet.

The cat was alive.

I could hear its claws scratch frantically against the cardboard box it had been put in. The box it had almost been buried in. I sat up on the bed and dared not move. Could the cat really be alive, I asked myself. My father had said it was dead. It had stayed in the box for days, I reasoned, how could it be alive.

As I wondered at these questions, the scratching noise stopped. I lay down again, but kept my eyes on the closet door. Nothing happened for a while and I had just decided that I had only imagined the noise when suddenly there came a couple of soft thumps. I closed my eyes. The quiet creak I heard next was the sound of the closet door opening. I gathered my courage and opened my eyes again, but saw nothing. The closet door was closed and I heard no sound in the room. With a sigh of relief, I turned to my side and there the cat was.

It was large and its eyes like two lamps shining. It sat by the edge of the bed looking at me and I felt my hair stand on end. All the cat did was sit in silence and stare at me without blinking its eyes, but my blood ran cold when I met its gaze. Then all of a sudden the cat leaped towards me and I couldn’t help it, I screamed. As soon as I heard footsteps hurrying towards my room the cat jumped off the bed and disappeared mere seconds before my parents came inside. I told them that I had just had a nightmare and gladly accepted my mother’s offer to spend the rest of the night in their room.

3482129020_3a010a95cf_z (1)The cat didn’t come back for days, but I didn’t dare touch the box in the closet. Every night, I’d stay up as long as I could, waiting for any sign of the cat, but none came. Almost a week had passed before I heard the scratching again and for the next couple of days the quiet scratches against cardboard were the only things I heard. Then some nights there would be the thuds of the cat getting out of the box and pushing itself against the closet door and then the sickening creak of the door being opened.

During these nights, I would pull my blanket over my head and just listen. I listened to the soundless sound of soft paws on the floor, heading my way. Then there came a moment of silent anticipation and I would wish that the cat had gone away, but then I felt something jump onto the bed. Slow, small steps were taken from the end of the bed towards me and I would hold my breath.

But nothing ever happened. The cat stopped and just sat there like it had done the first night we had met. I kept myself under the blanket, but I could feel it looking at me and sense the air of malice and enmity that always seemed to surround the cat. There it sat and stared until the sunrise when I would feel it jump off the bed and soon hear the creak of the closet door and just like that another night had passed.

As time went by, however, things started to change. The malice I had so strongly felt softened and turned into something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The cat started to spend the nights lying next to me and I could hear it purr quietly. Its body felt warm and pleasant by my side and I would stroke the silky fur until I fell asleep.

Slowly, the cat became my friend. My special, secret friend that no one knew about.

It was a loving friend. It kept me company during the dark nights and purred at me from behind the closet door during days. It talked to me when I was lonely and it told me it loved me.

The cat was also a cruel, punishing friend. It never forgave either me or my father for having almost buried it alive. There were mornings when I woke up with scratch marks all over my arms and I had to hide them from my family. The cat told me that it was for my own good. I had to atone. Only then could the two of us be truly friends.

There were times when the cat didn’t appear for days and I never knew how to feel. What if it never returned, I asked myself with worry. What if it never returned, I asked myself with relief. But it always came back and I always was happy to see my friend again.

The next spring, my family moved to another town and I took the box with me. The cat wasn’t pleased with the move. I tried to explain that my father had a new job and we had to move and the cat was happy to find a new reason to hate my father. And as weeks and months went by, I started to understand this hate. I started to see all the things that my father was doing wrong. Everything he did built secret hate and disgust inside of me. His laughter sounded harsh to my ears and his voice always too loud. Even his smile soon sickened me and it became hard to look at him in the face. I slowly realised how right the cat was when it talked to me of my father. The cat helped me understand so many things and that’s why we were such good friends, it told me.

My father and I were sweeping leaves from the roof when I decided to kill him. I left no time for hesitation and pushed him over the edge. I crouched down and watched how he lay on the ground with limbs twisted in unnatural directions and a pool of blood forming beneath his head which had been hit against a rock. The rock had been put there by the cat, I was sure of it. We had done the murder together and we were the best friends and the cat was going to love me for doing what it wished.

The death was automatically passed as an accident.  Why wouldn’t it? They knew not of my father’s sins that he had to be punished for. Even if they did, how could a fourteen-year-old girl like me have the strength to push the man down? They didn’t know that the cat had given me the power.

A few days went by with no sign of the cat and I was confused. I had thought it would be celebrating with me. It wasn’t until the funeral day that I realised what was wrong. The cat had wanted my father to be buried alive. Just like the cat had almost been. I had made a great mistake and I would have to pay for it.

My sister, mother and I returned home from the funeral in the evening and I was in a panic. After the others were sleeping, I was still pacing around my room, trying to think of what to say to the cat. The night wore on and I finally lay down on the bed. The cat was coming, I knew. And it was coming for me.

I had to get away.

I got up from the bed and decided to push my desk in front of the closet. I had no doubt that the cat could get out anyway, but at least it would buy me some time. Time to do what exactly? I had no idea. All I knew was that I had to get out. But as I started pushing my desk towards the closet, I heard the old familiar scratching sound. Only this time it didn’t come from the closet. It came from outside my room. I was trapped.

I quickly rushed to the door and locked it and then stepped back with my hands shaking and my heart beating like a drum. The noise of claws against the door got louder and I forgot how to breathe. What could I do? Would the cat accept my apologies? I didn’t think so.

The scratching stopped and a horrible silence fell. Then I heard the click of the lock and the door opened and I saw the cat. And it wasn’t the same friend of mine anymore. It had grown to a monstrous size and the lamp-like eyes were locked in mine with the same hate and revulsion it had used to reserve for my father.

With the desperate courage of one who knows she can’t win, I ran towards the door and somehow made it past the cat and avoided the sharp claws aimed at me. I headed for the stairway with the cat at my heels. At the stairs, I fell down and was sure I was done for, but then there was the sound of a door being opened and my mother came out, asking me what was wrong.

“The cat!” I screamed at her.

“The cat?”

“The cat!”

But the cat had disappeared. I heard the creak of the closet door from my room and dragged my mother there with me. I would show her the box. Confess that I had never buried it. I would let her know of my friendship with the cat. I would tell her what had really happened to my father.

I opened the closet and dug out the box. I placed it on the floor and with shaking fingers untied the strings and opened the box that I had never opened before. And it was empty.

Closed Doors

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There is a small clock high up on the wall. A round white frame with little black numbers inside, it ticks away the seconds with two bold, black hands in an echoing, raspy discord. The merciless hands spin away – fast-forwarding every minute, leaping onwards in great spurts. My awareness hangs on every second that I hear rushing past. My eyes are drawn back to the black and white pane no matter where I turn. How can a small clock make so much noise; it seems to be all I hear, while my heart jumps to its insistent rhythm.

—————

I try to turn away, but the endless ticking echoes loud in the silent room. I walk to the fridge. Opening the door once more, I scan inside for anything. Without even looking I quickly close the door. I walk to the table and sit down. My eyes draw immediately to the little black numbers, dancing in a circle on the wall and the relentless tick stirs my restlessness again. I stand up, walk to the window and look out. Glassy-eyed I glance at the street, but the harsh street lighting quickly drives me further from the pane.

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I flop on the bed, but jump right back up again. I pace the small room and then try to sit down again. I check my phone, hoping for anything new. Drifting to the other end of theroom I stare at the familiar books on the shelf, but nothing strikes me, nothing interests me.

What to do? Mmm, yes, what a good question. No, not a question of what should I do, that I know, I’ve been planning it for some time now. But the real question is can I? Will I?

The uneasiness I’ve tried to bottle up breaks the dam. Anxiety beats in my chest and muddles my thought.

So many things could go wrong. No no, there are so many reasons to be excited. Focus on the positive. You’ve made it this far and the decision has already been made. But then again, it could all be awful. It might not work out.

I glance at the clock again. How fast it seems to move. There isn’t much time left to decide.

It has all been known weeks in advance and schedules and papers spread out over my tabletop. Apprehension gnaws at my resolution; couldn’t I just leave it? Forget everything? From underneath the mess of papers on the table I take out the map, which I’ve drawn routes, buildings and new landmarks on. The bright colors and excited scribbles mock my confusion. All the excitement seems to have vanished and left a knot of disquiet in my stomach.

Colored pencils and symbols on paper won’t help you find the right doors and even less the right people. You won’t know anything anyway, and they won’t know you. They won’t care to know you. They’ll have their own groups and their own rules. And you will be an outsider, while they’ll know everything, know everyone. Not to mention that you will be different, with different ways of acting and different ways of speaking and dressing and thinking and eating and breathing and; Oh I don’t want to go!

I bounce out of my seat, knocking the chair over. Panicked, I lift my gaze to the clock above. I know the moment must be drawing near. Suddenly the long hand seems to slow meaningfully and then tauntingly strikes the hour in slow motion in front of my shocked eyes. It’s time.

My mind screams fight or flee. The choice must be made now. There are two ways forward, but I have to choose the direction. Soon it will be too late to go. The plans that cover the table dance before my eyes, alternating between pretty pictures of what all it could be and dark visions of how I fall apart.

Disturbed by my dark reflections, I swipe the papers from the table. Papers fly through the air flashing times and addresses, names and dates in a swirling frenzy of information. Whispering voices echo around my head. “Foolish”. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing”. “Coward”. “That’s not what we expected from you”. “Naïve”. “This was such disappointment to us”.

No, maybe this isn’t for me after all. I should have turned back earlier. What are the prospects that this will work out? What were they ever? Did I lie to myself and flatter my abilities? Imagine that I could be anything I wanted?

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I glance out the window again, yearning and hoping that someone or something would beckon me forward. But the harsh lamplight won’t call out. There is no one who will notice if I don’t arrive. I give up and defeated slump on the bed. Emptiness and the soothing dumbness of having decided lull me into stupor.

But my subconscious won’t let me be. The possibilities I’ve dreamed about flash through my mind. You know you can follow the path you’ve wanted to choose. But it takes the courage and will to face the unknown. And in my mind I believe I can find that. I see myself rising, checking the clock – not in panic, but in excitement – brushing back a loose strand of hair and opening the door. A final look around the room, bag on my shoulder and I turn to new possibilities. Steps echo down the hallway fading slowly into deafening silence.

 

A loud tick stirs me to movement. I’m drawn to the window as if by force, compelled to see how I take those last steps out the door and down the unfamiliar street. My gaze follows the springing gait down the street. The corner comes and I don’t see anymore, don’t know which ways the road turned or how far it would go.

—————

Since then I keep the ticking of the clock company. It has a new voice now. The hands of the clock inch languidly on, with a mellow click slowing by the hour. Day in and day out, I listen to the whisper of the hands breaking the deafening silence.