1.2 - Charlotte
Hours passed and the two boys on the floor roused, thinking that today might be Monday, and school would probably be in the next few hours, and that the creak and clack on the other side of George's bedroom door would be the sound of Charlotte in the morning, making her way towards her coffee pot, or showing “Uncle whoever” to the front door. He had a wedding ring in his back pocket. Oh Charlotte, what have you done now?
When Charlotte brought friends around, male friends, uncle this or that with bulging fronts, they would stop at his door, look into his room, see his sketches and ask, “Are you an artist?” But was he? Or was he just a boy who wanted to remember the things he saw before they crept back under the bed or into the closet or out the window? He would always reply yes to these obligated questions, so that Charlotte wouldn’t have to spend too much time waiting at her own bedroom door, for this “new friend” and his big pants to find his way to her.
Seven forty just appeared on the clock radio, almost time to catch the bus. A kiss separates the lovers, one manages to make it out the window as perfectly as he entered, while the other, wipes something shiny off of his cheek, brushes his hair behind his ears with his fingers, straightens out his clothes, and walks out to the living room as he prepares to mingle with his mother in the kitchen.
Where a picture of his father used to be, instead, there was now a new photo of Charlotte, his mother; the only real person he had left to look up to. She hadn’t gone to fight against the martyrs, but all in all she was far stronger than his father would ever be. He had chosen to run off to war, to leave his son and wife behind, but even though he was the one that paid the ultimate price in the end, they too wore the scars of it, and they were all they had left to comfort one another.
That picture—the one of his father that no longer adorned the mantle, was held tightly in a gold metal frame, and George’s and Charlotte’s daily kisses made sure that not a single grain of dust ever touched the glass between them and his father’s stoic face. Now instead, Charlotte’s beautiful face smiled broadly at him from a matte white portrait frame, being held by a neighbor or close family relative no doubt, at his fifteenth birthday party, and there was no sign of the gold frame he had become so used to, only the slightest hint that the many pearly white teeth flashing amid a cloud of multi-colored balloons, was only pretend.
March 19th was a Friday. His birthday. The day before, his father shipped off overseas to some sun scorched stretch of hell. The day before his birthday. They had been planning a party for that weekend, which they went through with, even with the devastating upheaval in their lives. It turned out to have been somewhat of a bad idea.
Months had passed since then, yet it still stung. His father lasted just shy of two weeks in that place before he met his demise. Twelve whole days. They hadn’t even gotten a phone call from him in that time. The news came not so much as a crushing blow, but as a blank piece of paper on the wind on which to write, “I told you so” or “that’s what you get,” but there were no more expectations; neither that his father would ever be able to celebrate a birthday party with him and his mother again, nor would he have expected that life would be this hard without him around. No more expectations.
As he turned away from his mother’s beaming smile, he caught a glimpse of himself in the opposing mirror. Long was the right word, not tall. Elegant, maybe. Pretty? Masculine? He tried to remember the time he scaled the barbwire fence on Mr. Mulligan’s property. He saw a younger him slip and fall forward, held back only by the barbwire fence, clawing into his back. His shirt had had it. It was all over it. Red. Blood or something, all down his back. When wiped away, left four long, pink streaks on either side of his back, starting at his waist, and ending at his shoulder blades. Making him look, from behind, like the remains of some destroyed angel or survivor of a werewolf attack. He wished.
Charlotte or Mom as she preferred to be called wasn’t as grief stricken as you would have expected of a wife who just lost her husband to a stray hand grenade. She took the news on an air of bravado. She stood from her plush couch, gently brushed the wrinkles from her skirt, showed the uniformed gentlemen to the door with a smile, and made her way slowly to their bedroom where she began folding away his clothes into nothingness that same afternoon, almost as if she had some sort of automatic response to news she already knew. Of course, she wasn’t just folding away his clothes. She had bottles hidden there. There were more bottles hidden around the house than rat traps, more than there were Starbucks in the whole county, but one in particular was her favorite, and she kept it there, in her husband’s sock drawer.
She named the bottle ‘Pain’ and began to store all of her pain there. Every afternoon, after lunch, when she cleared only two dishes from her dining table, or when a leftover sock of his found its way into a load of her clothes, she would go to it, and pour just a little more pain, or grief, or hate, from her neck into that bottle, or was it the other way around? Lessons learnt. One would have thought the war would have been over by now, but it wasn’t. It was still on the news every night. It had drilled itself down into every facet of their society, every other word between the bread maker and the grocer, all the idle gossip among the teachers in the teacher’s lounge. It was even in every failed attempt we made to ignore what was happening out there, beyond our stars.
George thought about how quiet everything just went, how he could hear his own heartbeat. Strange that just minutes ago there was another body near his, on his, in his. Now he was singular, just another comma in a huge paragraph with no periods. He managed to find his voice.
“Well good morning sunshine,” came the cheery, had-wonderful-sex-last-night voice of Charlotte, dribbling crumbs from somewhere behind a slice of toast, basking in the light of the refrigerator, looking for something, maybe her worth.
“It’s not in there, mom.” He thought to himself, but could never say out loud.
He figured if he was only half of a human being or less, the chances of her noticing that he wasn’t a normal teenage boy were much less, since he wasn’t normal anyway, this is how he explained it all away.
“Did you sleep at all last night sweetie?”
“We will have to see about taking you to a doctor honey, this can’t be healthy for a boy your age.”
“Hmm.” Was the only sound he could make.
Charlotte was bright today, shiny, beyond herself. Her pink rose patterned, silk nightgown was slipping down her shoulders, giving her almost scary cleavage, she was somewhere in her 40s, still beautiful. God she was beautiful. Blonde hair spilled over her shoulders, curling gently upon her bosom, sensually, her makeup only slightly smudged, with no lipstick on her teeth.
“School honey.” She pointed out.
“Yeh, almost ready.”
He wondered if he was just as much of a whore as she was, after all, he and Steve had either fucked or worked around that every night that past week, so had she. But since Greg died, which she doesn’t like to talk about because he didn’t have to go to war, she needs it. And these men, these so-called Uncles that come over more than twice a week, keep her bank account happy, which keeps them fed, and living in the house that Greg still hadn’t paid off completely. Oh Greg, you’re a disappointment.
“See you later mom.”
“Have a good day honey, love you”
He pulled the door hurriedly behind him, closing it on her last words, muffling them to his ears. The hall clock said it was already five after eight. The bus was still waiting, but he had to hurry, Steve might be on it, also waiting, he loves George, but they can’t look each other in the eyes all the way to school. Neither of them is ready yet to let the whole world in on their romance. They have different classes. School days are longer this way, but easier to live through. George might fall asleep after second period, anyway. He hasn’t been sleeping well recently. Nightmares.