January 7th, 2017
The fireside was blazing in the narrow cafe Fuse while a snowstorm blurred the view through the large display windows. A surprising amount of people had cramped themselves into this place to find refuge from the cold winter winds. Soft murmurs resonated in the air while one clear, distinct sound came from the radio at the counter; a monotonous voice detachedly reported on the mutilated corpse of a concert pianist that had been found a week prior in a storehouse within the town’s industrial area — and then, moved on to talk about the bleak weather.
Among this ambient noise resounded the soft whimpering of a boy who was perhaps six years old. He sat, together with a middle aged woman, at a table next to the window and cried softly.
“Don’t worry, Emil,” the woman tried to console him, “You’ll definitely find new friends there!”
This untactful remark worsened the boy’s sobbing. “I don’t want to leave, mummy,” he said and grasped a part of the tablecloth within his fist.
Right at this moment the entry door swung open, letting in a burst of cold air. Meanwhile, Emil’s mother ignored her boy’s cries and continued: “Let’s see what the future holds. Believe me — a few weeks from now you’ll have forgotten all about this and you’ll see it’s not that bad. Moving is a part of life. And so is moving on. It’s just… a new beginning.”
At the table next to theirs, which just so happened to be free, another guest sat down. She appeared to be a young woman of about twenty years and had fresh, unmelted snowflakes all over her face and white hair.
That ‘young’ woman was my sister. She was, as abstract as this may sound, the so-called Future. And the story that I am about to tell you is her story — The Story of the Future, so to speak. It is, out of all the stories that I have gathered, the very last one. This statement carries some weight, as I am a collector of stories and have access to… well, all of them.
Telling this particular story afflicts me with sadness and anger. But, to be fair, watching her waste her own life away has upset me ever since I was just a little girl. Why would a person I love so much care so little about herself? The answer is, of course, that the Future cannot care about herself, and it is us who need to care about her instead. When my grandmother asked me to do exactly this years and years ago, I did not yet understand that basic notion — and now it’s too late.
Having said all this, I hope that you will appreciate the way I am going to tell this tale. Enough of the rambling though — I suspect you want to know what happened to her.
I will tell you.
We’ll see if you can handle it.
Back to what happened on January 7th. My sister was carrying a big duffle bag and put it down next to her chair with a thump. Clunking and clattering sounds issued from inside of it right when Emil replied to his mother.
“… I don’ want a new beginning,” the boy mumbled and a flush of snot poured onto the paper board beneath his lemonade. “I want to stay here forever.”
“Really, now, Emil, enough of this. We’ve talked about it so many times. We have to move. That’s just how it is. I know it’s hard for you — it’s hard for us all — but you’ll have to say goodbye to your friend. Don’t act like a baby, please.”
Confronted with this unfortunate reality, the boy let out a piercing wail and viciously floundered his legs through the air. Of course, his struggles were in vain. His mother, being an adult, was a much more powerful being than he was himself. No matter how much he resisted; ultimately, he’d just be put in a car and driven off, and that was going to be the end of it.
The only question was whether, before then, he could come to terms with his fate or not.
Suddenly, a modern pop song burst out of the purse of Emil’s mother. She immediately started rummaging around inside it and pulled out her phone. “Wait a sec, Emil, I need to take this one. It’s the broker,” she said and rushed outside.
Emil quietly continued indulging in his misery, with thick tears rolling out of his eyes. But then he startled as he felt a cold touch on his cheek.
He looked up, wiping his eyes and nose on his sleeve, just fast enough to watch a young woman drop one of his tears from her index finger into a test tube. She corked and tucked it away inside the immense bag lying on the ground by her.
As she did that, my sister left a very strong impression on Emil. Not only had she just stolen one of his tears — an action that, up to this point, had been absolutely inconceivable to this young boy — no, he also had to watch her brazenly sit down in his mother’s chair right in front of him. Her eyes were round and bright green with a piercing gaze in them — an effect that was amplified by black strokes of eye liner and dark lashes. She reminded him of a kind of deer. A type of deer he had seen only once before, on a walking trip with his mother a while ago. One that had caused him many sleepless nights. Specifically, it was the kind of deer that had just been driven over by a car.
Without saying a word, my sister rearranged her long hair and smoothed out her torn dress. It had once — a long, long time ago — been white, but now, it was spattered with dirt, mud, and blood.
She took the coffee mug left by Emil’s mother and casually sipped on it. Emil’s gaze was locked on her arm for quite a while, because it was covered entirely in large burn scars that reached even up to her shoulder. Also, the young boy could have sworn, her right arm appeared slightly shorter than the burnt one.
Apart from these scars, an unsettling amount of contusions and wounds of all colours and shapes stretched over the entirety of her visible skin. Only her face appeared uninjured. Curiously, even though her looks were so incredibly estranging, the people around barely even seemed to take note of her existence.
When she tasted the coffee, my sister feigned happiness for a moment. Then let the expression dissolve without a trace. She locked her eyes onto Emil and minutes passed, without her saying anything. Somehow, the reasons for the boy’s sadness were washed out of his mind even though his cheeks and eyes still held a distinct red tinge.
Eventually, the girl pulled something out of her bag and rolled it onto the table. What he saw made Emil shudder. He could not believe his eyes; that was his friend’s fountain pen! It was gallant, big and coloured in deep red, with golden ornaments. How!?
She continued to look at him eagerly, and at the same time, seemed unapproachable. Emil wanted to ask about the pen, but in the end, he didn’t manage to say a single word. Instead, he grasped firmly onto this keepsake with his mouth wide open.
In the precise moment that the cafe’s entry bell tolled and the winter wind’s rustling entered the place, the young woman rose from the chair she had stolen. By the time Emil’s mother cast her eyes back onto him, my sister was already sitting at the neighbouring table, seeming deeply entrenched in the menu card. Emil quickly hid the pen in his pocket.
There was only one possibility: This woman had to have stolen Natalie’s pen. Instinctively, Emil remembered the last time he had seen her.
Gently and with large swings. That’s how Natalie wrote onto the thin pages of her note book with her fountain pen. It was a gallant pen, big and coloured in deep red, with golden ornaments. Every now and then, she would place it onto her lips while thinking what to write down next. In doing so, she accidentally painted small blue spots of ink onto her mouth. Unfortunately, she had never succeeded in getting rid of this habit. Thus, sometimes, she was subject to the embarrassment of walking around the earth with little dots of ink on her face at nineteen years old.
She was sitting on a black bench on a hill in front of the city hall, which meant that at her feet she had the lights of all the houses in the town, with lamps shining their sparkle onto the frozen streets of winter. An hour ago it had stopped snowing and there was no wind.
She continued writing even though her hands were heavily taxed by the cold, until she heard the bells of the tower ringing six o’clock. She closed her pen as well as her notebook and turned towards the scarcely lit stairs that spun downward the hill.
Natalie was waiting for someone. At six o’clock on Thursdays, his musical pre-schooling ended and he would make a small detour on his way home to come to this bench.
He was a person Natalie wasn’t allowed to meet. Because she would probably end up being a bad influence on him, or so she was told. However, he was still someone she really wanted to meet very badly. This conflict caused her immense turmoil. It made her heart beat nervously whenever she thought about it, and it got especially bad each time they were about to meet. At that moment, she felt nervous to the point of dizziness.
The top of the mountain where she sat, however, was a rare destination for anyone during this time of the day and year, which made her feel a little safer. And so, her heart made a small jump when she could make out the sound of small footsteps plodding towards her.
“Hello Natalie!” the boy called when he saw her face.
“Emil!” she greeted him and opened her arms for a hug. “How are you? Is everything fine? I’m happy you came here!”
He nodded. “I received a big smiley face on my maths test today!”
Natalie ruffled through his hair and made a bit of space on the bench so he could sit down. “Oh, a big one! How much did you study for that?”
“A looot,” he answered and made a tired expression, leaving his arms limp. “All day yesterday, together with mummy.”
“Well done! I’m proud that you did well this time,” she said. “Hard work will eventually pay off, right?”
“That’s good. I’m sure your teacher was happy, too?”
Emil surprisingly shook his head, and more quietly than before, continued: “No, she was angry.”
Natalie was baffled. “Why was she angry?”
Emil looked down and mumbled after a while: “Because I threw sand at some girls during the break.”
Natalie looked at him sternly. “You threw sand at others?”
“I’ll never do it again!” he added quickly. “Mummy was very angry when I told’er. I also said I’m sorry.”
“Well, okay. It’s important to be nice to others. Why did you do it in the first place?”
He didn’t reply for a while. “I dunno.”
“Did you think it would be funny?”
“But it wasn’t?”
“It wasn’t,” he agreed.
“Mhm, I can imagine,” said Natalie. “Must have felt bad. Don’t worry, we all make mistakes. Thank you for telling me. Enough of that topic though, you probably had enough trouble with it. So, what else have you done lately?”
Emil cheered up right when she asked. “I was at Phil’s place. They’ got a cat! So cute! But she scratched me, look!” He proudly showed the marks on his arm, then continued: “Oh, and they also had a li’l baby. Phil’s sister. Also cute.”
“What’s her name?”
He looked confused and thought for a few seconds. “Uhm… Molly,” he answered eventually. It was obvious from his expression that he didn’t remember her name at all and just made one up. “She was so small! You wanna have a baby, later, too?”
Natalie’s heart skipped a beat.
“Well… I did have one, once,” she said slowly, but immediately gulped, as she realized she probably shouldn’t have said that. But it was fine, right? Emil was just six. Blood started rushing to her head.
“What happened? Did the baby grow up?”
Right, it was fine. He wouldn’t find out. No way.
She felt uncomfortably hot.
… Of course, if Natalie’s own foster parents found out, she’d be in a lot of trouble. If Emil’s mother found out, the word ‘trouble’ wouldn’t even begin to describe it.
“Uhm, well,” Natalie started and thought for a bit. “He was a boy. I was… well, I was a young girl at the time, so I couldn’t take good care of him. So we found two people who could.”
She showed a forced smile and decided to move to another topic. “Does your mother take good care of you?”
Natalie was starting to feel a bit light-headed.
“Yes,” Emil exclaimed and nodded keenly.
“That’s wonderful! Not everyone can consider themselves so lucky. You know, being a mother is not easy at all. I’m sure she loves you very dearly, really, so listen to what she has to say, okay? She means well!”
Emil nodded again.
Their conversation dabbled on for a while. Eventually, the bell rang, telling Natalie that half an hour had passed. She knew that keeping him here much longer would spell trouble, so she convinced him to continue on his way home. The boy jumped up and hugged Natalie to say goodbye.
“You coming back next week?”
“Yes,” he said. “I promise!”
“Remember; better not tell anyone that you are meeting up with me. I’ll be in big trouble if you do. And then we can’t meet again.”
In saying that, Natalie felt manipulative and awful.
He nodded, turned around and walked down the stairs.
Maybe she should stop seeing him after all…?
The mere thought ripped a small hole into her heart. Natalie continued sitting on the bench for a few minutes, without moving a muscle. Eventually, she opened her notebook again. For the most part, it contained remarks about college and grocery lists. It also, however, contained journal entries and small ideas and thoughts.
She wrote a single, small sentence on the margin of an otherwise full page.
“He’s growing up so fast.”
The tears that landed next to this sentence were sucked up by the paper only slowly.
Emil’s mother sat down at the table and put her phone back into her purse. Then she sighed and addressed her child.
“Look, Emil — Mummy has found a new job. Far away from here. It’s not even on this island anymore. I can’t go to work by boat each day, can I? It’s like I explained. This is why we need to move. And we’ll even have a house just for ourselves. You could ask your friend for her address. I’ll help you write letters. Is that okay for you?”
Emil was still occupied with reminiscing about Natalie. Her words echoed in his mind: “I’m sure she loves you very dearly, really, so listen to what she has to say, okay?”
His fingers tightened around the pen. He nodded. “Okay,” he said. Again, tears started running out of his eyes, but this time, there was no anger in them. He was very sad, and very quiet.
His mother took him on her lap and patted his head calmly.
The Future’s job here was done. Without ever having ordered anything, she put down the menu, lifted up her bag and swung it onto her back. At the coat rack, she retrieved her thin, grey hooded cloak and put it on, then left the place. Immediately, a swarm of snowflakes plunged into her eyelashes and she pulled her hood further downward.
This was how my sister got a hold of her very first tear.
Of course, I deliberately chose to start my account with this day, even though it is not actually the true beginning of our story. The day was remarkable for a few reasons however, and I want to use this opportunity to enlighten you about them. First, as I said, on this day, the Future gathered tears for the first time. It was for her big, mysterious project that you might happen to find out more about as you continue reading.
Secondly, on this day, she was being followed by a certain monster in the shape of a little girl.
The Future marched over sleek asphalt roads, moved across the plaza and entered a side street that was hidden behind the town hall. It led to this town’s small shopping district. As she continued on, the sky started to turn darker. On the large clock tower, the arrows pointed to it being just short of three o’clock.
The monster that I mentioned followed my sister closely, creeping behind her at a safe but short distance. Disregarding the fact that she could move, this little girl looked rather dead than alive. She was careful to not get noticed by her target; unnecessarily so, since my sister took very little note of her surroundings as she walked through the snow in her shallow clothing.
“How injudicious, ungrateful,” the girl murmured as she observed the Future with a cold, frightening gaze. She shook her head in a mixture of anger and annoyance. “Forlorn soul. What am I to do with you.”