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A Little Taste of Heaven (EDITING)

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Swan Song

part one
A Tortured Soul

The dangling heirloom pendant around Mariana Greene’s neck shimmers as she sits gracefully at the café she and her college friends have hung out during study breaks. Her relaxed, pretty face and calloused hands, resting atop each other, show her controlled demeanour. Her lips curl a little, thinking, Cool like a cucumber, as one would say. But her bouncing knee under the table states otherwise. The uncertainty gnawing in her stomach devours her happy thoughts of fond memories and the aromatic café as she awaits the response from her recent job interview.

She has always thought graduating with high marks and networking with respected names in the art industry would get her a reservation to fulfil her dreams. Also, having an English Accent is a plus! Her parents always remind her if she strives harder than usual, she will accomplish anything she wants.

“But they’re wrong about that. No surprise there,” Mari bitterly mumbles as she stirs the lemon in her now-cold tea.

Deep inside, she knows her parents are not lying because this advice rings true — to her siblings, that is. Her sister, Célina, is off in a luxurious law firm, training and participating in a battle of brains before going to law school. While her brother, Dion, will be on a summer band tour next year with an upcoming indie band.

Mari’s emerald eyes stare wistfully at the bustling streets from within the four walls of the Variety Coffee Roasters. She heaves a deep sigh while thinking about her latest interview a few days ago. She reassures herself. I was direct, honest, and sincere. Surely they’ll hire me. But maybe not. She checks her phone to see the date and time, showing Friday, 07:58 PM, 16th of November 2018.

Her mind wanders where the lights outside clash colours in a blurry perception. I want to blend with them and shine, but I’m dull. Thanksgiving is approaching, and I have nothing to give thanks to in the past uneventful occasions of my life. She leans her elbows onto the table and buries her face in her palms. Her friends are running ahead, satisfied with their jobs, while she feels left behind. Should she be happy for them? Envious?

Five months have gone by, and she still hasn’t found one.

She submitted her curriculum vitae to the same companies and museums Diamond, Elizabeth, and Eleanor applied to, and they got fulfilling occupations, leaving Mari desperate for just one offer. The countless consecutive job interviews discouraged and unmotivated her because every time she attended the appointment, it went on and on with no pause. All they could say was, ‘We’re sorry. But we’ve decided to pursue other candidates. Thank you for applying,’ in their false, cheerful tone. Mari grumbles and frowns at the memory. Some don’t even inform you if you get the job.

Her parents can effortlessly get her into these establishments with one phone call. But relying on them is never an option for her. Mari has been hyper-focused on being self-established, not under the wings of her successful parents, Leighton and Sinclaire-Greene. Despite knowing how frustrating it is, she holds tightly onto this ambition.

Jace and I share the same goal, so we’ve gotten along well. Ugh. It isn’t the right time to think about your ex, Mari!

She clutches tightly onto her pendant as her mind swirls deeper into darkness. Thinking about her employed friends, she leans toward being envious. Though Mari’s proud of them, she still wonders what’s the matter with her and compares herself to them because they’re goofy in mysterious ways. We’re different in art styles and approaches, but I think my works are more creative? Okay, girl, stop stroking your ego. They’re your friends who always have this charm about them.

She sniffs, attempting to control her tears. Why don’t I have that quality too? Is it because I look intimidating? But, seriously, what is wrong with me? If only someone knows who she honestly is, they might help her. But she shuts herself from everyone, leaving her clueless and hopeless.

Though Jace got close, it still wasn’t at the level where he knew who the person underneath her façade was since Mari pushed him away, using long-distance-relationship as an excuse.

“Let’s not go there, brain,” she mutters tiredly.

Her phone vibrates loudly on the table, making her straighten her posture. She refreshes the Mail tab with a tinge of excitement. Mari skims through the e-mail and reads: we’ve decided to pursue other candidates.

“We wish you the best of luck in your search,” she murmurs. Again with the phrase, I should be used to it by now. But it still stings. The struggling artist musters her all to smile through the forming tears when she pockets her phone. But underneath this serene composure, she panics as it is the last on her list of job searches. Her throat is on fire as she forces herself not to cry in front of the public. She heads to the doors, and the wind harshly blows when she exits the café. Thankful enough for the wind, even though messing up her neatly styled hair, the tears dry in her eyes.

She crosses the road and walks along 85th Street. Distraught, angry, and hurt, Mari meanders and doesn’t pay much attention to where her feet take her. She pulls out her phone and desperately dials Ros Rodriguez’s number. She must talk to someone who can distract her from the harsh reality. After several rings of unanswered calls seeming to feel like ages, Mari furiously hangs up without leaving her so-called best friend a message, tightly holding onto the technology. Typical! I have always been there for her in times of need. But when it comes to me? Mari wipes her eyes, smudging her mascara.

She recollects herself and breathes deeply before trying again. This time dialling April Matsumoto’s number, Secret Bitch flashes on her screen. She answers at the first ring, making Mari smile despite the anger boiling in her.

“Hey!” April shrieks. “I miss you so much. I’m sorry I’ve been unavailable for the past few days and can’t find the time to call you.”

Through her painful throat, Mari laughs. She misses her so much as well. It has been three years since they’ve seen each other in person. “Hey. Thanks for answering. How are you?”

“Uh oh,” says April suspiciously. “What happened?”

Mari guesses her voice betrays her when she tries to sound pleasant since April knows her well enough. “Huh? What are you talking about?” she recoils and hides with a laugh.

She knows April rolls her eyes through the phone as her friend of ten years barks, “Oh no, don’t you say huh? to me. Tell me everything! Is there something wrong?”

Mari slows her pace before taking a deep breath and pouring her frustrations on her only bestest friend. There’s no point in hiding anymore; she’s at the bottom and needs someone to hoist her. Mari confides in April about her doubts and fears while controlling her tears. She cracks a self-deprecating joke, “I guess I’m just not good at anything. A mediocre at best.”

April clicks her tongue, and though Mari can’t see it, she knows her best friend shakes her head empathetically. “What the hell are you talking about,” and mimicking her voice in an exaggerated British accent, “I’m just not good at anything. A mediocre at best!

Mari laughs at how ridiculous she sounds.

April quiets down and says sternly to her, “Are you done? You know I’m mocking you, right?”

She sucks the air through her teeth and sighs heavily. “Yes.”

April continues, “Why are you saying that? You’re so talented! You sing and dance. You act…, you even draw, and surely your skills have improved. Not to mention that you write, too. Bish, what can’t you do?”

“Get a job,” she butts in.

“Ugh, come on, think of it this way,” April sighs. “You’re the most optimistic person I’ve ever known. You always come up with the weirdest yet funniest, brilliant ideas! You’re always the one cheering us up, making us laugh. What happened to you? Is it because of multiple rejections…” she trails, for it is still a sensitive topic to Mari, “…or Nate?”

Yet her heart tightens as her breath hitches at the thought of Nate Turner. She hates admitting it, but Mari says, “Partially.”

“It’s okay to feel melancholy about it. But, it has been years,” April tries to console her, and now she wishes she could hug her. “Look at the bright side, Mari. He could be watching over you right now. And this hurdle you’re currently facing, it’s just an obstacle to your success.”

Mari smiles, for she knows April is trying her hardest even if she’s a thousand miles away. She lets her tears flow but wipes them as fast as they fall.

“It’s like a test. Once you overcome it,” April continues and pauses; Mari imagines she’s racking her brain. “I think this rejection means there’s much better waiting for you. And a few days or weeks from now, you would be glad they rejected you.”

“What do you mean?” Mari knots her eyebrows.

“You can achieve anything you want,” April says enthusiastically. “You won’t be working at an office, depleting yourself in front of a computer and complaining about things you could’ve done! Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?”

She pauses to be dramatic, and Mari can’t help but giggle at her adorable friend.

“Don’t you dare tell me I’m wrong?”

“I am so glad you picked up,” the only words Mari can say to her. She is my best friend, and I feel terrible for not understanding her before, probably because of Ros’s misinformation.

“Med school is tough, and my parents are hard to please since they’re stubborn, unlike yours.”

“It took a lot of convincing.”

That’s why.

“Sorry, sorry!” Mari laughs. “You were saying?”

April giggles. “I set my dreams aside for now or pursue them maybe in the future. I don’t know. But that’s what makes it exciting, right?”

“You can still sing gospel songs and post videos on YouTube,” she suggests. “Also, your fashion designing is immaculate.”

“We’ll see if I have time.”

“Okay. If you need my help, I’m one text away.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Anyway, thank you for picking this call up. You don’t know how much it means to me.”

“You’re always welcome, bish!” April says in a sing-song way. “You can always reach out to me, okay?”

“Okay,” Mari tries not to choke. “Gosh, I’m sorry for disturbing you. Your hands must be full right now!”

“Nonsense, biiiiiiish. Talking to you is always a nice break from all my studying. Just text me when you need me.”

She beams. “Of course. Thanks for cheering me up, April.”

And with one final goodbye, they hang up. Mari’s eyes drift to her wrist, and she hurriedly pulls her sleeve.

On the bustling sidewalk, the clashing lights shimmer in Mari’s eyes. The emotion-filled chattering people of whatever they’re feeling overlap her hearing, distracting her from her head. She glances at the cars honking and beeping impatiently as they wait for the stoplight to turn green. Talking to April makes Mari feel lighter while walking further alongside the crowd. The world upon her shoulders lifts, even just a bit.

But her inflamed frustration returns when the thunder rumbles; rain soaks her to the bones. Great, just great! Can this night be any worse? She grumbles and stomps, splashing water everywhere. Some people she encounters scowl at her while saying: watch it!

Her buried malevolence looming, she mocks and rolls her menacing green eyes at them.

Raindrops fill her eyeglasses, and her sight becomes blurrier. So she puts them in her pocket. She can no longer hold her tears and let them run down her cheeks as her temper diminishes. She lets the pouring rain drench her, soaking her head to toe. As if every drop pushes her down and drowns her, she can’t push her way up. Doubts float inside her head about how miserable she is.

With her mind diving deeper into depression, she faces the ominous sky with closed eyes. Feeling every cold drop of rain falling on her face, I envy those people I’ve lost, no more pain, no more suffering, and I want to join them. She moans as if wounded.

The vibration of her phone in her pocket breaks her train of suicidal thoughts. But she ignores it, of course. She doesn’t want to add another failure if she checks it in the middle of the rain. But she has a hunch who’s calling her; it’s her mother. Hell! NOT MY PARENTS. Trying to calm her nerves to no avail, every step she takes becomes heavy again. I know they love me. But even if I can’t see their faces full of disappointment, I will hear it in their voices. I already know I’m a failure at this point. I don’t need another lecture about my flaws. I don’t want them to put more salt on these fresh wounds.

She presses the power button, and the vibrations stop. But no matter how much she does it, her phone keeps vibrating. So, she pushes the button long and hard, and with one buzz, Mari knows the mobile phone has shut down. A smile spreads a little.

She miraculously recognises Park Avenue Christian Church on the other block as she walks further. In the progressive city, this architectural landmark stands forever frozen in time. It always mesmerises Mari how everything around it changes and is still the most beautiful thing she sees. So she decides to go in there, crossing the road with purpose.

But as she walks along Park Avenue, a peculiar feeling occurs as the noise and everything in between decreases as silence overtakes her; it is deafening. Mari doesn’t even hear the rainfall hitting the asphalt. The only thing she can hear is her breathing and her beating heart. Confused with this sensation, she looks up, and the sudden approaching lights blind her strained vision.

Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.

Perhaps this is my karma for being who I was, haunting me like an angry ghost.

“You can’t blame them; they’re just kids!” your parents say whenever you do something wrong or out of hand. I’m not saying it’s biassed parenting skills! But sometimes, just sometimes, tolerating kids might leave a mark once they’ve grown up. Thinking about it, you’re just a kid. Right? So the consequences of your actions have been taken lightly. You do whatever the heck you want. I think that marks them until they grow up.

Since the estate Mr Greene inherited in Hamptons was in renovation, Mari lived in London with their Nana Charlie when she was still younger, and she was conscious of how nasty she was. Though she looked like an angel and innocent, she was a pure, mean girl. She was the kind of kid everyone hated. But the other kids had to pretend they liked her anyway, so they wouldn’t be the next target of mindless, childish banters and be anguished.

In other words: Mariana Greene was a bully.

Yup, that was me.

She didn’t care if she made someone cry or tormented them with the stingy words from her naturally pink lips. All she cared about was amusement because she thought it was okay.

But, when her family moved to Long Island at the start of her secondary school year, something inside her flipped. She wasn’t this mischievous kid anymore and didn’t bother anyone again. Well…, except for her parents because it was unavoidable. Whenever her mood swings came, it was uncontrollable.

From then on, Mari seemed to fade into the background. She might be friends with the popular kids and have siblings who would never bore her, but she still felt alone, isolated, even. Her parents gave her everything she needed and wanted, yet they cut her wings before she could fly, and she turned out to be a coward.

Unaware of it all before, Mari notices these signs of her karma. She’s not jealous of April and Ros, per se, for being the total package: intellectual, beautiful, and at the same time, always the talk of everyone. In college, her friends, Lea, Beth, and D, are amiable, attractive, and popular, mais moi?

Not so much.

Scratch that.




The people her friends or family introduced her to are still acquaintances. No one upgrades to friends because she shuts everyone out. Even Célina and Dion, her twin siblings, are in the cool crowd; it’s effortless for them.

I mean, I don’t honestly care about it. But looking back, it’s just — I think I was okay, not being in the spotlight.

She never admits it —

You know what? I was just okay and was nowhere near out of the ordinary. People only knew me because they found my voice and my artwork beautiful. It wasn’t hard to think I was just another forgotten name wilting away.

In the drenching Park Avenue and 85th Street, Mari lies. She knows her body has given up, yet she still tries to stand even though her knees wobble. And when the back of her head throbs in pain, Mari winces at the pressure. Her (dyed) dirty-blonde hair is wet because of the rain, but the metallic air lingers, and she feels like vomiting.

Everything around her becomes blurry, and all she can see is white; nothing else, just white. She reaches out for something to support her weight. But she falls to the ground. In a matter of seconds, she hears ringing inside her ears. She tries to ignore the surfacing panic as she blinks hard. But when she can’t feel anything, it makes her frantic. Her heart’s supposed to beat fast, but it’s slowing down. Even though the noises deliberately come back to her, and she can hear them again, she still can’t feel anything.

The chattering people surround where she lies, and some kids and women scream at what they have witnessed. Mari tries to look around, terrified, but she sees nothing. Only the (should be) heart-throbbing white. Have I lost my sense of sight and touch?

And as if someone flips the switch, she becomes fully aware. Her life flashes through her eyes in sequence; she’s aware of going into the light. On the cold asphalt, she smirks. Funny. I thought only the good die young.

And as her consciousness fades, the last thing she sees is Jace’s smiling face; his hair reflects like the golden sun, his warm and kind blue-green eyes sparkling, and his soft lips in an alluring and crooked smile. I’m sorry I won’t see your sweet smile anymore, my dear. She lets the darkness take over her, but someone pulls her back. There’s a voice, distant, faint; it is everywhere and nowhere. She hears someone calling her name.

Mariana? Mariana?

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