The Longest Night
Copper raindrops fell as she walked to school, her pink rabbit shoes skipping over the golden puddles. It was late May and sweat dripped from the girl’s messy black hair and white headband. White was a neutral color, her mother used to say, and it suited her. The girl with the pink rabbit shoes and white headband ducked as metal mosquitos buzzed past her head. Pesky things. She hated them, and they were always flying at this time of year.
The man in the office sighed as he arranged the pearls on his desk. Each rock had to be cleaned and packaged with focus and diligence, as was the very nature of his work. After he finished, he wiped the remaining dust from his wrinkled fingers and rose from his desk. It was nighttime now and the lights of Los Angeles twinkled in the distance. The man took a moment to gaze out at the city skyline and wondered who else could be admiring its light. Singers, movie stars, writers, entrepreneurs...dreamers and the rest. No matter how much money or fame they had, the view was free. The man in the office smiled. He had always been a confident man, one of the dreamers. But such matters had gained a subtle irrelevance as of late.
The girl loved her mother so much that every day at school she drew in the margins of her notebooks and counted the minutes until she could return home. Besides, her mind was too inventive to be trapped in a jail cell. She used to love her father too, until the day he hit a bump on the road and died in the crash. The funeral was never held. After all, it was at the height of mosquito season. Tears streamed down the girl’s face at the memory of it all. It had been three years and twenty five days since the accident, which was hardly an accident no matter what her mother thought of it, and she could never look at the neighborhood street the same again.
The ringing of the alarm clock woke the man from his troubled sleep. His lifeless eyes checked the time as his crooked fingers tied his shoelaces into butterfly knots. He whispered quietly to his wife and kissed his sleeping daughter on the cheek, then left for work. It was a misty morning in West Adams and a family of slugs clung to the tires of the old sedan. The man sighed, then frowned. The walk to work was not far, but the mosquitoes were out and his grandfather always told him never to attract the attention of mosquitos. His grandfather had also told him never to trade in pearls, but the man in the office did so anyway. What else was a caged animal to do? It was instinct and instinct should not be fought, the man thought to himself as he walked through the back door of the office building, then up the stairs and to the left. As he sat down at his desk, his attention was drawn to the motel pool below the office window. There was commotion in the water and it appeared that a teenage boy was drowning in the deep end of the pool. An older woman passing by the snack bar took notice of the boy’s distress, tossed aside her purse, and dove into the water. She grasped him just as his head dipped below the surface, his hands still flailing above his head. The boy felt the woman beside him and grabbed onto her arms. He pushed against her with all his might and forced his mouth above the surface, where he gulped in the fresh air before going under once more. There was savagery in his eyes, like that of a wild animal in a trap or a drowning man sinking his savior. In one last desperate attempt for air, the boy instinctively gripped the woman’s shoulders and pulled his chest above the surface. He took breath after breath as the water around him calmed. The boy was breathing steadily now and had regained his senses. He was treading water alone in the deep end of the pool; a body floated below him in the water. The man in the office sat petrified at his desk. Even from afar he could see the terror in the boy’s eyes as motel guests dove into the water to help the drowned woman. It had only taken her forty seconds to die, and a full minute more for the boy to realize she was dead.
The girl cried most nights holding her pillow close to her chest. Her tears formed dark circles on the soft cotton until the sun rose through the cracked window. She thought back to the days before the rain and the mosquitos and the crash; those faraway memories felt more like daydreams than reality. She found herself lost in a nightmare praying for the sunrise, and it had been the longest night.
The sunlight woke the man from his sleep. It was sunrise at the office and his cheek rested in a puddle of drool; his dilated eyes darted across the room. He reached for the pearls on his desk and began to work, but his mind was hysterical. Though his feet were anchored to the ground, his spirit soared above the clouds. He flew with angels to the golden gates of a white paradise and bathed in the warmth of the sun, but it was a fleeting visit and soon he was falling through sky. His heart pounded as his body entered a free fall to the depths of the earth, and soon the man in the office had become lost in the void. He cried out for help, but his voice had abandoned him. It was the longest nightmare he had ever endured; his wild eyes searched for a way out. Suddenly he saw his daughter’s face in the darkness. The man reached out his hand and desperately called her name. She smiled, reached back, and took it. Then there they were, together at last, walking hand in hand back to the world.
The girl woke up the next morning with a smile on her face. The mist outside had cleared and the sun was shining through the window. A world of syndromes and prescriptions had passed her by, a twisted mix of maladies disappearing in the rear view mirror as the man in the office drove her to school. She had lost her father four years ago, but at last he had come home.
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