My jaw may or may not have unhinged from my face when I finally looked into the bag. What it did do, however, was drop and dangle.
I had to blink a few times to ensure my mind wasn’t playing tricks with me; because if this was a trick, it was painfully cruel. I was sleep deprived and heavily caffeinated, so I wondered if I was hallucinating. Maybe I had hallucinated the whole visit, maybe I had gone berserk, maybe my mind was creating false gifts to help me cope.
I balled my hands into fists and rubbed my eyes vigorously, as though trying to wipe away the conjunctiva. But alas, I was not hallucinating. It was real, completely real. My mind didn’t know how to process what I was honed in on. I sat still on my knees, hands suspended in the air as though I was about to begin conducting an orchestra. I took a few deep breaths, trying and failing to breathe properly.
In this duffle bag, in this ominous-shady-suspicious duffle bag was nothing malevolent—no, far from it. Within the bag held contents that could alter the path I chose in life, could distinguish who I was as a person—if I was wise or impulsive. This gift, given to me from my father, was on offer of a second chance.
It was many, many wads of cash in amounts of five thousand dollars to ten thousand dollars. There had to be at least a quarter of a million dollars in the bag, if not even breaching half. The money, thin plastic-paper in assortments of pinks and golds and greens and purples and blues, was meant for me. And the Canadian myth stood strong as the smell of maple wafted to my nose, as if the money could become my very essence.
My hands, all at once, dived into the duffle bag, grabbing a dozen wads of cash at a time; feeling the plastic, smelling the maple and the factory it came from. I couldn’t wrap my head around the amount of cash I kneeled in front of, my fingers aching to ensure that the money wasn’t counterfeit. It wasn’t.
But how the hell could my father have spared this much money for me? I remembered pinching pennies as a kid, even though my father had a decent-paying job and an alcohol addiction. We were never poor, but it was often a struggle to sustain a standard way of living. But the money in front of me, I was convinced I could change my name and live like a queen with it.
Had he gone all Walter White and turned to becoming a drug kingpin as means of making cash quickly and efficiently? Had he broke bad to get this—to me, nonetheless? So many questions whirred around in my spinning head. I found it so strange how people were so fast to say money meant nothing to them, but when they have it their world goes round and round.
My world was preparing to fly off of its axis. However, it screeched to a halt as I heard my home phone ringing from beside the sink. It screeched like a school bell. I didn’t want to drop the money, which was pathetic, given that nothing would happen to it as I investigated who was calling me.
However, I couldn’t bring myself to drop the money back into the bag. This money, it meant the world to me—no, it was much more, it was going to shape my world. I was going to build my own world with this money. I was going to run away, I was going to go to university, I was going to paint a new identity for myself. I was going to chase my liberty.
The phone stopped ringing.
I looked at it, as though waiting for it to explode and send flying shrapnel my way, but nothing happened. However, after a few more moments, my phone beeped with a voicemail. I felt a stone drop into my stomach, curious and worried as to who would’ve called me so early.
I decided I’d wait a few minutes to check it. I wasn’t ready to discover who my caller was because I felt extremely elated, and I knew that checking my phone would send me back into a tizzy. I just needed to take a few selfish moments to myself, just enough time to make me feel like I was...human, again.
I dropped the money back into the duffle-bag, looking inside to make sure the money hadn’t miraculously vanished, but it hadn’t. Quickly, I zipped the bag shut and lifted it onto the kitchen table. It was so heavy that I struggled and had to boost it with my knee, and my table made a dreadful squeaking sound and I was afraid it would collapse. It didn’t.
I walked back over to my phone, checking who called. I let out a puff of air when I realized it wasn’t a minatory stranger keeping tabs or sending a threat. It was the hospital. I remembered that my blood tests were supposed to be coming in today.
And that raised a whole new concern. Did they find anything abnormal in my blood—the mutations? Were they going to want to run more tests, try to find what was wrong with me? I didn’t want to be tested on day and night, and that was what I was afraid would happen. I was afraid they’d discover what I was desperately trying to forget.
I listened to my voicemail, chewing my fingernail as I plunked onto my couch. Hello, Miss Bartem, this is the phlebotomist, Susan, who took your blood samples. Your results have come in. There is something I’d like to discuss with you. I’ve called Doctor Vandaway and he’s agreed to come in on a day convenient to you. Please call me back when you get my message, it’s urgent.
And as soon as I hung up the voicemail, another call came in. It was an unknown number, and I felt my legs tremble as my finger hovered over the answer button. Curiosity enabled the urge to answer and see who was calling, but terror discouraged taking the risk. I hated that I was scared of phone calls—it bordered a phobia.
But, my curiosity, as per usual, reigned supreme in the grand scheme of things. With a shaky hand, I pressed my phone to my ear. “H-hello?” I answered, voice trembling like my knees.
“Edie?” Detective Roth responded, and I felt my soul leave my body before returning. “Edie, are you there? How are you?”
“Swell,” I answered, breathless. “How are you?”
“Same, same,” he answered casually. “I’m sorry for calling you so early. I know it’s inappropriate, but I realized I forgot to give you my work-card yesterday. I’d like you to have my number at all times—”
“Detective, I have nothing further to say to you. I told you all I could,” I sighed softly. “I don’t know what else you need from me.”
“Your doctor delivered your statement to me last evening,” he said. “Would that interest you?”
I clenched my jaw. The little bastard, of course it would. “Not gonna’ lie, it kind of would.”
“Turns out your stories match up,” he said, and again my soul lifted from my body before falling back. “You just explained details more specifically to me, most likely because you were fully cognizant. But you have been telling the truth—or, at least, your version of the truth.”
“My version is the only version of the truth, Detective.”
“Perhaps, perhaps,” he agreed, but it was clear he didn’t believe me. “But I believe there is more. Just because your stories correlate doesn’t mean they’re one-hundred percent accurate. I believe there is more, and I’m going to give you my number so you can call me back whenever you’re interested in giving me what is missing.”
“I’m not interested in giving you anything. I’ve given you all I could,” I needed to get him off my back. He stressed me out more than my blood test results. “You are pressuring me to come forward with facts that don’t exist. If I give you more information, it will be false. I don’t know what you think you have on me, but to be quite frank it is nothing. Now please, do not ever call me again. I have no desire to talk to you beyond this point. Have a good day, Detective.”
Then I hung up the phone, and the stone in my stomach seemed to become heavier. My life, it seemed, was beginning to spiral more and more out of control to the point I was afraid I’d never be able to grab the reigns and bring it back down to a reasonable pace. My life hadn’t ended back in the cabin, no—it fell apart. Now, it was ending. I needed to start anew.
But I also, in my fog, realized I might have just made the biggest mistake of my life. Detective Roth was, at the end of it all, on my side. He just wanted to aid me, and I knew that. And I had just kicked him out, the only person who could’ve helped me.
Numbly, I went into the kitchen, dumped my coffee, and put my mug in the dishwasher.
A shower was meant to clear the head, but it only made mine more misty. Instead of organizing my thoughts, it only scrambled them up more. I felt like I was going to be ill. I was afraid of what was going to happen, of what I was going to do next. I felt like a chess piece trying to make the right moves with antagonists creeping up my back. I was a player in a game I created for myself, not yet jailbroken.
I needed change, and I needed lots of it. I needed a new city, a new place to live, a career, a place where I didn’t exist at all instead of a place that gave me fame because I came back from the dead. I wanted to be a nobody; being a somebody was too challenging. It made me prickly and sensitive.
I got dressed into pastel-coloured clothing. I wore a pale pink sweatshirt and pale blue skinnies, with pale fuzzy yellow socks. I almost didn’t recognize myself in clothing with colour; I was so used to wearing whites and greys and blacks. The only colour I had in isolation was the red bra and underwear set Zacharias had bought me, and the pale blue jeans. But even then, they felt bleak.
But in the blue and pink and yellow, I felt pretty; I felt like myself again. I admired my colourful reflection in my bedroom mirror as I put on mascara and watermelon-scented lip balm. I sprayed cheap perfume on myself and scrunched my hair to enhance the curls. For a moment I caught a glimpse of the Edie pre-disappearance—but it was fleeting and she disappeared quickly.
She simply was not the same. The longer I looked at myself, the more I began to feel like a copycat; like I was trying to mimic who I had been. I was not the same person at all. No matter how I twisted and turned my body, I was different. Entirely different—just a doppelgänger. I looked the same but I was not the same at all.
So why was I trying to be a replica? I wanted change, so why not change?
I exited my bedroom like a mad woman on a mission, leaping down the stairs like a gazelle as I made my way into the kitchen. I opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of scissors, before running back into my room. I stood in front of my mirror once more, hair bunched and twisted in one hand and scissors in another. I wanted change, so I would give myself change.
I placed my hair in between the two blades of the scissors, but didn’t chop just yet. There was a brief moment of hesitation—of grim nostalgia. My long hair had always been a key part of my identity. I had never cut it short. I remembered my mom stroking my long hair and telling me how beautiful it was, how I had the loveliest hair she’d ever seen.
Then I remembered all the times Zacharias grabbed a long ringlet and twisted it in between his fingers, fraying it and analyzing it. I remembered watching the russet strands dangling over the bed onto his shoulder, I remembered his fascination with it. I remembered Zacharias. I felt angry again, and my eyes darkened with rage.
And then I made the cut, and I watched as my hair fell onto the ground, sprinkling and coiling as it fell through the wedges between my fingers. The sunlight caught my falling ringlets, creating a slow-motion effect. A feeling of calm seemed to lapse for a moment. I felt different, everything felt different. Such a small part of me had been chopped, but it felt huge.
My hair now fell to the middle of my neck, which was a lot different given how my curls were past the middle of my back. It was drastic, and a little unflattering. It would take a lot of getting used to. I would have to grow into my cut hair. There was no reversing time and altering my decision. What was done was done.
I stared into the mirror, placing the scissors on my vanity. I touched my hair, as if ensuring it was gone. It felt strange, I couldn’t get over it. My body tingled in an unusual, alien way. My fingertips even seemed to hum. As I locked eyes with myself in the mirror, they weren’t bronze; they were russet. I met the old Edie in my reflection, closing in then leaning away.
And then she was gone.
I packed up all of my clothes and footwear and threw them into garbage bags. By the time I was finished, I had overstuffed two of them. I heaved as I carried them down the stairs. I was thankful this was all I’d be taking with me. There was nothing else in this place I wanted to take. Everything could be replaced—it would be replaced. I was going to start from scratch.
Rain was due later in the day, so despite the sun it was chilly and windy. I slipped on a pair of white keds I had avoided packing and hauled the two garbage bags to my car, shoving them into the trunk. I speedily ran back inside, grabbing the duffle bag and taking one last look around my place. I was sad to be leaving it behind, but I would get over it quickly.
Standing in the threshold of the front door, I took one last look around, before closing the door and locking it. I ran back to my car, as though expecting the press to be close by, and set the duffle bag in the passengers seat as I sat in the drivers. Before I popped the keys into the ignition, I slipped off my house pair and set them in the drink-holder.
I started the car and drove off like a normal person. I had been tempted to screech the tires to announce my departure, but decided I wasn’t looking for any attention. I took one last look in the rearview mirror at the neighbourhood. I would forever love this place, for it had gotten me back on my feet.
Then I turned the corner, and realized I would never see it again. It was most definitely for the better. I would no longer feel safe there. I needed fresh surroundings. I needed newness and something uncharted.
This would be my last drive through town. It seemed like a ghost town—well, it always had. But now, it seemed quieter than ever. It seemed nearly abandoned, as though it was uninhabitable. I was one of the only people on the road. How strange it felt. The town seemed like a lion coming into it, but it felt like a lamb leaving it. Just a few stops, and I’d be gone.
Firstly, I needed to stop at the Dollar Store.
I picked up a small gift bag, some tissue paper, a pen and a small thank you card. I sorted out my gift and made it nice and cute and pretty as though I was going to give it to a friend at a birthday party. I drove into a richer part of the town, the suburbs, where my landlord lived. She owned rentals all around town, so it wasn’t surprising to know she lived in proper wealth.
I remembered she invited me over for tea one day at her big blue house. It was cozy and modern inside, so it was weird to see the juxtaposition between where she lived and where I lived. It wasn’t that I felt ripped off—no, I loved my place, but it was just...strange. I couldn’t explain why.
I pulled in front of house, and there were no vehicles in front of it so I knew she wasn’t home; which was perfect. I wanted to leave without questions because I had no answers.
Gift bag in hand, I exited my vehicle and walked up her polished cobblestone steps. The house was nicer the closer you got to it, so I couldn’t help but observe it as I placed the bag in the mailbox attached to the siding of the house. I took one last look over my shoulder as I began to retreat. I hoped my gift was enough. I wanted her to know how thankful I was for everything she had ever done for me.
As I drove off, I couldn’t imagine anyone that was rich complaining about being twenty-thousand dollars richer.
I prepaid for my gas at a station just out of town, refusing to go back to the one I used to work at. The sky was a dark, dark grey as though it had been smeared with charcoal. As I held the gas pump in my gas tank, I observed the sky. I was the only one at the gas station. The solitude of the emptiness and underpopulation didn’t make me feel nervous. I didn’t feel like I was being watched.
I was, of course, by the guy in the gas station, however. He had subtly flirted with me, not recognizing who I was. It was refreshing, feeling like a nobody once more. I had politely laughed at him, trying not to leave my exit one of bad terms. It was flattering, however.
The pump clicked and I put it back. Before I jumped in my car, however, I gave the guy at the till one more wave, and he ecstatically waved back at me. Deciding to take a little risk, I even blew him a kiss. He pretended to catch it and put it in his pocket, and I couldn’t help but beam at him. Thank you, kind gas station guy.
I knew exactly where I was going to set my sails to. I was going to drive to the big city; the big, big city. I hated big cities—and even as I drove to one, I still hated them. But I would adapt and I would acclimate to it. After all, I hated tiny towns before I moved into one. Now, I was going to be a small fish in a giant sea and I couldn’t wait.
It was pouring rain hard outside, but it was tranquil with the sound of John Fogerty on the radio. Yes, John Fogerty, I have seen the rain.
The sky was beginning to get very, very dark. It was evening, just past nine. And I was hungry, extremely hungry. I hadn’t eaten all day. I was thankful for the nasogastric tube from yesterday, because it hadn’t made eating a priority up until now. I promised myself that once I found a roadside diner, I would stop and fill my belly.
Luckily, not long later, I found one. Outskirt Dine-r. The r flickered red in the night, as though the diner was trying to land airplanes in its spare time. I was thankful to find other vehicles parked in the parking lot. Farmer vehicles, they seemed like. It was like a scene from a movie.
I parked my car away from the other vehicles. I didn’t get out of my car right away, trying to brace myself to the shock of the cold rain from the interior of a heated vehicle. I’d only be outside for a moment, though, not enough to soak me but enough to make me a little damp. It was nothing a hot cup of coffee and a cheeseburger couldn’t fix. What I did grab, however, was a five dollar bill, and a hundred dollar bill. I stashed them in my butt pocket.
I got out of my car, locked it and ran into the diner. The bell rang as I entered, which cast a few stares my way, before they went back to eating. A few farmers sat at the counter, a young couple sat in a booth. The smell of grease and freshly brewed coffee filled my senses. Usually the scent would’ve been unappealing, but it was so different from Zacharias that it was beautiful.
The waitress behind the counter told me I could sit anywhere and she’d be with me in a moment. I smiled, said thank you, and took my seat in a booth in the corner. The young couple seemed invested in their conversation, and I heard the girls soft giggles as the guy shushed her gently. I felt a peck of envy as I leaned back and stared out the window, watching the rain smack smack smack against the window.
The waitress approached me with a pot of freshly brewed coffee. “Coffee?” She asked.
I flipped over the upside down mug on the table, offering her a small smile. “Yes, please. Thank you.”
She poured me a cup of coffee, then placed the pot on the counter as she pulled out a notepad and a pen. “Would you like anything to eat?”
“A cheeseburger, please. With extra fries.”
“Is that all?”
“You bet.” I said, and she told me it would be about ten minutes until it was ready. I nodded thoughtfully, and she took the pot of coffee with a small smile before retreating into the kitchen before reclaiming her perch at the counter. I tuned into the sound of the jukebox playing Johnny Cash as another vehicle pulled up.
I watched as the woman, who couldn’t have been much older than me, exited her vehicle and ran into the diner in the same fashion I had. She was pretty with big, bright blue eyes and long, slightly frizzy mousy brown waves. She wore an unbuttoned rose-red peacoat over a white shirt, with dark blue skinnies and white keds like mine. We had the same fashion sense. I liked her outfit.
But it turned out her taste in clothing wasn’t the only thing we had in common.