Burden of the Dead
“Elena, wakey wakey, Brian’s here,” someone chimes in a sickly sweet voice. I peer through my heavy eyes to see if Esther is doing an ironic imitation but weirdly enough, it’s Morgan standing by my bed with a kind smile disrupting the evil on her face.
“I don’t have anything scheduled for today,” I say rather snappy as I roll in the other direction.
“Well he’s here and I’ve told him you’ll be down in five minutes. I suggested you two catching a movie today.”
So she invited him over, so much for my lie in.
Thankfully, she doesn’t wait around to berate me out of bed. It’s strange to be treated like a human, even if it’s only because I’m doing all this for her. To further her career.
My back strains to sit upright. Another hour, I think. Just half an hour more sleep and maybe I wouldn’t feel so lousy. But that’s just wishful thinking. Rest is something for the lucky. The unlucky close their eyes and all they can see is demons, and horrors that most would never encounter in their worst nightmares.
But I can’t escape them in my good dreams. Sleeping is more like being thrown into a gladiator ring with eight hours of fending off a lion. No rest. No recuperation. Just fear, sweat, and desperation.
I look over to the end of my bed and I dig my nails into my palms at the outfit laid out for me. What is her obsession with pink anyway? I’m going to look like a damn jigglypuff wearing this. And yet my clothes are stupid and undignified?
I throw on the outfit and head down stairs reluctantly. I don’t bother to greet Brian. Princess Barbie is in the kitchen so there’s no need to put on a show for her. I huff straight out the door and into Brian’s car and cross my arms in a full teenage tantrum display.
“Hey, I was gonna let you sleep. She’s the one who insisted I come over,” he defends, hopping into the driver’s seat.
“It’s one thing getting two hours of sleep. But can you see what I’m wearing?!” I flap my hands to accentuate my outrage and he threads his eyebrows at my irrationality.
“Granted, you look a lil dorky…” I squint my eyes at him and he puts is hand out in defence. “Buuut you totally pull it off.” “Why are you so down about it anyway? You’re not exactly the drama queen type.”
For once Brian might actually be right about something. I may get a double dose of cranky without sleep; even if it wouldn’t do much good, but this has a deeper meaning.
She would always take me to the pink heavy stores on our shopping trips and pull me along the rails of frilly dresses, in hopes that I would suddenly change my mind about the colour. It didn’t bother me too much, she never forced anything on me and I always got what I wanted in the end.
Maybe it wouldn’t have gotten under my skin so much if it had happened another day, but it reminds me of how great my mother really was. She let me be independent. She let me be who I wanted to be. I wasn’t just a small carbon copy of her. And I suppose it hurts so much more today because I’ve never needed her more than I do right now.
The pain of missing her never leaves me, but sometimes it’s stronger than others. And after the last two weeks, there’s nothing I yearn for more than a simple hug to make the pain go away. You never appreciate it at the time, but a mother’s love, is like nothing else in the world. A simple hug can cure anything, and I want nothing more than to feel that warmth again.
“You have Denis’s number right?” I demand.
“I see where you’re going with this,” Brian sighs and pulls out his phone from his pocket.
I drift away from the dialling of his phone and watch the windshield like it’s a TV screen. The image cut out is of my street. There’s a line of obscurely shaped houses fit for a wealthy breed of giants and a selection of fruit shaped boxwood shrubs all finely cut for the appearance of a smooth surface.
My old street had monkey trees that shadowed every elf-sized home. The nature was natural, not moulded to look like plastic. And when the sun was brightest the flecks of sunlight would shower down and turn simplicity into something far more wild and beautiful.
I shut my eyes and delete the image in front of me. I look upon the ballroom as Yannie enters with amazement in her eyes. She spins, her head to the sky light ceiling and her feet dancing over the freckles of moonlight spotted over the floor. Emie grabs onto Yannie’s whirling hand and twirls her daughter in to face her prideful smile.
It’s Yannie’s first ball and she couldn’t miss it. Being a Lakenode meant that she only had a limited number of days to spend amongst the living, so she chose them wisely. Today was a special day for her daughter. She only had a handful of days left but she knew Yannie wouldn’t want to spend the evening with anyone else. Their bond is like no other and everyone in the realm knew when they were together, because the moon glowed at its brightest and a thousand more stars appeared in the sky.
I inhale the hit from the world of fantasy and I open my eyes to see the sun illuminating everything in our path. The light graces Brian’s face and although he’s looking through eyes of confusion, I see a joy and lust for life.
“Okay, I’m not sure you’re a hundred percent there…” Brian remarks.
“What are you talking about?” I say with a slight giggle.
“You’re beaming like a shit shovelling monkey,” he exclaims and I tilt my head to ask how that’s a bad thing. “Two minutes ago I was wishing I’d worn a protective cup I was so scared for my manhood. I was ready to chain you up for the full moon. And now you’ve gone from man eating werewolf to little puppy dog excited for the car ride?”
“Do you want to sit here and complain about how I’m not in a bad enough mood or do you want to tell me what the plan is?”
“Okay… So Denis said it’s happening a mile from the pier at Rock beach and it starts at eight. Can you stay out till then?”
“The Twits clearly want us to be a thing, they’ll probably be thrilled that I’m spending an entire day with you.” Brian’s face lights up at that statement. “Don’t get too cocky, you know it’s just business.”
“Their business is my pleasure,” Brian brags and I respond by putting my feet up on his unmarked leather seat. “Okay okay I’m sorry for being a dick just put your feet down, please.” I sigh and drop my feet back to the floor.
“You know you could have just asked me out, instead of using your parents’ power and not giving me a choice.”
“I did, like a lot and you said no.”
“For good reason rich boy! That’s the way it goes for us regular folk, we ask, we get rejected, we accept it and we move on. We don’t get our parents to buy around the rules of free will.”
“Give me a break Elena. Like you even try to go after what you want. All you do is lock yourself up in your room and dream the world away. And here I am doing what you want to do, driving you around like a chauffeur while you treat me like I’m some villain you write about in one of your stories.”
“That is such- wait how do you know about my writing?”
“Oh…You may have left your notebook in my car…”
“And you went through it?!”
My story is like my dramatized, fictionalised journal. It’s so personal to me that I won’t even let Esther read it, and that notebook that Brian put his dirty hands all over is full of intimate snippets. I almost feel violated.
“Um… So where did you want to go until the jock party? We’ve got a few hours to kill.” He tries to change the subject and I push down the anger and revolution rising to the surface.
He couldn’t have known what he was doing. It’s ratty, old and plain. It doesn’t look special to anyone else. I try to convince myself against blowing my top at him, he looks guilty enough and I’m not in the mood to start up an argument.
I grunt and direct him towards the library. I figure at least I can broaden Brian’s mind. Maybe fill him with some conversation topics that are slightly more riveting than the best flavour of Monster and the pros and cons of wearing socks in bed.
For Brian I pick out the Green Mile and for me I choose a three hundred page easy read that I can get through in a couple of hours. After his initial whining through the first chapter, the wonder sealed inside the pages starts to pull him in. Two hours later the last page of my book ends with a hundred unanswered questions and I turn to Brian in outrage, only to be met with air slapping gestures.
The magic of literature has entrapped someone I thought would be impervious to its spell. I’ve never been so happy to hear someone tell me to fucking shut up.
We get kicked out at five thirty and I’m left to deal with Brian’s newly discovered cliff-hanger frustration. It would be very pleasant to have a conversation about Stephen King and the wonderful new experience of a good book, but there’s still two and a half hours until the monthly jock beach bash and Brian’s frustration is only making my agitation worse.
After all this has been building up far longer than just today. I need to talk to Evan, properly this time. No more shit. If I have to tackle him into the campfire and sit on him until the words get squeezed out of his lungs, as all of his friends watch on; I don’t care.
At seven o’clock we meet up with Denis and Graham outside Subway. They greet me as though I’m a part of their inner circle, despite the fact that I’ve never exchanged two words with either of them. The oatmeal raisin cookie falling out of my mouth makes it rather difficult for me to engage in hellos, so I do a half hearted flutter with my left hand.
It’s quite intimidating having them this close to me. Their thick necks and broad shoulders are a product of years of athletic conditioning and with their six foot statures, it makes five foot three me feel like an undernourished child that just wandered into a body building tournament.
The sculpted jaw lines, gelled back hair, piercing eyes, rippling muscles, obnoxious laughter, uncensored sexual references and tendencies to ridicule anything slightly out of their strict guidelines on what a perfect specimen should be: are the general features of the very people I avoid. Perhaps that makes me the same as them. I don’t taunt them for being who they want to be, but I do judge them and maybe that makes me no better.
Brian isn’t much into that crowd either but these two are on the barrier between jocks and rich kids, so their families have been forcing them together since they got out of diapers.
Graham tries to subtly congratulate Brian on his latest catch and Brian’s eyes shift over to me smugly. He had to take the opportunity to brag, it’s not like he gets a whole lot of luck with the ladies.
They go on thinking I’m clueless to the poorly coded conversation until I perk up to add that actually we’d decided just to be friends in accordance with Brian finding himself unable to perform in bed.
That shuts them up.
After an awkward silence, which I found very satisfying, Denis speaks up to suggest that we head to Rodman’s convenience store to get the provisions for tonight. Rodman is a carefree Asian looking Irishman who sells weed from the back of his trailer at Elkridge Park. He’s not the type to ask for ID.
We all squeeze into Brian’s two-seater. I end up having to nearly twist off the pinkie finger of Graham the groper. And Denis the jokester, who won’t stop with the quips about my butt, gets a well deserved elbow to the ribs. It starts with comparisons to national monuments but by the time it gets to the tone deaf rendition of Baby Got Back, I’m about ready to slam my hand into his crotch. He should consider himself lucky that I’m good at anger management.
When we finally get there, I insist on keeping the car company. Denis uses my shoulder to pull up his fourteen stone build and clambers over me, leaving knee marks all over my legs. Instead of whining out a damsely “ow”, I use my whole upper body to shove him off of me. His back cracks against the stony gravel and as he groans, rolling around like a turtle stuck on its back, I can’t help but pull a wicked grin.
He finally manages to scramble to his feet and he slams the door on my witch of the west cackle. He knows not to hit a lady and it makes it all the more funny that he can’t, plus now he has to deal with Brian.
“My fucking car dude! Are you kidding me? You know what that’s worth!” The sweet sound of Brian’s outrage dims as they get through the doors of the shop.
I turn up the volume on the radio and switch through the static, boring chatter and pop songs until I get to a rock channel. I feel the light buzz of my phone in my pocket. I pull it out casually to see who’s calling me. My heart stops and the vibration becomes violent in my hand.
Two missed calls, Lucifer. Devil’s Whore calling: decline or accept.
I know which option I desperately want to pick but I know I can’t. They only call me when they’re pissed about something and the longer I put it off, the longer their anger has to boil and steam. My finger trembles around the accept button until I finally steady enough to press it.
I stumble over the word hello but my words become redundant when Morgan’s enraged shrieking blasts into my ear drums. All I can comprehend is unintelligible white noise. The quivering in my hands spreads through my arms, to my shoulders, up over my brain and back down towards my chest. I shut my mouth on my shaky breath and take in long deep inhales until the pulsing in my brain thumps softer against my skull.
I’m used to this, I’m used to having them scream and curse and tell me I’m not worth the life that God gave me. And I’m used to refracting every word to some internal corner of my brain that doesn’t let the fear or helplessness come to the surface. But I don’t have it in me today.
I manage to calm myself down to the point where I can absorb and expel words and I muster up enough to ask what it is that I did. I can hear the exasperation in her breath before she even replies.
“Your room Elena. It looks like you’ve ransacked the place! What on earth were you trying to accomplish? To get back at me? Or is this just another part of your psychotic drama that you convince people is some type of disease?”
“What are you talking about? I haven’t been to the house since I left earlier. My room was spotless.”
“So what is it you’re telling me then? Someone climbed up through your window and went through all of your things? I thought your intelligence was the one area you weren’t severely lacking in. Clearly I’ve given you far too much credit. You just wait until you get home. You have no idea what’s in store for you.”
I’ve never heard her voice at that octave before, the low hiss that comes with the worst of threats, the kind of threats that you don’t want to face.
They may not kill me, but the heartless detachment I see in their eyes when they sear my skin with cigarettes or scream at me until my ears bleed, is as unpredictable as a psychopath’s.
I hang up that second, block their numbers and throw my phone to the floor. I won’t let their wrath defeat me any longer. I won’t give in to it. I won’t live in that house another day.
And with that decision, the most powerful sensation travels over every molecule in my body. My arms and legs feel like they’re floating as the shackles gripping into them release and crash to the floor. My heart, lungs, stomach, brain, every organ in my body breaks free from its clenched cage and almost feels as though they’re expanding. Even the tensed muscles in my neck snap apart and I feel my head stretching higher to look over the grass outside; that for the first time in three years I’ll be able to walk over freely.
This is it. This is my escape. And tonight, I celebrate with beer and rowdy teenagers. I’ll worry about the rest later.
Even the part about my room.
The room that I lock every day. The room that is in the most secure house in the neighbourhood. The room that has only has one possible way into it. The window that I left wide open.