My Worst Nightmare

mk, you've been forewarned- this is some prose I've done recently, and it's long, so I don't expect many to conquer it, but, well, here you go :]







At first, way up in the sky, far above the house where the tallest tree in the neighborhood stood, a dead leaf, the last one left perhaps, shifted in the wind. Stirring only for a moment, it fell, and so did a plate of good china in the kitchen of the small house below it. An omen perhaps? Perhaps…
It was gold in color, a good strong maple leaf; strong, that is, until tomorrow, when it would dry and crinkle with the rest of its brothers, scattered aimlessly on the yard, the bushes, the sidewalk. And for those who believe in such things, it too bore fair resemblance to an omen.
Against the sky, with the breeze, the leaf tumbled. The wind never picked up, so it made its way fairly easily to the front door, placed itself delicately on the doormat, and did not stir again. And, as if by some cue, the pasty white door creaked open, to reveal the bare toes of a young woman, maybe 20, and through the clear storm door, a smile was to be seen billowing out of her heart and stretching across her façade. A few faint clicks of old springs, and one more creak, and the tall glass door opened, and not a moment to soon, as the feet of the woman crawled anxiously onto the doormat, and further out, onto the cold cement sidewalk.
Shuffling through more dead leaves of the autumn months, the woman stopped before the sidewalk ended in the grass- the cold, wet ground too foreboding to her bare toes. She did not act single-handedly, however. Ahead of her, if you were to follow her intent stare, a long red car, sure to have seen a few better days, rocked slightly as the driver side door slammed. Out of it had come a man, just barely 30, adorned with large dark jeans, an old black hoodie wrapped over a blue plaid shirt, a metal link necklace tangled in its collar. The face, round, warm, and kind, lay beneath a thin beard of dark brown, and the same color of hair poked out from under a faded tan caddy hat.
It’s been so long, she wants to say. She wants to scream, How have you been, and, What took you so long?
But she doesn’t. She smiles, ear to ear, and he walks up to her. And for a minute, a mirror passes between the two, and their smiles are huge, and the same. And not even Hello would matter now.

***

Inside a turkey cooks, steam resonates off of the small stove; pots and pans full of dark, rich food, and the smell of a holiday is thick in the pastes and warm meat, and around the small kitchen. When the man walks inside his mother looks up. Before she could say anything, he smiles and asks What happened, pointing to the white shards she’s sweeping that were once a plate, whole.
And soon everyone sits, the five of them, all that’s left of the family really, just them in this house, this small house, where everyone grew up together, mother, father, sister, brother, sister. Everyone eats together and they talk. They catch up on things. The young woman and her 30 year old brother joking and laughing. She wants to ask him how long he will be here, but it will be too hard she thinks. It would be a let down, she suspects. Instead they discuss CDs, they talk about music, and he tells her about a book he read.
Later that night, the sun is down and the table is cleared. The house stills smells rich and seasoned, and the fridge now bursting with cold turkey, gravy, potatoes, and stuffing. In the adjacent room the five of them sit, packed, but not crowded. Mom and Dad in the arm chairs, the older siblings on the couch, and the youngest woman on the floor. It’s quiet, but not silent. The local news plays on the TV, but on the commercials they chat, making small, friendly talk. The girl knows it’s an anticlimactic way to end. She knows this, but she understands it. And it only took 20 years, she thinks, and smiles, but not happily. And she thinks she’s the only one who really understands.
I’m going to Wal-Mart, the brother says, looking down at his younger sister, who’s not watching the TV. Do you want to come?

***

For a moment, wandering around the oversized grocery store, the two are young again. The girl is 13 and he is 23, and he’s excited to be out of school, and she’s growing up too fast. For a bit, they look at CDs, talk about new bands, old bands, a band they haven’t heard of. He buys food he needs to take back to his place, and she wonders about his place.
She hasn’t seen it yet, though he’s been there for almost six months now. It’s so far for her to come, she’ll say, though it’s not so far from her parents home, the home they’re all at now. I don’t want to go there, she thinks, because it’s more for me to remember.
And now, for a moment, she’s 16, and he’s 26, and the world is changing. And she didn’t see him for months. And she remembers how she cried. But it’s not so hard now, is it? she asks herself. She says No, but she still remembers. She could still think about the fun they had when she was small, when he was younger. She could still feel the strange vacancy of her soul, if she’d allow it.
Did you want anything, he asks her. They’re still in the store, but they’re going to leave soon.
Beef jerky, she says, and he smiles, because he too was remembering a different time.

***

And when they’re in the car, and it’s completely dark now, he heads off to get ice cream. It’s strange, because they just had Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s not Thanksgiving. So she’s wondering now when the last time was that their family was together on an actual holiday; when everyone had the time. And he sits by her, silent, wondering the same thing.
But once again, they’re smart. They know they can’t think of sad things like that. This time, right now, is important. So, they get their ice cream, and they eat it home, and they laugh as he spills it on himself as he drives. But she looks at the passenger seat floor of his car, and it’s still full of trash, just like every car he has owned has been since he could drive. It’s just like him, she thinks. But then she laughs more so he won’t know she was thinking.

***

Sometimes it’s the sun that wakes her up in the mornings, sometimes it’s the temperature, and sometimes it’s because she can’t sleep anymore. But today, it was the movement. For an hour, she was still in the bed of her old room, listening to them in the living room. He had woken up early, but he probably didn’t even go to bed, she thinks, and it’s true.
Finally, before he leaves, she crawls out of bed, lethargic and chilly, and hugs him before he disappears. And it’s just like every other time. Except now, he’s farther, and she’s farther, and it would be more time apart. And it was so hard sometimes, she knew this, and for years she wondered if he knew it. So again, she thinks, Does it hurt him? Does he ignore it?
His car backs out, and drifts down the road before she could blink, it seems. And he is gone, for an unknown amount of minutes, and there is a hollow feeling in her again, one that only stays for an hour maybe, but it makes her want to die.
She hates it too, maybe, he wonders, in his old car. Loud music plays through the speakers, music she would know, music he taught her to love. Should I ever tell her she’s my best friend? he asks, almost out loud.
So now he drives, half heartedly, back to his apartment, thinking. So over the hours he’s 10 years old, and she’s born, and it’s strange because he and his older sister are so old, and here is this new baby, and how will it like them, and how is she so small? But then when she knows him and she can say his name later, she likes him, and he knows it. So he plays with her, he shows her Hotwheels and Legos and Star Wars, but he doesn’t think she’ll like them because she’s a little girl. But they’re always playing with his toys, even though she gets a tea set, and she takes him to her tea party. But it doesn’t matter to him, because his baby sister thinks he’s great.
Now he’s almost home, maybe another hour or so. It always makes the time go faster if he thinks about sad things, he thinks. But when he looks out of his windshield he blinks when a raindrop hits it, as if from a reflex, unknowing of the windshield that blocked the rain. And he thinks that it will be slower now, and all this rain will shadow something happy for him to think about, so he doesn’t have to think of how he’s 30 and his baby sister is 20, and they’re old, and they don’t play anymore. But of course, clouds don’t have feelings, so it rains.
It pours.
For a second the rain is thick, and everything is the same color. Everything slurs and the clouds are on the ground and the road is in the sky, because nothing has an end. It’s gray all around, save for one gap. One thing breaching the sheet of rain, penetrating the ugly cloud he is stuck in.
Headlights.
He sees now, everything he’d just seen, and everything he was missing. Scrapes of metal all around him, crunching, spinning, but he just wants to lay his head down. He is angry because everything seems slow. He thinks it is a waste to end it like this, that he can’t chose what he will see last. And he is angry because he knows he doesn’t have this kind of time. It should be over and done with, he thinks. I want to pick an instant, he thinks.
And all he sees is one moment he regrets. Sitting with her, eating, when she was just barely 16. And they are harsh with each other, angry, for no reason, but it is not obvious. Both thinking the same thing, but no one else registering the fierceness of each of their retaliations. They just want to hate each other a little more. They want to leave angry, to not care so much, and she thinks it is stupid, and he thinks he will regret it, and it is, and he does.
And humanity didn’t have words to describe his bitterness, his anger, at the fact that fate threw this memory on him last, and he shouts something unheard of, something he forgets as soon as he shouts it, and he gets to lay his head down.

***

It’s almost time for him to be home, she thinks. She’s sitting at the table now, alone, eating a turkey sandwich for supper, while her father sleeps, and her sister and mother shop. For a second, she notices her heart beating unusually fast, and she looks at her hands and wonders when she developed the habit of biting her nails. She thinks, Usually when I drum them, you can hear it.
And so the phone rings, and she thinks, I bet that’s him.
Posted on June 24th, 2008 at 02:30am

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