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Snippet #929

located in Life, a part of Almost an Allegory, one of the many universes on RPG.

Life

The container of experiences that a living creature goes through, whether asleep or awake.

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“Hush. I will appreciate it if you would not speak to my son in that manner, young man,” an apparition scolds me, drifting from behind a large limestone monument and wrapping her hands defensively around the boy’s shoulders. Thin and fragile though she is, I am taken aback by the gentle weariness of her words. They are spoken tenderly, as a rebuke to cherish, and with reluctance I understand why—she spoke to me as she would to a child.

My cheeks flush with embarrassment at the realization.

Brushing the back of my hand across my face, I sputter an apology. No, a pitiful explanation. “He terrified me,” it sounds, reeking of shame. Of weakness. In revulsion, I avert my gaze back to the grass, gray amongst the shadows. So strong a word, so repulsive. Why had I used it? Because it was true, I was terrified. The jaundice complexion of the boy glowing eerily in mixture of moonlight, starlight, and streetlights is a picture of death; even now.

Yet, he is as upset as I, huddling into the warmth of his mother’s embrace as though he might draw strength from her mere touch. Forcing the dark memory down into the black confusion of half-thoughts, I return my focus to her. A light blue jacket with three-quarter sleeves clings to her arms and her wavy auburn hair shimmers under the halo of a distant street lamp, contrasting the pale skin stretching over her throat and brow. She is the image of her son, but so nonthreatening. Then again, neither is he; just mischievous, albeit melancholy. And why shouldn’t he be, at a time and a place such as this? It is a graveyard, after all.

The woman’s features soften—not from hardness, but a release of anxiety—and she asks me, “You’re soaking wet and trembling. How long have you been here?”

“Hours, maybe. I fell asleep,” is my answer. I am sitting on the grass. It is time to stand, and doing so releases a hundred pools dammed in the creases of my jeans. They’re uncomfortable, chafing even, but just as well.

“You were having a nightmare,” she points out.

As I think it I say it, although I know not from what twisted well of my heart it rises from, “This is the time and place for nightmares.”

At first she won’t speak. I see her lips draw into a tight line, sealing away some knowledge I’m unwilling to receive. The moment is awkward, because of me, so I put an end to it, “What time is it? I should go call a cab, head home.”

“Past midnight,” she says, but there is more in her eyes. Fine. I’ll wait. Fighting is always too much effort when there is nothing worth fighting for. “My name is Edna. Now,”—she patiently reaches for my name, and I acquiesce— “Sable, you will catch pneumonia if you stay here in the cold, and there is no cab service this late at night. We live a short walk from here. Please, come dry yourself and get warm.”

Her son glances up apprehensively, but with excitement gleaming in his eyes. The look of a child with few friends and less company. With a ruffle of his hair from above, he lightens from ghoul to just a kid. It would be cruel of me to deny them this offering.

“Okay,” I say.

“My name is David,” he chirps.

Somehow, I already knew.

Our walk is short, quiet, peaceful. We don’t speak. Doing so would be unnecessary, perhaps sacrilege amongst these markers of loss. Then, before I’m ready, we’re gone, passing through an opening in the rusty spike fence surrounding Hope Cemetery. Opposite, the street is still, with a few old cars along the curb and even older trees straining through the crumbling sidewalk. A thin brick building with an awning, bay windows, and double doors, like one of those old time stores, is directly across from us. We don’t enter through them. Instead, David leads us into an unlit alcove and up a flight of stairs barely visible off the side of the building.

From darkness to light, Edna’s living room is small, with a Goodwill couch and no television. Seeing the yellow wallpaper is what does it for me. This mother and her son aren’t just poor, but ascetics. Probably the religious sort, although there aren’t any observable crucifixes or statues. I take another look, and see a pile of books in the corner and some toys in the middle of the room. Well, not toys, but rudimentary art. This mother’s prized possessions; her son’s labor.

“David, please show Sable to the washroom while I put on some tea,” Edna says.

If I weren’t so cold, I might protest, but instead I follow David around the corner that is their hall and into a little bathroom. He flips on the light, and a fan turns on with it; loud enough to block out most thoughts. Like the living room before, this room is also cast in a yellow pallor, from the tiles on the walls to the obscenely-large light fixture. David pulls a towel from underneath the sink cabinet and sets it on top. It is a dark green terrycloth towel. Probably their best one. Next he pulls back the shower curtain and turn the water on, making sure it is at the right temperature.

“We aren’t suppose to take too long,” he reminds me, then steps out, closing the door.

“Thanks,” I call after him, loudly enough to be heard over the exhaust, and then toe my sneakers off. Gazing down at them, I realize David and Edna had removed theirs at the door. Edna’s carpet is probably a mess thanks to me. Not wanting to waste their running water ruminating on how poor a guest I’ve already proven myself, I peel away my socks, jeans, and the rest. Everything in a pile on same chilly tile floor my feet are sticking to. That’s enough. I step into the shower, pull the curtain shut, and close my eyes. Warm liquid rushes over my face and steam fills my nostrils.

While the cold rain of the graveyard had brought dreams of death, these hot streams stinging my chest recall memories of life. The idea of bathing in another person’s home always freaked me out. Even at my best friend’s house, when I was the same age as this woman’s kid, my buddy would sit on the toilet seat and talk to me to keep me calm. Sometimes he’d jump in, romp around, mess around, and facts like us being naked and me being claustrophobic disappeared into the vapor. That had gone on for a few good years.

Memories like that can send a handful of minutes crashing against a wall, compressing them so they feel as if not even a moment has gone by. I’m not cold, my teeth aren’t chattering, and that means my time in here is up.

Turning off the water, I pull the curtain aside, and bite down on my lip to reign in torrent of profanity bashing against my skull. The kid is sitting on the toilet next to me, feet not even reaching the floor, with a stack of clothing folded on his lap. My pile is gone.

“Mommy said you can wear these while she washes yours,” David explains, inspecting me shamelessly like boys his age do. Of course I’m upset with him, but it is my fault for not locking the door. Back at school and even now in college, guys with younger siblings would complain about their privacy being violated on a regular basis. Nevertheless, carefully reaching across David for the towel, I feel dirty. Like I should scrub myself until my flesh is raw.

‘Just wait a few years, kid,’ I snarl inwardly, but regret the sentiment. He isn’t hurting me. With only a mother as a parent, he is probably afraid and confused, like I was at first.

“What’s that?” he asks. Following his gaze down, I frown. “Something to keep me safe.”

“A band around your ankle keeps you safe?” he presses, incredulous.

His answer is a bop upside the head, and then I grab the pajama bottoms from his lap. The floor is warm now, and feels as good against my feet as the cotton does around my waist. David hands me the plain white T-shirt and I flip the light switch down.

“Your mom is waiting, kid,” is my best muster.