The woman stayed where she was, huddled over the road. Her dark coat made near everything about her hard to determine save from her drooped shoulders, and slumped head. She looked like one with lost hopes, as with the territory of those among the homeless ranks. For the most part, that was true. So why not make time out of the day to help someone like her? Any good Samaritan would, and it was about time to change how people think of me. But that had nothing to do with this poor woman, it was just a thought.
The woman seemed to pay no attention to her surroundings, only the ground in front of her held her attention. So it was dreadfully easy to walk up to her and take a seat next to this poor soul. She didn't even react when a bag was placed next to her. Poor woman...
A standard greeting of “Hey,” was given, with only a nod as a response or sign that she acknowledged my presence. This was fairly normal; she was always in this strange stupor until you pulled her out of it. You just had to know how to go about it.
“Are you doing alright, Mrs. Peters?”
A shrug was her response, but she said nothing, nor did anything else.
“Are you sure?”
This time, a nod.
“Well, alright. Just know that I am worried about you, Mrs. Peters. I just want you to be happy, so I'll ask this again: are you doing alright, Mrs. Peters?”
Mrs. Peters shifted the way her coat laid over her shoulders, shooting a glance at me without ever truly looking up.
“About as fine as anyone in this situation,” she rasped. She sounded parched, her voice hoarse and scratchy. But there was nothing I could do about that, sadly. Mrs. Peters would remain like that. Attempts to change this in the past only brought about poor results.
“Well, you're obviously a little better; it didn't take as long for me to grab your attention. That's an improvement.” I let a small smile grace my lips for a moment to reassure her it was alright, despite everything that had happened. That it'd be okay.
She returned the smile for a moment, for it disappeared as quickly as it came. She never turned her gaze away from the wet asphalt, however. Either she was still out of it, or simply didn't want to make eye contact. Knowing Mrs. Peters, though, it was more likely the latter.
“I don’t think I’d be this...conscious, I guess that’s the word I’m thinking of, if it weren't for you.” She let out a sigh, closing those wary eyes of hers. “Why have you been so persistent? You never knew me, but you've made a point of taking time out of your day just to sit here. Why? Why do you even bother?”
“Why not?” I wrapped blonde and black hair around my finger, looking out into the street while giving Mrs. Peters a sideways glance. “I just saw a lonely being sitting out here in the persistent rain, cowering under her jacket. Naturally, my first thought was to help her, and here we are now, four years and twenty-six full conversations later. I'm just happy to see you talking finally, since you absolutely refused to speak for a good two-and-a-half years. I'm glad to help, if it means your improvement. Anything to get you back to peak mental condition.” To add on to the statement, and hopefully get this soul to smile just a little again, I rested a hand on my chest dramatically and added a similar dramatic flare to my tone. “Even if I must sell my own soul to the higher powers in the stars, or Satan himself, I swear unto you that I will help you return to your previous state of mind, humor and all.”
Much to my pleasant surprise, Mrs. Peters began to laugh, covering her face as she did so. Scratchy, twisted, and demented as it sounded, hearing this unfortunate woman laugh was a reward enough in its own right. Just simply knowing she found something funny was enough for me. But, making someone like Mrs. Peters laugh wasn't nearly enough. Continuing in my effort to aid her was, unfortunately, necessary. Someone in her state of mind wasn't going anywhere any time soon.
After a few moments passed, Mrs. Peters calmed down, returning to her normal disposition and pose I knew her to maintain. Sad, lonely, and distant; almost as if the ground she stared at endlessly were draining the life out of her with every passing moment, tearing her soul from this existence to the darker, possibly tortuous other. Very little could pull her out of this depressing stupor; the fact her speaking this long was an absolute miracle in its own right. And God and gods forbid she ever laugh; the rare occasions that she actually did, such as the case that was mere moments ago, were like hearing a dead language spoken after years of disuse, millenia even: rough, clunky, but amazing nonetheless.
But it was times like my silence then to think on what Mrs. Peters and others like her always asked me: “Why bother?”
Why, indeed? I could easily go about my way and leave people like Mrs. Peters alone, damned to rot, sentenced to fester in their misery and contemplate awful, terrible things to do to themselves and others. I could be like my sister, who drowns it all out by drowning in the liquor she consumes on the daily, but I could never bring myself to fall so far as to allow myself to slip into substance abuse. I wasn't that desperate to mute the voices of those who needed it the most. It would be cruel. God bless my sister, she is a sweetheart through and through, but by silencing the world with various alcoholic drinks, she is inadvertently cruel to those who need help, and need it the most. The poor, unfortunate, lost souls of Lolar needed someone to open an ear to them, extend a hand in the hopes of helping them. They shouldn't be ignored, no matter how far they've gone.
Even difficult cases like Mrs. Peters.
Just by reading the expression on her face, even with how shrouded it was by her matted hair, and slouched posture, I could tell she was slipping again. If nothing were to be done, she'd fall back into her slump, and I'd have to start all over again. I couldn't allow this.
To catch her attention, I moved my bag so I could better access it, rummaging around noisily to keep her focus on me, and what I was doing. After a few moments of this, pawing around in my bag and its many contents, I pulled out a folder labeled “For Mrs. Peters,” and held it up for her to see.
“Is that it?” she rasped. Her gaze fell to my hand as I nodded and confirmed her statement. The one eye I could see seemed to widen as she gave her full attention to me.
“I told you I'd look it up.” I closed my bag while my other hand passed the folder to Mrs. Peters so she could check its contents. “I'm surprised you remember this. You don't usually remember exact conversations. I'd say that's a major improvement. I wonder what ever could've done that?”
“You've made an impression on me, I guess,” came her throaty reply. A shaky hand slipped from her coat to take the folder from me. I could see her flipping through the documents inside, and I swore I caught her eyes widen when she stopped to hover over one particular photo included.
“He's that old now?” she rasped, her voice trembling with her hands. When she got her confirmation, a weak laugh came from her, maybe even a laugh of disbelief. “I can't believe it's actually been that long...God, he's twenty-two now?” Tears seemed to well up in her eyes as she sat there, a hand over her mouth.
“Like I’ve said, and have said many times before, you've been here as long as I could remember. This just verifies the fact you've been here as long as I've existed, only with a few extra months add on to it to make the time a bit longer than my own time in this world.”
“Fifteen years...” I caught her mumbling. “He was so little...I...”
I cleared my throat, catching her attention again. “He's in college now, you know. He's studying criminal justice at an esteemed school. I actually met him. He seems to be well off.”
The growing puddle beneath Mrs. Peters rippled as tears were added to the mix of rain water, rainbow-y oil, and a dark liquid that was hard to determine the origin of. She trembled again, silent sobs racking her body. The folder that held the information on her son fell to the ground as her hands went to cover her mouth.
“He's doing alright,” she said, her voice cracking as she spoke. “He's actually doing alright. I-” She paused and looked at me fully for the first time since I met her, her pale, gaunt face obscured by her messy, matted hair. Her eyes seemed to bore into mine as she removed bloodied hands from her mouth. “Is he happy? Is he doing alright without me? He's not stuck in the past, is he?!”
As much as I hate to admit it, I flinched when she turned to face me. She told me why she kept her head down like that: to avoid being stared at because of some ungodly disfigurement. I always thought it ridiculous that she'd hide herself like that, and never believed it was as severe as it actually was, and as fitting as the apt description of “ungodly.” Blood eternally trickled down the left half of her face from the large wound where no skin remained, and not enough flesh was left to cover her cracked skull. Her arms were twisted under her coat, and her palms, of which I could clearly see, had a similar treatment done to them as her face; palms stripped of skin as well as most of her flesh to reveal those white bones of hers. That eternal puddle by the bus stop continued to have her life essence fed into it, growing darker still with that rich red.
Try as I might, I could never get that picture out of my head of her skinless visage, and the red blood that dripped from her face and matted her hair together. Those lifeless eyes that seemed to glace over as she looked at me. It took every force of my will to not react too violently or make any kind of verbal exclamation. Flinching was just an unfortunate natural reaction.
To not upset her further with how I reacted to her startling appearance, I held a hand up to calm her down and answer her questions.
“He's happy, and is doing very well. I think he's trying to be as happy as he can possibly be, with all things considered. Everything he does, he has you in mind. He cares about you greatly, and will never forget you.” I, however, would never forget that grotesque face.
There was a long pause after that, filled to the brim with tense silence. Mrs. Peters looked at me with those dull, sad eyes of hers, tears welling up and diluting the blood that clung to her face. She sat there for a good long while, mouth hung open from speechlessness. It was a miracle her jaw remained attached this whole time, what with the missing muscle around it. It wasn't a significant thought, to wonder about her jaw; just my own morbid curiosity slipping through yet again.
She continued to stare at me for moments longer, her hollow eyes unblinking. The look she gave me, hard to discern what with the distracting gore, was as if no one had shown her an ounce of kindness in her life or afterlife; that look as if my actions were a surprising enigma. A pang of sadness resonated through me at this, staying only for a moment before I brushed it away. I doubt that pitying her would help her feel any better. I had to keep a straight face.
That task was difficult in its own right as Mrs. Peters did something I never expected, nor predicted for her to ever do: initiate physical contact. Even more startling was not just the fact she moved from her normal position, but the fact she hugged me. Grasped me tightly in her mangled, broken arms.
It was a strange feeling. I could see the blood that seeped from those open wounds, feel it on my skin, and smell the life essence that came from her face, arms, and hands. Everything told me that it was there, being smeared all over my clothes and body. But it wasn't. I had to keep telling myself it was alright, despite the fact I could clearly feel something that wasn't there. It was a confusing sensation; one I had to fight through in order to respond accordingly to her.
Releasing the constrained breath that I had unintentionally imprisoned within myself, I wrapped my arms around her, patting her head in reassurance. She was still crying, audibly this time. Between broken, hoarse sobs, she thanked me. Over, and over again. Thanked me for checking up on her son, thanked me for talking with her, and thanked me for my kindness.
It was a good minute or so before she finally pulled back, a smile spread across that mauled face of hers. Disturbing as it was, it was almost relieving to see.
“He's safe,” she kept repeating, staring at me with a genuine look of happiness on her face. “He's fine. He's alright. Thank you so much, Rose. I wish I could repay you. I just. Thank you.”
A smile spread across my face, despite my now bloody appearance. “It's no problem at all, Mrs. Peters. You don't have to do anything. I'm just happy I could help you.”
A small sigh came from Mrs. Peters as she slumped against the bus station, sitting up fully and looking around her for once in her afterlife. I noticed her looking right at me as I stood up and bowed my head in apology. I had to leave, that I explained to her. I had to get back home and get to my work before it got too late. Thankfully, she understood. She still continued to thank me. Over, and over again. I guess I did make leave an impression on her. Maybe one for the better.
As I made to leave, I couldn't help but look back. Half expecting her to be back to slouching over the asphalt, I was relieved to see her standing up and looking out beyond the town, coat still wrapped around her shoulders, but not using it as a shield this time, but more to keep it close to her as if it were the last reminder of her living self.
A smile spread back across my face as I turned to leave. I knew I wasn't nearly done with her, as she still hung around, but to at least make her life a little happier while she still existed in this plane was enough for one day. I'd still come back tomorrow and talk to her; that wouldn't change. This was just a step forward towards progress in bringing her back to the way she was when she still drew breath.
To think that anything was different at my house was a ridiculous notion. For as always, that looming manor surrounded by the trees of Lolar’s outskirts stood there like a dark reminder of the desolation brought about through isolation. It stood alone amongst the towering pines and firs, and amidst a few spindly, boney birches that were transplanted by my mother’s hand, poorly per the locale. It’s not that they were sickly, oh no. It’s just that they stood out and looked incredibly gaudy. And, to be blunt, incredibly weird.
The lawn was barely kept, showing the telltale signs of neglect. It needed to be tended to – mowed, weeded, pruned – yet had not. And per the norm, as it was my sister’s turn to do so, it fell upon me to uphold her responsibility lest she harm her intoxicated self in the process. Wouldn’t want a fingerless sister, now, would I?
My statement of nothing changing applied not only to the sorry state of our lawn, but to the inside of my place of residence, as well. The porch, entry way, and hallways were spotless, yes, but a strange dissonance accompanied it. It was the habitual, and almost obsessive method in which everything was cleaned, like a specter digging itself further and further into the rut that was its afterlife, doomed to repeat the same tasks over and over again for time immemorial.
So were the repetitive habits held by my mother, the kind of drunk that cleans anything she lays her eyes on.
But even with how precisely clean everything was, it still felt as abandoned as the front lawn looked. Nothing had moved from its place in as... well, as long as I could remember. Nothing was out of place, everything was the epitome of neat.
Well, save for the one place that I walked into that was almost always occupied; the kitchen.
As usual, a pile of dishes was stacked haphazardly on the kitchen counter, surrounded by similar stacks that were waiting for me to deal with them. My sister keeps saying she’ll do them, but never goes through with it; thankfully not out of malice. I had to make a mental note, though, to do them tonight while she was asleep.
And per the norm of my household, lo and behold who should be lying on the kitchen table: none other than my dear older sister, Roxy, liquor bottles strewn around her, with one settled close to her hand. Well, it is how they say: speak of the devil, and he shall come. Or in this case, she.
This sight didn’t anger me like it would most other people; no, what should have made me angry with her only made me pity her. I’ll be honest: I feel bad for her, what with this state she’s in. I’ve been trying my absolute hardest to pull her out of this slump, but with no success. Poltergeists were easier to help than she was, as sad it was to say. But I don’t blame her recession; having the same spectral ability that I have was too much for her, and combined with the death of her best friend, and having an unsupportive mother, her fall into intoxication was no surprise. Yes, I wish she would help out more often, but I don’t blame her for not. It’s why the slack is always picked up by me, myself, and, we should never forget the most important person, I.
My entrance wasn’t ignored, seeing as Roxy looked up lazily from the table and acknowledged my presence. Well, not lazily. More like tiredly. Did she even get any sleep? Or did she just knock out on the table again?
“Morning, Roxy,” I greeted simply. “Planning on sobering up any time soon?”
That statement earned me a critical look from my sister, and next to no time was wasted on her reply.
“Don’t start fuckin’ with my head, Rosie. I know damn well what time it is, don’t need you goin’ around with your. Your weirdo black magic makin’ me think you control time.” She spoke with a slight lilt, a slur that persisted despite her obvious best attempts. “And I’ll be sober when I’m damn ready to be. And that is not today. Hell naw, sis. Sober isn’t a place I’m goin’ to be in any time soon.”
With an attitude like that, it was as clear as the day that I was going to lose my sister to liver failure, and these were going to be her famous last words.
I crossed my arms over my chest and looked her over, making a display of this snarky action to emphasize on the fact I was harassing her. “Oh, really? Then please, pray tell me what time it is?”
I knew it was 4:53 in the afternoon. If she could remember how to read a clock, then this would be, as she puts it, a no brainer.
Roxy snorted, her shoulders rising and falling with her laughter. “Holy shit, sis, that’s an easy one.” Another becoming snort escaped her as she sat up, propping her head on her hand whilst giving me a smug look like she had already won. “It’s EST. Eastern Skaian Time.”
The silence that accompanied her statement almost seemed planned for a strange, comedic effect that those that live above had intended for this whole time.
I sighed loudly and covered my face with my hand, shaking my head. “Roxy, I said time. Not time zone. There’s a difference. Actually, quite a huge difference. Why don’t you try again?”
She blinked and stared at me. “Try...what again?”
And here was this routine again. Unfortunately, I wasn’t thinking and continued like any other person would. “Telling the time.”
“Telling the time what?”
“What time it is.”
“Oh, easy. EST.”
“No, I meant currently.”
“Time. What time is it?”
“Rosie, I already said. EST.”
“And I already said EST was Eastern Skaian Time. Why don’t you tell the time?”
“Yeah, alright. Clock, it’s Eastern Skaian Time. Rosie’s being dumb again and not listening, so you. You’re the only one who understands me. Mister clock, be my friend again.”
“You’re talking to a clock.”
“You told me to.”
“No, I asked you to tell the time.”
“And I told the time that it’s EST. What more do you want?”
“How about you tell me what time it is?”
“Standard twelve hour. We don’t do military time here, Rose. That’d be so fuckin’ weird if we did.”
“Standard twelve...Roxy, I don’t want to know about military time.”
“Then spill it already, Rose! What do you want?”
“I’ve already told you.”
“Nah, you’ve told me shit. What’s it you want from me?”
“To tell the time.”
“Clock! Rose wants something but she won’t tell me!”
And there came the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“God fucking damn it all, tell me what time it is currently. Because I really don’t want to do this Labyrinth routine all over again. We’re going ‘round in circles, and we’re getting nowhere. Just tell me what the damned time is.”
She knew I was on to her. Admittedly, I felt bad for letting my anger get the best of me. I still feel bad I let her get to me that easily. I suppose the mixture of all of my chores weighing me down, along with watching her slip like that caught me in not the most favorable of moods. It doesn’t change the fact I was short with her, but I’m just human. What do you expect? We all make mistakes here and again. Even I, Rose Lalonde, makes mistakes. But that’s a secret best kept to myself and my writings.
Much to my relief, Roxy didn’t seem very fazed by that sudden snap. On the contrary, she seemed to find it funny. She let out a snort after my snippy comment, almost falling forward onto the table in front of her. I could never understand why she found things like that funny, but at least I made her laugh and didn’t upset her. That was the only positive side to my outburst.
“Nah, I’m just messin’ with ya. 4:55, Rosie. 4:55.” This shit eating grin was spread wide across her face, giving her the semblance of the one she so dearly loved, that estranged Cheshire Cat. I should’ve gotten mad at her, but I couldn’t. This was my sister, after all. So I let a rare laugh escape me as I made to leave.
“Well, at least you can tell time.” I shook my head out of bemusement, almost as an attempt to erase any and all frustration. “Now that my mind’s at ease, I shall take my leave. I’ve dire work that needs to be done, and I can tarry no longer.”
"Then get goin’, ya nerd.” A loud snort escaped her as she stood up herself. “You’re the only thing keepin’ you here. Mooove.”
My only response to that was a shake of my head, and an unseen roll of my eyes. Giving her any kind of verbal response seemed unnecessary, so I just went about my way to the stairwell.
As was the layout of my home, I had to walk past the closed door of my mother’s office. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind; she was in there, toiling away at whatever it was she did for work. She never told us what she did, just told us to leave her alone while she was well, working. Most of the time, I highly doubted she was in there working. No problem for me, considering Roxy’s constant intoxicated state was near inherited. I’m fairly certain that she spends most of her time in there drinking her life away, and not working. And I can say this with certainty as in all of my life, I’ve never seen my mother in a sober state once, just as Mrs. Peters has always been there, at the bus station. Roxy even confirmed my own observations, noting she’d never seen mother dearest sober. She was perpetually intoxicated, and just downright tipsy.
Something about my mother made me uneasy. Shame I’m not very introspective; I had no clue, not the foggiest hint, as to why I felt that way about my own mother. I just did. I can’t say it was pleasant, living in such apprehension; all I can really say is nothing, as I held no strong feelings on the matter.
I simply avoided taking an opinion.
The trek back to my room took a minute or three, as I traversed the flights of stairs and winding corridors. Dark and eerie, they were, with dark scenes depicting waterfronts and fields. The lighting of the hallway made these somber pictures appear demented and unwelcoming, which made the walk to my room all the more fun.
I did make it there in one piece, however. Not a scratch upon my pale skin; nothing of the sort. And once I was in the sanctum of my bedroom, I finally felt alone enough to cast my guard to the wind and just relax.
Bag tossed haphazardly to the ground, and homework extracted from it in a not-so graceful manner of tearing it and the other contents of my bag out of it and onto the ground to locate it, I set to working on this frivolous task. As I spent a few hours or so on my “homework,” I couldn’t help but muse at the fact I was doing this, after many years of self teaching and quote-unquote, “homeschooling.” I swore I’d never set foot in a school, for the petty reason of not wanting to seem like a little Roxy Minor, or fall into the horrendous stereotypes that plague the television. I didn’t want to be that friendless, cynical goth girl I pitied so often. I didn’t want to have to deal with those supposed jocks, or cheerleaders they hung around. Demonic teachers, fights in hallways; all of it was painted so vividly on numerous television shows, and written out so clearly in many books I happened to read. With how consistent these stereotypes were, I couldn’t help but believe them to be true, and the more I believed them, the more I wanted to stay at home, safe from the world, and take things at my own pace and not the predetermined pace of the accursed public school.
But I then realized how easy it was to fall into restlessness. How quickly one became stir crazy, and how aggravating the isolation was. Yes, I could study what I pleased, but staying at home with my drunken mother made me feel more alone than I truly was.
Well, homeschooling’s not for everyone; that I learned the hard way. School isn’t as terrible as I imagined it to be, but it was still bad. While it was admittedly lacking the rampant stereotypes, it was filled to the brim with infecting apathy that it was almost as intoxicating as my sister’s favorite brand of whiskey. The only way I could tolerate it was my small group of friends, and the prospect of seeing them near every day; it was that simple reason that kept me going back there.
But I still can’t get on board with the idea of homework, though. Yes, I will do it. No, I will not like it. My disdain for it stemmed from how long it took to complete it, wasting good hours that could be used to hone my artistic abilities in both the literary and graphical senses. I could be doing so much more in my spare time: reading, practicing on my beloved instrument of choice, trekking through our dense forest out back, but no. I had to sit here for tortuous hours and go through this menial task I had to complete lest they deem me as a dunce. I still stand by my point of it taking too long, however; because having yet to even finish it, my phone’s timer went off, alerting me of one of my many chores: dinner for my sister and I. While it wasn’t a particularly long task, it was still a task in its own that I did in my lonesome.
It never used to be like that. Roxy used to cook for the both of us. After a while, I started to help her and learn the skills for myself. But thanks to her current debilitated state, the task has now fallen solely onto me. Joy. It’s really no wonder why we have so much take-out trash laying about the house.
And really, before I knew it, I was back in my personal sanctuary, finishing up my homework. Dinner doesn’t take that long to make, as it was just throwing together some leftovers and making sure Roxy didn’t burn herself, and ate something that was remotely healthy. So it took little to no time to finish that task and get back to the hellish one called “homework.” And so things continued that way. The night remained as it had been for the past year or so:
Dreary and uneventful; boring and our Lalondian brand of “normal.”