|The Last WinterChapter I ZoeREVISED
Author: Travis Smith PM
Set in a perpetual winter, humanity clings onto hope as government mandated profiles rule peoples lives. Society has taken to underground networks for refuge and a new age of class warfare erupts.Rated: Fiction M - English - Sci-Fi/Fantasy - Chapters: 2 - Words: 13,657 - Updated: 05-28-12 - Published: 05-17-12 - id: 3023440
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Michael awoke from his bed first that morning, at the window he noticed what he had been seeing for the past several months. More dead birds. They had fallen from the power-lines, been struck dead by the cold. Several of them lay on the street, sitting silently before the scavengers came to claim them. He saw one of them fall flat from window-ledge, like a statue it crashed to the ground and lay still. It was strange he thought, although he would not fully realize it until his later years had claimed him. A tiny windowless bird song, I'll never hear that sound again.
A Robin perched itself upon the edge of the house. Why haven't you sought refuge somewhere far away? He wondered, then coming to an obvious realization he considered himself dull—there is nowhere else. This is home now. The robin pecked in desperation huddling itself in a few branches before a cold still came over it. It's eyes zombified as it stared at Michael. I'm so sorry friend, he said to himself.
There was a light snow falling. It was a few inches Michael estimated, as he blew warm air into his hands. It was now May. The air had not reached above 45 degrees since October. The sun came out only momentarily, sticking it's head through the gray to remind everyone briefly that there were signs of life from somewhere far away. On shores made of gold, in galaxies of distant seas.
Michael could see planets in the morning horizon. They had become clear like they were speaking to him, every day getting closer and whispering to make haste and escape this sinking ship. No. Michael would reply. Not this day. I must endure this day at least once more, humanity has survived this long, we can weather this storm too. Can't you see our plight? Cant you see our worth? He would ask. The planets never did have answer for him.
His older brother Eliot slept a bit longer. He and Michael both shared a room but Eliot was slower to leave the warmth of his bed. He had strange dreams that night of cascading mountains and far off skies. They were not typical of his usual fantasies about pitching in the world series, or shaking hands with Pete Rose. He tossed over scenes of underground tunnels. Skies that bled, and and endless visions of snow. He would later account it to the fact they had so much strange weather recently. It was making it's way into his dreams he concluded. Nothing more. When he did awake fully, he pushed off the sheets and turned over. There he saw that the twin bed opposite of him was empty, Michael was by the window.
He was in a focused pose. Estimating the amount of snow they had received, calculating as always. Michael knew the measurement of every structure on the block simply by studying it for a few moments. The mailbox was 4 and half feet of the ground, although now buried, lost for the ages. His favorite tree in the front yard overlooking the street. At least 150 years old. That had now grown exactly 32 and a half feet. A few of the top branches now hunched off about to fall however, but still he was approximate. Simple math he deducted. Not an inch off.
"Not just freezing today, it's snowing as well." He said to Eliot. Motioning to him to come towards the window.
Eliot looked at his brother. He was a blur for a moment as his eyes adjusted. He could see the light shine of him and for a moment Michael looked surreal. Soon enough the vision cleared and Eliot got up and joined his brother. He was a head taller than Michael, and much more robust. It made Michael feel inferior in that regard. He was three years younger than Eliot but no where near his height or mass. Everyone would insist it was a growth spurt, and that Michael would hit his soon. Michael knew better though, something told him he would need to build his mind if he ever wanted to adequately compete with others. So he studied computers, and decided he would learn to build them like their father. But that wasn't enough, he needed to learn everything if he truly wanted to be superior. No one would doubt him due to his size.
Outside Eliot could see the snow falling and realized how cross his dreams were. So full of lies. The ground was rigid and hard with ice. Bits of red grass emerged in sections where the snow could not reach it. "How much is out there?" he said.
Michael considered this for a moment, "I would say approximately seven inches , although it's accumulating quite rapidly." He said the words with computer like efficiency. There was no doubt in his voice and even his emotion was slightly flat. He eyed his brother for a rebuttal.
Eliot laughed, considering this normal. His brother was the resident encyclopedia. Drawing all the time, reading, keeping quiet mostly but still replying with startling remarks that seemed to sound like stereo instructions. "What's the temperature?" he replied.
"Exactly 23 degrees Fahrenheit. -5 Celsius. Several degrees colder than yesterday." Michael stated.
There was no thermometer to indicate the temperature. Every morning Eliot asked his brother this question and he didn't need to check his answer. It was more accurate than a thermometer. More precise.
Eliot had the light shining on him as he replied, a slight wit guiding his voice."If you're off by even slightly, I'll shut you down."
Michael watched him walk away, thinking it a funny remark. He paused for a moment taking one final look out the window. Distant planets shone like eyes in the sky. They watched him calling. Michael knew they were there and he waited every day for a sign from them. He took one final look then he quickly followed his brother as he walked back towards his bed and lay down. He took out a comic from the middle table and skimmed through it. Sci-Fi Tales From Beyond.
Michael walked over to his computer and did a virus scan, "Gotta keep these things clean." he said.
They could both hear their mother on the stairs. Her steps increased higher as came to the top. The hall was an echo of sound. Keeping them hidden away for their own devices. She walked past their room and down the hall. She was looking for Zoe they both realized.
Several doors on each side lined the hall. She came to Zoes and knocked. No answer. It was no surprise. Zoe was a delinquent. Seventeen. Misguided. Pissed at everyone. Mom should be thankful she was home at all. In fact, Michael and Eliot both thought what was she doing home? She knew better than to step foot in this house again. Not after several weeks ago when she threw a chair through the front door.
It made Michael wet himself in fear, the brainy child hid under his covers that night terrified of his sister.
They could hear their mother pleading at the door. She was desperate. Her daughter had not been home in two weeks. It was a mother's cry pleading for her daughter back.
"Zoe." Their mother said. Quiet at first. Trying to achieve a civil tone. "Are you all right? I need to speak with you."
The rage of adolescence filters like the sun through the moon. The room might as well have been empty.
Mom knocked once more, listening for signs of life
Still no answer.
"Please Zoe, open the door." She finally insisted. "We need to talk."
Mom could never force it open, despite her frustration. She was too tired, too numb. The door was cemented shut. Forged by years of Zoe taking prescription meds, going off for no reason, displaying how she inherited her father's temper, crying of how lonely she was and being discouraged at every corner. Everything amounted a silent door, permanently shut.
"Theres breakfast for you on the table." Mom said quietly. There was desperation in her voice, "You're not leaving without speaking to me first."
Zoe wasn't coming out. Mom knew it. Michael and Eliot knew it. No one was getting in, but everyone knew when Zoe did emerge under her volition, the estrangement of her relationships would reach a breaking point.
Mom walked downstairs, beaten. Eliot and Michael wait for a moment. Eliot concluding the page he was on, Michael waiting for his computer to finish it's task. Eliot got up first, and walked downstairs. Michael soon followed.
Their mother had breakfast laid out. Bacon and eggs on the long end of the stove, and pancakes with frosting sitting all ready at the table.
"Hey you two" She said looking up. Still focusing on flipping some bacon. Her smile was bright and through signs of aging you could still see a young woman. She hid her pain well. "You both need to go out and help your father."
"He doesn't want me hurting my arm mom. Try outs are soon." Eliot said. He was sitting now, the plea in his voice wanted nothing more than for mom to tell him to go out and go sledding all day. To bring his dreams alive, even if last night they had seemed to trick him.
Michael was across from Eliot smirking. The table was round and there was a newspaper and unfinished coffee from dad. The radio was off. There was no point listening to school closings. Everything was shutdown. The smell of bacon hung in the air, their cat Cosette sat in her chair at the other end of the room. Living in an endless dream. A centerpiece made of flowers almost blocked Michael from seeing his brother and replying to him. "There wont be try outs if this snow never melts."
"We'll have try-out in the snow. In ten degrees. I don't care" Eliot said. "I'm playing baseball." He was annoyed at the notion. Throwing a baseball as hard as he could made him feel powerful, completely in control. To have it absent from his life would mean Eliot would need to find other ways of showing off. Maybe, Eliot supposed if this weather stayed like Michael said, I could learn to play Hockey. Shooting a puck couldn't be any more difficult than throwing a fastball.
Michael was hoping he was right, but internally he knew something was amiss. It wasn't paranoia. It would be gone soon he reasoned. Spring would come. Cherry blossoms would bloom. Birds would sing. Girls would dress in short dresses. Baseball would begin, The Sox would play the Yanks. Life would emerge.
As Michael was considering this his mother, cleaning the stove off a bit and wisking Cosette off the counter had a concern. She placed a plate of eggs and bacon on the table in front of him. His face light as a baby, his eyes young and merciful. Bits of gray snow hit the window, and a chill came through the room.
"Michael" Mom said, the sizzling of the stove now ceasing. "You're not going outside in this. Don't even think about it."
It was a valid concern. The year before Michael had contracted Pneumonia. He was prone to sickness. His chest almost collapsed and they needed to bring in a respirator for him to breathe. He missed 4 months of school and was almost held back, if not his for his already advanced intellect. He spent those months in bed reading up on ancient Rome and when the idea did arrive about his missing school, all those in charge realized it a mistake.
"I'm fine mom." He said. "I won't sick again." His voice was quiet and he wanted to prove he was strong.
Eliot began toying with him. He had just finished eating, and he thought his little brother babied too often. A giant brain, and coddled like a toddler he would think. Suppose he ever had to use his common sense, he wouldn't make it a day having to survive on his own. "Maybe you should just stay inside Michael. If you get sick again you'll miss more school and that brain of yours will turn to pudding."
Michael thought it was a poor joke. He was used to being picked on for being short, for being too smart, for everything that made him who he was. At school he had but one friend. Juna, a slightly awkward girl with wide glasses and a penchant to lose them. Michael had helped her locate her glasses on more than one occasion when she took them off to read up close. She was the only one he could talk to about space and ancient Rome.
"Don't worry." He replied to his brother. "I can learn plenty being at home. Dad fixed the computer, and he changed the password so you can't get on."
The expression on Eliot's face fell slightly. "There's no password for the computer.
"There is now. Dad added it as a new feature. Him and I are the only ones who know." It made Michael proud having something to hold above his brothers head. You may have size he thought, but who has the intellectual capacity to build computers? That's right. Let it soak in. Dad may like his star athlete but he secretly prizes his intellectual son far more.
Eliot conceded slightly, not wanting Michael to win. "I have no need for computers and I never will. Why would I want to sit and stare at a screen all day?"
Michael considered several directions he could go in reply. He could lecture Eliot on the importance of computers. He could fire back about how feeble his brain was. No, he decided, let's just play with him. "It's simple. To dream of baboons and periwinkles."
Their mother looked at Michael and smiled a bit. She knew the poem, although she never did like poetry she was always proud of Micheal's ability to fully memorize it
"No one wants to hear your babble." Eliot said.
Michael kept at it, knowing the words his brother couldn't fathom. "Come on you've heard dad speak this one at dinner."
Eliot had. Only he hadn't really cared. His father would test Micheal's picture perfect memory by making him memorize poetry. Books of it. It was only a test but when Michael passed tremendously by citing literature off the top of his head, he could feel his father glow with pride. Eliot could feel it too. Inside he thought of how soon the snow would melt and every day Dad would be outside with him testing his fastball. He could hear that smack of the leather, and Dad gleaming at the power his son possessed.
"What does it mean?" Eliot said. "Explain it."
Michael was somewhat perplexed. He knew the words naturally and every night he would read another poem and another book and have the words down flat. Filing them away inside his mind to recall whenever he liked.
"What does the poem mean?" Eliot continued.
Michael was speechless for a moment. He had read these words over and over but now someone was asking what they meant. "Complacency." he finally said. "It doesn't matter I like the words."
Wheres your heart Eliot wondered? Maybe Michael was all wiring. All electronic engineering. Maybe at night he just shut down.
"The color in your sails is gray." Eliot replied. Leaving Michael in confusion and ultimately on the losing end. "Maybe I don't have your memory, or your intellect but I can reach down and use what's in me to win."
Michael didn't reply. He looked to their mother to break it up. Naturally she did, telling them both how fortunate they were, to ultimately knock it off. Michael still had growing up to do, and a lack of experience left him in Elliot's shadow for now, and many times through arguments and bickering Eliot would win slightly simply due to age.
The table grew messy as Eliot and Michael finished eating. Cosette jumped on it and middled around looking for scraps. Her green eyes eliciting a sense of helplessness. Dreaming all day until she grew curious and explored. Michael picked her up and placed her on the ground. His face went back to Eliot before Mom could sit down and get between them.
"We never dreamnt of something like a computer when I was young." She said. Trying to get them to be civil. "I'll never use it. But you two could learn a lot from them."
"They're beautiful." Michael stated. "And one day every one will have one. Not just families. Everyone."
It was a bold claim and Eliot was taken aback by how sure Michael was of it. Their father was a computer programmer. He brought home new computers every day. Broken ones, spare parts. He called them the wave of the future, and like Michael had bold claims about them.
Their mother being curious asked Michael, "What makes you say that?"
"I just know." Michael said. "It's obvious. They've already reached the ability to connect to to others from around the world. I played Chess with someone the other day all the way in Sweden. They're just getting started. Dad calls them protozoa in evolutionary terms. One day they'll be the king."
Eliot sat in amazement. The idea was insane, but he decided to let his brother alone for now.
"Are you helping dad with driveway?" their mother continued. They could both see from where they were that dad was already outside lifting mounds of snow. He was strong still, but naturally in a few years he would break down and Eliot would be in charge.
"I think so." Said Eliot. Now standing looking out the window. "I mean if he needs us, i'll go ask him."
Eliot would ask his father, and if his father told him to go grab shovels he would. Deep inside though, Eliot longed for adventure. To be a soldier in the snow, triumphantly brisking the fields to be free for a bit longer.
"How long will it take?" Michael asked.
"Don't worry about it." Eliot replied. "Sit inside and wait till we're done."
At that moment. Before Michael could muster a proper rebuttal their older sister Zoe came towards the stairs. Mom could hear her, and inside she grew anxious. Both Eliot and Michael looked at one another. Their sister as far as they knew was a stranger. She had reached her peak teenage years, dropped out of school, spent weeks for a time out, smoked cigarettes, was unreachable, silent and cold. The few times she was home she holed up in her room until she could find a ride somewhere else.
This snow storm had trapped her, and as they could hear her on the stairs Mom gave direction to Michael and Eliot. "Get outside. Now."
They hesitated slightly, but then got up. As they left the table, they walked past the stairs and there they saw a glimpse of their sister. She looked grief-stricken, tired. Like she hadn't slept in months, and her eyes would fall out any moment. There were no words, but something in Zoe was crying out. She had terrible pain written on her face, as if she had been through something neither of them could possibly comprehend. Her white face spoke silently, and although she was naturally pretty she resembled very little of herself from years gone by. She was wearing a white gown and in the dim light, she looked like a ghost. Eliot and Michael were walking past a stranger, someone who they'd grown up with but was now far from where anyone could reach. They couldn't dig up any words, and Zoe felt as if she would burst into tears if they had. They walked past her, contemplating the silence on her face. Neither one would speak of it. They knew better. Quietly they walked by her and down the hall as she stood there and waited.
They came to the closet and each bundled up, appropriating themselves for the weather and equating stepping into the winter blizzard to that of the last walk they would ever have. But before they set out, Eliot stopped Michael at the door.
"Grab the sleds." He said.
Michael was puzzled .
"Just do it." said Eliot. "I'm tired of Zoe." He had said those words but he didn't mean to. The middle child appetite had pushed him into a a tired position.
They went around to the back of the house and out to the shed. The sleds had been left over-night in a secure spot where they could access them. On the porch above the driveway. They each grabbed their sled, wooden tumblers that were sleek and had metal blades on the bottom. They crafted them last summer with dad and they were the envy of every other kid in town. They were light and sturdy, so carrying them wasn't a chore. They both lifted them under their arms and progressed back around the house toward the driveway. There they saw dad. The driveway was clear. He had finished the entire thing that morning and now saw the kids walking their way out towards the street. Dad looked at them both as they walked past him. Down the street and out into the white mist of winter.
"Take care of your brother." Their father yelled. Unsure if his words had reached them.
Zoe had emerged from the stairs and sat at the table, looking as if she were going to cry. Mom was not used to this. The yelling, the silences were common-place but no one cried openly at home. Zoe had constant mood-swings. She could go from cold and distant to fiery and irritable in a second. She was older than both Michael and Eliot and it showed. Arguments occurred frequently over Zoe not coming home for days until both mom and dad became exhausted. They never stopped caring. They worried themselves sick over her. Mom would stay up half the night thinking about where she was, and dad would yell up a storm as soon as she did finally come through the door. That kind of constant stress wore on them until they finally became numb.
Mom looked at her daughter and spoke, "Do you have any words for me? Or have you grown too cold for them?"
Her faced was damaged. a doll that had lost it's expression and as she looked up to speak, the sounds had little hope of turning into words. She managed to inch out a few words. "I'm sorry." she finally said.
Her rebellious nature. Her attitude it was halted. An apology was the last thing Mom expected.
A real hurt hung in Zoe's eyes, and Mom wanted to hit her daughter. All those nights they spent wondering if she were dead. If her face was crying out for help. Mom wanted to kick her out into the snow, let her freeze and maybe she would finally learn to appreciate a home.
"Why are you down here?" Their mother asked. "You're snowed in, and you have no where else to go."
"Why do you answer your own questions?" Zoe replied. "I could leave if I wanted to." Her skin looked white. Her elbows now resting on the table were red, and marks sailed up and down her body. Bruises on her shoulder came through like a black light, but her eyes looking up were redeeming. Blue as melted rain. Helpless as a lost child.
In them their mother saw the infant again. The baby. The one who lost it's way. Still she remained tough. "You have no reason to be here."
"I do." Zoe said. Her words climbing miles just to be spoken. "I need help."
More surprises. Zoe had declared that she did not need this home months ago. Now mom could feed her crow. She could force Zoe on her knees and make her apologize, but she realized Zoe had gone through something terrible. Looking at her daughter. Beaten. Tired. She wanted to yell. She wanted to scream at her daughter for making her worry constantly, but the fire turned to concern.
"You need to get to a hospital." Mom said, she went towards the phone but Zoes words halted her.
"Wait." She said. "There's something wrong." The words were coming, but slowly. Zoe tried to speak but her voice would not agree. Outside she could see the snow piling up, and she couldn't help but wonder for that moment, what if he's right? What if everything he said was true. What if this world was sinking? The planets freezing to death, what if we need to escape just like he said. I cant do it alone she cried. I need you here.
"What is it?" Mom repeated. Snapping Zoe out of a daze. She continued to sob. Her long blonde hair was moth-eaten, but still she was a naturally pretty girl. Her voice was sinking, until she finally found courage to speak.
"It's Leo." she said. "Something's happened." Leo was a boy Zoe had been seeing. Mostly mom and dad never knew her boyfriends. Usually the types who didn't come around much. Leo was different though. He was courtly and even had dinner with them one night bringing wine and introducing himself. He was s strong, and always knew how to handle a situation. He sat with dad and talked about cars and sports. It made Zoe blush and she was embarrassed at the whole thing, hardly speaking a word, but it was she wanted. Someone like Leo who would treat her well.
There was only one thing wrong. His politics. He would go on long rants telling everyone the planets dying, we need to take action. No one knew quite how to handle it, and it was drove Zoe and Leo away, It was why Zoe never came home anymore. She believed in Leo and everything he said. But dad didn't. He called him a "liberal" and to take his bullshit elsewhere.
Zoe tried to continue but her voice kept stopping. She kept things bottled inside, usually holing up in her room for days at a time. Somehow she had decided that emerging from her room and announcing this at the breakfast table was the best thing to do. Mom paused for the moment somewhat relaxed, quickly going through her head over possible scenarios and was relieved that her daughter here looking at her eye to eye.
"What did you do?" Mom continued. She held her daughters hand. It was cold as china stuck in snow. She rubbed it to try and warm her. She wanted to hug her daughter, the check her wounds like a good mother would, but she knew Zoe would retreat. The closer you got to Zoe the harder she pushed back.
"He's gone. I haven't heard from him in almost a week. Nothing. No phone call. Hasn't been in town. He's vanished." her voice was frantic. She couldn't deal with the thought of losing Leo, and the prospect of him being dead was more than she could endure.
Mom wanted to hold her daughter. To cradle her and comfort like she was three years old again. She wanted to tell her everything would be okay, but she knew boys broke hearts and that if this one had gone he was gone. His words about the end of days, the cries for help, the meek destruction of the planet would leave them. We're sucking this planet dry he would tell them, and that was all she wrote.
Zoe finally settled down somewhat, enough to be clear. "I think something really bad has happened to him. I think he's dead."
She didn't want to say the words, she had a hard time saying them to herself but now hearing them out loud they became real. Wolves let loose to devour reality. He's got to be alive she said.
The idea hit mom hard. However extreme it was. It was something she wasn't ready to deal with. He was a young boy. He probably just ran off. A lot of kids did. It was happening more and more. They skipped school. Ran off and lived in other states and no one heard from the again. She looked at her daughter, and felt like she was seeing her for the first time. She hadn't seen her cry since she was three, and never out of pure emotion. Now she was sobbing. It was like her daughter she built a cold front that never chipped, and no one ever broke through.
"Why are you jumping to such a conclusion?" Mom continued. "When did you see him last?"
"Two weeks ago." Zoe replied. "He dropped me off here and said he would call me. That's the last I heard from him." Her blonde hair was frayed. Mom took note, it looked burnt as it had been singed on the edges.
"No ones reported him missing." Mom stated. "Eat something please. Can you tell me where have you been going these nights?"
"No one would." Zoe said ignoring the latter part of the question. "He has no family. He was a loner."
"If you tell me where you've been. I can help. He must have had somebody." She could feel the resistance from her daughter, and even her opening must have come only in pieces.
"He did." Zoe said. "And it was me. I was all he had."
"Tell me where you've been." She touched her daughters hand. The pain in her mothers face livened. Her eyes wrestled with the idea that one day her daughter would run away and never come home. Disappear like Leo. Be a deserter and never phone, leave them wondering until she turned gray from worry and old from stress. Dying young without a daughter she desperately loved.
Zoe didn't reply. She wanted to say words without saying them. She didn't know how to say how she felt, where she'd been. At times she knew she hurt her mother, but living recklessly with boys and being out all night, she found comfort. Some of the boys were nice and listened to her and understood her pain without her having to speak. They held her on nights when she cried. Many of them wanted things in return, but not Leo. Leo would never pressure her. He would just listen and tell her about his life and how he lost his family. About secret wars, and things dealing with the government. Zoe remembered being with him, but it seemed distant. Far away.
"I don't know where I've been." Zoe finally said. Her voice getting meek.
It was the truth as far as Zoe could determine. The past several nights had been a blur. Scenes were clear. Times were there, but it was like recalling a movie. You remember what stood out, looking back at things as a whole it was difficult to determine. Her mind had mish-mashed and the kitchen sometimes looked like Leo's. Her mothers face, a familiar woman she had known on the run.
"Where did you see Leo?" Mom said clearly. Her voice becoming distinct. "Where did you see him last."
"I told you. He dropped me off two weeks ago."
"Where?" Mom said, "Where did he drop you off?"
Zoe paused abruptly. It hit her. Where did she get dropped off? Her house. No. She remembered somewhat. She had to walk a distance, before finding home. When did she get home? She couldn't remember. It was a flash. It was cold, her feet nearly froze. She was barefoot she remembered. How did she get in her room? She hesitated for a moment. The room was seemed new. Everything in that moment became surreal. She had been with Leo at the galleria until ten o'clock. Yes. She said to herself. Check. They went to his house. Yes I remember Zoe said to herself. We drank a little bit of bad wine. I laid on his couch. But I remember getting up. We walked around the park for a bit. It was dusk. That was clear. In his car, the smell of cigarettes came through her. I had the window down. Marmalade Reflections Of My Life was on the radio. Leo was wearing a tight black shirt and those same old pants he always did. His hair scruffy. His face scruffy, so clear. His geeky smile. His bright eyes. I remember Zoe thought. We were laughing. We were smiling. I remember walking. He dropped me off and the ground was ice. And I was barefoot. Why? I left my shoes somewhere. Why was I barefoot.
Zoe then had her second realization, her face drained. She looked down at the bottom of her feet. Dried blood was baked on the bottom, and they were black as a void. Scratched and tarnished. Mom noticed too and a look of both fear and confusion grabbed her face. They had not noticed until that point. It all made her so afraid. Her feet were a tangled mess.
The people Zoe had met. The life she led. The things inside her, breathing, longing to be free.
Zoe ran from the table and towards the bathroom. She slammed the door shut and locked it. Mom ran towards the bathroom door. She held her ear to it and listened. She could hear sobbing then what sounded like Zoe throwing up. It sounded too real. Too close to home.
"Zoe." she yelled. "Zoe are you Okay? Open the door."
There was no answer. Just the hurried sobs and same sounds as before. They continued louder.
"Zoe open the door" There was no reply.
It seemed the distance was becoming insurmountable. One day Zoe skipped school. The next she was gone every night. Till it came to this point where she was locked in a bathroom franticly trying to recall what had happened to her the previous night. Mom tried her best to recall where things went "wrong". Blaming herself, promising she wouldn't let it happen to Eliot or Michael. The boys would be different. No. She said. She wasn't giving up on Zoe. Zoe was still young. Still bright as anyone.
The door didn't budge and inside she could hear sobbing and more awful noises. No. Mom said to herself. No. I need my daughter back. Give me her back. I want the face I saw laughing carelessly as a child. I want the girl who went down slides and begged for her mother's kisses when she got hurt. Damn it, give her back. There were tears on moms face now as she tried to turn the knob once more and finally ceased.
Mom considered leaving Zoe there. Letting her rot in the bathroom. Her daughter would become a skeleton. Break down. Her face would melt into itself. Days later they would finally open the door to let in some wind. Remove her body and never speak of the matter again. Her memory would fade. The pain would null. The insistence of time would erase all there was. There would be no child. None to speak of pain or pushing their parents through hell. They would sell her dresses clean out her room. Make it into a study. Never shudder when someone said Zoe. Never cry when they saw her picture. She would just cease, and the pain would blow away in the wind. Mom tried tapping the door one last time, and then stopped. A quiet air came through, she was hoping for some sign. Something that told her that her daughter was still in there somewhere. Not trapped in a coffin but still breathing as tirelessly as she did when she was a child. Laughing being careless and lovely.
Zoe she whispered to herself, just come out. Let me tend to you. You can heal. We can fix you.
There was no answer. Zoe was not moving. There was no more crying. The light still glimmered slightly from underneath the door but the creak of water stopped. Behind her mom saw the kitchen was a mess and thought of retreating for the moment, maybe making a few phone calls. Maybe burning the photo albums and downing the liter of vodka she hid in the top shelf of the linen closet.
"Zoe" she said one last time. "Zoe" this time quieter. "Come out and let me know you're okay."
A tiny voice came through "You have no idea, so don't pretend you do." It was sick. Full of infections. Too fragile to speak.
Zoe thought of pushing the door down. Knocking her mother over and running far away. As far as she could, but her strength was weakened. All she could do was sit and look at her feet, now cracked and bleeding through. She must have walked such a distance she considered, lifted her head back and wondered where Leo had gone too. Why she he left her. She was so tired she could sleep for days, time and space relieved her as she laid down on the floor. The smell of lemon coming over her, the face of death making funny faces in her eyes.
At this time Dad was coming in from shoveling the driveway. He dusted himself off, looking like an ice man. His clothes soaked and his face bright red from the cold. He saw mom at the door.
"What's going on?" He said, his voice raising.
"Nothing." she said. "I'll handle it." She was hoping her husband wouldn't get involved or this would get ugly. Not like this. Just let this end. She saw him standing there and wished him away.
Zoe could hear his voice. Dad. No not dad. Anyone but him. He would be harsh. Unforgiving. Merciless. Beat the door down and drag her out. She curled up into a ball in the corner of the bathroom. Tears drying on her face. Dried regurgitation on her chin. Her hair a torrid mess and her eyes glowing a deep blue that resembled a pain few ever saw. She prayed her father wouldn't come to the door, and felt the sweat on her palms. I'll come out just make him go away. Just make him go away.
This room will be my coffin. The peeled walls were a light pink. The tiny room had only a toilet and a sink. It was well kept but now it had become something dark, terribly small and desolate. The perspective from the floor made the ceiling seem like a faraway world. One cold and tired. Hungry and unborn. Zoe looked again at the bottom of her feet. Wondering at what occurred. She knew she would spend her life trying to scrape that dirt clean but something told it would always be there. A reminder that her past was beyond her. That whatever she did, she would never forget. That tiny cramped bathroom spoke to her and whispered that something awful had been done, and that someone she loved was now gone. But if only her father would back away, she might feel better. Her sweat might cease, her fear sink. She wasn't always afraid of him. When she was young she had loved him.
Outside Dad stopped for a second and assessed the situation. "Is she okay?" He had compassion in his voice. It was wavering, but still strong .
"Fine." Mom said. "Just a bit ill."
Dad could hear sounds from inside. Zoe was trying her best to stay still, but the sickness came through her and she was throwing up again. Outside her father would hear it, and he wouldn't take pity on her. He would yell at her, disregard her tears. Tell her that the pain she felt meant nothing. Zoe kept contracting and tears came down her face. More sickness. Another bout. Her stomach was aching with pain, and she almost screamed but held back. I'm strong Zoe thought but not strong enough. She had her head on the toilet and finally stopped. Her body resounding a tired song. Leave. Make him go. Make this all stop.
"What's going on in there? Where has she been the past two weeks." Dad said. His voice an aggregation of sound.
"With Leo." Mom replied. "She's been just fine, but not a little sick now." Mom was trying her best to block her father. Hinting in her eyes that this was not something to get involved in. He moved closer.
Dad insisted. "Let me through. I want to hear from my daughter."
Mom snapped back quick. "She doesn't want to hear from you"
She could see a pain in her husbands face, and wishing with all she had she hoped it didn't turn to rage. "Just not right now." She added. "I need to calm her down."
Dad backed off. He was never a violent man, but at times his temper would rise, unexpectedly, the same as when Zoe would switch from cold to hot. Dad could turn from a man to a monster, especially when it came to his daughter. He loved her dearly and when she grew up and ran way, it broke him, and he turned bitter. Now here she was. He hadn't seen her in weeks, and her face was a bathroom door, painted dull and distant. He thought of breaking it down, grabbing her, yelling about how shes killing the family.
"Fine." He said "But I need to see her before she runs off." He wanted to hold her as much as she did Mom realized. His face turned to a sadness, and it was clear that within him a deep pain resided. An absence of his daughter. A death in a sense.
Mom knocked on the door lightly. Zoe was still crying, but lighter. She felt her stomach and winced. Much of her decay began when she realized what she remembered could no longer be trusted. Leo was gone. Why couldn't she remember? What if I killed him? She thought. No. It wasn't that. Even in a delirious hallucination. Never.
"Zoe" Mom said lightly. "It's Okay." There was a silence.
Dad came to the door. "Zoe." he yelled.
She heard his voice and yelled. Birds in forests echoed a silent song. Days of youth flew by. Fear struck her and her eyes closed as she huddled into herself. Keeping her mind on the day when she met Leo, of his smile, his worn out jeans, the datsun they drove around in all night. She thought of a day when she was seven and fell of her bike, the way mom came to her rescue so quickly. She thought when she got yelled for hitting a boy in grade school, of a time in church when she laughed out loud when Eliot made a joke. A quiet air came over her and even in the face of her father she kept still.
Zoe could hear him at the door and sat up. Her body a mess. Her head ringing and always in the back of her mind Leo. She prayed he was alive. He had to be. She couldn't face this on her own. She knew if he were there he would know what to do, what to say. She knew he wouldn't just leave unexpectedly. That's why deep down she knew if he wasn't dead, he was some where far away. Somewhere she could not get to, somewhere where he needed her help. Zoe decided to get up. She walked to the door and listened.
Her fathers voice was there. Coming through the door as clear a water. "You're trapped. We just want what's best for you." he yelled. "Just open the door."
He tried turning the knob, almost breaking it on it's center. The light pink of the door was fading, the hallway was dim and only a light from shown through. Dad was becoming frustrated. His pounding increased.
"You come out now, or this door comes down." His face was bright like a maddening sun. His eyes lit up, and a fire came from him. The snow melted off his face. His skin had calmed to a warm pallor.
Zoe did not answer. Her body was a blank cemetery fading into night. Distant as a shore free from tourists. Constant to the sun and the moon. Elaborate as scene praises in a midnight theater with no audience..
"You can't run away from your problems." Dad said. "We just want to talk to you." He was toning down slightly. Keeping still the beast until it time to let it loose. The the shade in his voice radiated from hot to cold. The hallway echoed with his statement. "Zoe, I'm your father. You open this door."
He beat harder this time. It rattled like the ends of the earth. A distant hammer cracking the codes of time.
Mom held his arm, "Jade relax. Please. She'll come out just give her time. The girl had something happen to her. This isn't the usual come home and hate my life act. Something's really wrong Jade. She needs help."
He didnt want to hear it. The anger filtered through him, but his better nature decided to listen. '"What do you mean?" He replied,
She couldn't think of how to phrase it and hesitated for a moment. "I couldnt reach her. I tried but Zoe doesn't need violence now. As hard as it is we need to embrace her."
Dad had to agree at least momentarily, his eyes came to a rest as he looked at his wife. Perky face, a dream he loved. Her voice soothed him.
" Try to feel her pain right now. As much as she's put us through, she needs us."
I know, he said to himself. I know, but the devil works in mysterious ways.
"Let's just relax a moment." He said lightly, "What did she tell you?"
Mom recalled the conversation in the kitchen and the marks she noticed on Zoe, how her body was strange, how her voice cried for help. "She had beat up feet. She walked from somewhere. The last two weeks have been hell for her and I don't think even she fully knows what happened."
The reflection off the glass outside came through the hallway. It was still snowing, heavier now.
"Where are the boys?" Mom asked
"Sledding. I saw them leaving earlier."
Mom tensed up, she could see the weather getting worse and temperature was dropping more and more. Michael would come home with Pneumonia again. Why didn't I stop them? I told Michael no. Zoe, she thought. Zoe got in the way.
A look of worry came on her face, and the stress bore through, "Why didnt you stop them they're to freeze if they don't come home soon."
"They'll be okay." Dad said, "they're strong boys and they better then to stay out too long in this."
He wanted to embrace his wife. Tell her that she was a good mother. Zoe had tested that, and if anything the family endured as it always would.
"Zoe needs to get to a hospital."
There was silence from within the room. They had not heard a word from Zoe. No crying. It was as quiet as an unlit morning.
Dad took a look at his wife, " That''s it then. I'll drag her out by the hair if I need to."
He slammed against the door once with his shoulder. Crashing like a mountain. There was no sound from inside. He did it once more. Nothing. "Zoe." he yelled "Just open the door."
It was silent on the inside and then they became concerned. She hadn't made a noise. Now out of fear, once more dad thrust his shoulder into the door and it flew open hitting the wall with a thud. The room was empty. Zoe had flown like a bird seeking refuge.