"Mae"

June 4, 2005

The doctors said she was recovering from an apparent shock. Her mental stability was low, which meant she was prone to physical and emotional outbursts at any time. I didn't know what the "apparent shock" was, but I was guessing it had to do with her home life. Sure, I might be her neighbor, but it's not as if I knew what went on behind those closed doors in her house.

I'd heard rumors in town that her dad was an alcoholic, and her mom was a drug addict, or something along those lines. She would often disappear for days at a time, her house silent and lifeless without her. Mae was an enigma to everyone. She had no other siblings or known family members and not even the other neighbors knew what was up with that girl.

All they knew was that she sketched a lot.

She was a committed artist, and nine of ten times you would see her with her sketchpad. I never asked to see her drawings, but other people did. They said the sketches were amazing. She'd nod and say thank you, never letting any emotion betray her. All those years she was my neighbor, I'd never seen her smile, or laugh, or even frown. She never spoke willingly, and she'd never make any friends. I pitied her for that, but she didn't know or care that she was friendless.

When the social workers showed up at my front door with Mae in their hands, there was something wrong; which was obvious. She had a bruise on her left cheek and her right wrist was in a cast. She leaned heavily on one of the workers, trying to balance on one leg. Her tattered clothes showed what happened.

Domestic abuse.

She never told anyone what happened; not the social workers or the police or the psychiatrists. She had no other family in the States besides her biological parents. The poor kid was so pathetic, so timid and restrained and beaten down that I felt a small twinge in my chest. They found her clutching what was left of her sketchbook outside on her front steps, shaking and bleeding and bruised.

The workers shoved her in my hands, gave me a few words (and papers), and left. I blinked, and glanced down at the papers, not really absorbing what was going on. Here I was, a nineteen-year-old high school dropout trying to make it on his own and having some high school kid dumped in my house, with papers saying that I was a temporary guardian until further notice for a foster family.

It's not that I was disappointed or angry; I was just confused. I had no idea how to take care of her or why I was taking care of her. Mae was petite with short brown hair and dull grey eyes, who was so skinny I wondered if she ever ate. Her clothes didn't really fit her, and she was still clutching her torn sketchbook. I noticed that she'd slumped down onto the floor, humming and rocking back and forth. I stared at her for a few minutes before I left to clean the living room, which had a couch that I could sleep on while she took my bed, and hurried to clean my room, though I doubted she'd care about the Playboy magazines strewn carelessly on the floor.

For the next few days, I played a house mother. My usual meals consisted of ramen and sometimes Chinese takeout, but I figured that a girl would have to eat healthier, even if her mental state wasn't so healthy. I tried to take more breaks between my work hours, trying to get Mae eat whatever I'd scrounged up. She wasn't really active, so I let her sit on the couch most of the time watching the TV or reading whichever books I possessed. She didn't read, just sat there blankly staring at the words on the pages for hours on end. I worried about that, and tried to talk to her. It didn't work.

I assumed that the girl was traumatized because someone in her home--presumably the father--had broken her hand. It was a minor fracture, but shattered her wrist bone, which meant she couldn't draw for a long period of time. It would heal, but Mae was such a compulsive artist that she probably couldn't deal with it. Her sketchbook was also destroyed; most of the pictures were torn or ripped out. Someone didn't want her drawing.

Once, I heard her muttering to herself. I was in the kitchen trying to work the stove when I heard her.

"It pissed him off."

The voice was distinct and clearly feminine. It wasn't loud, but it was audible enough for me to hear. I tiptoed out of the kitchen to see Mae clutching her knees rocking back and forth, her lips parting as the words were quietly suspended in the air. That one phrase was the only one I heard before her muttering was inaudible for my ears.

I didn't hear any more from her for several hours until later that night, when I ventured to the bathroom by my room and heard a slight sniffling. I'd never noticed these noises. I poked my head in the doorway to find the girl quietly sobbing into my pillow. Without a word, I stepped inside and sat down next to her.

"I'm sorry..."

I blinked. "What for?"

I couldn't stop myself. This was probably one of those muttering-to-herself times, where she'd apologize to the people in her mind, because the apology was soft and tinged with sobs in between. But I wanted to talk to her, to get her to talk to me. She was stuck in her world of fright and trauma and hurt that I just wanted to reach out and stroke her and bring her back to say, "It's okay, I'm here," even though I wasn't important to her in any way. She hadn't recognised my existence since the few days she'd resided in my small house.

"For making you take care of me."

This time, I knew it was for me. I moved my hands to hug her gently, afraid that I'd break those small bones of hers. "It's okay."

My words made her heave a sob and I panicked. Did I make her feel worse? Why was she--?

"I-- I'm so pitiful, I don't--don't deserve this, Mr. Travis," Mae choked out. Mister Travis? I was barely four years older than her!

"Don't say that..."

No further conversation was exchanged. The night passed on, and I just sat there hugging her, for relief that she was returning. Sometime between, she fell asleep, the tears drying on her pale cheeks. The sketchbook, I noticed, was on the floor next to some tape.

She's picking up the pieces, I thought. Picking them up and taping them back together. And she'll be all right. She'll be okay, I hope.

Author's Note: I'm really not sure how someone breaks a hand, or if they do that they can use it again, but the point is, Mae's hand is hurt, so she can't draw. I'm really not sure why I wrote this story, but I was bored. And if the social workers situation isn't realistic, I'm sorry; I just don't know how else Mae could wind up in Travis' house, but I wanted those two characters living together (at least temporarily).

Some feedback would be nice.