A man can lose it quite easily. I never had it. I was one of those guys who was known for being a nonbeliever, for living a life of black tees and hard rock that preached the melody of nothingness. I heard it in the halls of my high school, the young people of this small town whispering their worries and concerns. Some of them cared that I was alone, some of them wanted to 'save my soul', and some just wanted to beat me to a pulp for being the biggest freak in the class room.
And I guess I deserved it. I treated those people like hell—I cursed them, I called them any foul word I could come up with when they tried to spread the 'good news' in my direction. Most of them tried too hard, tried to force me into being someone else. They could give me speeches for a decade and never reach me.
Several of those same kids were just like me on the inside, but they wore their hair neat and their parents had good jobs. Difference was that they never tried to understand me, never really cared or they would have asked me about that sweet cut over my eye that I sported once in sixth grade or the time I was in the hospital for a weekend—not a damn card from a one of them.
Sorry, that was a bit of the old me showing through. The new me is a bit more mellow, a little less flesh and a little more bone.
I heard people ask my grandmother what happened to me. What did happen? I used to be shy Bradley Smart, the boy with the brightest smile in Windlow County. Once upon a time, I sported a plaid button-up and sung in Nana's church choir. So I answered those inquiries with an "I woke up". I shouldn't have done that. . . I wish I could take it all back now.
In all honestly, I was scared of believing because, if I did give into this whole 'supreme creator' deal, I would be admitting that sin existed, too. In a world that had good and evil, I knew where I stood—at least, I thought I was on the darker side. Alas, there's always something more horrid, more terrifying. I couldn't see that then. I do now. I don't have a choice. Evil came to me, scattering at the corner of my eye.
Sadly, I didn't realize the truth about life until it was too late. You see, I came to believe in God the day I killed a woman, a beautiful creature I called mother. It was a big time for me, especially since it was also the day I took my own life.
The sopping tea bag bobbed up and down, up and down, as if it was her head and not a lump of leaves she dunked under the scolding water. Her eyes were red sunsets in the clouds, so covered, so very sad. But she wasn't crying anymore. She had stopped sobbing hours ago. Now she was quiet. This was how depression worked. First you were hurting and then you were numb. I had seen it several times in the past.
And I was afraid.
"Bradley?" Jenna's gaze left the brown murk, meeting me.
I jerked at the sound of my own name, balancing on the edge of the kitchen chair in anticipation. Maybe now would be the moment in my life when I really connected to my mother, maybe we would share one of those classic family movie moments. Or maybe she just needed something from me. Yeah, that was probably it.
She didn't speak often, not when she was in a mood. Part of me wanted to leave her alone to sulk. Who wanted to hear words that could shred a heart? I wished I was deaf. Then I could just watch her lips move—I wouldn't have to feel it with her.
"Could you get me the milk, baby?" she asked, her free hand wrenching at the cheap, dimpled fabric of her pop-button house robe.
I nodded, taking the two steps toward the refrigerator and pulling out the jug. I wanted to pour it for her, but then I would have to get close. She was such a skeleton, such a dead thing. If I touched her, I might catch that disease, too. No, I'd stick to my hatred for now. I sat down the milk, still standing away, hands hidden in the pockets of my jeans.
Her expression refused to change as she topped off her tea. I wondered if she had added anything else before I'd walked back out of my room. A little Jack Daniel's to tame the bitterness, Momma? I smirked at the thought.
"What the hell are you laughin' at, you little shit?" she snapped, throwing me.
I didn't wince at her outburst. It wasn't some novel revelation, after all. One too many pills and a bit of whiskey would calm her down and loosen that sailor's tongue of hers.
People outside the house didn't see her like this—she always looked like the coy little wife, cruising the grocery store aisle with too much ivory foundation on that fresh shiner swelling her eye. Those PTA members that were always sending her little charity gifts would shoot out of their Hush Puppies if they ever heard her use that cruel mouth in public. They were stupid. Everyone has a bit of a monster on the inside, no matter how sweet or innocent they may seem though the eyes of the ignorant.
But that didn't stop my eyes from burning, my fists from clenching. My own monster always came to surface when I was around her or dad or those Bible thumpers. "You're as pathetic as he is. . . ." I muttered. "Why don't you clean yourself up and go out to the bar? Then you can watch him flirt with the little sluts there. It would be more constructive than drowning you sorrows here—no wonder he leaves every night." And I turned my back.
I heard her let out a shallow breath. Before I could reach my bedroom, the sound of a tea cup shattering against the refrigerator's pale yellow door echoed down the narrow hallway. I ignored her. Let Mom pitch her little fits and get it out of her system. By morning, she'd be as chipper as ever and ready to pour me a glass of OJ, I figured. That's what I thought, that's what would normally happen. . .
She was cruel, true, but I was crueler. I shouldn't have brought up dad. That was wrong. No one deserved to be compared that drunk, whoring slob. . . I was such an idiot.
Maybe if I'd known that I would never hear her cry again, I would have listened through my thin wall. I might even have given her a hug. I probably wouldn't have let go.
I was a fool though. My headphones slid on, head on the pillow, lids over eyes. When the music ended, the world was silence. It was all so very quiet. And when I sat back up and looked down that hallway, I knew that whatever was on the other side would shatter my life.
Outside the window, the sun was hanging between two leaf barren trees, a pendulum of gold fire. I'd seen it in that very spot so many times, so many evenings. I'd lost count of the days. . . . years. How long could one spirit wait for redemption? How long could God and Satan argue over my soul? Would I be locked in this one bedroom for eternity?
It certainly looked that way.
I spread my legs over the mattress, though there was no creak of springs, no moan of floorboards. It couldn't feel me. Nothing could touch me now. I didn't exist here. I could walk through it, if I wanted.
This place was so boring, so blank. White walls, stripped of the posters I once hung on them, shelves empty of the books I once read over and over again until their spines cracked—everything that was me was gone.
I didn't even know where my body was laid to rest.
This was where I had awoken from my death, and this was where I was to remain.
The sound of my door opening broke me from my thoughts. It was so odd, noise. It was such a gift. Then I saw her, stumbling to walk through the doorway with her luggage in tow. She was so fresh, alive, with hay-yellow hair and sun reddened cheeks. There was blood beneath that skin—I could almost feel it.
I jumped off the bed, staring at her in surprise.
She looked up, glancing around the room, then brought her attention back to the dusty looking suitcase she was lugging onto the bed. Of course, the girl couldn't see me. No one could. I screamed into Nana and her neighbor, Jeff's, ears for hours as they had packed my bags the week of my passing. Neither of them had reacted in the least.
So, I shut my mouth and leaned against the closet entrance, watching her. I hadn't had a guest in so long, just seeing another being left me entranced. The movement of her limbs, awkward, unsteady, the slight pant of her breath as she wiped her brow of sweat, salty drops she licked from her upper lip: it all was a show to me, something for entertainment. It was like the reinvention of the television.
And the best and worst part was that she didn't know that a ghost was watching her.
"Who are you?" I asked softly. "And what are you doing in my house?"
She didn't answer—she couldn't. The pain was back with that conclusion. It almost made me feel alive again. Soon, I would be numb though. That kept me watching.