Note- this story is a collaboration between Tess (Kisses-and-gasoline) and me. I hope you like it. and yes, it would be nice to see some comments too. Thanks.
Tess, i'm not sure you'll see this but if you do, i just want to say thanks and that you are one of the best writers i have ever met over the internet. Maybe one day when we're all grown up we'll come across this and remember all the fun times and probably even laugh at this one.
He was the kind of man who stopped on principle when the pedestrian lights were red, whether there was traffic coming or not.
Artemis sat curled up in the backseat, observing the small, reflected oval slice of her father in the rearview mirror.
Surreptitiously she rubbed her legs, exhausted grey denim concealing a host of barbed-wire scratches coiling furiously across her skin. A persistent dry ache tingled across her tissue-paper skull: the ghost of whatever nameless coke-tinted alcohol she'd slugged last night from a plastic soft-drinks bottle, legs stretched like a flurry of dead leaves across the disused railway tracks.
Artemis always waited for that last second, when the lights flashed red.
There was an overtone of pain sifting through the awkward silence between her father and her lately. There were meaningless conversations on topics that were never related like the weather or the summer sale in Marks & Spencer's. Maybe that was better than having to talk about the past week. Artemis buried her throbbing head in her hands. She distracted herself from thoughts that threatened to brew her in sadness.
'…Of course with the financial market as it stands… with inflation and, um… oh yes, and the economy on its knees, we're… Art?'
A daydream whispered sullenly past the waking tyrant of her steadily worsening headache.
'Art, are you listening?'
Her father's voice washed past, unnoticed in the treacherous rapids of memory.
She twisted a lock of glossy black hair between her fingers- as twisted as the dead reeds surrounding Kilmer Lake.
The glow of the stoplight splintered through a haze of streaked raindrops on the window, scattering little red droplets of light onto her skin. They looked like blood.
But, she reminded herself, there had been no blood.
Her father's voice cut in sharply again, "Art..?"
She looked at him, observing the dark circles around his eyes from the mirror. When his eyes met hers she replied, "Yeah?"
"I was thinking, how about we go to Mrs Mandrake's party tonight, you know. People are getting worried. It would be better if we show them..." He struggled, "…that we're doing fine."
A flood of anger penetrated through her.
"Who said we're doing fine?"
Her voice seemed to echo, resounding in her mind.
Everything seemed clearer now, the headache morphing into something like a memory, sitting at the back of her mind.
"Art, its better if we-"
"You can move on if you want but don't ever tell me that its fine." She yelled back. She couldn't deal with this anymore. The signal was still red like as if time stood still for them. She swung open the car door and walked into the rain. She could hear her father call her name but she decided she needed time alone. The rain grew more intense and the wind swivelled the drops in her direction.
His voice followed her, blurred and distorted by thick curtains of water clawing desperately at the thick fibre of her long black coat. After a while, the dim glow of headlights behind her departed with a muted, watery roar. Artemis bowed her head, feeling cold fingers of water slide sickeningly down the back of her neck. An ambulance splashed her jeans as it flew past, flickering sapphire light illuminating the gloom with a mechanical wail.
'Shut up, shut up…'
He'd been dead before they reached the hospital, but they hadn't told her that until later. All they said was that her brother was dead. He was Jason Silvers, he was alive, he was just out fishing- and then he was dead. Great grey swathes of rain lashed at her eyes, cruel coldness slipping through her open lips… she let out a single quiet cry of agony…
A car loomed up beside her, one window open despite the rain. Her mother's face glowed in the yellow dashboard lights.
She looked at her mother with all the grief she had gathered. Her mother stared for a minute wondering if it was possible to ever overcome this sense of helplessness, this gnawing of surrealism that followed her every moment. She was frozen, rooted by her daughter's broken spirit.
Artemis was about to say something, but it was too difficult. The words were mottled with misery, her thoughts overlapping each other, stumbling in her throat. There was only so much she could bear. She crumpled, falling on her knees.
Her mother whipped out of the car but she wasn't able to catch her daughter.
Artemis screamed into the night "Why?"
But her cold fury only dissolved into the night.
Her mother's hands found their way to pull Artemis straight. Her hands were warm like the afterglow of a sun. Artemis wanted to bury in the warmth and the soft nostalgia they held that pulled her away from the wreck in her mind.
She didn't realize she had been sobbing. Her mother tightened the grip over her daughter as if almost scared she would disappear too. That she would slip underwater and never make her way up.
"I loved him too." Artemis heard her mother whisper.
Stale warmth blasted from the air-conditioning unit as Artemis dragged herself carefully into the front seat. Sodden denim stuck to her legs, torn skin stinging with cold. Her mother closed the door and stepped back into the rain. Artemis watched her scurry round to the driver's side, shielding her perfectly curled hair, as black as her daughter's underneath layers of sleek brown highlights.
'…You can't just run off like that, Art. Think of how it makes me feel.'
She tumbled in with a flurry of bitter raindrops, revving the engine into life. Her hair was lighter than it had been yesterday, despite being wet. Artemis gave a hash laugh.
'Oh yeah, your son dies and you get your hair done. I'm sure you were just hyperventilating in the salon.'
Her mother stiffened as though she had just reached over and slapped her across the face.
'I didn't know what else to do, alright?' She snapped.
Wiping fiercely at her blurring eyes, Artemis watched a single tear grace her mother's cheek. It didn't even smear her flawless makeup.
'…I did it because every time I look in the mirror… I see him.'
Outside, the wind howled. Artemis stared at her trembling hands, afraid to catch the eyes of her reflection in the glass.
'I see him in the street. In his room. I see him every time I close my eyes.'
The car trailed home in silence.
Artemis stared vacantly back at herself in the mirror. Her brother's room was still a mess. An AC Milan poster that was plastered in the centre of the wall reminded her of the many evenings they argued over Italian football. She had always preferred InterMilan. She closed her eyes that were red rimmed even through the heavy smudges of mascara and ran her fingers over the cold metal of the scissors that sat naively on the drawer.
She was doubtful at first, wondering if she could even pull it off, but now in this room, gazing at everything that made her remember she realized she had it in her to do it.
The hair caught in her fingers and she purposefully held the scissors in the volatile air. It was easier than she had thought but there were unfamiliar emotions bursting through her mind.
A metallic staccato filled the choking emptiness, the smell of unwashed clothes and aftershave. The blades sliced their way through fronds of silky blackness, like silver fish darting through a coral reef.
His eyes reflected in the mirror, the ghost of his sleeping silhouette imprinted on those stupid Superman bedcovers.
'Are you the parents of Jason Silvers?'
That face, the face that wasn't his.
He could have been asleep, only Artemis had never seen anyone with skin that colour. The colour of the starched white sheet drawn to just below his chin. He looked… wrong. Like a doll left overnight in the pouring rain, bloated and warped, corrupted from the inside out.
'Was it- was it painless?'
The doctors had been too kind to reply.
Artemis put the scissors down and wiped her eyes. Soft black shafts of hair spiked like dying grass from her scalp, a river of glossy locks spread over her lap like the first breath of winter snow. The doorway yawned open behind her, achingly hollow.
'…I did it because every time I look in the mirror… I see him.'
Jason stared through her eyes. The underwater glow from the pale blue walls reflected a thin trickle of blood, snaking slowly from behind her left ear. At last.
At last there was blood.