5. The Sky
The sea. She'd been dreaming about it a lot. Summer still lingered in the air, despite the chill. It was often, at times like these, that Paige would feel as lusty as an eager spring bud, awaiting the touch of light for it to burst open. At times like these, she'd let her fingers stray to the hair that many coveted. Long dark ramrod-straight strands of pigment and keratin, burning red hot in the morning sun.
It was odd how weather remained the only variable in her life. It had been a year so far, one year in a city that never moved and its stillness never failed to astound her. It was so disconcerting that she would spend hours on end awake at night, waiting for a flare-gun to light up the sky and herald a new beginning. Something to jumpstart the dormant fires of her soul, something to render her blind and dizzy enough to see the stars. On campus, her counselor recommended socializing to combat the loneliness. 'Isolation' was one of the terms Mrs. Ribauld had used when describing her condition.
"Of course, self-actualization and the need for company are such opposing forces. So much so that one can't help but fall into a crevasse between the two and then spend their years floundering in varying states of mind. Reclusiveness, exclusion of society, of course, I understand, dear."
She'd complied for a change and joined MySpace. Blogging and online poetry took the bite out of the dawning realization that no, she would never ever escape this narrow claustrophobic life and she would probably live and die an eccentric old maid. Twenty years and counting, twenty years and counting…
It was only three days after her twentieth birthday that she actually remembered that it had been the day she was born.
Above her, swallows flew ahead to brighter horizons. She would've envied them were it not for the cold biting in through her gloves. At least it gave her something to fight against even if the war wouldn't last forever. Life was one big fight and not everyone got away from the dog-pile.
When she thought about allusions like that, she would invariably think about him.
The grey stone breakwater had been built centuries ago when this was a small town and all the men hunters. Fishermen, to be precise. The sea would make their livelihood and she would take the lives out of them if she willed. The expanse of rough-cut rocks served as a reminder of the trials endured by mere mortals in order to rein control over Mother Nature. Beyond this boundary lay a graveyard of shipwrecks. She could imagine the skeletons of buoys and schooners lying at the sandy bottom.
Paige often dreamed about drowning.
Instead of floating upwards towards the hallowed triangle of light though, her soul would descend further down below the surface. In retrospect, it wasn't really that bad. It was cool, soothing perhaps and she could just let go…
Her eyes flickered open.
Coming here had become a habit of sorts. She'd never had any particular fascination with water. By nature, she wasn't the most introspective of characters. She would relive certain memories, walk down familiar paths and take longer to brood than most her age but Paige did not consider herself, by any means, a dreamer. The sea was a vast collection of romanticism which had begotten swarms of lovesick poets and artists. She could barely draw a straight line for it was bound to waver at a point where her weak grip would give out to gravity. And words? Words were overrated anyway.
At times like these, the loneliest of them all, she would find herself talking to shadows, each time hoping for another chance and each tall, lean figure skulking in the street would restart the spring in her feet. Each time, she would be proven that life was indeed unfair and better things were never granted to those like her.
For the nineteenth time that day, she considered taking off her shoes and letting her bare feet enjoy the crush of the sand grains beneath them. But Paige was rarely sentimental and usually practical so they would stay on until the next yearning took over her. Sometimes it was flying, sometimes it was dancing, but it would always end up suppressed, never to be released. The waves smashed against the rocks just as she clenched one fist around the other hand. She could always pretend. Imagination was her last saving grace, the resort of the wretched, of mute canaries trapped in cages.
More often than not nowadays, her hands wandered more than her mind. They would pick up pens, unsteady in their grip as they were, and let loose on random scraps of paper. Paper wasn't always a given. Any clean surface would do, as long it could be written on.
It was usually blue ink. A dull plain blue which reflected most of her moods.
Back at home, things hadn't changed a bit. Another invariable in the cycle of monotony. For breakfast, it was cold eggs on toast, for lunch, cold cuts and salad, for dinner, very much the same. Hers was a household of ice and anything warmer would have had her running for the door. It was cold, grey and constant, no variables whatsoever. One wasted year of high-school algebra had finally proved its worth in philosophy.
She was grateful for the winter as she curled into herself beneath the sheets. It made her feel thankful for things she took for granted. Like comfort. Or softness. Humanity, even.
There was a full moon tonight. It shone over the church spire, looming amidst the dusty white clouds like a malevolent Halloween specter. It didn't help matters that she associated full moon nights with reawakening. It was the most magical time of the month for those naïve enough to believe, where enchantment floated into the hemisphere in mounds of pixie dust. Childhood was a terrible thing to have to go through when all your fantasies would eventually be proven wrong.
She was dreaming of the sea again.
There he was, blue hair sprayed askance with salt spray. "You look tired."
She was. Too tired to even muster a spark of irritation at his thoughtless question.
"Hey! Didn't you hear me?"
"Yes, I believe I did."
"Well, say something then, would ya?"
She really did mean it since she didn't often get to say it while she was awake. You never greeted a corpse with 'Hello'. Neither did she greet any of the living that way but that wasn't the point.
"How are you?"
It might as well be her turn to ask about something stupid. As she expected, he clicked his tongue and received it with a look of disdain.
"Fine as fuck I'll ever be. What else do you think?"
"That you'd moved on?"
A pause. A sardonic chuckle. "C'mon, Paige, I know you better than that. You should know better."
"I think I can afford a little hopefulness on my part."
"Worked any wonders for you?"
She didn't coming up with a futile answer. The battle was halfway lost already and they both knew that it was best to go with the fall. The landing may hurt more than anything but it would be the end at last.
"Come over here."
She cast off her trepidation and stepped into the rising tide. The water was warmer than she'd expected and the foam felt like soapsuds clinging to her nightgown. Knee-deep, she kept on going until she fell into stride with his shadow. She could almost the taste the saltiness in his tousled hair.
"Just breathe in."
Her lungs were flooded with ozone.
The kiss was over before the dawn crept in.
March 8, 2006
REMAINING BODY IN GANG SLAUGHTER IDENTIFIED.
Police have managed to pin a name on the previously anonymous body of John Doe found at the scene of a violent murder of two young gang members. The identified Ryan Parker, 18, had been arrested on numerous occasions prior to the attack. He was on parole for charges related to drug abuse, physical assault, shoplifting and carjacking. Parker was identified by his step-mother whom he had once lived with.
The attack is estimated to have taken place around midday last Wednesday in the downtown district of Karlsburg. Two young gang-members, including Parker, were found dead at the scene. The other member was immediately identified as David Mathews, 18, infamous for drug-dealing in the area. There is speculation that the attack was provoked by a mutual dislike on both sides.
Police are still building a case against the perpetrators but are not keeping their hopes up for a new lead given the scant evidence. Mayor Bronson is set to deliver a speech at Town Hall regarding the dangers of gang violence and its effects on society as a whole. Members of the public are welcome to attend as are…
The grass was thick with layers of dead leaves fallen from surrounding oaks and lime-trees. Soon, there would be snow covering it. The wind whipped in through the gaps left by the greenery, making Paige shiver and tuck her jacket tighter around herself. A few meters away, a lone figure stood still at a headstone, tracing the initials carved into the stone. She remembered how the sight had startled her at first.
Susan Joanna Parker looked up and stepped away from her brother's grave, nodding politely. Unlike Paige, her hair was auburn, a lively color. Paige's was the color of the leaves crunching at the soles of her feet. For the life of her, she couldn't imagine as to what the younger girl envied about her hair.
"How are you doing?"
"Okay. I guess."
She smiled wryly because Ryan would be doing the same if he saw them now. The presence of youth in the midst of a place for the dead was a strange source of comfort. For the past two years, ever since news of his death had broken out, they had each caught the other visiting this place at odd hours when the shadows were long. Suzie didn't ask her questions. Like Paige, the younger girl was getting used to the process of acceptance. Regularity had its fair share of cushions to fall on. Understanding was one of them.
They both stood reading and rereading his epitaph, committing each deep groove in stone to memory. Two of a kind united by one who had left behind his signature in permanent ink on each of their doors before he left.
Paige had once asked her what kind of brother he had been.
"He was there. I can give him credit for that."
So be it. Let the girl mourn him as she saw fit.
Today, Paige's gaze drifted over the mass of fallen leaves.
"Do you think we should bring him flowers sometime?"
Suzie shook her head, slowly for emphasis.
Contact. They'd shared something, an almost friendship that had shaken her world a day at a time. What was done could never be erased. Every roguish glance, every sly comment, every false breath he'd taken for granted would become a part of her writing on the wall. Temporary friends, almost lovers, now all she could do was tilt her head and sigh at the dirt he lay six feet beneath.
It hadn't been enough to leave her any scars. Hardly a scratch.
Little by little, the ghost of him would glimmer, glimmer, and glimmer until he was nothing but a bright spot on her dull track record.
Sooner or later, she told herself, the next night would be the last night.
Maybe tomorrow, she'd awake with no recollection of sea salt on her lips. Maybe the past would fade away like it always did. Maybe she'd gradually change until she was the person she thought she could be…
Clear skies at midday, shout hooray.
She smiled one more time, just to spite him.
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