— The Prodigal Daughter
My house had not changed since I had last seen it. The wooden beams intersected with weathered-stone sidings that fit the aesthetic of the surrounding log cabins and lake-themed get-away homes. A dirt-covered, white truck was parked in the front of the circular driveway. I pulled my sedan to the side.
The afternoon had darkened a shade as rain clouds began to swarm the sun. I opened my trunk, grabbing a backpack and a suitcase. I would finish unpacking later. I needn’t go through all the memories of college just yet. The wind blew the smell of budding flowers from my dad’s garden.
I marched across a stone pathway to an embossed, oak railing. The crimson paint awash upon our door stood in stark contrast to the dull color of wood and stone. My mom told me, once as a curious child, that red doors welcomed the travel-wearied and disheartened; The ill-fortune would find hospice here. A red beacon alight in a suburban world of uncertainty.
My hand gripped the metal doorknob, pushing in the front door with a slow creak. I tossed my shoes in a wooden rack beside a staircase leading to empty bedrooms.
The dreary weather had thwarted any apparent plans my parents had; they sat around our dining room table with a scrabble board laid out. Smoke spiraled from a steaming cup of coffee by a dozen, scattered, scrabble pieces.
My mother stood up as I entered the foyer, “Is that our college graduate?” she called from the kitchen.
“Hey, mom.” I said tossing my stuff by the staircase.
“How are you, my love?” She said sweetly, unknowing of the treachery that lied before us.
“I’m fine.” I lied, “Tired from the drive and from camping.”
“Where’d you go?” My dad asked.
“Near the Hogsneck,” I said, “The sites next to Savage.”
“Aren’t those closed?” My mom asked skeptically.
“Yea we slid through the fence.” I said, “We didn’t stay long, and no one watches it.”
“I know, I just don’t want you getting caught by whoever bought that land.” My mom said, “After Mr. O’Leary died, they threw up the fences.”
“Yea but that was a decade ago.” I said.
“I still can’t believe he did that.” My dad said, “Didn’t he have a son?”
“I think so.” My mom said, “I think they were estranged, or he was in the army?”
“I mean, I can see it.” I regretfully said as I caught sight of my mom’s eye.
“You better not see it.” She reprimanded, “He was living alone on that mountain for God knows how long; he needed help”
I relented, “You’re right; I’m sorry.” I said.
“How are your friends? I haven’t seen Sam in ages, what is he up to?” My mom asked.
“Still cutting trees.” I replied, “Other than that, not exactly sure.” The Euphoria began to fade from my mind, but the tingle through my veins persisted.
“Would you like to play with us?” My mom said gesturing to the Scrabble set, “We just started.”
“No, its fine, Mom; thanks though. I had a long night; I think I want to rest for a little.” I said excusing myself from any further explanations.
“Of course. And you are okay, right?” She said raising an eyebrow.
“Yea, I’m fine; I promise.” I lied again.
“Okay,” My mom said in disbelief, “You got something in the mail; I put it in your room.”
“Ok,” I said, “Thank you.” I refilled my water and hugged my mom before leaving her and my dad to their boardgame.
I needed sleep and to silence spiraling thoughts. I traced every interaction I had with my parents to find any reason to not trust them, yet I found none, and still I could not bear to let the words escape from my throat.
If only I could relive my life through a set of different eyes; brighter eyes that shone as the sea. Mine were dark and black and reflected nothing but others, who were brighter in nature and superior in mind and their grasp upon reality more stable.
I pushed breaching tears down into my gut, where the rest of any releasing duress remained until alcohol loosened my hold. Did red doors welcome vagrants, whose body and mind never ceased screaming at one another? I traced the edges of my scars as I contemplated what I were to do next.
I was alive, I thought, I was alive, even if I were not certain at times… I tapped my fingers on the wooden floorboards. Tap. Tap. Tap. The impact from the ground pushed my nail bed back pleasantly. The pressure paired with the satisfying rapping tingled my brain in the right spot.
I was alive. Tap. Tap. Tap.
Alive. Tap. Tap. Tap.
The noon sky darkened another shade; The walls, which had once been sea-foam green, had fallen ill. Beside my closet hung a faded, oval silhouette. The contrast dripped mournfully in the background of my unfocused vision. Each poster hid the caved in markings of youthful battles waged against temperamental emotions. A few pictures of her remained; I lazily encouraged my eyes to turn away, yet control had been lost some time ago.
She would hate me. A voice cried
Tap. Tap. Tap. Smack.
I slapped my palm on the wood as a tinge of shame flowed through my chest. Nothing more than a symptom from past wounds. I shook the blood free and allowed my fingers to dance once more. A meager measure to distract the more unappealing thoughts. A mirror jutted from my bathroom. Our eyes met. Bags hung heavy below her dead eyes.
Last night, as we shared a gaze; I saw she harbored no spite to me, and all the anger I felt toward the past had simmered away to gentle sorrow. There was forgiveness to find in the past and nothing more. The remaining chaos would only ensnare my mind in past conflicts; tomorrow would shed more blood.
My money-tree, Eliza, sagged their pitiful branches, some had already withered away. Most, hung on hope for water. The poor thing had falsely believed in a rain never to come. Their barren roots becoming unrecognizable with the rest of the soil. Their salvation lied in my useless fingers, which were too occupied tapping my floorboards. I did not know why I brought them back, and yet they scrappily hung onto life for four years. There was genuine innocence within plants that I only came to learn after displaying my inadequate caretaking ability.
I felt my eyes narrow as I considered the possibility of Eliza’s shallow life continuing for the sole purpose of outliving her oppressor. A guise of innocence that shadows darker motives. I would have to ensure Eliza died before me.
I released the remaining breath I had. I wanted to feel as they did. To my disappointment it was quite the opposite. My chest burned as tears dripped from eyes. My fingers and toes tightened as blood struggled to move. My limbs would not whither and part like my little tree. Flesh was destined to burn. I desperately hung onto this feeling until I fell on my side. At long last I gave into my body’s cries for air.
I felt the strain of presentation. As if I were another patch of discoloration streaked upon my wall. The brighter shades slowly seeped into the background with every cloud that passed overhead.
I pictured myself removing my sheets from my suitcase. I could get some sleep. I imagined the comforter warped around my body as passionate lover. I had never felt the warmth of another comparable to that of my blankets. The scent of my musk embedded within the fabric comforted my creature mind. This was safe. This was warm.
My room hosted a stranger. Her scent still trapped within old sheets. My curtains shivered with a summer wind’s gentle touch. It beckoned my willing body to rise, but I protested.
In contrast to my body, my eyes were restless. Just a few more moments of quiet blinking and the morning fog would be swept away. The alarm clock flashed 12:00 in and out with a reddish hue. I saw, in the cloud-dimmed light, the blue, leather diploma-holder sitting atop my open suitcase. It sat shotgun the entire drive home, gazing at me expectantly, until a struggle with my own incompetency’s ensued, and I tossed the diploma within my luggage. I had hoped it would have disappeared there; however, disappointment stalked me like some large cat.
I tried to shift my eyes away, but my body protested further disruptions. I had no choice but to give in to its demands. Moving my head proved more difficult than the thought of staring at the last four years of my life.
An undisturbed sleep and another try would serve me well, and yet my bones yearned movement. There was a time when I could go days without brushing my teeth. The fuzz would grow on my enamel like autumn moss on the root of a tree. I would go weeks without showering, and hours of staring at the wall, fading in and out with the sunlight. I did not have such powers anymore, save for the last. A prison cell or the world at large. It mattered little. Give me a bed and a wall and leave me be.
I forced my eyes closed in one last ditch effort to get any amount of sleep. My body fought my every whim. It was a stupid creature, my flesh. Its needs were beneath me. A prison that ate and shit and desired what it would never have.
In all fairness to it—my body— I had never expected to get this far. It would be a miracle, but I doubt my lord ever heard a prayer uttered from green lips. Past weakness gnawed on my nerves. I did not fault anyone who disliked me. I did not like myself very much or very often, and yet I was the one stuck here. It was a shame, but I would live, for now.
I know I sound drab, but humor made death lighter. I saw myself reluctantly dragging this load on for a short, insignificant ride. I might as well laugh at such a short spark in a large, dark valley. This was the final stop where introspection led. Alone in my room, I lasted longer than expected. In the past my eyes were ever pointed out and rarely looked within, I thought. It was all so vague. I was not a monster then. I was a boy. Now I am a monster. Except, I was also always a monster, and never a boy.
At college I realized the monstrous urges for what they were. If only I could go back. I could tell myself the truth. I could save myself that anguish. It would go as follows: “Don’t look behind the curtain. Ignore the scratches; ignore the mirrors. Do not, under any circumstance, go to a therapist.” I saw one. Now I am a monster, or I was always a monster. To my surprise no pitchforks were drawn. No torches lit, and no priests had come knocking on my door to baptize me again for good measure. I guessed there would still be time. No one else could see it. That may be why. My skin looked like skin. My eyes, though heavy and sunken, were as eyes normally look. My blood was warm and my breath fresh. I have had lovers. I have had friends. The world outside of medical institutions and my mind saw me as a boy. The world, as I have come to know it, was rarely correct on perceptions.
My fingers sporadically tapped my floor for stimulation. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
Unchained thoughts tended to spiral. Time blurred in the most chaotic manner. Days had passed me so quickly. All were meaningless. Colorless moments whirred before my head in a mundane step. Honestly, I barely remembered most days. A few moments were clear. Typically, they were bad.
I used to be stronger. Now, when I stood I could not help but become hypnotized by the ground. Had the wind shown conviction, my hollow frame would have collapsed upon the floor. A thread of sanity clung to my mind to keep balance.
The worst people got to live. Monsters always lived until the end. I would wait for my hero to come and finish the story. Peace would be my reward. Until then I would endure the itches.
I relinquished control to my body. It won. It usually did. Other than the sun’s slow demise, the weather was warm. As I stumbled to my bathroom the diploma caught my eye once more. The dim light bounced off the gold border. It felt so distant now. A false scrapbook of memories burrowed their way into my mind, taking root. I didn’t feel like I had grown up, yet here was the world. It had come to remind me otherwise. I jammed the toothbrush into my mouth to make up for lost time. I scratched whatever bacteria decided to house themselves between my teeth.
A mirror sat squarely in the middle. Naturally, I stood beside the sink and looked out to my room. The bounce of light caught my eye once more.
As a creature of impulse, I walked back into my room. I traced the outline with my finger. The leather was soft, and looked real enough. I flipped open the front cover with one hand while the other hand continued its assault on my gums. The font was nice. The cream coloring of the background enhanced the aesthetic. The texture was rough and official-looking. Blue banners hung as borders engulfing a seal signifying intellectual advancement. It was certainly worth the eighty dollars my mother spent on it.
I rubbed my thumb over the red lettering of my name. It was a shame, but some things couldn’t be helped. I closed the cover and returned to my good hygiene. They spelt my name wrong anyways.
A brown-paper wrapped parcel lied on my bed. Twine neatly wrapped the sides. My address was written in black Sharpie. A dozen stamps were jammed in a strange runic symbol, that stretched across the paper. I flipped up the note, which read, Your death was prematurely perceived; Return for a free reading – Keira
I cut open the paper to see a soft cotton dress. It was similar to the one Stella had worn, but it was overlaid in purple embroidery. It smelled like Euphoria- floral scents, lavender, honey, brown-sugar, and lilac. The fabric fell as snow drifting in a swift wind. It was soft, yet surprisingly stretchy.
The bathroom door stood open. The mirror faced out to me. There was no hiding, and there were no drugs to soothe the pain. The dress defied the mirror’s painful edges. I was softened to all features. My form was elegant. The fabric drifted down my chest and flared out around my legs. I twirled in the mirror’s reflection. It was like the club, but I was not in the darkness. The light from my fluorescent ceiling lights centered me as a dancer on stage. No entity could overtake my brilliance. I was my own show. I was my own woman, finally freed from the onslaught of spiteful stares from the dignified and morally righteous.
This was beyond the rot of the world. I found, there was, within the folds of cloth, a purity indistinguishable from worship. Faith never gripped my tarnished soul, but there was religion in this too. I felt as the budding flowers blooming to spite Autumn’s impending seizure. I was pure; I was beautiful, and I could stand before the world and take whatever hellfire managed to spit its way back.
I read the note again, thinking of the woman, who had guided me to the bar. Was she Kiera? I wondered. What of the man in the white suit, and why did all of this involve my personal issues?
The whirlwind of thought crashed with the gentlest taps upon my bedroom door. “Hey, love. Can I talk to you for a second?” My mom’s voice softly called from the precipice of my room. I tossed a blanket over my body and ducked in a blind spot from where the crack opened up to.
“Yea, mom.” I said, “Can I meet you in your office?”
“Sure.” She said closing the door. I heard her footsteps fade.
I took one last moment to gaze upon myself in the dress. It was simple, but eloquently beautiful.
I slipped through the hallway in a pair of pink, ankle-socks. At the end of our second-story hallway, a partition separated a miniscule workspace my mom utilized.
I slid the wooden partition open and stepped into a cluttered office. My mom sat in a chair with the dim, blue light of her screen reflecting a dozen emails and open tabs.
Upon seeing me, my mom closed her laptop, “Hi.” She said, “Can we talk—just for a moment?”
“Sure.” I said, feeling like a spy about to be unmasked.
“I am worried about you.” She said flatly, “I know the past few years have not been easy, and let’s face it that school was not good to you.”
“No.” I paused, “It wasn’t, but I graduated. I am done. That chapter of my life is over.”
“And what is entailed in this next one? Please be something good, Alex; My heart cannot take another ‘grippy sock visit’.”
“I won’t need that again; I promise.” I said, “Things feel different now.” It was the truth, only slightly tweaked in my favor. Now was the perfect opportunity to lay my heart out, and still I could not force my tongue to give up my secrets easily.
“There is something else, Alex. I see it in the way you walk and in your eyes. It scares me so much. What is holding you back?”
“I don’t know Mom.” I said.
“Did I do something?”
“No.” I said, shocked that she would ask that.
“Did Dad do something?”
“Did something else happen at school?”
“No.” I cried; I never desired anyone to blame themselves for my inevitable downslide.
“What can I do to help you?” My mom pleaded.
“Nothing, mom.” I whispered. The real truth had caught in my throat. I felt the edges of the letters scrape and tickle my larynx.
“I hate that.” My mom said after hesitating.
I stood in silence for another minute, “I love you though.” I shakily said.
“I love you more than anything.” My mom said, searching my eyes for any sign of further slips betraying the barriers, I built.
I wasn’t ready; I knew, but I didn’t. If I were wrong then I would be tainted. Decades would pass and my parents would laugh at my wedding about the time I cried over thinking I was a girl. I did not want to say a word until the signs were scribbled through the stars.
I hugged my mom and left her office. I went back to my room and took the garment out of the bag. It was a beautiful dress. It was white and glistened. I could not help myself. A warmth spread within my chest that echoed in a place I had shoved down within me. It was a yearning of the soul. My breathing slowed to an excruciating halt. The fabric melted in my hand as I stroked the rich folds. The material was otherworldly and nothing that I had felt before.
Desire took over and I undressed. I tossed my clothes aside and reverently held the dress in my hands as if I were saying a prayer. Electricity crossed into my arms as I felt myself approaching this same precipice I had crossed before. It had not lost its rebellious thrill. The secret act of defiance against my body and against the perceptions of the world. It was bold, shameful, and condemned by most of the world. I cherished every moment.
I slipped the material over my head and with a swoosh let the dress fall into place. Like magic it spread and tightened at the right places. I smoothed the material out across my hips and naturally spun toward my mirror, but at the last moment spun further out of sight. The dress spun gracefully. I wish my awkward legs could replicate. “This is too pure a moment to ruin with a reflection.” I said to myself moving away from any reflections.
I turned to the window and watched the rain pour out over the trees. I gazed solemnly over the forests until my eyes were drawn to the shape of a woman in the distance. An apparition over the shoreline. Upon the mountain, I swear it was a woman. Dressed in white walking around the mountain. I stared at her a moment longer until goosebumps rose on my bare skin. She stopped. It was as if she were staring back.
Stella, It was Stella, I thought. I saw a shimmer of movement as her hand was thrown up waving. I waved back unsure if I was supposed to keep looking or not. She turned her attention back to the lake’s shoreline. I backed away from the window and closed the blinds. I removed the pouch and took out another swig of Euphoria. The sap dripped through my mouth and down the back of my throat. I laid for hours and gazed at the ceiling in pure bliss, escaping through blissful sleep.
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