This is the next post of our January Theme Week, with a theme of New Beginnings.
This story is written by Guest Contributor, Riana Mercado, a writer from the Philippines. You can find her on Twitter as @rianamercado.
Back then, there was no midnight nor noon nor dawn nor anything else. To her, there was only the sun and the moon, and that was that.
I met her when she was a little girl. The oddest thing was when she smiled. All my other friends got scowls, frowns, or confusion. They said adults particularly hated us. But not her. When I came along, I expected a long, hard face staring back. And I was of course puzzled at first, for she put her hands around me, stared at my every inch and said, “You’re beautiful!” Her eyes were galaxies full of stars and her smile was an ocean of possibilities. And although I knew the moment I was there with her was something that may soon be one way or another for her, I had already loved her too much to let her go.
I slept beside her every night. The room was dark and the curtain was open; that was how she wanted it. She’d switch the lights off and run to the bed on the other side of the room, getting under the covers as fast as she could. The thing I adored most was when she talked to me before she closed her eyes and drifted off. She talked about everything and anything. I listened to them all. She went on about this mean boy at school, and how she tried not to mind him one bit. “Grammy told me there wasn’t any good to come with that. Gram’s very smart.” There was also that time when she read about some monkey who wore a yellow coat; George, was that the name? At times she whispered about the nightmare she had the night before. And she told no one else. It worked, me and her. I suppose it was her youth that brought us together. But everything changes. Of all things, I should know that was inevitable.
“My mom’s somewhere,” she said one day. “Grammy said so. She’s looking for her. I told her she didn’t need to, that we didn’t need her. But, you know, she’s a grandma. She’s very old, and she said she wanted me to have a future when she’s gone. I told her she was fine. She gave me this look, I don’t know, like she knew something I didn’t. Why are old people like that?”
I didn’t want to remember, but the problem was I remembered everything. Memory is a double-edged blade. It was a week before Christmas. She came back home that night, sobbing and completely disheartened. She told me through sobs that the person who gave me to her was gone. Her grandmother was gone. She was old, she repeated. “She’s the only one I have left. The only one.” And I was crushed, although not for the things I should be. For one, I was there for her. Me. How could she not have seen that? I could help her heal. I could help her be okay again. But at the same time, I was not able to say anything, for guilt was overwhelming in the largest form.
I wanted to tell her, but would she learn to talk to me again after I say that I was the one who killed her?
Things were never the same between us again after that night, even though I was sure she did not know anything. Soon she started getting into bed late, sleeping with the lights open, not even bothering to find the covers on her bed. She didn’t say anything except her grandmother’s name, over and over and over. I woke her up in the mornings after, and she’d give me this frown all my friends warned me about. Some other nights, she cried hard, but she never talked to me about it. Dread filled me. Did she know, somehow? Did she find out along the way?
It’s not my fault. I had to. I had to kill her. I had no choice.
Sometimes she didn’t come home.
After dozens of nights, she changed again. This time, she looked at me every so often, but not for the old joyful reason. She glanced at me a few times every evening, writing on a notebook, reading about math and the war and when the apple fell on some person’s head. She looked better and more herself, but it wasn’t the same. Every month or so, she’d go inside the room, plop on the bed, and just stare at the ceiling. The stars in her eyes were crumbling, and I couldn’t do anything as she grew older and faster than she was supposed to. And I hated that so much.
The next thing I knew, she came home every night battered and bruised, smelling of alcohol, cigarettes, or dope, or all of the above. There were no books nor late nights of chatting. There was this old mean boy she talked about long ago that came over at midnight through her window, and they’d spend their time tangled in the sheets, hanging onto whatever. The headboards crashed the same time as she did. A few hours later, the boy would walk away and leave her there as she fell asleep. Her life continued hanging on the wall from a loose nail, and she’d stared at it like it was something that it was what kept her from everything good. She’d looked at me once before she turned her back at me and say, “Damn fucking hell.” And I would say nothing back, even though I had lots of things I wanted to tell her.
You need me. I love you. You need to listen to me. You’re falling into a pit, and it’s a hard one to climb out of.
She never bothered listening to me the following mornings.
I didn’t know what had happened though, when she walked in the room one evening and stared at me. Just standing there in the doorway. “I’m so tired,” she whispered. “So tired of all of this.”
I wanted to cry for her at that moment. She walked slowly and sat on the edge of the bed, not once keeping her eyes off of me. “I could end this. I really could.”
An hour. That was how long she sat there unmoving until she finally spoke. “Mackie’s parents are splitting up. Jarvis got sent to juvy. No one seems to care. Everyone’s drinking at that goddamn club again tonight. Celebration for the new year, that’s what they said. A fresh start. As if they we don’t drink enough every day.” She paused.
“The association between new years and fresh starts are bullshit. There’s been over two thousand years and I could tell you ninety-nine percent of all humans have broken a promise they’ve made, something likely for themselves. Human beings are inherent liars. Not much of a surprise there, really.” That part, she was completely right about, I suppose. She got up, letting out a gasp of withheld breath before switching the lights off. She got under the covers as slowly as she walked to the bed.
“Everyone’s so optimistic every year’s end. I mean, what’s really changed, huh?”
There was a faint fireworks noise from outside. She turned to look out at the window, but it wasn’t there. Probably from another block.
“Goddammit, I want to fix myself.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. That was when I realized what had happened. All the talk. The sudden tears. There were faint noises of explosion a few blocks away again, but the sky that came into her view was dark, and the only thing she could see above was a sole, round eye. Maybe she finally saw my purpose for her.
She looked out at the window more closely, propping herself up on the bed, and it was only her and the moon. Her eyes fluttered and her mouth curled into a smile. The night sky’s light hugged her face, and she looked radiant, beautiful. I’ve never seen her so calm in a long time. Then she looked at me. And I was scared. We only saw each other for a while. Nothing in the room but us. What to do, oh what to do. Valediction glimmered in her eyes for a moment before the same old jocularity came back. Yet, there was a sense of loneliness. She was no longer the little girl that I had met before.
Everyone changes. Sometimes for the better.
“Thank you for giving my grandmother the long life she had. And thank you for taking her the way you did. A blessing.”
All this time?
“Someday I hope you’ll give me the peaceful end as well. Thank you.”
“Nothing’s the same,” she said to me then after a few minutes of silence. “I’ll try to do everything for the better. But I need your help. I can’t treat you different like you’re my enemy. I took you for granted because I thought you passed by so raggedly to torture me into insanity, but that’s not true, was it? That was just me blaming you for such a shitty life I’m giving myself. You’re not going to be there for me forever, I know that, but I was too frustrated to see that you’ve given me so much. More than I deserve. I think I understand that now. You’ve been so magnificent to me.”
Close your eyes and think. Stop and smile and enjoy. That’s how you can get time to be on your side.
“People move so fast now, huh? They give you so much attention, when the only thing you want is to be an afterthought. I can fix that.”
And she was right. It can’t all be fixed in just this one night of clarity. That never happened, that could never occur. But there was time. Time for fixing, time for healing. I was there. I could give that to her.
That night, she kept me on her bedside table, and when it was time to wake her up and see the sun once again, there was nothing but a smile on her face.