It’s not a long walk to Griffin’s home; just enough time for Griffin to loosen up and me to start talking again. I struggle to contain my snarky tongue since I know it’s not right to try and crack jokes when someone is obviously struggling with heavy emotion, as Griffin is doing himself at the moment.
Griffin has always been the quiet sort. He doesn’t talk much, except when he feels entirely comfortable around certain people. If you asked him, he would consider me one of those people, but I’m not sure whether that’s particularly flattering or not. We haven’t known each other our entire lives and we certainly don’t see each other every day, so how we’re so close I haven’t much clue. However, if you pressure me to define it, I can say with confidence that Griffin is the only friend I have. They’re hard to come by nowadays, friends.
A soft wind blows through the street and I watch it lift Griffin’s tattered scarf to brush against his rough skin. It’s so pale. All of us are pale, it’s part of our sickness, but Griffin has always seemed paler than most. Although his dirty blonde hair could use a cut, falling just below his shoulders, his face is normally clean shaven. I asked him about it once, and he told me most days it felt good to look in the mirror and know you could control at least one aspect of your life on your own. I want to reach over and brush a strand of hair out of his eyes but don’t. His eyes are cold and clean and grey. Ofelia once told me that Griffin looked like he had been born out of a pile of ash, all pale, dirty skin and grey eyes. The reason the sun has lost its color, she said, was that it had given its light to his hair. I look at Griffin now and smile at the thought of him being born of sunlight and ash. It rather fits his personality.
We reach the apartment, on the corner of 5th and Main, right as the factory clock rings eleven. I’m shocked to see what time it is, considering I left home around eight. Griffin pushes open the front door into a small lobby devoid of all signs of life. There sits a front desk to our right but no one reclines behind it. There hasn’t been a receptionist in decades, no one cares who comes and goes anymore. No one of importance resides behind these doors. We walk up nine flights of stairs, the elevator having been out of use for over twenty years, until we reach the final landing and head towards room 129. Griffin gets out his key and opens the door; light streaming in through the windows. I can see dust floating in the air, and the furniture is all over turned. I cringe at the state of things. As Griffin closes the door, I turn around to ask him why everything’s a mess when I spot something unusual. Upon a closer look, I notice Griffin has changed the lock.
“It’s one way – from the outside!” I grab his arm in a rougher fashion then he did with me earlier. “What have you done?” I hiss through my teeth. He turns and looks at me, all too guilty. I’m not an idiot, and I know there is only one key to their apartment. “Don’t tell me -”
He cuts me off. “I had to!” He looks around hurriedly and lowers his voice. “You haven’t seen her. I had to bring you here because I can’t calm her down. She’s – I- don’t look at me like that!”
I release his arm and rush off down the tight hallway, heat rising to my face as I feel his eyes burning into the back of my skull. “You locked your mother inside her own house!” I say over my shoulder through clenched teeth. “Where is she?”
“Let me go first,” he says, pushing me aside so as to clear a path as we go. It’s so small in here that even the shortest stack of papers or books makes everything appear cluttered; and the dust; the dust and dirt and grime! “Mother?” Griffin whispers through the house. “Mother? I’ve brought someone to see you. It’s Adler. She wants to talk to you.”
We move into the small sitting room, and I habitually run my fingers along the windowsill I don’t even have to look; I simply wipe the dirt on my pants instead. I notice the blinds are heaped on the ground and realize that’s why it’s so bright. Griffin heads off looking in all the bedrooms and I stand, uncomfortably. This house that feels so foreign to me, even though the only person I’ve ever become close with lives in it. I wrap my arms around myself and start to feverishly pray that Griffin’s mother is alright. I hear him curse in one of the back rooms and turn to find myself face to face with a woman who has pain and loss written all over her tear-stained face.
“Mrs. Wells?” I say, cautiously. She looks like a wild animal, and I’ve never seen her this way before. It frightens me.
“Adler? I can’t take it.”
“I know, Mrs. Wells.” I step forward and reach for her hand but she pulls it away.
“Have you seen her? Have you seen my Fiona?”
“No, I…” I hesitate. What should I say to this woman? This poor heartbroken woman struck with insanity? “I-I did, actually.” I feel as if I’m making the worst possible decision, but I continue anyway. “I saw her only moments ago, by the candy store in town, looking in the window as usual.” I try and smile, but it’s half-hearted.
“Tell her to come home. Please. I need her.”
“I will, Mrs. Wells.”
Suddenly, Griffin dashes around the corner and I see his mother tense up.
“You see that man?” she asks. I’m not sure who she’s talking to but all of a sudden I realize it’s me. I don’t speak. “He’s the one who’s locked me in here. All alone. I know he took my Fiona!” I tremble slightly and stare at Griffin who doesn’t even look at his Mother but stares straight at me instead. His eyes fill with tears until they spill over, like a dam just broke downriver. His face does not change, however. It is ever impassive and expressionless.
“It’s your son,” I say, still not taking my eyes off him. “It’s Griffin.”
“I want Fiona.”
I can feel my face begin to distort with discomfort and I wipe hurriedly at the water trying to slide down my cheeks.
“She’s not coming back!” Griffin knocks the sole lamp off a cardboard box, and it hits a picture off the wall. I feel sorry for his mother, if this is what she’s been dealing with every day.
“Griffin.” I hear a new voice speak and I wonder who else is here. I turn to find Mrs. Wells, standing upright; eyes clear and bright, unlike before. Needless to say, I’m confused.
“What was that for?” she continues, and turns to me with a sad smile. “Well, hello Adler. I didn’t see you come in. When did you get here?”
“I…that is…” I’m speechless.
“Never mind, dear. Sorry you have to see this mess. We’re just taking care of everything after…” she bites her lip. “Have you taken care of Fiona’s things, Griffin? I put them in boxes for you to take to Mr. Potter’s.”
“I haven’t been able to yet, Mother.”
“Well, please hurry. Then Miss Adler here won’t have to see us in such an awful state.” She begins to walk away and begin cleaning up, including the broken lamp and picture frame from Griffin’s outburst. I come to my senses and bend down to the floor with her. “I can help, if you want,” I suggest, picking up pieces of glass as I do so.
“No, that’s fine. You two should leave and have some time together. Since we’ve been so tied up, you two never get to see each other anymore.”
I’m about to say “no” when Griffin puts his arm around my shoulders and starts to lead me away. “I’ll be right back, Mother, after I talk to Adler.”
“No rush, dear, but take those boxes with you.”
I’m still staring after her before Griffin pushes me out into the hall and shuts the door behind us. The minute he does so, I’m on him.
“You idiot!” I say, turning and pushing him in the chest with the sweaty palm of my hands. “How obtuse can you be? Locking her in; what on earth were you thinking?” I can’t control myself.
“You can’t possibly understand what we’ve been through!” Griffin fights back, and I see anger rising in his face; his strangely beautiful, unnervingly calm face that never shows emotion.
“Can’t I? You never tell me anything, so how am I even supposed to begin to understand?”
“No?” Griffin attacks. I see him trying not to lose control, but his struggle is pointless. “Why would I tell you? You weren’t there when we realized Fiona was getting sick! You weren’t there when we laid her in her grave. You weren’t there when she died and you weren’t there after!”
I bite my lip. I try not to think of Fiona, only eleven years old; the apple of her mother’s eye and the joy of her brother’s heart. I knew her little, but I know her family well enough to know she was everything to them and more. The wound her death brought can never be healed.
I hate my home, I hate the sickness, and I hate death. More than that, I hate myself. I wish I were dead and not Fiona, if only to cure this family from their pain. Why wasn’t I there for them?
Griffin takes the key from my hand, which until now I never realized I was clutching, and locks the door again.
“No!” I say.
“She’s mad,” He hisses at me. “A nutcase, do you hear? I can tell she’s following quick in Fiona’s path, and when she’s in the state you just saw her in, she can’t be trusted! I don’t want her to get out and hurt herself; throw herself in front of a train! You saw what she’s done just in our own home. The place is trashed, worthless.”
“Then why aren’t you just there taking care of her?” I ask, furious to the tips of my fingers. “She obviously needs you!”
“You call me obtuse? I’m the stupid one, who never thinks?” Griffin is disgusted and I might even say disappointed, with how I’m behaving. He continues, “I have not abandoned her. I’ve been working for her, spending every spare moment I have doing whatever I can to earn money. I spend that money on food, clothing and medicine to keep her well. I don’t want what happened to Fiona to happen to her too! We thought she’d be the first to go. She’s almost thirty-seven, Adler, good as dead, and all you can think about is my so called cruelty to her?”
I fight back a comment, but it’s no use.
“I always wondered why you never talked much,” he finishes, “Now I know. You’re too stupid to say anything worthwhile.”