be at peace

Today, it is hot.

I can feel the heat washing over me; how I slowly begin to sweat, first on my brow, then under my arms. The sun is bright and I have to squint my eyes to see ahead of me on the road. I feel head-achy, as if some small person were taking a hammer and quietly hanging artwork in the home that is my mind. It’s not excruciating, just nagging. A little “tink”, “dink”, “boink” here and there.

I’ve started thinking about him again. After years of obsessing over him as a child, then 10 years without another thought, here he comes again, like lightning, sharp and bright, and unmistakable. I am like a cat on a hot tin roof, constantly looking over my shoulder, caught, startled out of deep thought. I am convinced everyone can read my thoughts on my face, like an open book. Surely they know I am guilty; guilty of the greatest sin. They cringe, are they laughing at me? I am sure it is as clear as a scarlet A on my chest.

But no, no one is looking at me. No one cares about me, or my thoughts. They ask me how I’m doing, ask how life is treating me, and I smile and say, “well, thank you.” They walk away, no more concerned with my thoughts than a sparrow is concerned with being able to fly. I let out a breath.

My “sin” is not a sin at all, although my conscience, ever wise and true, seems to nag at me that it is perverse in some way, and I should, by any means necessary, be rid of it. I had, for a while, banished all thoughts of him. I had closed every book, torn out every page of every journal that mentioned him, and sent it through the shredder. (The Romantic in me wished I had a fire to burn the pages in, but alas, I do not live in the 19th century. We owned a wood burning fireplace, but it was never lit.) I hid away the pictures and tucked away the letters I had written. Letters . . . letters to a dead man.

God, it’s so unbearably hot. I take off my coat, stopped at a red light on my way back. The air-conditioning is on full blast, as I am hoping the noise will drown out the buzzing of my thoughts. I reach for my phone.

“Do you remember how old we were when we used to pretend to be A and E?” I text my best friend, who grew up by my side, never once questioning the judgment of her 11 year old friend who pretended to be a girl in 19th century England, in love with a gentleman twice her age. Age, that ambiguous thing; it didn’t mean anything to me back then. You could tell me that I was 11 and you were 35 and that meant we were too far apart to ever be the same. But I would only shake my head and say, “So? What does it matter? It’s a number on a page, it doesn’t mean anything. You’re a person, and so am I.  You can talk, and so can I. You’re simply just trying to tell me that you’re wiser because your number is different looking than mine, and that doesn’t make any sense at all.” Ever since then, ever since discovering the man who changed my life forever, age has meant nothing to me. I have been in love with those 5 years younger than me, and those 25 years older. When I meet someone for the first time, I don’t see a number, I see a person, and that’s all we should see. What does it matter if someone is older or younger than is conventionally acceptable, when in relation to another human being? Why, why, why does age always get in the way of love? Always . . . always, always.

The light is green. Someone honks at me to go. I come to, and take off, embarrassed by my lack of concentration.

His voice – at least, the voice I imagined him to have – comes to me, with startling clarity, as if he is seated right next to me. (I laugh to myself, thinking about how horrified he would be at the sight of cars. “This machine! The logic of it makes no sense! How does it go so fast? It is terribly unsafe, is it not? You must slow down, please! 25 miles per hour seems far too fast, don’t you think?”) He is saying something, quietly, under his breath, about being lonely. He’s telling me to stop, please stop, just stop.

“It is so lonely, my dear. So lonely, living your life in a room by yourself. It is unbearable, the silence. The silence, it is deafening, it is weakening. Don’t be lonely. Don’t choose to live alone, like I did. You will regret it. Nothing is worth giving up on love for. Stop, please. Stop holding on to this, to me. Let me go, please. I want to rest. You need to be free. Stop this. Stop, please.” 

I read somewhere that if you hold onto the memory of someone after they’ve passed, they never really die. That’s how they become ghosts. You’re chaining them to the earth, making it impossible for them to be at peace. You have to let go of them to lose them. Am I chaining him here? Was he at peace, and I brought him back? I try to say something, but he doesn’t hear me. He doesn’t hear anything. I wish I could get him to say what I want to hear, but he is here only to say what is necessary. What I need to hear, not what I want.

I brought him back to life by reading a book. He filled the pages, his voice, his scent. He was so real. More real than any person I had met so far in my life. All the adults I knew seemed so fake. So intent on telling little girls like me that we know nothing of the world and never will. But he was not like that. He didn’t tell the girl in the story that she was too dumb, or too young, or too anything. He said she was perfect. He said she was smart. He treated her like every girl wants to be treated. Like a person. I projected myself onto the girl in the story, convincing myself her and I were one in the same, regardless of the 150 years that separated us. And if she was in love with him, then so was I. (Although, I will admit, it didn’t take much convincing for me to fall in love with him of my own accord.)

The one thing about me as a child is that I was never embarrassed or ashamed about anything I did or said. I was, without a doubt, 100% me. Although I loved this about myself, most people did not. I did not have many friends because they definitely labeled me as “the weird kid”. I played dress up and talked to myself or my imaginary friends constantly. For some reason, the kids I was around, were not like this. They were groomed by their parents to turn out just like themselves – incredibly smart, intimidating, popular, and boring. No one had an imagination, no one read any books, no one was unique. They bored me. It is, unfortunately, human nature to want to be liked. From far too early of an age, we groom ourselves to appear one way, to attract the attention and approval of other people. This mars us. It takes away our true selves, and in it’s place puts a piece of someone else’s ideals.

God it’s so hot. I look for the temperature reading but the sun glints off my dashboard making it impossible to read. I huff and pull at the collar of my shirt.

After the book, there were pictures. I printed out every picture I could find of him, and nearly everyone he had taken of her, or others. He was a photographer, and most of the portraits I had of him were self-portraits. I chose my favorite and put it in my locket. The locket I had been given by my grandmother, but for ages had kept empty because I never found anyone worthy enough to be encased in it. My first and biggest mistake was not telling my friends about the man in the book. No, it was wearing that damn locket. You can’t wear a locket and not have dirty, stubby little fingers trying to pry it from your neck and peek inside.

It was hard to explain to them, who he was or what he meant to me. The only one who didn’t question or judge me for it was my best friend. She would dress up with me, in our giant, Victorian dresses, and prance around the property that surrounded her family’s farm. It was there, away from prying eyes, that I acted out every fantasy I ever had. My best friend would write letters to me, pretending they were from him. Saying how he was sorry he had stayed away, that he would always love me, and that not even our cruel mother (for we pretended to be sisters, her and I) could keep him away from me. For that is the ending I wanted, the ending I wanted for him and her, that they never got. The story that I knew we would have had, had he and I known the privilege of each other’s company. 

I can feel my mind spinning in circles now. My thoughts are not cohesive any longer. When did I give up on him? When was it exactly that I had had enough of children laughing at me, and people not understanding any longer? I was young, so they excused me that, but it was still . . . odd. Here I was, barely a teenager, in love with a man – a real one, thank goodness – but someone who had been long gone for over a century. Someone who I didn’t know. Someone people called horrible, horrible things like a pedophile and an outsider. They ignored his brilliance in writing, his advances in the mathematical community, his eye for capturing beauty in the art of photography. People fear what they do not understand, and unfortunately his life left so many holes that people have filled with hate and evil and gossip and rumor. Why can’t people just leave be what they do not understand? Why can’t they, when presented with no solid answer, just leave it a mystery, rather than making up their own sordid account of what they think happened? Why are people so quick to see the evil in mankind rather than the good?

I don’t know . . . perhaps he was an evil man. But really, no. I don’t think he was. The letters and journals and stories he left behind show a man encased by a society who wouldn’t let him dream. Perhaps he went a little mad. Wouldn’t we all, if everyone were constantly telling us we were wrong, stupid, ignoble, ignorant, lost, lonely? He had no one, absolutely no one, who cared about him, until he met her, and then, something happened. She was taken away from him. He lost everything, in one, fail swoop. How could you not be crushed, in a moment, like that? I would be. I am, for him. I feel his loss, my heart breaks for the lonely and lost of the world. I cannot help but ache for those people.

Perhaps that is why I am so attached to him. I want to fix the hurting and the hopeless. I want to prove to those who say they are alone that they are anything but. I want to pick up the pieces and glue them back together with the steady hand of a tinker. But also, he has helped me. In a time in my life where I felt so misunderstood, so different, so alone, here came a man, a figure in the mist, who told me everything would be alright. Who became my best friend, when I had none. Who showed me love in the purest and simplest form. Who taught me to be brave and true to myself and that no one could stop me. I owe him so much.

How can you love someone you’ve never met? I don’t know. It was an instant, electric connection. I read his works, his letters, his journals. I saw every bit of him in every word, every mark he left on the world. I think it is almost a truer sense of love. I was not making any judgement of him based on appearance, income, or reputation. I took what he said, and I chose to believe every word. I didn’t let other people’s accounts of him mar my vision. I see him through rose colored glasses, the same glasses he saw the world through. The glasses that made him hopeful in the face of trial. Words are power, I’ve said it before, and all he left us were words. I’ve read them thousands of times over, and pieced together a man I believe was every bit as innocent as the children he surrounded himself with.  I was one of those children, decades later, who was enveloped by his stories, his wit and humor, his love . . .

I pull up to the curb and park. I turn off my engine and sit, the air silent and still. I roll down my window and a brush of air floats through, lifting the hair off my back, tickling my neck like the caress of fingers. I glance to my right, the seat next to me is empty. I can see the faint outline where his body would be, dressed in clothes outdated for this day and age. Do I hear something? I wait, still. Nothing. It’s getting hotter by the moment, the air stagnant again.

I should let him go. I should move on. Even after contemplating for this long, I have no good reason for him to appear so suddenly back into my life like he has. I was just overcome. I had an urge to rediscover what had fueled me before. It has terrified me, to reawaken this part of myself that I shut down so long ago. Rereading and learning things that, as a child, I did not fully understand. I see now, the places which caused others concern. I see the way words and looks and moments can be misinterpreted. It makes me cry, instantly, the cruelty of growing up: of moving on when you are not ready to. Who am I to say I could give this man the love he wanted? What does it matter that one person was unhappy? He is dead, and I cannot change the past. Why am I so hell bent on proving to the world that he was innocent? He’s not my concern.

And then you realize, these are words you say to yourself to prove you are not in love with a ghost. You’re not in love with someone who never looked at you with loving eyes. Who never said your name, or held your heart in his hands. You are in love with the idea of a man. But the idea does not the man make. You know nothing, and you shake your head because no reason, no logic, can make you feel any other way. And then you sigh, tears streaming down your face, because that, that is love.

“How strange and miraculous and unnerving it is to stumble accidentally on your capacity to open yourself so completely to someone else. To know you will always feel this way and that time can have no possible effect. To watch it, like a natural wonder, like Niagara Falls, the eternal feeling rising up inside of you, flowing with deafening force, glittering in the sun, even though it is of no practical use.”

It is finally too hot to remain still any longer. I open my door, fresh air bursting into my lungs like a tide, and look at the sky. When did it get so grey? Wasn’t the sun out just moments before? I finally take the time to read the temperature.

I look at the thermometer.

58 degrees F.

 

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the cure – III

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.”


 

 

© 2017 C.W.North – All rights Reserved

losing my best friend

Summers eve and all was well with the world

you were filled with laughter, your smile was a light;

you thought I was special, and thought I was kind

I never felt better than stood by your side.

We shared so many memories and moments;

I cherished them all, they were delicate, small.

I held all my hopes like butterflies in my hands;

you were a hope I had rested upon.

“We’ll always be friends, forever and ever

not even oceans can separate us.”

“I promise it back,” I’d said so assured.

“I’ll always be there for you, no matter the cost.”

The promises spoken were true for a while

through Christmas to birthday to Christmas again.

Then one day we travelled to places so new

and time together became wishes for time apart.

You didn’t like this thing I did;

that thing that you never saw before.

Uptight and tense, I did not like your tone

of how you would say “no time, let’s go.”

7 hours home and you were so quiet

you did not like the sound of my voice.

I did not make you laugh, I was no longer funny;

my smile, I did not get one back.

And now we were home and you said goodbye,

to your family you must see.

I said “talk later” but later did not come

I did not see you again for several weeks.

We went out to lunch, I made the same jokes

I had always made around you.

But instead of smiles and laughs I’d receive

a cold and unwelcoming sigh.

I did not have fun around you anymore,

you always had something to say of my ways.

All the food I ate, funny, the drinks I’d make, gross

and my clothes were distasteful and plain.

I stopped saying hi to you from that day on

and I stopped playing cool when you’d mock me.

I stopped being nice and asking you out

I stopped making jokes to be funny.

I stopped writing letters, I stopped making calls,

I stopped coming by in the morning.

I stopped all the likes and the comments online,

and I stopped saying your name out in public.

And all that time I thought all I did

would make an impression, to cause you to think.

Then I find out, in the cruelest of ways,

your true feelings about me this time.

You never noticed when I said hi

and you never noticed my silence.

You always had an excuse in your pocket

in case I would ask you out.

You didn’t think life was all that too funny

unless you were laughing at someone’s expense.

You tossed all my letters,

you “missed” all my calls,

because you were too busy to talk in the morning.

You never saw all my likes or my comments

because you deleted the apps on your phone

“time is to precious to waste it online”

and therefore disregarded my profession.

And though I am hurt, I am not all alone

you were not my only succession.

I have many friends who actually like me

and care about my reputation.

And if you’ll allow me to say a few things

I really must let you know

that your Michael Kors and your Dior foundation

can’t fill the void in your soul.

No matter the cost of your blonde balayage

or the Tiffany ring on your finger,

no matter how often your mommy and daddy

tell you they love who you are,

if you can’t be good to the people around you,

unless you get something you want,

you’ll always be searching for the next best thing

and darling, it never will come.

Now that I’m gone and away from your life

You’ll never know if I miss you

and because of the person that you’ve become

you’ll always assume that I do.

The truth is I don’t think about you at all

except to sigh sadly and say,

“I wish that my best friend would find out a way

to be happy without being cruel.”

I’m sorry I wouldn’t be mean to others

just to make you laugh.

I’m sorry I didn’t compliment

that 300 dollar purse you bought.

I’m sorry you don’t like the person I am

or what I am doing with my life

but the point is it’s my life and none of your business

so please step out of the way.

If you decide that people mean more

than the material things that you own

I promise I’ll be waiting to hear you say

you’re sorry for being that way.

But because I know you as well as myself,

I know that day will not come

because unfortunately I have seen

the way you have done this before.

You assume it’s the world that needs to say sorry

for stepping on your toes

but the world doesn’t care if it messes your hair

or if mommy and daddy say “no.”

I hope you remember the good things in life

when you think back on this time

instead of regret for wasting your time

by not making friendships that last.

Your boss won’t care if you’re at her wedding

and she won’t text you once you quit.

If that’s the friendship you think will last

then I hope it’s a perfect fit.

Goodbye to the memories I thought that we shared

you burned them so long ago

Goodbye to the person I thought that I knew

you were before you decide to grow,

to grow up into someone who had no time

for fun or laughter or smiles

who thinks that happiness can be bought

down the Chanel perfume isle.

I’m sorry to say that I won’t be waiting

holding my breath for you to come back.

I won’t beg you to keep me

because did you know?

Your opinion doesn’t define my worth.

Your opinion doesn’t define my worth.

Your opinion doesn’t define my worth.


 

© 2017 C.W.North – All rights Reserved

the cure – I

My world is grey.

The house is grey and all around me the ground is hard, grey pavement and tiny grey pebbles. Even the sky is grey. I have never questioned the lack of color in my life. All I’ve ever known is grey and they way it has seeped itself into the very cracks of my skin. The people I know have sagging grey skin and attire themselves in worn out grey clothing. Because my world is so void of any other color, there are times when I find myself forgetting what red looks until I catch my ankle around a corner. Or what about yellow? If some people didn’t have blonde hair, I’d forget that one altogether. The grey is monotonous, but it is my life, and I know I should be happy having been gifted with such a thing as life; grey as it is or not.

Life. That is something I contemplate often. I have been told, and learned from observance, that those in my position are not expected to live passed the age thirty. That is the verage life span of humans in Haim. That’s the country where I live, named after our dictator, Alexandar Haim, who oversees the country and it’s government. Sometimes I even forget he exists; his presence in our society is seldom mentioned.  But then I get sick and remember, through choked lungs, the factories that cause ash to rain down on us like fire. It is Haim who calls for their construction, telling us it is for our good that we build more. They help us in our “search.”

That, however, is not the story the old gypsy woman tells on the corner of Industrial Square. She says the ash from the factory is actually the remains of workers whom Haim has worked so hard they wither away and float out on the wind, ash forevermore. When I was younger I believed every word she spoke with my entire being. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that she’s just crazy, like everyone else in this god forsaken town. Although, some folks say her words have truth ringing in them, in a more figurative sense rather than the literal.

It is this factory – our region’s sole source of employment – which gives our city its name: Ash. I do not know what is produced in our factory and neither does anyone but the workers themselves, and even they never speak a word. I witnessed one incident where several men harassed a young boy, maybe 15, trying to pry information out of him. Not even when they ripped the clothes from his body and beat him beyond recognition did he say a word. Before today, I didn’t understand why he remained silent. Now it all makes sense; knowing the torture he would endure from spilling the secret was worse than taking the pain of remaining silent.

I have tried to avoid the factory ever since; as if remaining as far away from it as possible will help me forget it exists. If it weren’t for the ash that drifted by on the ever constant current, I might actually be able to do so. But something draws me back to it each day, wondering what goes on inside. Curiosity was always one of my weaknesses.

The ash is not only a reminder of the hard labor experienced in the factory, but also a reminder of our pathetically short lives. This strange ash, always in the air, gets caught in our lungs and into our blood streams. Haim tells us that it is a necessary evil; that he has other factories, uncontaminated ones, which make the medicine that helps “maintain” our illness.

I get sick at least once a month for three to four days. I cannot breathe, and my lungs hurt beyond words. It hurts to eat, to walk, to sleep, to talk. I lie in bed, grey sheets around me, grey sky above me, and wonder if my life will be even shorter than I was promised. It is happening all the time now; those who were predicted to live longer are dying younger every day. I am already seventeen and I have had friends – those eighteen, twenty, twenty five – die in their sleep, die from the sickness, die from unknown causes. Why is it getting worse?

Most of our parents are gone. The few that are still alive work in the factory. Anyone older than eighteen is required to work, and if you’re a boy, those who are over fifteen. The oldest person left alive in our town is Ofelia, the Elder. Although she is my guardian, never has she spoken her real age even to me. Rumor has it she’s around forty-eight, but I don’t believe it. That’s ancient. Ofelia has taken care of me ever since my real parents died; my father from a work related injury and my mother from the sickness. I loved them, though I knew them little because I was only five when they died. I remember being sad though not confused. I knew why they had died and, in my mother’s case, expected it. I had expected it every day since I was old enough to understand how the sickness worked. Every day since then, I have expected my sickness to follow. As for my father, he was thirty-two when his death came in the factory. When he didn’t come home at the usual hour, I ran all the way to Industrial Square and pounded on the giant, gated entrance. As the workers poured out, I noticed father was not among them. It wasn’t until a very official looking man in a suit came and took my hand, leading me away, that I understood my father wasn’t coming out. And, of course, I was never told what had really happened.

Oh how Mother cried. She cried for days on end and wouldn’t eat or drink a thing, barely even sleeping. I took care of myself, eating the cold things I could find in the fridge. After a week, she got the sickness. A day later she died. Then it was my turn to cry. When Ofelia found me, she said I had slept for four days straight. When I awoke, she was bustling around, giving me strong liquid concoctions and patting my hand. I moved in with her suddenly, into the massive, abandoned mansion she inhabited far outside the city limits. I have come to care for Ofelia, but have never loved her. I have not loved a soul since I lost my father and mother. I don’t remember what love feels like, especially considering I have had too many precious things take away from me to understand what giving means.

There was one thing my father told me when I was younger that I will never forget, though I forgot many other things he had said to me. We were talking of Haim, and his constant reassurance of the “search.” It was one, small sentence Father gave, after I had asked, shyly, if he would tell me what went on in the factory:

“Somewhere there’s a cure, Adler, and they don’t want us to know about it.”


 

© 2017 C.W.North – All rights Reserved

sunday morning poetry

hushed, whispering tenderness

the morning air calls to the dead

in their sleep they rise

sunshine is ablaze with new life.

read the story of the dawn

hear the silence in her veins

as she reaches down to caress

away your worries and your pain.

you are like a newborn child

every time you feel the wild

calling to your ancient soul

“come out and see the world unfold.”

light footed you fly

reaching for the crest

of the mountains around you

as you sip the salty sea.

you are at peace.


© 2017 C.W.North – All rights Reserved

the cure

One by one, they all stop; they lay down their shovels, their rakes, and take off their dusty, earth brown gloves. Slowly, they each stand and walk toward the luminous, blue neon exit sign that hovers above the greenhouse door. As they pass, each worker grabs a handful of dirt from the soil below. Each man and woman, as they leave the silence behind them, takes one hand, always their right, and slash a deep brown mark across the notice that has been their guardian and prisoner for far too many years.

When all have left, hundreds and hundreds altogether, only a few letters remain to be seen on the white and black printed sign. These are not any random letters, but strategically picked; and they spell out something unmistakable.

“We are life.”

And as the only sound that fills the empty domes – water weeping from the green no longer tendered – it feels as if there is, finally, a choice.

But freedom can only last so long.