Street Rat

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Dark clouds loomed overhead, a gloomy backdrop for the rain that fell onto pavement and metal.

The city streets had been empty for years, the buildings crumbling around them and tumbling into the avenues and walkways.  Wires hung from odds and ends, making the place look like a lifeless jungle, still and wet and cold.

From the shadows of a loading dock that had known better years, a girl stood with her arms folded, watching the silent streets.  Her muddy blonde hair had been pulled to the side in a loose braid, and the rain boots she wore nearly came up to her knees.

This was her father’s building, and it would always be her father’s building, even now that the big garage door for the dock was gone, along with most of the store.  Most of the city had moved on by now, but not her.  She was among the last to stay in the abandoned city, with no plans of leaving this place that was her father’s greatest dream.

A breeze pushed the rain farther inside the gaping structure, causing the girl to take a few steps back, gripping her arms tighter.

A street rat.

That’s all anyone would see her as now.  A street rat in a place where even cats had stopped their play.  They would wonder why she stayed.  Why she didn’t leave the skeleton of her father’s shop.

The best years of her life had been there.  Watching her father build and fix, tinker and take apart, hold carefully or bang on the counter in frustration.  She glanced over at the back wall, the one place still mostly intact, where the counter sagged beneath tools and boxes of odds and ends.  She’d learned fast, and figured out which tools were needed before her father could, bringing them over while he considered banging the object against a hard surface.

Her eyes wandered back to the silent, wet streets.  When everything had fallen apart, she’d only been able to think of her father’s words.  There will always be someone who needs help.  There will always be something to fix.

Unfortunately, she’d never learned how to fix walls, or what to do if a piece of the building next door falls onto the shop’s structure.  But she’d kept the counter safe.  She’d protected her father’s tools.  She’d stayed, watching the city fall apart.

She straightened as a dark figure emerged in the rain, walking quickly towards her.  The figure was holding something close with their coat wrapped around it for protection.  Another person who had stayed behind, clinging to something dear to them.

Something broken.  Something needing to be fixed.

To anyone outside of this crumbling city, she was a street rat, left to scavenge whatever was left.  But to these people, the ones who stayed behind, she was more than that.  The stranger ducked into her father’s shop.  He was an old man who looked up at her with fragile hope in his eyes.

She was the only one left who could fix the broken things.

Gently taking the item from his hands and reassuring the old man, she lead him to the counter in the back.  They made light conversation as she looked over the piece and selected her tools.

Thunder grumbled outside as another piece of the city yielded to the elements, falling into the tangle of metal, cement, and wires.

There will always be something to fix. 

Her father’s shop would be the last to stand.

 

Bear It

mad hatter

They call me Alice, but I feel more like the Mad Hatter.

I see ghosts in the draperies that billow in the wind, there just long enough to stay in my mind for the rest of the day.  I listen to the walls as they whisper secrets no one else can hear.  I don’t understand most of them, but I feel their weight settle inside me.  I sense haunted hearts among the people around me, though I can never tell who they belong to.

All I know is I am full of emotions that aren’t mine.

The winding staircase is full of panic.  The halls echo with emptiness even when they are filled.  The walls in my room weep with forgotten tears.  The dining room will sometimes shiver in fear.

I can’t eat when it does that.

Sometimes, the palace is so full of panic and tears and fear that it chases me up and up and up to the roof.  The roof is the only place that stays quiet.

Like it’s used to bearing the turmoil beneath.

Like it’s accepted what happens below and has learned to watch the sky instead.

On clear nights, the stars have started to become familiar.  I have a few old friends up there who I like to stare at until my tears blur everything together.  The black sky of a cloudy night feels like a blanket tucked around my shoulders.  I let the darkness hold me until I’m able to move again.

In the daylight, the deep blue of a cloudless sky fills me inside until the cracks start to seal themselves. It reminds me to breathe until I don’t have to think to do it.  The grey clouds of an overcast day tell me I’m not alone.  I am comforted with the thought that even the sky can get clouded with milling emotions.

On stormy days, the rain wipes away my tears with its own.  I let it soak me until the feelings that aren’t mine are washed off.

This place is full of things long forgotten, of stories and lives that have slipped away, and it cannot bear their stories without them being told.  I can hear them, so I listen.  But when it becomes too much I run to the roof and stay until I remember myself again.

It is how I have learned to bear it.

Blue

Blue

Her eyes were blue.

Deep, piercing, intensive blue; like I had looked into a hot summer sky and found its gaze burning back at me.

Her granddaughter had driven her there, pushing her wheelchair into my salon for her perm appointment.  She had to be in her nineties.  Her face had more wrinkles than paper crumpled in the hands of a child.  Her body was giving out on her, hardly letting her hold her head up for extended periods of time.

But her eyes were alive.  It was like drinking a tall glass of ice water on a sweltering hot day.  Her eyes grabbed me and shook me and told me I am HERE.

I took out the little peach-colored perm rods and sectioned off her hair, feeling for all the world like a dry sponge falling towards an ocean of water.  She had so much knowledge and stories and experience wrapped up in a well-worn soul, and I could ask her anything.

Beginning the long process of rolling her hair, I started conversation as I usually do.  I’ve narrowed down on questions people love to answer, asking about their family or if they have pets.  It doesn’t take much after that for people to start rambling on about themselves and their life, quite forgetting I’m even doing their hair while they talk.

Everyone has stories.  Everyone has something to surprise me.

If the others were chapters in a book I could write, she was an entire series.  Her body might have crumbled away with age, but her mind was sharp and her memory strong.

She had been a very young girl during the Second World War.  She could remember her two older brothers going off to fight and coming back home.

She had spent a summer at a farm when she was ten, and she told me about the people there who had taken her in like an extension of their family.  She told me about Clive, the rooster that had terrorized her the entire summer, and John, the old farm hand who often rescued her from her feathered nemeses.

She told me about her faith, and how it was tested and strengthened through all her years.  It was one thing she never regretted, something that had never let her down.

She’d fallen in love with a gentle man and stayed with him until the day he died.  Her children were grandparents, sending her pictures with names written on the back so she can keep them all straight.

She had been to so many funerals and seen so many births, I could feel both the weight and joy they left behind in every word she spoke.

Then she asked me about myself, and what I enjoyed, and what I did.

It took me a moment to understand her questions because how could she possibly want to know about me?  Something lifted inside me as I told her about my life, my slowly growing faith, and my dreams for the future.  She truly listened to my story and grabbed my hand when I finished rinsing out her perm.

I’ll never forget what she said to me then.  Her eyes had locked with mine as she told me how comforting it was to meet me.

Tears filled my eyes as she went on.  She said she felt fresh hope, knowing a girl as young as myself still believed as she believed.  Still hoped as she hoped.  Still held to the faith she held so tightly.

Every time I feel alone, she’d said, God sends me someone like you to tell me that no, there are so many more.

Some people come into your life and leave a mark forever inside you.

And I know, etched into my soul, every word she spoke is lined in the deepest, brightest blue.

 

Like This

smoke

You will die saving your best friend’s life.  I’ve known it since childhood.

At first it terrified me.  The words would haunt my nightmares, my imagination twisting scenarios of my friend Harris bleeding, screaming, dying.  He would look at me and we would switch.  It was never a choice.  I would be lying there instead of him, and the blood pooling beneath me was suddenly my own.

I would wake up screaming, but I never told my parents why.

I couldn’t.

They shouldn’t have to live with my dread.  They went through enough already.

My sister Sera was the only person I told.  She used to say it was just a nightmare that got stuck in my head.  She’d say it wasn’t real.  She would never let me die before her.

Still, Sera held me at night when I woke up screaming, and listened when it all became too much to hold in my mind any longer.

You will die saving your best friend’s life.

At some point, the words stopped scaring me.  I’d heard them so many times, they lost their sting.  Whenever Harris and I played together, I was always the one to die dramatically, saving him from whatever enemy we made up.  Even Sera joined in occasionally, playing the nurse who would revive me with CPR, no matter what had killed me.

It had become a game.  An inside joke.

A story I told myself at night instead of counting sheep.

When I was in my late teens, Sera asked me if I still believed I would die saving Harris.

Yes.  I’d said.  Of course.

Doesn’t it still scare you?

I’d laughed.  The only thing that scares me now is finals at school.

She didn’t laugh with me.  I couldn’t figure out why she looked so unnerved.  She’d never believed it was true anyway.  It was just a nightmare that got stuck in my head.

You will die saving your best friend’s life.

It wasn’t supposed to feel like this.

Harris has pulled a gun on me.  He’s telling his boss I won’t be a problem as the word traitor sticks to my lips.  His hands do not waver, but his eyes are panicked.  How could he not have seen that it would come down to this.  To choosing between us.

All I know is Harris will make it out alive.

He’s getting closer, and I’m telling him to stop this nightmare.  This isn’t the Harris I’ve known.  It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

I wasn’t supposed to feel this kind of pain.

His boss is asking what’s taking him so long.  My heart is beating so fast I can’t feel it anymore.  My legs won’t stop shaking.  Harris takes a breath, and his eyes harden with resolve.

It wasn’t supposed to happen so fast.

He’s pointing his gun at his boss and pulling the trigger.

I’m running before the gunshot registers.  His boss is falling, but he’s raising his gun on his way down, squeezing the trigger with the last of his strength.

And it doesn’t matter what I’ve heard all my life.  It doesn’t matter if I’d known or not.  It was always going to be this.

The bullet goes through me.

I look back at Harris and his eyes are open wide in horror.  I’m falling away from the hand he stretches towards me, as though somehow he could save me.  As if he could stop this nightmare from sticking.

My vision is going black.  Silence closes in around me.

My sister will never forgive me for dying first.

You will die saving your best friend’s life.

I didn’t think it would happen like this.

But all I feel now is relief.