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5. Torn – Attracting Attention

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Being Serkis and Layne were the top of the food chain, they left their reclusive nook in the sewers. It was offered to me and I accepted. I had a home with my mother, but I spent less and less time there as I got older. She accepted it as a perfectly normal part of growing up. She knew that she was a child once herself and she accepted how I was. I smiled and nodded and let it pass. It gave me more room to grow and expand. Which is what I wanted. What I needed.

I was down in the depths, collecting my thoughts, writing aimlessly. There wasn’t much to record. Just another day at the end of the week. I sat and often wondered if Harley felt like this. In her long hours spent in these dank depths, if she was ever overcome with depression. This place, however well lit or repainted, is still dark. It still houses an overwhelming atmosphere of despair. It probably always will.

Most of the usual crew has shifted off home. I was alone, save for the few sceneshifters remaining, setting things up for the next show. I was still in costume, the hat hanging off the back of the chair. The top hat was the symbol of rank here. It was passed down from Harley herself. As much as I laughed at her getting old and settling down, I respected what she did for the show. What they all did for it. I still have to change, take off makeup, and get home. I looked around as I wrote. I think I’ll sleep here tonight. No harm in it. I heard the usual shifty steps, trying to sneak in undetected. I kept writing, speaking without looking up.

“Hello Jack.”

He smiled as he crept in. “Heard me?”

I kept writing, staring at the page intently. I moved my eyes away from the sheet, to him, catching his eye, my hand still recording words. “I always do.”

He nodded his head and took a chair somewhere at my side. I didn’t look over to him again, I just kept writing, forming my letters meticulously to kill the most time. He didn’t falter, heave a sigh, or fidget. He just sat there, patiently. Waiting. I finished the sentence and put the pencil down to look over at him.

“Can I help you?”

He shrugged, leaning back in the chair. “Wondering when you’re getting out of here.”

“Everybody else gone?”

“Pretty much. Gin’s still cleaning some things up. Nothing major.”

I nodded and kept writing. He watched me silently for a while. I would ignore him all night if that was what it took to make him go away. I figured he’d get bored and quit. An hour passed. And still he sat. I glanced over at him, still writing.

“Don’t you have a home?”

 

“What’s with the hostility?”

I shook my head, trying to show my boredom. That I didn’t want to play. That I didn’t care to talk or be social. But this was Jack, and he wouldn’t just go away. He knew better. He knew me better than anyone down here. He knew this. I knew this. I was just too damn stubborn to admit. As per usual. And I kind of hate to be interrupted while I’m working.

“How is Gin?”

He shrugged. “You know, alright. She’s surviving.”

For those of you who aren’t caught up – Gin is Jack’s ex-girlfriend. It was a cute running joke for a while – Jack and Gin. Then she tried to kill herself and he had some sort of a breakdown. They’ve been a good distance apart for months. Then they both turned up here, at the show. Naturally, we took them in, gave them jobs. It was a smart choice – they were both talented. And the show needs all the talent it can steal.

I never dealt with Gin much. It was an uncomfortable situation with her. Jack and I were a bit too close for her liking. We both knew it. And we did nothing about it. I don’t know, everyone in the show seemed a world apart. Then again, there were some who overlapped with Rev’s world of street life. Gin was a street demon. Jack might have been too. But they primarily ran the show here, below the street’s rough surface.

I closed my book and pulled the chair out, tucking the book in my coat pocket. I looked around. Where was I going? I slung the coat back over the top of the chair.

“Jack, are you intending to stay the night?”

He smiled a silly little grin, like a child with a secret. I shrugged and moved off to the darkest back nook of the place to change. He was still balancing in the chair.

“That’s not a problem, is it?” he yelled back to me as I changed. I was angry but I was comforted as well. To have someone in this desolate place. Jack and I spent a lot of time together. Nights included.

I wouldn’t call it love. I’d call it affection out of necessity for human warmth. We were comforting to each other because there was no one else to comfort us. He used to have Gin. And I was raised with Rev. Rev isn’t my brother, but he placed himself in that kind of position over me. The watchful parent trying to keep me out of trouble. We were each other’s savior. It was a bizarre situation, but that was simply the way things were. Something you can’t control or contain. I had changed and we found the quiet corner that the lost came to curl up into. And we went to sleep. In the dark, alone if not for each other – sleep came swiftly. And the new day was on us again.

I crept out from his grasp, sliding to the back to get dressed again. When I came back out, Jack was up and around too. He was sitting at the little poorly lit table, leafing through my book. I snatched it defensively from his grasp.

“What’s with the book?” he asked, pointing crookedly.

I clutched it to my chest, hoping it would disappear into me, knowing it wouldn’t. In it was my life. My thoughts and ideas. My family history. Anything that might have been precious to me. I didn’t let anyone read it, lest the truth get out, the ideas, everything, anything. I shook my head, shoving the book back into my coat pocket, shrugging it onto my shoulders. Jack watched me apprehensively, unsure of what to do. I swept past him, taking a casual glance over the shoulder, trying to recover from the scene.

“Coming?”

He still had this sort of puzzled look on him, but he shrugged and fell in step behind me anyway. We were late for school. Even the demons need to learn a thing or two.

I walked to school a good distance ahead of Jack. He fell behind on purpose, stopping completely to wait for Gin. Even though they were on odd terms, they still talked. They were a comfort to one another in a different way from Jack and I. We got there, went to classes, and started back; all part of the routine. Another day. I decided that I should go home and check up on Mom, see how things were operating in her world.

The walk to home from school was easier, being I didn’t have to think about Jack being anywhere in the vicinity. I don’t talk about school because in my mind, it’s a waste of time. I go because it makes my mother happy. I go because the state says that I have to. And every so often, I learn something remotely interesting.

I get to the building my mother lives in. She’s been here for years. She lived here with my grandfather. And he lived here after his sister’s death. I don’t know how he managed. But he did. I opened the door, latching it quietly behind me. I didn’t want to make too much noise; Mom’s nerves get a little edgy from time to time. I hung my coat next to the door, looking around the place. Everything was in order. All the frames were straight on the wall. I crept in further. My mother is a photographer. I figured she must be in the back.

“Mom, I’m home,” I called outside the door. It was locked so I wouldn’t barge in and ruin all her work. I might resent my mother sometimes or think her decisions foolish, but I love her work and would never harm it. She’s got a rare talent that I’ve come to appreciate. I tried my hand at photography, but things never seem to come out how I intended them to.

I listened for the familiar sound of shuffling, putting materials away, the click of the lock and the scraping turn of the doorknob. I took a few steps back. My mother wore a smile she’d worn for years – it was burned into her face. But there was pain. There was misery and madness; there was a history of dysfunction lost in her eyes. And she knew it. She’d smile until it hurt, but that was the point. It always hurt.

“Hey Hun, how’s things?”

I shrugged. “Same old.”

She nodded and moved past me, a stack of prints in her hand. I fell in step behind her.

“Can I see?”

She nodded at me and handed them over. These were older pictures, restorations. She was making prints from old negatives. I looked over the old faces, smiling back at me, seeing me from decades away. I narrowed my eyes, desperately trying to recall a name to match any of the faces. I went over to where my mother was sitting, waiting for me.

“Who are all these people?”

She smiled, an age-old grin that told me she knew something I couldn’t, wouldn’t, ever know. She took the prints and flipped through them, coming to a shot of five young kids. They were also decked in black, as I was, but younger, from ages ago. My mom pointed face to face.

“That’s Syrius. That’s Raine, and Darius. This was before they were married. That’s my mother, Madison. And that is my father, Draven.”

I could see the tear slip down her face. All of these pictures were from before my mother’s time. I didn’t know how she’d gotten the negatives, but she had, that’s all that mattered. She had a stack of pictures, the same five kids, getting older slowly, some of them disappearing, replaced by smiling babies.

 

“That’s me,” she pointed. I had been standing over her shoulder to see. I bent down to hug her, holding onto her tight. As much as things got to me, as hostile as I was, as much as I longed for the past, all it would ever be is a black and white image. On paper. In my mind. But this, right now, my mother – she was alive. She was breathing. And I had to focus on that. The now is fleeting. There’s plenty of time to be dead. She shuffled the pictures and handed me one, older than all the rest. I couldn’t begin to imagine where she got it from, how, or why.

“What is this?”

She smiled, pointing at the faces pressed together, the two forms as one, standing idly before a tattoo parlor old with wear. There was a shine that emanated from them, like they were beyond the reaches of man. My mother’s eyes were moist just looking at them.

“That is Miss Harvey Hunter. And that is your great-uncle, Magus.”

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