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23. Hope

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On a separate sheet of paper folded up in the entry was this:

“Syrius went out to help a woman that came begging for someone’s assistance. Being used to the refugees, most of us refused. Syrius, being in good spirits because of his coming departure, went with her. I followed a few feet back unnoticed to keep him in check. I watched as he was ambushed and beaten in the brush. I shot as many as I could and helped him fight them off. He started back to the post to warn of the enemy as I was still fighting. When I finished I caught up with him, he was stammering to the commander, clutching his stomach from being out of breath. He’d run the entire way, bleeding from cuts and wounds all over. He was in pain but held it well. He straightened up to salute the commander before leaving. Then his whole body jerked. We all took cover as the shot’s echo hung in the air, all of us searching desperately for a target. Syrius’ eyes were sedate, he wasn’t scared or in pain. He dropped to his knees slowly, looking around him in a sort of childish awe. He had a sort of respect in his gestures. He slumped down from his knees to the ground and died there, bleeding from an injury nobody expected. His last vision was the day’s blue sky, fresh with new clouds from a few dry days without rain. His last words were choked with blood, hard to understand, but still comprehensible. He said something about love or devotion maybe. He had a calm look to him and seemed peaceful. Syrius died for his country, for his beliefs, above all, for his heart. I am honored to have been able to serve with him for the limited time we had. I wish that there was more that I could tell you but the truth, but that’s all I have left. Everything that was his has been sent to you, maybe you can take some comfort in it. He was a great soldier and an amazing man. He’s deeply missed and irreplaceable. I’m sincerely sorry for your loss. Please accept my condolences. If it gives you any comfort, those responsible for the death of your loved one have all been caught and will be brought to trial and charged with war crimes in the unfair torture of a U.S. soldier. I thank you for your time and am deeply sorry for your tragic loss. Please believe me. Godspeed friends.”

The writing was done in a neat hand, somewhat shaken. It was done on a piece of paper torn abruptly from a book of sorts, the edges torn and uneven. It was signed with a name none of us recognized, a soldier we assumed. The included passage was just one of Syrius’ ranting little entries, there were too many to include them all, some of them ranted about nothing for pages on end. It was insane, but that’s what boredom and loneliness will drive you to. We read on for hours, maybe days until it was all complete, and then we read through it again. It was bound and kept bundled for ages. Darius and I just sat and thought about his words, his last thoughts. Syrius’ last thoughts had been about us and Faye. He had been so calm and sedated. We were glad that he didn’t feel much pain and it was quick. We didn’t want him to have suffered, he suffered enough in life, it wouldn’t be fair for it to continue in death.

We thought about what would be the last conscious thoughts we’d have. It was weird to think about the truth that we’d both be gone too eventually. Eventually could be today, tomorrow, anytime, it was inevitable. I put the thought out of my mind and continued on with life, which was necessary. Necessity is a funny thing too you know. There are only a few things that are truly and absolutely necessary, things like love and emotion. Things like trust and blind faith. There’s a lot of things that we can’t go through life without. The last conscious thought should be something relating to something significant like that. At least, that was how I felt about the subject. So Syrius was gone for good, we were down to the last few. Darius and I read what there was to read and then let it pass. We had to bury it as we did with all else. People, places, things, we buried it all.

So Syrius was gone. With his death, I handed in my resignation, closing the chapter of my life that was military service. I’d paid my dues to my country, assuming that I owed them anything to begin with. But so it goes. My dues were paid, I was free, so I went back to the tattoo parlor. Darius and I worked there for the most part, it was a good outlet for lack of artistic expression. The kids were glad to have us around, we weren’t all that strict. It was a family atmosphere. They were all freakish, what would you expect in a “body modification” establishment? It was calming to be with them and watch them grow and change. They were like a second family, we took care of them as best as we could. When one of them committed suicide, the whole shop shut down. We were taken back. It was rough, but that’s life. You have to adjust to the bumps along the way I supposed. Darius took it hard though, she’d known the kid more than I had. I was still sympathetic to her, I had to be, when she suffered, I suffered equally.

So things settled down for a little bit, it was calmer. The job was life and we took care of the children. We went to see the lost as much as we could, always careful of the flowers left by others. We never saw Draven, he lingered around I’m sure, but we never physically saw him. We didn’t talk about him either. I tried to get Darius to speak about him or vent in some way, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She’d conveniently change topic and avert my glance, careful to stare at the same place only twice before moving on. She’d get up and turn her back to me. We never fought or got angry for foolish reasons. We’d sit in silence until the lack of feeling became unbearable and something had to be said. We took turns in bending, it was alright to bend because we were only bending for one another. That’s just how it worked. Time passed and Draven seemed to have joined the lost. We didn’t talk about him, she disregarded him as her brother. The gang was down to two, and the three that would carry it on to the future generation. Who knows what they’ll make of what we leave them.

So we went for long walks and took care of the kids like good parents should. We seldom took them to work because of the awkward nature of the job, every once in a blue moon we might. Only once in a blue moon. A tattoo parlor’s not the best place for kids to grow up. We did what we could to keep them sane, or as sane as freaks could manage. They were in school, Pandora had time yet for that one. She was getting older too, approaching two. We had as stable a life as we knew how to manage. I don’t know how damaging it was, but we hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.

We went to see Doyle and his mother too when time allowed. We kept them in the loop of events. They came to the funerals and knew the dates, times and places. They went to Cicero’s funeral too. I refused to go in respect to Darius’ wishes. I went out that night and went to see the girl and child anyways to be of some comfort. I doubted that my efforts were worthwhile, but it was worth a shot. The kid was quiet, he always seemed lost in the world, like an orphan. He had a caring mother, but he still felt pain. You could see it and feel it from him, it emanated from him at all times, his suffering surrounded him and kept him from sanity. I knew from seeing him how he’d end up and I feared for it dearly, but the gears were already turning. It was too late before it started and I knew that as well as anybody else. It was just that obvious. The child was harboring hatred deep in his heart, a heart that would be destroyed by it and eventually consumed. By the time of his teenage years, I knew that he’d surpass his father’s brutish ways. Perhaps.

There’s always hope for change, it is never too late to throw in a wretch and knock the gears out of place. There’s always a moment to take the train off the tracks and hope that it ends better than it was supposed to. There’s always that slight chance. I raked my mind for a possible solution to save the child’s damned soul, but there was none. Nothing I could do would stop the inevitable, he was doomed to follow in his father’s backwards footsteps. It was tragic to watch him there, slowly evolving into what he’d become. His mother knew it too, you could see it in her eyes when she looked at him. Her eyes would get dark and misty and sorrow would come to them and float there; she was distant from the world. It was that obvious. Tragic.

I’d go and visit them when I could afford the time, usually I took Darius with me, sometimes the kids too. Just as a family gathering sort of deal. I don’t know, the kids would sit and play and we’d talk and reminisce about better times, assuming that things were ever really better. Perhaps they were, once upon a time. We’d watch the kids mingle together and play, Doyle trying to keep outside the circle, Payge dragged him in constantly. Dante just kind of looked on, they had that male bonding thing in their favor I suppose, but Payge wasn’t the little girl that parents expect their children to be like. She liked everybody equally and wanted everybody to like her and if she didn’t succeed, she’d throw a fit and create whatever was necessary to make that bond appear. So we tried. And tried. And tried.

We went to see them once on a beautiful day, the weather was clear, we took the whole family with us, it was a sort of gathering. Everything was as it usually was. The girl was a bit shaken though, she sat down and talked to us casually for a moment. After awhile of screwing around and burning time and letting everything be, we got to the point. She took out some sheets of paper, neatly arranged and folded nicely. They were wound together in a packet. She handed them across to us, staring at it the entire time. Her eyes were lost in the white of the sheets, she was looking beyond everything at that moment in time. I took it from her as Darius sat next to me and peered down in wonder. I questioned what this was.

“Cicero’s, he gave it to Doyle, I got it from him. He had already read it though, I don’t think that he understood it. I hope not,” her voice was low and monotone. She seemed a tad dazed. Darius asked why she was giving it to us. The girl looked down at the ground.

“Because it was addressed to you.”

She showed us the bundle, on top of it was a label, neatly written, with our names on it all spelled out carefully. First and last names, all written with obvious care and concern. The whole gang’s names were there, Madison’s neatly crossed out with a single black line. Underneath was written: “To whoever of these that is still standing.”

The bundle was a series of ranting entries about all manner of topics, saved from the years. They dated back to before we knew him, before everything went to Hell. Why he gave it to his son to carry on was obvious. He wanted to properly plant the seed for vengeance. Brilliant little scheme, too bad he screwed it up along the way. We sat there and shuffled through the papers quietly, re-wrapping the bundle artfully and tucking it away. We swore we’d take it home and read thoroughly and explain it as best as we could to her. She was a bit lost from it, I don’t know why. We sat and lingered there for a while longer to make the usual petty chit chat and let the kids have their fun. Children will be children.

The thought of Cicero leaving a statement for the world was bizarre within itself, but we let it pass as nothing short of typical. We asked all the right questions at the right times because it was necessary to do so. The weather was fine for a change yet the atmosphere was haunted with tension as we stayed there. The time crept by, I zoned out and paid attention to the kids. They were minding themselves, as they usually did. I liked to let them know that I was around though. It’s a comfort to know that there’s always someone there to catch you, even if you don’t need to be, they’re there. It’s a great comfort to have at most times. That invisible net is wonderful to have, you never can tell when it might just come in handy.

We left shortly as noon died down and the kids were getting tired. We said our usual goodbyes and left on our merry way, as was expected. Things were still a bit shaken, but otherwise tolerable. We walked out and went on our way, kids in hand. We stopped by the job to say hello to the crew there and see what was going on. Just the usual, the typical, nothing extraordinary. It was kind of depressing. I hated the dull monotony of it all, the repetition. It was just so typical, we had to make changes somewhere to make it work. We went home and let the children to their own devices and put the bundle down on the table and looked at it. Darius, curious as always, wanted to read it immediately. Something about it bothered me though and I sided against it. With a slight debate, we agreed to put it away for a while and come back to that thought later. I went to my writing as she went to her pictures for a while. Our art kept us separate yet together because her pictures would illustrate my story. It would have to be illustrated because our lives were nothing without the pictures to go along with it. You need the visualizations for it to all add up and make sense. It’s just needed to get the full effect. The words and the images complete the puzzle and set the scene for the idea that is our lives and we make due with it. But to show it to an outsider would require little words and lots of pictures and simple concepts. And that’s just a chance of making it all make sense, just a chance.

I sat and organized my ramblings and Syrius’ ramblings. I’ve been working on this for years and it’s not done. I don’t know when it will be, or what classifies it as complete, but it will be at one point. I sat down and wrote, organizing Syrius’ parts where they belonged. Darius came by with some pictures to show me. She seemed overly proud, I pretended to be uninterested to get under her skin. She started to glare at me and turned to walk away, I grabber her and held her next to me. She relaxed and cuddled with me. For a moment, everything else wasn’t important. She opened a drawer near where I was writing and took out Cicero’s bundle. I looked at it and back at her and it was decided. She opened it cautiously, careful to wrap everything up exactly as she found it. We sat there and read it quietly to ourselves, continuing through pages of insanity and madness. We sat up all night and simply read, without need or purpose to. Just read, together. Nothing else. And there we were. Sitting in that moment, lost in forever, reading the words of a tormented dead man. Him and Syrius were similar and separate in so many ways, it wasn’t even funny. We tried desperately to make sense of the madness, but there was only so much that could be done. So we sat there, and read. Another moment stolen from the dates and times of infinity, another to add to the list of salvaged ideas; stolen and kept for ourselves, nothing more.

When you break it down, everything we did was for each other and the benefit of the other and the preservation of the other’s well being. That’s what it broke down to. We sat and read because it might help the other. We read because we had each other in that moment. We stole time and kept it locked away in a little black box and hid it under the bigger box within which love was contained. And our lives were a series of boxes, all stacked haphazardly at random, all different shades and colors, but each containing something of severe importance. Each containing a fragment of our lives and without each, we’d be incomplete. The box that contained devotion lay open on the floor, filled with fragments and ideas, promises and dreams. And it lay open there, with death beside it, and we just read on, for there was nothing else to be done. Just words, empty words, preserved for eternity here for all to see. Just words, black and white, plain and simple, truth and fiction. All here, all real.

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