between the corridors of fragile things
and healing only happens in the spaces
you are willing to reveal
- Dian Tinio, Thought Catalog
He knocks on the door impatiently, banging against its brown wooden surface. The golden number 9 nailed to it, seeming to almost muck his efforts and the anxious state he was in. The noise of it sounding very loud in the otherwise quiet building, the corridor that he is standing in, completely empty, a withering plant in the corner by the window, and a lonely, battered bike perched against one of the blue-greyish looking walls - the only witnesses to his actions. Finally, the lock in the door turns slowly, and someone opens it with slight hesitation. A slim, young woman with soft blond hair to her shoulders gazes at him with a tired gaze and then straightens her back, inhaling deeper.
She looks like she could be in her late 20′s and something in the way that she stares at him lets him know that there is more than meets the eye in this case. She’s wearing a deep green sleeveless t-shirt, parred with shiny black leggings. A long white and grey woolen sweater put loosely over her frame, falling down lazily to the side and exposing one of the light honey-colored shoulders. He notices her hold onto the door frame tighter, her knuckles becoming unnaturally pale. Yes, it was rather obvious that both of them were a bit strained and that this wasn’t exactly going to be a casual courtesy visit.
Hey, you must be Charlie.
All live and breathing, yes.
He hears the sharpness in his voice but is unable to take it back now. They stare at each other in awkward silence for a moment, then mercifully, the girl shifts slightly, opening the door wider and gesturing him to come in.
There, in the living room. She’s not doing too well, even if she tries to tell me otherwise. Don’t believe a thing that comes out of that mouth.
The last words sound much softer than the cold, almost razor-sharp tones she started with, a small smile appearing on her face. As if sunshine breaking through thick clouds. Instantly she seems at least a few years younger, subtle sparks twinkling in her eyes. It reminds Charlie of Nora, on her better days.
I never do when it comes to her health. I learned as much by now.
He smiles a bit and reaches out a hand; the girl lifts an eyebrow but takes it. The grip is firm and comforting somehow.
I don’t believe we did this right before. Cara, right?
All live and breathing.
She sends him an amused look after mirroring his own words, and he cannot stop and smile at that. This time it’s a bit more genuine.
Anyways, I will leave you two to it. You can find me in the kitchen if she starts throwing things. I won’t protect you, but I will take pictures of your demise and send a bill later.
She gives him a gentle look despite the not-so-subtle traces of sarcasm. Mmm, apparently, there were more creatures like Eleonore Walton roaming the world. He inhales deeper and then slowly walks past the little hall, walking into a cozy-looking living room that’s connected to a half-open kitchen. He notices a purple plastic table in the corner of the room filled with a bunch of crayons, pencils, and everything a little artistic individual could ever need or want. His stare drifts from it to an antique wooden and metal coffee table covered with glossy magazines with a few empty mugs and plates lying in the close neighborhood. Charlie’s stare moves up, and his eyes automatically smile as he looks at a sleeping child that appears to be somewhere between two or maybe three years old. Her golden curls so similar to the woman he had just met, the child’s small form nestled into the body next to it. And that’s when he sees her, feeling as though the whole world suddenly grew into focus while before it was only made from unnamed bland colors. It was a strange feeling, and he didn’t know where it came from, to begin with. He shakes his head slightly, brushing it off quickly, and looks down again. Her eyes are closed as well, like the girl next to her. Though it’s apparent that she’s awake, forehead scrunched into many lines as if the body was in some form of pain or discomfort. She’s sitting almost limply there, a burgundy, soft blanket covering the knees while her fists are on top of it, clenched tightly. She looks like she is silently repeating some incantations without using any words. Yet he can almost hear and taste them on his tongue just by looking at her twisted features.
Without saying anything, he crouches before her and then gently grabs both her wrists, rubbing his thumbs against the skin that should not be so cold. He frowns with worry, watching intently as the lines on her face very gradually smooth out. It feels that he’s waiting for an eternity before her eyes finally open, the stare a bit unfocused until their eyes meet, the awareness slowly coming back to her. Immediately she grumbles and shifts a bit. Seeming to be very stiff from being in one position for way too long. Automatically, the child next to her stirs and nestles more firmly into her left arm, quite clearly, claiming its possession. Nora gazes at the little girl and manages to give a weak smile. Then her stare returns to him, and the smile dies out, her voice raspy and scratchy when she speaks.
This was not the way I planned this.
He looks at her, confused.
What are you talking about?
It just played out differently in my head.
What did, Nora?
She sighs, and there is something bitter in the way she attempts to smile.
Your vacation time from the disaster that is me, Mrs. Evans.
He stands up abruptly and dusts away his knees automatically, his brain trying to understand the unexpected absurdity of the situation.
My... vacation time?
Oh yes. But apparently, I failed even at that. A shocker, right?
He nods several times before he can find his voice back, something inside poking him, ready to explode.
Nora. One more time. What the hell is going on? Explain, please. In slow, at least semi-rational sentences.
She deliberately sighs and then shakes her head. Then her stare turns to the child, eyes becoming softer as she slips the fingers through the girl’s delicate bright hair. He blinks fast, not sure what kind of emotions this awakes in him. Quickly he exhales, trying to brush stuff off once again. That causes her attention to drift back to him, her voice more gentle now.
I just wanted to give you a little time off from me, that’s all.
To his surprise, his voice becomes a whisper, a complicated set of emotions rising and falling under his ribs.
Because I use you, Charlie. I use you every day, and let’s be honest, you deserve better than that.
No, don’t. I know that sometimes I’m irrational, and things that I do, don’t make much sense to you but... I just don’t want to use you, and I feel like I am. Constantly.
He picks a pillow to make some room for himself at the other side of her and sits down on the sofa, gently, as to not wake up the child.
You never told me this before.
I don’t talk about a lot of stuff, Charlie. You should know that by now.
Her whole body seems to radiate a heaviness that pains him in ways he can’t even describe, not even to himself, left alone anyone else. He puts a hand on her right shoulder and rubs it a bit. She doesn’t look up; instead, stares numbly at her hands. Slowly, he inhales and speaks very gently as if to a wounded animal, that’s still bleeding red under his touch. Always be kind when the situation calls it, you never know what scars others carry underneath their brittle bones.
And what about the things that I gain?
She looks up surprised and furrows her eyebrows tightly together. It takes all of Charlie’s strength not to lift the other hand and smooth out those lines gently with his fingers.
You heard me. What about all the things I gain because of you?
She looks doubtful, and he smiles at that.
I mean it.
I always knew you were a strange one, Charlie. You just hide it well, that’s why. No one suspects the warm breeze to turn into a tornado.
He shifts a strand of hair behind her ear, and she looks up, a determination in her stare waking up to life, even though her voice is still very quiet as she speaks.
And what do you gain?
He stiffens a bit under that gaze as if she has some power over him that he’s unable to comprehend. Yet, he manages to snap out of it somehow, taking in her words.
Someone that irritates and confuses the hell out of me and hides in the bloody half-truths. Someone that drives me freaking insane every single day until I don’t know my own name and flips my whole life upside down, making me question my choices repeatedly.
Well, aren’t you sweet.
She whispers, annoyance and hurt blending in her voice into one. He smiles at that and puts a hand on her cheek.
You didn’t let me finish... I gain someone who makes my life brighter, who flips it backwards and brings back the color into it. Someone that I still don’t understand but am willing to learn as long as she will let me.
She blinks and clears her throat, shifting uncomfortably under his warm gaze. He puts down his hand and smiles at her even more.
How about that? Does that answer satisfy you?
Uhm, I don’t know. I mean... yes, I think it does.
She takes a deep breath and looks at him, eyes narrowing and prodding his chest with her finger.
But it also proves something that I have known for a while now.
It’s his turn to shift as he tries to keep the same facial expression on as before.
Oh, yes. It proves to me once again, that you are just as insane as I am. Probably even more. I bow in respect.
He exhales with a shade of relief that he cannot hide.
My master, I am nothing but a humble shadow of your reflection.
He says, mimicking her ways, and she smacks him over the arm.
Hey, don’t do that. That’s only meant for pros. And with a big sign stamped on it with the words: don’t try this at home.
He shrugs with a smile.
Charlie, I’m serious. Act nicely, or I will replace you with a newer model that soothes me pretty good too.
He furrows his eyebrows, not sure if he understood her correctly.
Her expression changes as if she just said something that she wasn’t planning to say, but somehow it slipped out anyway. Her lips part into a small “o” but then she quickly snaps out of it.
Well, uhm... You see, the thing is...
It’s apparent, that she’s trying to thread lightly for some reason.
Well, let’s just say that if you are my morphine, this little thing works like really good ibuprofen. It won’t stop the pain, but it will calm down the symptoms.
How does that even...
Work? I have no idea, Charlie. Lately, I’m learning that it all leads to the just-right kind of energy, whatever that means. We all have it, but it’s not all heaven to choose from. Honestly, a lot of people should simply have a sign on their foreheads that states “choose wisely”.
He shakes his head slowly, trying to move past her specific sense of humor and to whisk out some information that’s actually crucial at the moment.
She soothes your pain.
Her stare is tired, but then, unexpectedly, she smiles the softest smile he had ever seen on those lips, which causes a lot of reactions that he’s trying to block for his own sake and sanity.
Yes, she’s a little ADHD treasure to be around with.
The tone is gentle and loving, and it shocks him beyond compare as he has never heard her voice do such things. System overload; his mind screams, yet his body is hardly moving. System overload and the smell of wires burning. He’s no longer even sure what he should feel or think, any logical functions failing him miserably. He must be lost in his thought for a longer while because eventually, she waves a hand right in front of his face making him snap back into reality.
Charlie? You okay in there? I hear consternation and loud thoughts all the way here and all the way back to China.
No, I’m alright. Just processing. I’m... I’m really glad that she helps you, it’s just all still surprising, you know? Not all of us have such a strong personality to gulp in the supernatural like a bunch of tic-tacks as you do.
She tilts her head slightly and looks at him thoughtfully, with a defeated facial expression that somehow is very calm.
I do what I have to do, Charlie. There’s no other way around it.
Silence fills the air, so eventually, she adds as if to push it away.
I fit in with what I have, with what I have gotten myself into by all the bad choices I have made.
He doesn’t say anything to that, and she takes his hand, wrapping it around her wrist. He squeezes it automatically and gives her a tired smile. After a moment, she exhales, relieved, the lines on her face smoothing out once again.
Why didn’t you just call me? Why did I have to find about it from your best friend when there was no other option to go with it?
She looks up at him, but the eyes don’t reach his, guilt and pained notions marking her face.
Look... in my head, I felt I was doing the right thing. I thought that you needed rest from me. Because who wouldn’t, right? Eventually, I tire everyone out, Charlie. I didn’t want you to be one of those people. Not yet.
And you thought it so strongly that your friend had to steal your phone while you were sleeping? When you were so tired from exhaustion that you probably wouldn’t hear anyway?
There is sharpness in his voice again, mixing itself with hurt and the feeling of betrayal. And he knows that she can hear it as her whole body flinches from it, hands trembling as she sinks deeper into the sofa, becoming suddenly very small.
I meant well.
Her voice quivers, and then something happens, exploding like fireworks in the molasses-thick blackness. Blackness laced with ice and rusted blades, tearing her foundation piece by piece. Something he never expected from this strong, stubborn woman that wandered every day to hell and back. And yet it’s there. She breaks in front of him like a thin twig after winter, curling into a pulsating ball of everything. The quiet sobs coming straight from her chest as if her soul was howling into the air around them. As if she wanted to spit it out of her lungs, coughing out pain and loss. Without thinking he wraps his arms around her tightly, pulling the shaking body into him and never wanting to let go.
I’m s-sorry... please... you have to believe me.
She sobs into his blue woolen sweater, and he strokes her back soothingly, hoping to inhale all of her pain. Loosening the weight that she seems to carry around with her wherever she goes or does.
Hush, you know I believe you, silly creature. You know that.
He whispers the words into her hair, his lips brushing against it while he breathes in and exhales her as if oxygen that he never expected to need. Never expected to want. After a while she seems to calm down, her breathing more steady.
So, are we going to survive this?
He asks with a smile, sensing that she is more in control now. She nods against his chest, the voice muffled a bit.
Yes, we are.
He can feel her smile as she stirs and wriggles herself awkwardly from his arms, moving away a bit and wiping out her eyes in an embarrassed way.
Look at me, falling apart like some drama show heroin. All we need is now is nostalgic music in the background, and we are home. God, how do you even put up with me? Mmm, I must be a sight for sore eyes right now.
She groans and looks up to see and sighs, her eyes meeting Cara’s and battling some quiet fight with her that he wasn’t allowed to hear.
She says and huffs. Crossing her arms, then grabbing the remote control and turning the TV on. The child complains quietly, and she automatically turns the volume down without looking at anyone.
Oh, I will start whatever I want, you freeloader.
Cara crosses her arms as well and lifts an eyebrow challengingly, though her tone is light and doesn’t really match with the words.
Well, that freeloader does free babysitting, so don’t complain.
Oh? And who is exactly taking care of who in that scenario? Because it seems that my daughter is calling the shots here, wouldn’t you say, honeysuckle?
He lifts his eyebrows and watches Nora send her friend a dirty look and then shrug casually.
Hey, she can even be my keeper, for what all I care. But let’s face it, it’s giving you the free time for your art. And that’s what’s really important to me, not much else.
He watches the two women carefully, not sure if he should be amused or quietly elope at the first convenient moment. He decides to debate about it for now. Cara’s eyes soften and she nods.
As long as you are here, honeysuckle.
And do the dishes in the meantime?
Cara winks at her, making a gun gesture at her.
Bull’s eye, you get me so well, love.
Comes with years of mutual therapy, babygirl.
Yes, eloping would be the best option here. He thinks and smiles at them both until Cara’s eyes land on him, a finger pointed accusingly in his direction.
So, you’re him, the one that pulled her out of the gutter of misery. Mmm, you got some balls on you, boy. This one is a challenge. But in her favor, I will say she is pretty low maintenance, not something that you can say too often about a woman.
Charlie’s face covers heat, and he clears his throat, trying to control the sudden cough.
Aww, he’s shy. Not your usual type, huh?
If you weren’t the mother of the child I love without boundaries, you would not leave to see another day.
Well, then it’s probably a good thing that you fall in love with this particular gene pool so much.
She points to herself with a small smile.
Anyway, I’ll take it.
Her attention turns back to him.
Don’t worry, Charlie. As long as you will make sure she is well fed, she won’t chew your head off.
Yes, I have learned that by now.
Cara’s eyes smile at him.
Good, because she’s worth it.
She says, and then quickly clasps her hands with energy.
Now, I will make us some more tea, and we can get to know each other better without all the high gloom in the air and Elle’s natural gift for dramatic situations.
She disappears, and I am left without any clear thought in reach.
Ignore her. She tends to say whatever comes into her mind once she likes someone. No filter quality. Mmm, definitely not for everyone.
No, not for everyone. But durable for me. I have had plenty of experience with her kind before.
She stares at the TV and smirks, pleased.
Good, practice makes perfect.
She furrows her eyebrows and turns towards him, obviously sensing the change in the atmosphere.
Next time, before you assume again that I need time for myself. Ask me, okay? I don’t want to lose you and be too late, just because you thought you knew what I needed.
She swallows and then gazes back at the TV, nodding once.
Alright, from now, I will ask first.
He feels her walls closing in on him and takes her hand gently.
All I ask is that you communicate with me. So I can have a lot more days with you to come.
Her chest starts to rise and fall with speed, but she doesn’t say anything, just squeezes his hand very tightly, fighting her emotions but letting him know that she understands. That’s all he needs right now. All he needs.
https://theprose.com/post/230936/with-all-my-senses ( the beginning )
Previous chapters :