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Tuesday, hosted by
Two Writing Teachers
Every life is filled with moments.
Mostly, these moments are ordinary. Fill the dishwasher. Discover that you drank the last of the milk before noticing that the recipe that needs to go in the oven right now requires a third of a cup. Scrambling to find someone to bring to the holiday party for work so that no one gives you those pitying, “she’s always alone”, looks yet again. Empty the dishwasher. Grab a bowl of dry cereal to eat in front of the television, rather than venture out to the Indian take out place.
Some moments start out as just part of the daily grind, but change your life forever. I remember the exact moment with crystal clarity. The moment it all began – again.
Slamming the door behind me as I enter the dark hall of my townhouse, I juggle an armload of mail and a backpack filled with files from the lab I need to review tonight.
“Hi, honey, I’m home!” I shout into the dimly lit kitchen, and chuckle. My only response comes in the form of the glint from a pair of eyes on top of a bookshelf and a miffed little “mrrrow”. Slipping my backpack off my shoulder and tossing my keys into the bowl by the door, I use my elbow to flip on the lights.
“Bill… bill… junk mail, bill.” I rub the back of my neck. I need that promotion at work now, more than ever. So much for ignoring those files and plopping down in front of the television tonight.
One envelope slips out of the pile and flutters to the ground. Oddly enough, my address is handwritten in a lovely, flowing script. Intrigued, I snatch it up and carefully rip it open. Inside the envelope are a childish drawing, a faded photograph, and a brief note.
It has been years since we spoke – years since you were like a second daughter to me.I am finally moving on with my life and leaving the house where you and Cassie so often played. I came across these pictures, and the good memories came flooding back. Please, if you can, come visit me one last time. I have some things I know Cass would want you to have.
The drawing is a simple one, and I remember it well. Cassie had loved to doodle, and insisted on hanging it in her room well into high school. Even the possibility of having a boyfriend see it on the wall hadn’t convinced her to take it down. Seeing it brought it all back, and I was six again.
“Meghan!” Cassie whispered my name and then giggled softly. “Don’t move. Don’t … even… breathe.”
I sat motionless under the weeping willow in her backyard. I felt the tickling touch of the leaves on the back of my neck, but I knew better than to ignore her demands. We might be best friends, but her temper was quick to flare and I’d had my feelings hurt too many times to defy her when she was in this mood.
Lying on her belly just a few feet away, with her sketch pad shielded from my view, Cassie chewed on one of her new pencils. Yellow, bright like the sunshine, the color she insisted on using for my hair. Even at six, though, I knew my hair was mousey brown. Mousey brown, and always tangled.
“There, you can move now.” I started to unfold from the ground and leaned toward her to get a peek at the drawing. “Not yet, Megs! I still need to draw me, you know.” Thoughtfully, she selected just the right shade of red from her pencil set, and scribbled swiftly on the page.
That shade of deep red delighted her, because it was the exact right color to draw her hair in the sunlight. She said it just like that, too, every time. I stretched out under the willow tree, staring up at the small bits of sky I could see through the leaves, and pushed my fingertips into the soft dirt.
“Now, Megs! Come and see!” Cassie was breathless, panting slightly with exhilaration
Swiftly I darted to her side, eager to see what had her so excited. My jaw dropped open, just like in the cartoons, and I whispered.
“What…. Cass…. What is that?”
“See, Megs? That’s what was tickling your neck. Isn’t she so pretty?”
So many years later, and I still feel a little shiver run down my spine as I gaze at the paper. It’s a childish drawing, but it’s clearly me sitting under a willow tree. Perched on one of my shoulders is a tiny creature with wings. It sounds beautiful; until you take a closer look and see the sharp teeth peeking out from behind her delicate lips.
It was all just childhood fancy; one that I’d put behind me years ago. That fine line between imagination and delusion? I was building a career studying people who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see that line. Yet the memory makes me want to reach up and brush off my shoulder, just in case.
“Enough of this nonsense,” I mutter, stuff it all back into the envelope, and toss it on the counter. Fifteen minutes later I had fed Socrates, fed myself, and was ensconced at my small desk with my backpack gaping open beside me. Brain scans, with brightly lit regions, fill each folder. No names, just numbers to identify each subject.
Hours pass in a haze of silent sorting. The quiet is a blessed relief after the incessant chatter of the magpies at the lab. Two piles, or more, depending on the region of the brain lit up in the scan. I’ve been doing this task for long enough that I hardly have to think about it.
“That’s a steaming heap of fewmets, Megs, and you know it!”
Startled, I jump up and gaze around the empty room. Socrates opens her eyes to glare at me reproachfully for daring disturb her slumber, then stretches and stalks to the bedroom to resume napping.
The scent of wet earth and fallen leaves fills the room, though it hasn’t rained in days. I rub my eyes and look down at my desk.
The scans I’ve spent hours sorting are in one large pile on my desk.
“No. NO! Oh shit, not again.”
In all the years I spent with Cassie, she never believed me when I told her I couldn’t see them. I guess I’d spent too many of those years playing along when we were little. Everyone found her little girl imagination delightful. The redheaded darling claiming to play with fairies. Delightful, that is, until the years rolled by and she still believed.
What twists my insides into knots of guilt was that I’d never admitted to her, or anyone, that I heard them. It began once Cassie drew her first picture. Right up until that very last day, I could hear their voices and the soft whisper of their wings. I could feel them, too. The tickle of their tiny feet. The insistent tugging on my hair. Would it have changed anything to have told her?
A soft burst of musical laughter mocks me. I’m no longer startled, just resigned. It’s time to go home.
Less than twelve hours pass before I’m on the train. The song of the tracks soothes my nerves. The scent of damp earth which clung to me is now gone, having succumbed to the assault of the body odor and perfumes of my fellow travelers. Cassie and I often spent afternoons riding on trains, back and forth from the nearby city as teens. Her joyful partnership with the sprightly beings had, by then, turned sour. She insisted that they couldn’t follow her onto a train because of the iron that surrounded us. It was on one of those trips that I fully realized just how bad it had gotten.
Her eyes were red and swollen, and her once shiny auburn hair had thinned. She tugged on the sleeves of her turtleneck, pulling them down all the way to her wrists. It was too late. I had already caught a glimpse of a jagged line of red along her forearm.
“Cassandra. What the hell?” I shouted.
The train wasn’t very crowded, but the few adults sprinkled throughout the train car glared at me, then studiously stared out the windows to avoid getting involved. I grabbed her arm and yanked it toward me. I turned so that my back concealed her from the other occupants on the train; protecting her had become second nature.
Shoving the sleeve up to her elbow, I swore again. Her entire forearm was covered with tiny gashes.
“Megs, I swear, I don’t know what they want from me,” she whispered in anguish.