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May 30, 2021

Fiction Mystery

I don’t exactly know where I am right now. It’s like I went to sleep and woke up in a different life, but when I look in my mirror, it’s still me. My brown hair is still clipped short, barely growing back after years of shaving it off. My skin is still the same, tanned and leathery from being in the sun all the time. I’m sure I have sunspots that need to be removed, but they can wait. I want to look, to glance below my hairline and above my crooked nose. Not yet. There is a movement to the right of me, out my window. I don’t need to turn my head to see what it is, years of training will do that to you. Glad to see I haven’t lost that gift.

I still don’t know where I am. The grass is greener than usual, so I’d say I’m in the suburbs somewhere. One minute I was driving down the highway. The next thing I remember I’d pulled over, across from the white concrete driveway. It reminds me of the white sand beaches overseas, so clean on the day of arrival. She’s so familiar to me, the woman that caught my eye just now. My eye, I want to laugh at that. I don’t know her though, I’m sure it’s just the dark hair and caramel skin tone. It has been a comfort for me lately, seeing familiar features on people. 

She doesn’t notice me sit and watch her. She’s unloading groceries from the back of her SUV. She’s not meant to be lifting heavy things. I don’t know how I know. The thought just pops into my head as I watch her carry a ridiculous number of bags to the front door. I feel a rare smile tugging at my lips like there’s a private joke that only the woman and I share.

Two young girls cross the road to avoid me. Both wear slim-fitting tracksuits, leaving nothing to the imagination. I feel like a fox in a henhouse, the way passers-by seem to look at me. I can’t really fault them. I’m sitting in a rusted pickup; the only thing I could afford when I got back. I’ve got tattoos down my forearm, one skull for every life. There’s a lot, yet there would be more if I had stayed. My clothes are too small for me, and the shirt has holes throughout where the moths have lived. I was scrawny and weak before I left, this shirt used to be one of my favourites. Now the telescopic sight picture on it seems a little cliché. They head over the emerald grass, into the same house as the woman with all the bags. My daughters would never be allowed out in those outfits. I shake my head. I don’t have daughters; I never had the time to have any children before I left.

I have no idea why I’m still here. At least I parked under a tree. Its shade moves around me like the shadows from chopper blades. I’m lost for a moment in what seems like a distant memory. I check my watch. I left home over two hours ago.  I’m amazed my brother hasn’t called me to ask where I am, because I should have been at our parent’s house a while ago. I reach into my duffel bag that I was meant to leave at home. It’s a hard habit to break. My phone is flat, and the car has no way of charging something so ancient. I shrug and toss it on the seat next to me. They’ll just think I’m avoiding them again. Mum will probably send someone to my apartment tomorrow. She hasn’t seen me since the surgery. I don’t blame her. I haven’t been able to look myself in the eye, either.

The woman comes back outside with one of the girls in tow. I slink down in my seat a little as they both look toward me. It seems like I’ve been spotted. A million thoughts begin to run through my mind, as I search for an explanation as to why I am here. I can only come to the same conclusion as always since returning home; I shouldn’t be. The woman seems to wave off the girls concerns as she grabs the last bag from the boot. Neither notice a small parcel fall out as she does so. I have a sudden urge to help her, but I don’t. They go back inside. I hear the beep as she locks the car with her key.

The package sits there behind the car, forgotten. I know how it feels, to be forgotten. No one but my family has contacted me since my surgery. They’re my blood, but they’re not the family I wanted at my side when I woke up. Though I suppose it’s a relief that my brothers didn’t have to see me that way, blind and useless for so long. I wonder if they were told it was successful, or if they just didn’t want to be burdened with my problems anymore.

I turn the rear-view mirror towards me. I can’t bring myself to open my eyes. To peer upon who I am now. There are no visible marks, I know that, but I still have scars. I turn it away before I open my eyes again. I’m not ready. Not yet. I have no idea why, but I grab my sunglasses and reach out of the window to open the door. The truck is probably more broken than I am; we’re a good match. Before I know my intention, I’m standing behind the shiny new SUV, holding the package the woman dropped. It’s a bag of nappies, small ones. I must have noticed her belly. That’s why I knew she shouldn’t be carrying all those bags. I see their shadows move behind the curtains. I squash down my instincts that try to kick in. She probably needs these.

I’ve made it to the front door. My feet have moved me here without me realising. I’d been distracted, staring at the newborn on the side of the nappy packet. It’s one of those chubby, happy-faced one’s advertisers use to draw you in. I feel silly. I’m standing here on a stranger’s doorstep, holding a packet of nappies, without a clue as to why. I’m clearly nowhere near my hometown. I must have driven for an hour at least to get to such a pristine area. Not that an hour is a long drive for me anymore. It’s more like a short walk.

I hear movement behind the door, and notice a blinking red light to my left—security cameras. I wonder how long I’ve been standing here, staring at this damn pack of nappies. I know they know I’m here, but I ring the bell anyway. It opens a moment later. It’s the familiar woman again. I can taste her name on the tip of my tongue.

‘Can I help you?’ Her voice is like honey, so polite and comfortable, yet I get the feeling she has no idea who I am either. She doesn’t step over the threshold. She’s playing it safe; she’s probably been watching me on the camera. It won’t surprise me if she has already called the police. I wouldn’t blame her if she did. I tower over her, my years away have been harsh on my body in both good ways and bad. I step away from the door, giving her space. I don’t answer her, I can’t. I have no idea what to say to her. Instead I just hold out the bag of nappies.

‘Oh, I must have dropped them.’ She reaches forward and takes them from me. Her fingers brush against mine, my skin prickles in a way I’m not familiar with. I move my hand away suddenly and reach to pull my glasses off. The glare from the white paint reminds me of the time Robertson let off the flash grenade in the commons area. The pain from harsh light is still something I’m adjusting to. I rub my eyes, the rough calluses on my hands make them water more. I try to open them blinking a few times as my vision clears. She’s still staring at the nappies. Her fingers are trembling. She plays with the gold band on her left hand for a moment before she finally looks up at me. Her face pales. I can hear one of the girls call out, asking who is at the door. I attempt a little smile, something I haven’t done for a while, I’m not even sure I know how to anymore.

She says it then, the reason why I’m standing here, on her doorstep, seemingly a world away from my home.

‘They gave you his eyes.’

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