Some people are lucky or willful enough to love where they live. They're either blind to flaws or there are none to find.
How do you fit into that?
Garbage, as far as the eye can see. As far as you're concerned. Muck and mire.
But you pass by people, as well, and they go with clear eyes. They hold tiny hands and answer inane questions with a grin. They march with purpose, bags clutched to chests, briefcases fixed in white-knuckled grips. It seems like they all have DESTINATION printed on their foreheads.
Your hands are small. You have a bag, though it's strapped to your back. You have a destination.
Still, you aren't the same, and it has to be there's something wrong with your eyes.
A left on North Timberland brings you to your street. The houses are tall, but narrow. Their pastel sliding is too familiar to hold any interest, so you keep your eyes to the ground. You follow mended cracks in the asphalt until you reach the end of one and begin another.
Perhaps two minutes remain to your walk, maybe ten left of daylight.
There was no one in front of you. The way was clear. This is a certainty, even as you bounce off a sudden obstacle.
Before you can blink, or shake the daze from your head, hands fix to either of your shoulders.
The gaze you meet as you tilt your head upwards sends a churn through your stomach, a sickly thrill through your heart.
You know those eyes, in a way that refuses doubt or confusion. An instantaneous awareness that cleaves your brain down the middle.
"You had a dream once," The fingers at your shoulders flex without threat. "About lions. Do you remember?"
"Lions?" Your voice is so fluty by comparison, wafer-thin.
"She kept them in the cellar."
Her brows bow. She waits, but it's not long before tears form in her eyes.
"Don't cry." You catch your trembling lip between your teeth until you trust yourself to speak evenly. "Yes, I remember. They got out, and she didn't care. They went... everywhere. And it didn't matter. They came back to the cellar."
"And at the end?"
"I don't think about the end."
"She fed you to them, didn't she?" Your head wobbles as she gives you a minute shake. "She gave you to the lions. And why don't you think about the end?"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
Arms enclose you, and for a moment you can't breathe. She adjusts her arms and you turn your face so your cheek rests against her abdomen. You're stiff as a board until she strokes your hair, the back of your head. Then, it washes over you.
Trust, as you've never known. Trust as few will ever know it.
She seems to know when it's time to ask again.
"Why don't you think about the end?"
The words are carried behind a shuddering gust of breath. "Because it was true."
She pulls from me, kneels until we're eye-to-eye.
"She'll do it again." Wind rolls through, catches strands of long copper hair with it. But even as she shivers those eyes never lose purpose. "She'll do it again and again, until there's nothing left of you. You will never change it. Do you understand?"
Before you can answer, she's gone. You hadn't blinked, despite the wind going strong, but even with hindsight you'll never pinpoint the exact moment she left.
Yards from where you stand, between a brown sedan parked on the left curb and a collection of waste bins to your right, your house sits still and conspicuous. Pastel blue with freshly painted white windowsills, a row of inkberry hedges trimmed to perfection next to a red brick stair.
The window over the hedges gives a dull burst of lamplight as the curtain shifts behind it. You note that your mother has already added curlers to her hair.
You turn, and follow the fractures in the road back the way you came.
A time comes when you look upon strangers and see more than possibilities of betrayal between them.
A father holds his son and you believe the love. The skin grows back over your body. Alarms only sound when necessary.
While it sometimes starves for months before it begins to chew, guilt demands acknowledgment. There are tricks to let it desiccate a little longer, but it will never die. It becomes a ritual, the occasional pound of flesh for peace of mind.
Years of long, fulfilling dreams are speckled with sleepless nights.
Honor thy mother.
You wouldn't exist without her. It was by her choice you took your first breath. Your duty is to calculate the worth of that breath for the rest of your life. Consecrate a choice you never got to make and regret the one you did.
Honor thy mother!
A time or two, you've been suckered.
You've appealed to an unflinching stare for explanations that will not come. You've demanded apologies and received scorn in answer. You've begged to bridge the gap, you've proffered the same enlightenment you were offered, and a price was wanted you swore to yourself years ago you would not pay again.
What allows you to walk away each time is a sudden recollection of that impossible evening as a child, when you looked into your own eyes and saw the purpose you envied in others.
And from here?
Every day will bring new questions and revelations.
The lions roamed and they attacked. She was passive, then. She watched the slaughter and she didn't care. There was an apathy to it. But you, she dangled.
What was the difference?
You will get used to the silence echoing back in your mind. Soon you'll think you'd rather not know.
The only thing you'll wonder that matters is whether you lived up to that eerie, miraculous night. Whether She looks at you now, from wherever She went, and thinks you did a fine job of fixing things.