Sometimes when you’ve sat still, steeped in moment after moment of ringing silence, you can hear the broken screaming of fragments of themselves people have left behind. It’s quite unexpected and they never seem to look how you would imagine, considering whom they’ve fallen from. Fragments don’t always match their homes. I’ve learned that from a young and fragile age, the first and last time I spoke to one by mistake. I learned even better, that it was best to pretend they didn’t exist at all if it could be helped, since their sorrow easily became yours. Afterall, they were an entity created of the fluidity of human whims. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart from the true living when they look almost real, but that’s only in the cases that people have truly abandoned who they were and became something else entirely. My heart trembled to think about what had become of them. Had they never realized they were no longer the person they saw in the mirror? Would they wake up one day, and peer at their reflection? Taking in their chosen style, pose and notice their figure, find where their eyes should be and wonder when that look became so empty? Did life still feel like it was something alive? Was it fathomable that something precious might have been lost? I prayed I’d never be looking at my own face, and find my amber eyes missing…If your eyes were supposed to be the windows of your soul, how much of your soul was left when you’d given up pieces of who you were? How much of it had to be lost, for that emptiness to become a memory of reality? Was it possible that instead…they became happy? That a loss was not a loss, but the making of a space for something better?
I scoffed at the thought as I strode along a worn sidewalk towards the bus stand, the sole illuminated haven on a moonless midnight. After being stuck in an emergency meeting for a project that had begun to go dangerously south at the publishing firm, the bleakness that permeated the air frightened even the stars into hiding behind the shadowy clouds. I was sure I just missed the last bus a couple hours ago. At least the sun will still brandish its warmth in little time, staining the winter horizon with colors of burning desire to go on, to try again, to urge this world to arise one more day. It was a small comfort, but it’s the things you know will never lose that flame, that will, that power to simply be which inspire you to do the same. A comfort remains in consistency among the unpredictable tides of ever ebbing and flowing change. These were the things that have kept me company most of my 20 something years I’ve had only myself to share this life with. It might have been lonely…but it was the right thing to do. Why must others not cursed the same way be forced to also become a vessel of lost sorrow, simply by being in association with me?
There seemed to be another woman waiting on the bench under the dimmed street lights. The watery orange casted an eerie glow on the empty streets and quiet patience. Patience and yearning- what a fine pair. The woman sat there as still as the absent breeze with a wide brimmed hat obscuring the view of her face but poised in watch towards the far end of the street as though waiting for some manifestation. A person? A car? A dream…a ghost? Something about her seemed to grow even more somber as I approached and perched myself on the other end of the short bench. I didn’t dare to look at her directly, for fear that my gawking might disrupt whatever spell or wish she was casting on such a gloomy night. How does one wish on a star they cannot see?
Great rivulets of ivory locks tumbled from beneath that hat, and her smooth hands were knotted into her plain cotton skirt, pressed into her lap. Her back remained rigid, but something about her was imbued in soft elegance. She might have waited out here forever if she had to. How was she not shivering? I observed my own hands, dry and chapped from the chill, resting on the legs of my cream pantsuit. They looked far older than I really was. I shook my head and heaved a sigh to shove away the demons that were always at bay by this point of night. Suddenly, I heard sobbing from somewhere far, like melancholy muted by a medium of time and incomprehensibility. It was her. The woman in the hat. The sound was pulling me towards her, a siren song I knew better than to be drawn towards. But there was no shaking in her shoulders, no tears on her skirts, no trembling in the stiffness of her posture.
“Miss?” I cleared my throat. “Are you all right? Would you like me to call someone for you? Is there someone you’re waiting for?” I paused for a sign that she heard me, then tapped on her shoulder as gently as possible. Once, twice. In that small touch, her whole figure crumpled, face falling into her hands and she began to weep violently. This scene, this moment. I was instantly transported to when I was only 10.
10 years old, my brunette ponytail bounced in the reflection of the summertime as I gazed through the window of an ice cream shop at a line people craving cold and something sweet in the sweltering heat. I often walked myself home from soccer at the park. Everyone that lived in the same neighborhood went to the same place, and it was so nearby that my Mom never worried so long as I was at the dinner table before the sun set. Something about the night made her edgy, she never left the house after the light faded. Part of me wondered later if she lived with that fear of the unknown because she knew what I could see. Perhaps she knew and never wanted to understand it. If she did, she’d know they didn’t come out in the dark. They belonged in the daylight, since it was the only thing that could fill that emptiness left behind from missing most of yourself.
I smiled to myself, the twinkle of a child’s desire for nothing more than moments like that sparkling against the sunlight shooting back from the flashing metal of massive refrigerators and glinting off the ice cream scooper that dipped again and again into the vanilla cream. Forcing myself to peel my eyes away, I noticed a woman that stood some feet behind me watching me in amusement. Where had I seen her before? At the school? Was she someone’s mother? She looked so much like a distant aunt I thought I once knew from a family album. She chuckled at me and knelt to squint at my face from beneath the baseball hat. “What’s your name dear?” She asked. Her bare arms were tanned and strong in the sundress she wore stamped with a variety of spring flowers. Silky ebony hair glistened in that sunlight as it slipped from her shoulder.
“Odesa,” I replied hesitantly.
“Oh my, what a name. It’s full of fate you see.” I shook my head, unsure of what she meant. “Hmm, you don’t know the old meaning of it do you?” I shook my head again, vehemently, the impatience that came with that age peeking at her. “It’s a little bit sad. You’ll be rather lonely all grown up. Odesa means alone…but you’re a little bit special too I can tell. You can see me quite well, can’t you?” Dread began to seep through my hands with the nervous sweat. “That’s right, I’m a fragment. I’m your neighbor’s fragment, nice lady isn’t she? She doesn’t seem very happy lately isn’t it?”
“Why are you talking to me?” I strangled out. I’d never spoken to one before. They never seemed so real before. It occurred to me then. I never saw her reflection in the window. There was the sun, the shoes walking by, the shopping bags, and the sunglasses, but no spring flower sundress.
“Well darling, I’d always liked you. It’s a shame that your nice neighbor lady decided she didn’t want me anymore. You see, I have a special gift of my own. I can tell the future sometimes.” She beamed at me, but something in the way her teeth were perfectly square seemed off. The perfection wasn’t perfect. Something was wrong. “Your Mama named you Odesa, because it means to be unique. It means Timekeeper. That’s what it means when you can see us,” she giggled charmingly and brushed off a smudge of dirt from my ruddy cheek.
“You’re fated to pay a steep price for a debt that was never yours. I can’t really tell you much more than that, but I’m sure you’re going to get a pretty picture of what needs to happen when it’s time,” she said. Ebony. They always had ebony hair. Fragments.
I stared at the woman before me, on this bus bench, who’s sobbing trickled into sniffles as she replaced her hands in her lap. She looked up at me then, her head tilting shyly at me, would you really help me? She seemed to ask.
“Miss? What’s your name?” I whispered, ignoring what I already knew. My heart thundered, and the air grew thinner. The haze of the streetlights were diminishing, as she finally looked me straight in the eye.
She didn’t have a face.
There was no face.
No eyes, no nose, no mouth, nothing.
A flat plane of flesh, from which came the faint sounds of sniffles and whimpering.
There was no air, the light was disappearing. I didn’t know what to do.
This woman…this fragment. This was a fragment that had yet to be. She was the shadow of what could be, not a shadow of what once was. The terror seized me as a pale elegant hand crept towards my cheek. The ivory was yet to be filled. It was blank, it was a hunger. The irony of this moment hadn’t escaped me, hadn’t escaped the clutches of this fear. A debt that wasn’t mine. This is not my debt I’ve done nothing wrong.
Her hair grew into shadow, the ivory disappearing, the endless obsidian pulling me in. No- those sad amber eyes. No, no, no I couldn’t move.
Her face took shape. Her forehead becoming mine. Forehead to forehead, she pulled me closer and-