Everybody has a past.
Sometimes the past is a mystery as much as the present—and just as scary and disturbing as the future.
In the brief and dangerous journey that humans call life, time is the never-ending, looming shadow, staring with its immortal eyes down at the earth.
Time, cold and unforgiving, journals each heartbeat, each blink of an eye, each thought and touch, every time a newborn cries and every time a person draws the final breath.
Some may have the fortune of looking back—when that fateful moment of peering inside, and discovering the very nature of one’s soul, arrives—and only have cherished memories, capable of bringing a smile to the face, right beneath eyes that will shine with tears of love; happiness will sparkle on their faces, brushing away regrets and fears.
For others, these feelings are just a utopia, a distant world painted on the canvas of a mad artist. And when it all reduced in a future that does not turn out to be the desired one, people tend to wonder what they could have done differently to avoid the funeral of their dreams and expectations.
That is what happened to Juliet.
On a faithful night twenty-four years earlier, her parents had insisted on calling her after the love-filled beauty of the Shakespearean tragedy that had started their romance tale, but, despite the romantic nature of her name, Juliet was—as her friends had been calling her for years and without her approval—a prophet of doom. Someone used to stare back at the universe with eyes filled with wrath and sorrow.
But how could it be any different?
Whenever Juliet dared to peer inside herself, for the briefest of moments that she could bear, she could see her demons studying her with malicious grins.
Much like those that were in that moment cutting in half the faces of her family.
Aunt Genevieve had stuffed her plate with meat, vegetables, and cheese, distributing it on the plate in a way that formed equal parts of each food and sufficiently spaced, so that the colours on the plate could not mix. She sprinkled the concoction with as much salt as she could before Juliet’s mother—Marigold Thorne—had snatched the saltshaker from her hands with an animalistic snap of her long, bony fingers. The rhythmic beat of her boot against the wooden floor came from beneath her skirt, and Juliet imagined that the smell of whiskey also arrived from aunt Genevieve.
"Such a shame," her aunt announced, following a speech Juliet was deliberately not listening to. "She escaped with the baker’s boy. The kids nowadays!"
Juliet limited herself to shaking her head in a resemblance of a nod, widening her eyes a little to show her fake astonishment, and hoped the response was appropriate when she murmured, "unbelievable."
Her mother shifted awkwardly in her cushioned chair.
Her husband, Juliet’s father, was a despicable man.
After decades of living and breathing for his job, he had changed. Juliet guessed that reality did that to people. It shapes them into a prey unable to escape their captor. In the case of her father, it was a young student of literature. They left one day and never returned.
"As if her family needed such a beating," her aunt continued, shaking her head in despair as if the news aggravated her deeply. She served herself another piece of turkey and, with her mouth full, she continued with her sermon. "Ruining the good name of the Roosevelts."
Aunt Genevieve ignored the way her other sister—the youngest of the three, a lovable woman with the trademark ginger family hair, named Rowena—stared with pure horror at the bits of meat that the aunt was spitting back into her plate, victim of her frenzy of conversation, as if she had waited all her life for this very moment.
Juliet's only sister was seated at the end of the table, nose deep into her phone. She was envious of the freedom that little Eve had, being considered too young for "grown-ups’ talk", despite being only five years younger than Juliet herself. Leaving Juliet to play confessional for all her aunts. They complained all the time and about everything; about the cats, the loud neighbours, the nieces and nephews (including and especially Juliet), about the sun being too hot and the winter being too bloody cold.
"It was like you and Robert, my dear." Aunt Genevieve sipped her wine again, nodding to Marigold. "Such a shame, such a shame!"
Juliet refrained from laughing hysterically at the absurdity of the circumstances. Her knuckles screamed from the force that kept her fist from smashing into the table. How could they be sitting here after everything that had happened?
Pretending serenity and a sort of strange happiness in a moment of great pain.
The picture of Henry, her younger brother, was staring at her from above the roaring fireplace—a candle burning before him in his honour.
"The distance," her mother replied. Despite not caring much for the man she had married, she faithfully followed her deep-seated nature of victim, and bowed her head, making herself look tiny and grim. "It killed the matrimony."
The distance, yes.
The distance, Juliet recalled, had a name and a shape: Janel May, a woman with too long limbs and too blond hair.
She hadn’t planned how the family dinner would’ve been.
Only receiving the invitation had been traumatic enough to make her change her mind multiple times and leave her hesitating on the threshold of the old family mansion after she had forced herself to climb into her car and drive there.
She had almost bailed, if it hadn’t been for her aunt’s clutches grabbing her and dragging her inside. Her aunt Genevieve had immediately started ranting about her neighbour and the cat that kept wrecking her gardenias.
Juliet had limited herself to nodding and contributing with the usual oohs and uh-huhs. She had even exaggerated and added a good filling of you are right, and, cats should disappear from this world, as she saw the face of her Siamese cat promise Juliet—because of the dishonour caused to its race—a lifetime of scratched furniture and missing flip-flops.
And after they all seated, the candles were shivering above the table, reflecting on the silver plates and on the abundant dinner of breads of every shape and colour, and meat—that she had tried to ignore in the course of the dinner. Her mother, witnessing her plate filled with greens, had raised her brows, resting a hand on her chest as she did whenever she refrained from commenting—and then she had commented; complaining about etiquette and about how You would not find a husband with your disposition.
The dinner was degenerating, and with it, the weather.
The rain was beating against the glasses of the windows, portraying the garden darkened by the intense storm. The wind rushed through the frames of doors and windows, hissing like a loud snake. Juliet felt like she had woken up inside an episode of The Addams Family.
Henry’s portrait was placed in the most visible point of the room and was nearly the size of Eve herself. He looked down at the table with austere eyes, as if he wanted to supervise the dinner and ensure that everything would go horribly wrong. Knowing her brother, Juliet was certain, had he been there, he would have personally spiked aunt Genevieve’s wine with whiskey, instead of letting her poor aunt do it herself.
His eyes were burning holes in her chest, as if through it could reach her heart.
Say it! His voice screamed in her mind. Say it!
She hadn’t planned for those three words to shoot out of her mouth like a bullet and with the effect of a bullet. Juliet was about to prove her nickname true. The prophet of doom. The no-joy creep.
"I killed him!"
Every conversation stopped.
The only sound audible was the rain splattering on the glasses and the thunders roaring in the distance like a hungry beast.
And she knew she had chosen the wrong moment to open her fat mouth because her aunt Genevieve stared at her, blinking vigorously. She assumed a disgusted expression. Pulling her red head so far back that she looked like a swan—well, a very drunk one—and she looked down at his plate, then back at Juliet and asked with disdain, "The turkey?!"
Uncle Thomas, who until that moment had been dozing in his chair, suddenly snapped awake.
"Everything delicious, Marigold!" He clapped a lazy hand on his plump belly and, with eyes struggling to remain open, he said again, "everything excellent."
Juliet chose not to watch how the man sagged against the chair and fell asleep again.
After Juliet had denied the animalicide with a fast shook of her head. She opened her mouth, but the words were stuck in her throat, making her struggle for air. Her hands began shaking, and she tugged them between her pants and the chair, like she did when she was just a child.
Her mother was the first to awaken from the shock.
"What on earth are you talking about, Juliet?"
Eve raised her eyes from her phone and, crouching near, she whispered, "did Tobias force you to smoke that weird weed again, Julie?"
Her mother flashed her a look that promised hell on earth and waited for her daughter to reply with her hands resting on her hips.
"I…" Juliet swallowed the lump in her throat, and with a last glance toward her brother, she mastered the little courage that was left in herself and said a word that she hoped could explain everything that was eating her from the inside. "Henry."
"Juliet…" her mother pinched her nose, taking a deep and long breath.
Marigold had avoided talking about her only son since that day of the accident. They had set the rule of never mentioning it and pretending like nothing had happened.
She wasn’t ready to talk about it, Eve had said, and after that, even her sister had stopped mentioning Henry; she had also stopped exploding into a tragic cry each time she looked at the painting, settling instead for a sad sigh that wouldn’t have driven her mother nuts.
But as soon as Juliet stared at Eve, she saw that her face had paled and her eyes were lined with silver. "That is not true," she whispered, with a broken voice.
"It’s true!" Juliet yelled and regretted it a second later, when a single tear traced a heart-breaking line down her sister’s cheek. "I killed him. It’s my fault."
"Stop saying that." Juliet had never heard her mother’s voice using that tone. It was authoritative and sharp, just like an order given to a soldier.
Before her eyes, her mother transformed.
She didn’t turn into that tragically shattered being. Her eyes didn’t fill with tears, and her face didn’t crumble into a mask of desperation.
No, she pulled her shoulders back, high and squared, and her eyes lit up with the force of a million burning flames.
But Juliet couldn't pretend any longer that she wasn't a volcano ready to erupt and vomit all the pain she contained. The leash she kept around her feeling had broken.
"No, you don’t understand!" She stood, not caring about the hellish grinding of the chair against the floor. The very same floor that she felt shudder beneath her feet.
Lightning flashed, tinting the sky stark white before plunging the room again in the darkness.
"He wasn’t supposed to be there! I wasn’t supposed to be there either. I called him because I needed to leave the party where I had been forced to go. But I was all alone, unable to even speak with someone who is not a character from my books. And he came for me!" The tears fell onto her face.
Juliet had never cried in front of anyone, not since her father had walked away from their family. She had never opened her heart to anyone again. And yet the force of those tears broke her from the inside. All those parts that had somehow remained intact shattered inexorably in a matter of a few sentences.
Juliet recalled the accident perfectly, reliving the worse day of her life every time she closed her eyes.
The party had been miserable. She’d felt like an abandoned toy in a dark closet. The phone call had been too brief. Henry had laughed, still half asleep, and promised he’d be there in half an hour.
And later, in the car, they had been singing that stupid song he was so obsessed with.
Then the light. The crash. The hospital.
That cursed truck had swerved onto the road and smashed into the car carrying the two siblings, destroying the lives of that family forever.
"And now he’s in a coma," Juliet stammered, crying every tear that she hadn’t allowed herself to shed until that moment, "and it had to. be. me."
And there it was.
The past kept plunging its claws in her chest, never letting her draw one breath without feeling the guilt eating her alive.
They said that to face the future, one had to confront the past, with its monsters and demons. That it could heal and liberate you.
But then, why did Juliet feel herself dying?
She realised in that moment the true nature of her name. She wasn’t meant to find a love that consumed her; instead, she was doomed to relive her own tragedy each and every moment. Every time she held her brother’s unconscious hand, she begged for some deity to trade their places.
Her mother crossed the distance between them, standing between her two daughters. Her eyes set on Juliet. They were the same shade of brown, the same Henry had. Juliet suspected that her mother hated to stare at her because her eyes reflected her brother’s, and, with it, all the trauma and the misery they had passed in the last couple of months.
"You are many things, Juliet," her mother said. She rested her hand on Juliet's shoulder and squeezed with a force that Juliet didn’t think she possessed. "But you are not a coward."
"A coward?" Juliet echoed, her voice barely a whisper.
"Yes, a coward. For only those who cannot face the truth bear faults that are not their own. Juliet, I asked your brother to keep an eye on you. Does that make it my fault?" She stared at Juliet with the lovable smile that only a parent could master and waited for Juliet to shake her head before continuing. "His duty was to stay close to you. Does that make him responsible for his accident?"
"No!" Juliet bellowed. How could it be his fault?
"Just because something bad happened, we can’t blame ourselves and our actions, because no one knows what will happen in the future. Your brother’s accident was tragic, and it will leave a wound inside us all."
She reached out to hold Eve’s hand in hers, who was now sobbing openly behind her mother’s back. "And, as long as there is hope, he will live.”
"Hope?" she asked.
She never believed in pretty things. They had the habit of breaking and leaving you hollow and wounded. Until that day, Juliet thought that hope was just another conjecture born for movies and books.
"The hope that Henry will wake up," she curved an arm around Juliet’s shoulders, pulling her closer to herself, and together they looked towards Henry’s painting. "Hope for a better future," her mother whispered to her family. For the first time, her eyes were full of light—of love.
Her aunts were crying as well. Aunt Genevieve had grabbed a flap of the tablecloth to wipe away the mascara that was running down her cheeks. Henry’s picture seemed to have a more serene expression, and even the rain had eased off.
Juliet didn’t know how long they remained like that, joined in an embrace that was not confined only to their bodies. Their souls were merging, blending their colours.
Pain slowly flowed out of their bodies, along with tears. Tears of pain, but also of love and relief—the relief of being able, after dark and sad times, to release all the emotions locked inside their souls.
And when they finally managed to let go of each other and loosen that embrace that had finally driven Juliet back home, the sadness remained, but also the love. The hope.
The insane thought that the voice screaming inside of her head was truly her brother looking out for her took roots inside of her. Telling her she had to confess and understand that her family did not hate her for what had happened.
The guilt did not fade in those hours. It would take time, maybe days, months, or years, but Juliet knew that the wound inside her would heal. Preserving the memory but letting go of the pain.
Hours later, she stood on the porch of the mansion with her naked feet pressed against the cold, humid wood.
Alone, but for the first time, she didn’t feel lonely.
The rain had ceased its rageful outburst, and it was now sliding down the columns of the porch and the trees and huddling among the orange carpet of leaves, waiting to be swallowed by the earth. The wind caressed her face with a distinct calmness, as if to reassure her that everything would turn out for the best. She breathed in the crispy air of autumn, enjoying the view before her. The sun slowly descended behind the trees and the distant golden hills, painting the clouds with shades of red and yellow—the colours of hope. A day that reaches its conclusion and a new life that the next day will rise with the sun.