A quote comes to mind during yet another night of unwelcome wakefulness. It is triggered by the view that has graced my sight from the moment I opened my unwilling eyes.
"These trees are dark and old. In solitude, unified. Licking the ground, tasting the rough, cold wind, so man can breathe."
It's a quote from my favorite band. My love for poetry and raw, creative expression has molded me inextricably to their art. I'm in awe of the manner with which the consistent and unchanging efforts of Gaia to sustain life are continuously being met with the cruelty of the very beings that are being sustained. I am in absolute awe of how a few poetic words can have the power to summarize happenings which began centuries ago that still thrive today.
Mankind. We take so much.
The wind's shrill whistle is audible despite the tightly sealed openings of my bedroom. Magnificent silhouettes of dancing foliage keeps me entranced as the meaning of the poetic words sinks in. I am forced to consider how my entire system would shut down without the tireless service of these trees, beings so friendly and wise, always subject to batter and abandon. I lay here and wonder how it ever came to be that we are so alienated from something that is such an indispensable part of our very existence.
My brief reverie gets interrupted by a sudden movement. My muscles immediately tense up. "Damn it, no," the words slip up before I have time to properly think my reaction through. My heart rate begins to speed up and a sense of dread fills me up quickly. She moves again, and I sigh. How long has it been since I could actually rest? My mind does a quick recap of my busy day of hard labor at work. I lift things. Heavy things from brick sacks to extra large geyser tanks. It takes a lot to do that kind of work, and for peanuts, too. I feel exhausted enough without having my sleep interrupted by the little human laying restlessly besides me.
I shoot an annoyed glance towards the clock hung along the far side of the wall. It is exactly 2:59am. Kayla stirs again, and I curse. Shit, shit, shit! It takes a colossal amount of willpower, but I will my body up, and as the heavy blankets slide off the top of my body, a cold chill of air stings the naked flesh of my arms. A table stands at the side of my bed. Two bottles of milk, nappies, wipes, jelly and an empty cup of coffee are positioned haphazardly along the scratchy and old wooden surface.
As I turn the bedside lamp on, a cigarette and lighter come to sight on the carpeted floor, triggering a sudden reaction within my body and eliciting a craving sensation that I've lived with for a decade now. I make a mental note that once I am done with Kayla, I would have a few puffs to calm my hideous mood. Taking one bottle in one hand, I turn back towards her writhing body and collect her into my arms. Cotton-clad limbs stop flailing once the rubber teat enters eager, gum less lips.
My three-month old daughter is hardly coping without her mother. My jaw clenches as Claudia's face flashes across my mind's eye. A beautiful smile stretched across a bright face, full of life, hope and possibility. Kayla looks just like her. At least, she used to. Where there used to be a smile, there is now only decay. She went off exactly two months and seventeen days ago, and never returned. She was so reckless, so trusting, so damn gullible, despite my innumerable warnings about the the people of this town. Trust no one, I would tell her. If it's possible, talk to no one. Go to the shops, buy what you need, and return straight home. I told her this. I told her, the stupid girl. For lack of sensibility and prudence, she did not listen. She allowed herself to be lured in like blind prey. She stripped my daughter of a mother, and although I do grieve her, I do not feel capable of forgiving her.
As I gaze down Kayla's little face in the dim light, I recall how I could not merely sit tight and let the police do their work. The worst thing that those fuckers would do is give him a few years in jail - a mere slap on the wrist compared to what he truly deserved for raping and taking the life of the mother of my child. I know this town well. I've got connections in all the right places. Eyes are everywhere and the truth always comes out if you know who to ask. He was quick and sly and almost got away with it, but this is a small town, and I've got connections. I told him that when he stared with wide-eyed shock at me, and I watched as a ghastly realization dawned in his gaze. Yes, you bastard. Now is the time that you die. You didn't expect it, did you? You didn't know that I know, or else you would not be here, in my own father's backyard, letting me into your stinking quarters and offering me a can of beer, all the while knowing that you've murdered my girlfriend. Karma has caught up faster than you thought. Rot in hell.
I did not say those words aloud, but my eyes said all that needed to be said. It is true that eyes are the windows to the soul. When I wrenched that blade from deep within his gut, I saw what was in his eyes. I think he realized something as soon as it dawned on him that he has just gotten stabbed. Something that only he could see. Something that terrified him to the core. Perhaps he didn't like where he was going. Maybe the shadow people were there already, preparing to drag him to hell, where he belongs. I don't know what it's like to die when you're a bad person, but I can attest that by witnessing the sheer terror in his eyes, that it is the most terror that he's ever felt in all of his life, a life that has reached an abrupt and unexpected end, just like Claudia's. Seeing his fear gave me satisfaction. It thoroughly satisfied my thirst for vengeance, for justice. That was the first time I've ever taken a life. I feel like something within me has died along with him. I feel like my daughter is stuck with a lesser version of who I was three months ago. A sudden sob escapes my throat as a dark and suffocating cloud stifles my being. I almost want to die. Kayla is keeping me just barely afloat.
"I did it for you, baby girl."
Kayla pushes the teat out of her mouth, as though to express distaste of the idea that she is the reason that a man is dead. I get it, girl. You're not the reason, I am. Claudia is. Law enforcement is. It is not fair on you to bear this guilt. Your hands are too clean, your soul too pure. All I want to do is raise you well. I don't think telling you that I killed for you sets the right example, and so I never will. But I've done it. And I'd do it again. I will destroy whoever tries to hurt you. That is my eternal promise.
I gently set her back down into bed and bend down to pick up my cigarette. I feel a strong inclination to use something stronger, something that completely switches me off from my feelings, from my memories, from reality. It is within arm's reach, in my bedside drawer. All I have to do is grab my easily reachable bank note and a bank card, and sniff twice. It won't even take two minutes, and I'll be free. Free from the disaster that my foolish Claudia has left me with. Truly, I feel ever so inclined to go ahead with it, but that stuff will keep me awake. I have to get up for work tomorrow. Rest is needed. My daughter needs me to be in top shape when she wakes. A woman I've lured into my love trap has agreed to babysit her for free. These people pleasers. Drawing them in is like my super power. They bring a much needed convenience into my life.
My cigarette burns slowly. I am a part of the nature outside now. Kayla is safely nestled in between thick pillows.
I came out here without putting a jersey on. There is something about the cold that brings me solace. I embrace it more than I try to resist it. Out here, amid the wild gust and the enduring trees, I feel like I can breathe without feeling like I'm suffocating on reality. The moon is full and shines brightly, endowing the night with a warm glow. From out here, I look in through the window to where my baby girl is sleeping. My cigarette continues to burn.
Besides the job that I don't like and the females that I can't love, Claudia is what consumes my mind. I believe in the afterworld, and I believe that she has been granted access into the light. She was an extreme people pleaser, but she was good. I doubt that I'll ever meet her in the light. I'm not exactly a good person and I believe that we all end up somewhere based on what we did here on Earth. Bye bye forever, Claudia. Your stupidity has left a mark that will endure lifetimes. As though in support of that raw truth, my cigarette burns out, offering a sense of solemn closure to my nighttime waking.
You will remain in my fantasies, Claudia. I will tell Kayla all about you. I know I didn't treat you right, but I did love you. Please believe me.
I amble back inside, embracing the icy batter of wind against my skin. My footsteps are heavy as I walk back to Kayla, to fatherhood, to temporary oblivion. My shoulders slump under the weight of the world, and as I slowly and quietly slide back into bed, I can almost swear that my bed might just collapse under the weight of my baggage. I sprawl a tired arm over my sleeping beauty, pulling her close, and allow myself to weep. Through the window, a murky view of shadowy foliage dances under the eager glow of lunar light, and I drift off to the image of beautiful Claudia, an image that I know is coming with me into my nightmares.