tagNon-EroticWhen To Speak

When To Speak


He was dreaming something sweet.

He was home again, the terrifying streets of his old neighborhood cut out in cardboard frames, waiting for him to step right up and bulldoze them down. The Murray's living across the street, the Fishman's down the way to the right . . . all empty homes like skulls without eyes in them. And little Cathy of those yesteryears was still down on the sidewalk with a tiny hand full of sidewalk chalk, drawing the same pictures she had been drawing thirty years ago.

"Hey Danny!" she called to him, only looking up when he did not answer, "Hey big bro. How's life been? It's been a long time since we've had a chance to talk."

His throat burned up as an acid moon of bile rose in his chest. Her eyes were direct, stripping away the years of adulthood, back to the days when she had looked at him as kin to god, and the aftermath of failure. He had not been able to save her from the horrible fate she had fallen prey. A wicked grin split her face, and the pupils of her eyes became large and dark, and utterly alien. Like something that slept beneath the sea. Unfeeling and cold.

"Anyway," she said, "we haven't time for that right now. Wrongs will be righted. Justice is perverse, and vengeful, and does not miss opportunities. Danny, do you know about the flies?"

He was dream paralyzed now, caught in those alien eyes like a deer in the headlights. The question was rhetorical and she continued "Flies don't live very long, big bro. Long enough to breed really. And with their purpose gone, they just kind of dry up and blow away."

She picked up an orange piece of chalk and traced the remains of a tattered baby doll lazily onto the sidewalk in front of her. The doll was naked and missing its arms and half of its head seemed burned off. She bent her head down and into her work, silent and contemplating for a moment while the one-eyed doll gazed fitfully at the darkening sky.

"Because life is a continuous circle," she said finally, "we don't mourn the ones we've lost. That's the value of eternity. You spend forever wondering where things went, when they never left. They're sitting there, staring at you, and all the while, it's you who have gone away. That's what separates us now, big bro. It's not simple, like life or death. It's a whole new shade of gray."

She picked up a fat purple chalk and began to lazily trace a side-ways eight, so that a strange lavender mist began to seep up from the concrete. The sky continued to darken and the bright blood red of sunset washed across the sky. The Caribbean green of her eyes seemed to glow. Then she turned to her side and scattered the chalks and stared at them. In a way, that was worse because he could not see the eyes that rightfully accused him. His heart sank lower in his chest.

"All our children are made of latex," she pronounced carefully, "In an age of cleanliness we still subscribe to martyrdom, though the parameters differ. Big brother, I never really knew what love was until yesterday. Love is an empty and expansive thing, really. Consuming. It forgives no one. Inside of God's eternal love, I am utterly alone. That's what eternity is. Walk away from God now, and sin. Go astray. And never regret a moment of it. I suffer for you."

At last he found his voice and could only moan, "Cathy . . ." before it left him completely in agony and no words for his despair.

"I know, I know," she sighed, irritated, " You had not the strength to stand when you could walk. And now I crawl. God is a possessive creator, and he will reap what he has sown. People believe god dead, or that god does not care. No, god has a plan. And damned are we who he has made, for we are its subjects."

He shivered at this blaspheme, and little Cathy laughed, kicking the baby doll away. From the impact of her blow, the little head broke free from its body and rolled to his feet, where its dolly eyes could better look up at him pleadingly. Save me, Mister, the doll seemed to cry, save me from -the dark, the monster, the flies.

Cathy made a noise of disgust and then grabbed his hand "C'mon, big bro. You know what we have to do."

He tried to shake his head no, to tell her he had already been through this, nearly every night since it happened, and that for nearly thirty years he had played the same old routine. But she tugged him insistently and up the long walk before their childhood home they went.

"Shhh," she giggled, opening the door, "You know Mama's in the bottom of the bottle again." Sure enough, as his eyes adjusted to the interior of the house, he saw his mother passed out on the couch with a bottle of brandy wedged between her legs. She'd dropped a cigarette on to the stained rug and it had burned itself a snug little gray trench to call home. A cloistering deja vu settled in the back of nerve-wracked mind. How many times had he given up a night of sleep to make sure that his mother hadn't passed out with a lit cigarette and burned the house down? Surely it was beyond number now.

"Don't mind her," Cathy said, not even glancing in her mother's direction, "She'll be out for hours. And we have business to attend to."

She led him up the dark wooden stairs with her hard little shoes making deliberate footsteps on each and every panel. Down the hallway she went and stopped in front of her old bedroom door. What followed needed no direction. He slipped into his role and opened the door.

A little girl's room, sunshine yellow in the late afternoon. Her dollhouse, her shoes, her numerous toys and games. All waiting for her to come back and play with them. They sat in anticipation, like they did that afternoon so many years ago. And in the little bed, covered from head to toe lay a little form, eerily still.

"Go on," Cathy said, more a voice than a body.

He walked slowly to the bedside and stopped for a moment, wishing to god he didn't have to do this again. Not again.

He peeled back the blanket and there lay Cathy, pale and frozen, with glassy eyes wide open and staring beyond the ceiling. Her pillow, her dress, her dolly, they were all covered in a sickened brown-crimson of drying blood, the source being a large clot which had pooled in her right ear.

"We never talked about that afternoon, big bro, did we? You knew what she did, you knew that after she was done she closed the door and went downstairs to drink herself to sleep. And you listened to it all through these paper-thin walls. And you knew that one day it was really going to happen, that one day she would go too far. And when she did you never uttered a word against her, did you?" the voice continued snaking its way through his mind.

The eyes of the corpse popped shut and opened again, but instead of eyes were two writhing orbs of maggots. The skin of the corpse began to move of its own accord, as though it had no skeletal frame but only the form the little white beasts selected for it. A single maggot twisted free and rolled down her cheek like a teardrop, hitting the sheets with an audible plop.

"And now," the voice said with satisfaction as the terror, shame and guilt threatened to rip him apart from the inside, "For every day that you have lived and I have not, you will suffer the life I have missed, the death I chanced, and the emptiness of the eternity in God's shadow."

The hand of the corpse inched toward him now and a little whisper escaped the dry, dead lips "Save me," and just as her fingertips grazed his sleeve . . .

He woke screaming, like he had every night, for the last thirty years.

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