Ashes to Ashes of our Youth
A little stream of light trickled in through the metal mini blinds, bathing the tile with a little patch of light.
Arthur drew his damp knees tighter to his chest, inching away from it, wanting the darkness.
Wet hair fell into his face plastering to his all ready tear filled eyes, vision swimming and dancing.
She wasn't swimming.
He thought that the world was spinning that maybe he had gotten so lost that the world had literally grasped at him and drew him under.
After a moment he realized he was rocking back and forth, in an attempt to calm himself.
He wasn't sure how long he sat there, wet and hiding, but not hiding, the cold of tile floor seeping into his bottom, traveling up into other parts of his body, burying into his very bones.
Though their house was large they would find him eventually and hiding in a bathroom was nothing short of uncreative.
His eyes had adjusted to the gloom though his eyes were still bleary and hurt, they hurt so much and he couldn't keep them away from the window.
It wasn't that late in the evening but it was all ready so dark, the world seemingly plunged in darkness, a Black Moon his father had called it. It only happened every few years.
He curled himself tighter into himself, a lame attempt to disappear, rocking ever so gently.
He wished someone would teach him how to live.
His earliest memories were of her watching him, just watching. Her big, brown, liquid eyes, so much like his own were dark reflective pools, himself reflected back in them as she observed him. And he remembered her hands-always shredded, dry, near bleeding, red and puffy.
He would reach out a hand to her but she would turn her back, back to whatever she was doing, deemed more important.
It was never spoken between them but he knew, even at four or five years old that he shouldn't try to touch her.
He was a happy enough child though he was left to his own devices most of the time, to roam their huge house and discover what there was to life.
He had nannies and they had a housekeeper that tended to him since his mother was "afraid of his germs" he often heard them murmur. He didn't know what germs were but he wished he didn't have them.
The nannies dressed and fed him but never stayed long enough to offer him much comfort.
His mother would get in angry terrible fits and fire the nannies before he could even develop any kind of relationships with them.
His father was away so much. He didn't understand until he was about six or seven that a military father meant that he needed to be away to "protect the country" but there was no one to protect himself from his mother.
He again didn't need to be told to know this.
He was six, playing on the white, expansive, sparkling clean kitchen floor.
She was in her usual spot, hunched over the kitchen sink scrubbing away at something or other. He knew better than to try to bother her when she was like this, in one of her routines, he would only be scolded, shooed away or hit with a wooden spoon if he tried to get her attention.
Her stiff, red starchy dress barely moved but her strong thin arms were working something in the sink.
When he thought back to her he often saw her in the faded red dress, long green latex gloves on, almost up to her elbows. This is what she was to him-a person that lived in the same house as him, someone that he watched. They watched each other, that's all they ever had. Two spectators that glided around each other silently almost like ghosts.
She would take a break, leaning against the kitchen island, looking exhausted, muttering something to herself, holding dripping wet green gloves up like she was s surgeon, she would scrub away at the floor later he knew. She had her patterns; it was always the same routine.
He did too.
When he knew she was going to be occupied for some time and he got bored with playing with his trucks he would sneak outside.
He was just small enough to squeeze through the doggie door. The term made him giggle as they never had a dog though he wished they did. With how his mother was a pet would just throw her more over the edge.
He had heard his parents argue about blocking the doggie dog or ripping out the door that had come with the house and buy a new door, him secretly wishing they didn't, it was his ticket to freedom.
To his luck his father, when he was rarely home, didn't have time to fix the door and it went forgotten.
Arthur just had to be careful not to get caught.
He was getting it down to a science. His mother would be doing her routines in the kitchen for at least another hour, once he saw his shadow more prominently to his left he knew it was time to go, to slip back inside so that they could watch each other, their endless stupid game.
The salty breeze hit him full force and it was that moment that he always waited for. Most restless nights in his bed he dreamed of getting out of the sickly clean space, stark white, his mothers dark intense, dead eyes never moving, just watching as he played, the rooms and rooms that were full of nothing, hearing her soft sobs behind closed doors as she cursed his father for being away.
He left it all behind. The sun hit his pale skin igniting him, making him feel alive. He had to repress the urge to run and scream in elation but knew better than to draw that kind of attention. They lived right by the ocean, their house on a cliff and all he had to do was look over and see it.
It was beautiful emerald green today, rolling and crashing, spraying. Arthur was mesmerized like always.
He could watch it for hours, the chaos, the way the waves had no particularly place to go, they were free.
He would sit, fists full of grass, plucking and would watch just his mother with her vacant eyes, he was watching, waiting.
That day he wasn't careful, he didn't feel the sun more on his left or watch for his shadow going more on that side, the signal to run back inside.
He must have sat for at least two hours and slowly he heard his mother's angry voice yelling at him to come back inside.
What would she do if he just ran? If he just jumped over the fence and off the hazardous cliff to meet the treacherous sea?
She certainly would chase after him but she wouldn't be able to catch him, she couldn't dirty her hands, it wasn't part of her routine.
Arthur realized then as he sat listening to her shouts, it mixing with the sprays and crashes of the sea, the two blurring and becoming the same that he himself was not part of her routine.
Then he got angry.
He did eventually come inside but on his own time, knowing she wouldn't come after him but knowing too that the doggie door would be shut up forever, his only escape, and his father would be cross with him and give him the belt. He at least was not afraid to touch him.
His mother was shaking in anger, her face turning violet but he saw that her normally perfectly applied makeup was smeared, she had been crying. He still was angry.
He didn't have to wait for his father to come home. His uncle came over later that night and belted him himself, telling him over and over as he did to: "Not punish his mother, she was sick, he should know better not to disobey her, make her worry."
He was six and of course he shouldn't know better. What did they all want from him?
The doggie door was secured that night, he heard his uncle pounding away downstairs as he clung to his blankets, deep welts on his backside, shaking, crying and eventually nodding off to again restless sleep.
When his father came home things were different but it never lasted long.
He knew he would receive a hug or a pat on the head from him, a warm smile. Sometimes, if his father wasn't busy, he would let him sit on his lap and let him watch as he worked, doing bills or reading the newspaper. His mother was different too, her eyes weren't dead and she stopped watching Arthur, stopped crying and would even stop some of her routines, wanting to spend all her time with his father.
His father often told him he was a "clingy" child but he really had no idea what his mother did when he was away. H e didn't witness her and her routines, her rituals that could not be broken, the way she would sit perched on their sofa and just watch him as he played, dead dark eyes barely blinking. He would never believe Arthur when he told him, laughing it off and telling him he had a "wild and vivid imagination".
But his father was kind enough to him but didn't like it if he clung to his leg or "abandoned" his mother.
His mother was forgotten when he was home.
His last and maybe the only greatest memory with his father, with his strong arms, broad shoulders and cleft chin was when he took him to the neighborhood park.
He had to be eight by this time.
His father held his hand which felt marvelous. All the times that he fell and hurt himself in their large hours or woke up scared after a bad dream all he wanted was a cool hand on his forehead, a touch, a reassurance that he was ok but he never got one. He never got one iota of that unless his father was home.
If the housekeeper or nanny wasn't around he was left alone to cry it out. And cry he did until nothing came out.
But not this day.
It was fall. He remembered dead leaves blowing aimlessly in the brisk New England wind, burning leaves and other smells of autumn in his nose.
His father sat on a park bench and watched him as he ran around, elated, interacting with other children his own age, feeling flushed in the face and sweaty in his corduroy jacket, lungs working hard and then his father did something great and unexpected. He lifted him up by the armpits like he weighed nothing at all and helped him climb the monkey bars, both of them laughing, visible puffs of warm breath expelling from their cold lips, his father's crooked, tobacco stained teeth bearing in the afternoon sun.
He felt like he was a different person and that maybe this is how life could be for him now. With at least one parent that paid attention to him and wrapped him up in some kind of affection.
His strong arms held him as he dangled from the monkey bars, trying to impress him, saying he would be big and strong and in the military someday just like him.
His father would just laugh, revealing his crooked smile, telling him he was still a: "skinny little runt like his mother that needed more meat on his bones" and would poke at his undefended ribs to try to tickle him.
They laughed and joked as he worked the monkey bars, feeling never happier.
His father left for a tour a week later.
Arthur hated that word. That meant he wouldn't see his father for a long time.
His father hated goodbyes and he did too. So they never really did it, avoiding it all together. He watched him leave from his second story window. Uniform on, bag slung over his shoulder, cigarette burning, morning sun in his light hair as he walked to the garage.
He wouldn't see him for another two years.
He fell into deep depression when he left, his only cushion against his mother when he was home alone with her.
He tried to stay at school or join outside activities to avoid her but his mother wouldn't let him.
His father called on his 9th birthday. It took everything Arthur had not to cry, to sob and he settled on begging him to come home, that he missed him.
"You know I want to but I can't," his usual response which should be followed up with, wait for it...
"You have to be the man of the house while I'm away," he always said this and it infuriated him. He didn't want to be the man of the house, to have to watch over or tip toe around his mother who was getting steadily worse. Was he that blind? He wanted to scream at him. To tell him he needed to live with his aunt and uncle, a family friend, anyone but her and her dead, silent eyes.
His frustration as it often did turned to deep sadness and although he was spitting mad he was fighting back tears-something he hated about himself. Why couldn't he just get angry like Uncle Colin or his father? Like his teachers when he stayed on the playground too long after the bell rang, even the nannies went he refused to listen to them?
But no. He was crying now, deep sobs that racked his body.
His father was trying to console him which just enraged him more.
"You should be here!" he shouted, cutting his father off mid sentence, explaining he sent him gifts. He hung up the phone and refused to come out of his room the rest of the day. Birthday or no birthday he be damned if he was coming out.
He failed that night at running away, a neighbor catching him sleeping in their pool house the next morning.
He wouldn't speak to his mother for days afterward after he was punished by his uncle severely.
He would try to perfect the art of running away in the years to come after IT happened.
He was ten.
He had stopped himself many a time from calling someone, anyone about his mother-to have her taken away.
It was a slippery, dangerous tight rope that he walked.
He learned from Tommy, his closest school friend, that she wasn't a "normal" mom. She shouldn't have those routines; she shouldn't be locking herself in her room crying or just staring blankly off into space.
"It's because my Dad is away. She's better when he's around," he tried to explain but the excuse stuck to his tongue and was weak to his ears. He never admitted to anyone, barely himself, that she indeed was truly sick but he trusted Tommy.
He wasn't sure what he was afraid of. He wanted someone to desperately help him and as much as he yelled at his father that he wanted to live with someone else, she was his mother, he didn't have any siblings like Tommy did, she was all he had.
His friend's parents did think it strange that Arthur never invited his friends over to his house. He saw the parents whispering, saw their sideways glances, their knowing stares and he knew that they knew and the fear that she WOULD be taken away gripped him despite his anger and embarrassment with her. Eventually he cut off all ties with his friends, even Tommy which made him cry.
He was angry, so angry and impatient with her. She caused all this.
Now that he was old enough and didn't need nannies and didn't need help with most things, not that his mother helped with really anything anyway, he tried to ignore her.
But she had her routines, she needed to sit and watch him, even if he was just studying or reading a book.
He knew better than to disrupt her routine, consequences proved fatal he learned in the past.
It was a gray, rainy and miserable Saturday morning.
He felt even more cooped up inside than normal.
He was anxious and restless. His father was due back home the next day.
He really had had enough of his mother; she was calling to him now, wanting something from him.
Their pool outside, she insisted, needed a cover, rain was getting in, her latest obsession. He argued with her all around the house, going from room to room, their voices getting louder, her practically screaming that it had to be done or else (she never had a valid reason and once she got something in her head it had to be done).
The rain wasn't going to ruin their pool he countered but as they reached the kitchen he had enough, he knew he had to do as she asked or else he wouldn't hear the end of it.
They went outside in the rain and he feebly tried to help her with the heavy pool cover, the one they used for the heavy New England snow, to protect the pool that no one actually used, most of their house was like that in fact, rooms and rooms of things never touched.
She was fussing over it, telling him it had to be done a certain way, him getting angrier by the minute that she was taking her sweet time in telling him when it was raining and he was cold and wet.
She started yelling at him again, wailing about his father, practically crying and going on about how she wanted things perfect for him.
He reached his boiling point; it was always him, always his father, never him.
"I'm right here! You never see me do you?" And he did the unthinkable, the unspeakable act, he shoved her, so she knew, truly knew he was alive, a living breathing human being and not just a toy that she could watch like a doll with dead eyes.
She slipped on the wet concrete and as if he was watching in slow motion she fell, head first into the pool, it filled with red immediately.
He screamed things, things that maybe were words, maybe not; maybe he just needed to scream.
He did pathetically yell out to her to swim, that he would have to touch her to get her out and she always recoiled at his touch.
Then as her body floated face down amongst the red just like the dress she loved to wear, aimlessly floating, with no particular place to go just like those waves he loved so much and the laugh escaped him.
It started small at first but then as the laughs racked his body he realized it was just out of pure terror, the pure craziness and disbelief of what had just happened.
Before he knew what was happening he had gone back inside, upstairs, his mind disconnected, took him out of the situation and he sat on the bathroom floor, the best view of the backyard so that maybe he could catch a glimpse of the anomaly, something called the Black Moon.
The housekeeper found her; he could hear her shrill screams and he waited.
He heard many people moving in and out of the house, raised voices, sirens, shouting and he waited.
Police officers led him out of the bathroom, his body was stiff and it was hard to walk, he was vaguely aware of anything and he waited.
People were talking to him, asking questions but he comprehended nothing, he went somewhere and he wasn't sure how to come back and he waited.
He later, as an adult, paralleled it to being in his own personal limbo-he was neither alive nor dead, just existing, wrapped up in his torturous memories.
He didn't talk to the worry of authorities and family members he had hadn't seen in years.
His father tried to ask him what happened, his face a mask of despair, he looked so much older, hair limp, face haggard, huge bags under his eyes, his usual clean shaven face was scruffy and hard, clothes rumpled and slept in.
His breath smelled like alcohol just like Uncle Colin.
Even when his father shook him, pleaded with him he still couldn't utter one word.
Autopsy and police investigations proved she didn't just fall in.
She was pushed they said, the speed at which she entered the pool, the way she fell in and how she cracked her head open.
Everyone wanted to believe it was an accident and most did saying there was no way.
As the days went on his father gave him these looks that chilled him to his very core.
He didn't speak to him either, it was like living with his mother all over again, the two of them walking silently around each other and they waited.
That was until her funeral. The housekeeper helped him into a suit too big for him; he was always so small for his age. She was asking him questions to fill the silence but knowing he wouldn't answer.
He scared them these days-the housekeeper and other help steered clear of him as much as possible.
It was snowing, the first snow fall of the season.
It usually brought him so much joy, now it was an annoyance, falling lazily, aimlessly, nowhere to go, all the things he ever wanted and never had.
They buried her with snow swirling all around, heavy mahogany lowered into the ground.
He didn't cry, he had no tears left.
"You did this." Not a question from his father but a statement.
His words rattled him, awoke him from his undeliberate vow of silence, he was done waiting.
And he responded in the only way he knew how, as a young boy that was rattled with grief and everything else at having caused his mother's death.
He watched as the casket, hard to think she was in there, went lower and lower into the ground until he couldn't see it at all.
He felt rather than heard his father leave his side, left alone once again. He watched snow fall from a far away, other worldy place.
He never saw him again.
This story has a companion piece called: "White Feather" told from Eames' POV. Both stories are from the same verse and can be read alone but encouraged to be read together as it will make more sense later. Both stories run parallel to each other.