My sister is up bright and early. As am I. She and I do yoga in the early morning sun; the dew glistening atop the stems of grass and our tree poses shadowed on the earth. We giggle and grin as we balance, talking slowly and calmly as we move from one position to the other; warriors, almost. We are fighters; battling the invisible giants, the hellhounds, the ghosts. We fight with slow breaths and large movements.
My sister talks of her boyfriend, John. Beautiful, tall, smart John. The one with aims; with goals, and plans and hopes and dreams. My sister, like myself, chose him because he can help her escape. John is Mary’s knight in shining armour – however many times I’ve told her that she doesn’t need one. She is a damsel in distress; a Rapunzel or Cinderella. He has her missing shoe, her true love’s kiss – the sword to battle off the evil step mother. John is her everything. John is her saviour.
I often wonder what will happen once she’s out. I did about myself, also – until Rich told me that he wants to leave me here. (Although those were not his words, they were, in another sense.) Will Mary travel the world? Will she break up with him as soon as she’s found her own place, job, happiness? Will she stay with him, marry him, before realising that she’s out, and doesn’t need him anymore? Or does she believe that he will stand by her anyway? That he can pull her out of any bad situation; her school bell, mother, father, fortunately-timed phone call?
I tell Mary about Rich and journalism. She sighs and smiles sadly at me. She tells me there will be others. So many more; each with a job and a dream. She tells me that the only one to keep is the one who fits me into their plan.
“What do you mean?” I ask, letting out a slow breath. She shrugs, which she shouldn’t be doing in Warrior III.
“Say, I was your boyfriend,” she tells me, staring straight ahead at the tree line. “And no matter what I want to be, I want you there with me. I say ‘we’, when thinking about the future, not just ‘I’. It’s ‘we’ll have this’ and ‘we’ll do that’. That’s the keeper; because he thinks about you being in his future, not just his present.” I stare at Mary for a long time afterwards. No matter what position we move into, I look at her, as if there is some undiscovered genius lying beneath her skin. It must be in there, somewhere – something so absolutely brilliant, that I can’t help but see it from now on.
Mary has thought things through, with John. She loves him because he loves her, present and future. She will marry him, love him, be with him forever – if he will have her – because he has imagined her there, as his wife, lover, best friend.
After yoga, Mary and I do housework. We spend our time cleaning up the mess our parents leave behind, and pretending we did it ourselves.
“I don’t remember leaving this here,” I say, picking up my mother’s magazine. Mary shrugs, washing up the pan from last night’s dinner. Father forgot to wash it up, I guess. I take the magazine back to the pile in the corner of the living room and check the time. It’s a few hours before Rich plans to pick me up for our walk. A few hours to kill.
I spend the next long time thinking over phrases – starting with ‘to kill’. I have time to kill. Memories to kill. People to kill. It all means the same, really. I want to off it; delete it; stop it from existing. But in different places, it means different things; with time, it means that you need something to do; memories, you want to forget; people, you want to murder. It’s all the same though, really. By killing memories you’re killing people, and by killing people you’re killing the memories they could’ve made.
The doorbell interrupts me as I’m thinking over ‘dead as a doornail’. I walk to the door and open it. There, standing, is my Rich. My Rich who does not want to always be my Rich. My Rich who wants to be someone else’s Rich. I smile when I see him. I know I shouldn’t; I must prepare myself for his leaving. But, at the same time, it’s a habit. And habits are like memories; hard to kill.
He takes my hand, saying hello, and I yell into the house that I’m leaving. Mary says goodbye. My parents aren’t in and I don’t expect them to be. I can’t remember how long they go away for. Sometimes hours. Sometimes days. Sometimes weeks. They once went on a cruise, when they went out to buy Christmas presents. They came back a week later with a whole new wardrobe and no gifts for the tree.
Rich and I walk for a long time in silence. I don’t know what he’s thinking, but I’m sure it’s not the same as me. I’m thinking about his hand; it’s larger than mine, always warm, always soft. There are bruises on his knuckles; sometimes scabs or grated skin. He’s a writer, not a fighter – but sometimes people can dabble in both. I don’t remember ever hearing about him fighting, but the bruises he has constantly beg to differ.
Then I’m thinking about birds. They’re free and happy. They soar through the wind, weightless, on wings of feathers. So many have tried to be as untethered as a bird, so many have failed. And that is what I need Rich for – I notice; I need my wings. Or maybe, I have the wings. Maybe I am a bird with wings as strong as an Eagle’s. Maybe I am standing on the tallest branch of the tallest tree – but there isn’t enough wind to lift me. Maybe Rich is my wind. Him and his strong hands; they can pick me up and help me soaring through the endless sky.
Though, as I glance at his strong features; his hands, his torso, his hair, ruffled in the breeze, I notice that I must get used to flying without the wind. I must make my own. I must have boosters, like rockets. Or an engine, like a plane. Propellers, like a helicopter, taking myself up into the air, to freedom, without the help of another.
I know now, that I do not need to become one yet – but I must be a bird with a difference. I must be robotic, but full of life. A soul inside metal. With the wings of an Eagle, but the engine of an M250 Turboshaft Helicopter.
We walk around the North Hill. It overlooks the ocean, and I can smell the salt breeze as we walk. Rich doesn’t notice the view. He’s always looking straight forward. We talk about school. We talk about family, friends, his dog. We just talk. Nothing interesting happens, but we’re not bored enough to leave. I will miss his company, I notice. His aspirations and accent. The way he says ‘grass’ with an ‘ay’ not an ‘aw’. I will miss his laugh, his smile, his crooked grin.
I note the things I will miss as we walk, as we talk. I note them down on the invisible paper and burn them when I’m done. I get every last detail, from the length of his steps to the way he clicks, and watch the ashes float away in the sea breeze. It gets late, but we keep walking, we keep talking, I keep throwing memories into the bonfire and praying he doesn’t see the smoke.
Then it gets to a point where Rich cannot stop talking.
“It could take me anywhere,” he tells me with a dreaming smile. “I could be in Spain one day and Japan the next-“
“You don’t speak the language,” I tell him.
“I could win awards, I could tell hard-hitting news, I could be famous-“
“I thought you wanted to do it for the truth, not the fame.”
“I could be a house hold name; just imagine it! Richard Jennings from World Wide News. Can’t you imagine it?”
“I can imagine it,” I say.
“I would be rich; with money, power. I could say anything on the air and everyone would believe me.”
“I thought you wanted to write newspaper articles,” I say, quietly. Rich falters and turns to me, a confused look on his face. He doesn’t speak, not to begin with. Then he rolls his eyes.
“I have never wanted to write for a newspaper,” he tells me, with a tone of voice that tells me to stop. I do. I am quiet. I am a mouse. I am seen rarely, but you know I am there. I am too quiet to be heard, but you know I’m making a noise somewhere. Rich keeps talking. I do not. He wanted to write for a newspaper last week. It was his dream, he said. He wanted to earn money through written word.
Rich keeps talking about Peru, Argentina, The Caribbean. I do not speak. I am silent. I am passive. I am submissive. I am what Rich wants; what I already knew he wanted, but never gave to him. I am what he wants me to be at the time he wants it. But he can take me away, I tell myself. If he stays with me, he can drag me out of this town. We can go our separate ways then, I know. But I need to be what he wants until that time.
I remember a few weeks ago at school, he was talking to his friends. I had smiled at the sight of him. I always smiled at the sight of him. I walked up to him from behind and slipped my hand into his. It felt familiar; warm. It was larger than my own and I had loved it back then, as I do now. He had faltered in his words to look down at me. Then he continued. He did not smile. He did not greet me. He continued as if I wasn’t there. I was not invited into the conversation. I stood until he was done, only then, when he walked away did he say anything.
“You shouldn’t do that,” he told me. “We could’ve been talking about something private.”
I have not done that since.
When I get back home, it’s past ten ‘o’ clock. Mary is in her room and I sit on my bed as I think about Rich’s goodbye. He kissed me. He always does when he leaves me at the door. His kisses are always the same; always nice, always too brief or too passionate. He only uses tongue if he’s definite we’re alone, and he will never over stay his welcome. His hands rarely touch me unless I touch him first. He is a passive kisser, but he is dominant everywhere else.
Rich is fun, he is lovable. There are so many things I care about, so many parts of him that I find beautiful. But there are so many things I don’t. Rich is gorgeous. As is his smile. He is kind and laughs a lot. But he can be rude. He can be short-tempered. He also owns the world, in his eyes. I have noticed this many times. Rich doesn’t have money, so everything else is entitled to him. Every answer he doesn’t know must be given to him. Every kiss he wants I must hand over. If he wants a present for his birthday, I must get the right one. But he is gorgeous. He is ambitious. He has a beautiful smile.
We have dated for almost a year. We have done everything but sex, and even then, he asks me often and quietly if I am ready yet. I am not ready. Rich has been ready for months. I lie back on my bed and sigh. Rich is everything I asked for, when I was a child. He was the knight in shining armour to my damsel in distress. I am not Mary. I cannot save myself. I am Magdalen. I am weak for a smile. I am on my knees for beauty. Mary is strong. Mary is powerful. Mary does not need John, even if John needs Mary.
My brain quietens as I close my eyes, and I can just hear the sounds of the house settling. Mary’s bedroom is next door to my own, and I can hear the whimpering. I can hear her sniffing. Her coughing.
“Mary?” I call, my eyes shut.
“Are you okay?” I ask. There is a darkness in front of me. I cannot see anything. I cannot see Mary, my sister.
“Yeah, just a bit ill,” she responds. An image of Mary forms in my head, tucked into bed with tissues.
“Do you want anything?” I reply.
“No, I’m fine.”