talonkarrde: (Default)
For Liz — [livejournal.com profile] _asherah_

(I figured I'd do the Christmas ones first, and as usual, this is a bit late. It's still Christmas in...uh...Tonga?)

---

It's been the little moments that hit me the hardest. The big pieces — the awful emptiness of the house, the passenger seat in the car, the empty side of the bed — can be neatly compartmentalized, explained to the therapist, and dealt with, generally with distractions and work and staying busy and doing a relentless job of making sure the kids are where they should be, when they need to be there, and have what they want. Staying busy makes it so that there isn't enough time to carefully study the large, gaping hole that's been in our lives; it's hanging a blanket in front of it and as long as no one studies it too closely, we all get by — more or less.

But every once in a while the blanket slips, and hole only seems to have grown larger since the last time we looked at it. Like the way that our — my — seven year old, Jessica, tilts her head at me some mornings after examining her lunchbox and says that her lunch isn't packed quite right; that one line destroys me every time, though I can usually keep it to myself until after the bus comes and I see her up the steps. I'm fighting the tears as it pulls up to the street corner, so much so that I can't make out the doorknob when I turn around.

Or how after cleaning the house relentlessly every weekend (even though I hated cleaning before), after vacumning and sweeping and dusting, there's still Shadow's fur, somehow, even though everything's been cleaned a thousand times before and it should've been picked up last week, or the week before, or somewhere in the five months since it's been since the accident. Every time I see the telltale black hair, I can't help but listen for the scratching at the door that never comes, can't help but feel the wet slobber on my toes that means it's really — and Shadow means really — time to get up, on the weekends.

Sunday mornings are the worst, when Rose and I used to wake up around nine or ten and simply lie there and talk, hold each other close, and wait for one of the children or Shadow to scratch at our bedroom door. Sometimes, one of the kids would let him out, and so we would lie in blissful peace until eleven or twelve, called downstairs only by the growling in our bellies. 

Nowadays, I set an alarm for 7:00 a.m., before the sun gets a chance to cast its rays on the bed, before the tentative knock on the door by one of my daughters looking for breakfast — or, sometimes, when they're not fully awake, for their mother.

When I brought it up, the therapist said that it will get better with time, as the memories fade. The first time I heard it, I was struck by the unimaginable cruelty of the statement — these memories were all I had left of them, and the only thing that would make it better was forgetting? Bullshit, I said angrily, I want a better answer. But she only shook her head, looking apologetic, and said the words I wanted to hear the least.

"You have to learn to move on, John, and you need to face it to do so."

As if I could just move on from someone who had been a part of my life for so long. But she said — using my metaphor, of all things — that instead of hiding the hole, I needed to accept it, that I needed to spend a few minutes each day thinking of the accident, of what we had and lost, and make my peace with it. And more importantly, she said that I had to move on because it was the only way that my daughters would grow up at peace with it as well, and that struck a chord in me, I guess.

I had always tried to be a good father and do right by them, and now I was the only one left.

It was hard at first. No, it was worse than that, it was fucking terrible — purposely calling up memories of the two of them, of trips to the park and playing with other pet owners and wrestling with the adorable dog for a frisbee — all it did was paralyze me, until I was breaking down at work, in the car, my body wracked with sobs as I pictured their last moments, the small Mini turning sideways as the SUV came barrelling towards them.

That didn't last very long. Instead, I simply... slowed down a bit. I moved a bit less quickly to busy myself with the next chore and the next, and simply let some things remind me of them, sometimes. In time, it did get easier; I never forgot about any of the memories we shared, but they became... softer. I could still tell you what Shadow smelled like when we adopted him from the animal shelter, or what Rose wore on our first date together, but it wasn't as present; it was more like seeing a vision faraway, a bit hazy from the distance, and that made it a bit easier to deal with.

When I told the therapist this — seven months after the day — she nodded, telling me that it was a normal part of the process. I would never lose them, she said to me, but it would be easier because I didn't remember it as distinctly, and there were different, other ways to remember and cherish them, ones that wouldn't hurt like that. 

And then, just when I thought things were going well, she asked me what I had planned for Christmas. The holiday season was always tough on people, she said, especially the first one after a death in the family.

Christmas had always been 'an event' in our household. We wouldn't say it was any more special than what anyone else did, but there was a certain order to the season and to Christmas Eve and the day of in particular — we always got a tree from our local tree farm two weeks before Christmas itself, and decorated the tree not just with the usual baubles and lights, but also small pictures from our scrapbooks — it was a way to remember moments that we had all forgotten through the year. Christmas morning, Rose and I always stayed awake until 2 a.m. to put the presents under the tree; we were very careful not to let either of the kids catch us, though of course they tried, but we always engineered an active and exciting Christmas Eve of family time, and they always nodded off before one in the morning, despite their best efforts.

But this year...I hadn't given thought to what I would be doing, partially because I was busy, and mostly because I had managed to block it out fairly successfully, living a day, or sometimes two, at a time. It was just about two weeks before Christmas, and I made the trip right on time to get the douglas fir. After planting it in the middle of the living room, I went to the attic to get the decorations, and then froze solid when I came to the box and remembered what was inside. I simply couldn't open it, no matter how much I wanted to; I had only gone a few weeks with only the dull ache inside me, and wasn't particularly wanting to stab myself in the heart again.

I don't know how long I stayed there, sweating, standing a few feet from the box and trying to levitate the baubles out without disturbing the pictures; it was only after my older daughter Rachel called for me was I able to move. I must have been a sight — sweating buckets, shivering, standing there frozen like a deer with invisible headlights shining on me. In a fit of desperation — or maybe determination — I grabbed the box as I answered her call and headed back upstairs, ignoring what I was holding and focusing very hard on my daughter's request and her voice.

The box then laid next to the tree, for a day, two, and then a week, as Christmas crept closer and closer. I just couldn't touch it. Instead, I went out and bought gifts for the kids (in the spirit of equal opportunity, both a 'girly' gift — a doll, and some makeup set thing for Rachel — and a less girly one — a science set and a remote-controlled car) and managed to buy myself some socks and a belt that I probably needed.

Wrapping them was another quest that I hadn't really had the chance to master, but it was important to get it right, and I ended up going through pretty much a whole roll of it in my relentless pursuit of perfection. The presents ended up without any noticable creases, though, with the folds correct and neat, and in the quiet moments after doing so, I reflected that Rose would have probably approved, and felt something besides sadness for the first time since the accident while thinking about her. But I still didn't touch the box.

And then it was Christmas Eve, and we watched TV and went out for some shopping, and as the day wound down, I put the kids to bed. They never commented on the bare tree, for which I was very thankful. And around 3 a.m. — a bit later this year, because 2 a.m. didn't feel right — I snuck out to place the presents by the tree. It was still green, and still alive, and still missing all of the ornaments. But no matter how much I wanted to, no matter how much I told myself that I had to, I couldn't open the box. I must've sat there for half an hour, looking at the tree, but in the end, shamefully, I went to bed, slamming the door behind me, and fell into a sleep that was mercifully dreamless.

But when the alarm woke me up at 7:00a.m., when I walked into the living room, the tree wasn't empty and green, but bright and shining, with red and green and white balls hung, the star affixed to the top, and — and — the pictures as well, hung neatly on the tree, each 2x3 inch photo extruding happiness from Disneyland, and the park, and our wedding, and everywhere else we had ever taken pictures.

I sat down, not entirely intentionally, and heard Jessica behind me, still clutching her blanket. "Morning, daddy. Rachel says Santa put up the ornaments on the tree!"

And before I even turned to meet Rachel's eyes, I knew; it was enough that my immediate instinct was to flee and lock my door and take a forty minute shower where the tears wouldn't be discernable. But I couldn't move, my eyes still flicking over each picture, remembering where each was taken, cherishing the moments, and the world blurred as I felt a pair of arms wrap around me from behind.

"Merry Christmas, dad," my elder daughter said quietly, and I could only close my eyes and nod, bringing her around and hugging her back fiercely, sobbing only a bit. Jessica came over for the hug as well, and we all took a bit of time to cry, and smile, and remember those we had lost. But we didn't hide from it for once, and the hole seemed a bit smaller because we were here together, on Christmas.

And after a bit of skillful extraction of arms and bodies, the girls opened their presents, and I faked looking surprised at my belt and socks. But there was one present under the tree that I hadn't seen, wrapped in last year's 'Santa and sleigh' wrapping paper, a small, flat object, with small neat handwriting on it that said, simply: 'To Dad'.

Taking more care on it than anything else I recall in my life, I slowly slid my fingernail under the tape, gently lifting the fold and removing the object from the wrapping paper. It was a frame, a picture, one of the ones that must have been in the box with the others.

I flipped it over, and saw the four of us, and Shadow, smiling together from the dining room table, with a cake in front of us. It was from my last birthday, and someone must have set the timer on the camera at the other end of the table, as we were clustered at the far end, smiling, Shadow with his tongue lolling out of his mouth and looking goofy as always.

"I think, maybe, mom would've wanted you to have this," Rachel said quietly, and all I could do is gather the two of them up for another hug, thanking anyone listening for being the luckiest father in the world. And from under my arm, Jessica chimed in.

"And I think maybe mom would've wanted us to get another dog from the shelter, daddy."

And somehow, I knew that my daughters were both right — that somewhere, my wife just paused in her ball-tossing with Shadow to send a smile our way.
talonkarrde: (Default)
"Hello," he said to me, taking a seat next to me at the bar where I was busy drowning my sorrows, "My name is Jason d'Aubergine, and I have a story to tell you, Charles."

I was far gone enough that I didn't question him, his name, his knowledge of mine, or, most distinctly, his fuzzy blue hair.

"Okay," I responded. "Hit me."

And then, brother, let me tell you, he did.

In distant HarSalot, where the men and women all have exquisite geometric patterns on their faces, those searching for mates will only accept others with the exact same pattern as themselves. They spend decades single and despondent until their vision declines to such a point where they can no longer see well enough to judge, and only then pair up, and find that they can only enjoy marriage in old age.

Somewhere between 'in' and 'distant', a light snapped on in my head, and the drunkenness packed its bags and left in a hurry, the door slamming it on the way out. By 'HarSalot', I was well enough aware to be keenly following everything he was saying, my ears curving, I swear, to catch the sound waves as they were formed.

And then he was done, and my mind was trying to figure out why my ears  weren't picking up sounds anymore, and it took my eyes a few seconds to realize that his lips were no longer moving. And that he was looking at me with a half-smile on his face, and the expression of someone who had seen my reaction a billion times.

I suppose I came about two or three minutes later, by the clock; my first word was, "What—"

He cut me off. I suppose he had done this enough that he didn't really want to give anyone a chance to recover, so it was just a, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you. Just...go with the story, okay?" and then he left. Just like that.

I nodded dumbly into the air. Really, now, for all the people that said I should've shook him by the collar and asked him what the meaning of life was — well, I'd like to see what they'd do when they hear the Word of Truth from a story that turns you stone cold sober after drinking enough to tranquilize an elephant.

Well, maybe not that much;  I'm a lightweight. But still.

-
 
Four weeks later, I had gotten completely over Vicky, broken up with Margaret, had a fling with Phédre, and was in that same bar again. Drinking, of course.

Clearly, my memory had failed me, or I would've picked a different bar. As it was, though, Mister Blue-Hair walked up again, and patted me on the shoulder, and said, "Charles."

At which point I responded with, "Oh, God, no, I want to stay—"

In the elder days a crow fell in love with a peacock, but her plumage was too dark and she fed on the dead and dying, and was not admitted. so this crow followed after the flock and collected their feathers, and so disguised herself as one of them. But when she tried to fly the rainbow feathers fell off, so although she was with her lover she could never spread her wings.

And again, the light, knowledge, the acceptance. All it was missing was Jesus, unless he had Fuzzy Blue Hair, and the Shout and the Trump and the Four Horsemen.

On second thought, I wouldn't mind skipping the Horsemen.

Anyway, this time, I came out of it faster. My ma always told me that I was a slow person but a fast learner, and I proved it by reacting much quicker the second time — I was out and had a fist in the air launching towards his face before a full thirty seconds had gone by.

I think he dodged. Or maybe I was rusty; the last fight I won was in third grade. Against Marcia, now that I—

I woke up on the floor with the bartender snapping at my face with a wet towel and an uncomfortable tenderness on my cheek. And then, as I got up, I noted the bruise on my right side, the crick in my shoulder, and the strange feeling that someone had tried to choke me.

On the upside, he was sitting there: we had our first conversation.

It went something like this:

I glared at him.

He looked back at me, eyebrows raised.

I glared at him some more.

"Okay, okay," he said. "I'm sorry, I've had some training, and I wasn't sure how you'd react. Or how, um, fast you'd go down. Might have gone a slight bit overboard."

I nodded, and reached out for my strawberry daiquiri.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Erm," he said. "Jason D'Aubergine, of the fami—"

"No, no, no," I gestured in the air, miming lights and horns and understanding and sobriety. You know, with my fingers going really fast.

"Who are you?"

"Oh," he said. "I'm a raconteur."

"A...rah-counter? I don't get it."

At this point, he may have looked at me like I had three heads.

"I tell stories," he said, really, really slowly, miming opening a book and flipping through the pages. "To people that need them. I have a gift for foresight, and I know that you're about to—"

And then She came on TV, and I don't think I've ever loved anyone that bad.

Oh, baby. I had a plane ticket to L.A. in an hour.

-
 
So, six weeks after that— yeah, I like that bar, okay?

Anyway, I was pondering on how Fuzzy Blue might have been right, and was sort of getting over Lisa Kudrow (because, no, I wasn't an actor, unfortunately. I had been this close, really.) And Danielle wasn't quite right, and neither was Jasmin, and Michelle, definitely not. Oh god no that was a bad choice.

And he taps me on the shoulder and I did not deck him in the face.

I told you I learned fast.

Instead, I turned around, finished my Miami Vice, and said to him, "Jason, of the Eggplants! That must have been where you got your hair color from!" (See, I looked up Aubergine. It means eggplant.)

He scowled.

Okay, so, on second thought, I recognized that I shouldn't irritate someone that knows the future. My future, to be precise. So I tried again, you see.

"Sorry! Sorry. I just...you know, I was wondering if you had anything, in terms of, well," and I looked up, mimed a sunrise, and then looked expectantly back at him.

Nothing.

"I mean, look, it's just, you caught me at some bad times, and I appreciate the warnings, but you know, I'm just. Something right now would be nice." I pointed at the six Miami Vices. "I've drank six of them already, you know. Well, five and a half... Still, it's a record; I'm drunk! You should sober me up!"

Nothing.

"Look, I'm just, I'm really sorry for making fun of your weird blue hair and name, okay? Just...I'll do anything, anything at all."

Nothing.

Well. It was worth a try, I thought. I slumped in my chair, sighing, and reached for the last drink (with twisty straw) when I felt the tingling. The light. The voice.

There was once a person in a faraway land who was told that love was a butterfly, the prettiest one of all. And so he tried to catch it in a butterfly net, going out day after day, swooping through clouds of butterflies in the forest, catching many but never finding love. Day after day he does this, until one day, he's on the verge of giving up, feeling betrayed. On that day, he takes all of his nets and catches as many as possible, and keeps catching more and more and more.

And what happens is that he catches so many actual butterflies that he gets lifted away, and while he's floating, he sees a woman — someone who is also being carried away by butterflies, and lo and behold, in the end, he found someone who was just like him..

And then I came out of it, and saw Susan at the bar, drinking her fourth Pina Colada.

Underdog

Apr. 21st, 2010 07:59 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
Matthew "Motorhead" Rynman and Doctor Jordan Kingston are sitting at the dining table of a typical suburban house. There is a mug in front of each and a bottle of brandy nearby; the rest of the table is empty. There are sounds of small children playing in the living room, though they cannot be seen from the kitchen.

Matthew is a red-headed, handsome man in his mid-thirties, who looks tense as he plays with the edge of the tablecloth. Doctor Kingston is an older man with lines around his face and silver around his temples; he peers over his spectacles at his companion.

"How did the battle go with the Elementalists?"

"We won, doc. You had to have seen that on the news, at least." Matthew doesn't make eye contact with the doctor, instead pulling insistently at a loose thread, slowly unraveling the tablecloth.

"Yes, of course," the doctor responds impatiently, waving towards an unseen television in the living room. "I watched the aftermath from a few different angles, even managed to get a feed of the security footage during the battle. But it didn't show you. What was your part?"

Matthew tenses, pulling too hard and snapping the thread he has in his fingers.

"I..." he trails off, swallowing. "I went in the Cobra. Since we were going to be battling in the new construction zone, we figured that the Rhino wasn't going to be able to be able to navigate well enough, and we just got the Cobra upgraded with the new guns..."

Doctor Kingston pushes his spectacles up and nods, pouring the younger man some more brandy as he notices the slight trembling of Matthew's fingers. Then he waits patiently; the clock ticks in the background.

"Well, th-they were waiting for us. Firefight strafed Lady Savage and Wildkin, Icicle started in on the Transhumanist, and Monsoon came from behind to blast Apollo to the ground. I rolled up just after them and started in shooting - the heat ray to free Robert, the machine gun to distract Meteor while Apollo got back up... It was okay. We had trained for this."

Matthew swallows again and reaches for the mug. He raises it to his cracked lips before noticing the trembling in his fingers; it takes a large force of will to quell it. When he does drink, he takes a long draught, swallowing several times before setting it back down. The doctor doesn't comment, still waiting.

"And it was all going well until I realized that the last member of their team—"

"Terre," The doctor says, frowning as he sees the shakes in Matthew return.

"Jumped down from the girders. Was waiting for me, and before I could hit him with anything, he clapped his hands together, and, well, you know what he does. The ground rose up and smashed Cobra to pieces; I hit the ejector seat and barely got out."

Matthew looks away, trying to hide the scared look on his face, keep the tears from spilling out. The clock ticks heavily in the silence.

"And then?"

"And then..." Matthew says in a whisper, closing his eyes. "I floated to the ground and he gave a twist of his hand, and like that, my legs were encased in solid earth. And he comes up to me... he walks up and looks me in the eye and says, 'You're really nothing at all without your toys, 'Motorhead'. Not even worth killing, in fact. It'd be harder for us if an actual superhero joined the League to replace you.'"

Doctor Kingston sits back, frowning heavily as he looks over his companion. Even if no one in the League would admit it, Terre's words were absolutely true; while 'Motorhead' could master any vehicle in the world, that was the extent of his powers; without a vehicle, he was no match for any adversary.

"What will you do?" the doctor finally asks.

There is a long pause.

"I...want to stop being Motorhead," Matthew says, his eyes still closed.

"You mean—" comes the startled reply.

"That's why I came to you, Doctor, because I know that you have the power to make me normal again. It isn't- isn't enough just to quit the League, they could still kidnap me and use me as a hostage. But, but, you see, if you make me normal, if I stop being a 'superhero', then I just become another person, someone that sure, might get caught in this, but won't deliberately be targeted."

The words come fast and furious now, without giving the doctor a chance to respond.

"So do that mental thing you do, where you make me forget my power — I know that you can do it, I've seen the old newspaper articles! You did it with, the, the Jackaw, wasn't it? And then later, when the Merchant of Madness almost broke the League, you did it to him too, stripped him of everything he—"

"Matthew!" Doctor Kingston says abruptly, the word ringing out louder than he intended it to, quieting the children playing in the background. After a moment, they resume, and the doctor continues in a lower voice. "Matthew, if I had such a power, do you really think that I would be allowed to live out my years in peace? Think about it — my children would constantly be targets, my powers desired by both sides. Why do you think the League has never called on me in the years since I've retired? I made myself forget my own abilities, Matthew. I am no longer Doctor Oblivion."

"But, but, you must have some sort of—"

"I don't have those powers anymore, Matthew. I'm sorry," the man who was once was known as the Master of Memories says, a heavy look in his eyes. In his retirement, he had accomplished exactly what the young man was looking for, and understood Matthew's desire more than he could say. And the look on Matthew's face, one devoid of hope, leads Doctor Kingston to say something he would not otherwise have said, reveal a secret he has told no one else.

"But," the Doctor starts, seeing the sudden glimmer of hope in Matthew's eyes, "I have found that some things lurk at the edge of consciousness, unwilling to be banished forever. I do not know if it is because I can not work properly on myself, or if the others that I did this to felt the same, and simply never understood what it was. But perhaps my powers are not all gone, and so... I will try what you ask."

Matthew's response is instinctual, unconscious. He leans forward, gripping the doctor's hand. He doesn't speak, but his eyes show everything.

"It may not work. It may harm both of us-" Doctor Oblivion starts to say, though he knows that Matthew will not be deterred. He falls silent, then, reaching out with his free hand, spreading his fingers across his companion's head, and finding the buzzing in his own.

It grows louder and louder, drowning out the sound of the kids in the background, growing until it is the only sound the Doctor hears, until it is almost unbearable. And then there is a flash, and silence, and darkness overtakes both men.

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