Tea

Thunderstorms, he said,
should be endured at home,
with a cup of tea.

Perhaps a crisp chamomile,
or a cool mint,
or an arduous green.

He smoothed his tie,
the shade of passing autumn,
as he said this.

His breath heavy with decay,
the decay of marrow and being,
his words hot and hovering, like steam.

I brewed several,
teas strong and muddy and sweet,
poured into little cups of ivory.

When they cracked,
the tea would bleed,
like the spill of desperate words on a parchment.

The scent assailing, unforgiving, and penetrating,
mixing with his breath on my skin,
punishing me.

I watched the benign liquid shapes,
as they imploded against the window,
trying to reach their kin leaking slowly down my broken cheek.

Thunderstorms, he said,
should be endured at home,
with a cup of tea.

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In Between Lives: Epilogue

5th August, 1987.

“And you? What are you?”

Her grin diminishes into that sarcastic half-smile and she shrugs.

“I’m nobody.”

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I have always been in between things. Between names, identities, lives.

I just wasn’t always aware of it.

The tempestuous waves beneath splash on my feet again, the railing is getting too slippery to hold on.

I stand clutching onto the railing of The Blackburn Bridge, clutching onto my life, gazing at the monstrous river beckoning to me—unfriendly but with the promise of oblivion.

I ran away from the hospital, leaving a sleeping Kevin at my bedside.

Kevin. My heart aches.

Which one of us did he like?

Which one of us is me?

I’ve always inhabited the gray area between black and white. Splitting my soul, splitting my mind, splitting my life.

Just Marjorie apologized profusely in the hospital. Kevin told me I was now safe.

They don’t understand. It was never about blame or safety.

The only person who came close to understanding was Emily Dickinson.

I think she knew what it was like to not be afraid of death because you’d already had the life sucked out of you. She knew what it was like to be dead and stuck in the world of living.

I’m like the decaying flower you preserve in notebooks. You can delay my disintegration, but with time, I will wither away, for I truly died long ago.

I tilt my head towards the sky and try to remember my mother. All I can recall is that she was always crying and that she wore the scent of lavender.

Today, I tell myself, today I will fly.

Beatrice Ella Jones was alone.

Beatrice Ella Jones was broken.

Beatrice Ella Jones was me.

I jump.

In Between Lives: Chapter Nine

3rd August, 1987.

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Things are going well. Too well. Kevin and I spend most of our time together. And whatever’s left of my day is spent with Beatrice.

She doesn’t like the amount of time I spend with Kevin. He is disappointed whenever I leave to meet her even though he tries to hide it. But Beatrice doesn’t wish to meet him so there is nothing I can do to remedy the situation. Kevin doesn’t know she exists.

This feels like the blissful silence before the storm.

People say you never know which day will be your last. But I believe you sense the end as you near it, the way you do in a book.

I have just returned from a perfect afternoon spent with Kevin when I realize that there is an intruder in the house.

The front door is ajar and Just Marjorie has left a note stuck on it saying that she is shopping for groceries.

I stand there for a few moments and debate calling nine-one-one. I decide to keep my finger hovering over the dial button as I enter the house.

I don’t announce myself, maybe I should have.

The house seems empty and perfectly silent, the wooden floors creaking under my feet.

I get to the kitchen and stop in my tracks.

I don’t think I will ever be able to describe the absolute, white-hot terror that chills my bones in that moment.

My head feels fuzzy with vivid images that rush to me and the pounding of my heart is almost deafening.

There is a man standing in the kitchen with his back to me, wearing a brown suit with a plaid blazer, his salt and pepper hair thinning at the top.

The man is my father.

My throat makes a choking sound and he turns around.

Any opportunity I had to run is now lost.

“Beatrice.” He exhales, his steely eyes giving me a once over.

My skin crawls.

He begins talking but my brain won’t register any of it.

I cannot decipher between the images my mind is conjuring and the reality before me.

“Shh, little girl.” She hears the sound of something unzipping. His breath smells of clove cigarettes and scotch. “The pain will be over soon. You know I love you, Beatrice.”

 

“Texas has been kind to you, Beatrice.” He walks towards me. I’m fourteen once again. “The tan suits you. I wonder how far it spreads.”

Please, please don’t hurt me. She prays. She knows nobody is listening. He’s holding a belt now. She knows what happens next. She lives this same story every day.

“You’re just like your mother! She never loved me either!”

“I love you, daddy, I swear!”

“Liar!” He strikes.

“What are you doing here?” My voice is trembling. I am trembling all over. My head is throbbing, it feels hot and heavy. It’s going to explode.

“I’m here to take you home, Beatrice.” He gazes at me serenely. He is standing right in front of me now. I want to cower back, but my body is immobilized by fear.

“Why are you calling me that? Stop calling me that.” The walls in my mind are collapsing. I have no control over it anymore, “I don’t want to go anywhere with you.”

His expression turns cold.

“I have tolerated your tantrums for two months!” He thunders, stepping so close that I can smell the clove cigarettes in his breath. My head spins. “No more of this nonsense. We are going home.”

He reaches out to grab my arm and my body unfreezes.

No!” I scream and scramble backward, my back hitting the kitchen counter.

I would die before I let him touch me, I think as I feel myself fall apart inside. Everything I knew to be true crumbling into pieces.

His face tightens with white-hot rage and he strikes me with the back of his hand.

My head whips to the side and the breath is knocked out of me.

“This is what happens when you don’t listen to me!”

“Daddy, please! I promise I’ll be good!” It feels like someone is ripping her soul out. She creams. He doesn’t stop. He never stops.

I hear the door bang open. He stops.

It is Just Marjorie, her face is horror-stricken. He shuffles away from me hastily. I hear him making excuses. But I’m already lost. My mind has overpowered my senses and some conscious part of my brain acknowledges that I’m probably dying. I sigh in relief.

 

They say that it is very unusual for two alters of a patient suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder to interact with each other without revealing the true nature of either. I was quite the talk of the town and will be for a while, I believe.

I woke up at the hospital after collapsing in the kitchen. They told me my father was in police custody. They asked me if I remembered anything. I remember everything.

I remember stealing His money and flying to Texas, to my only other living relative. I remember Just Marjorie asking why I hadn’t called before coming. I remember him playing along to save face. Always to save face.

I remember the deviant nightmare. I remember cutting myself, the blood staining the bathroom floor.

I remember the acid washed jacket that belonged to my mother, the pot junkie who sold me concert tickets, the trip to Houston on the Vespa, Just Marjorie’s face when I claimed to be going to Houston with an empty space in the air, the boy who flirted with me on the way back. The conversations with myself.

Yes, I told them, I remembered everything.

In Between Lives: Chapter Seven

18th July, 1987.

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There is a painting in Just Marjorie’s house that reminds me of Beatrice. It’s the picture of a broken vase. The vase is beautiful, and the cracks in it somehow enhance its beauty.

I haven’t heard from her in six days. After we met, we started meeting every day. So her silence is unusual.

Maybe she regrets sharing her most intimate secret, her pain, with me. I hope not.

I’ve been spending time with Kevin in her absence. He makes me laugh and doesn’t ask too many questions; I like him. Maybe a little more than I’m ready to admit just yet.

Just Marjorie has been acting weird lately. Since the morning after Beatrice’s confession, she has been hovering. Wanting to spend more time together and asking where I’m going every time I leave the house. It’s stifling.

It is Sunday afternoon and too hot to go outside.

I sit dressed anyway, because Kevin loves surprise site-seeing trips (which basically means sitting in his car near Blackburn Bridge) and surprise lunch non-dates. I call it that because I refuse to acknowledge it as anything else. This always makes Kevin smirk.

I hear the doorbell and get up to answer it. Just Marjorie is in the shower.

I open the door to an expectant looking Beatrice, rocking back and forth on her heels, her eyes bright.

“We’re going to a concert.”

I stare at her.

She is wearing an oversized, acid washed denim jacket with matching, very short shorts and a black tank top that barely covers her stomach underneath the jacket.

“Hello, to you, too.” I finally say, crossing my arms against my chest.

Beatrice rolls her eyes, “You can be all kinds of snarky to me on the way there, but we really need to get going.”

I stare at her in amazement. Is she for real?

“Beatrice,” I say, “you have not spoken to me in a week and now you just show up and—“

“Look,” she cuts me off, “I know you ought to be pissed off at me. And I accept that—”

“I am not pissed off. I was worried.” I interrupt.

Beatrice blinks, like the idea of someone worrying about her is absurd, “Worried?” she looks at her leather clad feet uncomfortably, “I’m sorry for making you worry, I guess.” Then she clasps her hands together dramatically and looks at me pleadingly, “But we have to leave! Sonic Youth is playing in Houston! I have tickets and it’s only like, an hour from here. You can thank me later.”

I stand there speechless for several moments.

Then I do what I knew I would do the moment she started speaking.

“Let me go fetch my wallet.” I mumble.

I relent.

Beatrice grins so bright that I almost smile.

I roll my eyes instead.

Friendship is fifty percent trust and fifty percent terrible decisions.

Beatrice lied. It took us an hour and forty minutes to get to Houston.  It was an extremely unpleasant journey on the Vespa, with the uncomfortable seat and the blazing sun on my back.

Just Marjorie had come to the door as I was leaving. She asked me where I was going, suspiciously. I jerked my head towards Beatrice and said I was going for a concert. She looked between us incredulously (I can bet it was Beatrice’s less than modest clothing) and then her eyes fell upon the Vespa in the driveway.

Just Marjorie is an old-fashioned person. I fled before she could say anything.

The concert was in a very exclusive bar, I don’t know how Beatrice managed to get the tickets. She wouldn’t tell me when I asked.

The concert itself, is very intimate, and one of the most exquisite musical experiences of my life. I don’t listen to Sonic Youth very much. But their live performance of Superstar completely converts me. Beatrice tells me she has a couple of their albums at home and promises to lend them to me.

After the concert, Beatrice asks a stranger on the sidewalk for a “light” and starts smoking. I watch as she piques a conversation with the stranger (who is about our age and very obviously attracted to her).

She asks him where he lives. He lives two towns from here.

Our town is on his way, would he mind giving her a ride?

It would be his pleasure.

We ride back home with Beatrice’s Vespa at the back of a stranger’s pickup truck, with her in the front seat and me in the back.

They flirt all the way home.

Attraction is fifty percent real and fifty percent superficial.

In Between Lives: Chapter Six

12th July, 1987.

“The permanent temptation of life is to confuse dreams with reality. The permanent defeat of life comes when dreams are surrendered to reality.”

sad face

There are times when I cannot remember if something happened in a dream or reality. I still don’t know how we would be conscious of the difference between dreaming and waking if we had no eyelids. Perhaps we would simply keep dreaming on.

It is three am and I’m wide awake.

There is a shuffling sound near my bedroom window and I instantly know I’m not alone.

I’m sitting up in bed, heart racing, breathing labored and senses heightened. Wide awake and hyper aware of my surroundings.

There is some more shuffling as though someone is blindly maneuvering their way around my useless study desk and with a trembling hand, I reach out and switch the bedside lamp on.

With some illumination in the room, I now see the silhouette of the imposter, thin and slight, like an eerie shadow in the dark, it steps forward.

“I need your help.”

It’s Beatrice.

Her cheeks are tear stained, eyes swollen and red and she is trembling from head to toe. But none of this is what turns the blood in my veins to ice.

There is a trail of blood running from her forearm to her fingertips, the scarlet color striking against her unusual pallor.

I sit stunned for a moment and then leap out of bed and run to my suitcase. I never bothered unpacking. I rummage for my travelling first aid kit and then lead Beatrice to the bed. She is semi-hysterical. Her chest heaving uneven breaths and her eyes wild. She looks lost.

The source of all the blood is a long but shallow cut on her forearm. I sigh in relief as I clean it. Neither of us speaks.

After it’s done, I dare to look into the hypnotic depth of her blue eyes. The naked fear in them makes me flinch.

Finally, I gather the courage to speak.

“What happened?” I whisper hesitantly.

Beatrice shakes her head, “I don’t—I was just—I swear—“ her voice catches and more tears spill down her cheeks, “I don’t want to live like this anymore. I can’t. He’s always there. I can’t escape him.”

The pain in her voice sends an ominous chill down my spine.

“Beatrice, who is always there?” I feel guilty for questioning her when she is clearly in shock.

She looks into my eyes, her lips trembling. For a long time to come, her face in this moment will haunt my dreams.

“My Father.” She whispers, almost inaudibly.

My heart drops into my stomach.

“Your father?” I try to recollect all the information she’s revealed about her father since we met. I come up with nothing. “What—what did he do to you?”

Beatrice’s expression hardens; I’m taken aback by the stark hatred in her eyes.

“My mother died three years ago, I told you that,” Her voice is monotonic, barely a whisper, “what I didn’t say, is the fact that she killed herself. Because of him. He broke her. She was beautiful before she met him. Even when I was a child, I remember how he would treat her, punishing her with bruises, murdering her spirit. And one day she was gone. There was nobody he could punish anymore,” Her breath falters, “but me.”

I stay silent, processing her words.

Beatrice starts sobbing, ”You don’t know—what he did to me—the things—“ she pauses to collect her breath, “now I’m here, away from him, but he’s still here—in my head. He won’t let me sleep! You have to help me!”

“Hey, hey—you’re safe here, I promise.” I say in a hopefully soothing voice as I reach out and gather her trembling form in my arms.

I gently lay her down on the bed beside me as she continues to sob quietly.

When her sobbing dissipates into hiccups and sniffling, she takes a deep breath.

“I will never be safe.” Her voice is so soft that I wonder if I imagined it.

Beatrice doses off after a few moments and so do I, eventually, strange faces and words dominating my dreams.

She is gone when I wake up.