Alone | Chapter 31 of 36

Author: E.J. Noyes | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1397 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter Twenty-One

My little piece of Montana is coming along nicely, turning into a haven where I imagine I will eventually be made whole again. This place is mine, somewhere I don’t have to hide or pretend, and its simplicity soothes and revitalizes. As does the physical labor I’ve put into its restoration. All the floors have been sanded back and varnished which gives it a slightly more modern feel. The exterior repainting is complete and now my farmhouse and barn are decked out in a palette of slate blue with charcoal and white trim. The newly repainted interior is full of furniture I’ve picked up at yard sales or the antique store I found one Saturday morning while driving aimlessly around the county.

One weekend when I’m moving some things out of the spare room that Samantha sleeps in after movie nights, I find the box of Mother’s stuff in the closet. Still unopened. I banked the check from her estate months ago, donated the entire thing to a center for drug addiction, and wondered what Mother would think about her last $2,243.87 being used in this way. Maybe the only reason she had the money was because a center like that helped her out.

My first impulse is to burn the box unopened but as I’m carrying it downstairs, something stops me. I don’t know why I sit on the couch and pull the lid off, and I sure as hell don’t know what I’m expecting to find. It smells musty but otherwise inoffensive. I think I expected it to smell like her and I’m almost disappointed that it doesn’t.

Inside are loose sheets of paper, newspaper clippings, some photographs and two plastic dolls with tattered dresses and scraggly hair that I have to put on the floor behind the couch where I can’t see them. I feel like they are looking at me, boring holes in my back with the blue eyes I colored back on them each time they wore off.

There are two sealed envelopes, one with my name and the other with Riley’s. I can’t open that one—it’s not for me to see what Mother wanted my sister to know. I even consider not opening my letter, because what could she have possibly written that would explain the past thirty years? But in the end, that old pathetic hope flares. Maybe she finally realized everything she did that was wrong and cruel, and will apologize for being such a shitty, abusive mother. There’s the barest tremor in my hand when I slide the letter opener under the flap of the envelope marked for me.

Her handwriting is blocky and rough, almost robotic, and she leaves overlarge spaces between each word as though she’s thinking long and hard on what to write next.

Celeste,

I don’t even know what to say but I’ve had this feeling like I should leave something behind, something of mine for you, before I die.

I just want you to know that I’m sorry and I don’t even have any reasons or excuses. That’s all I can really say. And I want you to know that I tried the best I could. I know it didn’t seem like it but I really did. It really was better for you this way.

I hope you’re doing okay.

Nathalie.

I read it again, and then a third time. Such a plain, ordinary, shitty note with her vague and broad not-quite-apology. Nothing in it to indicate she showed any real remorse or even the faintest shred of caring about me or Riley. Caring would stretch her emotion to the limit—I gave up trying to apply words like love to Mother a long time ago. The more I stare at the letter, the more convinced I become that the only reason she wrote it was because she was afraid of what would happen after she died, and wanted to put a little more weight on her side of the scales in case there really is something after this life.

But I don’t see the titan I’ve always pictured when I think of Mother. In every image I have of her, she’s a dark, powerful, and imposing figure towering over me. The malevolent, bitter force who shaped my entire life. But I see none of that in her simple words. All I see is someone at the end of her pathetic life, someone who is afraid.

And the thought bothers me.

For my whole life I’ve kept her as the monster under the bed when really she’s nothing, a nobody. I’ve given her all this power, power she didn’t deserve. Does this mean that everything she said to me in the habitat wasn’t true? That I spent all that time torturing myself?

I’d thought I was okay, that I had made peace and come to terms with what she’d done to my sister and me. But now I have the sickening feeling that I’ve spent my whole life lying to myself, expanding incidents into something bigger or even something they weren’t. I close my eyes. Inhale. Exhale. No, Mother did do some really appalling, abusive things, and treated my sister and me like we meant nothing to her. She hurt us—emotionally, physically, psychologically.

But from where I sit now, so far removed from it, I see the uncomfortable truth—that my perspective of those who hurt me is warped. Olivia did a shitty thing, one shitty thing, wrapped up in the huge thing she calls love. Then when I learned about it, it was me who let the shitty thing overtake everything else, me who ignored all the good things, the way I felt about her, the things I now know were real. I rub my temples. It’s all right to be upset with her for her lie and the way she manipulated me for the experiment. I’m entitled to that feeling.

But at the same time she played by the rules I agreed to when I went into that place—that I was up for pretty much anything they chose to do as long as it didn’t physically harm me. And I still overturned the board and stalked away like a sore loser. I grew angry with her, afraid of her, pushed her away when what she did to me was the barest fraction of what Mother did to me. I wasted years of my life wanting to forgive and understand Mother who was truly a bad person, and I didn’t bother trying to forgive or understand Olivia who I know is a good person. And now I know all of this and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I fold the letter back into the envelope and drop it on the floor beside the box. The newspaper clippings are of Riley in the eleventh grade when one of her art assignments was chosen to appear in a local gallery. The other is of me when I made captain of the state soccer team. I shuffle through the loose photographs, noting that every one of them is of Riley and me, both together and separate. There are none of Mother and for a painful instant I wish there was, just so I could look at her one last time and try to understand.

There’s one photo in particular to which I pay close attention. I know I’m nine and Riley five. She’s holding an empty ice cream cone and crying, chocolate smeared all over her face. I’m looking down at her, my own full strawberry cone clutched tightly in my hand, which is partially encased in the plaster that continues all the way up my arm to mid-bicep.

Mother’s voice is an echo in my head, not a whisper in my ear. “It was an accident, I’m sorry, okay? It’s this fucking detox again, okay? We’re going to have an ice cream and forget about it, okay?”

My voice, weak and groggy from the pain medication. “I don’t want an ice cream. I want to go back and get my shoes.” Her apology tripped me up, but even through the fogginess I remembered what had happened and knew it wasn’t an accident.

Mother, surprisingly gentle as she tried to persuade me to take what amounted to a bribe. “What about Riley? Bet you she wants one.”

That was all it took for me to nod my agreement—the mere hint that my selfishness would keep something from my sister. After Riley dropped her scoop of ice cream on the grass, I passed her my cone and helped her hold it while she finished the treat. The whole time, I watched Mother sit on the bench, the disposable camera beside her as she smoked nervous cigarette after nervous cigarette. She stared at my cast, and probably wondered if someone from the hospital was coming after her for sneaking me out without paying.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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