Sulphur, Oklahoma Early Winter 2010
Rhona liked Simon Lyman. She liked his curly hair and sad eyes and long frame with just a bit too much weight on it. Most of all she liked his voice. Calm, soft, devoid of the musical cacophony that filled her nightmares. She tried to explain it to him but the words failed her. “You’re like a pond.” she said. “Still. I could walk on you.”
She liked Cathy too, though she didn’t like the clothes she bought for her. She hated pants. Hated them. Cathy reminded her it was cold on the plains in January and she could lose her toes waiting for the bus.
The bus. Rhona hated the bus. And school. But mostly the bus. The roaring metal creature, like the tractor next door from her childhood. Loud and imposing, vibrating with threat. Inside wasn’t much better. She sat with Simon and the kids tortured him, asked her about cherries and fingers. A boy put gum in Simon’s hair and she broke his nose. Simon patted her hand and told her it was alright as she worked the sweetness out with her fingers. “Don’t blame me,” she sang in a soft sing-song, like a child who didn’t know what the words meant. “I can’t help it / If that doggone moon above / Makes me want / Someone like you to love.” and the kids sniggered but all Simon felt was safety.
His favorite band at the time was Coldplay. He gave Rhona one of his old MP3 players, half Coldplay half Cole Porter. She couldn’t get enough, though she could only really understand the play button. She would run up to Simon in the halls, beg him to switch the album, and then disappear again, bobbing to the music, blocking out the frustrated teachers.
Cathy played her Nat King Cole records and Rhona would close her eyes, swaying to the music. The doctors said the singing was a form of self soothing. And there was lots of self soothing to do. She had to learn how to brush her teeth and work the microwave. Cathy’s mother had had Alzheimer’s before she passed, so she was patient with the girl. But she did find it peculiar.
After a particularly troublesome night, when Simon had retired to his room to talk to himself and play the guitar and Rhona had burst into tears for the fourth time while trying to do remedial math homework, Cathy was getting a cup of tea when Rhona began to sing again, soft, unearthly, with a voice that wasn’t her own:
Life is such a great adventure
Learn to live it as you go
No one in the world can censure
What we do here below
Cathy wasn’t sure why she felt so cold or why she was frightened by a slight sixteen year old girl. She had faced down her own son holding a kitchen knife when they were working on his meds. But there was an unearthliness to that girl that made her…uncomfortable. She was used to feeling like she had an alien in her home but Rhona was frustrating. Overly affectionate one minute than sulky the next. At times it felt like dealing with a feral child. Or a cat. Cathy hated cats.
She talked to a specialist who theorized the delusions weren’t schizophrenia but the result of a developmental delay. It was a breath of fresh air. The last piece of the puzzle. So she explained to Simon that Rhona was going to see a new doctor who knew what she was, knew that she wasn’t like him. That maybe they could find the people who might be looking for Rhona. Wouldn’t she like that? Knowing where her father was? He must be looking for her….
The hospital was cold. Windows fogged and frost made fractals on the grass below. Rhona’s head hurt. The only heat was at her temples, a dull pain that slowed her senses. She clutched her music player, pressed play. The screen was blank. Simon would have said no charge.
She threw the tiny green rectangle against the wall and immediately regretted it, began to cry again, putting it in her pajama pocket. It didn’t make sense. All that red. And he didn’t heal. No more guitar or hot cocoa or video games. She touched the peeling paint on the barred window, murmured to herself.
Don’t save your kisses, just pass them around
You’ll find my reason is logic’lly sound
Who’s going to know that you passed them around
A hundred years from today!
He used to tell her to sing when she was tired or hurt or scared. “Sing, my little beauty, to make the earth cry.” It was a way to distract them both, Him from His frustration and her from…well she couldn’t remember but it must have been bad. She pulled at the paint and a chip came off, pale and heavy.
Why crave a penthouse that’s fit for a queen
You’re nearer Heaven on Mother Earth’s green
She wanted her knife. She wanted its coldness in her hands. The steadiness of chemistry. She hadn’t meant to hurt Simon. She never could. She wouldn’t. He just…he didn’t understand how things changed so quickly here, how ugly he could look in the moonlight, that it definitely wasn’t him. Couldn’t have been him. He was so fragile. So alone. She had broken him.
If you had millions what would they all mean
A hundred years from today
And after all of that, he had held her. He’d laughed. “If you wanted a turn to play the guitar you should have asked.” he’d said, smiling in a way that bore a hole into her stomach. “Okay now we’re going to do this like the cowboy movies. Get me a bandana pard’ner.” And she laughed and cried and tied it on his wrist, applying all the pressure that she could. “Hey.” he said looking up at her, face pale, brushing her hair out of her face. “It’s okay. You should’ve seen me off my meds.”
So laugh and sing, make love the thing
Be happy while you may
There’s always one, beneath the sun
Who’s bound to make you feel that way
She touched the glass through the bars, cool on her fingers. For the first time in her life, all she wanted was the cold. And then, as if she willed it, she was on the other side of the window. Her voice broke as her hands barely caught the window frame, bare feet on weather beaten white paint. This must be a dream. Or a vision brought on by psychotropics.
The moon is shining, and that’s a good sign
Cling to me closer and say you’ll be mine
Her breath was ragged, suddenly painfully aware of the ground below and the moon above. “If only I could fly.” she thought. “If onlys are for birds and Jinn” she could hear Him say, as if He was right next to her. She set her teeth.
“If only I wasn’t crazy. If only I hadn’t hurt my only friend. If only I knew where my father was and my sisters and my brothers and even Aunt Irma with her big hands and wet mouth. If only Simon could still play the guitar. If only fires still burned in the dark of Tod. If only my beauty meant anything to the earth at all.”
Remember, darling, we won’t see it shine
A hundred years from today
And she let go. Cold air whistled past her ears. She held her arms out like a diver, welcoming oblivion and escape.
A hundred years from today….
Intake of breath. Exhale. Ribs broken. Arm numb. But.
With serious effort, Rhona rolled over onto her back, wincing. She looked up at her launch point far above. The window was closed. She had not crossed universes, or the afterlife looked a lot like its predecessor.
She staggered upright, grunting in pain. Her skin made a wet squelch as she pulled herself off the pavement. She looked around. She was on the sidewalk outside of the hospital, the soft glow of a streetlight threatening her shadow. The parking lot was empty and Route 177 glittered in the distance.
She felt her torso. Some minor lacerations, a rib out of line, and possible kidney damage. Or indigestion. She patted her clothes. The MP3 player was intact. And so was her knife, manifested from nowhere. She looked up one more time to the window. That was at least 19 stories.
“Well that’s interesting.” she said. A thought. “If only I had a car.” No keys dropped from the sky. “Well it was worth a try.” She marched towards the 177.