May 16, 2011

A Very Much Not Grand Finale


Well, I've finished my last high school homework assignment. It's a piece of almost-shit. The characters are still trying to find consistency, the events don't quite flow, the end isn't really even the almost-ending that short stories can get away with. But I'm sleepy, and I'll still pass the class just so long as I find something to hand in. Thus:

Sarah and Charlie were sitting in the airport. She sat up straight, her ankles crossed, her back not in contact with the back of the chair. Her straight brown hair was in a low, smooth ponytail. Her clothes managed to look neat and unwrinkled despite the four hours they’d just spent in the air. Charlie was pressed back, as far as he could go. His legs were stretched out in front of him, his arms fanned out onto the back of the two adjacent seats, Sarah’s included. He looked tired at best, exhausted at worst. His hair—also brown, also straight—was overgrown, half covering his eyes. He made no effort to remove it.

“This is crazy,” said Charlie.

Sarah remained quiet, her lips tight together.

“Seriously, what are we doing?”

“Waiting for the van service,” said Sarah.

“You know that isn't what I meant.”

She ignored him and removed a folder of travel information, pulled out a paper labeled “Airport Transportation,” then used her cell phone to call the number.
Charlie, now, was the stationary one.

“It's waiting outside,” she said, standing up, her back remaining in a forced straight line. “Come on.”

They didn't talk at all during the van ride; they merely looked out the windows. Sarah's eyes focused on each building, and she seemed to be cataloguing everything as it flashed by. Charlie's hair was still in front of his eyes, which were open but not moving in time with the van.

They eventually arrived at the house they'd be staying in. They walked together down the halls, peering into each bedroom. There was the master—large, well-furnished, where their parents would stay when they arrived. A second room had a queen bed and was covered in pastels. It bore a remarkable resemblance to Sarah's bedroom back at home. The next room had two twins, and the entire space was bright. The walls were a deep red, the bedspreads yellow.

“This would be Sia's room.”

“Charlie.” Sarah's voice was sharp.

“It's just like her. She always says her favorite color is 'sun.'”

“Said.”

“What?”

“It's 'said,' Charlie. She always said.”

“Do we have to do that?”

“You can't just pretend she's not dead,” said Sarah, her voice still even.

“Well.” Charlie took a breath, paused for a moment, searching for the words.

“You can't just pretend she never existed.”

“I'm not trying to pretend that.”

“Then why do you get angry as soon as I mention her?” Charlie's voice, unlike Sarah's, was raised.

Sarah inhaled and exhaled slowly.

“Why?” His voice broke in the middle of the short word, slipping up an octave.

“Because for whatever reason, Mom and Dad decided to send us off on this godforsaken vacation while they sorted out the details. They want us to be happy. Sia would be screaming at us to be happy. And I can't be happy when I think about what happened to her.”

“Then think about her before!”

“It's not that easy!”

“Really? I thought controlling her own thoughts would be easy for Ms. Always-in-Control?”

Sarah turned away from him and walked to the room she'd claimed as hers.

The next morning, the two ate breakfast silently—Sarah an omelette cooked perfectly, Charlie an overflowing bowl of cereal. He pushed his hair back a few times and looked at her. He opened his mouth to speak a few times, but seemed to decide against it. She kept her eyes trained on the food, following each bite as it entered her mouth. She finished eating, washed her plate and pan, then went to the door.

“Charlie, I'm going for a walk.”

“Okay.”

“I'll be back later.”

“Okay.”

She walked down the unfamiliar streets for quite some time. The houses varied—in some places, they were simple, cookie-cutter imitations of their neighbors, but in others, they towered behind hedges, each home sculpted differently. Sarah didn't look at the houses, though. Her eyes focused directly ahead, and she walked with even steps, carefully. She didn't know where she was going, not really; she only knew that she had to go somewhere.

She walked on. She walked past neighborhoods and streams, coffeeshops and boutiques, locals and visitors. She saw what she passed, but could not recollect where she'd been even moments before. At some point, she reached a road with an end. The dead end turned into a parking lot, and nested next to this parking lot was a small church.

It wasn't grand at all, just a simple stucco building painted the same color as those around it. Sarah wouldn't have known it for a church at all if not for a billboard behind glass outside.
Sarah had never been one for churches. Dead men on crosses seemed silly, the lessons of the Bible seemed unnecessary explanations for innate wrongs. Yet here she was, at the end of a walk, and here was the church, at the end of a road, so she walked up to the door and entered.
She hadn't realized while she was walking that there was sound, but when the door thudded shut behind her she was startled to discover that here it was silent, quieter than breakfast, quieter than she had been these past days. The windows were dusty and almost-dark, and the light flooded out from them as a dull gold. The pews were empty but for evenly spaced Bibles, and at the front of the room stood an intricate cross, the very sort that usually made Sarah uncomfortable.

Here, though, it fit. She walked forward, her steps echoing through the room without breaking the calm. When she reached the front, she sat down slowly, crossing her legs like a child—like Sia—would sit. She sat there for a long time—seconds, minutes, maybe hours. Her head was tilted up, her body every bit as still as it had been. After a time, though, she began to move. Her spine drooped, her eyes dropped, her hands fell to the ground. She began to cry—quietly, but with tears—and then to shake. Her hands clutched at the floor as she let the rest of her self release, quake, and then calm.

After a time—minutes, seconds, or hours—her tears stopped and her body stilled. She looked up, again, at the cross she still didn't quite understand. “Take care of her,” she whispered.”
“Take care of her,” she said again, louder this time.

She turned and walked out of the church, then walked back to the house, step after step after step. Charlie was inside, still at the table, an empty bowl of cereal in front of him. He spun his spoon, round and round and round, and he peered at a spot on the table in front of the bowl.

“Charlie?” said Sarah.

He looked up.

“I'm home.”

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