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“I swear the mixture almost undid me.” Mom dumps her bags at the door and then sweeps me into a hug. “That Uber had at least four different smelly things hung around the car.”
I squeeze her and then take a step back. “Got to be better than B.O., though, right?”
“I guess.” She watches me step around her to close the front door. “Have you eaten?”
“Does a Pop-Tart count?”
“Only if there’s one left for me.” She chuckles, gravitating to the stack of envelopes on the side table.
“It seems people are quick to have our address around here.” I nod toward the A4 envelope with the Sherriff’s office insignia. “It was on the doorstep when I got home.”
Mom makes a clicking sound in the back of her throat as lifts it from the stack. “They’re so careless.” She slides a finger under the seal and tears it open. “These documents are confidential material.”
“Why don’t they email it to you, then?” I lead the way toward the kitchen, figuring if I make a move to cook her Pop-Tart she’s more likely to eat something before losing herself in the office.
“Because I asked for hard copies.” She follows me into the galley-style room, upending the contents of the envelope onto the marble-topped island.
Photographs spill out over the mottled pattern, all in color and disgustingly sharp detail.
“I don’t know how you keep an appetite after looking at that stuff.” I shift my gaze away from the candid corpses, blood, and gore.
“Practice.” She mutters the word, already mentally sorting and cataloging the pictures before her. “How was the afternoon. Did you find a job?”
I pop her so-called dinner in the toaster and then turn to rest my ass against the countertop. Arms folded over my chest, I watch her puzzle over the details for a while before answering the question.
She doesn’t appear to notice the pause.
“I left my name with a couple of smaller shops, but they seem to be run by the owner so I’m not holding my breath.”
“They said they’d call.”
“But I did give them the number for my hotline, so maybe they’ll decide not to when they see the rates for the call.”
“Although I said I’d send free nudes if they did decide to contact me.”
She hesitates, a frown deepening before she lifts her head. “What?”
“Nothing.” I give her a flat smile. “I’m sure something will come up. Until then, extra time for me to study, I guess.”
Her gaze darts over several points in the room as though trying to make heads or tails of what just transpired. “Okay.”
“Relax.” I push off the counter and turn toward her cooked tart. “I’m messing with you.”
“Heavens, Gina.” Mom slaps a hand to her forehead. “It’s been a long day. I don’t mean to be so scattered.”
“I know.” Just the same as I know she’s like this regardless of whether she traveled or not. “Here.” I slap her unhealthy dinner on a plate and slide it towards her. “Eat.”
She rounds the kitchen island and reaches up to take my face in her hands. “I’d be lost without you.” A kiss to my forehead and then she releases me for her first love—work.
I get it. I honestly do. The look she has in her eye as I leave the room is the same one that I’ve grown up seeing whenever I let a story peter off after realizing my mother didn’t pay attention. She’s locked onto the puzzle before her, a sense of duty connected to those bodies that won’t change. Sure, the people she pores over are dead. Gone. Their stories are frozen in time, but so are those of the people who love them. And that is why my mother will never rest, never feel the need to justify her obsession with what she does.
Because her role in this world is to heal.
To provide answers, reasons, and closure for the grieving relatives of those taken too soon. And that is why I can’t get in the way of her career, no matter how lonely it leaves me at times. Because if I were those people, relatives and loved ones, I’d hope for someone like my mother too.
I take the stairs slowly, gaze roaming over the artworks on the walls as I ascend. We’ve been in this house for barely a week—not enough time for me to become familiar with the new surroundings. Semi-abstract oil paintings of flowers hang in intervals, all the same except one. One that draws my eye each time I pass it on the way to my bedroom. The majority of the pictures are bright, soft tones. Uplifting against the dark timber panels that line the staircase. But this one is entirely black and white. All gray hues amidst a smorgasbord of color. Hand resting on the banister rail, I hesitate beside it and narrow my gaze a little. There’s a signature in the bottom right, but it means nothing to a novice appreciator of the art such as me.
I take the remainder of the steps two at a time and bound into my bedroom, the first door on the left. My package from the craft shops sits where I left it, wrapped center place on my quilt. I bypass it and duck down to the right of the bed and switch on the lights that arrived with the Sherriff’s envelope, yesterday. Bright blue floods the room from the bars set at intervals around the skirting board, slowly fading and morphing to purple before they start the transition through the rainbow. I tap the control until the bulbs settle on a wash of pink and then climb on top of the bed to gush over the beautiful journals.
I have a box of over twenty more like them. Beautiful on the outside and raw and vulnerable inside. Questions that will never be answered, and thoughts that need to only be aired once. They’re my best friend, my confidant, and my cleansing in this macabre world in which my mother raises me. It was advice I took on from a teacher in second grade when she found me in the classroom during recess, tucked in the time-out corner with my lunch and a pile of used tissues from the box I’d snuck off her desk. Until that point, I’d never told anyone of the terrors that visit me most nights. I never have since.
People have lots of labels for small children who see people nobody else does.
The labels fade and change as you get older until they become something taboo that’s whispered behind closed doors without an ounce of the humor they once held.
An imaginary friend is an adorable quirk. A ghostly figure is a delusional disorder.
I open the cover on the first journal and run my palm over the virgin paper. The rough texture of the homemade parchment scratches at my scars, tickling the memories that reside within the completed tomes to my right. I glance at the unopened box and then to the empty built-in shelves on the far wall. I haven’t decided if I’ll display the journals the same as I did before, or if this time I’ll keep them hidden away.
As though that’ll hide the truth of my past. Make it an escapable lie.
Air filling my lungs, I return my focus to the fresh start before me and press down on the binding to keep the pages flat. With a favorite pen from the stash atop my nightstand, I click the end and capture my bottom lip between my teeth.
Salvation may be a homecoming for my mother, but for me, the town may yet live up to its name.
I met the locals. It seems that my night terrors have found their way into the light of day…