"He's so creepy." "What's he doing now?" "Ugh! He's such a freak!" "Yeah, totally insane." "Don't know why he hasn't been locked up or something yet." "I wonder if…" Yak, yak, yak. They can yak and bitch all they want. One day I'm gonna show them. I tell myself this as I stand leaning against the wall outside the science lab, smoking my homemade cigarette. I take a long drag and pointedly look at the band of yakkers through the smoke I steadily exhale. I imagine how one day they'll all be sorry. One day they won't even have time to beg… The joyful vision in my head disappears as she walks out of the lab just a few meters in front of me. She. Marina. I watch her every move closely, as I always do. I see the sunlight bouncing off her golden brown hair. I see way she slightly tilts her head while listening to some stupid story her friends are telling. I see the way she holds her science books close to her body, almost hugging them to her, the way she does whenever she feels nervous. Suddenly she turns around and looks straight at me with those dark eyes. I don't blink, I don't finch, even though these are the moments I live for, even though I feel like she's staring right down to my soul. She seems to want to take a step towards me, but one of her prissy friends grabs her arm and says, "Marina! What are you doing? Come on!" I watch her being dragged away from me, as she always is. I watch the sunlight on her hair again. I throw down my cigarette and stomp it out with my left foot. I'm getting too damn reliant on these things.
I leave that god forsaken place they call a school and start walking home. I never stay in school the whole day. Most of what they think we should be taught, is completely useless. I only stay long enough to get my attendance slip signed and let some of the teachers see me. That's just enough to keep my dad happy and for me to avoid a beating. By now I'm able to fight back, but I never can. I hate myself for it. So I just do what he expects of me. The teachers wouldn't rat me out to him because I know they're all scared of me. The end of the school year is coming on and I know that by the end, when the reports come out, I'm gonna be making another trip down to the emergency room, especially this time because this is the last year of school. I hate myself for it. I take out another one of my cigarettes as I walk past Marina's house. She lives a block away from me, but she couldn't feel further away. I still remember the first time I saw her. It was spring, the trees were fresh and green and everything smelt good. I was 6 and my mom and me were walking down to the shop a few streets away from our house. There was a moving truck in front of one of the houses and I remember being fascinated with it. I was staring at it, completely overwhelmed by its bright blue splendor, when a little girl with a ponytail came running out of the house to the truck. She was almost hysterical; she kept asking where Winnie was. What a Winnie is, I still don't know, but it was important to her. She saw us and even in her hysterical state, she waved. With that one wave she changed everything. I catch myself smiling at the memory and quickly shut myself down and start walking again. There's nothing to smile about anymore. Mom's gone, she's dead. Marina's out of my reach. No, there's nothing to smile about.
When I get home the memory of what it used to look like catches me off guard. It used to be so beautiful. My mom loved flowers, the garden was always full of them and she would normally be waiting for me by the old willow when I got home from school. Now it looks deserted. Everything is in a state of decomposition. The grass that used to be so green is now yellow and dry. There's not a single flower left and the willow really does look like its weeping. Weeping for all that was lost, weeping because I can't. Our house used to be painted a bright aqua colour, but now it just resembles a sickly grey. I see the rust and the neglect and I feel….something. Regret maybe? Longing? I don't know. I don't stay outside long enough to find out. Inside is no improvement and I don't want to linger on these stupid thoughts anymore. "She's gone, just deal with it, Robert." I say quietly as I rush up the stairs to my room. This onslaught of memories is too much for me. I dig out last year's yearbook and find the page I'm looking for easily. Marina. I touch the picture of her and concentrate on it till she's all I see. I've been doing this for so long that it's about the only thing I'm any good at. I've been doing this since my mom died. I've been doing this for 8 years. Marina is my escape, and she doesn't even know it.
After about an hour I look away from her face and put the book down. My dad won't be back till at least 9 tonight, so reckon it's safe it go searching. I've been formulating this plan all day, but it only forms part of the plan I've been formulating all year. I walk down the hall to my dad's room which is, against all odds, even messier than mine. I know exactly what I want and I know where I'll find it. I walk across the room, sidestepping piles of dirty laundry, dishes and bottles as I go. I suddenly wonder how he manages to keep up the pretence that he's okay. I shake my head as I reach my destination and open the closet door. In here it's even more of a mess than the rest of the room so I don't have to worry about him noticing that anything's been moved. He'll be too drunk too notice anyway. I put stacks of old clothes and other stuff on the floor till I get down to the bottom of the closet. My dad was in the army, and he has a box of keepsakes somewhere in here. I found it once when I was little, but my parents found out and got mad at me. Since then I haven't gone looking for it again, but I still remember exactly what's in it. A flag, a medal of some sort (I never bothered to find out what it was for), a couple of pictures of his old army buddies, letters my mom wrote him when he was stationed far from here, a hand grenade and a six shooter gun. My gun. I pick up the box, hoping it's still in there. I set it down in front of me and open it. Everything just as I remember it: The grenade, the pictures, the medal, the rolled up flag, the letters which I avoid looking at, and right there in the center, my gun. I take it out and weigh it in my hands, feeling the coldness of the silver barrel and the reassuring texture of the black grip. I smile and imagine what this beauty is going to do for me. I put the box back and throw the pile of stuff back in and close the closet.
At ten I hear my dad struggling to open the front door. This is how it goes every night these days. I'm sitting on my bed with the year book open in front of me and my gun in my hands. I listen as he passes out on the couch in the living room again and then I go back to thinking over my plan.
The next morning when I come down stairs my dad is sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee. He waves me over and I join him. "Got something for you," he says as he tosses the package over to me. I can smell the alcohol on him and can see how hung over he is. I open the simple brown package, because I don't want to start a fight with him now about the gifts he bringing. I don't want them, I don't want anything from him, but if I refuse then I'll be getting a beating for sure. It's a watch this time. Nice looking thing, no matter who it came from. "Thanks," I say without looking at him. "I'm going hunting with some of the guys from work for a couple days. You'll be okay?" he asks even though he would just leave anyway. "Yeah,'' I reply as I head for the door "see you," I add as I leave. I walk to school feeling the watch burning my wrist. I'll have to dump it somewhere at home.
* * *
Someone's knocking on our door. Our door? No one ever knocks on our door. I slink down the stairs and hesitate in front of the door. Who could it be? I ask myself. I reach out and open the door to the most spectacular thing I've ever seen: Marina. On my door step. For a moment I think I must be dreaming, but then she speaks…she never speaks in my dreams. "Hello Robert," she says in that quiet way of hers. I don't know what to do for a second or two, but then I answer, "Hi," it comes out almost like a question. "Sorry for just turning up like this, but I…umm…" she's fumbling with her words; this astounds me because she never fumbles. Ever. ''Can I come in?' she asks finally. "Yeah sure," I reply before I've even thought it over. I hold the door open for her and she steps past me into our excuse of a house. I catch her scent and I feel like I want to pass out because she smells like spring, like the day I first saw her. She looks around quickly and then faces me again. She's got her arms around herself like she does with the books when she's nervous. No one ever taught me what to do when you have guests, so I just stand there. "Do you mind if I hang around here with you for a while?" Now this I didn't see coming at all and now I'm even more lost than before. She must think I want an explanation or something because she suddenly starts talking really fast, "I can go if you want me too. I mean it's not like we even really know each other, but I don't know where else to go and…" she trails off and looks at me. "Uh, no stay. It's fine," I reply and then realize what I should do, "Do you want something to drink?" I ask. She nods and I lead the way to the kitchen. I don't have a clue what to give her. I open the fridge which is normally empty and locate half a carton of milk, a six pack of beer and thankfully a bottle of juice my dad bought home for some reason. "This okay?" I ask as I hold up the bottle. "Perfect," she says as she watches me trying to find some clean glasses.
We've passed an awkward hour, neither of us really knowing what to do or say. My composure is holding, but it won't much longer unless something happens. Marina is fiddling with a loose thread on one of the couch cushions and doesn't look up when she asks, "You're probably wondering why I'm here?"
"Sort of. It was unexpected." Actually I haven't given it much thought; she's here, which is more than enough to occupy my thoughts for the moment.
"Can I trust you Robert?" she looks up and into my eyes. I look into her eyes as well and think about how many times I've stared at those eyes in pictures, how I thought I knew them, but how different they are now that she's sitting here with me. Her eyes are alive; they make subtle shifts in colour that only I would notice.
"Maybe you should be the judge of that," she seems to be deliberating something and then she says, "I think I can. I think you would understand." I don't reply, instead I just look at her, waiting for whatever she wants to tell me.
"It's my dad. He…he hits me," she pauses and takes a deep breath, "I've never told anyone before. He would get too mad if he found out that people knew and then things would be even worse for my mom and me," she avoids looking at me and focuses on the thread as if it's the most interesting thing in the world.
"I know," I'm not sure what she wants me to say, so I just say the first thing that comes to mind, "I know he hits you." She looks at me like I've slapped her or something. Her whole body seems to deflate as she, almost inaudibly, asks, "How?"
I shrug and tell the truth, "I know the signs. I've seen how you try to cover the bruises and how you carry yourself,"
"But how do you know the signs? Does your dad…?"
"Yes," I answer simply.
"Oh," she says to the thread. Then she does something that completely throws me off track: she takes my hand. I've never touched her before. Even though I've been in love with her since I was 6. She doesn't need to say anything else, because her eyes say it all. All of a sudden we have become allies.
During the next few hours she tells me all about the abuse in her home. She tells me how her brother, who is a year older than us, does nothing to protect her and her mom. She tells me about the lengths her father will go to, to hurt them; throwing things at them, cutting them with broken glass, burning them and the punches, always the punches. Apparently her mother is only concerned with herself and keeping up the appearance of a happy family. I can't tell her how deeply what she's telling me affects me. I can't tell her how badly I want to go to her house and cut her father's throat, right now. The only thing holding me here is her hand in mine. At one point she lets go of my hand and shows me the burn marks on her legs from cigarettes and I silently vow to quit smoking immediately. She also shows me the bruises from last night, that are blooming across her shoulders.
"So that's about it," she says as we watch the sun setting through the grimy windows. "I guess I should be getting home now. I'm supposed to be with Bree," she says as she gets up. I decide that I should probably say something constructive now, "You know you can come over any time you want to," she smiles at me and says, "Thanks for understanding and listening to me all afternoon," she comes closer to me and stands on her toes to kiss my cheek, "Will you mind if I come over again tomorrow?" my head is spinning and I only manage a "Sure," before she's out of the door. I close the door gently because I'm scared that any sound will shatter the dream I'm in.
I can't sleep that night. Well, it's not like I've been able to sleep much anyway these last few weeks. Every time I close my eyes I see her bruises and I have to force down the boiling rage inside of me. I shower and get dressed really early and then sit at the kitchen table feeling awful because I'm really missing my cigarettes, but I promised myself that I would quit, for her. It's a good thing I'm up so early because it's not even 9 yet when there's a knock at the door. It can only be her. When I open the door she says, "Surprise!" and indicates towards the pile of cleaning equipment she's brought along. "What…?' I don't quite know what to ask her. "You and I are going to clean this place up today. Here," she says as she deposits a bucket with cleaning detergents into my hands and marches into the house. I follow behind her, still not sure if I'm insulted or not. "I think we should start with the living room. What do you think?" she stands with her hands on her hips and I take in the braid down her back, her blue tank top which doesn't hide the bruises and her faded cut off shorts before I answer, "I don't know what to think," she gives a little laugh that sends shivers down my spine. "I know this is a bit surprising, but I thought it would be a good and constructive pass time," before I can object she tells me to go get her a ladder so that we can take down the curtains.
Buy 5 in the afternoon we're both exhausted as we lie on the floor of the now spotless living room. I was embarrassed at the sight of how dirty our house was, but she handled it all very well. It's been years since anyone's told me what to do and I did it gladly, or even did it at all. But in Marina's hands I'm like putty. We've done the whole ground floor today and tomorrow we're going to tackle the upstairs. I would happily push around a mop for the rest of my days if I can do it with Marina around. "Today was fun," she says
"It was…I can't remember the last time I've thought anything was fun," I can't believe I just admitted that, but today she's managed to get me to open up just a tiny bit. She sighs and says, "Me neither." We lie on the floor for a long time and finally I ask the question that's been bugging me for years, "What's a Winnie?'' I ask her turning my head to her. She laughs and replies, "You remember that? Winnie is a stuffed horse. She's been with me forever," she pauses with a smile and then turns to me as well, "Do you really remember that day?"
"Of course I do. It was the day…" I pull myself up short because I was about to say that it was the day I fell for her. She rolls onto her stomach, which brings her much closer to me, and leans on her elbows, "The day that what?" she asks, but I feel myself shutting down. She frowns slightly and touches my shoulder, then brushes my ash blond hair from my forehead and asks softly, "The day that what?" I sit up and lean back against the couch, "I can't tell you," I answer. "Of course you can. Or don't you trust me?" she asks looking a bit hurt.
"I do trust you; I just don't think you'd like to hear this."
"I think I do," she says as she also sits up, facing me.
"No, you don't. It will just ruin everything."
"No, it won't. Nothing is going ruin this," she connects us with a motion of her hand.
I can't tell her. I just can't. Telling her how I feel will go against everything I've taught myself to be. I guess she can see me struggling because she comes over and sits next to me. "Please Robert, I need to know," she says with a pleading look in her blue-grey eyes.
"What do you need to know?" I ask with a frown
"How you feel," she answers simply
Looking into her eyes I decide that the time has come for the truth. So I tell her, "Of course I remember that day because it was the day I……the day I fell in love with you." I feel like an idiot. I can't look at her.
"Oh Robert," she says softly and takes my face in her hands so that I have to look at her, "Why didn't you just tell me long ago?" she asks and nearly gives me a heart attack when she throws her arms around my neck. For a moment I don't know what to do and then I let my arms hold her close to me.
* * *
It turns out that Marina has been in love with me for almost as long as I have loved her. I can hardly believe this. This has to be a dream, it can't be real. I can't be sitting under the willow tree kissing her. How can I be running my fingers through her hair? Her lips on mine can't be real. But it is. The happiness of finally having her with me is so great that I forget about my plan. Until Marina finds the gun under my bed while we're cleaning my room. She gives a little gasp, which is enough to have me flying across the room to her side. "What is this doing here?" she asks holding it away from her. I deliberate lying to her by saying that I keep it with me because I don't trust my dad with it, but she knows me too well. She's been watching me like I've been watching her for too long. "Please don't lie to me," she says as she slowly puts it down on my bed, looks at it for a while then picks it up again and runs her fingers over the barrel.
"I had a plan," I say while looking at the deadly thing in her delicate hands.
"What sort of plan?" she asks warily. "You weren't going to kill yourself were you?"
"No! Well not first anyway," I reply and she takes a step back with wide eyes.
"What?" she asks softly. So this is how our relationship will end.
"This time I really don't think you want to know, Marina. And I don't want you to know either."
"I want to know!" she says raising her voice a little. I shake my head and say, "I don't want you to know what kind of person I really am."
"I already know what kind of person you are! You're sweet and funny and gentle and strong when you need to be. I already told you that nothing could break what we have!" How can I tell her what I've been planning for so long? "Okay, I…I'm going to tell you. You can leave whenever you want." And so I told her my whole plan and all my reasons. Instead of running away as I had expected, she kissed me and then held me, saying that she understands. When I finally broke down and started crying she didn't run away either. She called her mom to say that she'll be sleeping over at Bree's house and she stayed with me all night. In the morning I looked out at the willow tree and I felt like it was thanking me for finally taking the burden, of being the only one to weep, off of it.
* * *
My dad eventually showed up again. Showering me with gifts and then later kicks. I went to school with a blue eye and Marina came right up and took my hand when I arrived. Everyone was gossiping like they never had before. But we blocked it all out. Now when I was having a bad day I could get lost in her face, her lips, her hair, her neck for real. I didn't need the yearbook anymore. She was bringing me back to life. We were inseparable and her bruises lessened because I was at her house so much that her dad hardly ever had the opportunity to hit her. She brought me back to life and I protected her.
But things couldn't always be this good. One day, when I wasn't around, a few boys from school teased her and as a result she got home late. She tried to explain this to her dad, but he stopped listening when he heard the word "boys". He was overcome by the hatred which was supposed to be love for her and he hit her so hard and so long that she passed out and had to be admitted to hospital. She broke several ribs and had a concussion. Her father passed it off as some sort of accident and played the role of loving father very well. I visited her in the dead of night when no one else would be there, so that I wouldn't try to kill anyone out of rage. She told me he called her a slut and that she deserved to die. I held her hand until morning and then I went home to work on my plan again. This time there would be no going back.
The day before she left the hospital I sat with her in the early morning light and asked her, "Do you love me?" she smiled and said, "Of course I do. You know that."
"Do you love me enough to run away with me?" I watched her reaction as she realized what I was saying, "Run away together?" she asked
"Yes, we'll leave this all behind," I said as I lightly touch the bruise on her cheek, "and start over again, together." She looked out at the grey morning and then said, "Yes," she turned to me and said with a smile, "Yes, let's run away!" I leaned in and kissed her and then told her, "You have to be ready this afternoon at 2. I'll come get you. Okay?" she nodded and I kissed her again before I left. I prayed that I would see her again. When I got to the door she said, "Robert? Save two bullets, incase the plan doesn't work out. I'm not letting you go down alone." I love her.
* * *
I train my gun on their shaking figures. I have them in the court yard and they can't go anywhere. "Do you wanna play a game, or should I just shoot you one by one?" I lift my brow at them and then answer my own question, "I think we'll play a game. Now, when I say 'Go' you all run towards the car park as fast as you can and we'll see what happens." There are four of them in here, the ones that held Marina up that day, the ones that caused her dad to beat her so badly, the ones who have always been the most merciless. I only lured the guys here because I could never shoot a girl. I lift my gun and say "Go!" They start running like crazy and before I even take a shot I say, "Come one boys, you better run faster than that!" Then I pull the trigger. Mark falls. I pull the trigger. Derek falls. I pull the trigger. Greg falls. I shoot Angelo in the foot, right through those silly shoes they all wear. He falls. I pause and look him in the eyes before I pull the trigger for the last time. He was her last boyfriend and he treated her like dirt. "That'll teach you," I say as I turn around and walk away. The school is deserted because everyone went home early since this is the last day of school.
I calmly walk to Marina's house, where I find her waiting for me by the gate with her bags. As soon as she sees me she runs into my arms and we stand like that for a while. "You ready?' I ask. She raises her eyebrow and asks me "You okay?" We laugh even though I just killed 4 people in cold blood. We laugh because we're just the same. We laugh because we're in love. Then we walk down the street to the train station, hand in hand, not looking back because we have our whole lives ahead of us.