Finding Eleanor

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: November 05, 2016

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Submitted: November 05, 2016

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I still search for you in crowds,

In empty fields and soaring clouds.

In city lighs and passing cars,

On winding roads and wishing stars.

-Lang Leav

 

 

Tuesday 2pm.

“Eleanor?”

“Eleanor?”

“Eleanor!”

The girl who was addressed as Eleanor jerked awake. She rubbed her eyes. Her neck was sore from lying on the desk. Apparently Ms. Earlings forgot to wake her up with a slap of her ruler on her desk. The boy sitting next to her looked indignant, his glasses hung on the tip of his nose; there was a visible red marking on his hand. Eleanor looked away. It was not even her fault. She got slapped three times, maybe four times in the last semester. But ever since the word got around that… 

The word got around that…

Eleanor stopped. 

She looked up.

The girl in front of her, the one who woke her up, was holding some papers in her hand. Her bangs were brushed neatly to the side. The school uniform, ugly as it is, looked almost immaculate on her. She flushed, fidgeting under Eleanor’s gaze. Eleanor frowned when she saw the red markings on the papers. The girl quickly took out a piece of paper from the pile, then as if unsure whether Eleanor would take it, her hand wavered and she put it down on her desk.

“Your monthly test.”

The girl whispered, her voice thin and was lost in the still air between them. Then, with a swing of her ponytail, she turned around and scurried away.

Eleanor stared at her leaving figure, expression blank. There was no use in calling her back and making her look at her in the eye and tell her nothing has changed. 

“Eleanor?”

It was always this careful, probing tone. They treated her like she was a fragile china doll. 

“Hey Eleanor.” 

She turned around, the boy who was glaring at her before was now looking apologetic. She felt sick. 

He leaned toward her. “I just want to say I am sorry for being angry at you. I understand your… special condition. And…” His voice hung in the air, heavy as a rock in the ocean. “I hope she will get better.”

His friend standing beside him must have told him that. The two boys looked uncomfortable, exchanging secret glances. Then silently, the boy got up and they left sheepishly. 

Yet somehow, that did not make her feel any better.

 

Tuesday 4:20pm.

It wasn’t always like this, Eleanor used to have friends. They would laugh and talk about nonsensical things all day long. There was no gap between them. They would look at her and see her as who she truly was —a girl, someone just like them. But now she couldn’t walk ten feet in the hallway without getting compassionate looks or having people darting away from her glance. Their compassion was the one thing Eleanor could not stand. They would talk behind her back. Talk, talk, talk. The whispers and the looks were like a clamp on her throat, suffocating her bit by bit.

When she was at home she would sometimes hear her mother gasping upstairs, or her brother whimpering in the next room. She cringed every single time. She felt death, stalking her in the shadows. She feared that her mother would suddenly be asphyxiated to death by her own body; a gasp that got cut off in the middle. And there was nothing Eleanor could do. Funny how she could bear the noises made by her classmates during breaks but not the sound of her mother taking in sharp breaths. So at times like that she would either tune out all the noises with her headphones, or she would just simply storm out of the house, leaving her eight-year-old brother an image of her disappearing from the door. That was the good situation.

And this time, it was not.

Eleanor got off the school bus. 

She saw her dad before she reached the house.

He was sitting on the porch, lighting up a cigarette, his gaze fixed at the air. He looked way much older than the last time she saw him, as if he had aged ten years over night. Eleanor thought he had quitted smoking when his new wife had a baby. But perhaps it was just the recent stress, accumulating up his spine, and eventually bending him. 

Before middle school, Eleanor always prided herself on the knowledge that her dad has “nerves of steel”; at least that was what he told her. But when she grew older, she realized that that look on her dad’s face when her mom caught him with another woman in bed was something people would usually call “guilt”. And since then, for every word she learned she would find a way to connect it to her father. Her father was “guilty”, was “coward”, was “player”, was “indecency”, was “abandonment”.

Now that man, the one smoking on her mother’s front porch, bears the skin of her father, but was not her father. She doesn’t have a father, she only has a mother, a mother who’s slowly dying, giving up on life.

 

“Eleanor.”

Her dad got up, dropping the cigarette on the porch, stepping on it with a casualness as if it was never there.

“How are you?” He asked, tentatively.

“I’m fine.” She said, walking down the path.

Her dad said something under his breath. Then he stood there, not sure if she wanted a hug or not. He shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. 

Then Eleanor walked straight past him.

He followed her inside.

“Eleanor listen,”he said as she was taking her shoes off. His voice shifted into a certain tone. Eleanor recognized that tone —he used it when he told her that he had divorced her mother. “Your mother’s been sent to the hospital. She had a seizure this afternoon. Your brother called it in. And she has to stay in the hospital until she gets better.”

Eleanor looked at him as if she knew what’s going to happen.

“And I will stay here with you and your brother. Is that okay?”

Eleanor whispered yes, there was nothing else she could do.

Then she saw her brother Danny appearing from his bedroom. He had his teddy bear in his arms. She knew that he saw their father when his eyes widened and when he cheered with joy. His brother always loved it when their father came to visit. A child without paternal love always treated his father like he was a treasure from other land. “Why couldn’t he come more often?” He had asked her that question a long time ago. Then he stopped asking when he got into primary school, when all the weight Eleanor carried had started to drop on him. Danny ran into his father’s arms. And Eleanor tried, with all her might not to look at them. But she did anyway, the happiness that leaked from them burned like a poker on her skin.

Eleanor went to her bedroom, shutting the door behind her. Her hand went to her bracelet. Then she herself was spooked by this unconscious action. She held up her hand. Two emerald green strings were woven together, a crystal was anchored in the middle to keep them together. It gave off shiny sparks under the light.

It felt strange, almost wrong, to possess such a thing. She thought about what happened earlier today on the bus.

 

 

Tuesday 3:50pm.

She sat next to the window at the back of the bus, as usual. The seats around her were all empty, as usual. Sometimes she thinks she likes this solitude, but sometimes she wants to scream.

She saw a hand waving in front of her. She turned around, a boy was standing before her. Her earphones had made her deaf, she took it off. 

“Hey Eleanor.”

The boy said. Eleanor did not know who he is.

“You’re Eleanor right?” The boy’s clear blue eyes stared into hers.

“Yeah.” Eleanor said suddenly when she realized he was asking her.

“Well, Eleanor I am Ethan. Can I sit next to you? The kids are really loud.” He winced a bit when a kid appropriately squealed. 

Eleanor gave her consent, she moved over and made space for him.

Eleanor put her earphones on, but she left one hanging in case Ethan wanted to talk. But he didn’t. Then Eleanor realized she had been holding her breath, and silently, she let it out. 

The bus ride never had felt this immensely long. She became acutely aware of the boy sitting next to her. She felt his every breath, every movement. It has been so long since anyone got this close to her. She didn’t know where to put her hands. In front of her? Behind her back? In her pockets? Everything felt wrong. And when the bus came to a turn, when she could finally steal a few glances at him, she was deeply frustrated because he looked utterly unruffled by this closeness. After what seemed like a forever, the bus finally got on her street. Then the boy—Ethan, had put something in her open hand. 

“It’s a bracelet.” He said. 

Her eyes widened, she started fidgeting with her sleeves. “Hey Ethan I can’t take this.” She said, holding the bracelet. All the manners she had learned crept up to her.

“It’s gift Eleanor. A peace offering. Since I am going to be sitting next to you for the rest of semester. And it’s not that expansive anyway.” Ethan said, his voice solid and determined.

Eleanor looked up at him, then his expression suddenly turned vague.

“And I wanted you to know that it’s all going to work out.”

What did he mean when he said it’s all going to work out? Eleanor couldn’t understand. She didn’t have time to question him further, the bus had stopped at her house. Did he know about her mother? Oh Eleanor he must have, why else would he say such a thing? She put the bracelet on her desk. It lost its glow when Eleanor’s shadow covered it. And here she thought she could finally have someone talking to her without pitying her. 

 

Tuesday 9:50pm.

Eleanor looked up at the clock. It was nearly ten pm. She was already in her nightgown. Her hand wandered automatically to the story book that lay on the shelf. Then suddenly she drew back, just realizing what she was doing. She crossed her hands.

The clock ticked and tocked. Her mom would usually have her reading to Danny at this time. She would say it’s good for his intellectual growth. “A bedtime story could never hurt right, Eleanor?” That soft edge to her voice made it so much easy to identify her in a crowd. Eleanor had learned to do that over the years. But Danny never will.

When her mother had gotten ill Eleanor stopped reading to Danny. Her mom would have blamed her for doing that. But how could she sit down and read, knowing that her mom was upstairs, suffering from a nightmare? At first Danny would come and ask her to read to him, but slowly he stopped after she turned him down multiple times. He would sometimes stare at her with half his body outside his bedroom, watching her going back to her bedroom from the bathroom. At moments like that Eleanor had to sum up all her will to keep herself from running. She couldn’t stand the look in her brother’s eyes. Those eyes were tearing her up. And slowly they stopped talking to each other. You’d be surprised at how easy it was to live under the same roof and not talking. Danny had learned how to tie his shoelaces by himself, how to heat his milk without spilling it everywhere. This silence had pushed him into prematurity.

Eleanor heard his father’s voice, coming from behind the wall. She pressed her ear on the wall. She realized he was reading to her brother, something about a prince and a princess. She recalled the picture of her brother, sleeping and purring gently like a kitten. He looked like an angel, hell he was an angel. Eleanor’s eyes dimmed. She pulled at her quilt and stuffed her head in the pillow. And then it dawned on her; as of this moment, she was “guilty” too.

 

Tuesday 10:30pm.

“Eleanor?”

Leave me alone.

“Eleanor?”

Go away.

“Eleanor!”

Just don’t.

Someone shook her. Her eyes flew open.

It was just her dad, standing in front her. He was bending awkwardly down. His eyes were loaded with something inexplicable, it was impossible to see through them with the lights off. Then, seeing that she was awake, he sat down on the edge of her bed.

“What do you want?” She said.

Her dad hunched his shoulders, then a long deep sigh was released from his throat. His whole life was an everlasting sigh. 

“You need to be prepared Eleanor.” He said. And an alarm rang deep inside her fuzzy head. She suddenly knew. But she didn’t want to know. Anything that her dad was about to say would kill all the false fantasies she invented for herself. His voice would be the gavel that decided the future. Eleanor wished she didn’t wake up. 

But her dad continued on without pause.

“Your mother’s situation is severe. The doctor says she only has one week, and if lucky, two.” Her dad looked toward her. His fine features hardened.

Eleanor’s heart leapt. She waited, waited for him to say “gotcha”, waited for the punchline of  a joke that had gone too far. The space between them stretched into a chasm, his voice was carried away by the wind; the emptiness became a vacuum. Her hope wilted. She stared at this man sitting in front of her. She hated him so much at that moment. She wanted him to disappear, she wanted to drain her blood so that she would not have his blood in her veins. Because how dare him to come back now after all these years, after she had gotten used to the life without him— just because his conscious had forced him to? 

“You didn’t tell Danny that, did you dad?”

His father’s silhouette in the moonlight froze—it was the first time she called him dad since he got here. He said, and thank God he said: “I didn’t.”

Finally you got something right dad. Eleanor thought of that raggedy teddy bear. You shouldn’t. Only one of us has to know. And Danny it should not be you. Pray God you will never have to know.

“I will take Danny and you to the hospital this weekend.” He got up, his gait heavy. 

“Sleep tight.” He closed the door gently.

The silence stretched.

She closed her eyes but in the darkness she could still see her mother’s eyes. They were pale green, even paler after she got ill. Those eyes always looked like they were telling a story. They were imploring, sincere, truthful. They cut into you like a sharp blade. What do you want me to tell you mom? Those eyes didn’t reply. But they started to lose color around the edges, someone was draining the colors out of them. It was fading like an old yellow photo taken in the past. Because that was what Eleanor would say about her mother, that she was fading, fading away from her life. She exhausted herself bringing her back again and again. But those darkest part of her were screaming at her to let go.

 

Wednesday 7am.

Eleanor stared into the mirror. 

She saw a girl with messy, tousled hair. It looked like it hadn’t been properly brushed for ages. Her eyes were brown, with tiny specks of black inside. It was funny how someone who was so shy in real life could always sum up the courage to look into a mirror, letting a stranger eyeing her up and down. Yes, a stranger. What is the difference between a stranger and someone you know? It depends if you actually know the person. Then do you actually know who you are? Do you actually know yourself inside out? Eleanor doesn’t know. She touched her face, the stranger in the mirror did the same. She counted the stranger’s freckles. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen… The stranger in the mirror change every day. She only had ten a few weeks ago. The stranger was trapped in the mirror. Eleanor knew that she wanted to get rescued, she saw that during their long moments of staring at each other. She cherished this eye contact, this long, truthful stare. And she wanted to save her, for a long time she had. But the mirror was cold as ice. She could only warm that stranger by puffing near the ice, hoping that the condensation would stay. 

Hey Eleanor, how are you?

What do you want from me?

The stranger stared back at her. She never replied.

Half an hour later, Eleanor came into the living room. She wore a grey, worn jacket and a pair of patched-up jeans. There was no breakfast. There hadn’t been one for a long time. There was no point in expecting her dad to make her breakfast. Eleanor could hear him snoring upstairs. She grabbed her backpack and walked out with a loaf of cold bread in her hand. 

It was autumn. The weather was cool. She had always loved the breeze. Her mother would start knitting them sweaters at this time. “You could never start too early at preparing for winter.” She would say. When Eleanor was thirteen her mom tried to teach her to knit. But she was clumsy with her fingers and the needle would always end up stabbing her. So soon she gave up, but she never really did stop watching her mom knit. It was amazing how she managed to make a sweater out of a ball of strings. She would always attempt stealing a few glances at her when doing her homework in the living room. They used to have a fireplace in the house but they sold it last month when the rent began to weigh on them. And now that space was just empty, an ugly scar in the place they used to call home.

Eleanor stopped. Her eyes surveyed the surroundings. Apparently she had walked past the bus stop. She hurried back. 

The bus was waiting for her around the corner. The driver chastised her, rambling about some rules. She turned and walked toward her spot in the back of the bus. 

A boy was sitting there.

Oh.

Eleanor almost forgot about him. 

The boy looked up. Eleanor felt her ears grow hot.

“Morning Eleanor.”

“Morning.” She sat down on the seat next to him.

Eleanor struggled. She was biting her fingernails again, she thought she had quitted doing that after primary school. She thought of the bracelet again. It was still sitting on her desk. She should have taken it and given it back to him. He’s going to think I accepted it, Eleanor grew more anxious.

“Eleanor.”

Her thoughts got interrupted when Ethan turned to her. Then she saw the sweat on his forehead. His blue eyes were a mist. It turned out she was so occupied with her own nerves she did not notice he was just as nervous as she was. 

He’s going to move to another seat. She suddenly realized. 

“Eleanor.” He said again, more composed this time. 

“I am sorry.”

No, please don’t. Eleanor was exasperated. She brought a hand to her head, feeling more angry than ever. Stop saying that. She clutched her hands to keep them from shaking.

“Wait listen to me.” Ethan put a hand on her shoulder and turned her around when she did not respond. He loosened his grip when he saw the tears glistening in her eyes.

“I did not mean what most people mean when they say that.” Eleanor looked at him again, his face was a blur, all the lights reflected around in her sight.

She could only hear his voice, drifting in the air like silk. 

“Eleanor you have to face her.” He said abruptly. But Eleanor knew all too well what he was talking about.

“You won’t get a second chance.” 

Then, in the midst of all the lights, she saw his eyes. She saw an old man in there. His back was arched, his cane supported all his weight. He dressed like an old British gentleman. His eyes were mellow, as if teaching her how to say goodbye.

What had he been through? Someone deep inside Eleanor questioned.

The rest was a blur. Ethan talked about the bracelet. He told her his story, his story of sadness, confusion, and love. He had both hurt her and comforted her with the truth. 

He helped her, but that comfort diminished when her father came to take her out of school in the middle of the day.

 

Wednesday 1pm.

The bell just rang but Eleanor stood frozen in the hallway. Students hurried into the classroom with stacks of paper in their arms. Their messy hair, their powdered faces, their wandering eyes; it was a montage. A girl with thick glasses had stepped on her chemistry worksheet. She gasped and apologized, then she turned around, dashing into the open door without looking back. But if she had, she would recognize her as the girl everyone was talking about. She would have noticed Eleanor’s petrified countenance. She would, of course, gossip with her friends afterwards about how she witnessed the Eleanor dropping her mask, and revealing all her sorrow to the world. Because finally, at the end, how could you still manage to keep that mask on when your mom’s a few minutes away from death?

They got Eleanor to the hospital as fast as possible.

The first thing Eleanor noticed when she walked through the door was that her dad wasn’t there. The place where he was supposed to be was just an empty space demanding its presence to be known. 

Her mom lied there, on the bed. She had gotten so thin, her collar bones jutted out and so were her cheekbones. And Eleanor could almost see it, an angel with a face white as the wall, lying on a bed of roses. Then the west wind blew and the clock turned. A simple change of season was all it took for them to wither. Her hand lay open, each knuckle white and sharp. It felt like she had been waiting all her life for someone to pick it up and hold it.

She was finally here. She had pictured this day for so long. It would start with a doctor entering the room with a serious expression. Then her dad’s phone would ring, that familiar ring tone would echo in the empty house like a ghost haunting this place. Then her headmistress would enter her classroom and call out her name. She knew that the moment she stepped out into the corridor that her classmates would start talking. They wouldn’t care if she heard them or not, they hadn’t cared for so long. Then Eleanor would begin that endless walk, one step in front of another toward that white room. Each step heavier than the last one. Each heartbeat slower than the last one. Each second dragged longer than the last one. This was what she was fearing all along. 

She still remembered that empty room in her house. She would stop there and peer into the room, just slightly, before she continued on her way to the study. She still remembered how her mother slept, almost peacefully, on the bed in that room. She was tired, she was just sleeping. She would tell herself that every time, doing her best neglecting the stacks of pills on her nightstand. 

She still didn’t want to believe it. Because how can it be real? How can someone like her mom, someone who deserved a peaceful end to life; die in such pain and agony? She still hadn’t taught her how to bake cookies, how to sew sweaters. They had so much more to do but the time was running out for both of them.

Eleanor opened her eyes again. This was her mom in front of her, lying on a bed, in a hospital, in the middle of autumn —a season she loved so dearly. This was her once beautiful mom in front of her, she was smart, she was strong, she made the empty house a place Eleanor could call home. 

Her mother’s eyelids fluttered. Then slowly, they opened. Eleanor stared into her mother’s eyes. They were still green, like leaves in the summer. 

“Mom.” She whispered.

Her mom moved her lips but only a bare whisper came out. “Eleanor.”

The door swung open, a small figure entered the room. 

It was Danny. He had his teddy bear in his arms. Then, noticing that he had interrupted them, he closed the door behind him sheepishly.

“Danny.” Her mom managed a smile.

Danny climbed onto the chair, his ruffled hair looked like it hadn't been washed in days. 

He adjusted his glasses, then said: “Mom they said you don’t have long.” He set his teddy bear on the bed. Then he drew back, his expression as grim as Eleanor’s. He murmured: “Is it true?”

Eleanor wanted to slap him. But her hand froze in the air when she saw the tears running down his cheeks. Her mother coughed violently, meanwhile telling Eleanor to stop. And Eleanor didn’t realize that she was crying too till the tears splashed onto her hand.

Please make it stop

After what seemed like an hour, when she finally managed to control the tears, her mother stopped coughing and, with all the energy she had left she whispered these words to Eleanor.

“Forgive me Eleanor,” her voice thin as the air. “Please forgive me. And forgive your dad too, he tried so hard to earn your forgiveness. And,” she paused, then swallowed with great difficulty. “find yourself. I want you to know who you are, Eleanor you are capable of so much more. Take care of your brother when I’m gone.” Tears welled up in her eyes. “And wherever you are, I will always love you.”

Then she saw the life, draining out of her mother’s eyes. It was slow, but it was happening. They finally gave in to the course of life. Eleanor picked up her hand and held her close in an embrace. She had always loved her mother’s warmth, but her mother’s body was getting colder and colder by every second. She closed her eyes. She realized she could only let her go by holding her close.

May you go gentle into that good night, mom. She heard Danny weeping beside her, she hugged him close too, letting him staining her shirt wet. The birds sang in the woods outside.

Nurses who work at the hospital still tell the story of how the girl’s mom died. They said the sky darkened as if it was grieving for this tragic story. They said heaven closed its eye to spare itself the pain of witnessing the abominable rob of life. But they, like most people, like to make stuff up. The truth was that the day Eleanor’s mom passed away was October eleventh, a peaceful day with little rain.

 

February 2nd.

People who knew Eleanor still tell the story of how her mom died.

People who sat in cafés would sigh and mourn for her mother.

People’s darkest selves would also be secretly relieved that it wasn’t them.

But what people would not know is that Eleanor still keeps that bracelet gifted to her by a boy from somewhere somehow at some point.

People would not know that Danny prepared Eleanor a surprise gift for her up-coming birthday, or that he bought it with his own savings.

People would not know that Eleanor leaned into her father’s arms during her mom’s funeral, or that she finally gave him the forgiveness that he had fought for so long.

People would not know that Eleanor could now look into the mirror and to be comforted by the fact that she existed, or that she knew who she was.

People would not know that Eleanor talked to the sky, late at night, confiding all her troubles on a wishing star, certain that it would take her voice to her mother.

People would not know lots of things that happened to Eleanor after she left the town.

People would not know that she started her life elsewhere, where she found herself.

Those people talked for a long time, then one day they all stopped. 

That’s because in the end of the day, people carried on with their lives. And so did Eleanor.


© Copyright 2017 Bay Mare. All rights reserved.

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