Reinstated

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: May 20, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: May 20, 2017

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A A A


A puff of smoke left my lips as I exhaled the cold air. I adjusted my scarf and treaded ahead to my destination. Pulling my keys out of my pocket, I shuffled through them until I found the correct one and opened the door to the apartment complex, repeating the process for my apartment. I set the keys down on an end table near the door and sighed, pulling off my scarf and shrugging off my jacket. It had just been another day at work, with the forced smiles and severely rehearsed lines of polite customer service. I took a seat at the couch. My feet were killing me. I was getting paid too little to pretend that I gave a damn.

The next thing I know my roommate shakes me awake.

“Hey, you’ve got class in like thirty minutes,” she said, clutching a mug of tea in one hand and shaking my shoulder in the other.

I groggily looked at the clock on the kitchen microwave and realized she was more or less right. It was 5:27 p.m.; my class started at six. Rubbing my eyes awake, I asked her what she’d been doing all day.

“Just trying to catch up with some paintings. These commissions are coming in faster than I can keep up with sometimes.”

Catalina was an artist fresh out of art school who was paying her half of the rent through painting portraits for friends, acquaintances, and random strangers. I nodded in response, having nothing else to say. I walked to my room to get my bag packed and ready then wordlessly left the apartment.

As I got to the campus, there were people biking to or from class while protesters were outside the science building. They held signs that said “END HIGH COLLEGE TUITIONS” and “DEBT SHOULD NOT BE MY FUTURE”, or other variations of that message. My geography class was unfortunately en route next to the science building, so I had to pass by the group. Gripping the right strap of my backpack, I tried my best to mind my own business and continue on to class.

“Miss!” I slowed my pace, hoping someone was not talking to me. “Hey! Don’t college costs piss you off!?”

A boy with curly hair and outrageous Ray-Bans approached me with his arms outstretched, a petition with a clipboard in one hand. I stopped at this point, internally cringing at his blatant, public display of anger.

“Um,” I blinked rapidly. “I guess.”

My right hand was still clutching the strap of my backpack. He looked at me for a moment, his expression hidden from the large Ray-Bans.

“You guess?” he practically spat out, “Thousands of students are drowning in debt every year. You guess?”

Honestly? Yeah, college costs suck, but that doesn’t stop me from doing what I have to do.

“I haven’t really thought about it.” That was a lie. “It is an issue though.” I tried to make a face that feigned concerned ignorance. “But I have a class to go to right now, so if you’ll excuse me …”

His animated face turned into one that I could only guess was gawking at me now, like I was some sort of alien. The animation soon came back as fast as it left.

“This affects you and thousands of others! This petition will help students like you all across the country! If I could just have you sign thi-” He held out the clipboard for me to sign and was about to pull a pen out from his pocket as I walked away.

After geography class, the dusk had settled down in a hue of orange and purple as a result of three hours passing. What was once a vibrant, fast-paced campus environment was now a calmer, almost lazy scene of students strolling to their destinations. I glanced over to the spot the protesters were, thankful they were now gone. On the floor next to the entrance of the science building laid an abandoned sign which read “DEBT SHOULD NOT BE MY FUTURE”. Reminded of the curly haired guy, I wondered if I didn’t get riled up by his group’s protests like I should have gotten. I made my way to the parking lot to go home.
Once I made it home, I saw my roommate passed out on the couch with a canvas painting at the edge of the room. It was a picture of two geishas; one was crying while the other one was grinning with a large wound in her leg. The sky was not entirely filled in. I walked to my room and got ready for bed. As I was about to lay down, I did my routine of pressing my lips to my two fingers to transfer a kiss on the picture of my late dad. Although it’s been six years since he’s passed, I started doing this last year because I felt like it was the closest thing there was to talking to him. Tonight, I stood there looking at the picture longer than usual. I wish I was still a fourteen year old whose dad picked her up from school everyday.

The indistinct chatter of high schoolers leaving the campus for today was the only thing audible until I got into the car. A tall man in his 60’s was waiting for me with a cigarette in his hand in the driver’s seat, the sound system blasting a Michael Bolton song. “How was your day?” he asked. “Ugh, too long. I thought I was going to die in there.” I proceeded to report the latest drama among my circle of friends and the inadequate job my anatomy teacher was doing. He didn’t say much, but you could tell that he was listening with amusement.

I sat on the edge of my bed with my face in my hands, trying not to think about how lost I’ve gotten since then. There was no talking about my day like there used to be. The multiple circles of friends seemed to pull a disappearing magic act right when he did. I was cut open, and no one sewed me back together. I had no fucking idea where I could find a needle or a thread. “Can you please come back?” I let out in a pathetic, little whimper.

The next morning, my roommate asked over breakfast if she could borrow my car for the day. As she was about to leave, she told me to “wish her luck”. I expressed the sentiment and waved goodbye. Tossing the leftovers, I decided to get ready for work which was in a few hours. I went to the bathroom to fix my makeup and do my hair. Going through my regular routine of foundation, contouring, and eyeshadow, I stared back at the brown haired, brown eyed girl while she was applying mascara. Her eyes were small and tired. I grabbed some false eyelashes from the drawer and applied some adhesive to the lash band, blowing on the glue to let it dry. Here I am again. Putting on face. Transforming myself into someone completely different aesthetically makes it easier to lie to people about how I’m feeling.

I headed out the apartment and made my way to the subway, dressed in a knitted sweater, jeans, and a scarf. My work uniform was in my locker. There was just the usual hustle of the city as I walked through the streets. After a few minutes, I saw a homeless man who was in the same spot for the past few weeks. Everyday he held sat cross legged outside a vacant studio room and held up a sign that said he was hungry or something. I haven’t really paid attention. I’m usually in my car, so I haven’t had to interact with him.

He noticed me walking by and I internally cringed as he said, “Hello. Can you spare some change?”

I turned my head but kept walking. “Sorry, no.”

“Do you have some food with you then?” I stopped in my tracks. “I haven’t eaten yet.”

I got my wallet from my purse and checked what was inside. There was a twenty and a handful of ones. There was also the money I had in my card, which I could’ve easily used to buy him something from one of the shops around here.

“I don’t have anything,” I feigned an expression of remorse. “Sorry.”

He nodded, having the same look of desperation in his eyes he had every time I saw him. “That’s alright. Have a blessed day.”

I continued on to my destination. Feeding one person isn’t going to make a difference, anyways. Why should I bother?

At the subway station, I got my ticket and waited for the train to arrive. The big clock on the brick wall read 10:38 a.m. I took a seat on one of the steel benches against the wall. It was after a few minutes that I realized I had unconsciously started picking at chipped nail polish from last month’s manicure. At 10:50, the train rolled through. I huddled among the horde of people trying to get in. All the seats were already occupied, so I grabbed onto a hook to stand throughout the ride. I felt someone looking at me through my peripheral vision. I turned my head to see an elderly Asian woman, who smiled when I met her gaze.

“You remind me of my daughter when she was young,” she said in what I assumed to be an explanation for staring. She had a thick Filipino accent.

“Oh,” I let out with a forced smile and a little laugh.

“She’s in the hospital right now. It’s been fourteen years since she went into a comatose.”

My smile dropped and my eyes widened. “Oh.. I’m so sorry.”

She shook her head and said, “No, these things happen. She tried to kill herself after my husband died.”

It was almost shocking how matter-of-fact she was saying this. She’s probably had to tell this story hundreds of times by now.

“She is light skinned and has small eyes like you. Her father was American. You’re a mestiza?”

I nodded, “Yes, po.

“Ahh, ok. What is your name?” she asked, sitting in her seat with an umbrella in front of her.

“Madeline, po.”

She looked me straight in the eyes as she said, “Well, Madeline, you almost died too, didn’t you?”

I blinked, taken back. “I’m sorry?”

Her gaze remained unwavered. “You tried to kill yourself and now you’ve been sleeping for so long.”

“I- … What? I never ...” I tried to reason with this woman, who I now assumed to be mentally unstable, but my disbelief in what she had just said almost rendered me speechless.

“You were close to succeeding, but you only managed to kill yourself on the inside. Look at you. Mamatay na ang diwa mo.”
Everything went dark as the sound of screeching metal wheels was all I heard. The train violently shook, making me lose my grip on the handrail and drop to the ground. Covering my head with my arms and almost going into a fetal position, I could feel my heart beating in my chest. The subway’s convulsing went on for what felt like a few minutes. If this was an earthquake, there was no way in hell I was getting up. Finally, the ground settled down. It was still pitch black. I blindly felt around for something to help me stand back up. After several grasps in the dark, I felt a plastic chair and used it to hold my weight while I slowly stood on my feet. It was then that I noticed I had started breathing heavily. Waiting until the hyperventilating subsided, I sat on the nearby chair and jumped when the lights turned back on. I was alone.

Everyone else on the subway had disappeared. There was no sign of any crash that had just happened. I frantically looked all around. Nothing. No one. Maybe everyone managed to evacuate besides me? If that was the case, I would’ve heard something or get trampled on, since I fell. I got up to go look into the neighboring car doors, trying to ignore my shaking legs. The lights were on in the cars from each side, yet it was as empty as the one I was in. Grabbing my phone from my jacket pocket, I tried calling 911. Almost as soon as I put the phone to my ear did I hear the beeping that means a line is either busy or disconnected. I waited for at least five minutes before hanging up. Weird. The phone lines might be blocked in this area. How bad was this crash? Helpless, I took a seat and waited for some form of help to arrive. After what felt like hours, my head lolled back against the wall behind me from frustration and boredom.

I decided to attempt to put matters into my own hands by trying to open the sliding doors I came through in the first place. There was a thin handle at the end of the door. I grabbed it with both hands and pulled to see if it would budge. I cursed when it didn’t. Steadying my stance to try and pull with my legs, I tried again, this time giving it all my effort. It moved about half an inch. It took a while to open the entire thing, but once there was enough room for me to squeeze myself out, I grabbed my purse I left on one of the seats and stepped into the dimly lit subway. Luckily enough, there was a side of the tunnel that was wide enough to walk through and led back to the station. I walked for what must have been one and a half or two miles and used my phone as a flashlight. Seeing the lights of the station made me breath a sigh of relief. As I approached the area, I expected to see a maintenance crew or the other passengers who evacuated. What I saw was an empty subway station. I tried making my to the streets, feeling the same eeriness I felt on the train. There must have been people outside. There must have. Maybe the subway was closed off due to the crash.

I exited the subway through the stairs going up to ground level and gasped when I got to the top. The streets were empty. I looked all around and even walked a few blocks, and there was nothing and no one. What the hell happened? Was the whole city evacuated because of the crash, or was it something else? Was there a fucking explosion that I missed? After about an hour of walking around trying to find someone, it was to no avail. I spotted a nearby park and took a seat on a bench. I grabbed my phone from my purse and checked the time. It was 11:49 a.m., which seemed off. 10:50 is when I got on the subway and it must have been hours since the crash, or earthquake, or whatever the hell that was. Something wasn’t right.

Tightly gripping the phone, I couldn’t contain my frustration over this confusion. “Son of a BITCH!” I yelled, chucking the device at a tree opposite from me.

I seethed over this episode of the Twilight Zone for a moment then got up to retrieve the phone. There was dirt on it. When I was in the process of dusting it off, I noticed that I had accidentally opened up the camera app and pressed a button or two when I threw it. A captured picture stood frozen on the screen. The top right portion of the photo taken was covered by my thumb, but you could see something else that didn’t match the green, grey and brown colors of the park. It looked like denim blue? There was also a stark white blob next to it. I squinted then covered my mouth with my hand and gasped deeply when I realized what they were. Taken at an awkward angle from my spot at the bench, the picture contained a partial profile of a person walking a cement pathway. You could see their part of their face, and a portion of a white T-shirt and denim jeans. No way. That’s impossible.

I raised the phone up to eye level and pointed it at the area where I knew there to be the most activity in the park. As the camera went off, there on the screen were two teenagers playing a game of frisbee, an older man sitting against a tree and playing the guitar, and a family sitting down at a picnic table.

______________________________________________________________________________

The wall of photographs was full of random people I didn’t even know. A mother picking up a discarded sippy cup while her baby was in a stroller. A guy with blonde dreadlocks taking a drag off a cigarette. Two businessmen sitting down for dinner in an expensive restaurant. I took the polaroids off the wall and piled them into a wastebasket. I lit a match and let them burn. The flames consumed the memories in what felt like no time. Tossing the ashes in the corner, a sizable amount of ashes had accumulated over the past few weeks. Or months. I don’t know, I’m not sure. The time hasn’t changed since then. It was just stuck at 11:49 a.m. It’s been daylight for all this time and I haven’t slept, but I’m not tired. I took the camera outside and started photographing anything and everywhere. There was no one around. I took my phone and put it on video while I was walking, stopping to take a picture in places I thought something was happening every once in awhile. Shuffling through the pile, people had only shown up through the photographs. After the fifth or sixth picture I stopped and froze. It was just a regular scene of pedestrians, but across the street, there was someone looking right at me. There was no mistaking it. It was him.

Sprinting to the place in the city I had taken the picture, I bit my lip and didn’t care that my hair was whipping all over the place. No one would see it, anyways. I’ve tried drawing messages. I’ve tried moving objects around. Hell, I even tried interacting with a space I knew there to be someone in. I kicked and screamed, no one could hear me. He was there though, and he saw me. There was no plausible explanation to how he was there. I still remember that day in 2010.

I approached the podium in the quiet, sullen room and said that this was something that I had just made.

“October 27th, 11:49 a.m. When I was around five years old, you dropped me off at aunt Jane’s house. I think I clinged to your leg because I didn’t want you to leave me. Eleven years and three back surgeries later, I can’t do that anymore. I can’t cling to you in hopes that you won’t leave me. You were hurting too much and I can’t be so selfish when all you’ve been is selfless. John Green once said that if something hurts, it mattered. You matter to me, and you always will. I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through all types of pain. Thank you for agreeing to marry this pharmacy technician after only a week of knowing her. I’m sorry your daughter couldn’t express how much she loves you. I could stay here all day and tell you I’m sorry or give thanks but it wouldn’t change the fact that you’re gone. I feel like I’m being cut open and the only person who can sew me back together is on a permanent vacation.” My voice cracked as I continued.

“Even now, the memories of you are ingrained in my head and won’t leave. They are filled with gold. I need to find a needle and thread, and quilt them together. They are broken and beautiful- sorry,” I misread the text from my phone. “They are broken and fragmented, but they are beautiful.”
“Do you remember getting banana bread in a Hayward park? Do you remember The Doobie Brothers and Neil Diamond in the car? Do you remember stepping on each others shadows as a game? Do you remember getting a newspaper, reading current events, and commenting on the intelligence of politicians? Do you remember …” Tears were rolling down my face. “... how my first word was your name?”

“October 27th, 11:49 a.m. I love you, I loved you, and I will love you for the rest of my life.
From Madeline Bautista Heinrich: Daughter of the most caring father, the most supportive husband, and the most capable pharmacist.”

I slowed my pace until I was no longer running, then no longer walking and stood still. 11:49 a.m. … Eleven forty-nine a.m.! That’s what the time was stuck as. It’s also my dad’s time of death. Is this some kind of sick joke? Why in the hell would anyone trap me in some hollowed out place at this time of day? I don’t know if I’m dreaming, because it feels like it’s been so long. I can’t be in hell, because I’m not in high school. What IS this? Why am I here?
I dropped to my knees and grabbed my hair with both hands tight enough to be painful, only it wasn’t. “WHY?” I bellowed at the top of my lungs. “YOU SHOULD HAVE JUST TAKEN ME.” I didn’t know who I was screaming at. God, the universe, fate. Whatever metaphysical force in the sky did this, they put me at wits end.

“Maddie.”

My head snapped behind me and I turned around, still on the cement. No, no, no. It wasn’t possible. This was definitely a dream.

With eyes as wide as the moon and mouth agape, I looked at a 6’4 man with a blue, collared long-sleeved dress shirt, a patterned tie, and beige slacks with big black shoes, since his feet were size 12. He had a tall nose, brown eyes and thinning brown hair that was combed over to his left.  On his shirt there was Rite-Aid nametag that read “WILLIAM”.

“Dad?”

This was the father in my memories, my favorite image of him that was common during childhood.
“Get up off the floor, Maddie”

Hearing that made me flinch. No one’s called me that for four years, not even my family.

“Come on, up and at'em.” His tone was playful but his face displayed concern.  

Slowly pushing myself off the ground, my expression must have looked like I saw a goddamn ghost. Technically, I was seeing one. This person I was seeing was a shining contrast to how frail and thin he was during his final days. He walked towards me to hold me in his arms. After all this time in this place I couldn’t use three of the five senses, but I felt the strong embrace and smelled Aramis cologne. I burst out sobbing.

He rubbed my back until the crying stopped. I looked up at him, sniffling.

“How’ve you been, sweetie? Your mother misses you, you know. You should start answering her calls.”

“I’ve ... ” How do I sum up six years of emotional purging? “I’ve been surviving. Get back? Get back from what? Where am I, papa?”
“Let’s just say you’re in a place you’ve been in for a long time.”
“What?”

“You’ve been holed up here for a while now, so I just want to talk.”

“Where is here?!”

He chuckled. “You’re in your head, doofus!”

Unable to respond, he continued while I was dumbfounded. “I know you’ve been surviving, Maddie. You need to know that you don’t deserve to be this numb.”

“What? What does it matter how I’ve been?” My voice was louder and frantic. I was going to drop an F-bomb, but I remembered that I can’t curse around my parents. “Yeah, I’ve been miserable! And I lie all the time about how I am! I lie to everyone in my life! I even lie to myself!” I pathetically started shaking from frustration. “I can’t remember the last time I did anything sincerely! But who cares? I’m just some bitch who forgot how to be a person.” Oops, that slipped out.  

He pulled out a polaroid photo from his dress pocket that looked identical to the film sheets I’ve been using. Shaking the picture until there was color, he showed me an image of myself at twelve years old. I had a big grin on my face, posing with a peace sign with a tree behind me. “What happened to this girl? She was so full of life.”
“She grew up. She realized she was freaking crazy.”

“But I love her. I love her very much.” Oh God, here comes the tears again. He tussled the top of my head as he said, “You need to let her out.”

“I can’t do that. There’s no place in the world for a psychotic idiot. I was so naive that I ended up getting hurt again and again and again. I can’t deal with all the mistakes I made.” I shook my head. “The sadness was too much to handle. After I took all those pills and failed, I was so tired of hurting. I shut down and went on autopilot.”

“Honey, sadness is inevitable. Unfortunately, it’s part of genuinely experiencing life. Don’t you remember? You kissed your grandmother hello. You cried over boys. You got real angry over fights with your friends. And when you laughed, your eyes looked like they disappeared because of how hard you smiled. It’s not supposed to be easy, but you need to try. Feel again. Smile for real again. Love again.”

Everything started turning into a deeper orange and yellow gradient color. The surroundings soon became so bright that I had to squint to see my dad.

“My time’s up. You take care, Maddie. I love you.”

“Don’t go, please don’t go!”

I reached out to grab his hand but he was gone as the color scale of the world instantly went back to normal.

Walking back to the apartment, I didn’t bother to take any pictures. As I fell back against the bed, I was looking at the ceiling and gritting my teeth. Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Is it really worth it to be alive on the inside?

I went to my desk, picked up the latest photos and shuffled through a food vendor handing a corn dog to a guy with glasses, two people laughing while linking arms and the streetview that no longer showed Mr. Heinrich. I ripped them all and kicked the trash can full of ashes, making gray soot-like material form a cloud. Picking up the desk chair, I swung it through a nearby window, making it shatter with a piercing screech. Some shards of glass cut into my thigh and grazed my face. It stung, but I didn’t care. I grabbed a tall lamp and smashed the top of it on the floor multiple times. Moving into the tiny kitchen, I got kerosene in the shelf under the sink and doused it anywhere and everywhere I could. I approached the full length mirror in my room, looked her straight in the eyes, lit a match and dropped it. Fire consumed the apartment in less than five seconds.

“Burn in hell!” I screamed at the pretender.
______________________________________________________________________________

The rumble of the subway moving was the first thing I heard when I opened my eyes. I was standing while hanging on to a hook. Looking down at my leg, there was no glass in it. My head jerked left and right. I tried my best to mask my alarm. Although I didn’t have much space to move, an immense rush of relief went through me. All around me was people. The elderly woman who stared at me was missing from her seat. It was occupied by a random passenger. On the clock on my phone, it was 11:50 a.m. Oh wait, that’s right, I had work. A few minutes after silently thanking God all that was over, my phone buzzed. It was my mom. I accepted the call and put the receiver to my ear.

“Madeline?”

“Hi, ma.”

“How have you been?”

“Um ... fine. Actually, no. I haven’t been. I just got over kind of a series of bad days, or something.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that sweetie.”

“Ma?”

“Yes?”

“I miss you too.”

A long pause ensued before she said, “Where is this coming from? Of course I miss you and your brother, Madeline.”

“Do you think you can call me Maddie?”

“Ay jusko po! Why? You said you hated that.”

I smiled “It’s fine.”

______________________________________________________________________________


© Copyright 2017 A. B. Schuler. All rights reserved.

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