It took almost twenty minutes for Elizabeth to begin explaining her mysteries to me, and I found she was distracted frustratingly easily- like the wounds on her arms that had just 'always been
there' weren't a big deal when of course, I was in quiet-frenzy-mode. I almost had to annoy some form of explanation out of her, my first fear being that her father had been hitting her on the
side, but she told me that if he had been hitting her, she would have hit him back a long time ago. I didn't doubt it.
It was odd to see her flawed on such a rare level, even for the boy who had known her all her life. In the crucial seven years of her absence I felt like I had missed so much.
I decided eventually that the easiest solution to quell her chitter chattering was to fight fire with fire and chitter chatter back until she was too tired and redirected back to the subject at
hand. The funny thing was that she had invited me to 'change my life' and whatever, she had grilled me with questions in order to complete this change and she had been the one to encourage the
whole concept to begin with. Perhaps the more enthusiastic level of company than the norm had frightened her off as she seemed ardently off topic and shy for such a general protagonist.
"Would you like more tea?" she said with a bright smile, apparently oblivious to the fact that I was growing rather bored.
"I've had three cups, thanks," I said bitterly, finally catching her hand. She froze, her eyes burning through my fingers like I had just jabbed with her a hot poker, "Elizabeth."
"Get off me," she said steadily, wriggling her hand a bit before finally transferring that fiery glare of hers to my own pebble grey eyes. She was acting as if I didn't remember her 'don't touch me
or I'll sue' warning, which of course I did, but if touching her was the only thing that would get her to listen, then so be it. She wasn't going to push me around.
"Then speak to me," I said, "This was your doing, after all."
"Get off me."
"Get off me."
"Get your grabbers away!" she shrieked, pushing me in the chest with her free hand. I fell back a little but clung tight, my eyes deadset. I watched her fret and whimper, feeling suddenly very
powerful and very mean. I didn't like it.
"Just speak to me and I'll stop it."
She sniffed and moaned a little more before finally nodding, and I let go of her hand.
"Sorry," I said after a while.
"S'okay," she said in return, running her supposedly infected hand through the other one nervously, "Everything just gets on top of me sometimes."
"I can imagine."
"No, you can't," she said a little helplessly, "I'm scared a lot of the time, Oliver. People think I'm lonely but if they saw out my eyes for a second they'd realise that I'm never alone. When
people touch me.. it's hard to establish who's doing the touching."
"I'm sorry," I said again, "You just seemed so excited.. I was wondering what made you all shy."
"Reality," she said gently, "Slowly, then all at once."
After another three long seconds she spoke again, picking up the scrapbook she had shown me earlier. She flipped to the page that said Mother. "She's the second mystery. The biggest one. I think
people assume that you have to order your thoughts into size or importance but that understates everything, don't you think? You don't need to say something last for it to be any degree smaller or
bigger than it was before."
She was chitter chattering again, but pressed on.
"I've never known my mother. I don't even have a photo of her. This drawing is just how I imagine she'd look."
"Where is she?" I said.
"Don't know," she shrugged sadly, "Dad won't talk about her but he says that if I still feel bitter about everything in ten years time then I can go searching. He said that when I was six."
"Like Kill Bill."
"The start of Kill Bill," I smiled widely, hoping to make her smile in return. "Beatrix says it to Copperhead's daughter after she kills her."
She didn't smile, but her mouth twitched at the side a bit like she was going to smile. "Oh. Yeah. Perhaps my mother is a super bad ass ninja fighter."
"Or perhaps she actually is Vernita Green."
"Perhaps." Her mouth broke into something-of-a-smile.
"The real mystery," she continued after a more comfortable silence, "Is why I'm here. Only my mother has the answers for that, whether she's dead or not. After all, she birthed me."
"Why can't you just ask your Dad?"
"He doesn't say much most of the time. I'd rather meet her. I feel like I won't be right until I meet her or at least find out about the childhood that never existed."
"You had a childhood, Elizabeth," I tried to reassure her.
She shook her head, as if she had all this knowledge that I was missing. "From the age of four I had a childhood. Before that, nothing. I remember moving into town with Dad and that's it. Right now
I'm a dead person, except the thing is I'm not very good at being a dead person. I'm just kind of existing."
"You don't need your mother for that."
"Yes I do," she said, "I do need a mother. Because I need somebody to look after me."
I almost told her that I'd look after her, but then didn't.
"The final but not-any-more-important-because-it's-last-on-the-list mystery is something you already know, Oliver."
"I know a lot of things," I deadpanned.
"I'm going to call the school shoutout the DOD from now on, just so you know. I don't like calling it the school shootout because it reminds me of what they said in the papers. Plus DOD is a fun
"What does it stand for?"
"Day of the dead," she said sleekly with a small shrug, and I coughed a little in response.
"No," she said, missing the sarcasm and frowning, "Saying day of the dead is just as sad as saying the school shootout. But saying DOD is fun."
"Okay," I blinked, giving her room to continue.
"On the DOD-" she stopped to giggle, "On the DOD I told you that I cheated death. Do you remember?"
"I do remember. You said.. you said Jane told you that."
"I did. And she did."
"Elizabeth.." I began, not wanting to dismiss her schizophrenic tendencies but still wanting to keep her head straight, "She's an image. They're all images."
Unusually, she didn't seem offended. She seemed relieved at the reminder. "You can't say that what happened doesn't mean anything. He was looking for me. I was meant to die that day. You saved me
but I was meant to die."
"Elizabeth," I said again, "Somethings just happen. Sometimes we don't know why. But you're alive, and you're here, and Nathan Russo is dead. He isn't coming back."
"I need my mother."
She stopped and winced a little, folding her arms and sulking into her shirt. Instead of touching her, this time, I placed my hand close to hers so I could just feel the warmth of her body- she
sniffed, lifting her finger and gently grazing my skin.
"My friends tell me a lot of things," she said quietly, an element of sadness on her tongue, "Sometimes I feel they know me better than I know myself. I'll wake up some mornings and just feel more
knowledgeable than I did the night before. Jane told me I would cheat death, and I did. I knew that it was going to happen."
"If that were true.." I began carefully, "Then what would it matter to anything? My point stands. He's dead. Nobody's going to hurt you. I.. I won't let that happen."
"See, that's where you're wrong. My friends have been telling me for weeks that something bad is on the horizon and it would be foolish to ignore that feeling of urgency."
"So what do you propose in terms of changing my life?"
"I propose that we kill two birds with one stone," she said. "That we solve my mysteries as well as solving yours. I'm giving your life a purpose, Oliver."
"Hey," I rebuked her, feeling a little defensive, "I don't need you to give me my purpose. So stop acting all high and mighty."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. I'm just saying, it's a pretty big adventure and I'd imagine the journey would give you quite a sense of satisfaction with your own being. That's what you
want, isn't it?" she lilted. I hated how well she knew me. "The best kind of satisfaction comes from helping another."
"..Right. But the questions?"
I gestured to the sheet of paper.
"Oh. Questions," she smiled, tearing her eyes away for a moment to remind herself of our previous conversation, "It wasn't much of a test, really, at least there was no straight way to win. I just
had to make sure that you'd be ready for such a responsibility."
"Hold up," I said, "I haven't even said yes to this whole life changing scheme yet. You're grilling me to find out if I'm ready for an adventure, you say, that's helping you out."
She thought for a moment. "Yes."
"And what do I get out of this, besides an ASBO for stealing and distance from my ever pushy parents?"
"You get your life back," she smiled broadly, "And we get to be friends again. It's the perfect plan."
"Uh, not really. I don't even fully understand what you're asking me to do here," I replied.
"I'm asking you to come on an adventure with me. To leave this place and find out everything that needs finding out in the world. It's a lot to ask, I know, but there are things that can't be
explained that should be explained, and I'm here to do that. You're the one who'll help me."
She bopped her shoulders, "Yeah."
We sat together for a little while, the quiet finally shattered after Elizabeth reached up onto her desk without actually getting up and retrieved the music box. She wound it up and allowed it to
play out, the lilting notes of Carrie flooding the room.
"There's a quote I like," she said softly, her voice hardly taking power over the pins of the music box, "Realists need idealists to get their feet off the ground, but idealists need realists to
stop them flying too close to the sun. Not the exact words, as I'm aware, but close to them. I feel in this world we need each other, Oliver, and it's seven years too late to make up for what we
ruined. I miss having you around."
"I miss you too," was all I could say. It sounded lamer out loud, dwarfed by her fancy knowledge of quotes and philosophy. She went on to ask me how much I'd miss my parents, and I said quite a
bit. She asked me how mad I thought she was, and I said very, but that I hadn't completely dismissed her offer quite yet. It felt ludicrous to be even considering such a childish fantasy.
I was actually considering it. Was that really how much I despised my own life?
I need some time to think, I heard myself saying, although secretly I had already decided. For the first time in too long, I felt excited and moreso, terrified.
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