The silken threads of a spider’s web is stronger than steel. I found it a little absurd at first. Then I read on and found that when steel is reduced to the size of a spider’s web-line, it cannot hold and breaks. So if the reverse could be done- making huge structures and stuff with the silky stuff, had been the supply abundant, it can be very well agreed upon that spider’s web would definitely be stronger than steel.
Fireflies lit up the entire garden. Over the small pond located on the southern side in the backyard, they collected in clusters. It was an enchanting sight, their shimmering grace exuding life into the dark, cold night-time garden. I sat by my favourite place under the young cherry tree in the garden which stands right opposite to the pond in the northern direction. Whenever my mind would get clogged up with more reality than I could handle, I always came here to find my peace. Sometimes, I would sit for so long that I would miss dinner. Nevertheless, that hardly mattered. I always thought home was a place where we can be ourselves, without being fearful of being judged. Perhaps that is not true, or maybe it is, the only difference being in the fact that my home followed different rules.
Today I simply cracked. That is all there is to say to it. Try as I might I could not change things at home. The patriarch worshipped alcohol more than his work; the matriarch carried more than she could. The kids? Oldest son ran away at fourteen. What more can a young, teenage boy do when he is filled with desolation and watches helplessly as his siblings get assaulted? It has been two years since the day Aaron took off.
Youngest child, Amelia a girl of ten, has more knowledge about growing up than half the kids in her class do. Her crash course of youth life began when her brother, who had run away, couldn’t escort her to school anymore. What do those wolves on her way to school know about the consequences of kids losing their innocence way too soon than nature intended to? Those dolts are just as hollow as their carnal cravings. I guess there is an upside to it. She’s become adept at comebacks that can make even the meanest, toughest, beefiest Minotaur cringe. Well, I sure do when we’re walking to school together.
Then there are the middle kids. The twins. Boy and girl. My sister Alexis an epitome of feminine virtues. She’s sensitive, sweet, caring, a dang good cook (but she’d chide me for my language here) and a blessed singer. Being a girl, my sister gets to show her pain as and when she can. She cries in the kitchen, at breakfast, on the bus stop, in the super-market, in class... almost anywhere when she needs to. I envy her at times.
You keep hearing about the all-too-famous “Boys don’t cry” crap. I find that total bullsh*t. I want to let it out too. But I can’t, and for the love of sanity, I don’t know why. So my solution to that is to take it out on cutting. Only my twin sister knows.
To everyone else, including my family, neighbours, and people at school, I’m the second male born who strong despite all the complications, and never breaks down. When will they start getting suspicious that layering a full-sleeved tee with a half-sleeved one EVERYDAY is not a part of my skater-boy image?
On the nights I cut, my sister somehow comes to know and she gets very disturbed. I can’t help it even if it crushes me to see her cry for me. Sometimes, in order to make sure that I don’t harm myself further, she sleeps with me. Damn you if your dirty thoughts got triggered; once she’s fast asleep I shift to the couch. Then I watch her till I fall asleep. Sometimes our youngest joins us- we make a huge bed on the floor and play card games till we decide to call it a night.
Mom works double-shifts almost every day and night. Dad is mostly out, working on vehicles or laying passed out somewhere in the garage. My twin and I work part-time to contribute to the expenses and somehow, we pull it off every month. Life is not sweet but it can be made drinkable.
The firefly garden is my secret base. Even I need my own space at times. I need to be alone in order to shut all that noise in my head. It’s an old garden behind an abandoned cottage. I reckon it’s up for sale but no one comes to see it so I could be wrong. I work on the garden sometimes and I’m currently growing flowers in a small corner. My mom loves flowers and I love the way her face lights up when I bring a bunch for her. I’m not sure what kind of flowers they are... I always say they are wild flowers and my twin always insists they are lilies. Oh well.
Flashes of last night play before my eyes. I close them to stop the images from playing. But they continue to play in my head. I lay down on the dewy grass to wrestle with my hyperactive mind as I try to take a nap. I’m hungry. Eff my stupid rumbling belly. I soon fall asleep whilst watching the light bugs make abstract albeit pretty formations over the pond and the long grasses surrounding it. I start dreaming moments after passing out.
I’m at home and I’m walking from one room to the next. The house is quiet as always but there is an eerie feeling to it that I can’t grasp. I move from one part to the house to another. The house is empty. I’m puzzled and bewildered at the emptiness. Then a shot of alarm hits me as my sisters come to mind. Adrenaline courses through my body as I rush to their rooms; I don’t feel my feet touching the floor as I make a mad dash to them. They are nowhere and I’m stumped.
I decide to check my room and before I know it, I’m outside my door. It’s slightly ajar. I can hear my pulse in my ears as I cautiously push the door. I’m confounded with this cold hand of fear that has a firm grip around my heart.
There is a trail of red liquid and I follow it carefully as tears brim up in my eyes, obscuring my vision... why does it feel like a familiar feeling? My vision doesn’t travel any further as one of their feet comes into my view. I try to dare myself to look more, forcing my eyes to move further above the limited field of sight as my tears fall freely. I already know what lay ahead. I fall to my knees in a crumpled heap. As I take a sideways glance at the figures lying before me, I find my spine freezing up in shock and disbelief. Alexis and Amelia...
My eyes shot open and I sat up, drenched in sweat and on the verge of hyper-ventilating. I look around and I’m still under the cherry tree. Bewildered by my terrifying dream, I get scared that it may come true.
Phone. My phone! I fish it out of my pocket and find it’s still comatose after I had switched it off when I ran out of my house to seek refuge in my secret base. I pressed the power button and felt my chest hurt when the welcome note came on.
My little sister Amelia had written and set “I luv u mah big bro Adrian” to come on every time I switched on my cell phone.
The wallpaper did the impossible. When I gazed into the smiling faces of Alexis and Amelia and mine sandwiched in between, I felt warm wetness going down my cheeks. I missed them.
But my mind was already made up. I had brought a brand new razor with me, and was going to end my life right there, in my secret base with the fireflies and wild flowers- that Alexis always insisted were lilies- watching me. I had written no last notes or left any clues and no one would think of looking for me here. I’d rather let my sisters think me as a runaway than know that I’m dead.
Dangling false optimism, you may say. But I know them and its better they think me to be alive somewhere hoping for my return, than break them as I have been, and follow my footsteps. I place the phone beside me and focus my attention to the ‘task at hand’. Holding the blade in my deft fingers, I take a deep breath and position my other hand. My mind is quiet, as if it finally tired out and gave up trying to wreck me further. It is dark with no lighting but the moonlight is enough to guide me. I graze it a bit. And a bit more. Then I steady myself for the final slash.
In the silence of the night, the insects murmured their music and owls hooted in the distance. This was suddenly interrupted by the shrill incoming text tone of my phone. I jumped a bit and cut my finger in which I held the blade. I cursed silently and tried to ignore it. But that was not to be.
One after another, at an interval of maybe two seconds, my phone shrieked with the incoming texts. I got mad and re-firming my grip on the blade, took the phone with my other hand. “What the hell... might as well open it...” I thought.
You have twenty-one new text messages.
I groaned ruefully. Alexis.
Just as I was going to press ‘read’ my phone started singing in Alexis’s voice. It was my favourite ringtone.
Dare I take the call?
I decide to. After all, she must be worrying her butt off.
Silence on the other end. I double check the caller ID. It’s Alexis all right.
“He- hello? Xissy?”
At first, there was a soft whimpering followed quickly by audible snuffling. Then some incoherent voices and the scuffing sound you hear when the phone changes hands. And before I know it, I’m receiving the scolding of my life.
“ADRIAN, YOU DUMBASS!! Where the hell are you?! Come home this instant!”
Oh, the melodious tone of Amelia...
“Why? Anything came up?” I ask nonchalantly.
There’s a shower of expletives and some of them are words i didn’t even know existed.
“You knucklehead! Do you have any idea how worried we were? Alexis has been crying her eyes out and Mom’s going bananas running from pillar to post looking for you!! Even Dad is tottering around own his wobbly feet searching for you... get your fat butt here... NOW!”
I try to picture all that. Guilt takes over and i stand up slowly. Ok, no dying today.
I toss away the blade. The curve of a smile slowly warns my frigid mouth of its increasing dominance over my grimace.
I grin by myself and even to the fireflies, i must have looked like a loon.
Silk. Fragile. But stronger.
The silken web is a home to some to living, breathing creature.
Dainty, shimmering, beautiful weaving... yet strong enough to hold the big anarchid that dangles onto it.
“And besides...” Amelia’s voice is soft now, “there’s a good chance of a family reunion.”
“Why is that?” I ask as i stride over to the wild flo- I mean, lilies.
I sense some hesitation, as the bleak possibility of the reason flits in my head.
“Amy? Is Aaron-...”
I don’t even get to finish the thought in my head when she bursts out, “Yeah, that moron came back. And when are you going to?!”
“What is so funny? Did your noggin get fried in the past twenty-four hours? WHERE. ARE. YOU.”
My web-line had saved me. I look at the half-dried cuts on my wrist.
She pauses for a second. Then accuses me of calling her ugly in some code-language... apparently spiders are not pretty for her... now that i think about it, the steel and silk story never made it to Amelia’s textbooks. It was removed along with our old syllabus.
“No, no... that was a compliment...”
“Hah! I don’t believe you!”
“Okay... fine with me...” I tease back.
I pluck a gorgeous bunch of lilies to take home to Mom. I tie them up with my bandana. Then I plug in my earphones and listen to Amelia’s sweet, pungent, colourful banter as I walk home. Family reunion.
I can live with that.
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