The next morning, I sit curled in a comfy, cushiony chair on the veranda by the lake wrapped in his sweater. His smell no longer lingers. Like him, it’s long gone.
The sun shoots odd rainbow-like rays through the overcast sky. Deep lilac clouds, bloated and bruised like violets faded by the sun, flutter and push beyond. Waves chase the wind in ripples to the shore; the sound like an oscillating fan, only faster. Leaves prance in the trees. Early morning light warms as gusts of wind whips the American flag tethered to a pole on the dock.
I focus on the sound and the sun closing my eyes and see the tangled mess of metal that haunts me. I open them when Alison appears. Her average frame, still wrapped in a deep maroon terry cloth robe, blocks the sun as she stands over me handing me a hot mug of coffee. Cradling it in my hands, I take a deep breath of the intoxicating aroma. I fail to wait for it to cool before taking a sip ignoring the bite of heat. The dark cocoa flavor releases a flood of chemicals in my brain and I sigh—a long contented one that floats across the air to Ali before being snatched away by the wind. She smiles at me in my obvious caffeine elation. True coffee beans are a limited extravagance. Not for the wealthy though. For the wealthy, very little has changed.
“Where are the others?”
She shrugs. “Sleeping? Out?” She sips her coffee.
“Are they still discussing Gray’s plan?”
Alison’s eyes flash surprise and curiosity. “Since when are you ever interested in the West Foundation?”
I hesitate before replying: “I’m not.”
She knows I’m lying and squints in concern. A miniature smirk plays on her full copper rose lips as she looks back across the water.
“The solitary individual conceives / And to suffer in obscurity / is the pursuit of hope / The compulsions of the one / become the concerns of many / A drop of hope in a sea of doubt / If only passion prevails / must we find a way towards truth / compassion and empathy / guided by love, principles / and possibilities / Transformation flourishes / so misery becomes singular / The solitary individual conceives / and societies emerge.”
I blink. A mélange of sorrow, longing, and realisms—the perfect medley for abject idealism—slides slowly through prisms of hope down my face. I swipe it away annoyed that my body would betray me so. “That sounds like an ad for an Ayn Randian libertarian fuckboi.”
Ali chuckles. “Well, then I’d add something about weed and greed and then slip in some racist alt-right douchebaggery.”
Silence and I’m left contemplating the obvious.
“I miss him, Ali. It hurts to go forward alone, without him.”
She takes my hand braiding our fingers. The dark brown of her skin against my pasty pearl brackets our lives like parentheses and her smile warms me with compassion. “You are not alone, love. You will never be alone.”
The song of truths fade in my heart as I lounge in her hope. I embrace her words—doubt remains. Tears and smiles evaporate with the sun and wind for something thirsted for but rarely tasted. The distrust grows. I pull my hand away hugging myself. “We are all alone, Ali. That is a truth that many of us rarely face.”
She rolls her eyes dramatically. “You’re a faithless wench, Willa Avery.”
Oh, so it’s faith, is it? I smile, a dead dry one that fails to reach my eyes and heart. Much like Nik, Ali sees through my darkness with an assured light. “You love me still.”
“My burden, my hope,” she mumbles into her cup.
So, it is hope. Hope, faith—whatever—are long gone. “We should go see your dad while we’re here.”
“Pivot and deflect much? No.”
“Yes. You need to see him. When was the last time you…researched him? Especially now with everything that’s happening?” I use the term research because Ali says hackers don’t like to be called hackers. This is what she tells me. I have no reference otherwise.
She side-eyes me. “Not for several years. Like more than five. Around ten, I think. Before Obama.” She pauses. “Before Nik.” Another pause. “I’m not really interested in what my Papa’s doing. Not anymore. And everything that’s happening? It’s been always happening for people like me, Willa. Why don’t we go see your mom and fam?”
I ignore the latter and continue on my purpose. “Yes, you are interested.”
“I deal enough with those types. Every single day of my life, I have to deal with them. They’re exhausting. I’m exhausted. I don’t want to get it from my own blood. What about your mom?”
“He could’ve changed, ya know. With everything that’s going on, it’s gonna change people.”
“Coulda, woulda, shoulda and is that the subtext of hope I hear?” She squints eyeballing me. “About your mom—”
I grunt in disapproval cutting her off. “No.” Hell no. “There’s no hope in silence.” I mumble expecting that she gets the message on both subjects. My family is not up for discussion and never will be and she knows this. Unlike her fam, I’m finished with mine.
A cozy peace pushes through the veranda settling around us.
I remember at the beginning of the social media craze when someone would take flight on Facebook and spiel all of her secrets for anyone and everyone to see. There would be that uncomfortable feeling that started in the chest and moved throughout the body. The shame and unease—the enormous amounts of empathy and compassion for her and the guilt and voyeurism one felt in reading the product of an emotional break. That flame-red feeling that lit one’s face on fire and visceral ache of wanting to assist but not knowing how—besides the few futile words of comfort. Now when you see the bogus platitudes of happiness, we all know it’s forged, except for those chosen ones exalted by their bank accounts, their wealth, and status—their whiteness. It’s almost as if they revel in the deception of their so-called happiness. It makes me long for the authentically flawed and their neuroses of emotion.
What a time to be alive. What a world we live. What happened? Are those days gone and so easily forgotten?
“I’m going to the grocery store in a few, do you wanna come with?” I ask knowing her answer.
“No, I’m tired of being asked ‘where you from’ and ‘show me your papers’ around here. ‘I graduated from the high school down the road’ means nothing nowadays. Not that it ever really did.” She takes a sip. “Beware: Max is worried the local bigots will blacken our hearts and steal our souls.”
“I love a good challenge.”
She snorts. “You would. I would tell you to take security but they’ll be following regardless. Are you taking one of the many exorbitant waste on wheels?”
I grimace. “No. This white girl delights in mediocrity and obscurity.”
She smiles brightly.
“Oh, the contrary she speaks / There’s the spark of that which I seek / Her eyes glitter with the sun / and pools of hope / All for the challenge / of identity she invokes / She, the goddess / this misanthrope.”
I glare playfully at her and she giggles like a child, cupping the coffee, grinning in her maroon terry cloth robe.
I yell behind me as I go: “Did you wake and bake again, Ali?”
Her maniacal laughter is lost on the wind, confirming my suspicions.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins