So, I’m not ready to share anything I’ve written in the last couple of days — it’s just not up to par, not right, not quite right yet. It’s a bit like picking up an instrument after not having played for years. You know the chord formations, the notes, but making your fingers press the strings is not only painful, but awkward and uncomfortable. I had no real problems introducing a new character, because through her, I was able to reacquaint myself with the story, but with no preconceived notions. Jessica, on the other hand, is posing me some problems. I know, for instance, how things turn out for her — so it’s hard to start from where she ended at the end of Singularity — triumphant and transformed. That should be a glorious moment for her, but I’m having a hard time capturing that, considering what I know of her future.
Anyway, here’s a snippet of a chapter where Helena is really starting to lose it. The postcards keep coming, and nothing is going right for her.
Do you dress your eyes in tears, thinking it fashionable, dear Helena?
Methinks you spend too much time with that insufferable worm of a prince.
Me, I find nothing stale, flat, or unprofitable about this world.
Man delights me greatly – and maybe woman, too – who knows what the day may hold?
I just wanted to remind you that while Fortinbras might not be coming,
I most assuredly am. I wonder, will I find you mad, and dying from some
self-inflicted poison? I certainly hope not. Your destruction is my birthright.
Sometimes, late at night, I touch myself and think of what will happen when at long last we are face-to-face.
I shiver. I shudder. I wait.
Love & Kisses, Jessica
Penny came down the stairs to find me crying as I sorted the mail. Dressed all in black, like she was either going to a funeral or some sort of Goth revival, she looked like an extra in my own private melodrama – the mourner. All she needed was a black lace veil to complete the outfit – something, I’m sure, she had tucked away in her closet should I actually make the request.
“Coffee?” she asked, tip-toeing around my tears, which had become my normal state as of late. Every time one of the postcards arrived, I fell apart all over again.
“We’re out,” I managed. I hadn’t left the house in days, despite the fact that we needed groceries, we had bills to pay, and I hadn’t seen anyone besides Penny in… How long had it been?
Penny sighed. She did a lot of sighing around me now. She’d urged me to go to my doctor, and I’d promised I would, but the last time I’d gone on medication, I’d disappeared beneath a haze of numbness. I didn’t recognize the person I’d become, and to be completely honest, I didn’t like that stranger I saw in the mirror each morning. She was dull and lifeless and uninteresting, with no sense of humour; no passion for anything, be it music, art, or love. It was true that I fell apart a little bit when my sister, Penny’s mother, died, but that was more than five years’ past now. Ancient history, and even though looking into my niece’s face was like turning back the clock and seeing my own sister’s face staring back at me, that was not what was troubling me now, was it?
“I’m going to go out, then,” Penny said. “I’ll go to My Dog Joe’s and grab us a couple of Hello Dollies and some fresh beans. Whaddaya say? Wanna come with?”
I shook my head, and Penny sighed again.
“It’s a beautiful day, Helena,” Penny said. “You need some sunshine. You’re beginning to look paler than me.”
I forced a smile, and wiped my eyes.
“I’m a frightful mess, darling,” I replied.
“Don’t darling me,” she said, annoyed. “Did you get another postcard?”
“No,” I lied, hiding the most recent impossible postcard under a pile of junk mail and bills. “Just past due notices, some guys are coming to break my legs, that sort of thing.”
Penny didn’t laugh. It wasn’t funny anymore.
“Are you going to work today?” she asked.
I froze. My heart started pounding in my chest, and my breath seemed to disappear. I could feel my lips trembling as I tried to speak. I stared at Penny, eyes welling up with fresh tears, as my mouth opened and closed around words that would not come; thoughts and fears that could not be expressed. One day off had led to another, and another, until I’d finally called in and taken the whole week off. Now, somehow, Monday had come around again, and I was no more prepared to face the world than I was the previous week.
Another sigh from Penny.
“You’re going to lose your job, Helena.”
I tried to protest, but I knew she was right. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d lost a job, though I was always surprised, somehow, when it happened. I had been doing so well this time. I’d been with my current employer since right before Cheryl and Ted had their accident; right before Penny had come to live with me. They were understanding then, and maybe they’d be understanding now. Maybe Penny was right, and I needed to go back on medication, even if being on medication made me feel like I was experiencing life from deep underwater, or from outer space or something. Everything dull; everything muted. Everything beautiful, and nothing hurting. My memories from that time are like a collection of faded photographs – or postcards.
“I won’t,” I managed – a whisper at first, and then, after clearing my throat: “it’ll be okay – I promise.”
“Whatever,” Penny said, and without a good-bye, stormed out the door.
Do you dress your eyes in tears, thinking it fashionable, dear Helena?
It wasn’t a question; I knew that. It was an accusation, an indictment. Had I played the typical melancholic, romanticizing death and decay like a teenager who just discovered the Gothic aesthetic, blaring Bauhaus records like it was choirs of angels and painting her eyes as black as Siouxsie Sioux’s? Had that same sad, uncertain girl grown into a woman that could no longer hide behind dark eye make-up and yet bore the same scars? Had I dabbled with the notion of madness so long that somewhere along the way, without my even knowing, I’d crossed the line? Could I find my way back, or was I too far gone?
The phone rang, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Penny said the night before (or was it the night before that, or the night before that, or three weeks ago – one day blurred into another) that talking to me was like trying to navigate a mine field; that I was one great big raw nerve.
“Hello?” I asked, after letting the phone ring several times. The only reason I answered at all was to stop the noise.
“Hello, is this Ms. Hann?” an unknown voice asked. It was no one I knew. I immediately regretted answering. My lips glued themselves together, and I swooned. Answering the phone had become an insurmountable task, akin to walking naked in the snow. I shivered inexplicably. This shouldn’t be such a big deal.
“I’m sorry, you’ve got the wrong number,” I muttered, and started to hang up.
“I’m looking for a Helena Hann-Basquiat,” the voice said, pronouncing the last bit as Bask-wait.
“Bas-key-ought,” some tiny remaining bit of me, too proud to let some stranger butcher my name, said, almost against my will. I thought of telling it to shut up, but I’ve heard that talking to the voices in your head is a sure sign that you’ve crossed that crucial line between being able to enjoy a greyhound or two with your favourite niece and visiting that same niece from behind a glass wall, and perhaps inquiring of her as to what Multiple Miggs in the next cell had hissed at her. Or some other scenario involving plastic utensils and coats with really long arms. Not that I lean toward cannibalism, and in fact, despise fava beans, and when it comes to wine, I prefer something Californian and expensive, not Chianti.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Hann-Basquiat,” he replied. He sounded like he was sitting in a tin can, and part of me hoped that he was.
“Oh, I’m not Ms. Hann-Basquiat,” I lied. “I was merely pointing out that you were pronouncing it wrong.”
“Would you know when I could reach her?”
“I told you that you had the wrong number,” I tried again. I could just hang up, couldn’t I? Would he just keep calling?
“This is a very important business matter. Could you have Ms. Hann-Basquiat call us at…”
“What is this all about?”
“I’m afraid this is a personal business matter for Ms. Hann-Basquiat. You can give her this reference number…”
“What is it? I don’t have student loans, and I know I’m behind on my phone bill but it’s not disconnected – not yet, anyway.”
I did have old debits. I burned through three credit cards one summer a lifetime ago, running away to Venezuela to escape a bad situation. I’d run myself into the ground, fully intending to follow that path of self-destruction to its inevitable end. When you’ve made that kind of decision, leaving Visa with the bill for your suicidal spree is not only the last thing on your mind, it’s kind of an emotional middle finger to the faceless corporate monster.
“…again, that reference number is…”
“Hey! I’m talking to you!” I said. “Where are you calling from? You obviously want money – how much do I owe, and to whom?”
“Is this Helena Hann-Basquiat?” he asked, and I pictured him, a rat in a tin cage (more likely in a row of cubicles each staffed by other rats) and for a moment, I pitied him. But only for a moment. Debt collectors are the most vile, loathsome people on the planet, and it is a job suited only for the dull, lifeless, and sadistic. It is a job that will peck away at your heart like a crow trying to crack a seed, and when it succeeds, devours you, until you are nothing but a hollowed-out shell of a person, ready to be filled up with your employer’s soulless raison d’être – a manifesto of bone-picking and blood-letting. Vampires and ghouls, the lot of them. In another lifetime, in another place, I prostituted myself out to one such company, lured by $3 over minimum wage in a time when I was young and hungry. I make no apologies – I have done worse, and for less. But I couldn’t tap into whatever cold and merciless reserve of capitalist avarice was required to properly execute the tasks they set before me, and so I moved on.
“Do you hate yourself?” I asked.
“Excuse me?” the rat on the other side of the phone asked.
“I mean, is it about paying the bills, or are you punishing yourself for something? God knows I’m self-destructive and self-depreciating, but are you such a masochist that you voluntarily work in collections? Do you get up each morning and look at yourself in the mirror and think of whatever it is that you hate about yourself, and then go pick up the phone and call people like me? How do you sleep at night?”
“I sleep just fine, Ms. Hann-Basquiat,” he said, calling me Bask-wait again. “I’m not the one who skipped out on nearly thirty thousand dollars.”
Fucking hell interest is a killer!
“It’s Bas-key-ought, you little prick,” I said, “and I’m not the one with predatory lending practices.”
I really feel like I took the high road on that one.
“It’s your signature on the contracts, Ms. Hann-Basquiat,” he said.
“Call me Bask-wait again, I fucking dare you,” I said.
“There’s no need for profanity, Ms. Bask-wait,” he said, and I threw the phone across the room, where it smashed against the window, breaking into pieces. It was a cheap, cordless phone that I’d picked up at some discount store, and I started laughing at first, thinking that it was good that it wasn’t that old rotary phone that Cheryl had insisted on keeping until it just didn’t work anymore, or it would have smashed right through the window and killed some clueless, innocent passerby. That thing must have weighed ten pounds. Cheryl said she kept it as much for self-defense as she did for its intended use. My sister, who never missed a credit card payment, married the perfect guy, had a great house and a great job, and would never begrudge her little sister for being a screw-up. Cheryl should have lived forever, and I should have died many times over by now, and yet here I am, and Cheryl’s body lies a-rotting in the cold, cold ground; a-rotting in the cold, cold ground, sweet Jesus, a-rotting in the cold, cold ground. My laughter devolved into sobbing, and I collapsed on the floor, which is where Penny found me when she returned with coffee and Hello Dollies. And another postcard.