“Where are you going?”
I turn towards him. He is talking to me. I can see that. Can see his mouth moving and everything.
“Where am I going?”
He looks annoyed. Doesn’t he?
“Do you have a ticket?”
I nod. Hold it out towards him. It looks crumpled after having been in my pocket for too long. He takes it. Put some sort of stupid stamp on it. I’m okay. I’m allowed to be here. He gives me my ticket back. I try to smile. He doesn’t smile back.
There aren’t many people on the bus. Me and two others except for the driver. Just an old lady and some guy. The guy looks out of the window, seems like he is listening to music or something, keeps moving his head along with some invisible beat.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath as the bus starts to move again. This time it will be for real. I know that. I am actually going home. They’re expecting me. Really no turning back at this point.
The seat is covered in some kind of itchy fabric. I move my arm as my bare skin touches it. I don’t like this bus. What would she have done if she was on this bus, which seat would she have chosen? Would she have tried to talk to any of the others or would she just have sat here by herself staring out the window? I am not sure that I know. Not sure enough at least. It depends. I bite my lip. I don’t like that feeling, that I’m not sure. I used to be so sure about things like this.
I think she would have sat down not too far away from that guy. He has the kind of look that she likes. Maybe she would have turned and smiled at him. She could have done that. Her most charming smile. She always knew how to smile just the right way. Then of course she would just have waited until he would have made contact with her. Seems about right. I’m almost sure about that. She would have known how to get him interested.
I don’t know why I do it. My head has been strange these days. I admit that. This strange, slow feeling has gotten stuck in it. It really won’t let go, as if I sometimes think I’m watching myself from the outside. Observing myself. Thinking about what I will do next. Like I don’t know yet, like I’m just as much an outsider to what’s going on in my head as everyone else. An uncomfortable feeling.
I do it anyway, even if it does make me uncomfortable. Turn towards him. Just briefly. Smile. The right way, the way I know she would have smiled if it had been her on this bus. Then I just wait. Just like she would have done.
I know what mum will say when I come home, not to my face, but to everyone else. I can almost hear her. Can you believe that this is the first time Katie has been home for almost two years, she will shake her head when she says it, then she’ll sigh, turn towards one of my aunts and probably say: It is just so horrible that something like this had to happen to get her to come home. I know her. She will say all kinds of shit behind my back. Katie this, Katie that. She has never really loved me enough, not the way a mother should love her own daughter. Not like she loves Karen.
I can feel that stupid note in my pocket. Almost like it is burning in there. Piece of shit paper. I take it out again, even though I promised myself that I wouldn’t read it one more time. I know it by heart, no need to read it anymore.
I’m sorry for what I did.
I don’t think I can live with myself if you don’t forgive me.
“Is this seat taken?”
I look up, put the note back in my pocket. I knew that he would come. He is so her type, isn’t he? Blue eyes and those brown curls. Yeah, she would have loved him. Would have talked to him the whole bus ride. There is a motel at one of the bus stops. It would still be pretty far from home. I know her. She would have taken the chance, wouldn’t she? Gotten off there, he would have come with her, for sure. Who doesn’t like life to get a bit intense sometimes? People do like that, feel like they’re alive. Have an affair. Go all in. Live on that freaking edge. Sometimes even let yourself fall a little bit.
“Oh sorry,” I don’t even smile, “No, I need this seat for my backpack.”
“Katie,” I can see her hurry towards me as I come out of the bus. She looks older than she should be, as if these last few days have been like years on her face. Dug out those wrinkles with every horrible thought that have gone through her head.
“Mum,” I try to let her hug me. Try to not be too stiff.
She holds on to me for a couple of minutes. Feels awkward. Then she finally lets go. Just stand there staring at me without saying anything. She will start to cry any moment now. I know that. I just can’t take her crying now.
“How’s Tom?” I say instead.
“He tries to keep it together for the kids,” I can see that she struggles to get the words out, “but you know how he was with Karen.” She turns, start walking towards the car. Quickly, not looking at me as I try to keep up with her. “I’m not sure how he can go on without her,” she is crying now. Damn it. Doesn’t even try to wipe the tears away. “I’m not sure how I’ll manage myself sometimes,” she just shakes her head. Stops in front of the car. That old, red car that she seems to have had forever. Mum just can’t let go of things.
I get into the car. Watch mum fumble with her keys. Hands shaking. Maybe I should drive when she is like this, but she won’t let me. I have been away for too long, haven’t earned the right to help her yet. I know.
“You can just take me to Tom’s place,” I can barely hear my own words when I say it. She stops fumbling with the keys. Just looks at me.
“Do you think that’s a good idea?”
It feels hard to swallow. It does. I hate it when she cries, when she is this person that is so different from the person that she usually is.
“I just need to see him and the kids.”
She doesn’t say anything at first, just sit there looking at her hands as if she suddenly noticed that they are shaking.
“I know, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea for them to see you now so suddenly,” she mumbles. Are my own hands shaking? Just like mum’s? They are, aren’t they? I look down on them, almost as surprised as mum. Fuck. I need to keep it together.
“I just need to see them,” I try to keep my voice calm, “You know, see something of hers.” Mum sits there all quiet for what seems like forever, but probably isn’t. Feels like an hour, but I guess if I had counted it would be more like a minute. Until she seems to have made up her mind. Finally gets the keys in and starts the car. She is thinking of something. I know. Probably have too many things she wants to say to me. I’m just not sure I want to hear them.
“Sometimes I wonder how everything would have been if you hadn’t left,” she finally says. I know she does. I do too, but I don’t say anything. She is driving towards Tom’s house at least. Tom and Karen’s house, I guess. It used to be at least, or it still is, I’m not sure. It still feels like her house. I remember how much she loved that house. We always walked past it on our way to school, always fantasized about how it would be to live there. Fantasized about how happy we would be if we would get to live in such a beautiful house with such a beautiful garden. Have our own little family. We both thought about it. At least I think so. Sometimes when we were kids I weren’t sure where Karen ended and I started.
“I want you to say something in the funeral,” she isn’t looking at me. Of course I will. She knows that. “We waited for you, you know,” I can hear that she is struggling again. I’m not really sure that we should talk about this while she is driving, “They wanted to bury her before, but I said no.” Mum stops in front of their house. Tom’s house, or Tom and Karen’s house. I don’t even know anymore. Nothing feels right. “You might not have been as close these last years,” she hesitates, “but I remember how you were when you were kids.”
“I know, mum,” I try to give her hand a squeeze, but it doesn’t feel natural. Feels a bit forced, “I’m glad you waited,” I get out of the car. “I’ll come by soon, we can talk more then,” I say as I close the door. Don’t turn to see her drive away. She is still crying. I know.
The kids are in the garden. They look up. Holly is six and Brent just became three. I know I shouldn’t have come. Not like this. Not without talking to Tom first. Preparing him and the kids. I just had to see them. Holly looks just like Karen did when she was little. Right now it feels like they are my only connection to her. Like all could be lost at any moment, like there still is a line going between Karen and me, but any wrong words, any wrong movements could break it, and this time I wouldn’t know how to mend it.
“Mum,” I can hear them cry as they come running towards me. Holly throws herself against my feet and Brent is right behind her. She is holding on so tightly that it hurts. I can see Tom in the doorway looking towards me. Not saying anyhing for a moment, like he too would like to believe the same lie as they do, before he shakes his head and shouts, “No Holly, it is just auntie.”
I don’t sleep anymore. Not like I used to before. I just lie in bed. Look up into the ceiling and then it’s like I do something that reminds me of sleep, but that isn’t quite the same. Like I almost sleep. Float in and out of some strange state. I don’t like it anymore. Lying in a dark room like this. All alone. It is almost like I can hear her, see her, and if I close my eyes for too long I’m sure that she is there. Whispering into my ear. Just like she used to when we were kids
Run with me
I toss and turn in my bed. Try to force myself to think of something else, someone else, but it doesn’t really help.
Just run with me
When we were kids we had these games, that no one else understood. These things that were only ours.
“Are you there?” I look out into the dark room, almost like I really think she will be out there. “I’m sorry,” I whisper, and it is like I can hear her. Not in the room, but in my head. The same words over and over again.
Run with me
They found her in the forest. Our forest. The one we used to run in when we were kids. Sneak out in the middle of the night. Just the two of us.
Just run with me
She loved that forest. I did too. Mum probably knew what we used to do. She didn’t stop us. We would climb out of the window when we were supposed to be sleeping. Like an adventure.
When we were kids we used to do everything together. They said it was unhealthy. I remember. Too close even for twins. The child psychologist said something like that. These last few years we haven’t been close at all. Karen stayed at home, built a life for herself here, while Katie went out into the world. Healthy as shit.
Or It will be too late
Holly is standing next to my bed. Staring at me. It is so early I don’t even think the sun is up, but you really shouldn’t get kids if you don’t want to get up early.
“You’re sure, you’re not mum?” she whispers. I can see that she is biting her lip, soon she will start to cry. I know. Everyone is crying these days. This is a shit time for her. I get it. It’s a shit time for everyone.
I get up, try to move away from her, but she tugs at my nightgown with her little hand, “Are you sure?”
What would Karen have done? If she was here right now with Holly? What would she have said to make her life a little easier? I lean down. Look into that face that looks so much like Karen when she was five, so much like me, I guess. That same long, brown hair. Same big, blue eyes. She just lost another tooth.
“No, I’m not sure,” I almost can’t get the words out, “but it will have to be our little secret.” Her face lights up. Like if somebody just told her that everything will be okay, even if it won’t.
“You are,” she holds so hard onto my nightgown. “I knew you were mum.”
“But you can’t tell anyone,” I try to smile. “Not even Brent, can you promise me that?”
She nods. Has this huge smile on her face for just a moment. Takes a deep breath as if to brace herself. I can hear Tom calling for her from the first floor. She hurries out of the room.
I look for some clothes to go downstairs. Really no point in trying to sleep anymore. Better to just get up. Katie would wear t-shirts and jeans, but Karen would often wear skirts. Maybe a nice blouse. I hesitate for a moment, before I get the only skirt I have out of my backpack. Look at it, but I don’t put it on. It is a Katie skirt, a little shorter than Karen would have liked. I just take my old jeans and a t-shirt instead.
I can hear them talking as I come down the stairs. Brent sounds upset and Tom is trying to calm him down, not doing a very good job it seems. Tom is making pancakes. Brent doesn’t seem to want to eat. Holly is okay though. Turns towards me and smiles, while putting a large piece of pancake into her mouth. Brent is holding his arms out towards me. Crying over something. Maybe he just isn’t a pancake kid.
“Mummy,” he mumbles. Tom just looks at him, doesn’t say anything as I pick him up. Brush away his tears.
“You slept okay?” he says. He looks so tired. Like he hasn’t slept either. I shrug. Don’t really answer. Really no need to. “Pancake?” he asks but has already put one on a plate for me. I can see that his hands are shaking. He really shouldn’t try this hard. He should rest. Try to think of something else, so he doesn’t have a break down or something in front of the kids. He looks like he could start crying any moment. I get it. It’s my face. He probably needs a break from it.
“I can take care of the kids if you want to get some fresh air,” I say.
“No, no I’m fine,” he even tries to smile. Not really succeeding. He starts doing the dishes instead. Doesn’t look like he has eaten anything himself. It is strange to see his hands shaking like that, I remember how I used to think of him in high school. Like this unbreakable guy, that could handle anything. I liked him back then. Too much. I know. Everyone liked him. Captain of the football team. He was that guy back then. That guy that everyone wanted, and he wanted Karen.
“Brent can play with me,” Holly says as she finishes her pancake. She smiles so brightly towards me. I put down Brent who has calmed down now. Goes eagerly after his sister.
“I’m sorry,” I can hear Tom mumble from where he is standing. Washing those dishes as if it is a matter of life and death, “I know I should pull myself together.” He turns towards me.
“No, need to apologize,” I look towards Holly who is still looking at me while she is handing her brother a toy, “I get it.”
“It is not like we didn’t have our problems,” he struggles to find the words, “but sometimes everything could be just right,” he tries to smile, but it looks more like a grimace. He will start crying any moment now. I can’t take all this crying. I really can’t. A good thing that the kids can’t see him from where they’re playing. “And now I’m scared that nothing will ever be just right again.” He tries to dry away the tears quickly as some of them runs down his cheeks.
I really liked him back then. I did. When Karen announced that she was going to marry him, I think a lot of people thought that was the reason why I left. I know they said stuff like that. That I had to get away from this small place, couldn’t live here looking at them playing happy family every day. It isn’t true. I left for Karen. I went travelling around the world because I knew she wanted to see everything, experience everything. I did it for her, did what she couldn’t do when she was stuck here in this small-town life with her little family. I left for her, but not because I was jealous of her. I could never be jealous of Karen. I would do everything for her. The child psychologist even said that, that it worried him. Everything can be so many things. I get it. Not all things that you can do for another person are good things. He didn’t get us. In the end we stopped telling him things. Sometimes it is just easier to pretend. Karen and Katie. Katie and Karen. He really didn’t get us at all.
The room is so dark. I can’t sleep. I don’t even want to close my eyes for too long. Feels like I’m running in that forest. Hearing her voice. Running after her, but I can’t see her. Can’t reach her. Don’t know where she is anymore. The room feels choking. I get up. I need to get out of the house.
I get some clothes. Will just have to try to sneak out of the house. I walk so quietly down the stairs. Don’t want to wake anyone.
“Where are you going?”
I can hear his voice behind me as I reach for the door.
“I just need to get out. Go for a walk or something,” I mumble, turn to look at him.
Tom, who really can’t sleep either. Now that she is gone.
“I’ll come with you,” I can hear him grab his jacket. I push the door open. Can feel a cold breeze against my face. I look straight into that dark forest. Almost feels like I’m a kid again, like she is standing next to me. Holding my hand. We always played so many games. Did things that other people couldn’t understand. We even had our own language for a while. That is when the child psychologist came into the picture, so we stopped that, at least when other people could hear us.
I don’t wait for him. Just start walking into the forest. I can hear him hurry after me.
“Can you take me there?”
He seems surprised, even asks, “Take you where?” Even though I know he gets it.
“To the cliff she fell off.”
He looks down. “Sure, lets do that,” he sighs, “say goodbye.”
I nod. Walk further into the forest. It almost surprises me now looking back, that we weren’t scared to be in the forest just the two of us when we were kids. Strange, right? Two small kids running around in the forest, but we weren’t scared at all. Almost like we believed that being the two of us would protect us against anything. I think we thought so. I at least did. Yet I couldn’t protect her against this. Against falling off a cliff in the forest she had been running around in since she was a kid. The forest she knew better than anyone else. Where was I then? Her shitty sister out traveling on my own.
“It has felt good to have you around the house,” he doesn’t look at me when he says it, “at first when I saw you it felt horrible, just to see you and know that you weren’t her,” he coughs, almost like the words get stuck in his throat, “but then it felt like everything almost got normal again.” He looks so handsome in the dark. His broad shoulders. Dark, brown eyes. That hair that all the girls were so fascinated by in high school. How we fantasized about stroking it away from his face. Karen knew how I felt about him, but she didn’t agree. Didn’t think that it ever was a good idea to adore someone that much. You should see him like he is, she would always say. No one’s perfect, stuff like that. And sometimes I would get it. I really would. Maybe Tom was too insecure, too used to being loved, maybe it would be hard for him if one day he didn’t feel like he was the center of attention anymore.
“Maybe you could stay for a little longer?” I can feel his hand brush past mine, “I mean, maybe you could stay for a couple of months or something?” I try to smile.
“The kids seem to cope with everything so much better now that you’re here.”
I just nod. They do. He isn’t drinking either. I know. He tries to not drink anymore. I didn’t get that he would start doing that. Karen wasn’t surprised. Sometimes he will stay home from work for days, she would say with a disgusted tone. His normal job. Just an average job. Nothing special. I just didn’t get it. Some people need to feel that they are special for so many people. It is not enough that the ones closest to them thinks they’re special. I didn’t get that at all. Karen was always enough for me, as long as she thought I was special I really couldn’t care less about all the others.
At least he isn’t violent, I remember saying to her once. She just shrugged. No, not yet, she said.
“You remind me so much of her,” I can hear him whisper, “You know, the best parts of her.” His hand brushes past mine again, but I just keep on walking. “She had an affair, you know?” he says, “but I forgave her.”
I look down. Karen would have had an affair. She would. He isn’t lying about that. She was tired of the whole marriage in the end. Only good thing about it was the kids, she said that. She wanted to move, get a new place somewhere else. Start a new life without him.
“So, we’re here,” he stops.
There is a clearing in the forest. I can see the cliff in front of us where she must have fallen. We liked this place, me and her. When we were kids we used to come here on our little adventures in the forest at night. Sit her with our feet hanging out over the edge. Hold hands. It has always been our place. Is that why she ran here, did she run to me? But I weren’t here, where I? I haven’t cried. Not yet. I have waited. If it was the other way around she wouldn’t have cried yet either.
We walk towards the edge. Tom’s hands are shaking as he leans forward, looking down.
“Horrible,” he whispers.
I really didn’t think that he would get violent. I didn’t think that about him. I said it to her many times, that he didn’t have it in him, but then it turned out that he did. What was it he said that time he came home, that he had seen me with someone. Someone that I shouldn’t have been with. It was some kind of shit like that. He hit me across the face. Kicked me in the stomach. Too many times. I was scared that time. Really scared. He was drunk. I don’t know if Holly saw it. Sometimes I wonder. She acted so strange the days after. Maybe she heard me scream. I don’t even remember if I screamed. It is all a blur in my head.
I remember meeting Karen here in the woods. Remember us standing right here. Our meeting place. How many months had I stayed with Tom and the kids. Three months? I think so. She wasn’t like me. She came here all happy. Exhilarated. Wanted to talk about all the things she had seen, all the things she had experienced. She got angry. When she read the note that he had written to me to get me to take him back, she just laughed. An angry, cold laugh. Said that enough was enough. That we had to leave him. That she would take care of it. That I had always adored him too much, couldn’t see him for what he really was. That we never should have married him.
I take a step back. He turns towards me. I think he fell in love with her, he did, but then later I think he loved me more. I really think so. That I were the best parts for him. Sometimes I wondered if he really couldn’t tell the difference.
He turns to look at me. Seems to be crying again. Crocodile tears.
“You really don’t recognize me? I whisper, and maybe I can see something there in his eyes. I don’t look long though, I know I can’t. It has to be done. I give him the push that he needs. Watch him stumble and fall after the one he misses so much. Then I just stand there. All still. “We should have left sooner,” I can barely hear myself. Finally the tears come. “I’m so sorry.”
We had this game we used to play when we were kids, when she would turn towards me and say: You be me now. And I remember liking it, feeling stronger and unafraid. It started so early that to be honest I think it started before we could talk. She would give me a look and then we would switch, if one had a blue ribbon and the other one a red we would swap. I would be her, and she would be me. To be honest I’m not sure anymore which one I were originally. Sometimes I think I was Karen other times I’m convinced I was Katie.
“I can’t find Tom,” I whisper into the phone, “and I have found this note.” I can feel the tears streaming down my face. “I think he might have done something stupid.”
I’m sorry for what I did.
I don’t think I can’t live with myself if you don’t forgive me.
Then I just sit there by the kitchen table and wait. I will get the kids now. No one will really wonder. They will say that me and my sister never stopped being close. They will say stuff like, You know if this hadn’t happened I think Katie would have moved backed here eventually so that she could live closer to her sister again. They’ll say shit like that.
I can see mum coming up the driveway. I called her first, before I called the police. She could never love me like she should when I was Katie, she really couldn’t, but she always loved me enough when I was Karen. She’ll be happy that me and the kids will find a house nearby. Maybe she’ll even think that it will be like getting a part of Karen back.
I hope you have enjoyed “Slow Motion”, the story as well as the song, and I really hope that you would like to hear more songs and read more stories
About the song: Music composition: GiezDJ
Lyrics/vocals: Therese J(Me)
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If you like the that have been used to illustrate this short story they are from morguefile.com. All the photos have been edited, but the first photo is by MarcusL, the second photo (SoundCloud photo) and the fourth photo is by utoplec, the third photo is by Alvimann and the fifth photo is by clarita, the sixth photo is by lisaleo, the seventh photo is by AcrylicArtist and the eight photo is by imma.
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