• story sixpenceee •
story

Bitter Moon

Story by sleepyhollow_101, author’s fb page

My life is a constant measure of pain.  It ebbs and flows through my nerves as though pulled along by the phases of a moon I cannot see.  The entirety of my life I have searched for this moon, this cause of my suffering, but it remained obscured in clouds of secrecy.

Much of my time has been spent encased in whitewashed hospital walls, the bitter odor of antiseptic a violent assault on my senses.  After so many hours of observation and testing, you would expect that the doctors and nurses would find a way to… fix me.  Unfortunately, they were as blind to the cause as I was.  Week after week my parents deposited me in my hard hospital bed and the doctors would watch me, suspended as though in a cage of broken glass, afraid to move me, afraid not to.

I was irreparable.  I had a bitter moon.

—————————————————————–

When I was a child, I had an extraordinary fondness for mirrors.

I don’t know what it is, but I always felt that I wasn’t looking at myself when I looked into a mirror.  The person in the reflection looked like me, yes, but there was a disjoint.  She didn’t feel like me.  She felt like a friend.

To some people, this would be disconcerting.  To me, it was a godsend.  In my hospital room – the usual one, the one almost always reserved just for me by the time I was eight – there was a mirror across from my bed, where I could see my pale reflection, the color seeping from my skin until I became as white as the walls guarding me.  The girl in the mirror – this not-quite-me – became my best friend.  It’s sad, yes, but not for the reason you might think.

—————————————————————–

Over the years, my pain proved versatile, and it manifested in almost every way imaginable.

When I was ten, I fell to the ground screaming while at the park.  My mother thought I’d broken my arm with the way I was clutching it to my chest.  An x-ray at the hospital revealed that it was completely intact, but I howled with pain for hours afterwards.  They tried giving me morphine, which I’ve always hated because it makes me nauseous.  It had no effect.  I lay there in agony while my mother tried to fight back her tears.  I had to stay in the hospital for a week before the blinding pain subsided to a dull ache and I could go back about my life.  One night, when my mother thought I was sleeping, I heard her speaking in a low voice to my father.  She sounded urgent.  I was afraid they wanted to get rid of me because I was such a troublesome child.

When I was eleven, it was my back.  It felt like my flesh was flying open and exposing my muscles, sharp tears in my skin licking my nerves with fire.  I didn’t tell my parents about that one.  I stayed in bed all day, even though it was summer and I wanted to go outside and reassure myself of the sunshine.  I thought that if I told them and they had to take me to the hospital again, they would put me up for adoption.  I don’t know why I thought that.  So I laid on my stomach in bed, crying and wishing that I could be a normal little girl.  The pain was still there the next day, but it was manageable, and my parents never had to know.

When I was twelve, a pain in my teeth landed me in the hospital again.  This time, I couldn’t hide it from my parents, not when it felt like they were being pulled out by the root without anesthesia.  The doctors injected my gums and the roof of my mouth to try to numb the pain, but it was constant, a bright spark of hot wire strung through my mouth.

Some days, I felt like a monster, that all my pain was a manifestation of evil trying to claw its way out of me, burning and bending my body in the process.

Some days, I felt like a science experiment, left to rot in suburban America, untamed by even the best of first-world medicine.

Most of the time, however, I felt like a freak.  A freak who cried at night when her parents couldn’t see and made friends with mirrors.   Maybe that’s why the best dreams I ever had were ones where I wasn’t so strange.  It was always my greatest desire to be normal.

—————————————————————–

The girl in the mirror was my best friend, but she wasn’t my only friend.  It’s true that, as a hospital child, making friends at school could be difficult for me.  They were all aware that I was sick… fragile, somehow, and they were worried that if they touched me I might shatter to pieces and they wouldn’t be able to put me back together.   For the most part, the other schoolchildren stayed away from me.

But there were always nurses.  There was Emma – she was the one who usually gave me shots and took my blood.  There was Chrissi – she would come sit with me on her breaks and read me stories if my parents weren’t able to stay with me.  And there was Seamus – once, he bought me a stuffed unicorn because I forgot my favorite toy at home when my parents rushed me in.

Then there were the doctors.  The two doctors that I saw the most of were Doctor Cadle and Doctor Lewis.  They were constant fixtures of the hospital, just like me, and they were quickly assigned to my ongoing case so as to better keep tabs on me.  I quickly grew fond of both of them, and they even let me call them by their first names – Dr. Cadle became Adam, and Dr. Lewis became Peter.

Adam was a tall, robust man with permanently ruddy cheeks and an infectious laugh.  They usually called him when I was inconsolable with pain because his manner put me at ease like nothing else.  When I was breaking apart, they called him because he knew how to hold me together.

Peter was a little intimidating for a pediatrician, a tower of a man with a scruffy beard.  But he was kind and charming and he saved his best jokes for me, knowing that I had a soft spot for them.  Sometimes, I would catch him staring at me with a strange look on his face.  He looked fascinated, and I suppose I was fascinating, with a rootless pain that didn’t respond to medication.  I didn’t mind his intrigue – it was much easier to stomach than the pity I was used to seeing from newer staff.  He stayed on my case even after I was too old to be in his care.  He seemed very determined to cure me.

These people became my family and friends, so I suppose my sickness did have its silver lining.  It’s just that it was sometimes hard to see with pain blinding my vision.

—————————————————————–

When I was sixteen, there was a new kind of pain.

It grew slowly, at first, a thickness in my chest as though my flesh was growing inwards and filling me up in places better left alone.   After about half an hour of this heavy, full feeling in my chest, I told my parents and they brought me to the hospital once again.  By the time I arrived, I was having trouble breathing.  I was trying to control my panic – at sixteen, I should be used to the betrayal of my body, but something about this felt so different.

Adam was the one who met me when I arrived at the hospital.  As I was getting hooked up to all the usual machines, he joked around with me, trying to put me at ease. “You haven’t been to see us in a long time!   Here I thought you were getting sick of us!”

I would have snorted if I wasn’t so short on air.  Still, I managed a breathy chuckle and answered, “Yeah, well, can’t disappoint Peter.   He’s still looking for a cure.”

I noticed a flit of a shadow cross Adam’s face and I asked what was wrong.

“Well… Peter hasn’t been to the hospital in a few days.  He’s on sick leave.”

His face told me there was more to the story than he was willing to divulge, but I wasn’t able to concentrate on interrogating him.  With each passing second, the air around me seemed to become thinner and I could barely pull enough into my lungs to stay conscious.  Adam hooked me to an oxygen censor and frowned at the reading.

“You’re not getting nearly enough oxygen.  We’re going to need to use a mask.  How are you feeling?”

By this time, I couldn’t answer.  The air in my lungs was rapidly depleting and my head was beginning to swim.  My vision shook a little around the edges, and it reminded me of the polaroids that my mother used to take, the way she would shake them to get them to develop faster.  In my minds eye, I could see her, in a memory almost permanently lost, her fingertips grasping the white edges of the photograph so as not to smear her fingerprints on it…

That’s the last memory I have, actually, before my eyes slipped shut and my lungs stopped working.

—————————————————————–

I was dreaming.

I sat in front of a full-length gilt-framed mirror, dressed in slippery white silk pouring suggestively over my delicate frame.  A pair of green eyes stared at me from the mirror, but I was once again struck with the feeling that these were not my eyes.

I raised my right hand to the mirror, letting my fingertips ghost across the cool glass.  The girl in the mirror hesitated for a moment before doing the same.  The mirror warmed as soon as her fingertips rested against mine.

She leaned forward and opened her mouth, a gush of hot air fogging the glass, obscuring her face behind its cloud.  Her left hand moved to trace a word into the mirror, a little clumsy, a little unsure.  It took me a few moments to read the word because, to me, it appeared backwards.  I stared at it in concentration, and then confusion.

I looked back at her face.  The face that should have been mine, but… wasn’t.  Oh, it looked like me, yes.  The girl in the mirror had always looked like me.  But she wasn’t.  And only I knew.

Now, as I looked at her, I saw scratches along her face, blood drying black against her white skin.  She was much paler than I was now, and that thought frightened me, although I can’t explain why.  There was dirt woven through her hair as though she’d lain on the ground for a long time.  She opened her mouth as though to speak, and I could see she was missing some teeth.

I never got to hear her speak.  As soon as a light croak made its way out of her throat, the mirror shattered.

When I woke up, I was screaming.

The nurses were a storm of chaos surrounding me, adding considerably to the panic that had overtaken me.  Adam was there, trying to calm me down, trying to reassure me, but I was in a place where he couldn’t reach me.  I screamed for my parents, demanded they be brought to me, and for the first time since I was a little child, I fought tooth and nail until I was obeyed.

Adam and the nurses were talking quietly, arguing about something as they showed my parents in.  I didn’t care to listen.  There was an urgency coursing in my veins and it couldn’t be denied.  My mother and father rushed to my side and I croaked out the word that the other girl had written on the mirror.

“Maxine.”

Suddenly, the world stopped, in two very different ways.

First, the doctor, the nurses, my mother and father, they all froze as though bound in the throes of rigor mortis.  They stared at me, mouths agape and horrified.  There was a deep silence in the room like I’ve never felt before, as though we had dropped into another level of reality.  I suppose, in fact, we had.

But I almost didn’t notice this.  Because a second facet of the world had stopped, as well.  My muscles relaxed, my airflow opened, my body obeyed the commands it had always ignored.

For the first time in my life, I was pain-free.

—————————————————————–

Maxine is the girl in the mirror.  It is unsurprising that my parents find this so difficult to understand.  I am told that there are special connections to be considered in cases like ours.  They couldn’t possibly see what I saw simply because they lack these conenctions.

My parents offered me answers that day, answers to questions I didn’t realize I had.  They told me a story.  It wasn’t a happy story, and it wasn’t particularly artful in its telling.

But it was my story.

I was not born alone.  There were two of us, C-section children removed from my mother’s tiny frame.  We laid next to each other in the hospital nursery the night after we were born in matching pink onesies.

In the morning, one of us was gone.

It was impossible to find who had taken her.  The security cameras had been cut, there were too many fingerprints from hospital staff to determine the perpetrator.  So she was lost in a maze of impenetrable possibility even as I was delivered to my parents.

That is why we’ve never suffered from debt, even though my hospital bills should have cost a fortune.  The price of a massive mistake, I suppose.

That is why I have always been treated with a special kindness by the hospital staff.  The price of guilt.

That is why the girl in the mirror has never looked like me.

Maxine is the girl in the mirror.

Maxine is my twin.

—————————————————————–

Peter disappeared.

I suppose I should call him Doctor Lewis, now, shouldn’t I?  But that appellation doesn’t suit him.

He stopped answering calls at the hospital.  The police set out to find him, at first out of concern, and then out of fear.  I suppose you could say they want him for justice, but I know the truth.  They’re afraid of what he can do.  Of what he did.

How would I know this?  I am privy to such information not because of my ties with the hospital, but because of what they found in the backyard.

Who they found in the backyard.

Can you guess?

—————————————————————–

I don’t know why they let me see the body.

I think, perhaps, my parents felt… guilty.  After all, they’d concealed something very important from me.  They’d kept Maxine a secret, pretended as though she had never existed.  It was to protect me.  This I understand.  It is something that I find I can forgive.

They let me see the body.  I was not surprised by what I saw.

The pale skin.  The emaciated frame.  The scratches along her body and the dirt in her hair.  A few things I hadn’t noticed, too – her missing fingernails that she’d scratched off as she clawed at the wood of the coffin, the bluish tinge to her face from her suffocation, the bruises on her body where she’d kicked and fought for air and for life.

I was not surprised because she was, after all, the girl in the mirror.  And I’d been with her when she was buried alive.

—————————————————————–

Twins are strange arrangements of beings.

Although there has been a multitude of research, it is difficult to understand exactly how the relationship between twins works.  However, it is common knowledge that twins share stronger connections than regular siblings.  For example, twins can sometimes guess what the other is thinking.  Twins often end up with similar life partners.   Sometimes, what one twin feels, the other experiences as well.

Like pain.

The autopsy revealed so many answers, although I’m not sure I wanted them.  Her bones showed various breaks that had never quite healed properly, including a rather severe one in her arm – the same arm that my mother thought I broke when I was ten.  She was missing several teeth, pulled out from the root.  There were scars across her back from a knife, cuts that had been repeatedly reopened and as such had never truly healed.

All over her body was the evidence of the torture she’d sustained for these sixteen years.  I wonder if she knew that there was another girl who was suffering with her.

—————————————————————–

They still haven’t found Peter.

It disgusts me, now, to know that he was performing his own sick experiments on us.  It wasn’t enough to fulfill his sadistic desires on Maxine’s flesh; no, he needed to observe its afterimage imprinted on mine, as well.

The police took thousands of pictures of his house.  I’m told there was a torture room.  They won’t let me see the pictures.  I don’t know that I want to.  I am afraid that, one day, I’ll see it in my dreams anyway.  And I’ll know what it is at first glance.

Now that my pain is gone, I suppose I should be happy.  Having been burdened with this torture for years, it is relieving beyond measure to be free.  And Maxine, no doubt, is free, too, from the years of torture she experienced first-hand.  Still, there is a part of me that misses it.  That misses what I too late realized was the assurance of Maxine’s life.  Is it better, I wonder, to know that she is dead and out of pain, or to have her alive with the possibility of being saved?  Should I be happy that she is at rest, or sad because she is dead?

Mostly, I wonder this:

When she looked into the mirror, did she see me staring back at her?


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