Dancing in the Dark
The height of the apple tree confused Eva. In fact, it looked more like a cedar.
“ I expected better from you than going around stealing apples”. Her father once disciplined her. “I am greatly disappointed”.
Eve knew her father would not come back in several months, and she could not help herself from this pointless guilty pleasure. Any act of rebellion would come with severe punishment, but she enjoyed the attention. Even so, when she was climbing the apple tree and noticed its height, she knew something was not quite right.
“Do I have to go to work today?”, Avalanche wondered out loud.
No there could be no work that night. Could not possibly be. The only place waiting for her was the Saint Paul hospital where her older brother was waiting for her to visit. He would scold her again for playing with daddy’s scissors just so she could have a reason to not come to the hospital.
“Avalanche, hide your scars underneath the clothes”, he would say. But how could she when the scars are her favorite doodles.
“Avalanche”, a tired voice echoed in her head.
“You mean Eve?”
“C’mon Eve, your shift will start soon.”
“Christine, you are ruining my buzz!”
“Get down here this instance or I will come up and break your neck!”
Avalanche slowly opened her eyes and saw that she was at least 3 feet off the ground. The lone tree was half dead, standing inside a small patch of dirt inside a ruin that is being used as apartment complex. She jumped down, disoriented and hurt her legs.
“Avalanche, I can’t believe you had the guts to take it in broad daylight”, Chris said while looking at his sisters with worried eyes. The rain started to pour and quickly colored the yellow pavement a shade of grey that was darker than the night sky.
“You would understand if you saw what I saw.”
“Chris, I think these pills really work”, Avalanche said as she closely looked at the bottle with the words “Penumbricil” on it. “You know, I read some stories about it on this obscure site about weird stuff. Took me quite a while to get some from my contacts in the States. The custom did not know what it was, and you know how the Vietnamese do not care if a cold pill was inducing hallucinations or not. I do not understand why this drug isn’t getting its due recognitions yet. Landing on the moon was probably less significant that this bottle right here”
“Well the moon landing was a brand new thing to science back then. This shit takes you back in time, and that is pure regression.”
“I wanted to see mom again.”
Chris stopped walking and quickly turned to Avalanche, his eyes flared with anger.
“That is not going to happen. Unless you want to see her whoring herself out to some rich men out there.”
They continued walking again. Chris avoided his sister’s glance even though he knew full well what that look means. He could not stand those watery orbs every time he spoke about their mother too harshly.
“Look, I just think it is best to forget about those bad memories. Don’t you want to live a better life, happy with your own family? If you use our money to buy stuff like these we will never be able to make it. It is already hard enough to sustain payment for your college tuition.”
Chris wondered what was going through his sister’s head then. They did not talk in years. But he knew perfectly that they looked exactly like each other. She was all that he has got.
Chris finished the call and looked around his place. There were dirty dishes everywhere, stacked on top of each other, growing a whole civilization. A dump, as it was, did not faze his sister one bit as she threw herself on the couch, completely absorbed in her book. Chris did not know she held on to that tattered book for that long.
“I just called them and got you a sick leave”. There was no response from the other side.
“You know you going to get fired next time you show up at work right?”
Avalanche continued ignoring him. Frustrated with the lack of response, Chris tore the book away from his sister’s hands.
“Christine! “, Avalanche was crying like the little girl Chris used to know from so long ago, one that ceased to exist just as long, ”give it back or I will tell dad!”
“Get a hold of yourself!”, Chris said as he handed back the book.
Avalanche blinked, and reality seemed to phase into another dimension. And when her vision refocused, she was in the hospital. There were white floor tiles and that sanitary smell she always hated. She looked down at her small arms and saw dry skin and blood crust from her most recent cuts. She peeled them off slowly and it gave her such a catharsis comparable to the orgasms she experienced much later in life. As she finished with the peeling, she looked closely at the cuts which she knew was leaving carefully planned set of scars.
Even though she loved the time when she still could cut herself, there was this annoying feeling that reminds her that what she saw was not real. It was as if everything was made from plastic and it was all hazy like. The growing panic worried Avalanche, so she stood up and tried to walk away. And then she saw her mother standing in the hallway talking to a doctor. Her face was completely blurred; even her dress seemed to be a mix from different segments of Avalanche’s memory. A tall man suddenly showed up froze the whole scene: “Why don’t you go back to reality for a bit my darling, this scene is faulty because you don’t have sufficient memory of it. Come back when you have something else”. And with that, Avalanche was back on the dirty couch with her brother.
Chris was alone in his room, sitting on the bed holding the pill with his sweaty palm. He saw what it did to his sister, and it was not that harmful. According to the journey he had with Avalanche, certain objects worked as triggers for these memory trips. So he unlocked the safe and pulled out the only item he had in there. A picture of his family when his mother was still there, when he was not sick, and his sister did not have scars. The pill was small, but on the way down Chris’ throat it felt like swallowing a stone with sharp edges. He panicked at the prospect of having no control over what his mind would show him, so Chris threw himself into the blankets and closed his eyes. He did not feel anything different than usual. Will it hit soon? Will it gradually creep up or just barge in uninvited.
“I don’t know.” He said.
“How come?”, the Doctor asked. Chris was on a hospital bed, in the room was three other sickly kids suffering from tuberculosis.
“I just can’t feel anything. In fact, I feel like I am good enough to leave.”
The Doctor flinched. And the room was frozen in time, with everybody looking at Chris. Nobody moved or not so much as said a word as they stared blankly at him. And then He noticed one of the walls of the room he was in was missing. He could see clearly the garden in midsummer, melting from the heat. He got up, yanked all the syringes from his body. There was supposed to be a sharp pain but he just could not feel anything. In the garden, his father was smoking and waiting for him.
“Morning son, are you well enough for the walk?”
“Sorry Father, I don’t think the pill is working for me.”
And once again, Chris’s father just stared at him blankly, as if waiting for him to remember his script line. He hated that hollow look devoid of emotions, so he screamed “Father, can you please say something new?”
Still there was no response. Gave up to the idea, Chris tried to recall the conversation and did it right this time.
“Sure dad, let’s walk for a bit”
His father awkwardly smiled as they started walking toward the inner fountain.
“Listen Christine, I think it is about time you have to hear this.”
Chris nearly replied, but he stopped as the words got stuck in his throat. He could recall the conversation perfectly and knew that he was going to ask what was it he is going to hear. But even at age eight, the small innocent kid that was Chris always knew his Father was going to break the news that he suspected. And there it was again, the blank stare as he refused to relive the memory. Chris continued to walk again, leaving behind the ghost of his Father.
“ I know it is hard to see him like that”, the tall man said. “I am doctor K. by the way.”
The Doctor held out his hand, and even though Chris was reluctant, he shook it anyway.
“You are not part of my memory.”, Chris said.
“True. I am programmed inside the micromachines contained within the pills. I am here to monitor your vision. However, I am every bit as real as the person who actually created this pill. I do know how you feel though, the feeling of being abandoned. Toward the end of my mother’s life, she had Alzheimer, she could not recall who I was. Did you know that as the brain slowly slipping into oblivion, ravaged by the disease, it is the earlier data that are left untouched? I think the brain actually know what is the most important, and it sacrifices the other memory to preserve what really matter. Oh sorry, I did not mean to ramble on…”
“So Penumbricil really is just a pill for recalling memories?” Chris asked.
“Reliving, to be precise. But then, as you can see, it would not work if you resist it.” Doctor K pointed at the plastic apparition of Chris’s Father.
“As well it should, my parents are gone. And that thing is not my Father.”
“It could have been if you wanted it to be Chris.”
“Then why did you take the pill?”
Before Chris could say anything, the Doctor whispered: “I am only here to monitor the visions, the decisions are for you to make.”
Chris walked back to his Father and soon the ghost appeared lively again, walking along with him. But Chris did not allow the memory to take over, simply focused on how it felt back then, to share a small moment with his Father.
“ Father, I know you are not real, but you are more vivid than the pictures I have, I will give you that at least.”
“I can’t talk about Mother with Avalanche. Sometimes she asks me questions about how you guys were and I could not stay calm. All I could do was going back to the old pictures, wishing none of this ever happened. But then, a part of me really wished to see you and Mother again. When we were still a family and I am convinced that you never stopped being there.”
Tears were welling up in his eyes. Embarrassed, he tried to rub his eyes and look at his Father again, but there was a thud outside his room that woke him up. As he recovers from the dizziness, he was waiting for any other sound, but there only silence. When he opened the door, Chris saw his sister lying on the floor with foam oozing from her lips. The empty bottle of Penumbricil clutched in her hands tightly.
Mother was hugging Avalanche in her arms. There were bright colors dancing around right before her face, but it was too high to touch. But the hug was becoming suffocating. She felt an intense heat encompassed her body. The hot air filled her brain and melts it. Avalanche tried to ignore the rapid pumping of blood inside her veins, which now feel like lava. She could hear her mother singing, clinging on to every word as it slowly faded:
Dancing in the dark Till the tune ends,
We’re dancing in the dark and it soon ends,
We’re waltzing in the wonder of why we’re here,
Time hurries by, we’re here and gone;
Looking for the light of a new love,
To brighten up the night, I have you love,
And we can face the music together,
Dancing in the dark.