Chains

I try not to wake them. They hear me sometimes, walking through the house. I will see my mother’s light come on, a thread illuminating the brown carpet underneath her door, and then she will come out holding her handgun. She looks through the house, but finds no intruder. I notice that when she returns to bed, she leaves the light on for hours.

Occasionally, I wake up my sister. She sleeps with a gun as well, but she does not come out of her room. She reaches beneath her pillow for her weapon and aims it at the door, waiting for the intruder. I’m sorry I do this to my family. I don’t want to be in the house; but I have no choice.

They suspect I am here. I have discovered this from listening to their conversations during the day. They need to put me out of their minds somehow. I wish they would move from the house, move to a different town. Today, I listened to them talking in the kitchen. My mother had just come home from the supermarket, and she was crying.

“What happened, Mom?” my sister asked.

My mother just shook her head and set two full sacks of groceries on the gray formica counter. She took some hamburger out of a bag and put it in the freezer. My sister helped her, carrying cereal boxes, crackers, and cans of soup to the cupboard.

“Is it about Garth again?” my sister asked.

“What else could it be about?”

“I don’t know.

“He’s listening to us,” my mother said. ”I’m pretty sure he’s here. Probably right over in that corner.” She pointed to me. I was standing behind the small round oak table at the other end of the kitchen. I don’t know how she guessed so well.

“I feel him, too,” my sister said. ”If he’s here, I wish he would talk to us.”

I would tell them to forget me if I could. I believe that is what they want. They should not be punished for my acts like this.

“Who was it today?” my sister asked.

“Jane Richards,” my mother said. ”Among others. We used to be such good friends, and now she won’t even talk to me. She wouldn’t even look at me when I said hello. And then I overheard her talking to someone else about how she couldn’t believe I would even show my face in public after what Garth did. I’m sure she knew I heard her. I had just turned down the next aisle. It’s been six months now. I wish they would let us live our own lives. Garth’s paid for his crimes. Why do they have to do this to us?”

“I don’t think they’ll ever stop,” my sister said. ”Not in a town like this.”

“At least no one’s thrown any rocks through the windows or spray-painted the house lately. I guess we should be thankful for that.”

“Mom, we should move.”

“Where could we move?” my mother said. ”I’ve lived here all my life. I’m too old and tired to start over. Maybe you can do that, but I don’t think I can.”

“You can try. Anything would be better than this.”

“Do you think it might have been different if I hadn’t helped him get his lawyer? Do you think that’s why they do this to us?”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Mom. Maybe it would have been different, but you did what you thought you should.”

My mother put the last item, a gallon of milk, in the refrigerator, and turned to face me. ”Garth, do you hear me? I love you, but please go away. Please leave us alone. Let us live.”

I wish she understood. This house is my prison. All I can do is stay out of the way as much as possible. The punishment seems excessively cruel, not for me, but for them. There is no justice in the decision, whoever made it, to force my sentence upon them as well.

I see the light in my mother’s bedroom come on. I have been quiet tonight; my chains have been silent, even to me. I wait for my mother to come out of her bedroom. A long time passes, and I wonder what woke her. I enter her room to see what she is doing.

A piece of paper lies on the desk, a ball point pen on top of that. She sits on the bed, holding the gun in her lap and staring forward. I read the note on the desk. She writes about joining me, as if that will solve her problems. Listen to my sister, I want to tell her. She is the one with the answer. There is nothing for my mother here. She will not feel any less empty, any less sad. I will not feel any less lonely.

She opens the gun and checks the cartridges. I know I must do something, and there is only one thing I can do. I shake my chains, trying to make as much noise as possible. It is not much, I know, but it distracts her. She looks up at me.

I hope she understands my message.

Ω

Clinton Lawrence is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. His fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Galaxy, Reflection’s Edge, The Fortean Bureau, and a number of other print and online publications. He is a high school science teacher, and lives in Davis, California.

Other works by Clinton Lawrence