Self-Preservation

The day is crimson. It drips from eves, winds around necks, and stains the hands of everyone that I brush past on the street. Only children turn to look at me before they are jerked away by parents who know my touch too well to acknowledge it anymore.

Cheerful yellow weeds dot the yard as I make my way up the drive; one small sign that things under this roof are not as they should be. Her parents left the door opened for me when they left hours ago, seeking empty words from people who could never begin to imagine the grief that they’re pretending not to feel.

It’s hard to stay grounded in this house anymore. I grip the banister hard as I climb the stairs. I slip through the crack of her bedroom door and realize that we are not alone. You sit at the foot of the bed, watching her. You were unexpected, but I’m not overly concerned; I’ve never pretended omniscience. I make myself as small as possible on her pillow. As long as you are here, I am content just to watch.

She stands in front of the mirror, hesitant hands smoothing over white silk that will capture her final moments well. She is midnight hair and violet eyes; radiance personified. You are chin on knees and arms wrapped around legs; undeserved nerves and well-deserved guilt.

She sees my reflection behind hers in the mirror. I nod. Her mouth thins.

She calls you over to her and you oblige, knowing that you are the last friendly face that she will ever see. She takes a dark wooden box from the vanity and relieves it of a pearl hair comb. She pushes hair back from your face and slides it in, cupping her hands under your chin.

You struggle for words. You know that this is important; a culmination of everything that the two of you have been and never will be.

“I won’t help them,” you say.

Her hands turn to iron.

“No.”

They slide down to your shoulders.

“You have to.”

They squeeze tight.

“Do you hear me?”

She shakes you so hard that her final gift to you tumbles to the floor. She lets go, neither guilty nor confused nor crazed.

“You have to.”

You nod and bend. She takes the comb and replaces it, hand to hair and lips to forehead.

You will miss her, but you can’t do anything about that now.

You drink her in for the last time, but she is already gone. So you leave, too.

Now it’s just she and I, and she knows that I’m here.

She has spent nights on her knees, clutching me tight as she sobbed for someone, anyone, to save her. And when that didn’t happen, she started the screaming and destruction. None of it mattered. Whatever she did, the silence stayed.

That was then.

This is now.

“It’s not you that did this,” she says as I slither off of the bed and face her. “I’m not afraid anymore. For me.”

I cock my head.

“Keep her safe.”

And then she is gone too, striding through her house and out into the street without a backward glance. She gave me up a long time ago, and her life soon after. Today is little more than a means to an end.

I glance out the window at the crimson streamers dripping from the rooftops. The houses bleed with her.

People are already lining the streets when I catch up. Hundreds of eyes follow her as she walks slowly, confidently down the street that she has known since she was a child. She meets no one’s eyes, draws on no strength but her own because it is the only kind left.

A faint whistle is all of the notice before she is struck from behind by a stone the size of a tennis ball. And then they are coming from everywhere, heaved by her schoolmates and teachers, the woman who cuts her hair and the man that has served her ice-cream every  Saturday afternoon since she was five.

I am looking for one particular face. I find you on the fringes of the crowd, staring blankly at the scene before you. This thing, this ritual that you have observed blindly since you were old enough to  choose your own stone is different now. You have never before understood so deeply the meaning of the word superstition, and for the first time you wonder if you have been lied to, if all of the loved ones who told you that this was not murder, this was necessity, had ever had to stand where you are standing now; if the body filling the white dress slowly being stained red ever really meant anything to them.

And then I am beside you. I put my hand on your shoulder. You look up as I press a smooth, flat stone into your palm. I have a promise to keep.

You decide.

She is on the ground now, all of the stones discarded but for the one in your hand. You pull me with you to her side, where she stares unseeing at the sky and twitches as the last signs of her life bloom across her dress. You bend, kiss her on the forehead. Her blood stains your lips as you raise the rock above your head and put an end to a life that was finished long ago.

I gather her up in my arms and rock her gently even though she can’t feel me anymore. By the time she stills every eye is on you.

I stretch out my hand.

You turn away.

You know better than anyone how little I can really do for you.

Taking the Blame

I look down at the blood on my hands and wonder how it got there and if this was how Jesus Christ felt as he suffocated under the crushing weight of the guilt of all of humanity.

I don’t think that my hands have been stained this deeply by my own sins, despite the fact that I’ve been told time and time again that it’s not my place to be apologetic for anyone besides myself, no matter how much their transgressions remind me of an amplified version of my own.

When I hold my hands up to the light the arguments stop dead. Mouths open, then close. Heads turn away.

What they don’t realize is that it’s their transgressions that they are choosing to turn away from.

I won’t wash my hands of them because someone has to remember. More importantly, someone has to be accountable.

Even though I know that they would never do the same for me.