You will likely want to read these reflections before continuing:
When she joined me in the kitchen, her hair was blue. It was a pleasant shade, with a bit of lighter green mixed into it. Her black shirt was too big for her, with the overly-long sleeves covering up her scars upon her arms. The long purple skirt covered up the rest of them, since her body was nearly covered. I personally did not care if she hid them or not, but I knew how much she worried that others would stare at her. She already got enough stares without the scars.
“Yes, I used the rapid heal.” She said, sending out a glare in the direction of both me and Ms. Henson, knowing that it was a question we both should be wanting to ask. ‘It itches’ she probably wanted to say, just so that she could show me her distrust of it. But the mother was in the room. Standing at my right, Ms. Henson was staring at her daughter now, no longer at the wall. I knew without looking that her eyes were blank, showing the ‘hollowness’ that had likely sent Rina’s thoughts into that spiral to begin with.
“Ready?” I asked, holding out my right hand. I angled my body a bit, playing a role for all three of us. In that moment, I was a gentleman of the movies, one who could come in and sweep the heroine off her feet. This was the hand that could carry her onto the dancefloor, or that could pull her from a fire’s flames. I could lift her up into the sky with me, or I could lead her away into the secrets of another world. For now, I just held my hand out there, ready to take hers in my own.
I could feel a smile lift itself upon my face. Perhaps this performance was for more than just me to do. Rina’s pose was different now, as she grabbed her skirt and bent down in an attempt at a curtsey. She leaned a bit to her left, trying to balance in the odd foot position. So this was the hand that would take her onto the dancefloor, in one of the parties of a royal court of centuries ago. Maybe that too could take us into another world.
She was smiling, the lightness of her eyes radiating out into the world. The demon voice must be quiet, now letting her experience some peace. Maintaining the performance, I pulled her towards me. I held up her hand above our heads, imitating a movie we saw together once. Turning towards the door, I took a step and bent my knees, lifting myself back up after. Was that how that went? I felt her twirl, spinning her hand in mine. Her heel crushed my foot, sending me a shot of pain. She removed her foot as I lowered my arm. The illusion was broken.
There was a pressure upon my arm. Turning my head slowly, I saw that it was Ms. Henson. Her skin was wrinkled, dry. Looking older than her years. I turned the rest of me, letting myself look back to face her. There was a desperation in her eyes, one that contrasted itself so vividly with the hollowness that I usually saw. It was her eyes that were crying out to me, since we both knew her voice no longer could say everything she needed to. She was begging me to help her. To help Rina.
“I know.” I said, letting myself be the voice. Even so, I saw her mouth open. She was trying to say something, just to get out the words. Patiently, I waited. Even as I knew how impatient Rina was becoming on my other side.
“Protect her.” I could hear the miniscule whisper, the cracking of her voice. We both knew how hard it was for her to speak sometimes.
“I will. I promise.” I said, meaning it sincerely. My mind would protect me; I would protect Rina. That did not change Ms. Henson’s eyes.
“Wait.” She mouthed this one. There was still the desperation in her eyes, as her hand still clutched my arm. On my other hand, Rina was pulling me, trying to get me out of there with her impatience. She barely had the time of day to breathe around the mother, let alone speak with her. I knew it annoyed her that I spoke to Ms. Henson, and that I acknowledged her existing. Even I did not know why I did.
She motioned with her hand. I leaned in, feeling Rina’s protest. Ms. Henson lifted her mouth to my ear.
“There are things you don’t know. Something bad is coming; I can feel it. I can hear it in the whispers. Please, please. Protect her.” The words tumbled out of Ms. Henson, more in number than I usually saw her try to speak. I pulled my head back, seeing her fear. She could hear it in the whispers?
“Let them go.” Mr. Henson’s voice. I turned, seeing him by the other door. “They just announced the trains are down.” His eyes were red, showing how little sleep and how many tears had crossed them there. His big frame and obvious beard stood in odd contrast to the kindness of his eyes, and the sadness always lingering there. If I had not known him and had passed him on the street, then I would have gone to the other side just to avoid him. However, I did know him. And that man appeared to have no temper.
Ms. Henson still clung onto my arm, trying to hold onto both me and Rina. I could feel Rina tugging my other hand more forcefully now, as I could feel how desperately she wanted to get out of there. Witnessing her mother break down was never a pleasant thing.
“Miri. Please. Just let them go.” He said, sounding weary of the world.
“They need to know. I have to warn them.” I could barely hear the whisper. Ms. Henson struggled a bit through the words, even as they tried to tumble from her. In her eyes, I could see the doubt begin, as she began to confuse herself over her own words. Right now, I imagined her wondering what she was talking about, as I had seen her ask mid-sentence before. I hoped silently that it would not come to that.
“Miri.” He said again, sounding calm and patient. I could see the gears shifting in her brain, slowly grinding back into place.
“Okay.” She mouthed, seeming so unsure of herself. Finally, she let go of me, as something on the wall seemed to catch her attention. Turning like a distracted child, she stared again at the paint. Rina nearly yanked my arm off, as she pulled me out the door. I let her take me.
“Let’s go.” Rina said, having pulled me onto the outdoors walkway. Before the door closed behind me, I saw Mr. Henson come up behind Ms. Henson and put his arm around her. That would not be me and Rina some day, would it?
Let’s hope things would never get that bad. And that’s if you two can both survive that long. My mind interrupted my wonderings, as Rina began to pull again on my arm. That last part seemed mean-spirited. Even for the trickster.
“Okay, okay. Calm down. The trains are down. We’ll have to walk today.” I said to her, turning again to face her. I started walking in the direction of the stairs, as I could see the smile on her face. She followed, hanging onto my arm. We walked together, leaving her building and heading towards the street. Other people were passing us. Most were in a hurry, some were taking their time. One woman was trying not to cry. We kept walking, turning the corner.
Rina started pulling on my arm.
I turned, seeing her eyes looking up. The gigantic view screen. But, this one was not a news screen; it was a murderscreen. The entire side of this building was covered in one screen that would broadcast the news constantly. Right now, it was covered in hundreds, maybe thousands, of pictures of people. A variety of ages, skin colors, genders. Every one of them had been murdered within the past year. The Day of Remembrance was approaching.
It’s the day after tomorrow.
“It’s illegal to publish the names of killers. Do you know why?” Rina asked. I looked back at her, seeing the fear in her eyes again. It was hard not to notice how many of the victims shared something in common with Rina. Many had the same skin tone, some the same gender. A few even had similarly-dyed hair. I answered her:
“Because of the revenge-seekers and the attention-seekers. They taught us in school that too many killers were trying to out-do each other, trying to get their name out in the media and earn their bit of fame. Or they were trying to glorify an institution, raising society’s fear of that particular group. Didn’t you learn about it?”
“I must have been out that week.” She said, her eyes on the ground. Her other hand was fidgeting with the bottom of her shirt, looking restless. Was she absent because of a time of hurting herself?
I gave her a quick synopsis of gun violence followed by the history of terrorism and school shootings. I felt my voice reciting what was probably almost word-for-word how we had been taught. Because of the Control of Information Act, the teachers had to recite just one blanket statement. They could not add or subtract anything on the most sensitive topics.
“I don’t like guns.” Her eyes still on the ground, Rina was looking a bit childish. In a good, innocent way though. Although, perhaps, she was being a bit naïve. Maybe we both were.
“I know. They’re a bad technology.” I said, quoting her a bit childishly. I saw her eyes jump back up to mine. I knew why she felt that way: she was at a heightened risk of dying by one.
“That’s what I said when I was little, and I still think it’s true.” She declared, emphasizing her strong (albeit, rather simplistic) view. “Guns are only made to kill. I know there’s a difference between hunting humans and using one to defend yourself. But even a wimp can hold a gun and suddenly find power within their hands. It gives them the privilege to do what they want since everyone else is so terrified of them. If I pass a random person with one on the street, how do I know they’re not going to shoot me with it? It’s better that they’re less common now.”
She passed here, having run so quickly through her words. I could see the energy, the fear in how she had talked. There was also a passion in her voice, a strength in her view. I could see the gears turning in her brain, a potential fight with the demon voice. She breathed in.
“What happened?” she asked.
“The Victim Remembrance Movement.” I said, letting my eyes wander back up the screen. “It’s the reason why they stop the trains the day after tomorrow: for Remember The Victims Day. Also known as The Day of Remembrance.”
We both knew what that one was.
Lingering there, our eyes gazed at the faces on the screen. There was so many of them. All of these pictures were of smiling faces, having been taken when they were happy in life. While we were standing there, the woman from before appeared. She was crying freely now, the tears running from her eyes. I watched her lay some flowers on the ground, adding to the make-shift memorial at the foot of the screen. She lingered there, just like we did. Looking back at the screen, I could hear her sobs. Rina tightened her grip.
“Let’s take a trip somewhere.” She said suddenly, interrupting the sound of the woman’s tears. She was pulling at my arm, calling my eyes to her. The woman became silent.
“Us? On a trip? Where would we go?” I asked, feeling a smile creep its way onto my face. The sadness was still heavy in the air.
“To the big city.” She said, her eyes so big and full of wonder. It was as if she was gazing over a world of falling cherry blossoms. Or, at the very least, as if she was staring at a wide, free blue sky, seeing things that I never could. Was she seeing beyond the grey?
There must have been some uncertainty on my face, even as I stared into her eyes. I was the one who suggested we go somewhere, but not that far. Maybe just the other side of town? She continued:
“A bit ago, you said let’s go anywhere but here. Why not go a bit farther?” I could still see the wonder in her eyes, trying to pull me in. The woman started wailing.
“How far would we really go? Would the big city really-” I started to say. But I stopped myself. I had to stop myself. Those were words that I could not say in front of Rina, words that I was not ready to say out loud. I just could not voice them to her. Not now. Not to her.
Would it really change anything? Would the big city really bring us closer to the bright blue sky? Or would we just lose her there instead?
I did not want to lose her. I had dodged the question before: could I survive without her? She had hurt herself today. I knew how highly she raised her expectations, and how devastating a blow to them could be. Would I really be able to protect her there?
“Would that really change anything? Rina, would it?” I could hear the desperation in my own voice. The words had just tumbled out. There was no way to take them back. The woman’s wails seemed to be getting louder. And louder. I could not lose her.
I did not think she meant it to be that serious, but I had taken it that way. She had meant it in the mood of ‘why not?’, and I had taken it as so much more than that. To me, it had to be so much more. I found my eyes looking down.
I had already lost someone else important to a ‘trip’. My brother was my legal guardian for so many years because of them. And because of their selfishness. Were they even still alive?
“Don’t just say yes, Rina. Give me a reason. Please. A good, solid reason. Please, I need to hear one.” That was true, even as my words wanted to set me on my knees, begging with all my might and all my cowardly strength. Would it really change anything?
“I don’t know.” Rina’s answer. I glanced back at her so quickly that I did not have time to blink. There I saw her face; her eyes were looking upwards, back at that murderscreen.
For the sake of consistency, this was also removed from chapter 11:
“Tell me what else I missed in school.” Rina said. She drank some of her water, keeping her eyes on me.
“Well, they’re closing transit tomorrow for the Day of Remembrance.” I stated, unsure where to start.
“You already told me that. Tell me some more about the day.”
“What, you never participated in it? I thought every schoolkid did?” Not every. Parents can opt their kids out.
“No, my parents forbade it. They thought it was too depressing.”
“Okay, well. . . ” My thoughts were wandering for a moment, trying to picture a younger Rina whose parents could find something too depressing. Things must have been very different then. Rina took a bite of her pizza, awaiting my response. I spoke:
“Every year, they put on this big parade. All known murder victims, for as long as we’ve recorded murders, get at least a schoolkid holding their photo, if there is one. These schoolkids then all march in various parades around the world. Combined, these parades represent the victims. We have too many to fit in one parade, so they all get divided out, I think by where they’re from.
“The more recent, or better known, victims usually get a float. There they have some relative or important person make a speech about the value of that person’s life. For example, Ann Marie always gets her own float, and at least one important person talking about her. We all know her name because of studying who murdered her. But, in order to talk about him, we can only legally do it by talking about her. So, she gets her own float and people who give out speeches.”
“Wait, how much do we really know about her?” Rina asked, interrupting.
“Enough for someone to get up there and talk. But no one ever questions a victim’s worth to be up there. No matter what, they’re still honored. But we still have murders today, even with all the effort of the Remember the Victims Movement. There are so many theories, and they undoubtedly come up at this parade. Some people even argue that the Remember the Victims Movement just deflects from the major social issues causing violence in our society. But no one ever agrees, all they do is debate and examine theories. How good is examining a problem if you don’t actually act to try to fix it?” I was rambling at this point, trying to follow where my thoughts were going.