Talya could never find the right words when she was asked to explain her pain. A man with a certificate on the wall in his tight-and-stuffy office would ruffle his thin grey mustache and sit across from her in silence awaiting her reply. Most days she could only say, “It’s bullshit. It’s all bullshit.”
Dr. Gary would nod sympathetically, and sometimes when he really wanted to show he understood he’d stop scribbling in his little black notebook, put his pen down, take off his glasses, and put his hand on Talya’s shoulder saying, “You matter girl, you do.” On those days he’d look her square in the eyes and most of the time she knew it was bullshit too, but some days she’d feel a biting warmth at the back of her eyes, and she’d cover up quickly before her councilor could see any tears.
Even so she thought he knew, but he never said anything mean about it, and their song and dance had become routine for the better part of a year. She never experienced those “breakthrough moments” they talked about on her mom’s televised novellas, but even though she made sure he knew that they’d never be tight friends, she could almost admit to herself that things were getting better… not on the outside, and not in the world, but maybe within herself. Maybe the world could be full of bullshit, but she could be something else.
Talya had never been one to consider suicide. Even when things were really bad at home and at school, and even when her best friends jumped her because they thought she’d stolen from them to make a quick buck Talya never once considered suicide. But when she discovered a way out, a real way out of it all, she’d become a little obsessed with the idea.
Escape, now that was something not bullshit.
The arrangements had been made, even though her visitor seemed sad about what had to happen to see their plan through, but Talya knew it’d be better for everyone. Her older cousin had once told her a story about a former slave back in the days her history books glossed over. He’d said she killed her beloved child, just a baby, to make sure her girl wouldn’t be taken back into slavery, that terrible world that Talya felt she knew better than the dream of “work hard, be what you want.” It was a story from some famous author that her cousin really admired, but she couldn’t remember who exactly, only that the writer was Black and that her cousin was proud of her because he was brown too, as was Talya, and to him that meant anyone could write a story that was worth a damn.
What she did know was that she understood it. Slavery and Misery were the same, and she understood misery, that slow poison that ruined diners and made good company chaff over the years. Misery had put a grey streak in her mom’s hair and her mom was so full of it she blamed the grey on Talya saying, “If my girl was better, like the ones at church who never do anything bad I wouldn’t be getting old so soon!”
Things like that hurt Talya, but on the outside she’d bristle and firm up. “Then why don’t you fucking go adopt one of those blond bitches then!” And she’d slam her door. Her sister would walk across the room and hold her, but she wouldn’t talk to her mom again for a week. Things like that had become a bi-monthly occurrences, and lately they’d become more violent. They’d never hit each other, but god had Talya wanted to.
Unfortunately the world’s bullshit had taken her mom, and Talya could feel it at the foot of her door. Misery was relentless in trying its’ accost of her soul, but somehow she held it off, though she had no idea how much longer she could.
She looked around her, at the adults in her life, and saw shadows over eyes and slumped shoulders. They could put on a good show for family and friends and when the occasion called for a strong performance, but when they were alone she saw them for what they really were. Their eyes could no longer hide their tiredness when they were alone. Above all, that tired succumbing was what Talya wanted to escape, and she thought that maybe they did as well.
“Just like that woman in the story,” she whispered to her visitor in the spare moments she had her room to herself. She paused when she heard movement in the rooms beyond her closed door. “My cousin said it was violent and mean, damn mean the way she killed her child, but it was an act of mercy and love. That’s what we’re going to do for them.”
And the stranger sat quietly awhile behind the mirror beneath the loose floorboard. Finally, “Your people have justified a great many things in the name skewed idealism.” Talya wasn’t quite sure she knew what he was saying, and her visitor must have known. “Take for example the people who lived here before the Europeans.”
Talya knew a little bit about them. In her textbooks she learned that they’d built teepees and that they helped the early American settlers survive their first winters. But she also knew a little Apache boy. She met his father, a man who only smoked Marlboros and who would watch westerns late into the night and laugh at all the jokes the white cowboys made like he was one of them and like their wit and cleverness was the best he’d ever heard. She could never quite figure out how the people in the school book related to the fat Apache father who barely noticed his son when they spoke and who dreamed of being white, but she new it had to do with the Misery she saw running rampant in the land they told her was her home. She never found out if his people built teepees or not, and the old man didn’t know.
The visitor stroked what looked like a chin, but of course Talya couldn’t be sure, when he said, “You know one version of the story, but I was there when it happened. They killed most of them, poisoned the rest, and they brought them their Trinity. Their Jesus was to be the natives’ consolation prize, and the Europeans justified their cruelty in the gift of their Christ, saying you have lost much but you’ve gained much more in Jesus Christ, you’ve gained salvation!” Again the visitor paused, “but you see it was idealism, their religion was the ideal, and they used that to destroy, turn-over, and shape the world in their image.”
Talya had to think about that. “You’re saying, you’re telling me that I might be doing the same thing now… saying what I have to so that I can get my way.” The visitor smiled the way humans do, but Talya didn’t think it looked natural on him. “Keep working on it Lertan.”
They both chuckled at the visitor’s sad attempt at a smile, and Lertan agreed that it looked ghastly on him. The conversation came back to their escape. And Lertan again became serious. “What you’re asking will hurt a lot of people.” Talya shook her head knowingly, and she was about to speak but her friend stopped her. “You think you know, but you don’t. You humans think linearly, and very rarely to you consider the interconnectedness of parts.”
“No, I know.” Talya was feeling more than a little angry with her visitor then. “I know, setting you free will kill them! It’ll kill all of them! The city will be no more, like biblical destruction and shit!”
“It’s not just the city.” Lertan stepped back from the pane of the mirror and buried half his eyes in his palm. “Family exists beyond this city that will be pained by this plan of yours too, businesses and the people who make their livelihood by them will suffer as well… you do not live in a vacuum Talya.”
She hadn’t thought beyond the city, Lertan had been right on that count. Talya sighed and shook her head, “But why should we have to suffer for them? They don’t even like us!” And at that her visitor was silent. She knew he felt what she felt, that burning pain, that Bullshit and Misery, that Slavery-disguised-as-freedom-and-choice. She knew he could fell it. When they’d first met he’d told her his kind were very much in tune with the world around them, he’d said his kind were Empathetic.
The visitor closed his eyes and sighed. “I’ll admit only, that my time here, has been long, and that I would like to see home once more.”
“So you want to go!” Talya would have hugged her visitor if she could. Instead she put a fingertip to the glass and he did the same. It was almost like they were connected.
Again the visitor sighed. “Yes I want to go, but not at the expense of millions of people.”
Talya sat back. Everything was so confusing. “How can you want to go, and want to stay? It doesn’t make any sense!”
The visitor tried his smile again and this time Talya thought it looked a little more, human. “Both our species are very complex little one. That is our universal truth. There is no black and white with us, and there is no good and evil, only shades of grey and the choices we make.” He paused for a moment. “Look at me girl… The choice, as you know is yours. Search your heart, and you will come to the right decision.”
“But what if I choose the wrong thing!” Talya was crying now. “I never get it right! I’m not like the girls from church! They’d get it right… you’d know if you met them! You wouldn’t even like me if you did! How do you know I’ll get it right!”
“On my planet,” Lertan spoke between whispered breaths, “Our faith is as strong as yours.” All the while she’d been fingering the key.
Lertan hadn’t thought she would find back when they’d first met. His ship was buried at the edge of the city, but when Talya found it an old broken home had been built over the spot. She used her grandfather’s metal detector like the visitor had told her, and she found it. Beneath a creak in the floorboards was an old basement, and she chipped away at the foundation she found soft earth, and below that she found Lertan’s ship.
It lit up at her fingertips, and cold air spewed out of it as the hatch slid open. There were so many lights inside of it. She found the key as Lertan had described it, a metallic triangle with a raised disc on the flat side. All she had to do was place the circle in the indentation beneath the mirror, and her visitor would be free… but when she did the released energy would destroy her city in a brilliant ball of fire. Lertan told her he would be able to protect her, but that there was no way they could save the city.
So she’d found her escape at last, but it came with a deadly price. She thought about her cousin away at college. The story he’d told her about the woman and her child, dead by her own hands, gave her hope that she could live with herself afterwards. That she could leave the pain and misery of their reality in search of something better, and know that in their death she’d given them freedom from the Misery that slumped their shoulders and put the shadow over their eyes. Talya wondered if her cousin would be among those hurt by the loss outside of the city.
It seemed unavoidable, and for that she was truly sorry. She heard her mom screaming on the phone in the kitchen, which meant her and her sister would have to endure another dangerous night with a dangerous woman that looked a lot like their mom, but wasn’t, and was violent too. She decided then to take her sister with her when she left, but first, she’d have to warn Dr. Grey.