The deep disconnect that exists between the person the world sees you as, and the one you really are….
Almost anyone can say “help me.”
Since Mindy died, Clark had laid awake at night thinking on how best he could explain this to people. He would lay, staring at the ceiling, wondering how they could understand that twice in his life someone had turned to him when they needed help. Once he was able to deliver, the other he hadn’t. That made it even in his mind, which he liked. He liked not being a hero or a numb passerby. Just a man like any other, surrounded by the sad dealings of the world, but not an integral part of anyone’s except his own.
When Clark wasn’t tossing and turning and thinking about Mindy he dreamed about the boy. It was eight years ago and Clark was only a skinny teenager back then and nobody’s idea of a hero. The boy couldn’t have been more than five. It was muggy and Clark was smoking a pilfered cigarette. He was down by the riverside pull-off, a little area of dirt and grass on the side of the long, empty state road. The government had set it up so drivers had somewhere to stop and stretch their weary legs, get some fresh air or take a nap. It was necessary. The emptiness of the countryside made people drowsy and reckless with their lives. The ghosts of car crashes dotted the landscapes.
The boy was on the grass by the banks of the river, lost in his playtime. Then he stopped suddenly and looked right at Clark. His eyes were saying help me. Clark looked quickly away, uncertain.
A moment later the boy was caught up in the swift flowing river. Clark was sure that the boy’s head had already been bashed in by a rock. But he went after him anyway. As he rushed to the water he tossed his cigarette onto the grass.
Clark didn’t like it when people brought up the boy. It made him surly. The memories of it had gotten all twisted up in his head. The picture of that boy’s limp body bobbing up and down in the river struck him like white hot lightning over and over for eight long years. He could barely recall rescuing the boy or the bevvy of thanks that came after.
In Clark’s dreams the boy was dead. The fact was clearer than a glass of water. Sometimes in his dreams he checked the news on his phone and there was a benefit supper for the boy’s family because they still didn’t have the money to bury him after eight years of saving. Other times he dreamed that the boy had grown up fast and was now older than Clark and had killed some sweet girl. Already thrown away his life and someone else’s.
Clark felt uneasy around people now. He was tense and defensive no matter how light the chatter because eventually the boy would be brought up. Or Clark would be sure they were thinking about it. The town was too small for him to encounter anyone unaware of his heroism.
When he had enough money save he bought a bungalow on the outskirts of town. He went out there to try and be alone. But there’s no way to be alone in a small town when you’ve lived in it your whole life. He ended up not alone, only lonesome. Just surly and crowded by the memories people had of him – the Clark that lived in other people’s heads.
Mindy moved across the street the second summer Clark lived on the outskirts. She rented a trailer month-to-month. Clark thought it was strange a woman who had been in this part of the country her whole life should live in a way meant for those just passing through. One night Clark was fed up with laying wide awake. Even at 3:00 a.m. there was no relief from his sweat-soaked, twisted bedsheets. He wandered out onto the porch where there was hardly any light, only dim stars poking through the atmosphere. Mindy sat on her lawn. Clark could barely make her out, but he heard the ice cubes clinking in her glass.
“Don’t just stand there. Come over and be neighborly for a while,” she slurred. His face grew hot in the dark.
Clark walked over to her. It was hard to see. He tried to recall what she looked like in the light – ten years older than him, wiry and tired but beautiful in a way. “It’s too dark,” he told her. “I can hardly see you.”
“You don’t have to see to talk.” She shook her glass. “You want some?”
“Sure.” Clark sat down with her on the damp lawn. Mindy reached for his arm and slid her fingers down it until she got a hold of his hand. She pressed the glass into his palm – strong iced tea mixed with strong whisky. He took two sips and returned it.
“I still can’t see anything,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if you can’t see me. It really doesn’t.” She used the back of her hand to wipe her mouth. “I’m used to people not seeing me. Do you know what I mean?”
“I guess,” Clark answered slightly confused.
“No, a hero boy like you wouldn’t know what I’m talking about. But let me tell you, I walk around this town and who do they see coming down the street? Some woman named Mindy that they think they has it all figured out. But it’s not the real me they see coming.”
Clark’s mouth ran dry with shame. He felt Mindy’s pain but he wasn’t sure what to say. Mindy doubled over, her head against her knees. “I’ve got all this wide open country and I feel crowded and choked.” She looked up at him. If they’d had any light he would’ve seen how much she meant her words but instead he thought it was the liquor talking.
“Listen Clark, often I’ve felt like I want to disappear and other times I’ve been afraid because I’m sure that I will disappear. And tonight is special because for the first time I feel like I want to disappear and I’m about to. Do you think I should?”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t have to understand. You just have to tell me what to do.”
“Do…what makes you happy.” Clark didn’t mean that but it seemed like the right thing to say. The air grew uncomfortable as his swords hung suspended between them. They said their goodnights and made a few empty promises about falling asleep soon.
When Clark awoke the next morning and there were ambulances at Mindy’s trailer, he wasn’t surprised. He busied himself with getting ready for work. Within a month a young woman with a baby had moved into Mindy’s trailer.
Clark looked through the blinds at the woman and the baby playing in the grass. He wanted to tell her about the boy and Mindy and all the thoughts he had swirling around in his head about them. But he didn’t know how to and he knew he never would.
Meagan Masterman is a writer in Massachusetts, originally from rural Maine. Her work has appeared in Unbroken Journal, Specter Magazine, Reality Hands, and more. She can be found around the internet and on Twitter under the handle @MeaganWords.