the weird chick

Mila and Joel

August 5th, 2015

Teal-tinted green carpet lined by thin metal bars met with pale pink wallpaper, textured almost like corduroy, though not at all soft, almost like dried dripping paint. Watercolour strokes in softly saturated hues spackled the popcorn walls in geometric patterns, sitting in sharp contrast with the fluorescent tubes above. The suspended ceiling tiles were a subtle, pale aged yellow, stippled with grey. Beneath the buzzing of the industrial lights came the lower hum of laboured breaths, of whispers to ghosts, and of grumbled frustrations. The air contained an ever-present smell that could, with effort and prolonged exposure, be tolerated, but never accepted.

White-washed wicker furniture sparsely adorned the small room: two chairs and a table, a dresser, a twin-size bed, a bed-side table with a small lamp, and a bench for two, perhaps three if they’re small or very friendly. Cushions in a soft cantaloupe orange adorned with yellow triangles and green lines provided little comfort on the chairs and the bench, though they did match the curtains. A small, old tube TV sat on a white shelf, suspended somewhat haphazardly from the ceiling. With the cheap check-out aisle universal remote, the TV could switch from basic cable channel to basic cable channel at will.

Sitting on the bed, dressed in standard sheets of white cotton, was the room’s occupant, a man with white, but very little, hair, though plenty sprang from his ears and his eyebrows. His scalp was spotted with brown, his nose was bulbous, and his ever-present loose-hanging scowl revealed a mouth half-filled with sepia-toned teeth. His dull eyes stared vacantly at the murmuring television set, willfully unaware of the woman sitting silently in the white wicker chair, knitting.

Her hair curled gently down to her chin, softly swept waves of a now-artificial golden light brown, framing a face of warm blue eyes, with soft skin afflicted by far fewer wrinkles than she had earned by now. Through her oval glasses, she focused on the needles and yarn in her hands, pale pink lips pursed in thought.

A knock came at the door, and she looked up. He continued to stare catatonically at the flickering screen above as she rose and went to greet the visitor. Her arms rose as she cried out a greeting, reaching for an eager, excited embrace. They exchanged the typical hellos and how long has it beens, each expressing laboured shock at how many years had since gone by. Then the visitor’s attention turned to the occupant, staring vacuously, and he called out:

“Joel! I have not seen you in eight years, your wife tells me! What is the matter with us, cousin?”

Joel did not respond, and his cousin turned slightly towards the woman, eyebrow raised. Her cheeks flushed a rosy pink as her eyes quickly looked away, and she shook her head. Her arms were tightly crossed and her shoulders slightly slouched, and she made her way back to the chair, resuming her knitting with gently trembling hands. The visitor turned back to Joel.

“Hey, cousin, are you awake?” he said, this time louder, as he walked towards the bed. Joel’s scowl twitched a little, and his eyes flicked quickly towards and away from his cousin. He grumbled something unintelligible, and hardly audible. “Joel?” his cousin said.

Joel slowly turned his head towards his cousin, and it seemed as though the fog was lifting. “Joe? Is that you? How long has it been since we last saw each other?” Each word came out with more enthusiasm than the last, and by the end Joel’s words dripped with the saccharine sweetness you only find with artificial flavours, though he swore it sounded earnest. “How I have missed you, cousin!” he said with a mouthful of sugar.

John stepped closer to his cousin Joel, arms outstretched in the same fashion as the woman had shown him upon his arrival. They exchanged the same eager, excited embrace, so similar it was as if it was rehearsed and performed with precision.

“This is a nice place you have found, yeah?” John asked.

The familiar scowl returned to Joel’s face. “It’s shit,” Joel replied. The honey no longer dripped from his voice.

“Did you watch the soccer game?” his cousin persisted.

“They can barely play,” Joel grumbled. “Of course they lost. Useless.”

John turned to look at the woman again, but her eyes were firmly focused on her knitting.

“How are the nurses treating you?” John asked again, still trying.

“They’re a constant nuisance when you don’t need them, and as easy to catch as a bullet when you do. Dumb as bricks when you get them in here, too.” The scowl had settled in comfortably, and the empty stare had returned to his eyes as his gaze fell back to the TV overhead. Briefly he turned back to his cousin. “John? Is that you?” he said, confused. His cousin nodded.

“Oh, I thought I’d never see you again,” Joel muttered. “You were always too busy to come say hello.”

A flash of anger rushed across Joe’s face. He took a deep breath. “Joel,” he said, each syllable wavering slightly under the forced control, “you never came to see me, either. I used to call you, but you were never there. My kids are all grown up now, Joel, and so are my grandkids, and you were invited to all of it, but you never came.” The wavering grew stronger as the control began to slip away. “I came here because I heard you were sick, Joel, and I wanted to try one last time to see my cousin. And you have the audacity to tell me I was too busy for you!” He was near shouting now, when the wavering in his voice again shrunk as he regained control. Joel scowled from the bed, and did not respond.

John turned his body towards the woman in the chair. “Mila, I’m sorry for getting upset in front of you. It was nice to see you again, but I must leave.” She rose and walked him to the door, and they exchanged a half-hearted hug, this one much less precise. He turned and left, and she shut the door behind him, returning to her chair to knit. Joel sat on his bed, once again nearly catatonic, staring at the TV as the same news clips made their way onto the screen again and again and again.

She had long since learned not to try talking.


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