A Study in Self Titled (Part One)

by Valerie Mandl, age 14
A Study in Self Titled (Part One) "Valerie likes the color blue, sunsets, and when people pronounce her last name right. She hopes you like her stories."

“In that moment, only little details matter. Her phone is dead. She ought to know why, but her friends have those answers. Her sneakers feel soggy, and water is seeping in through her socks, despite the fact that there is no rain. She could’ve stepped in something wet, but she really can’t remember. It’s as if she has just been born. Or reborn.”

She waits for a taxi. In that specific moment, or rather on that night itself, the world is drained of color. Or, maybe it’s filled with too much color. She can’t tell. No one can.

It’s not that big of a deal for some people. You see where I’m coming from, right?

In that moment, only little details matter. Her phone is dead. She ought to know why, but her friends have those answers. Her sneakers feel soggy, and water is seeping in through her socks, despite the fact that there is no rain. She could’ve stepped in something wet, but she really can’t remember. It’s as if she has just been born. Or reborn.

Across the street, a group of people are loading a coffin into the back of a hearse. She doesn’t know the man, or woman, but all of a sudden, she’s sad, and the morning sun comes out, nearly blinding her. Her hands are in the pockets of her hoodie, one clutching a folded up piece of paper and the other balled into a fist.

She has wanted to give Anita her letter, but Anita hasn’t been in town for two weeks. The thing about Anita is that she fills up the space of about twenty people. When she isn’t there, it’s as if the town is deserted, as if Constance is the only one alive and the only one roaming the streets.

When she had tried to explain the concept, of how wild it is to feel like the only person alive, to her friend, Harold, he had told her that that was “complete bullshit.” The only problem is that Harold says that about everything, so it kind of lost its meaning after a while, and it becomes harder and harder to tell if he really means it, or if he’s just drunk.

She’s so lost in thought that she forgets she has been gripping the letter with a force that she didn’t even know she possessed. She lets go. The apartment door behind her has been left ajar ever since she left, and she has been standing on the sidewalk ever since, mesmerized by the sunrise and the mourners across the street, who are now arguing in low voices about who should ride in the front of the hearse and who should be forced to sit in the back with the dead man.

The tallest man in the group, who looks like he’s somewhere in his 50’s, stares blankly at the ground, clearly in deep thought. The others are either sniffling into crumpled tissues or hugging each other, but this man seems to feel indifferent about whoever is in the coffin. Maybe it’s his worst enemy who is in that coffin, or maybe she’s thinking too much. However, she isn’t the only one who has a bad habit of doing that; everyone she knows is like that.

Whether it be by coincidence, or because she just happens to be living in one of the most run down places on Earth, it is true. The one who seems to overthink things the most is Anita. Constance would always get missed calls and frantic voicemails early in the morning from her, where she would ramble about how she didn’t understand the assignment, that had been given to her in her English class, and how her dad was mad at her. The voicemails usually only lasted around 30 seconds, and they always cut off towards the end, which Constance assumed was because Anita was still figuring out how to get her new phone to work properly. When Constance would call her back, she’d always answer in the same frantic voice, although she always sounded a bit calmer than she did before. Anita has a nice voice; everyone liked that about her. That is one of the things that Constance misses the most about her after she left, or rather disappeared.

No one can explain it, really.

But, we’re not here to talk about Anita.

The mourners across the street still haven’t moved from their spot, their feet still planted firmly on the concrete, surrounding the hearse. The trunk is open. Now it’s getting ridiculous. Are they just going to have a funeral out in the rain? It could be some sort of tradition, but no one wants to deal with a corpse left out in the rain, not even spiritual people.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Oh wow, I expected better from Constance. She really shouldn’t be making assumptions about strangers.” However, Constance knows what she’s talking about. Constance’s mother was a spiritual woman. She would preach ancient legends and light incense in the living room every other month and pull her daughter close, whispering phrases that no one could really comprehend. She didn’t think twice about it.

You don’t know Constance like I do.

The woman closest to the trunk slams it shut quickly, making a few of the other mourners flinch. She is wearing a long, black coat. There’s no fur on the coat, no fancy jewelry draped on her, just the sleek coat. A tote bag hangs by her wrist. Constance wonders if she bought the coat and the rest of her outfit specifically for this occasion, or if she had it before. Fashion is an abstract concept. The woman is rich. How do I know this? I don’t. But she looks like she is, and that’s all you need to know.

The rain is gone; the streets are still scattered with puddles here and there. There was no rain in the first place, but we, here in Mountain Oak, don’t like to assume. Our weather has been so unusual, lately, that anything is possible.

Constance sighs, stepping forward and looking both ways to cross the street. There are two cars parked on the street, none passing by at that moment, neither of them moving. Right foot, left foot. Before she can speak, or even think, she’s on the other side of the street. No cars whiz past behind her, and the absence of warmth is unsettling. She isn’t exactly face to face with the mourners, but is still pretty close. One by one, they begin to turn their heads, their gaze drifting from the coffin to Constance.

“Why are you here?” the rich woman asks, squinting her eyes with disapproval.

Constance does something, kind of like a shrug, in response to the rich woman. There’s a pause, not an awkward one, but one filled with deep thought. As if the rich woman is trying to figure out what to say next.

“Lydia, I can feel you glaring from here. Be nice. She probably just needs directions, ain’t that right?” a voice from inside the car booms as a man pokes his head out of the window, flashing a smile at Constance.

He has a thick, booming voice. A chill travels throughout her body. Not because of the way he talks, but because she’s never met someone so straightforward before.

“Not necessarily.”

There’s a thoughtful pause, and suddenly, he tilts his head to the side a bit, as if he’s about to ask a question. She steps closer, hesitantly putting her hand out. The driver probably thinks she’s going to shake his hand. That would be insane; they’re just two strangers on a sidewalk. He squints a bit, as if he’s trying to read her expression like you would read a book for English class. He raises his eyebrows for a second, and then nods.

“Do you need a ride?”

She looks back at the mourners, wondering why he’s so casual about giving a stranger a ride and abandoning the mourners that clearly need to get somewhere.

“The mourners do,” she whispers, and he smiles a bit.

“They’re family. I can send one of my other guys to help them. They’ll understand,” he chuckles, and Constance wonders if he can see the rich woman, who is crossing her arms and glaring in his direction.

They don’t seem that shocked; a few of them are being a bit too nonchalant about it. A few of them are staring at the sky, spaced out and suddenly far away from the small town. The rich woman turns her head. The engine revs up, and all of a sudden, Constance’s mind goes blank. She can’t remember what she was going to do before, or why she even walked up to the car. All she knows is that she’s getting into the back seat of the car, behind the man. Why does she do it? She has places to go. She tucks a piece of her hair behind her ear as she looks up at the driver, or the back of his head at least.

“Your family must be really understanding if they’re okay with you just abandoning them to drop a random stranger off.”

She cocks her head towards the back, the people behind fading as the car drives on. No response, but there’s probably a good reason why he doesn’t answer. Something lingers within her, like she’s forgetting something, but that might just be her suspicions rising. As they’re driving down neverending avenues, it’s as if time doesn’t exist. Everyone feels like that at some point, and if you say you haven’t, you’re probably lying. Local shops fly past her, and in the back of her mind, memories are there. If she concentrates really hard, maybe she’ll be able to access them again. Pizza places, apartments, and bookstores all whiz past, a sea of color in a colorless town.

“So, lil’ lady, where are you headed? Most people tell me that I’m a pretty flexible guy, and these blocks are a lot longer than I remembered, so feel free to speak up and tell me when,” the driver booms, turning his head to flash a toothy smile at Constance, and then continuing to watch the road.

The world is becoming fuzzier by the second, and all of a sudden, she’s slumping down further into the back seat, trying not to fall asleep as she’s overwhelmed by fatigue.

“Tell you when what?” she mumbles, her words becoming more and more jumbled together by the second.

“You know, when to stop, when to go, when we get to where you’re going,” he responds, his tone of voice suggesting that he thinks this is obvious.

The streets are becoming less and less complex, the driver’s voice is fading bit by bit. The story goes on.

“Where are you going, anyway? Hey, are you still there?” his voice booms from the front of the car, disguising the hesitation he possesses.

Constance blinks, and the voices and places fade in and out. The streets don’t seem so crowded anymore. She takes a deep breath in, and she falls into a deep sleep, muttering something that sounds like, “I’m going to find my friend.” Or maybe she said something else, like, “I’ve finally lost my head.” We don’t know.

Maybe we never will.

 

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