And Mira, Part 1: The Chalky Child
I am telling you this story not by my memory, but in my memory. I must ask you to try to hear my thoughts, take whatever cues, and fill in the blanks. Like a dream you wake up and remember only part-way, and my whole life is like that. Because I cannot talk, at least not in the way you would understand. I do have language, but my spoken language doesn’t make sense yet to most people. While I don’t speak many words, I hear them and understand what many of them mean. I have a good sense of what has happened, but simply cannot tell you my story with the spoken word.
Because, you see, I am 18 months old.
The world turns and its happenings occur around me over and over. I process what the adults say. I interpret what the other children do. Yet I am unable to speak about what has happened to a child I knew not long ago. I can only remember, and hope that you too can find sense in my thoughts and my memories.
My very first memory is of a crying child. Not the child in my story. Another. The sobbing baby might even be me, but I’m not sure. I’m certainly quite unpleasant, if it is in fact me. This child is pale, chalky white, marred and miserable. I’ve never heard such a cry. Not from myself, or from any of my friends.
Well, I don’t suppose I have friends, but the other children in the nursery school. The truth is I do not like them very much, since they spend their days and mine stealing my favorite toys, and finding new ways to brutalize each other. They can’t talk either, and their thoughts, whimpers and memories are all focused on food, their mothers, and pulling hair. Often mine.
But I never have heard a cry from any of those little beasts that is the same as the child in that brief early memory. It is the cry of a trapped animal, sweet yet sad. It is angered, frightened, and frightening. It evokes pity, yet implies flight. An anguished, horrifying cry. While you desire to extinguish the poor child’s pain, there is also a foreboding to it. Attempting any sort of comfort to this little one would certainly lead to death. It is a fleeting memory of a chalky child in the process of having soiled pants removed and changed by an adult, who clearly hates and fears it.
Nothing in the chalky child’s features is any clue. In fact, there are no prominent facial features at all. But, memories are like that, and the fog is thick. The grey-white skin is barely visible through the thick fog of my memory. The skin underneath the diaper is the only to have any color, red and bleeding from the apparent digestive incompetence of this pitiful child. Miserable…and that cry! Part of me perceives that it isn’t the pain of the bleeding skin or rash that causes this child’s pain. It is the pain of having been born at all. An abomination born into a life of pity, and hatred by all in view. This child, will never have comfort, and never know love. Not even from its own mother.
That is all from my first memory.
I no longer see that child when my eyes close, and rarely believe it to be myself. Left to my quietest thoughts, sometimes, alone in a crib, I hear the cry still, while even awake. Or sometimes, I hear it faintly in alone times with Mother, when she sings to me. Mother seemingly never hears, never responds. Wait, did I see her eyebrow twitch in that moment? No. No. Perhaps not.
My father is, or was, a hero. I’m not sure what that means. I believe his job was to kill, but that he died while doing his job. I’m not sure he is actually dead, but I don’t remember seeing him or ever meeting him. My mother says he wept uncontrollably the day I was born. And she says he adored me above all things. And then he was gone. I remember feeling that love, even though I have no actual memory or picture of him in my life.
There is a photo among our few personals in the library. It sits on the highest shelf, bookended by Christie and Mitchell, and a beautiful album adorned with two large “M’s”, the first beginning to wear on the right side. The photo is of mother, wearing a beautiful white dress next to a hopelessly handsome man in a suit. I imagine that beautiful man in the photo, adoring my mother, must be my father.
That’s most of what I know and remember about my family. There is so much more to my story.
As much as I’ve absorbed over my little time on the planet, there is little I’ve been able to organize into what makes sense. Most of my memories are from the nursery school. Disorganized, those memories are rich and plenty. They make more sense to a child my age. The children at the nursery do bizarre, unusual things, but they are the bizarre, unusual things that children do so well. And the behaviors of the adults caring for us are all the things a caring adult will do. Intuitive to me. When adults talk to each other, it’s about guns and cinema and nasties and nations. But when adults at nursery talk to children, they say “Ellie, would you like your meal”, or “Bing, do not bite the other children” or “Andrew, give the toy back to Mira”, or “Good morning Mira”…
Oh. I suppose I’ve neglected to “Introduce” myself. My name is Mira.
It seems. Most people call me Mira, though I’m not sure what it means or whether it is my first or my last name. Some other people refer to Mother by that name, calling her “Ms. Mira” or “Mother Mira”, or some such. Hard to say. Harder to remember. The adults at nursery just say “Mira” while looking at me and attempting to give me direction. So my name must be Mira. The other children, well, they do not call me anything.
Ellie is always hungry. She only eats. She is a sweet, pretty girl, who rarely causes a fuss. But she stays in place much of the time, and waits for the world to interact with her. This of course rarely happens unless one of the other children runs by and pulls her hair. That, sadly, happens a lot. The adults seem to forget about her much of the time. I stop by her at least once in a while, to give her a quick smile or a hug. I would never want to be forgotten by all of humanity for hours each day.
Andrew is a funny little boy that only wants to do whatever I’m doing. He is the closest to a friend I think I have here. More factually, I suppose, is that Andrew likes to take whatever I am playing with. He doesn’t hurt me, and he isn’t mean. He just takes things from me. He often smiles at me, and will even give me a small hug, all while he’s absconding with my playthings. I do think he likes me because he tries to say my name. Or, it’s possible that he’s lazy and is just saying “mama”. He is the youngest in his family, with three older siblings, all girls. Maybe that’s why he likes me. He says something which sounds like Mira and smiles and hugs me. That’s why I like Andrew.
There is also a set of twins. I don’t know their names. They confuse me.
Then there’s Bing.
Bing, I do not like. The adults call him “Beautiful Baby Bing” or “Baby Boy Bing” but they should call him “Biting Bing”. That is all Bing does, is bite all of the children in nursery school, every day. The adults get angry with him when he bites one of us, but not for very long. Bing is in fact a beautiful blond boy with a cute name, and no adult can stay mad at him. So he simply never stops biting the rest of us children. He waddles around with a little hop, with his little grin, and never says a word. He just waddles, hops into their arms, and grins. And he bites. Us.
There is another reason Bing the Bastard won’t stop biting, I think. (I heard Mother call him that once. It made all the adults laugh. I don’t know what that word means, actually). I think another reason Bastard Bing won’t stop biting is that his mother is the mean, angry type. Mother uses another word for her that also starts with “B”. It might be her name.
This woman hates life, hates us children, hates our parents, hates the adults in nursery, and in all likelihood hates Bing too. When the adults in nursery ask her for help with his behavior, she only yells at them, embarrasses and criticizes them in very personal ways. She hates us all. I’m pretty certain it makes her happy when he bites one of us. She certainly thought I deserved it when he bit my face a few weeks ago. She said so out loud. She said something about Mother, and me, and then laughed a laugh that wasn’t at all a human laugh but sick. Her laugh was miserable like the chalky child’s cry.
She laughed that day. I went home that night and cried. I don’t usually cry after something happens. I’m just not that type of toddler. Bing and his horrid mother hurt parts of me that I cannot see with their words and that laugh. Bing had bitten my cheek, and it bled, leaving a thin line of open skin close to my eye. Mother was angry. With me! She said that I should never allow this to happen to me. She was certain I would never be able to perform some function in front of a camera, whatever that meant. I was bad, and I would never be beautiful. Bing caused Mother to be angry with me and that hurt in a way that made me cry, all night, in my little bed.
Bing made me bad, so I thought. I was a disappointment already in my young life. Bing and his B-mother must be evil. I wanted them to die, which I also didn’t truly understand. When I’m older I will understand that that isn’t a nice thing to wish on people. I didn’t wish them to die out of hate or fate, but out of fairness. My father, the man in the photo, died. And he was good. Why should he die, but they get to live, biting and spreading filth in the nursery and in the world. I would never have really wished my father’s fate on another if I truly understood. I just knew he was good, death was bad, and Bing and his mother were bad. Fairness. Not fate.
I finally found sleep with those thoughts, deeply and firmly planted in my memory, along with the cry of that horrible child. You may be surprised to learn that here my story truly begins. It’s about Bing, and what happened to him. Because that was the last day Bing bit anyone. Ever. And I’m not sure if fate or fairness was the cause. What happened to Bing, the very next day, and each day forward for nearly a month was…
He never bit or tried to harm any of the children in nursery again. He never again victimized poor stationary Ellie. He stopped attempting to consume the confusing twins. He smiled at Andrew and me and didn’t try to hurt us. He still wobbled and hopped and grinned. Now even the children could love sweet Beautiful Bing. And it wasn’t just what he stopped doing, but what he began from that day forward. He actually started being nice to the other children.
He would bring Ellie bits of food when she was hungry, even sharing his own when there wasn’t enough. He learned how to open the pantry to get biscuits and an occasional snack cake for her! Ellie was happy every day and smiled more than ever I saw her. And not only at meals, but all the time. She would get up and chase him all through the day, laughing, catching him and hugging him.
He wouldn’t let Andrew take my toys away either. He wouldn’t hurt Andrew, but just took the toys back. He would smile, and give me hugs and kisses. It always made me nervous when he’d try to kiss my cheek, because I was afraid he would bite. But he never would. And Bing learned to say “Mira”. I secretly knew he loved Ellie though.
I am thinking of a B-word for lazy old Andrew…
Bing never bit the twins again. He didn’t really play with them either. None of us did very much I’m afraid. I think they confused him too. They’re a little creepy.
Bing, Sweet Bing was suddenly a good boy! And everyone, including the adults in nursery, and all of our parents, just loved Bing that much more! They would all tell his mother about what a good boy he was, how nice he was to the children, and how wonderful we all thought he was. Sadly, Bing’s mother did not change. As always, she would just laugh and defile our ancestors yet again. She didn’t see any difference and she didn’t care to.
Nearly a month.
Then, after those few wonderful weeks, Bing’s miserable mother seemed to care. One morning she came into nursery in tears. She came without threats. She came without insults, and without her miserable laugh. She howled, a much less bestial version of her miserable laugh. I’m sorry to say I liked it better. It was easier not to hate her, or want her dead, acting so human. I had no idea.
What confused us is when the adults at nursery started to cry. What a sight! The children in nursery calm and quiet, while every adult carried on like someone took their favorite toy! They said strange things, like “but he was never weak” or “he had no cough” and “he couldn’t have had a fever I would have noticed”. They were all confused, all sobbing, all looking to each other, and sometimes to us, for comfort and an answer to an unsolvable puzzle.
Without any warning, any symptoms, something called pneumonia had taken sweet Bing in his crib. Fate. Fairness. Perhaps both. Ellie, seeing Bing’s mother, looked around for him to play. Somehow, she understood, seeing the adults cry and Bing missing, that she would not see him again. So she sat down where she was, staring ahead, eventually shedding tears she could not explain. I don’t remember when she finally moved again.
I didn’t cry in my crib that night. True, I would miss Bing, and the wonderful boy he had become. I would miss hearing him say my name. But I remembered my father, who also died unfairly. He too was wonderful and he too adored me. That’s fair, and that’s how it goes.
Bing had been nice, a friend to all, suddenly becoming a giving person to everyone in his world. Then he was lost. But Bing, sweet Bing received his just reward for his behavior up to that point. Fate, or fairness. Hard to say. Bing’s mom changed however. She finally became human. She properly began hating herself more than the world and everyone who had seen fit to love her child through his short life, both bad and good. Fate had replaced her hate for us. What a thing to have to happen, in order for one so foul to become human.
At that, actually, I cried a little, saddened at the thought that some adults needed such a motivation to become decent members of humanity. I hoped I would never become that way. And as I quietly sobbed, I heard the pitiful cry of the chalky child, for a moment, then drifted away to sleep.
And Mira, Part 2: Smoke
“Hello Smoke,” Mira giggled.
“Don’t call me that. That isn’t my name…”
“Well then, what is your real name? I very well must call you something!” she asserts.
“Oh…well…sorry…I..I just can’t…”
“But I don’t understand why you need to call me Smoke! It makes no sense, and it cannot be anything like my real name.”
He said this without being irritated, because she was right. He was unable to share his real name with her at this time. Her nickname for him made little sense, but was a mantle of mystery he had to admit he enjoyed.
It had been seven years since Mira had heard the cry of the chalky child. She still remembered the image of the pale child in pain, but no longer heard the terrible suffering in the back of her memory, or in her dreams. He had remained silent for many years after the passing of Sweet Bing. Almost as if both children had suffered and died simultaneously, the chalky child no longer found a voice after the unexpected passing of Mira’s childhood friend from pneumonia. The cry was palpable that night, almost as if mourning with her, then went away with as little warning as he came. For seven years the piteous child and the agonizing cry was absent. Until recently.
Earlier this month, in the twilight between awareness and sleep, he began speaking to her. At first she was frightened, of course. But it did not take Mira long to realize that this voice must be the miserable baby now grown, and able to speak. He too had replaced his cry with words she could hear, and respond to. She was certain that this was the chalky child of her infancy. They were known and unknown, strangers and friends, yet unseen to each. He seemed unaware of who he was, and did not know who Mira was, other than the one soul that could hear him.
Mira, as a baby, thought the chalky child was even a part of her own mind. But, this was a boy so she dismissed that fully. She thought, too, that it may be the spirit of sweet Bing back to haunt her, or bite her, or just lost in the next life. She wasn’t so quick to dismiss that, even though it was unlikely. The chalky child had been in her thoughts before death had taken Bing. So, impossibly, it seemed that Mira had friended a phantom in her quietest moments, most likely the auditory incarnation of a tormented baby from her memory! A lonely lost soul she called “Smoke”.
“You see, Smoke, you can’t tell me your name. Or you won’t! But I must call you something when I address you, when we speak. And, you see, I remember you from when you were just a baby. We never met, of course, but I knew you, and saw you, and…” She pauses here, not wanting to bring up the constant cries of agony she remembered. He doesn’t seem to know much about himself, and she didn’t want to upset him. If she made Smoke angry, he may leave her for another seven years or more! Though she had many friends, she enjoyed having this secret friend, and didn’t want him to go away. Particularly if by some chance it was indeed Bing. What fun!
“I don’t remember much of course, as I too was just a baby. But every time I saw you, it was as if through the fog of the deepest memory. In some ways I felt as though I was seeing you then, while at the same time as a distant thought. Which is silly, because of course babies don’t have deep memories and distant thoughts. But the constant was the dim fog separating us from existing at the same time, in the same room, or together in the same dream.
“So I call you Smoke! Would you prefer I call you Fog? Cloud, perhaps? Gassy?”
“No, gosh no. No. Fine. Smoke it is. I…actually like it. Well, what shall we play today?”
“Oh, Smoke, you silly, I have to go to school now. I wish you could go with but that never works. I’d love to talk more, but, I’m quite sure it’s time to wake up now.”
And, it was. As every morning, I awake, alone, in daze and haze. Unlike a dream, though, it isn’t just a vivid memory I have of speaking with Smoke. It is as though it just occurred while I was awake. As though it were real. I’m sure Smoke is some kind of spirit, perhaps of a child that died during war, or of pneumonia like Bing, or simply another child spared of another day as the child of Bing’s mother. Thankfully this ghost or whatever doesn’t seem to mean any harm to me. So, like most mornings I awake, very refreshed despite having spent much of my night in otherworldly conversation, and prepare for school.
I love school. I love to read, and learn about things of the world. At the beginning of class each day we pledge allegiance to our flag. “One nation, indivisible.” Teacher calls attendance in order, finally getting to my name. “Mira Mirras!” I say “present”.
So you see my confusion when I was young. Mira. Mira Mirras. That’s my name. Mira was both my first and last name. What a stupid thing for my parents to do. And I had to go to school to figure that out. My first year out of nursery school I thought all of the adults had a stutter! It explains the big book in our library adorned with two “M’s”, though. The first M has worn ever more each year at its farthest right leg. It’s my book of photos.
We study mathematics philosophies for a little while each day, reading, and handwriting. In Social Studies, we are learning about World War II and the split of Germany. This is probably my favorite class! I remember mom telling me we had some distant cousins in Germany. At one point, there were a number of people that needed food and such airlifted to them. What an adventure! I’m sure it was very difficult for them though. The German people are not always seen in a very favorable light, often considered gruff and harsh.
I’m still friends with both Andrew and Ellie. He prefers ‘Andy’. She prefers ‘Eleanor’. Despite that, I’m still friends with them. Andrew (yes, I still call him Andrew), is still my best friend. He was before, even when Bing was being so nice. But let’s face it, Bing was nice, Andrew stole my toys, and I liked the attention from both of them. Andrew didn’t seem to miss Bing very much at the time. Now, we both remember Bing. Fondly. Sadly.
You may remember the twins. They grew up with us, and became a little less confusing. There is a boy and a girl, named Frank and Kelly. They are still funny, as they seem to know what the other is thinking and feeling all the time. Weird. I understand that it’s normal for twins to be very sensitive to each other’s feelings and experiences. They have a lot of jokes and the like that only they laugh at. It’s a little annoying, but I see why they enjoy having that understanding with each other. I might enjoy that, having a sister that knew everything I was feeling! It would be nice if Andrew would occasionally guess what I’m thinking too.
Sorry, that’s another topic.
Kelly and Frank are very good friends to us, but they aren’t always good people.
Kelly is very energetic, perhaps a little hyper. She is pretty in the way that you could make a boy pretty, since she still looks like Frank. He is also pretty, though I would never say that to him. Kelly is very social and will be the one to invite others into a conversation. She works hard to get everyone to like her, but is easily wounded. She likes a lot of attention, but only when it’s positive attention. Her grand personality sometimes makes others feel small, and they let her know it. When that happens, she won’t talk to you for weeks. And when Kelly doesn’t talk to you, Frank does not talk to you either.
Frank is a bully. I’m not saying that it’s entirely unprovoked, but he is. Outside of Kelly’s influence, he is quiet, helpful, and very kind. He is in many ways Kelly’s opposite. Yet they’re twins. And because of that sensitivity, Frank disappears whenever she is upset, and “Angry Boy Kelly” appears. It’s true! Suddenly the kind, quiet Frank becomes as the direct mouthpiece to Kelly’s emotions, and he will lash out on her behalf.
One of the younger boys in school pulled his sister’s hair earlier in the year. I think the young guy actually liked Kelly, and just didn’t know how to talk to her. So he pulled her hair then ran away. Boys do that. Except Andrew. I’d kill him. He knows it.
Sorry, I did it again…
About a month later, Frank started beating the younger kid up, every day, before school. He would punch him in the stomach, and bruise his upper arms and legs, where adults wouldn’t see. He would shake him and threaten him. Some days he wouldn’t even hurt him, but would gaze at him with such menace that the little boy would wet his pants. One day he bloodied the poor kid’s nose and I thought for sure Frank would get in trouble. But the smaller kid told a story protecting Frank because he was scared. And he never spoke with Kelly either, because he was afraid of Frank. That part makes me angry, because otherwise Frank is a mild, friendly guy. I don’t like that she puts him up to that. The little guy learned his lesson. Let it go!
You may remember Ellie. I saved her for last. She is absolutely my best girlfriend, every day since nursery. She has grown to be very smart, and pretty. But she still has a large appetite, and she no longer chases boys. They chase her! I love Ellie, and frankly so does everyone else. She took Bing’s kindness to her, and shares it regularly with everyone else in her world. But Ellie, every day since Bing was taken from her, is sad. She doesn’t look sad, but I can see the missing piece of her soul, that only a friend can see. She shares the very best of herself with others. She saves her tears for me. In many ways I’m grateful to be that person for her. Almost like a twin.
Each day, Andrew walks me home. He doesn’t carry my books or anything. We just walk together because he lives so close. We are very good friends, though, and we talk about everything. He talks about a lot of things I could care less about, but I listen. It’s the least I can do, since he seems to sincerely care about everything I have to say.
Sometimes we talk about Frank, and whether we should make him stop beating up the smaller boy. We both agree that it’s probably Kelly putting him up to it. We both like the twins, especially Frank, when he isn’t acting that way. It’s very difficult to keep associating with him when he is harming a smaller boy though. Sometimes I’m even embarrassed to admit that I know him. Every day Andrew and I agree that the very next day we will make him stop. And every next day comes and we are too chicken to do actually do anything or say anything. I’m ashamed. I’m a coward when it comes to these things.
Most days, I make soup, wait for Mother to get home from work, and watch TV. It’s a little set showing the programs of the day in black and white. Not impressive. I think we will be able to get one in color someday though! Mom and I enjoy the quiz shows. The one where the host tugs his ear and the contestants play charades is our favorite! Mom and I act out the charades and try to guess along with the show. We both stink at it and laugh at each other a lot. These moments let me know that I have a very good life, for which I’m grateful.
Mother and I are very close. I’m all she has. Father is dead, so I’ve heard. It turns out though, that the photo of the man on the bookshelf is not my father. She doesn’t have a photo of Father. She feels bad about that.
The man in the photo is another man she married after she found out my father had died. He was the handsome one in the photo next to my album of baby pictures. Mother says that she loved him almost as much as Father, and that he was very good to her and me for a while. She says he loved me almost as much as Father did. Despite that, he left. What’s funny is that I never met either Father, or my step-father, and have only a photo of the latter. Something must have gone terribly wrong for him to leave the wonderful woman that is Mother. I have a hard time loving him back.
On this particular day, Andrew and I resolve to end Frank’s bullying of the little boy the next morning. For good. His terrorizing of the poor kid was just too much to bear. The child sat for an hour, under a tree, just shaking and shaking, afraid to enter the school that day. His teacher finally went out and collected him before lunch, and he said he fell asleep. As scared as I am, I think it’s just too much to witness day after day. And for once, Andrew was angry enough to fight Frank himself if needed. We’ll talk to Frank first, of course, but if that doesn’t work…
We never had to. The very next morning, out of nowhere, Frank went up to the little boy, and apologized to him. Profusely, and with tears. Weird. He was truly ashamed of his actions. Not only that, but he promised to protect him from anyone else that would ever try to hurt him the rest of the school year. And, he apologized on behalf of Kelly. They all became very good friends. In fact, the younger boy struck an especially close friendship with Kelly, who he liked. She, in turn, started being very nice to him, walking home with him from school every day. Just like Andrew and me, though I think she started, uh, liking the boy. And he carried her books for her. Lucky girl!
Sorry. I really need to stop that. How embarrassing…
I had always found Kelly to be a little unforgiving, so this was a surprise. She wasn’t a bully like Frank, but without her influence, Frank was more likely to be a close friend to someone than she. She was less likely to forgive a past slight. He, quietly, continued to be the young boy’s protector, as well as a good friend to everyone else. She was the same ebullient girl she always was, but without the easy wounding and vengeful tactics. They were a strange pair, each with two different sides, not quite complementary. Now, they were both showing their very best sides, great students and even better people, for nearly a month.
One day, Andrew and I decided to ask Frank what was responsible for the big change. Something had definitely happened, but what? We asked him to walk with us after school. Since his sister spent so much time with the other boy, he was happy for the company, and agreed. We walked a few blocks, keeping the conversation very casual. Then, at the right time, I asked Frank directly what had made him decide to stop bullying the little boy, and to befriend him. What was responsible for this wonderful change that made us all love him, and Kelly? Frank stopped, and looked at his feet, as if deciding between two different answers. He finally decided, and his mouth began to form the word “Kelly”.
But before he could utter that or any other word, he sunk to his knees. Tears began to well, slowly at first. Then, with a sudden frightening twist to his features, the tears fell freely, and he wept. He had gone completely mad, crying and whimpering out of control, his face a mixture of torment and fear. We tried to comfort him, but he couldn’t stop. Any approach brought ever louder screams. Other times his eyes would glaze and he appeared to forget we were even there with him.
After nearly ten minutes of persistent, even despair, he lifted his head and howled. This was a miserable cry, as though an animal were caught in a trap, breathing its last. We were afraid that Frank would die before our very eyes. But, Frank did not die. Immediately following the horrible scream, he was finally able to mouth the word, “Kelly” as he intended before, but this time he was certain of which word to utter. Then, he stood, and ran from us, as if from a fire.
We followed him. Frank isn’t normally a sure runner, but he seemed to know precisely where he was going this time. He turned quick corners and ran back toward our school. Just before reaching the storehouse of education we all shared, he rapidly bent his path, choosing a quiet block, with only a few houses to boast. It was the block that the little boy lived on; the same poor kid that he used to brutalize on a daily basis. And there, in the middle of the street was that boy, huddled down over a body, himself a mess of tears. Kelly’s body. She was dead.
Frank froze, viewing Kelly’s broken body. After empty moments had passed, the boy was able to ramble a few words. Kelly had apparently been hit by an automobile. She never had a chance, dead even before being flung in the air. It was clearly an accident, as no small boy could cause that kind of damage. Neighbors finally started to pour out to help and bring order to the situation. No one, including the boy had seen any car speeding down that road. In fact, very few cars ever traveled this road. One must have this day though. And at the very moment of the accident, and each second leading up to it, Frank had felt her fear, her pain and her death.
The little boy went into shock. He didn’t speak the rest of the school year, until his parents just kept him home. He would be absent from school entirely until many years later. That night, in my bed, I didn’t cry. I couldn’t cry for Kelly. I could feel sad for Frank, and for the little boy, I suppose. It was true that Kelly had turned around, becoming a good friend, and a good person. But, as you know, fate and fairness and all. Kelly, I’m sure, received her ultimate reward for her behavior the many months prior.
You know, even as I say that, and even believe it; it rings hollower than with Bing. I decide to talk with Smoke about it when next we speak.
“Smoke, why do bad things happen to good people?”
“You mean like Kelly?” he asked.
“They don’t. Kelly was not a good person. She made Frank mean.”
I didn’t know how he could possibly know that.
“Smoke, how do you know that?”
“Bing. He wasn’t a good person either. He was mean.”
I now know that Smoke was NOT Bing. I was suddenly afraid to know any more. I wanted to wake up.
“Mira, I’m going to try to tell you my name. Soon. You will help me. Then you will call me by my real name.”
This pause felt very uncomfortable.
“Do you know how Kelly died?”
And with that, it was time to wake again. I suddenly shivered before opening my eyes to the new day. It was because I was already awake, and morning had not yet come. My eyes had never closed. I had the whole night yet before me.
“I will tell you my name.”
And Mira, Part 3: Andrew Lost
I decided today to look through my photo album. It’s been a while. Every time I open the book, the “M” on the cover, the first one, wears down more of its dangling right leg. There are two large “M’s” on the cover, signifying my name, Mira Mirras.
Yes, that’s my name. Redundant, I know.
I don’t want to damage the cover any further, so I rarely pull it from the bookshelf where it sits next to a photo of Mother and my former step-father. When I do take down the album, I’m quite careful. For twelve years I’ve managed to fill this book with brief glimpses of my life’s endeavors, keeping careful to protect my nameplate. Today, I am as cautious as ever, but intent on viewing each photo in detail for clues to the ghost that haunts me.
My ghost is “Smoke”, or so I call him as he hasn’t told me his real name. He started as a foggy memory from my infancy, so initially when he began speaking to me at age nine, I simply called him Smoke. It sounded better than “Smog”. I didn’t realize at the time that he was a ghost, as truthfully I could very well have been mad, hearing voices, attributing them to lost friends long gone. But, I was quite certain that the unhappy chalky child from my early memories was now grown, and speaking to me as a grown boy. He no longer demonstrated the agony of his difficult young childhood, and presented as a secret friend.
Now, I’m not so sure. True, there haven’t been any further deaths, and Smoke has been nothing but kind, even funny on occasion. But I cannot forget the night that Kelly died, and how much he seemed to know about her, inferring that her death was justified. And yet, he seemed unwilling to share about how much he knew about her actual death. Chilling!
Two children I have known have died in the time that I’ve known Smoke, or at least known of him. There is little to prove that Smoke was responsible, really. The one child, Bing, died of pneumonia – quite common in our day. And Kelly was an unfortunate victim of an automobile accident. Both deaths were very sad and untimely, but not at all unusual or unheard of.
But here’s the thing. Bing showed no symptoms of pneumonia of any kind. He simply died in his crib after a life of total health, so it seemed. And Kelly’s accident was even more bizarre, since there was only evidence of an automobile accident, but no evidence of an automobile. No automobile! The one witness to the accident, Kelly’s young boyfriend, went into shock and is now completely mute, at home, removed from society. All of these were completely normal deaths, under entirely abnormal circumstances.
Adding to the mystery of it, both had a complete personality change, for the better, for nearly a month up until their deaths. And Smoke…he seemed to know all about it, or enough to make me very nervous. He told me they were not good people, which he should not know. And why would he even say that? So I’m looking through my own history to see if I can find a clue about myself, Smoke, and why he would choose me to talk to, or haunt, or whatever it is that he’s doing.
My baby pictures are wonderful. Of course I have the bearskin cheesecake shot. Thanks, Mother. That of course will never be shown outside of this house to anyone not related by blood! There are photos of me eating, cake I think, on my first birthday. I giggle, because it’s all over my face, and because the sad fact is that I still eat cake this way. I see a more recent photo of myself with one of the young children in the neighborhood. He and I are playing with a potato-like toy, and I’m making him laugh with the funny faces I create. I like caring for children very much, like the adults from my nursery school cared for me. Like Mother.
There is a beautiful photo of me sleeping, covered in a homemade blanket, dark with lighter cross-stitches on it. I am sleeping on my stomach with my bottom up in the air and my cheek scrunched up against the bed. It’s funny because I see children sleeping that way now, so it must be how children sleep. But what makes the photo beautiful is the peaceful look on my face above all the scrunching. Whenever I am feeling depressed or down-trodden, I think about how calm and happy I am in this photo, and I feel immediately better.
There are a number of other photos of me at various ages and stages, playing with toys, swimming, running, chasing a ball or a dog, or a dog chasing a ball, and generally enjoying a wonderful life. My careful inspection of each photo brings warmth to my cheeks as I smile and remember happy times. None, however, offers a single clue to my ghost. In many ways, that’s a relief. At this point, Mother enters the room and turns on the television in order to watch “Today”.
Mother and I watch television together a lot. We laugh at the characters, play the game shows with the contestants, eating supper, or occasionally fast food while watching. Mother hates that she allows me to do that, but we both enjoy wonderful time together. We are very close. Since I’ve begun digging up my past, I decide to push a little further.
“Mother, what can you tell me about Father?”
“What would you like to know?”
“Well, everything, of course. What did he look like? Was he handsome? What was your favorite thing about him? How long were you married?”
“Mira, my goodness, slow down! Of course your father was very handsome. He wasn’t terribly tall, but had light hair, dark eyes, and a hopelessly infectious laugh. He and I laughed together a lot, like you and I do. We weren’t married for very long…he died shortly after you were born. Spending time with you reminds me of the fun he and I had, which is such a joy. It also is very sad. What I miss most about him is how much he loved you…”
It sounded as though she had more to say, so I pressed.
“How did he die? I’ve heard people say he was a hero. But what does that mean?”
“Your father was a soldier in the war. He killed a lot of enemy soldiers, and died protecting some of his own men. I don’t know all of the details, but yes he was very brave. His death allowed others to live, which is why you will hear our family often call him a hero.”
OK. One more.
“What was his name?”
“Nathaniel. It was Nathaniel. I’m surprised I’ve never told you that…”
“Nathaniel the Brave,” I dreamed out loud.
“Yes”, said Mother, “Nathaniel the Brave, who loved me, and loved you, and his fellow soldiers and countrymen and…loved his family.”
Mother gets a very sad, quiet expression at this, as though she were losing Father yet again. Hearing those things about the father I never met gave me the warm, flushed, happy feeling that I felt looking at my sleeping photo with the dark cross-stitched blanket. I turned to it again to complete the feeling, but what I found left me cold. When I turned to it, the photo showed instead, in full color, a cherry-red box with a gold cross.
No! A coffin! I quickly skimmed through all of the other photos to find that in each I was no longer visible. It was as if my whole life had in fact happened without me! My absence was repeated through each photo on every page, all the way until the very first photo. There, on the bearskin rug, where previously I had had my very first photo, was instead a pasty white baby looking forward. That is, if you could call it a human baby. This child was an abomination! At the realization that my baby picture had been mystically replaced by the true visage, the disgusting features and mangled body of the chalky child, I screamed and lost consciousness. That is all I remember.
I woke up later that evening, the album still lying next to me, open, and apparently back to normal. Mother was quite concerned, but I couldn’t let her know what I saw. I couldn’t let her know that my photographs were being haunted by a creature from my earliest memory, or that this creature even existed. Even I would think I was mad if I heard my own story! Thinking quickly, I told her I must simply have been famished, and must have passed out from near-starvation, and would she be willing to get me the Colonel’s chicken for dinner? Yes, yes I feel fine. Of course I would be just fine to go to school tomorrow!
I am now twelve years of age, and in Junior High. I don’t love school quite as much as I did when I was younger. I don’t mind my classes, and I love learning, of course. But I’m afraid. You see, I make friends easily, which isn’t as good as it sounds. Because I have a ghost. And ever since I’ve had a ghost, my friends seem to have unexplainable, mortal accidents. So while I enjoy school, math, reading Anne Frank’s Diary, and pledging “one nation, indivisible” each day, it is always in the back of my mind that one of my friends may simply die!
It is always in my mind that it will be, somehow, my fault.
I am most concerned for Andrew. I will say that the best part of Junior High is the boys! They are many, and they enjoy talking to me. But my favorite boy, my favorite friend, is Andrew. He continues to walk me home every day, and while he’s never kissed me, he’s begun carrying my books for me. I can certainly carry my books myself, but I sure do enjoy when he does it for me! We talk every day about important things, like television, schoolwork, our friends, the President, Queen Elizabeth, the bomb, and the world such as it is. I enjoy our conversations, but I have to admit that it is Andrew’s presence, his words and his eyes, that make them the highlight of my day.
And then there is Frank. Frank is beautiful in his own right. He also has never kissed me, but I doubt he will ever kiss anyone. Frank lost his sister, Kelly, the girl that I referenced earlier. They were twins, and I have to believe that type of loss is different than losing a sibling in any other way. Frank is very cordial at school and even smiles at me sometimes. But Frank, unlike Andrew, doesn’t give me the time of day when classes are out. That isn’t fair, perhaps, as he doesn’t give anyone the time of day. He spends all of his afternoon hours, after school, standing outside of the little boy’s house that he used to bully. The one that was there when his sister was…when she died. Cooper.
Just before Kelly’s accident, Frank had befriended Cooper. He protected him at school, which was ironic considering that Frank was the one that had been bullying Cooper. Cooper and Kelly became very close friends largely due to Frank’s change of heart on the matter. Or, so it seemed. Our group of friends always felt that it was Kelly’s influence that made her brother bully the smaller boy. Then, suddenly, Frank apologized for having terrorized him, and pledged his friendship. After that Cooper began to spend a lot of time with Kelly, and they became close. Until she died.
Now, Frank would spend every moment after school, until suppertime, standing outside of Cooper’s home, just staring. Two young men on opposite sides of a glass, feeling the same inconsolable loss, unable to create any positive momentum toward healing. Both rushing toward death by standing still.
I would follow him on occasion, with Andrew, mostly out of concern. Most often, we would observe Frank staring at the home of the now mute child, with a very strange look on his face. I still don’t know if it was anger, or something else. Part of me believed that Frank needed to continue to protect Cooper, even more so now that his sister was gone. The more rational part of me knew that he was waiting for the chance to exact revenge on Cooper. For what? Surviving, I think, while his sister did not.
Andrew and I spoke of this at length. He felt we should leave it be. It wasn’t our concern. I felt that we needed to reach out and help Frank, at the very least, and possibly even Cooper. Andrew became increasingly irritated with me, which frankly I did not like. He was acting almost jealous of Frank! I wasn’t terribly impressed that he would leave our friend to such misery, and it wasn’t like Frank was carrying my books home every day.
Oh, Andrew, just kiss me you idiot!
But he did not. And our arguments continued to the point that he was becoming impossible to deal with, and I was not willing to let poor Frank go on like this. Eventually Andrew threw up his hands and just told me to go my own way. This made me sad, because Andrew was my friend, no, my partner, and I was disappointed that he wasn’t willing to help another friend with me. He stopped walking me home. He stopped carrying my books. And he…well, never mind that.
Lucky for me, there was Eleanor. Ellie. She continues to be my best friend to this day, and she loves more than anything else to talk about boys! True, she still loves to eat, and is maybe a little bigger than she should be, but she is the most loving, wonderful human being that walks the planet. She is very beautiful in her own way, and often captivates the boys herself with her wit and her sweetness. Actually, she has already been kissed! She knows that I love Andrew, and is disappointed every time he disappoints me. But she’ll never tell him. Because Ellie is loyal first to me, then to the boys, then to the world. My Ellie.
We would talk about how cute they were, how they made us laugh, and the many ways they would infuriate us! Andrew and Frank were so very different. Andrew was not a stout fellow at all, very slim, but with beautiful eyes and very light hair. He’s also had my heart since nursery school. Frank, on the other hand, was a very impactful fellow, big and dark, with even darker eyes. I wouldn’t call them beautiful, like Andrew’s eyes, but they were certainly mysterious and exciting! His stare was both terrifying, and captivating.
Ellie agrees that Andrew is being a fool, and that it is right for us to help our old friend Frank, despite his history. I think Ellie may have liked him at some point. Perhaps even now. The loss of Bing hit her so hard. How wonderful it would be to bring Frank back from his malaise, as the solution to Ellie’s broken heart. Now, we will work together to bring him back.
The strategy is simple. For one week we will follow him from school, and simply stand with him. The next week, we would talk with him. This all worked great, except that Frank would never acknowledge that he had been spoken to, except to me. It was as though Ellie wasn’t even there, and she did not like that. It hurt her that he would only listen, and speak, to me. I am sure now my Ellie loved Frank, enough to let me get through to him if I could. Even without her.
So, by the third week, it was just Frank and me, standing outside Cooper’s silent home. Standing and staring. Over time, his stare would become softer, and he would gaze around, or down at his feet. I would ask him his thoughts about things, like school and the world, and slowly he would answer. I asked him many times about Ellie, but he refused to talk about her. I never shared that with Ellie, since I knew it would hurt her. Sometimes, I would lie and say he asked about her, which made her blush.
By the fourth week, Frank was a different kid. He would talk and laugh as though nothing else mattered, and more importantly he seemed to forget about silent Cooper, and standing outside of the house, gazing his death-gaze at the unseen Cooper. Andrew was still upset with me, and I at him, so Frank began walking me home, carrying my books. We would laugh and talk until reaching my home. Then, believe it or not, Frank would hand me my books, say a cordial goodbye, and go home. He would never even go back by Cooper’s neighborhood. It was as though he had forgotten his mania altogether.
At the end of the fourth week, Frank was holding my hand as we walked home. Oh damn. I didn’t want this. I do care deeply about Frank, but I love Andrew, and Ellie will kill me, and this was very very bad!
At the beginning of the fifth week, Monday, Frank noticed Mother wasn’t home, and wanted to extend his visit. Fool that I was, I let him. We entered our home, into the living area which was beginning to get dim from the darkness outside. My intent was to light the room immediately, but Frank stopped me, wanting instead to play a new game. I’d not heard of it before, but like everything else about Frank, it was dark and exciting! While standing by my photo album, and the photo of Mother and my step-father, he explained the rules.
“Mira, take a candle, and walk upstairs backward. I will be waiting for you at the top, by the giant mirror. When you get to the top of the stairs, turn, and quickly look in the mirror. You should then catch a glimpse of your future husband standing next to you in the mirror. But here’s the thing, if you see a skeleton or a phantom, well, that means that you will die before you marry!”
I should never have participated in this exercise. I know. Given my history of the past few years it was certain that I would see the ghost, chalky white in the mirror, and die on the spot. Perhaps the ghost would come through the mirror and take my life in front of Frank’s unbelieving eyes! But, here I was, with dark Frank, exciting, a wonderful game and a role to play. So, as only a fool would do, I lit a candle, waited for Frank to take his place upstairs, and began my ascent.
There was nothing to the game, the candle, or climbing the stairs. I stumbled briefly on the way up, nervous and not able to see where I was going, but quickly caught myself. Boys seem to like when girls are embarrassed, and Frank, no exception, kept encouraging me all the way up the stairs, before the large mirror where he was waiting. I took the last few steps, backward, into the hall, waiting for my doom to occur. At the precise moment that I looked into the mirror, I was certain that I caught a brief glimpse of Andrew, as my candle blew out, leaving Frank and me in total darkness.
But at the moment the candle blew out, I felt something grab at me. I was certain that this was the moment of my demise, and the chalky child had come; ready to take me to my well-deserved fate. I thought of all of the children I had known. Bing, sweet Bing the biter, with the wicked mother. I relished her pain! And Kelly, of course. I wasn’t pleased at her death, but she was wicked as well. And this was what brought Frank and me together! Certainly, it was my turn to receive my reward for all of the horrid thoughts I had had for those poor souls!
Hate, fate and fairness. I deserved this. I leaned back and waited for my final breath. And justice immediately stopped my lungs, and my airways, covering my mouth fully. And death felt like warm, wet lips on mine. What a curious way to die! I finally did realize that Frank, in the darkness, had decided in this moment to procure his first kiss and mine, in lieu of the visit of a specter and the reaper’s scythe. It was a short moment that lasted forever, and I almost laughed at myself for thinking Andrew would have been the one.
But, I had seen Andrew’s face in the mirror, hadn’t I?
I swore that Andrew should have been my first, evidenced by his appearance, on cue, in the mirror, and the guilt now tugging at my heart. Guilt for Andrew. And guilt for Ellie. The kiss ended, naturally, on its own. Frank had performed the perfect first kiss and made me swoon. There were no good choices to be made at this point. I pulled back to look upon Frank, who had me in his arms and in his control, his dark eyes evident more in the blackness. I relit the candle, coveting the darkness, but endeavoring to look into the dark eyes of this boy that had stirred first romantic feelings in me. My heart beating, I stole a second glance in the mirror, to see if the reflection of my true love had evolved.
As if in a nightmare, the boy holding me close, holding me tight, was not Frank. Frank somehow had disappeared, replaced by a pale monstrosity, recognizable from my early memories, now grown! Looking in the mirror, I saw my infatuation to be not Frank, and not Andrew, but a chalky, unclothed beast, with eyes closed, breathing short, heavy, foul breaths.
The creature was bald, gaunt, with one ear barely protruding from the side of his head, and the other missing. He had no hair, no nose, no teeth, and his leathery face seemed to continue into his pain-writhing mouth, as though sewn from a sack cloth. His fingers appeared attached to each other, stumpy and thick, almost webbed, but strong. The body, skeletal at best, gave no evidence as to its true gender, but I knew. This was the chalky child from my earliest memories. This was Smoke!
Smoke had somehow replaced Frank as the object of my first romantic encounter. As much as I needed to, I couldn’t scream. Instead, I lurched, and lost the day’s meals. I closed my eyes and fell forward, heaving, filling all before me with my bile. I cried. I shook. I threw off the last of my sickness and bore up to face Smoke, to scold him, and to accept the fate I had expected all along.
But Smoke, the chalk-monster, as well as Frank, was now gone.
Peering in the mirror, I saw Andrew again, but not as a reflection. I was standing in a field, with Andrew staring at me, face sad and head down. I put my hands up to the glass, to try to touch him, to bring him to me. I had no idea until this moment how badly I needed Andrew. He would briefly look up, shake his head, then turn away. I took a deep breath, desperate to scream for Andrew to come to me, to save me from this nightmare. And it was then I saw the light. It was then I looked down. Railroad tracks!
I wanted to scream for Andrew to jump out of the way, but no sound would escape my lips. Harder and harder I cried, with no result. Andrew kept looking down, sad, shaking his head. I was sure that the ugly chalky child, my Smoke, was going to kill the true love of my life, and I could do nothing to change that, as the lights behind me got brighter and brighter.
Wait. Behind me?
I looked down. Tracks, illuminated ever more by the increasing beam made it certain that there would be death tonight, where only moments before had been sweet romance. And as the tracks shone brighter in the glowing beam, I realized that it was not Andrew facing the power of the oncoming locomotive. It was me! I was stuck to the tracks while Andrew simply looked on, sad and shaking. I quickly whirled around to face my fate, staring deep into the spot of the oncoming locomotive. I braced for death.
Then my eyes opened to a new light, the light of morning. I awoke, in tears and in the sweat of having stared down the certain death of myself and the other most important to me. And then, I knew. I knew that I had not died, nor had I witnessed the death of Andrew. I had been the eyes and the emotions of Frank, as Smoke, my ghost, had placed him in the very center of harm’s way. I had just witnessed, and experienced, Frank’s death, with the fear and hopelessness that Frank must have felt.
I knew. I knew he was gone. The next day’s newspapers and the gossiping community would prove that to be true. Oh dear Ellie! She will be crushed.
“How…how could you?”
“Mira. I want to thank you.”
“Don’t you dare thank me you chalky bastard. How. Could. You. Kill. Frank? Tell me why!”
“Mira you have shown me my true name. I now know who I am. You searched and you questioned, and you found the answers to all of our questions, and you found my name.”
Silence. He is too calm. This is not good. I’m suddenly frightened of my secret friend, more than ever. What did he mean ‘our questions’?
“Yes. I am the chalky child. I am Smoke. But I also have a name. Others have called me…Nathaniel. That is my name.”
My father was a hero. He saved lives. He couldn’t be this chalky bastard, this monster. He killed only in war, and was first a protector. How could this ghoul be Nathaniel Mirras? How? I needed to calm down quickly. It would not do to anger this ghost, so much more connected to me than I first realized. I walked downstairs. I was clearly awake, and able to speak with him while conscious. I needed answers. The rest of my life would depend on them.
“Smoke. Nathaniel…tell me why you killed Frank. Tell me why. Why?” But even as I demanded through tears his account of himself, I already knew the answer, and the consequence to me, to Frank, and to anyone I might ever love. I understood.
“Mira. Be patient. There is plenty of time for all of your friends. You don’t even realize how close you came to taking a different path altogether. You were supposed to play the game with Andrew, after all.” Though no longer visible, I could feel the evil smile spreading over his toothless face, eyes still closed as though still the infant he once was.
I understood that I would never be able to be with my partner, my best friend, and my true love since childhood. Ever. And as I looked over to my album I saw that the right leg of the first “M” was completely gone, now forming, in fact, the letter “N”. My life and the lives of those around me are in the hands of Nathaniel Mirras.
And he is a killer.
Credit To – MeGoMike/MeGoMirras