Hopeless is copyright ©2018 Naomi Boydston and is released under the terms of Strowlers Shared Cinematic Universe License and Agreement
Attribution: This work is based on Strowlers, copyright ©2018 Zombie Orpheus Entertainment.
Share alike: You are free to use, remix, and transform this work in the creation of your original Strowlers stories and projects, subject to the Strowlers Shared Cinematic Universe License and Agreement. Learn more at www .strowlers .com
Strowlers Canon: Strowlers "Hopeless" has been approved as an official part of the Strowlers Shared Cinematic Universe story.
She walks past my house at 6:27 AM everyday like clock work. Her right foot hits the crack that lines up with my walkway. Every day. That beautiful woman with the empty eyes. I don't know why I watch her. Maybe I secretly like the pain. Maybe I'm trying to remind myself of what my carelessness can cost. Maybe I'm deluded, thinking that someday she'll pause and smile, that she'll see me again. I really should stop. I should.
Yet every night I set the brew delay on my coffee maker to 5:45 AM. I set out my mug with a teaspoon of powdered creamer and two of sugar. And every morning I roll out of bed into my slippers and robe. Pour the coffee into my waiting mug and am out on the porch swing at 6:15 to watch her go by. I watch her as she walks out of sight. And then I go back inside and I do my job. Most of my dining room table serves as my desk now. I work. I go out for groceries. I etch bad poetry and trite quotes on box lids for seven bucks a pop. And at 8:15 PM I'm back on the swing with a mug of tea to watch her pass the other way at 8:33. Her left foot hits the middle of the sidewalk square just past the crack she steps on in the morning. I watch her pass.
Sometimes I close my eyes and I can almost feel her beside me on the swing. I can almost hear her laughing with me. Almost taste the tingle she left on lips that time she stole a kiss in the dark. Almost see the ways she glowed with joy, brighter and brighter until my fear broke the spell. And then I have to open my eyes and leave the house because if I go back inside I'll remember running to my father, who ran to ARC, who had her collared before school the next day. The day we should have graduated.
Regret and shame bubble up in me. She wasn't going to hurt me she was just glowing, her talent expressing the way we both felt that night. Before I burned everything down.
Time passed. I went to college. I got my BA and Teaching Licence. My parents let me have their house while they took off to travel Europe. I got a job, lost it, got another. Scrub brush grew up around the hole in my heart were she had once lived.
The first time I saw her walk past it was a cloudless day in early august. I was up early, preparing for a class I was subbing for. My car was in the shop again and I was going to have to ride my bike 14 miles to get there, so I gave myself plenty of time. I had gathered all my stuff and packed it into my bikes saddle bags when I looked up and saw her walking toward me. The brush and bracken choking my heart caught fire and I stood there burning and hurting, warmed and dazzled but she walked right past without even looking at me and the stark starburst scars still pink on her temples stole all my oxygen, putting out the fire and leaving me with a heart all burned, blackened, bared, and bleeding.
That day I opened up the blinds on my front window, the one that faced the sidewalk. I had never liked the thought that strangers could just look into my house, but now I knew I needed to look out. I turned the porch light on and pulled up a chair to watch for her, to see if she would come back. I waited by the window hope rising and falling like waves on sand, but the tide was going out. And then there she was. I ran outside barefoot and stopped in front of her. For a moment I thought she would walk right into me but she stopped. That was the first time I saw how empty her eyes had become, and all the things I had wanted to say got tied up in my throat and all I managed was a squeaky "Hi, Joy."
"Hello, Anna. Excuse me, I am going home." And she just stepped around me.
I caught her arm as she passed, and afraid I wouldn't get another chance I blurted out "I'm sorry, Joy, I'm so sorry I wish I had never- Sorry, oh god every day I've wished I'd done something differently, I'm so sorry."
She looked at me, expressionless, "Don't apologize, I am more perfect now. Goodbye Anna."
Her arm slipped from my fingers, and I couldn't see her go. I stood on the sidewalk, silent tears spilling down my cheeks, until my toes were completely numb.
When I finally slept, I dreamed. My first day of high school had been long. Classes, and people, everyone already grouped together. I sat waiting for last period, rereading a book I loved, and wishing the day would just be over when my desk partner sat beside me. I heard her laughter, warm and sweet and looked up into a lively face with a warm open smile and dancing eyes.
"That book's one of my favorites." She told me, pulling another copy from her bag and setting it on the desk between us. And in my dream the classroom fell away leaving just us in a warm golden field.
The next morning I waited for her. I made two mugs of coffee and when I saw her coming I called, "Hello, Joy. Would you like some coffee? I made an extra cup."
She looked at me in passing, "No, thank you. I am going to work." She didn't even slow her pace or pause.
I was in a frenzy all day. I didn't know what to do, but I knew deep down in my gut that if I could just get her to see me, really see me, that I could fix her somehow. That I could bring her back. That night I stopped her again. She looked at me blankly, waiting for me to say something or move. I stood up on tiptoe and caught her face in my hands. I hesitated for just a moment and then...
I kissed her there under the streetlamp. Gentle and quick. Just like I had imagined so many times since that wonderful and disastrous night years before. I pulled away and for a moment I thought I saw something in the depths of those empty eyes. Something warm and familiar. My heart pounded and I smiled as she opened her mouth.
She said "Excuse me, Anna, I am going home."
Empty and hollow, I crawled back into bed and didn't come out for days.
Until, almost against my will, I felt myself being drawn back out into the world. First to watch her go by, then to buy food, then to work. I fell into a pattern. Got odd jobs that I could do from home. Almost without meaning to I memorized her arrival to the minute. And everyday I sit on the swing with my coffee, my tea, and I watch her walk right past me.
When a foot of snow falls in the night she still walks to work. So even though it's the middle of December I'm on the swing, my thick white comforter wrapped around me. There is frost on her eyelashes, her fingers are pale, and the scars on her temples are a scary purple. I run inside and dig through a drawer but by the time I find what I'm looking for she's long gone. I wait till evening and step in front of her. She stops and I pull a woolly cap down over her head, wrap a scarf around her neck, and slip thick mittens over her hands.
"Remember to take these off when you go inside and put them back on before you go outside, okay?"
"Okay. Thank you Anna."
But her voice is flat. She isn't saying it because she's grateful, she's just saying it because that's what you say when someone gives you something.
She was there for me through so much. She helped me get my first date, and held me when it went badly. She helped me with history and I helped her with math. We wrote stories, passing them back and forth until we couldn't remember who had written what. She got me to go snowboarding and I got her to watch Firefly.
She taught me to try, even when I knew I would fail because, "Perfection excludes excellence."
I taught her how to slow down because, "Beauty is in the details."
For three long years our friendship grew strong and fierce, and senior year it bloomed into something new, unimagined, and yet exactly the way we should be.
Once I walk next to her and ask, "Where do you work, Joy?"
"In the Factory."
"There aren't any factories out here."
She doesn't respond.
"Joy? How do you get to the factory?"
"They send us a bus."
"Oh, I see."
She doesn't respond.
"I am not aloud to say."
"Fair enough. Well, have a good day."
"Thank you. You too." The phrase sounds meaningless in her mouth.
One day in late May I notice the temperature is almost 60F when I roll out of bed. When she passes she's still wearing her coat. She seems fine, but as the thermometer reaches 80 I begin to worry.
That evening I walk down the steps as she approaches looking closely at her face. In the fading light I see sweat streaks on her nose and dewed across her forehead. The way it beads on her temples makes the scars, now healed sharp and pale, look like snowflakes.
The next morning, warmer still, I walk out to her.
"Hello, Joy." I tell her, "Let me take your coat. I'll hold onto it until you get back, okay?"
"Okay." She hands it to me without further comment.
That evening I stop her again to return it.
When a cold front moves through I pull a blanket around my shoulders, shivering a bit at the chill. I sip my coffee and look over to see her turn the corner. She comes closer. She side steps around the neighbors trash can. She steps on the crack right in front of my house, and then… Then she pauses. She looks at me. I set down my coffee surprised.
"Do you want my coat."
"No, that's alright Joy. You keep it today."
She turns away and keeps on walking as rain begins to fall.
Every day she walks past. I sit on the swing with my coffee, my blanket, my tea, and every day I hope, I hurt, I watch out for her, and I pay. Every day I pay. I pay and pay and pay. And every morning at 6:27 AM I see that beautiful woman with the empty eyes, to whom I still owe so much.