**Content Warning: mental illness, suicide, death of a family member, marital affairs, attempted self-harm**
Nick claims he doesn’t care about other people. He goes so far as to say he doesn’t think he is a good person.
“Quite a neutral person in a sense,” he says.
“You mean, morally ambiguous?” Grace asks.
“Maybe, but then maybe not.”
Grace wants to point out that if he doesn’t care about other people, why would he drive her to the clinic in the first place? But then she thinks about being dropped in the middle of the road, so she just keeps her mouth shut. Nick doesn’t have any work today, and he is a loner, so some company would also benefit him.
Nick sees the situation differently. He’d lied to his boss, saying he has a fever and so needed to go to the clinic. He didn’t tell Grace about this. His reasoning is he doesn’t want to give her the impression he cares about her, not that he ever cared about her, but still. He feels guilty about many things, and he doesn’t want her to know.
Nick looks at Grace and wonders what she is thinking at that very moment. She often does this: ask him a deep question and patiently wait for him to answer. He doesn’t usually do deep, but he feels guilty whenever she waits, so he often gives her answers. Then she would close her eyes and fall into a deep silence.
Grace looks at the road and thinks about her relationship with Garrett. Her boyfriend had wanted to drive her to the clinic himself, but she said she could go on her own.
“I’m worried about you,” Garrett said last night.
“What on earth for?” she asked.
Garrett pointed out that he saw her slap her face over and over until it became red. Then she went to the salon to cut all her hair off. Then after she went home, she trashed her room.
“At least I did not cut off my own hair or trash your room,” Grace said casually.
“Don’t be sarcastic, Grace,” Garrett said, “I am trying to be helpful here.”
“Well, don’t,” she said. She wanted to point out she knew about his ‘dates’ with Pauline, but she figured it wouldn’t help them both very much. Garrett would just make it seem like it was her fault, and she would scream at him. She didn’t want to feel guilty.
Grace’s thoughts drift to her friend Cora. She has been dead for two years. They were friends ever since Grace spotted her inside the school bathroom, crying silently. Cora was holding a bottle of pills. She told Grace to leave, but Grace didn’t budge, just sat next to her until she stopped crying. Grace remembers thinking about her finally doing the right thing by taking care of Cora while she cried. Afterwards, Cora told her to hide the bottle of pills somewhere she couldn’t see. And so Grace did.
Cora had many breakdowns that year. And Grace was often by her side even though no one knew about it. Grace wished it was because she was being a friend, but she would be wrong. Even Cora said so.
Grace relished being the hero, the person Cora could go to whenever she felt wronged or hurt or broken. She appreciated being the jar Cora filled with her secrets. Even enjoyed being the strong one in the relationship. She did not know why, but Cora had some theories. “Maybe it is because you do not have much control over your relationships and your life,” Cora said during an argument.
Grace felt Cora was right. Maybe she needed to be Cora’s anchor to give herself a sense of purpose in this world: to give her life meaning. Maybe that was the reason why Cora left. Because she grew tired of Grace’s attention. She grew tired of her love.
After Cora died, Grace started to go to parties and met Garrett. He was a party boy, by all means of the term. He loves to party a lot. Party boys are generally not her type, but he seemed pretty nice, and he pursued Grace with an intensity she did not anticipate. He seemed serious, so when he asked Grace to be his girlfriend, she said yes even though she had no particular feelings for him; it was probably just peer pressure.
Nick met Grace during one of Garrett’s many parties. He was wandering into the kitchen when he saw a very pretty girl trying to burn her hand in the pan. The fried chicken was cooking and she was wavering her fingers into the fire. He ran to stop the fire.
“You know you’ll burn, right? Why would you do something like that?” he told her, quite carelessly, as he took the pan filled with cooked chicken and set it aside.
Her breath grew faster, and she started crying, quite miserably, never caring if anyone heard her.
He looked at her. He said: “Can I touch you?”
She said that he was being ridiculous.
“Well, I actually meant can I hold your arms. Or even your hands. Or hug you, I mean.”
She said yes, and so he took her in his arms.
“Look at me,” he said.
She looked at him.
“Take a deep breath,” he said.
She took one breath, but it was so swift and hard, it made her cry again.
“Oh God,” he said. “I am not good at this.” He coaxed her to breathe slower and deeper, and he made her do it over and over again until her breath started to calm, and her movements started to come back to normal. When she finally stopped crying, she looked at him. He smiled and said: “Well, that is more like it.”
When they became secret friends, he asked her why she tried to put her hand in the pan. She said she wanted to watch herself burn.
Once, he visited her at her apartment in the middle of the night. Garrett wasn’t there.
She opened the door. Not scared or curious. Just calm.
She welcomed him in, and prepared drinks.
“You know I am not someone you can run to every time the nightmares come,” she said.
“No, you’re not,” he said.
He is silent for a very long moment. “Where’s Garrett?” he finally asked, even though he knew Garrett was probably having sex with Pauline since Grace, for some reason, didn’t want to do it.
“He went to the cinema with Pauline,” she said like she knew he was having sex behind her back but didn’t want to believe it. “What is the dream this time?”
He told her about the iceberg.
“I mean, look at this. You could say it is just a glass of water, right? With ice in it. Well, think a little deeper. Look at how only the tip of the ice can be seen on the surface. How the majority of it hides from plain sight. Well, that is human nature, my friend. One can only see the tip of the iceberg. No one, not even ourselves, can ever see the majority of another. Not even your family, nor your lover. And to make things worse, the heart is laid on the very bottom.”
She just said, “That is it?”
He stared into her eyes. He knew she knew more than she believed. That she felt deeper than she wanted to. He wanted her to tell him everything about herself. But the flash of emotion between them scared him so much he wanted to break free. He wanted her to be his safeguard, the person he could talk to about his problems, but it seemed like their relationship had gone too far. “Yeah, that is just about it,” was all he said before he excused himself from her apartment and walked into the dark.
Nick parks his car in the hospital parking lot. He offers to go in with her, but she decides she wants to go on her own.
“I’ll wait for you here,” he says.
She nods and goes inside the hospital.
She sits across from the doctor. The doctor asks her how she feels. She complains about feeling pain all over.
“Where do you feel pain exactly?” the doctor asks.
She says she feels pain all over her body. Her head aches, she says. And she feels pain in her stomach and abdomen. She cannot sit straight without wanting to faint. She tells the doctor she is lightheaded. “I feel like a zombie,” she says. “I cannot do things anymore. I feel light all over.”
The doctor stares at her for a moment. “Do you feel this all the time?” the doctor asks.
She stops for a second. “Yes,” she says, because what is there to say? She does feel like this all the time.
“Since when have you felt this way?” the doctor asks.
She wants to say she felt like this for a few weeks, but then she realizes that perhaps she felt like this all the time, even before Cora died. Perhaps even ever since she was a child. “All the time,” she admits.
She cries quite suddenly, unable to hide any longer. She expects the doctor to reprimand her for her sudden burst of emotion. The doctor looks at her calmly, as if she understands what Grace feels. As if she knows.
“You don’t understand,” she says. “I am sorry, I shouldn’t have.”
“It is okay,” the doctor says. “Try me. Maybe I can help.”
“I feel dead, you see,” Grace says, trying to not ruin her makeup.
She wants to add that she felt this way ever since her Dad left. Seeing her Mother try not to cry all the time and unable to do anything about it. She wants to say something about feeling helpless all the time and wanting to take care of other people the way she hadn’t her Mother. But she feels guilty for feeling this way. For feeling a lot of things.
The doctor writes in her pad. She gives Grace medication that she says is an antidepressant. “If you are willing,” the doctor says, “I can recommend you to a psychiatrist.”
Grace stops crying. “You think I’m crazy?” she asks.
The doctor looks at her kindly. “No, you’re not. But you need help. And that is nothing to be guilty about. Don’t feel shame for feeling things.”
When the appointment is over, Grace goes to the parking lot.
Nick looks at her red eyes and senses she has been crying.
“What is the diagnosis?” he asks.
“She recommended me to visit another doctor,” she says.
He tries to ask her to tell him. To tell him everything. But it seems like she isn’t ready to tell her story. Maybe he can convince her another time. Maybe she will eventually. Or not. Either way, he has to believe she will.
Looking for more fiction? Check out these pieces from the MockingOwl Roost contributors and staff.
Jinn Zamayla is a short story writer and an aspiring artist living in the Philippines. Aside from being a writer, she loves fashion, cinema, and any mediums relating to art. She has always loved stories. Her earliest memories were not memories relating to the real world but memories of stories that she has conjured up in her mind. Her daydreaming led her to write down all of her thoughts on paper. Ever since then, she has always been a writer.
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