II: No More Spoons
I haven't been taking my meds again. You think I'd notice, what with me detailing the events of every passing day. I didn't notice. I doubt you did either. Fraeia did, though. Fray noticed and I'm beyond pissed about it. I sit on my bunk with the container in hand and give it another gentle shake. The pills rattle against the inner walls, far more than there should be. "That's reckless, don't you think?" Fraeia asks. They stand at the door, leaning against the threshold with their arms crossed. "I said I was sorry," I reply. "Don't apologize to me. You're the one it hurts." They don't get it. The Eden have it so easy, Fraeia said so themselves. They don't know what it's like to be different. They have no idea how it feels to need a damn pill just to be normal. "I was doing fine. I had it under control." "No, you did not." I look up with narrowed eyes. Fraeia's eyes meet mine and I look away as they continue, "Look at your room. Look at yourself." Each word is like a blow to the gut. My room is trashed. Clothes lie scattered across the floor, food containers with crusted remains of food sit on any available surface that can hold them. It was easier to just not see it, to look beyond it. The thought of cleaning all this up just overwhelms me more. I didn't think to do it when it was manageable. There were other things to be done. That doesn't excuse my appearance, though. My hair is oily, and Fraeia's probably too polite to mention the smell. Fraeia sighs and their arms fall to their side. "I don't mind keeping the ship clean. It's a habit and it helps me think. This though," they pause and gesture to the disaster that is my room. "You can't live like this." I'm ashamed, but I'm also pissed. Each word just pisses me off more. "No one asked you," I scream, throwing the closest container I can reach. It hits the wall hard and Fraeia barely moves an inch. "Is that necessary?" I scoff and shout my reply, "Yes. Do you think I like this? I hate living this way, and hate myself just as much." "Then why not change it?" "It's not that simple. It really isn't." I rub my temples, tears flowing down my face. "You're not alone now. I can help you." Fraeia steps forward, tossing clothes to the side with their feet. "I don't touch your room out of respect for your privacy, but if you need help, just say so." It takes all the effort I can muster to reply. "Please." Asking for help isn't something I do often. It's just admitting I can't accomplish the simplest task of keeping my damn room clean. They smile, "Understood. I'll get started. You get yourself cleaned up." I let out a groan. I'm exhausted, unwilling to leave my bunk for even a moment. The thought of washing my hair makes my arms ache. The thought of standing in the shower for what feels like so long tires me out even more. "Okay." I stand up and make my way to the bathroom and when I see that it is just as bad as my room, I shake my head. "No. I need to help you." "Amber," Fraeia gives me a look as they unroll a waste disposal bag. "It's a shower." "It's exhausting," I reply. It's like dragging myself across muddy ground, the mud up to my knees. With every step i feel myself sinking, and yet, it's nothing more than my knees buckling under the weight. They drop the bag and walk around me to the bathroom. They turn on the shower, and feel the water until it's warm. It's like they're trying to force my hand. Wasting water is a big deal. They underestimate how stubborn I can be. It's not even intentional at this point. "Stop, don't waste water. I'm not getting in. I can't do it right now." "Why?" They ask. They sound flustered now. "Because washing my hair takes too much effort. It's all so exhausting and I just want to lay down." "Yours has a pull out chair like mine. I'll do it for you," they reply. They pull the seat from a slot in the wall and the legs fall into place on the floor. They gesture to the shower as if to usher me in. "Excuse me?" I ask. "I'll wash your hair for you if it makes it easier for you to do the rest." They roll up their sleeves and pick up bottles of soap until they manage to find one that's still full. "I'm not sure how I feel about that." "It's just a body, amber. Keep your clothes on if it makes you feel better. They need a wash too."
3 years ago
I walked an old woman out of the clinic. Dad stood patiently outside. I glanced at him, then turned my attention back to what I hoped would be yet another returning customer. I pointed to the bottle in her hands, oxycodone. "Remember to be careful. Only take the amount prescribed. Come back in a week and we'll go from there." The woman gave thanks but I barely noticed. It was raining, and dad had been standing there for who knows how long. As she left, my father stepped forward and handed over a crate filled with empty glass bottles, whole loaves of bread wrapped in cloth, and sheets of scrap metal to help patch the latest act of vandalism on my clinic; a broken window. I couldn't even try to hold back my excitement. I took the crate and stared in awe at its contents. "Thank you so much." He replied in a whisper, "Oh, that's not all." Ever the showman, he reached for something behind his back and revealed a steel container filled with oil. My eyes go wide. "That's way too much, dad. That would keep me warm for the rest of the year." "That's kind of the point." My eyes started watering up as I set it by the door. "I literally just asked for help fixing a window." "I know." He then crossed his arms and pointed to the clinic. "You're doing well, it seems. I've heard good things." "People are actually talking about me?" I asked, opening the door and hauling the crate inside. He nodded and followed behind, then noticed the broken window on the back wall. "When did it happen, exactly?" "Two nights back." I replied, sorting the goods out and placing every item exactly where it was meant to go. "I ran out of scrap to patch with. I'm pretty sure that's why they keep coming back." He didn't reply, and crossed his arms. That's when I saw the plastic wrapped around the metal frame of his arm. I pointed to it as I spoke. "Looks like you caught a stowaway, again." I reached over and gave it a gentle tug but it didn't come loose. He chuckles in reply. "No, that one's meant to be there." I narrowed my eyes and lifted the sleeve of his cloak. Under the sleeve, and under several layers of plastic wrap, was a red smiley face, the same one I drew a year before. "So you did notice." "Eventually. Yes. I keep it wrapped when it rains. I'd hate for it to start flaking off." I smiled, retrieving the metal and working it in place before screwing it down over the window. "How's mom?" "Alive, but barely," He replied, assisting me by placing the second sheet of metal. "I don't know what else to try. I'm running out of ideas." "There's gotta be something." "Yes, but without Gibraltar…" We sat at a makeshift table when the task was done. I took a knife and spread honey on a slice of bread as we talked. I knew he wouldn't say it, so I did, "What if we can't bring her back? What if she's gone?" He shook his head. "I doubt either of us will accept that. I'm not giving up." "Why? What keeps you going." "I love her. For a long while I didn't show it." He looked up from the table in time to see me stuffing my face. I'm pretty sure it had been a day or so since I ate. "Then there's you." "Me?" He leaned back before answering. "Do you remember when you were 12? You wanted to head to the roof with the other kids and I refused." "Oh…" I replied. "You were so angry with me." I hold up a hand. "Dad, no, I didn't mean that." "You misunderstood," he replied. He waves his hand as if to push mine back down. "You said 'the wrong parent died.'" "Dad…" "What?" He said, without a hint of meanness in his voice. "I agree with you."
It almost feels pleasant with the water. It covers my hair and scalp like a blanket of warmth. I sit with my neck against the head of the shower seat as Fraeia runs the soap in. I never thought that water would make touch bearable. Then again, it makes sense. The water's warmth distracts my mind. It acts like a barrier when they rub the soap in. The brush though... The brush I could get used to. Fraeia gently pulls it through my hair, snagging on the occasional rat's nest before repeating the process over and over again. With every pass, the motion gets more fluid. It's hypnotic, never too rough and not once pulling those little hairs that I can never seem to avoid. I open my eyes and see their face. Fraeia's focused, their mind dedicated to this one task, and only this one task. I wish I had that kind of will. They're able to put every part of themselves in everything they do. Why am I like this? Why would I let it get this bad? I can't even bring myself to wash my own hair. I shouldn't need this much help. "What's wrong?" They ask. "Did I pull that one too hard?" "Which one?" I reply. I didn't feel a thing. "Have you ever done this before?" "I used to have hair as long as yours, so yes." "Why did you cut it?" I ask. "I needed a change when I joined the Viritine's crew." "I see." A thought comes to mind but I'm unsure if it's something I should ask. "Can I ask you something without making you upset?" "You can try." "When you asked Viritine about the crew, she said they reached Somnihein. Where did they go?" "Ah," they begin, setting the brush aside and detaching the shower head to rinse. "When you reach Somnihein you have two choices. You can live forever, or throw yourself into the nearest singularity. It's believed to be the only way out of immortality." "That means…" "It means they opened the housing to the warp core and jumped in. Yes." "Sorry." I mutter. They shake their head and place the shower head back on the wall. "Don't be. I've moved on. Now, the hard parts are done. Can you manage the rest?" I nod and they step out of the shower, picking up pieces of trash as they leave the bathroom. The door shuts behind them and I'm left to my thoughts as the water floods through my hair. I don't want to stand, but to my surprise, I manage to do so just fine.