The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

(Chapter X)

Posted by Matt on January 27, 2011


She had gone for an interview at the print shop the day before. She was waiting anxiously for a reply, to see is she had gotten the job. She counted down every day after Brother Sal suggested to her that it was about time she found a line of work, and every extra day she wasn’t working felt like a waste. He told her to be patient, and that he was sure that she would be able to get a job, even if this wasn’t this one. He knew the manager, though, and assured her he was very kind and would make a fair assessment. This made her feel better about the wait. Sal has that kind of effect.

On that day, she was out most of the day doing errands, keeping herself busy so she didn’t worry herself into a tizzy about the job, at Sal’s suggestion. She paid back the person who watched over the scrapyard for letting Sal borrow some extra steel for a project he was working on at home (she didn’t know what it was, as he was keeping it a secret, saying it was “Something really big. The biggest I’ve ever done, probably”). She refilled their water reserves from one of the fountains, one of the few places where clean, non-rain water was available. She sent a stack of papers, including the last batch of council pamphlets about not wasting food, to the reuse centre. She talked to a repairman to see when he could come around and do something about a small hole in wall that showed up mysteriously a week before.

All of this took up most of the day. When she returned to the flat, Sal wasn’t there. He left a note for her on the table that read ‘Not feeling well. Went to the clinic. Be back by night.’ She took his word on that. He’d never misled her before.
When nightfall came and he wasn’t back yet, she didn’t worry. He wouldn’t want her to. There must be a perfectly good reason for it. She decided to go the clinic herself to see if he was still there. She didn’t have much else to do that night, anyway.

The clinic was a single large room in the south end, right underneath the security offices. There were medical personnel there, but there really wasn’t much that they knew how to do, and most of them had no idea what to do with the equipment that was found in the room and assumed to serve medical purposes. Not that they needed to; no one was ever seriously ill. It was always something that passed in a few hours. People simply went there to hear if the personnel have heard of the symptoms before, to be reassured when they hear they’ve seen it many times before. Then they lay on one of the beds, narrow mattresses held aloft by thin metal (Sal’s repaired one or two of them before, the only reason she even knew what they looked like, as she never had any reason to visit the clinic). Some people just made up symptoms so they could get some free rest on the beds, which were on a whole more comfortable than most people’s beds, that were usually stuffed with whatever soft material could be salvaged, be it paper, the tarp that provides shade to some of the stands, or some of the matting that was found strewn by the large metal structures before they were taken apart for scrap. The clinic was seen as a pleasant, enjoyable place to visit wholly because of the beds.

When she got there, she saw one of the medical personnel leaning on the wall by the open door, likely on his break. She asked him if there was anyone in there, and he said yes. She went inside and looked over the field of white cushions and grey pipe shapes. She saw a half-dozen or so dark shapes that took away of the purity of the whiteness. Then she saw Sal. He had one of the beds in the middle of the room. From her perspective, nothing about him looked particularly off. It can’t be anything serious, then; whatever something serious was.

He turned over and saw her at the other end of the perfectly aligned sea of white and black and grey, and called her over. “It’s just some aching and stiffness” he told her. “Like a whole day of smashing things with a hammer. I survived all those, so this should be a walk in the park.”

She asked him if he wanted her to stay with him.

“Not unless you’re desperate to try one of these here beds. They’re as good as they say. Otherwise, don’t you worry about me. I’ll be fine. Go home and get ready for that job. I know you’ll get it.”

He gave a wide, friendly grin, like he usually did. It was reassuring to her at first, but something about it seemed…different. Like he was forcing it, that he was really uneasy about the whole thing. She shook it off, knowing that if he said he was fine, he must be. He’d never misled her before.

She went back the next morning to see how he was feeling. When she got there, his was the only occupied bed, but she couldn’t actually see him, as the personnel stood all around it, peering down, bewildered. One of them heard her come in and looked back at her.

“I’m sorry. How can we help you?”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Oh, you came to visit? I’m sorry,. I don’t really know what to say. We think he’s…”

She charged across the room and stole a space between the medics, who moved not an inch and whose eyes moved back and forth over the sight below them, clearly without a clue of what to do. Sal was still on the bed, but gone was any appearance of being ‘fine’. He was pale, like he was slowly having all the colour drained out of him. He looked like he was asleep or…but there were still signs of life. He was breathing, but in long, desperate gasps rather in any natural rhythm, and every once in a while there was short spasm of movement, but it was clearly involuntary.

“What’s going on? Can’t you do anything?” she pleaded to the men, who looked off to the side, unable or unwilling to address her directly.

“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing. He’s not sick, he’s…”

She bolted away, out the door, into the streets. What was she doing? She didn’t really understand it at that time. She went straight home, running running running as fast as she could. As soon as she got there, she leapt onto her bed, face drilled into the fabric, and began weeping. Why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why. There were many whys. Why was this happening to her? Why was this happening to him? Why didn’t she stay there?

She knew the answer to the last question, but she didn’t like it one bit. She had never experienced death firsthand. Only heard of it, from others. It was like a rumour. She knew that people died, but it always so far away, and she never had to think about it. But there it was, right in front of her. It had never affected her before, but now it was acting upon her life directly and permanently. It made her ill. She couldn’t stay. She felt like she could die as well, or worse, fall into some infinite state of pain and helplessness. She had no idea what to do, just like everyone else. But she should have. She should have stayed, she should be there, with him, before…

But she couldn’t bring herself to go back. She couldn’t confront it. Her mind was a muddle of mourning and guilt. Why did it have to happen to her? Why does she ask such selfish questions? Why can’t she confront this? Not even for him, he who has spent most of his life caring for her and providing for her and showing her tricks with metal and making beautiful pieces of art just to show her it could be done and encouraged her to find the place she felt she would belong? A failure of a Little Sister, that’s what she was. An example of the bottom. Wretched scum.

It was over by the next day. She didn’t go back. She still felt terrible about it. She never saw him after his passing, before they carted him back to The Maker, where he would be ‘returned from whence he came’, as they said, although no one really knew what The Maker did with them. She still couldn’t. Out of fear, out of shame. She didn’t deserve to see him again, not after she abandoned him in his final moments. He deserved better. Better than her.

News spread quickly; Brother Sal was well-liked after all. All the neighbours, his colleagues and customers, and some other well-wishers came by the visit, give their sympathy, asked if there was anything they could do for her, all the expected things. The print shop manager even came by, telling her how sorry he was, and that he would let her know soon if she got the job. The little part of her that was not stuck in a pit of self-loathing appreciated this, that there was so many people out there that cared enough to talk to her. But it was a silent minority amidst the screeching thoughts that said one word for what felt like an eternity: scum. Scum scum scum scum scum scum scum scum scum scum scum scum scum scum scum scum.

She never forgave herself for that. Even as she moved on in life, took over the flat, got a job, took on new responsibilities, she always knew in the back of her mind that she was scum who let her Big Brother down when he needed her. She knew that Brother Sal’s death meant that someone was going to have fill that hole in the population, make up the difference at The Maker. She hoped it wasn’t going to be her. She couldn’t bear the thought of having someone else for her to let down.


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