Chapter Two: Eleanor Rigby
I'll wait at BAR Neely's...
James sat on the bed in the trailer and opened up his map. Where would that be?
Indeed, there was a place called Neely's Bar on this map, wedged into a corner. It was several blocks away, and what scared him the most was that he would have to go back out with those things skulking the streets...
He took a deep breath and and stood, spending a few more minutes of mental preparation in the trailer before he headed out. With only a wooden plank to defend himself. One could argue it was better than nothing, but after a few confrontations with those creatures, the wood had begun to splinter and break. He wondered how long it would last. He could use his fists, sure, but they were really fast when they were knocked down, and they were smart enough to anticipate kicks and punches. Before he could hit them, they would gargle and spit at him. He was lucky he managed not to breathe in the mist, but their breath burned right through skin..
His upturned hands embellished not only his splinters from gripping the wood so tightly, but the abrasions and open sores from coming in contact with the poisonous gas.
They were scattered throughout the streets, but he could at least run past most of them until he reached a more secure area, and better yet, a more effective weapon.
He needed to find Mary. How could he just stand here with his tail between his legs, when she could be at the mercy of those things? She was all alone..
James snapped awake, only now beginning to recover from the tremor that had his hands in fits. He used to think only people in horror movies woke up from dreams like this, shaking ridiculously. How overcome by mortal terror could one person be before their heart gave out?
He felt his sweating forehead. He should really be on medication for these dreams, but with his past suicide attempts, he doubted they would give him any pills. He couldn't even drink anymore—he was being given routine drug and alcohol tests, courtesy of Victoria, so his only option was to stay awake longer.
He opened the little fridge near his TV. A small bottle of Starbucks Mocha was pushed to the back, and a half finished red Gatorade from a few days ago was beginning to freeze. Why had he put an empty half-gallon of ice tea back in the fridge?
He vaguely wondered if caffeine could contribute to nightmares, but he quickly abandoned the thought. He didn't have time to get lost in his meanderings. He'd be late for work.
Just then, his phone burst out “Hello Moto,” and the loud, enthusiastic ringtone began.
It was 4: 30 in the morning! Who would be calling him at this hour? He quickly scrambled around and found it stuffed between the sofa cushions.
“It's Vicky. Calm down.”
“What's the problem?”
“No problem. I want you to call off work, though.”
“Why? And why did you call me so early?”
“I know you wake up around 4 in the morning because of your insomnia. And besides, you're going to enjoy yourself. All you do is work and come home.”
“Not insomnia. Nightmares. And shouldn't you be asleep?”
Victoria yawned. What was she doing awake anyway?
“I can't call off work, Vicky. I need all the money I can—”
“Oh, please. As if you spend any of your money! You barely have anything in your fridge, and your closet is practically empty.”
James grunted. He hated when Victoria brushed his excuses aside.
“We better not be going bowling,” he growled.
Victoria burst out laughing. “You're so funny sometimes. No, no..how about some ice cream?”
The sky was paint brushed a somber, ascending shade of purple and pink. He remembered the sky looking like that as he woke up that day, putting on his green jacket and brushing his hair. How he suppressed the memory of putting her body in the trunk, he still didn't know.
Victoria was hardly ever this nice, and it was only when she suspected something was wrong. Of course, she should have known by now that everything was wrong in James' life, and it was just the way things were.
He wasn't much of an ice cream person, but just to please her, he got himself a cone of butter pecan. It used to be Mary's favorite flavor. He told her it was a bit too buttery for his taste, but now that she was dead, he chose this flavor almost involuntarily. It tasted better to him now, strangely.
“I wanted to ask you something.”
“Are you okay talking about your wife now?”
James focused on his ice cream. “I don't talk to anyone about Mary.”
“Is it because you're still uncomfortable with her?”
“No, it's just...few people really even know I was ever married in the first place. It's better that way.”
James licked around the rim to keep it from dripping, holding the cone to his lips as a contemplative gesture. “Well, because, if they find out I was married, they'll want to know why I'm not married anymore.”
“You could just say you're divorced.”
“But that's not fair to her, Vicky,” James was grave, “It's like telling them a bad joke. If I can't tell people the truth, then I don't want to talk about her at all. Okay?”
They both elapsed into silence for a while.
“Alright.” she stirred her ice cream thoughtfully. “If you don't want to talk about her, that's ok. But it's been 10 years since then. Most people would have moved on.”
“I have moved on. I served my time, I have a new job, I have a new place, and—”
“You're living a hollow existence in a dirty apartment complex filled with newly released criminals just like you, and you don't like your job or socialize with anyone, and you don't even talk to your father anymore—”
“Listen! If I hadn't moved on I would be a skeleton at the bottom of Toluca Lake with the body of my dead wife in the backseat! Alright?” James nearly shouted.
A woman turned around in mild disbelief, wondering if what she heard was right. Victoria pinched the bridge of her nose. She lifted her face to him in silent, pleading desperation. What more could she say to that?
“..Good God, James.”
In just another year, James would have to undergo another psychiatric evaluation. And if he failed, not only would he be taken from his apartment, he would lose his job and his car and be transferred to a mental hospital for as long as two years for intensive treatment. The electroshock therapy never worked, and only made him piss himself and forget more about his childhood, his parents and his school, and even his life with Mary—the good times and the bad.
Please, please, James shook his head, No more rehabilitation.
This morning with Victoria wasn't exactly a good start. He apologized for it, but that didn't take away the fact that he said it. It only went to show him he still wasn't ready to move on, even after all these years. Victoria could have worded it differently, but she was still right. Ten years is a long time—surely some of the pain must have gone by now?
Would he ever really get over it at all? Or would it keep him chained forever?
It depressed him that what should have been a fun day had to end like this. He could have had a good time. She was reaching out to him! She wanted to help..
James retreated into a corner of the station and bit back his quivering lip. Not now. Not now—why did people have to be around whenever he was hit with a wave of emotion? It needed closure. He flipped open his phone and dialed her.
It was nearly on its fifth ring when she answered. Her voice was quiet and restrained. “James—”
“I'm sorry,” his voice quietly broke. “I didn't mean it.. I just..”
“James,” he could sense a sad smile in her tone, “It's alright. I shouldn't have brought it up in the first place. Especially when we were eating ice cream. Ice cream is supposed to be a force of good.”
James made a short laugh. “Yeah.” He blinked hard and tried to reset his blurry vision.
“Don't worry about it anymore, ok? I'll come by again in a few days.”
The static began to grow. “Hey, I'm driving. I'm going to lose the signal soon. I'll see you later. Don't worry about it anymore.”
James closed his phone and breathed. He was suddenly afraid to see her in the coming days. He could always count on himself to say more stupid things to overcompensate for being a jerk.
No longer caring if anyone could tell he was recovering from certain emotions, he turned around and walked up the platform, waiting for the next car to come by. Just to give himself something to do, he started playing Extreme Tetris on his phone.
Soft footsteps approached from the opposite direction. “Hey..” a gentle voice called.
James looked up, and in that moment, he wanted it to be her.
It was just a young girl with shoulder-length brown hair, donning a rather conservative private school uniform. “Are you ok?”
He nodded. He hadn't meant to appear so disappointed, but the girl got the message and moved away.
James took a seat and put his phone in his pocket. He searched around for anyone who resembled the potentially imaginary Laura, but so far he wasn't having much luck. There was a girl across from him talking very loudly on her phone, but her blond hair had black streaks and was crunched up into waves with styling gel. Besides that, she was heavy set and dressed in tight-fitting jeans and a red v-neck t-shirt that did little to conceal her several rolls of fat. She wasn't really ugly, but she did need to lose a few pounds.
And that's about as close as he got to Laura's evasive apparition.
The same pregnant woman from yesterday entered the car before it took off and grabbed a handle. James stood and tapped her shoulder. “You can have my seat.”
She smiled appreciatively, “Oh, thank you! Which one?”
James turned around and was about to point, but to his ire, someone had already taken his seat. He was about to tell him off but the woman patted him on the back. “It's ok. I'm fine, really.”
He grabbed a handle and sighed. “Well, looks like we're both standing.”
The woman laughed. “Yeah.”
The doors from the end of the car slid open, letting through a few more people. Those who caught the fullness quickly retreated to their seats on the previous car, and others, perceiving it too late to reclaim their seats, just grabbed a handle.
She shouldered her way through the crowd but she wasn't able to get too close to him. She wasn't sure that he would be able to see her. She looked at herself through the window and fixed her hair. As he would remember it.
The car came to a stop. The crowd slowly began to disperse. James made sure the woman got out alright; in this crappy town, people didn't have a lot of respect for the elderly and the infirm either. He wondered why she just didn't have her boyfriend or husband run her around instead of taking public transportation. One of these days someone could nudge into her too hard and hurt her or the baby. He had seen people fall down while no one helped them up or picked up anything they had dropped. It was disgusting, but it was the reality of the poorer parts of Ashfield. She wasn't safe walking by herself at night. Maybe he should..
“Hey, do you mind if I walk you home?” James asked nervously.
The woman seemed taken aback, and opened her mouth to say something, but he quickly interrupted: “Please believe me, I won't do anything funny. I just want you to be safe. It's dangerous around here. I've been mugged once or twice on the streets myself.”
Again, she smiled warmly. “Actually, I don't live here in Ashfield. I only come here for work. I'm being picked up by a cab, so you don't have to look out for me.”
“Oh. Ok. Well...if you need any help with anything, I..”
“I get it.” She rubbed her belly. “Thanks. I'll keep that in mind. See you around.” She turned and left.
James left the encounter slightly flushed. It was the most he had ever talked to a stranger in years. He sincerely hoped he didn't appear creepy to her. He only wanted to help..
For a split second, he caught a glimpse of the jean skirt and flip-flops of a petite girl whose blond hair was tied back the same way as last time. She shuffled past the others at a rapid rate, seemingly in a hurry. Her hair blew in the breeze like an assortment of bright ribbons.
James knew this was his chance. If he didn't follow her, he could lose her forever.
It was the only way he would know if she was real.
“Hey!” he quickly caught up to her and stopped her in her tracks. The startled girl jumped and whirled around.
James blushed. “I-I'm sorry... I didn't mean to.. I..”
Now he suddenly didn't know why he had done something so rash, especially in light of her beautiful, bewildered face. What if she hadn't looked at him yesterday, but some handsome teenager behind him?
He'd made a terrible mistake. He should go.
“I-I'm sorry. I mistook you for someone.”
Just as he turned to leave, she cried, “Wait! I saw you yesterday, but I wasn't sure if it really was you..”
His breath caught and his heart skipped a beat.
“James..? James Sunderland, right?”
“..Yes.” he exhaled. “Laura?”
“I was afraid you wouldn't remember me. We haven't seen each other in so long.”
“Is that why you ran away?”
For a moment, Laura didn't know what to say. She interlaced her fingers, “Well, I wasn't sure if you were the right person. I was thinking.. I could have come by and saw you again tomorrow, get a better look at your face..to make sure.”
She smiled and wrapped her hands around herself, looking down. “So, um.. are you still mad at me for stepping on your hand?”
James palmed the back of his head, overcome with shame. Of course he forgave her, but more importantly—had she forgiven him? How should he even ask such a question?
“I'm not the same bratty little girl you met in Silent Hill, I promise. I've changed a lot since then. People actually say I'm too quiet now.”
“Heh.. Yeah, same for me.”
James followed Laura to a bench. They both sat down and resumed their conversation.
“So how are you?” he asked.
She crossed her legs and pulled down her skirt a bit. He hadn't realized until now how leggy she was. Though he suspected she was a legal adult, she still appeared as if she were 16 or 17 because of her demure, feminine frame. She had the height of a full grown woman, but she only came up to his collar bone. Her breasts were small and humble, though from the looks of it she tried to make herself appear a tad bustier with her low cut, striped shirt. The way she layered her hair over her chest, now that she was in the presence of another male, made him consider that she may have been teased for her small breast size. Or maybe she just didn't trust him to restrain himself.
He hated it when women grew tense around him. The last thing he wanted to do was scare someone away. Despite this, he tended to do that a lot.
“Good. I'm going to school right now, and I'm living with my best friend.”
“That's great. So do you go to Springfield Community College?”
“Good, good..” James tried to suppress the strange elation he felt building up within him. Having someone from his past who wasn't here to reprimand him or drudge up old memories, who was just normal and happy, approaching him for the first time..it filled him with a happy anxiety he hadn't felt before. “What are you taking?”
James felt a pang of embarrassment. He wondered just who inspired that major.
So the small talk went on, both of them actively dodging anything having to do with Silent Hill, his arrest, or Mary. In fact, they appeared as two strangers who had nothing in common, but were mutually interested in the other's life. James didn't have much to say about his life that was looking up, or getting better, and Laura didn't have much to say about her life getting any worse—rather, she must have been spoiled by her foster family, if she had one.
After a while they stopped talking. At this point, James could have went home, and Laura could have gone her own way, as she almost always did, but something kept them both there. Wordless, they stared at the people whizzing by like busy flies, the colors of their clothes meshing together in a messy rainbow. The car came and went, people went in and out. That was the story of James' life after Mary—just watching life go by. Wondering what other people did, what they loved, what they hated, what they had to live for these days. If life was just an endless cycle of people who had it good, those who were in the middle, and those like James: on the brink of nothingness and not particularly caring.
“So..what are you going to do?” Laura asked quietly. He almost hadn't heard her. It sounded like the child's voice from his dream, a ghost behind him staring at the road, pensively squeezing the palm of his hand. The child seemed to want to say, Take me anywhere.
And to this day, he didn't know where he was, or where to go, for that matter. So he only had the same thing to say to her, even after all these years.
“..I don't know.”
“We'll both see where we want to go, then.”
They stood and walked up the stairs and out into the street. The town was lit up like Christmas. Thousands of orange, lazy lights blinked overhead. Laura was content to just let the breeze blow through her hair and clothes.
“Where do you want to go?” she asked again.
For now, they had to ignore the urge to ask everything they really wanted to know. Someday, they would have to talk about those things. It wouldn't be pretty, James knew. Laura must still resent him. But what exactly did this mean, now that they were together?
Had he been forgiven?