Mya scraped at the edges of her mind, sometimes, trying to think of what she could’ve done to wind up with a warmer ending. She imagined so many things – too many scenarios and unspoken words, too many retcons and do-overs and little, life-shifting mercies. She imagined herself back in that fire, again, more often than was probably good for her. It was hard not to, though. The feelings came in waves, and Mya was always sort of gagging through the smoke and corpse-smells and scrawled “BURN ME ALIVE” dripping wall paint of it all. She imagined herself aching and dizzy, a little of Randall’s blood caught under her fingernails from when she fought him back… She imagined herself terrified for Sausage the cat, again, and trying not to slip running on that floor all slick with splattered bleach and whiskey and fluttering, crumbling ash.
The whole apartment complex had splintered around her like it’d been waiting to fall apart for a while, now, and was sort of excited to finally get the go-ahead. Mya remembered it felt like the building would give way at any second, and she and Randall would both end up buried, there. Together and so apart, smothered in their own personal brick and carpet tombs. Tom, too… And Amy. They would’ve all been unearthed like mummies, in not too, too long.
Was there something Mya could’ve said, some particular word or another that might’ve been like a bridge… Some kinda key to lead Randall back out into the dark, honest air with her? Randall, at least, Mya thought she could have saved. When she’d grabbed Tom’s lamp to smash the window in, should she have whirled around with it – (metal burning against her palms and the whole world dissolving into fire) – and stormed back to Randall’s apartment? Maybe Mya could’ve tried to smash in his bathroom door with that lamp. It might’ve worked. Mya’d smashed plenty of things in her time, and their apartments’ walls were basically fancied up papier-mâché.
Maybe it would’ve meant something if Randall saw that she truly, completely wasn’t ready to leave without him… Even as it got harder and harder to breathe. Maybe it would’ve meant something if Mya wouldn’t give up, even if she had held an actual dead guy’s arm for the first time in her life that day and everything in the universe felt weird as hell right about then. Mya had meant it, when she said she wanted to help. Could Randall have seen himself as someone worth fighting for, even just the tiniest bit? They would’ve both had pieces of splintered door in their hair, right about then, and the apartment would creak all around them like a dying thing… Just some old bones ready to fall.
They might’ve gotten out, together.
Mya turned the idea over and over in her head – imagined herself remembering court dates and appointment info alongside Randall like the support system he’d never learned what it was like to have. Scribbling important info up her arm, smearing the ink every now and then accidentally. Everything had gone from movie nights and café adventures to burning in a few short days… But maybe, slowly, carefully, they could’ve worked their way back into something safer, again. Not the same, no –
(Amy would be an aching, hollow space in Mya’s heart for the rest of time, forever and always, the choke of unspoken words clogging up her throat, a buzzing wrongness filling all her old growing-up memories, changing them one by fragile one) –
But they could’ve had something, anyway.
Mya remembered the hazy, swelling panic and recognition in Randall’s eyes, there at the end, and she remembered the scar on his neck and the way he relaxed when he realized she was joking and how he’d put little sparkles around her name when he talked about her in his journal. Maybe they could’ve hunted around for a better medicine, whether or not they found any; maybe they could’ve eventually hooked up a satellite dish or something and managed to rope in more than three channels. Maybe, if Randall had lived just a little longer...
Mya thought questions about what else she could’ve done might follow her forever, like the moths that had been dizzy and everywhere around her old, ruined apartment building when she swung by that one last time before getting the fuck out of there.
Could’ve been she wouldn’t have been able to break the door down, even with all her strength and fury and hope. Could’ve been Tom’s lampstand would’ve snapped apart in her hands.
(Mya thought about what Randall had told her when the fire started, too. Before he remembered her, with that Band-Aid wadded up and sweaty in his palm.
Burn her to preserve her, so they’d stay friends forever, just as they were or could have been before the haze of getting knocked out wore off and she realized too much.
He’d offered her friendship like a bog mummy, like a bug in amber. Like that was the only sort of love he could imagine being built to last.
Mya thought about that, and her insides hurt.)
Mya was going north, now, to the cold and the snow… Going to live in a house she’d never seen. She bought coffee at a little stand in the train station, and some of the cinnamon gum she knew Randall liked, too. She probably wasn’t going to chew it, at least not yet. It was the same way she felt weird making fun of boring TV shows Tom would’ve liked, now… The same way she said Amy’s name like it was made of broken glass and might cut her hand. The dead were in little things all around, of course. Mya had known that for a while now, since she was a child. But these were the freshly dead, and she saw them everywhere.
“Your ticket, ma’am?” the attendant at the desk said. When Mya smiled, they asked her if she was alright… Her smile must’ve been a strange, painful one, then. They sounded genuinely concerned, so Mya tried to grin a little more impishly, like she used to. She tried to swat any worries out of the air with a brisk wave of her hand. It probably didn’t work, but it was worth a go. A lot of things were worth a go.
(Mya thought about that damn lamp, again, here, and the crunch of brittle wood, and the crying sounds she’d heard through the door. She got on the train, walking faster, now.)
In another world, maybe Randall was climbing onboard after her, hands curled up in his sleeves and feet shuffling and a wintry hat on. It might’ve been important to get him out of that city, if he was up for it… Especially if his face ended up on any newspapers. It had certainly wound up on newspapers in Mya’s timeline. She still glanced away from newspaper stands on impulse, now, like jerking her hand away from a stove.
It was snowing, in the part of Oregon Mya was headed for. She’d seen that on TV at the train station. She sipped her coffee slowly, watching the world pass by, leaning back in her seat. She crossed her legs at the ankle and closed her eyes.
Mya had learned friendship from Amy, first, long ago. Her original understanding of “being friends” had come from her sister trying to look out for her… And trying to look out for Amy back, of course. Amy messed up, sometimes – and sometimes she messed up horribly – but she always seemed to come back. Mya still had the letter Amy’d slid under her door, after all. It was folded up very small, carried around in her wallet all the time.
It had always been Mya’s goal, to be a friend like that. The sort of friend that would come back, every time, and apologize when she needed to.
The sort of friend who would come back, maybe with a lamp in her fists and flames catching on the edge of her skirt. The sort of friend who would offer a hand and say – something. Something magical. Something Mya hadn’t thought of yet, but that she hoped could’ve come to her in a shock of adrenalin and inspiration and whatever kind of protective impulse she’d learned watching Amy year after year after year. Maybe Randall would’ve let her lead him out of there. Maybe they could’ve packed lunch bags together for this train ride, with spicy chips and sandwiches and old scuffed water bottles.
Mya hadn’t gone back. She wondered sometimes whether Amy would have done it, in her shoes. If Amy had been the one to call Randall her friend, before, and if she’d seen the fear on his face. It was hard to say, really. Maybe Mya only thought she knew the answer because she was looking at her sister from so far away. Amy, through the foggy window of her death.
Sausage didn’t really like her cat carrier, but the trip would be over soon enough.