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deliberately courting pneumonia

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She’s at the park again.

The air is pungent with both the stifling stench of human sweat and the unnatural scent of the black oil that has become an increasingly common sight in warehouses across the country. The pond water is murky, with the few water plants that populate it wilting and half-dead.

The park is a place for everyone: from the homeless and the poor, to young parents with children, to people like her.

Laura loves it here.

She stares at the pond, unblinking. What is there is the blackened and dirty depths of the body of water, but what she sees is a whole other situation.

And her eyes are fixed on the pond, and she goes under —

She only sees the pond for what it used to be — lovely, pristine, and transparent.

Multicoloured fish swim in it, visible through the clear water, and aquatic plants flourish at the pond banks. The grass surrounding the water is a light green, and she can smell the fresh air and the scent of spring: pure, natural and clean.

She can almost hear the birdsong as they soar past her, and the sounds of other children tittering in the background.

She can almost feel the warmth of her father’s hand holding hers, the weight of a six-year-old Tom leaning on her as they sit and watch the fish in the pond swim with the graceful movements of dancers.

The water is utterly crystal, so blue and so transparent she feels like it could be used as a mirror if she went just a bit closer —

She snaps out of it, gasping as if she had been underwater. Her heart is jumping in her chest, and her hands are sweaty.

She is alone in the park. No birds sing. The water is muddy and disgusting. To her right, a homeless man snores away, undisturbed by her exclaim earlier.

She shakes her head at herself, and takes a step back with a single tear in her left eye.

Every day she comes here, and every day she falls into the same daydream.

Her mother isn’t the only one who finds herself a victim to delusion at times.

She sits down at a nearby bench. She’s just realised that she’s clutching her bag so tightly her knuckles are turning white.

Her bag is gaudy, made out of imitation leather and other material of the like, and she really wishes she could have anything else to carry around, but her mother spent a pretty penny on it, and it would be a waste if she didn’t use it.

It looks just like her own, after all, and all Laura really wants to be is like her mother, or at least the old version of her — the fresh and pretty young girl who lived in Blue Mountain and had the tongue and the looks to attract seventeen gentlemen callers to her doorstep.

Laura blinks, the thought of Amanda cutting into her other train of thought like a knife through warm butter.

What would her mother say if she saw her now, skipping classes to stare at a dirty pond and getting lost in her own thoughts?

Fortunately, if everything goes her way, Mother will never have to know. How she’s going to come up with a false certificate at the end of the entire school year Laura doesn’t know, but that’s something to worry about for another time.

 

Mother has gotten a new job. Selling magazines through the telephone, something that Tom scoffs at whenever any of them mention it in passing, which leads to a semi-serious squabble that Laura tries her best to placate.

Frankly, her new job reminds Laura of her father.

She remembers him, but only in bits and pieces. Glass fragments of memory haunt her daily life, and here, in this park, is only a piece of how he spent his time together with her.

She knows he worked at a telephone company. She knows he used to bring her and her brother to this very park often. She knows him and her mother used to quarrel a lot. She knows he wasn’t happy.

Which is why he left, isn’t it? That’s why he left, snapping the already-frayed string that held her family together into two, and taking part of her heart with him.

Of course, he’d left a piece of him with her too - after all, it was only fair -

The glass menagerie.

Her beloved glass menagerie.

She remembers being young, around five or six, hobbling down the street, hand-in-hand with her father, and seeing it in the window of one of those quaint, hole-in-the-wall shops that just sold toys and trinkets for ladies to display on their dressers or on the mantle of their homes. She’d tugged on her father’s hand, and pointed wordlessly at the window, eyes shining with wonder.

It was so pretty, how the glass caught the light and gleamed all kinds of colours in the harsh light of the shop window, making her slightly dizzy. She found herself being drawn towards the fragile beauty of it, the pretty delicateness in the glass.

There were all sorts of glass animals in the window - from a giraffe to a squirrel to a cat, but in the midst of it all? A unicorn, and like most other girls her age, she was entranced by the fabled animal and the horn that adorned its graceful head.

She begged and begged her father to get it for her, and eventually he did. She was so grateful for it, and was the happiest she remembers being ever, but that didn’t matter to Amanda once she found out.

That night ended in another quarrel among her parents, and all Laura could do was hide in her room and polish her newly-bought set of glass animals so she wouldn’t break down in tears, while Tom sat on her bed and scrawled one of his little poems on a sheet of yellowed paper.

Her heart squeezes.

Tom had always been so talented.

Tom, with his head in the clouds and a pen in his hand. Tom, her little brother.

But he didn’t really seem like her little brother, did he?

Tom, as the only man of the household, forced to step up, get out into the world, and make a living for the three of them, though she knows he hates it, with every bit of his heart, with every fibre of his being, he hates it.

She’s not stupid. She knows.

 

She knows of the fleeting, wistful glances he sends the fire escape, of the frustration in the very essence of his bones as he gets up every morning, of his lengthy trips to the movies.

She also knows that the only reason he’s still here, living in this dingy apartment, with her narcissist of a mother, is because of her.

It both breaks her heart and warms it at the same time.

To think that Tom is wearing himself out and slowly killing himself by working at that dreadfully-artificial warehouse just for her is so incredibly loving and brotherly of him, yet is such a terrible thought she can’t help but hurt for him, from the very depths of her soul to the top of her head.

Tom’s future had seemed so bright so long ago. Frankly, it’s jarring to see him in this state, when in their high school days, he had been acing classes and fitting right in with the other boys.

And as always, as if in routine, her thoughts inevitably end up circling back to him, like a model train set in a loop, doomed to always continue the same journey until someone knocks it off the tracks.

Jim O’Connor, the star student of her high school.

She remembers being a blushing, starry-eyed schoolgirl, stuck building castles in the air, daydreams invading her mind every day, of her with Jim, of her with a proud Amanda, of her with a happy Tom.

Back when she still wore rose-coloured lenses, with a heart full of silent hopes and a mouth brimming with things she could never be brave enough to say.

Jim was the very first boy who’d ever noticed her.

She’d felt so happy the very first time she heard the words “Blue Roses” slip from his lips. To him, it was probably just a nickname, just another term of endearment for someone in a sea of a hundred faces, but to her, it meant the world.

It made her feel special.

And perhaps that said something about her and her life, that the only time she ever felt special was when some boy at school noticed her, but Laura didn’t bother dwelling on her own self-esteem issues.

After all, she’d always been like this, ever since kindergarten, when she first noticed that she couldn’t quite walk right.

She wasn’t the only one that noticed.

Kids were perceptive, and could be incredibly mean if they wanted to be.

The sun shines through the trees, and rays of sunlight fall on her person. She shifts in the sudden warmth, and eventually decides to stand up, grab her bag, and take a stroll around the park, now that the sky is brighter and the trees are swaying, and she gets lost in her thoughts again.

She wonders what he’s doing now.

He’s probably out there somewhere, doing something interesting and successful, with a beautiful wife always by his side, and perhaps even a screaming toddler or two, a voice whispers in her head.

She wonders if he’s happy.

He probably is, the voice whispers again.

She wonders if he remembers her.

A foolish thing to think. The voice doesn’t bother responding.

Laura stops walking and stares blankly at the ground.

She isn’t happy.

Not with her legs, not with her education, not with her family, not with her life. She is, simply put, unhappy, in every sense of the word.

Her grip tightens on her false, imitation leather bag, and after a beat, loosens.

She continues limping along the path.