The sound of a nasty drunken brawl from downstairs – accompanied by the noise of breaking glass -awakened Myra. She hurriedly got out of bed, groaning inwardly at the thought that such a fine, sunny winter morning had just become really sour for her, just like so many other such fine mornings before it. She was way too tired of playing grown-up to two other grown-ups who always seemed to be after each other’s lives, to say nothing of the fact that neither of them cared the least bit about her. Truth be told, her mom and her step-dad didn’t want her around at all, because she always seemed to be getting in the way of things that they wanted to do, like drinking and aiming for each other’s throats all day long. Myra couldn’t remember a time when they had lived like a normal family, let alone a happy one. When she was still a kid, sometimes the neighbours had taken care of her and sometimes it had been her grandparents. But since she was fourteen, she had learnt to take care of herself and her ‘parents’ by taking up various jobs from time to time. She had even completed her Master’s from the local university. While problems at home had escalated over the years, they hadn’t been able to stop her from trying to get the life she wanted. It was equally true that her ‘parents’ hadn’t helped her any in her efforts to make their life more bearable.
When she came downstairs, she found her step-dad holding her mom against the wall by her throat, a nasty snarl across his face. Her mom, on the other hand, was pressing the jagged edges of a broken wine-bottle against his chest, holding him at bay. The place where the jagged edges had cut through the shirt fabric and into the skin had started to bleed. Yet both seemed oblivious of the pain they were inflicting upon each other in the face of the feeling of mutual loathing that was being displayed.
Myra’s continual exposure to such incidents of violence since childhood still hadn’t inured her to it. Yet, much as she disliked it, she always had to intervene at such times and at no little risk to herself. This time, as she fell between them, trying to pry them apart so that they wouldn’t hurt themselves any further, they focused their loathing on her instead.
“Oh! Here comes our saviour, looking out for her mommy and daddy. Are your plain stupid or do you deliberately ignore the fact that nobody wants you here? Takes after her daddy, saviour senior, doesn’t she?” cackled her mom sardonically.
“Yep! I’m just glad that, between the two of us, we managed to drive her daddy to his death. That makes one pest less to deal with,” replied her step-dad, and the pair of them started to laugh like maniacs.
What followed next was a blur to Myra. The blood started pounding in her head and before she knew it, she had punched both of them in their faces and stomped out of the house and into her car, tears flowing freely from her eyes.
As she drove away from the house, wiping her eyes frequently on the sleeve of her sweater, she hardly noticed the quizzical glances of her neighbours, who had gathered outside with shovels to clear away the snow. She held the memories of her dad sacred, as she had enjoyed his company for a very short time, as an infant, before he had died of heartbreak at the infidelity of his wife and his best friend. All that she had left of him were some photographs and a pair of old boots that had belonged to him. And today these two remorseless people had derided his memory and gloated about how they had rid themselves of his presence. So, though she felt miserable for having punched them, yet a part of her couldn’t deny that they had it coming all along.
She drove furiously for a couple of hours and when she finally stopped, she realised with a start that she had parked in front of her grandparents’ home in Reacher Town. As she got out of the car, she could hear the sound of an axe hacking through wood from the backyard. So drying her swollen eyes, as best she could, she made her way around the house to the back, expecting to find her grandpa there. Instead, she was mildly surprised to see a young man gathering firewood in the yard. As he looked up from his work, hearing her footsteps, she saw that he was very good-looking. More importantly, though, there was something about him that seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t really place him. Just then, her gran came out with a steaming mug of hot chocolate for him and stopped short upon finding her there.
“What a pleasant surprise, child! Why didn’t you let us know that you were coming?” cried the elderly woman, smiling and handing the mug over to the young man, so that her hands were free to embrace her granddaughter. “What’s wrong?” she added with concern, noting Myra’s swollen eyes. “Come on in and I’ll fix you something to eat. You look miserable. Dae, that’s enough firewood for a couple of days. Why don’t you come in from the cold as well, son, and we can sit round the fire and talk,” she continued, addressing the young man.
“Is that-” Myra started to ask. Her gran cut her short, saying, “Yeah, that’s your Dae, back home after all these years.” Myra managed to give him a weak smile before she was hustled inside.
For the next fifteen minutes, Myra sat beside a warm fire and talked with her grandpa, while her gran puttered about the small but tidy kitchen, fixing her a late breakfast of sandwiches, scrambled eggs and hot chocolate. This house, with its old-fashioned fireplace and chimney, had always been Myra’s idea of a dream home. As she tearfully told her grandparents about the day’s events, her eyes lingered lovingly over every nook and corner, every cobweb and every stain of this favourite old haunt of hers. Dae, meanwhile, having brought in the firewood, was leaning against the fireplace listening to her story with a serious face. When, at the end of her story, Myra broke down in tears, he silently came and sat beside her and held her while she cried, just like old times.
When her grief had subsided somewhat, she looked up into his face and asked, amid hiccups, “Do you remember?” And holding her tighter, he whispered, “I do.” For Damon, or Dae as Myra preferred to call him, and she had been best friends and comrades in joy and grief for years. They had attended the same school, had played together since they were children and shared secrets that nobody else knew. Damon’s parents had loved her like a daughter and they had been the closest thing to a family that she had ever had, besides her grandparents. When they had both died in a car accident, Myra had felt their loss deeply; yet, for Damon’s sake, she had tried hard to hide her own grief so that he could give vent to his. And then, Damon had gone away to another part of the world with his uncle, his only relative, after the funeral, while she had returned to the misery of her own town.
Now, though, he was back again, as if he had known somehow that she needed him; and they passed the rest of the day with her grandparents, remembering and talking about their lost loved ones, and in the evening, they walked together to their favourite sunset point. On the way, it started to snow and one of Myra’s neighbours called her cell-phone to let her know that after she had left, her mom had stabbed her step-dad during an ugly fight, that he had died while being taken to the hospital and that the police had taken her mom away. She listened calmly and promised that she would return the next morning. Damon guessed from her strange calm that something bad had happened but he didn’t feel like ruining the moment by asking her. Nor did Myra tell him anything just then, for she knew that she would have enough time later to tell him and her grandparents everything. She had realised long ago that life was never free of problems, but that, with Dae and her grandparents beside her, she would never have to feel weak or alone. And she knew, somehow, that this time Dae had come to stay, that he wasn’t going away. So she let him take her hand in his, and they stood side by side in the glow of the carmine evening, watching the snowflakes blend into the sunset.
“This story is written as part of A Winter in Storyland contest on Tell-A-Tale – Bringing stories back into lives.”