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Not everyone is who they appear to be…

Helen dropped to her knees and started pulling out Sophie’s clothes from the dresser drawers. Small shirts and pants. Tiny socks. Oshkosh labels and small patent leather shoes all went into the boxes. She sobbed as memories washed over her. She hugged a stuffed dog to her chest and rocked back and forth. It had been one of Sophie’s favorites. She inhaled the smell that barely lingered on it. She couldn’t do this. Funny how life could twist on you like an unfamiliar road until you weren’t sure which way you were headed anymore. She drew strength from the recesses of her soul and plowed forward. It took her just over an hour to pack most everything up. Five boxes. Sophie’s entire life had been reduced to five pathetic boxes.

She stacked the boxes in the closet. She would not be getting rid of anything-simply stowing it away. Helen closed the door to the closet as if she were closing the door on her daughter. Her heart splintered. Out of sight but not out of mind, Helen glanced around the room. Her chest constricted at how barren it looked. How unlived in. She walked to the bed and drew up all the bedding into her arms and tossed it into the laundry basket before she remade the bed with clean fresh sheets and blankets.

IMPOSTER

 

Imposter

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Helen from Imposter

Helen

 

            Snow floated in the air silently outside. Helen stared, momentarily-zoned out in the decent of the flakes.

Big fluffy flakes that barely weighed anything.  Sophie used to love playing in the snow, she thought, but long gone were the days of bundling Sophie in snow pants, boots, a hat and mittens. Gone was the moment of zipping up her coat all the way to her chin and patting her on the butt as she clumsily made her way out the front door. Helen clung tightly to the memories she had of her daughter. Even ten years later, she held out secret hope that her daughter was still alive. Helen carefully arranged a bouquet of thorny  red  roses in a vase.

Statistically speaking, Sophie was dead. Everyone told her so. The police, the center for missing children, other missing children’s parents from her support group. She knew that-but she always believed that a mother knew if her baby’s heart was still beating somewhere out there and Helen had never felt the loss of Sophie in the deepest recesses of her heart. She just felt she was still alive.

                        Not knowing was the worst. It let the nightmares in. The what if’s and the tortures of imagination could drive a person crazy, especially after a decade of unanswered questions, but Helen reminded herself daily that she had to be strong because- what if Sophie came home? If she showed up and Helen was in the looney bin with no safe home to return to- that would be the ultimate failure as a mother.

 

            “Hey,” Sam said. Helen glanced at the clock. Her husband arrived home just after five pm.  At fifty he was still handsome as ever. ‘Easy on the eyes’ as her mother had called him. Tall with an athletic build and a strong jaw but kind eyes. He kissed her cheeks and swatted her rear as he passed her on his way to the kitchen. He had swept Helen off her feet at twenty-three. She had loved that he was a responsible single father of a two year old son- it showed his character. He was attentive and romantic. He’d wooed her with flowers, compliments and simple moments of affection.

At twenty-four they married and by twenty-five, Cora was born. Those early years had been pure joy. Shane-four, and Cora just a newborn, had seemed to complete their lives. Sophie came four years later by accident. A happy surprise to Sam and Helen but Cora, then four and Shane, eight, weren’t quite as elated. In that first year with Sophie, there had been a lot of singing ‘you can’t always get what you want’ to the kids. Now, decades later, Cora and Shane loved to bring that song up and sing it back to Sam and her when the moment was right. Helen grinned at the thought.

            “Hi love. How was work?” she asked and followed him to the kitchen.

“Same as always. Me trying to get Dad to modernize- Dad refusing- me plotting his retirement.” Sam winked at her and rolled his eyes. She watched as he set a bouquet of flowers on the counter for her. She loved the way he left flowers for her in the evening when he came home from work.

 

Since before Helen knew him, Sam was on track to take over the family business. A business that over the years had amassed them quite a fortune. Sam’s father had promised to retire three years ago but was still working full time- much to Sam’s dismay. He had plans to bring the company more up-to-date. He wanted a technologically savvy company, not the archaic one his father started.

With her step-son Shane now twenty-five and living in Boston, and Cora, twenty one and renting in Portland, the house was eerily quiet. Empty nesters. They should still have had a child in their home for at least another year. But it was what it was. Helen spent her days volunteering at Park View Hospital while Sam spent his at work.

Each time Helen witnessed Shane and his father growing closer over the years, each time he went to a father daughter event with Cora, she found herself angry with him for not mourning the loss of having those very same moments with Sophie. Helen felt that pang of heartbreak with every rite of passage that came and went for Cora and Shane knowing that those moments were stolen from her youngest child.

The years had been hard on their marriage. They loved each other,  yes, but the loss of a child tore the fabric of their marriage over time leaving them distant. A gaping chasm that never seemed to shrink no matter how much counseling they endured together. Or maybe that was what all marriages were like after twenty-two years. Helen wasn’t naive.  She didn’t expect passion to be around every corner but she did wonder if she should feel a more certain closeness to her husband after all these years.

Everyone mourns the loss of a child differently. At least that is what the counselor had told them so long ago. Helen couldn’t help the resentment she felt toward Sam about the way he moved on. To her, she would never give up hope but Sam had long ago written Sophie off. He refused to even speak her name or take a chance on new leads that came over the years with her case after that first year she was gone. To save their marriage, Helen had adapted to his methods. She had Cora to think about. Cora was one of those souls who watched to see what she could do for others, someone who would rather serve in silence. A kind and generous person.

Her step-son Shane was a different beast altogether. He’d been unruly from the start. A difficult child and a destructive one. Helen attributed it to three things. The way his mother coddled him, the way his father, Sam, treated him more like a best friend than a parent and Sophie’s disappearance. Those three things seemed to shape him over the years into a handsome man who was always on edge and had a temper.

“What’s for dinner, love?” Sam asked. He held her hand, brushed his thumb over her knuckles and looked at her as if she were his entire world.

“I don’t know. I thought maybe we could go out,” Helen answered.

Sam smiled and nodded. “Sure. Let me change and we can head out. Any hankerings?”

“Mexican,” Helen said. Sam beamed at her. He loved Mexican food and she knew it would please him that she suggested it. No matter how strange their relationship was now, she still tried. And that was what mattered in the end right?

That they never stopped trying.

Sam leaned in and kissed her softly. His salty lips made her laugh. He was always snacking on salted peanuts on his drive home from work.

K. Larsen (subject to change)

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Imposter- Thriller

IMPOSTER
AVA

July 11, 2016

“I was never really loved. I guess that’s where it began. My mother wasn’t a mother, more like someone who just used me when it was convenient for her. I wasn’t wanted so what did it matter?” Ava thought about how her mother used to leave her at the Hannaford when she was little. She’d just walk in, take Ava to the bakery section for a free cookie then leave. The lady at the bakery never called the police on her mother. Or anyone else. And after a while, she took Ava in-kinda-sorta. Ava would go behind the counter, have all the free cookies she wanted and watch as Big Peggy whipped up treats for the display cases.

“Go on,” Dr. White urged.

“I’m not a slug you know. I would have worked more, but it’s hard to get a work permit signed by your parent when you haven’t seen them. I tried to do better. I tried to help out.”

“Where was your mother?” he asked.

“Who knows? Strung out somewhere is my guess. I haven’t seen her in almost a year.”

“So you tried to help out at home but it wasn’t enough,” he restated.

Ava rolled her eyes and twirled her hair. “Yeah, and eventually I got too cold, too hungry and too fed up. I thought if I just took the easy way out the world would be a burden short finally.”

Dr. White, didn’t take the baited statement and moved on. “What happened when they released you from Stonehurst?”

Ava didn’t want to rehash the recent past. She was bone tired from sleeping with one eye open for the last month. What she wanted was a hot shower, a warm meal and a bed. Scratch that, what she really wanted was a family. One that counted. One that loved her.

“I went home,” she said.

“Ava, I’m trying here. You’ve got to help me out.” Dr. White looked irritated with her simple answers. Ava rolled her shoulders but she knew if she wanted this visit to end she needed to play the game.

“I went back to the studio apartment but the building had been condemned. Which was probably my fault. The EMT’s probably reported it when they picked me up. I tried to sneak in but I couldn’t. It was like our lives were just a pile of crumbs on a table, and someone came along with a rag and wiped them away. But that’s life, right? You think a place is a possession, but it isn’t.” Ava looked out the barred window. The sun was blazing and the sky was bright blue. She wondered if life would ever feel as beautiful as the sky looked. A slew of people were now interested in her. People, she decided, were curious creatures. No one noticed her before. But now, now everyone noticed her.

“Why didn’t you reach out to one of your State-appointed counselors or try to find your mother or other family?”

“For what? So I could stay in a shelter and feel even worse about my life? Or find my mom only to find her passed out on some dudes bed? Or end up dead from drinking  because rural Maine is a wasteland? I figured I was better off homeless. I know that I have nothing to look forward to outside of being a retail person, or possibly taking out student loans for college. And why? I ask myself that question hundreds of times, and the only answer I ever get is to land a job that I would probably hate, and spend years of my life staring out a window wishing for more. I don’t want that kind of life. A kid like me doesn’t really have options.” Her voice caught between anger and panic. Goals receded into the distance while reality stretched on, until it became only natural to desire something beyond oneself. Maybe it was just some TV or time on Facebook or window shopping. Maybe a sleeping pill to ease her to sleep. Maybe a narcotic to tame the physical and psychological pain. Maybe just simple love and affection. Maybe there was a cure for what ailed her. She wouldn’t know until she exhausted all avenues.

Ava adjusted herself in her chair. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and continued. “I went looking for Gary instead. He might have been a heroin addict but he was about the only thing in life that showed any sort of affection toward me.”

“Did you find him?” Dr. White asked.

“Yeah. At Howie’s bar near the tracks. You know it? It’s a little hole-in-the-wall craptastic place.”

Dr. White shook his head. “Can’t say I have.”

“Well it was Gary’s favorite hang out. He bought me a soda and let me hang with him for the night.”

“Where did Gary live then?”

Ava laughed. “Gary didn’t live. Gary only survived for his next hit. After Howie’s booted him out he took me to his friends place with him.”

“What time was that?” Dr. White asked.

Ava thought it over. She never was good at details. “I dunno, maybe like eleven or so?”

“So you went to whose house then?”

“Some guy they call Fat Mike, which is dumb because the dude is stupid skinny.  He squats in a shit hole building near Exchange Street.”

“Go on,” Dr. White said.

“So we get there and Gary and Fat Mike go into another room. I sit on the couch for a while with my backpack just waiting. Fat Mike comes back out and says Gary is passed out. So I get up to leave but Fat Mike says I can stay until he wakes up. Says I can sleep on the couch.”

“Okay.”

“Anyway I don’t know this dude so I don’t want to sleep out in the open. I tell him it’s cool- I’ll just sleep with Gary. I mean, Gary was more like a dad to me. He is like fifty or something and even though he is a hopeless addict, he is always kind to me in his own way. Watched out for me and stuff.” Ava shrugged and twirled a clump of hair around her finger.

“Yes, Gary was very concerned when you were found.”

“Yeah. I talked to him. We’re okay.” Ava smiled. Gary was strange and a hot mess but reliable when it came to her. Dr. White made notes on his legal pad. His pen made a scratching sound on the paper. So many notes. She shook her head. Ava wondered how any of this was pertinent information to the case.

©2016 K. Larsen

Leave a comment if you like what you read!

xoxo

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Imposter – yes- again

AVA

July 11, 2016

     “Just one more God-damned thing that didn’t go right,” her mom said .  She frowned and fidgeted with the hem of her dime-store dress. Ava’s uncle went to his truck and changed from khakis into sweat pants. Her aunt ducked behind the hearse to light a cigarette in the wind. Her mom climbed into her beat up car, put on the flashers and motioned for everyone to follow behind. They formed a makeshift processional of dented trucks and loud mufflers, driving out of the small town, onto dirt roads and up to a cemetery bordered by thick woods.

What killed her father was drinking. The exact culprit was cirrhosis of the liver brought on by gin in particular,  whatever brand was on sale and cheapest. But, as Ava’s makeshift  family gathered at the gravesite, she wondered why he’d even started drinking in the first place.
Why would he choose that kind of fate?

Dave, her father’s  brother, who was making it through the day with the aid of her dead father’s gin; Mary, her father’s sister, who had hitched a ride to the service because she couldn’t afford a car; Her mother, a waste of a woman who could barely take care of herself let alone Ava, and Tandy, who was a close family friend. Ava scattered her father’s ashes and thought about how a regular night of drinking had ended in the emergency room-again, the tenth trip in the last four years. She’d been counting. That tenth trip had brought a diagnosis of end-stage liver failure followed by a month in a run down nursing home. And finally, his death followed by burial three days later.

Now her family had caravanned from the graveyard to a potluck, hosted at a VFW  in a part of the state where people barely kept jobs and drank too much. Ava and her mom had to get out of this God-forsaken town. That much she was sure of.

***

Tandy set up a buffet table and brought in homemade rolls- Ava’s favorite. Others came with pasta salad, mac and cheese and crockpot meatballs. They lined the food on a rickety table near a display of photos from her father’s  life. There he was behind a register at a counter, thirteen years old and straight-shouldered with an ear to ear grin on his face.

“So proud,” said a friend of his, looking at the photo. Ava didn’t want to look at the photo. It was just a reminder of how far he had fallen.

Tandy grinned.  “He lied and said he was 16 to get that job.”

      At seventeen Ava’s father had rushed off to marry to her mom in Vegas. Got a job at a Ames and worked his way up to manager. By the time he reached his late-20s, Ames was training him to become a regional manager. Mom and Dad had  their own trailer, Ava, a reliable car and a Christmas Club  savings account. It was a good, solid start to life.

     But the promotion never came and marriage to a woman like her mother took a lot of effort, and after a while he started to drink more. Dabbled in some drugs. Left Ames. Ava’s parents’ marriage unraveled and he moved out. He tried to push Ava  to do well in school. But she didn’t get to see him often because of her mother.

“You have all this under control?” someone mumbled.  Ava nodded without looking, she always had it under control. She was the strongest, the most responsible, the one who took care of her mother, even at ten. Her mom was the drinker, the woman in rural Maine whose well-being everybody seemed to worry about. At least, it felt that way to her. Everyone always asked, ‘How’s your mom doing, honey’ and ‘You take care of that mother of yours’. Ava, alone at the sink, gripped hard onto the countertop, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She wanted her Dad.

“When does it get easier?” Her Mom said and slumped against her. Ava shrugged her off and finished the drying the dishes without answering.

     When the memorial was over her mom drove them home to their trailer where Tandy, her Uncle Dave and Aunt Mary were waiting for them. Even the trailer itself, which Mom had purchased for $1,500 from one of Dad’s cousins, because she wanted to tear it down and put a new trailer on the beautiful rural lot was now three years older than dirt and they still lived in the grungy piece of crap, with unreliable electricity, a toilet that barely worked and no door for the bathroom. They pushed inside. Ava went to the living room and collapsed onto the couch exhausted and sad.

At ten Ava already knew there were days when the vast emptiness of rural Maine could make someone feel utterly alone — when the only sound was wind through the forest, and Tandy’s mail truck bouncing along the rutted dirt roads.

 

     While he flipped through her file, Ava scanned the room. Shelves of creased books lined the bookshelves. A single window to her left. Two table lamps and two doors on opposing walls. The office resembled a living room—if she ignored the bars over the shatterproof window. Her teenage scenery consisted of barred windows, stained mattresses on floors, old buildings in desperate need of repair and empty plastic bags blowing down alleys. His face reminded her of steel wool, deep lines etched into it. She had expected this session to be like the others—an investigation of her past, patronizing queries about her psyche, along with self-congratulatory cheers when she made some kind of “breakthrough.” Why else would they have provided  a therapist versus the detectives that lingered on the other side of the office door.

   

Ava hung her head, let her hair cover her face. She knew what was coming but she didn’t want to get to it just yet. She wanted to ride the high a little longer. If the house hadn’t been so contaminated she would have stayed longer. Forever maybe. She had felt some kind of love with them.  There had been no way to know what she had stepped into.  Wasn’t that just dandy? The first break she caught in life turned out to be another nightmare.

They had all been casualties.

Even her.

“I see here that you were at Stonehurst for a while,” Doctor White stated. She nodded her head and squeezed the arm of the chair. “Why were you there?”

“Doesn’t it say?” she answered. Ava picked up a strand of hair and twirled it round her finger.

Dr. White looked at her. His face a mask of  compassion. Faker. “I’d like to hear it in your words.”

Ahh, yes, her words. She rolled her eyes. She knew better than to use her words. Her words never equated freedom. She would speak in his language. “I tried to commit suicide. After the hospital discharged me, they couldn’t locate any family and they thought I was still a risk, so they admitted me to Stonehurst.”

Dr. White scribbled on his pad. “And what made you attempt self-harm in the first place?”

Ava scoffed at his choice of words-self harm- and picked at her cuticles. She thought back to the moment she had decided she wanted to die. She was living in a studio apartment in a dilapidated building. The landlord was a douche. It was winter in Maine.

Cold.

Dreary.

Bleak.

There was no working heat in the building. No running water since the pipes had frozen. She had ten dollars and a can of tuna fish to her name. Life didn’t seem all that fabulous. Her mother hadn’t been home in over a month and had showed no signs of returning in the next. Sick of living a life that wasn’t worth living, Ava had pulled the blades from her rusty razor and slit her wrists. She’d watched the blood coat her wrists, then palms until she’d passed out. In a way she’d found it  soothing to watch.

As luck would have it, not fifteen minutes later, Gary, her heroin addicted neighbor, strolled in uninvited as he often did and panicked. Called nine-one-one. Wrapped her wrists to staunch the bleeding. Ava woke up at Mercy Hospital-alive and thoroughly irritated.

“Ava, I’m trying to understand what happened,” Dr. White said.

How could she possibly make anyone understand? Ava slipped into a memory.

     Ava stood in front of her father’s place. The dilapidated trailer had been her dad’s, but now it was just Uncle Dave inside with the doors locked and ratty sheets blocking the windows. Using her key, she walked inside and blinked her eyes to adjust to the lack of light. Her father’s prescriptions were still stacked on the counter in the kitchen. His clothes still littered across the living room, his microwaved tv dinner in the sink and his handle of gin pushed up against the recliner. Uncle Dave reached for the bottle and took a gulp. Swallowed, then drank again.

“Last bottle,” he said to Ava. “Tomorrow it’s quitting time and to look for a job.” He looked like he meant it but she knew better.

The day before had also been her Uncle’s last day, and so had the week before that, and now it was just days until rent was due. Uncle Dave had no money and nowhere to go. For the last few years he had been living with her father and surviving on disability checks and a hundred bucks  in welfare. Her Dad had supported him and Uncle Dave had been his caretaker in return. He had monitored his medications, washed his yellowed skin and dealt with the adult diapers. Ava shuddered.

Now the trailer was devoid of her dad and there was nothing to do except reach for the gin and watch the same shows they’d always watched together: “Days of our Lives,” “Jeopardy” or whatever else came through on the bunny ears atop the television. Day turned into night. Night turned into day. An endless cycle. “Last day,” he said again and reached down for the gin-again. Ava sighed. There were so many questions she had never asked her father. Did he know he was dying? Was he scared? Would he go back and change anything? Was it her fault?

It was a decision, Ava’s mom said.

It was stress, Mary said.

It was life wearing him down, Dave said.

It was what it was, Tandy said.

But Ava didn’t believe what they said. There had to be more.

Ava watched her Uncle Dave sip from the bottle of gin. She stood and walked into her father’s bedroom. Ava lay on his bed. For the past few days she had been having a recurring dream. She was sitting in the living room with her dad. Ava wanted to tell him he was dying and needed to try, really try.  Finally she blurted it out: You’re dying Daddy, she said, but he didn’t look at her. You’re dying, she said again louder and tugged on his shirt sleeve. Don’t leave me! But the TV was blaring, the gin bottle in his hand, his eyes glazed over, and he was too out of it to hear her.

Don’t leave me with her Daddy.

Don’t leave me.


     When she was eleven and her mother had moved them to the
big city of Portland to escape the depressed rural countryside. Ava had finally realized just how inadequate her mother was. She envied the other kids at school and the park whose mother’s played with them, laughed with them and hugged them. Ava never had any of that. She knew she held a lot of responsibility but until she had witnessed other kids and parents out and about she didn’t quite know just how much her and her mother’s roles were reversed.

Ava shook the thoughts from her head and frowned.

“I know,” she answered.

Sometimes an answer was so obvious that no one could see it, because they were looking too hard. Because they were too close to it. Fiction camouflaged as fact. Ava slumped in her seat and closed her eyes. A whole town had looked and a whole town had missed it.

“This will go a lot faster if you volunteer the necessary information.”

A small smile creased her lips. She opened her eyes, looked at Dr. White and decided to begin her story.

©2016 K. Larsen

 

If you want more – leave a comment and let me know!

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Imposter

  • So here’s the thing.
  • I write.
  • I don’t always know where it’s going but I do it anyway.
  • I’m going to start posting once a week here on the site something I’ve written…whether it will be published or is just scribbled ideas here and there…who knows.
  • I’d love to hear what you think so please post comments below!

AVA

July 11, 2016

Ava took a bite of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She chewed slowly, savoring the taste. “Let’s continue where we left off.” He looked down, consulted his note pad. “You gave in to Fat Mike,” Dr. White said.

“You want details?” Ava asked, brows drawn together. She wasn’t sure she would be able to give those to him. She took another bite of her sandwich. Someone had even cut the crust off as she’d requested. Someone had listened to her. For some reason this pleased Ava endlessly.

“No, no. What happened after he forced himself on you?”

“Oh, uh.” Ava cleared her throat. “I was um, scared and pretty upset. Fat Mike fell asleep after a while like all was right with the world-scumbag- so I bolted. I should have just sucked it up. Gone into bed with Gary and dealt with it but I didn’t. It was so cold outside. I had that stupid nightgown on and no shoes. I left my backpack on the bed with Gary. I don’t know why I ran. I just couldn’t stay there. My skin itched. It was…” She paused. Dr. White nodded his head at her to continue. “it was my first time. I couldn’t rationalize it. I just had to be away from him.”

“It’s okay. I wouldn’t have expected you to stay there. You had a very normal reaction to what happened to you.” Dr. White said.

“I don’t know ‘bout that,” Ava mumbled through a mouth full of peanut butter and bread.

“Trust me, it is. Where did you go?” he asked.

Ava guzzled the water she was given to wash down the last of her sandwich. “When I got outside I just stumbled around until I finally crouched behind a dumpster in an alley to keep the frigid wind off me. It was so damned cold out that night.”

Dr. White nodded his head and wrote more notes. Ava waited for his next question but was exhausted. She didn’t care to where, but she wanted to go. She laid her head against the side of the wingback chair and closed her eyes. She needed a break or some fresh air. The office had become too warm and her stomach was too sated.

“Ava, we’re not quite done yet.” Dr. White stated.

She opened her eyes and looked at him with exasperation. “Can we finish tomorrow?” she asked.

“I’m afraid not,” Dr. White answered. “Did you know it was your mother that reported you to the police?”

Ava waved a hand through the air dismissively. “Yeah. I know. They told me. But I refused to see her at the station. It’s good that she called them though, you know?”

“How do you mean? Because it shows she cares about you?”

Ava laughed. What an absurd concept. Her mother didn’t care about anyone.  “No, because I would have died at some point if I stayed.”

“Why would you have died?”

“Because they knew.”

“Who’s they? What did they know?” he pushed.

“I mean, after two months it was pretty obvious, at least to me, what had happened.”

“What had happened where?” Dr. White asked. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and stared at her. His eyes were bright and hopeful. This was the real story. The stuff he wanted to get written down on that stupid lined paper he clutched.

“At the Anderson’s,” she stated.

©2016 K. Larsen