A continuation of last week’s story.
“Mrs. Paxton, how would you say that you’ve done with your daughter’s disappearance? Do you think that they can find her?” The wide-eyed reporter asked, with an almost childlike anticipation hanging off her every word.
And exactly the opposite of her, Mrs. Mae Paxton regarded the reporter coldly, robotically taking in her short stature and brown eyes. They looked startlingly like Kate’s eyes, as they had been when she was born… before they darkened. A small twinge in her stomach at this thought. Other than that? No pain or suffering whatsoever at the memory of her missing daughter’s eyes.
The emotions and thoughts that swirled in her mind were not those of grief, of mourning and pain. Her emotions were not motherly, not loving. They were cold. Robotic. Technically, they were feelings. Yet, what went on in Mae Paxton’s heart seemed not at all like emotions. They felt like commands. Her mind circled these thoughts, swiftly and mechanically analyzing what she should do.
I should cry. I must convey grief, though I may not feel it. Kate is gone. Her heartstrings plucked ever so softly at this, a tinny, off-tune chord plinked in the blackness. The emotion was so slight, so small, that any normal person would never have noticed.
Mae did notice. She shoved it away, deep down in the inky depths. Some minuscule part of her knew that she shouldn’t suppress it. That emotions were normal, and that what went on in her mind and heart was completely, utterly wrong.
“There are no words to describe the sorrows I feel. My child is gone, into the woods. Even the helicopters can’t find her!” The mother cried out, willing a false tear to run down her face. With a sympathetic pout, the reporter backed away. She, like most people, thought that the poor mother was grieving her runaway child. Mrs. Paxton forced another wet tear to drop slowly from her cold blue eyes.
The display of emotions felt wrong. The sadness wasn’t real to her. Nothing was real to Mae, and it might never be again. Some part of her mourned the loss of her only child. Her mind showed her visions of Kate, when she was a little girl.
Prancing in the woods under a canopy of falling leaves, blond hair swinging around her shoulders. Soft brown eyes filled with glee. Mae had smiled at this, dancing around with her and twirling as leaves tumbled to the ground like confetti in the air. Happiness exploding in her heart, an expanding warmth in her chest.
It was the last emotion she would ever truly feel, and even this cold, hard heart in her chest could recall the emotion like a faded memory. The sweet, warm bliss was yanked from her grasp the very next day, leaving her with a bitter aftertaste of a feeling that was once so sugary and sweet. The very next day, her husband, Kate’s father, died of a drug overdose.
Mae Paxton watched the reporter walk away. This time, a real tear leaked from her eye. She summoned all her will and strained to feel the sadness that would mean she was still human, still had feelings.
The tears flowed steadily, but she couldn’t feel the grief she wanted so badly to feel. All she felt was a numb echo in her chest. Bowing a solemn head, Kate’s mother accepted this. That she couldn’t feel sadness anymore. There was only the dark, gaping hole her husband had left, hollowing her chest. Mae Paxton would never feel again.
Pain burst through my chest like a cannon shot. It was gone instantly, as soon as it had come it had already faded away. I looked around warily, up at the sky and down at the scintillating lake. There was no explanation for it.
For a moment I wondered if maybe, just maybe, it was a connection to my mom. Somewhere out there, maybe she had felt something. Shaking my head furiously, I shoved away the ridiculous notion. It’s not possible. Either way, Mom isn’t really one for feelings anyway. I thought bitterly, remembering her hollow eyes as she stared off into the distance, how no matter how hard I tried to love her, I couldn’t.
It was like trying to love a ghost. She was but a shell of her former self. A blank, emotionless husk. How could you love someone when every aspect of them was gone? Wiped away like a rag sweeping across a whiteboard? That was how Mom was, and had been for a long time. Ever since Dad died.
My mood was no longer soured by this. I wouldn’t let the pains of the past numb me anymore. They couldn’t, now that I was surrounded by the woods that I had always longed for. The loving arms of the forest that had comforted me when my own mother wouldn’t now held me firmly in their embrace.
Gazing up at the sky, I saw the helicopter, prominent in the soft periwinkle sky. Smirking, I stared up at it, almost tauntingly. I stood in the open, next to the lake that I had sipped from just moments before. Yet, there was no chance that they could see me. I had covered myself head-to-toe in thick, cakey mud and yellowed leaves.
How ironic. I can see them and they can’t see me, and yet they are the ones looking.
It had become a ritual. Every day I walked down to the lake. Sipped from the cool, crisp water and watched the helicopter drone overhead. I measured the days in the number of helicopters I saw. There was one every day. At the same time. Every single day like clockwork.
The chopper made a wide, sweeping circle. I could see men in black coats lean out the sides, their eyes scanning each tree, each rock. A blaring, nasally voice shouted into a megaphone,
“Kate Paxton! If you are alive, show yourself! Kate Paxton! If you are in the immediate area, the U.S government demand that you reveal your location!”
I almost laughed at the emptiness of the threat. Does he really think that I would just show up, when I had made the decision to run away in the first place? I thought, snorting at the ridiculous idea. The men were so close that I could see the whites of their eyes and analyze the planes of their faces. Some were narrow and angled, others were pudgy and fat. None of them were genuinely concerned.
My lips curled sympathetically. Of course they don’t have real concern. I’m just a brat who ran away from school one day. They don’t know me, I thought. Certainly I would feel the same way in their shoes. A small, stupid part of me wanted to jump out and reveal myself, just because I felt bad for them. But the logical part of me drowned it out swiftly, pushing it under the waves until it fizzled out, the thought evaporating completely.
It’s not as if I have anything to go back to. I would return to an emotionless, cold mother. A dead father. Judgemental peers that ostracize me constantly. A counselor who insists (rather unhelpfully) that everything will be okay. As if those words will fix everything.
As soon as the helicopter had faded away, I stood up slowly. Trekking back through the mess of brambles and branches, eventually the gaping mouth of the cave came into view. I stumbled into the sunlit cavern. Following its twists and turns deep into the dark depths until I reached a small opening in the wall, about three feet wide and seven feet long.
I collapsed onto the plushy bed of pine needles that I had fashioned myself on the second night. The long walk and heavy thoughts had exhausted me. I laid down, resting my cheek gently against the prickly needles. Sleep took over, and I drifted off, letting the darkness fall over me like a dark cloak.