by Nicole Bea
After sixteen-year-old Anaïs Delacoeur is in a car accident that kills her mother and brother, she's left with post-traumatic stress disorder, two large scars, and one bad case of insomnia. Trying to deal with the aftermath is literally keeping her up nights, and she picks up writing short stories in order to occupy her through the darkest hours. However, in preparing for a province-wide writing competition, she finds herself in a particularly bad case of writer's block, and downloads an app that's growing in popularity in her advanced English class: Sonance, a record-your-own audiobook platform.
Once on Sonance, Anaïs discovers the account of Rainer Harrington—known online simply as Blues—who catches her attention with his gravelly voice and enchanting stories. Inspired by the young author's work, Anaïs sends him a private message to thank him for helping her get through the night. To her surprise, he responds, and they begin to develop an online relationship that quickly blossoms into two strangers working together to heal their figurative, and literal, scars.
My father always told me that seeing is believing. He must be right. Without seeing what happened to me, you'd never even begin to believe that I made it out alive.
It all started with a doe walking out into the middle of the road during one night's drive in Halfacre, Labrador. I still remember the way her liquid brown eyes glistened in the dark—that poor thing—the moment before Mom's Hyundai Accent crashed into the fawn-colored body. The sounds of the world being ripped apart exploded into the starry night, lemon yellow lights from the front of the vehicle swerving and cascading over the embankment as we tumbled every which way. My brother Darien was in the back of the car and cracked his head on the window since he wasn't wearing his seat belt. The sound was wet and hollow, like there was nothing under his scalp but water and wet sludge, and Mom's haunting scream filled the dead air as everything fell and fell and fell some more until there was nothing but a long and overstated hiss.
Smoke gathered before my eyes, a scorching heat of twisted fire and metal underneath an ebony darkness. It took me a second to get my bearings, my legs pinned underneath the glove box and the tattered remains of the airbag, the doe's front limbs sticking through the windshield like two cracked brown sticks. Nothing moved, except for me and a bit of glass that finally found enough strength to let go and smash on the rocky shoreline.
There was no mother to be found in that midnight air, only a warm spring emptiness that indicated the winter was about to end and the snow would eventually melt from our long driveway in Rosewood. Dad was at home that night, waiting for us to return from shopping, Darien cuddled reluctantly between our bags in the back seat playing Snake on his phone. Meanwhile, I took up the front passenger's side for longer trips from St. John's because one time I got car sick, and Mom's never let me forget it. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have even seen the deer myself because I'd have been texting Carter, but the battery in my cell phone died long before we'd gotten back in the Accent and far in advance of Halfacre.
I wanted to hear something more than vast nothingness, but there was no Darien either—though in a different way than Mom. Craning my stiff neck around, the seat belt tethering me to the broken upholstery, I spotted the smashed-out window and a limp figure somewhere between halfway in and halfway out of the back seat. Vomit clung to my throat, threatening me with a swift exit, while a trickle of something that could only be blood began to pour from my nose slowly, then all at once.
Three dead things around me, all in the matter of one second gone wrong, while the scent of copper and untimely endings filled my nostrils like sea salt at the beach.
The night Carter MacDonald broke up with me, there was a full moon.
I don't know why I remember this detail and not the exact words he used to end our relationship, but something about that white rock in the evening sky hanging like a big round dot has always stuck in my memory. It may have been because of the fact we were sitting underneath the moon and next to the glassy water of Rosewood Lake, perched carefully on Adirondack chairs behind my house, while a pockmarked field of milky stars trickled over our heads and reflected off the water.
“So that's it?” I asked, pushing a stray piece of hair from my eyes, a little surprised that I wasn't crying. Lately, Carter had been really good at making me all bleary-eyed, and so at this moment it was a little strange I lacked that particular response.
Carter shrugged, staring out over the lake. He couldn't look at me—actually, he hadn't looked me in the eyes since the car accident—and so there was nothing really of note about his expression. I always suspected it had something to do with the ragged scar that crisscrossed over my eye and down my left cheek, and Carter did nothing to convince me otherwise.
“Yes, Anaïs. We’re over.”
A satellite blinked on and off over the distant trees, flickering and then dying off in the darkness, much like Carter and I were about to do.
He nodded, pushing his way up from the wooden chair.
“Okay, then. I’m going to go.”
Carter’s yellow Converse sneakers made little squishing noises along the grass, disappearing into the silent night. I listened to them track all the way up the hill toward the back of the house before the squelching turned into the symphony of lapping docile waves, minuscule bubbles popping as the water made tendrils over the pebbled shore.
Tonight, there’s a full moon too, and it makes me think of Carter. I hate that he’s still stuck somewhere in the depths of my mind, the wounds of our relationship still raw. If there were a kind of metaphorical Band-Aid I could put over the places he’d cut me to the bone, then I would do it, but there doesn’t seem to be such a device created yet. Instead, I am forced under the covers of my double bed, staring out the window with wild thoughts running through my head, as they do most nights now.
The clock on my phone reads 2:33 in the morning, and my body is exhausted. My legs have started to become restless even though I’d much rather they stay where I put them, kicking the duvet about in a vague attempt to get comfortable. It has nothing to do with comfort in the bed, but rather the anxious dark thoughts running through my brain. Every time I close my eyes, I see the images of the accident. Dad says I need a permanent therapist, but we can’t afford one—insurance only covers five-hundred dollars a year and I used that all up faster than the crash itself happened.
Rolling off the mattress, my feet touch the cool boards of the hardwood, disturbing the restful sleep of my black-and-white cat, Merlin. He chirrups softly as his one eye blinks open, reflecting the light of the painted moon, before shuffling himself to one side and kneading the blankets peacefully. At least he’s able to sleep without issue, but then again, he’s a million years old and doesn’t do much else since he was diagnosed with kidney failure.
“Go back to bed, sleepypants,” I say to the cat, pretending like he knows what I’m saying.
He purrs for a second, the sound coming from somewhere nobody seems to be able to explain.
With a little smile, I push the window open, letting in the night air and bits of leftover rain, before taking a creaky seat at my desk and firing up my laptop. The machine takes a while—it’s probably the same age in cat years as Merlin—and lets out some customary whirrs and groans before finally showing the desktop background. It used to be a picture of Carter and me that was plastered all over the screen, but now it’s just a plain, deep blue, supposedly the most beautiful color in the world.
Mom and Darien both loved blue, their bedrooms painted matching shades despite Darien’s whines that it wasn’t cool to have his space the same as his parents’. My favorite color is green, but since the accident, the deep midnight hue has taken a close second. I bet if you took me to a hardware store I could pick out the exact blue of the night sky in Halfacre the night our car went off the road, and also the maroon-red of the blood of the doe as it washed across the remnants of winter flurries. Some things don’t leave you, while other things haunt you in the wee hours of the morning when the world is supposed to be quiet and dark and filled with sleep.
I don’t sleep, instead looking over my shoulder at Merlin who is curled up in a happy ball amidst the flowered sheets.
“Merlin?” I whisper, but the cat doesn’t respond.
Pushing a few Advanced English homework papers away from the keyboard, the restlessness of my body drips away, telling me I won’t be getting any shut-eye tonight. Instead, I twist on the knob of my desk lamp and the room is illuminated in a soft glow, the familiar click a kind of symbol of what Dr. Cawthra called ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’.
Before our sessions came to an untimely end, Dr. Cawthra made a suggestion to my father that he indicated was helpful to some other teenagers suffering from the same condition: keeping a journal. To be fair, I always did like writing. I mean, I am in an Advanced English class, a point of pride to my father who works the printing press at our local Labrador daily news. But being forced to write is a whole other kettle of fish, and lately, the words just haven’t been coming to me. I've simply been reading an array of young adult fiction instead of doing any class assignments, my teacher Mrs. Hart being so lackadaisical with my work that I barely even bother doing it anymore.
With a sigh, I click on the ‘writing’ folder to the right-hand side of the screen and up pops a menu with a couple dozen Microsoft Word files. The top one is my journal, something I’ve been working on for a month, leaving my early morning thoughts on the empty laptop. I’ve found I like to write in poems, and so, staring at the moon, I allow the randomness inside my head to form something. Sometimes the something’s are dark, like how my brain feels when I don’t get enough sleep and think too much about the accident. Sometimes, like tonight, they’re just bits and pieces of the world inside my head.
May 23, 2006
A little painted cat watches
A little painted moon
While sitting on a tiny sill
In a little painted room.
He yawns a tiny painted yawn
Out at the stars up high
While browsing soft—
The painted loft—
of a starry painted sky.
When I look back up at the radio alarm clock next to my pillow, it’s a quarter past three, and Merlin still hasn’t moved from his spot on the bed, curled around the place where I really should be. There’s a gentle breeze blowing in through the window, a little cold off the water of the large Rosewood Lake, with a chill that forces me to shut the lid of my laptop and retreat back underneath the duvet. I give the cat a little poke with my foot as I adjust my position, rolling over to look at the face of my phone in the dark.
I could text someone—Carter, my best friend Abbey, Mom’s disconnected number—but before I get a chance to even consider the idea, the chill of the air prickles my skin and tells me something is wrong. At first, I don’t know what it is, the feeling of dread snaking its way around my body, but within seconds it’s like a tiny iceberg has hit the end of my bed. Dropping the phone on the empty pillow next to me, I pull a sheet up around my goose-bumped arms. I want to get up and shut the window like I should have done before getting back under the duvet, but I don’t want to wake up the cat again.
Then it hits me. It’s not only the air that’s cold, but it’s also the bed.
I wiggle my toes under the blankets but nothing happens, a twelve-pound lump lying at the end of the mattress like a furry rock.
The name gets all tangled up in my mouth and under my tongue, much like the sheets around my legs as I sit upright. I bite the inside of my cheek hard enough that I can taste little pinpricks of blood as they seep out from the inside of my mouth. Copper tickles my tongue and reminds me of the accident, the same smell wafting up into my nose.
“Big fat cat?”
Reaching over to pet Merlin’s shadowy body, my fingernail catches on the edge of the duvet and pulls the blanket with a jerk. There’s no response from the cat, nothing discernable to tell me that I’ve woken him up, and my breath catches in my throat as the truth of the late night—or early morning, depending—hits me in that very second. I throw myself over the covers, scrambling for the sleeping figure, fingertips tingling for the warmth of the cat and the usual vibration of his throaty purring, but my grasp elicits no response. Merlin still has the sensation of being a cat, but he’s not a cat any longer. He’s nothing. He’s gone. His body has emptied into the nothingness of being a spirit that’s escaped out the window and turned into a star.
And for the first time since Carter broke up with me, I cry.