Her life...this sad and sorry girl, this barking, shrieking thing. This less-than-ape, this animal...dead eyes, dead smile, poorly dyed hair tight in a mind-throttling bun atop her head, school uniform rumpled and tattered from a day's wear...
Not her behaviour drawing my eyes, as it does those of other passers-by; not her barked insults, her shrieked obscenities; her infantile, impotent, flailing at the world, that would rip it apart and string its tatters around like tinsel on a Christmas tree, if it could.
No; were it just that, I would ignore her, not provide the attention she so clearly craves.
Her life...seeing it, as clearly as I see her in front of me; the hers she might become, the hers she almost certainly will, in less time than she has the capacity to imagine.
Contradictory stories, phantoms that flicker and dance around her, invisibly painting the air:
Barely two years from now, fifteen years old, looking almost a decade older, already swelling with what her absent Daddy-substitute pumped into her, the night he told her he loved her; the first time anyone has or will. The night before he stops returning her calls and texts, before she never sees him again. Weeping, raging; making carnage of her room, her Mother not hearing, not caring; her barely toddling brother quietly weeping in the next room, more terrified of her than anything in his short life. No abortion; her Mother not allowing it. Complications; something ruptured, so much red and sickness. So tired...the last thing she thinks or feels as welcome grey washes her, sterilising her rent-open insides, her equally ragged mind, leaving her with the first and last sense of calm she'll ever know...
That same fifteen year old, so different; a product of other choices and chances; an argument with her Mother driving her from home, into the custody of an aunt and uncle who give what her parents never could, even were both of them to survive; who change her in ways even she never thought possible, allowing her to grow and live as something capable of shame, who teach her how to open eyes on the inside, to look at herself, and wonder how and what and why. She grows, so far beyond fifteen; finding a passion for bakery, a means of profiting and living by it, thanks to her aunt's cafe. A brief, incestuous affair with her cousin, the source of a tabloid sensation much later, when she has become a household name; when her cookery blogs and on-line videos progress to television and a small library of books, when biographies start to occur, though she's still much shy of forty. When she's married, childless by her own inclination, still bemused and faintly afraid of that barking, hyena girl, that shrieking animal in the street and schoolyard. A confusion that will sustain her last moments, when she succumbs to the same cancer that, unbeknownst to her, killed her absent Father some twenty years earlier.
That spectre the flimsiest, least likely of all; barely a flicker in the air, a whisper in my ear.
Others drowning it into almost silence:
Surviving the pregnancy, though wishing she hadn't in the years following: the child and the siblings that come after weights around her neck, dragging her down into perpetually screaming sludge. No good, no good at it, as her Mother insists, over and over and over, as she sees in the disgusted, sneering eyes that glare at her when one of the brats won't shut up on the bus or in the paper shop, when she swears at and threatens them, when she placates and silences them with crisps, sausage rolls and enough chocolate to make them sick. She doesn't mean it; of course she doesn't. This one time, this one time, she doesn't answer his call, doesn't come running when he screams. Only when he stops, by which time there's nothing left, no sign of him...worse than the horror of his loss, the hideous, nauseating relief, an unspoken hope that he's truly gone, will never be found, and that the others will be taken in short order.
Suicide attempts; slit wrists in the bathtub, self-starving, pills and vodka. Leaping in front of speeding trains and from the sides of bridges. Some successful, many not. The latter far, far worse.
In most stories, she doesn't live much beyond forty, a squat, scowling, gargoyle of a fifty-five year old the eldest incarnation, one forced from several homes thanks to the vandalism and violence of her children, thanks to the horror she is to her neighbours. A part-time medium, her readings scarily accurate, even to her. Though she fails to foresee the stroke that will claim her before the end of the Summer.
In most stories, she is so unhappy, so unhappy, even in those where there's no especial tragedy, no loss or abuse beyond those that make up most lives.
The ones in which she's not...rare. Rare, brief and unlikely; most abrupt, ending in accident: car crashes, random slips on ice or wet floors. One explosively; a collision of aircraft, those on board barely even realising what's happening before their worlds briefly become Hells of fire, screams and jagged, burning metal.
All in an instant, a second's glance, in which our eyes meet. Rare, but a gift I've experienced on occassion since childhood. Not knowing where it comes from or what it means; only that I sometimes see far more than I want of people, of all they might be.
"What the fuck you lookin' at?"
Smiling, already recognising this story, seeing where it leads.
The girl slurring something unintelligible at me before stalking on, screaming similar insults over her shoulder.
I'm almost sorry, knowing what I know.
George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.