Samantha Linstrom, “Simple Answers”

Simple Answers

by Samantha Linstrom

Photo by Gerry Gomez_For Simple Answers by Samantha Linstrom

© Gerry Gomez

Thudding down the stairs and whipping into the kitchen, I see Mom passed out on the kitchen counter. Her favorite friend, Jack Daniels, is enclosed in her hand, his one redeeming quality spent. I sigh.

Fucking perfect. Just what I needed today. My first day of senior year and my mother is unconscious.

A pang of guilt in my chest stops the rampage of angry thoughts through my head. That was selfish and entirely unhelpful and Mom could use all the help she can get. I set my backpack down and gently shake her arm.

Maybe this time she won’t wake up.

“Shut up,” I hiss to the voice, the darkest part of me. For years I have slowly built up a hatred for the woman who gave birth to me. For driving my father away, for not making him stay, abandoning me for whiskey and strangers.

For killing my brother.

“It wasn’t her fault,” I whisper to the room.

Three years ago, my brother Michael left us. He stole Mom’s keys, not stopping to pack a bag and went. Earlier that night he and mother had fought. Michael had defended me, telling her that we were her children and we come before her grief and her mistakes.  She had been livid, screaming and screeching at the top of her lungs about his betrayal. About how he was so much like his father: useless, greedy, stupid and lazy.

Michael had grabbed her. Mom smashed a bottle over his head. He fled.

She had hit him so hard that she’d concussed him and opened a four-inch gash on his scalp. At least that’s what the autopsy report said. He lost consciousness while behind the wheel due to loss of blood, crashing through the guardrail and into a tree. Michael was pronounced dead on arrival.

I told myself for nights afterward that it wasn’t my mother who had killed him. That Michael should have known better not to drive while injured. That the impact to the pine tree claimed his life, not the impact of the bottle. But what scared me the most about losing Michael was the desperation of his actions. He put aside all physical setbacks because his life depended on being as far away from my mother as possible.

And he had left me.

“Mom. Wake up. You need to take a shower.” I grasp the bottle of Jack with the intention of disposing of it when it is ripped from my grasp and flung at my head. It shatters into the sink, spraying glass shards into my hair and onto my clothes.

“What the hell are you doing?” I stare at my mother. She’s fifty this November, but she could be sixty-five. Her hair has gone gray and wrinkles have made their deep marks across her face. Her blue eyes are shocking against her pale skin and clothes hang loosely from her. I hadn’t realized how skinny she was.

“I’m sorry, baby girl,” She says, her hands clasped so tight her knuckles are white. “I thought you were…I must have been dreaming.” A long veined hand presses to her temple and I notice a slight tremble to it.

“How long have I been…” Her eyes dart to the mess of broken glass, “sleeping?”

“All night.” The words are bitterer than I intended and she flinches away from them.

“I did it again.” She whispers the words to someone, herself maybe, but they are not meant for me. I know they are not for me because they sounded like an apology, and my mother has never apologized to me.

“I’ll make you some coffee, but then I have to go. My first day of school is today. I’m finally a senior.” I turn away as I speak and walk over to the cabinets. Grabbing the can of coffee and flipping on the percolator, I allow my mind to leave the kitchen and anticipate all the wonderful things that begin for me today. A daily escape from my mother, being with friends, voice lessons, soccer, applying to a college far far away from here. Starting over. A small smile touches my lips. I have waited for today for months, years. It marks the day when I can finally find out who I am.

My thoughts disconnect abruptly when I am encircled by two skinny arms and a head is pressed to my shoulder.

“Mom?” Panic shoots down my veins. “What’s wrong?”

I can feel her body, small and slight, pressed tightly to my back. I feel her bones and angles.

Good Lord she is so skinny.

Suddenly there is a warm wetness on my shoulder and a tremble in my body. No not my body, Mother’s. I can feel the tremors against my belly where her hands rest.

“Mom?” Detaching myself from her grasp, I face her. She is crying. My heart sinks as I place a hand on her shoulder and ask again what is wrong.

“Me, honey. I’m what’s wrong.” A sob cracks in her throat. “I couldn’t have told you it was your first day of school. I didn’t know. I don’t even know what day it is…” She gasps loudly between phrases, attempting to hold herself together. “I never wanted it to be like this. It’s not who I am. I don’t know why I’m like this. I’m sorry.” She brings her hands to her face and cries, her small form shuddering with the force of her sobs.

This has never happened before. She apologized. She was crying. My mother doesn’t cry. Not when Dad left, not even when Michael died.

But here now, talking about senior year, she was breaking down.

“Mom. Please stop crying.” I guide her to a kitchen chair, pour her a cup of coffee and place it into her trembling hands. She clings to it but does not drink. I settle into the chair across from her and wait for her to calm herself. After a few moments she quiets and wipes her eyes and nose on the sleeve of her sweatshirt. She takes a few deep breaths and says, “I’m so sorry Evelyn.”

I’m shocked at how genuine the words sound. Full of promise and truth and apology. I almost believe them.

“I don’t want to be this person. I want to be your mother. A mother that you can be proud of. I know you hate me.”  A pause. “I hate myself too.” Her finger traces the rim of the coffee cup absently and I realize with a jolt that I do the same thing.

She continues quietly but with a renewed sense of urgency. “I’m not asking for your forgiveness, Eve. I’m not sure you could ever give me that. But I am asking for your help. I need you to help me get better. I want to be better. For you.” A tear rolls down her cheek and lands on the back of her hand. Without my consent my vision blurs with tears. A warm sense of relief washes over me like sunlight. Is this what I have always wanted from her? For her to want to get better? Have I wanted a mother in my life who loves me?

The simple answer would be yes.

There is a part of me who wants my mother to be well again, to live a happy life again. And yet I have lived so long having been denied those ideas, I’m not so sure I could adapt. I’ve been alone and independent for so long. The resentment and blame towards my mother have been my motivation for the past six years since Dad left, and it has grown stronger after the loss of Michael. Would helping my mother force me to abandon my hopes and aspirations? Could I be selfless enough to help her after her past transgressions?

The simple answer was no.

“Evie, baby? Did you hear me?” Mom places her hand over mine and I snap back to reality. I jerk my hand away and stand up, blood boiling. How dare she ask for my help? I clench my teeth.

“I’m not really sure why you think you can ask that of me. I’ve helped you for years. I do the laundry, clean the house, buy the groceries, cook meals and work two jobs to pay the bills so we can stay in this miserable, depressing, shit hole of a house. I barely have any spare time to do my homework for school. I’ve watched you become this empty shell. Night after night you sit in here and think of how the world wronged you. How your husband left you alone with two young children to raise. How your son could have lost loyalty to the woman who birthed him. How your ungrateful daughter dumps your booze down the sink and then hides your car keys so you can’t replenish your stock. Never, in the life I’ve had with you, have you ever shown remorse for the pain you’ve caused. So excuse me if I find your sudden need for redemption complete horseshit. Your words are empty and they mean nothing to me.” My voice cracks as the anger fizzles out of me. I turn around, pick my backpack off the floor and exit out the front door.

First Period

Because of my mother’s display, I am late for class. Fantastic. I sneak into the room while the teacher’s back is turned and slide into the seat next to my best friend Mia. She looks at me quizzically, eyebrows furrowed as if to say “You okay?”  Nodding a silent confirmation, I take a notebook out of my bag and face the board. I’m struck frozen by a pair of clear green eyes boring into me. Suddenly my vision is sharp and clear. All the colors around me seem to brighten and become vivid. My head clears and all the events of the morning drift away. The muscles in my shoulders and back relax, releasing pent up tension there, but my nerves are as taught as a wire.

What the hell was that?

I stare back into the eyes of my teacher, understanding finally that the green eyes belong to him. I’ve never seen him before; he must be new this year. I gather this information from the girls across the room gossiping in excited whispers about his arrival.

“I heard he speaks over ten languages. And he was born in Spain.”

“No, I heard he’s from Rome. Or maybe it was Greece? Look at his gorgeous skin, those dark curls. And his eyes! He’s freaking hot!”

“Guys, shut up. I want to hear what his voice sounds like. It’s probably deep and smooth like silk.”

I’m not sure what’s more unnerving, their tittering over a man nearly twice their age, or the fact that I can hear them across the room, despite their hushed voices. I shake my head and try to pop my ears. This has to be in my head. Lack of sleep, that’s logical.

Mia pinches my arm, hard.

“Ouch! Mia, what the hell?” I rub my arm and glare but her face stops me from further protestation.

“He asked you a question, Eve.” I can barely make out what she says through her tight-lipped expression. I glance up. The green eyes are on me again.

“I asked you what made you late to my class Ms…?” The girls were wrong. His voice is better than silk. It was deep and rich and completely unsettling, like a warm current carrying me out to sea. A slight accent clung to his vowels and made his inflections sound like a purr. Or maybe it was more of a growl.

“Adams. Evelyn Adams.” I hate myself for the unsteadiness of my voice.

“Well, Miss Adams, I expect that you will not be late to my class again. And you will stay after and give me the full explanation as to why you were late in the first place. You have the rest of class to make up a story worthy of my time.” His gaze is heavy on me for what feels like an eternity before he pivots quickly away and begins class. As soon as his gaze is removed, my vision dulls and my mind clouds.

What in God’s name just happened?

End of First Period.

The bell rings and Mr. Green Eyes releases the class with a smile. It’s a perfectly merged expression of brilliance and darkness. It makes my eyes water. I blink rapidly and stand, slowly, dreading having to speak to this man alone.

“Eve, do you want me to stay? He is drop dead gorgeous but there is something about him that sets my teeth on edge. I’ll stay with you.” Mia looks up at me with her knowing brown eyes. Nothing gets by her, my oldest friend. I give her a shy smile and tell her I’ll be fine. She promises to wait outside for me then scurries out. I take a deep breath and walk to the front of the room where Himself sits. There are butterflies in my stomach, but not the nice kind. These butterflies have razors for wings that slice a deep sense of dread into my stomach with every flap. I glance out the door and Mia is there giving me a small encouraging smile. Then it’s cut off, blocked from my vision because he has gotten up and shut the door.

“I trust you don’t need your friend to tell this story do you? You can’t tell me you were with her because she was here on time. I’m assuming you weren’t with a boy. You didn’t have car trouble because I saw the bus pass on your keys.  The dog couldn’t have eaten your homework because it’s the first day. You probably didn’t wake up late because you’re wearing clean clothes and make up. Have I covered all the basics?”

“You forgot hangover. Maybe I was drinking in the parking lot. Or I was doing drugs in the boys’ locker room. Possibly my dad drove me to school and his car broke down.” If this were a cartoon my Sass-O-meter would have read 10.

A chuckle rumbles in his chest. He walks around me slowly, as if he’s taking me all in, like a wolf stalking a rabbit. I want to cover myself because his gaze makes me feel naked. When he is directly behind me he leans in close, I feel his warm breath on my neck.

“We both know your father abandoned you years ago, Evelyn.”

My teeth click together sharply as my breath catches in my throat. What? My rational mind grasps for an answer. He must have looked up my file. That’s it! It must be.

But he didn’t even know you’d be here, in this class. And even if he did, when would he have had time to look it up between the beginning of class and now? He’s new here. Couldn’t have known the story from gossip around town.

I will the voice in my head to cease. For my thoughts to stop racing.

“Miss Adams.  Look at me.” He is in front of me now. How come I never heard him move? I can’t anticipate what he’s going to do next. I refuse to look up. I will not. I stare at the floor and pray for this to be over.

A hand on my chin gently lifts upwards. Piercing green eyes. It happens again: clear mind, clear vision, heightened senses. I see every hair of stubble on his chin. I hear Mia’s rapid heartbeat outside. Smell the burning tobacco of the kids smoking in the stairwell. I let out the breath I’d been holding and calmly ask that he let me go.

“No, I don’t think I will. You are too precious and I’ve waited centuries for you.” His hand is warm on my cheek but I feel like I’ve been submerged in icy water.

Dread. Fear. Confusion. My head spins and my breaths are fast and shallow.

“Not possible.” I choke out. “This isn’t real. I’m dreaming right now. I fell asleep in class and I’m dreaming. I have to be.” He strokes my hair, fingertips trace my jaw line.

“You are very much awake and this is real. You are not dreaming. I came here to find you. I need you, Evelyn Adams. You are going to save me. You are mine.” His lips come down softly on mine.

I knee him as hard as I can. He collapses on the ground.

“What the fuck was that?!” Hysteria is thick in my voice. “Are you out of your fucking mind? Stay away from me!” I race to the door but it’s locked. I slam my body against it.

“Mia! Mia! Open the door!” I scream. I can see her standing across the hall biting her lip and staring at me. She doesn’t move. “Mia!” Wailing now.

“She can’t hear or see you. I made sure of that.” He’s there again, next to me. I swing my fist at him but he catches it tightly in his grasp. He pulls me to him so I’m trapped in his embrace.

I struggle. “Let me go!” I try to kick, bite, scratch and claw to get away from him.

“Evelyn. Please.” The tenderness in his voice startles me and I look up at him. Which is a mistake.

“You have no idea…,” he whispers to me. “Please let me explain to you who I am. Who you are. Please, it’s taken me a thousand lifetimes to find you.” His green eyes are full of longing and sorrow. Somehow, I feel pity for this stranger. Something inside me tells me he meant me no harm, though the hairs on my neck still stand up straight.  I nod and he releases me. I lean against his desk as he paces in front of me.

There is a long silence.

“Isn’t this the part where you start talking?” I ask. He stops, gazes at me, then chuckles.

“I’ve gone over in my head for years what I would say to you when I found you. Now that you are here in front of me, I don’t have the faintest idea how to begin.” He runs a hand through his dark curls and smiles shyly.

Good Lord, is he blushing?

“How about you tell me your name?” I suggest. He nods and sits down at the desk across from me. He begins in a rush:

“My name is Adriel and I am an angel. Well, more specifically, I’m a fallen angel.”

I can’t help it, I laugh. His gaze darkens.

“This isn’t a joke, Evelyn.” Adriel’s voice is sharp and it kills the humor on my lips. I should be running, fleeing from the room by any means necessary, but for some reason I don’t believe he’s lying.

“I’m sorry. I won’t interrupt you again.” I hang my head. Then ask curiously, “Why did you fall from heaven?” His eyes brighten at my sudden interest.

“I disobeyed a direct order. I was selfish and chose myself over my God and my brothers. Lucifer took my wings and cast me out of Heaven.”

I perk up. “Lucifer? Like the Devil? Wasn’t he cast from Heaven as well?”

“Yes he was, but that was years after I fell.” He looks at me and smiles. “Like I said, I’ve been looking for you a long time.”

“What have I got to do with this?” I begin to relax. His voice is soothing me, making my earlier hysterics fade away. I still feel the warmth of where his lips touched mine. Adriel gets up and stands beside me. He doesn’t touch me but I am fully aware of him and his presence. Like I’ve been asleep for the past eighteen years of my life and I’ve just opened my eyes for the first time.

“When an angel falls from Heaven, they lose the three things that make them Angelkind. Their halo, wings and their grace. Since God is merciful, when an angel is cast from Heaven, so are their halo, wings and grace. If a fallen angel can collect their items, they will be welcomed back into Heaven, past sins forgiven. I found my halo, my wings and my grace but I was not accepted back to Heaven. I prayed to God for forgiveness until my throat bled. I received no answer. I walked the earth alone and broken for a hundred years. Then Michael appeared to me.”

I tense. Michael? My brother? Adriel sensed my confusion and smiled.

“Not your brother, but the Archangel he was named for. God’s finest soldier and most trusted son. He came to me and told me of a soul. A soul whose life I needed to save in order to return to Heaven. ‘There will be signs,’ he said. ‘This soul is pure and selfless. You will need to save a selfless soul in return for your own selfishness.’ So I searched. Watching and waiting for this soul to appear. Finally, I found you both.”

I look at him. “Us both? Michael?” I understood I was jumping to conclusions and assuming but I thought I must be the one he’s talking about right?

“Yes,” Adriel answers sadly. “You and your brother Michael were the souls I was supposed to save. There was a light about you. A sign of a pure heart, the sign Michael told me of. It was very fitting indeed. Surely two saved souls would grant me passage back to Heaven.” He rubs his temples as if he had the beginnings of a headache.

“But you didn’t save him,” I say bitterly. “He died.”

“You’re right. I was there the night Michael died. I tried to intervene, but I was too late. The only thing I could do was take him before-”

“You did what?”

“Evelyn, when you mother hit Michael, she killed him right then. I was there and I took his body, made him look alive, helped his soul flee so you would not have to watch him die. I was foolish in thinking I could save you both. Archangel Michael had said one soul, and that was all.  But the moment you found out Michael died, the light around you began to dim. You were becoming selfish, asking why he had left you, and your heart was losing its purity. I was a coward, I fled from you. I couldn’t bear the shame of my failure. No matter where I went, how far away from you I was, I always felt you. Your need for escape, to be free of the burden of losing your family. Your father, your brother and now your mother. I feel the pain she has caused you. I know it, understand it. I have bore it as if it were my own. Finally, I could not stand the idea of you being in such pain anymore. So here I am. I’ve come for you. To save you and to save myself.” Adriel sinks to his knees with a tortured gasp. I feel wet tears on my cheek and kneel before him.

“Adriel.” I call softly to him, taking his face in my hands. I believed him. Every bone in my body, every fiber of my being sang with the truth of his words. I wanted to save him, needed to save him.

“What are you asking me?” I stroke his hair as he did mine. He turns his face and looks at me and for the first time, I see the angel within him. Understand the connection we have, why I feel so alive around him. He is my savior and I am his.

“I am asking you for your soul. I am asking for you to give up everything in this life, your friends, your mother, your youth, so I can return to Heaven.” His words wash over me, and they should scare me but I am at peace. I think of my mother at home, crying in the kitchen, pleading for my help. I was the only one who could help her. The only one who would. Guilt crashes through me and I move away from Adriel.

“Evelyn? What’s wrong?”

I get up and pace. I’ve lost who I am. Could I leave her? The only being I am still attached to in this life? The woman who raised me, fed me and caused the destruction of my family? The woman who killed my twin brother? Would leaving her be selfish? Could I leave her for this man?

There was a simple answer.

I turn to Adriel. He is patient, waiting for me. I can see it all on his face. Pain. Loss. Desperation. Peace. Hope. I wonder what he sees on my face. If he sees my struggle. I close my eyes.

I hear him take a step forward. Then several more until he is so close to me I feel the brush of his chest against my crossed arms.

“Will you come with me?” The words are soft, but not urgent. He is giving me time.

I think of Michael. How perfect he was. He was always kind and generous and he believed in people. He should be here. His soul must have been more pure than mine. I wonder what he would say to me if he were here right now. And then suddenly, I know.

I take a deep breath, open my eyes.

I answer.

Bio

Samantha Linstrom is an English major at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, Massachusetts. Sam is an editor for the school’s online literary magazine, The Dead River Review. She is a strong advocate for glorifying weirdness and this is her first publication.

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One comment

  1. Love it, holds my attention. Afraid you will loose some readers with the vulgarity in the beginning. It also will limit some audiences. Keep the intenseness without vulgarity. Just saying.

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