With the arrival of the following day, the thick blanketing fog had lifted from the city. The birds returned to their perches in the trees and merrily chirped their songs for the distant spring. Despite the sun’s valiant efforts, it remained hidden behind a sea of gray clouds.
Grace awoke to the passing of a nearby freight train. She found herself alone in Matthew’s room. The left side of the bed was vacant and the blanket had been scrunched into a clutter near her chest. Feeling quite good, and without the urge to smoke, she laid peacefully under the covers as the morning air filled the room. The echo of Matthew’s acoustic guitar wafted from the floor below.
Stretching her arms and body, Grace swayed from the bed and retrieved her garments from her bag. Once changed and tidied, she ventured down to the living room to join Matthew. The guitarist sat on the couch with his instrument, penciling notes along sheet music. He grinned as she arrived on the landing.
“Good morning,” he said cheerfully, making room for her to sit.
“Good morning yourself,” replied a jaunty Grace, taking the seat next to him.
She listened contently as Matthew composed his melody. Unmatched was the power of music, and within Grace that power took its hold. Not wanting to be lulled away, she broke the pulse and fed her desire to express gratitude.
“Last night was a lot of fun,” she smiled. “You and your band mates are really sweet. You made a stranger like me feel like part of the family. Thanks for that.”
“Don’t mention it,” he replied with a gentle laugh. “We are entertainers after all. Hospitality is the least we could do.”
They exchanged smiles. Matthew ventured back to his composition while Grace found herself woolgathering. The previous day had felt more like a dream than reality; her reunion with Kevin was like a figment of mind, a grief-induced hallucination, taking form as sanctum along a misty pier. But it was no dream. The warmth of his embrace spoke that Kevin was indeed real; meaning the danger surrounding him was real too.
“I hope I hear from my brother soon,” muttered Grace, unable to hide her concerns. “And he tells me he’s safe.”
Matthew abruptly raised his eyes, his attention snagged by the worry in her voice.
“What do you mean?” he inquired, placing down his pencil to listen.
Although initially reluctant, Grace went on to reveal the withheld details of Kevin’s situation. As she spoke, the expression on Matthew’s face morphed from curiosity to disappointment.
“Seriously?” he retorted, his head shaking from disbelief. “I don’t know why you’d put yourself at risk associating with someone like that. Regardless if it’s family.”
The harsh comment knocked Grace from her guard.
“He’s my brother!” she replied, reacting in a raised, yet not quite angry voice. “You have no idea what we’ve been through. I’d never turn my back on him. Ever. Why would you even suggest doing otherwise?”
“Grace, the guy’s a gang member,” Matthew sneered. “He robbed a heroin dealer, and if what you say is correct, a very dangerous one. Your brother made his own bed. You shouldn’t have to lie in it with him.”
Grace felt her heart rate increase and her blood bubble. It took great poise, but her maturity allowed for the anger to stay at bay.
“First off, he’s not a gang member,” she said sharply. “Secondly, they tried to kill him. What do you expect him to do, roll over?”
To this, Matthew placed his guitar on its stand and looked directly at Grace, his growing impatience written all over.
“Yes, your brother was set up. But he didn’t have to react impulsively like he did. He let his pride get the best of him. Fact is, Kevin willingly stooped to Syd’s level, and look where it’s gotten him.”
Matthew shook his head. His condescension had only just begun.
“You two are what, in your mid-twenties, right? Then he’s too old to be using your rough childhood as an excuse for his current problems. We’re all well beyond the age where it’s ok to place blame on events long past. My childhood wasn’t a picnic either, yet you don’t see me in constant trouble. It’s because I grew up and moved on. You of all people should know that blood isn’t thicker than water. You already cut ties with your family for ten years. You can do it again, trust me.”
The dam had burst.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” stuttered Grace.
She stared ferociously at Matthew and trembled with rage. One look was all she needed to know that he believed himself unquestionably correct.
Unable to process his extreme arrogance, nor able to formulate logic, Grace found herself unable to even glance at the musician. She decided to do what was necessary. Without breaking a stride, Grace scooped her backpack and swiftly departed from the house. She didn’t even bother to close the door, which swung by its hinges in the autumn wind…
Twenty minutes later, the troubled young woman stood at the confluence of Pittsburgh. There she gazed upon the merge of the Monongahela and Allegheny as they formed the Gateway To The West. The wind from the rivers spun with the mist of the fountain, dampening her clothing.
Grace hovered at the edge of the chilly gray water. Her feet stood on the brink while a cigarette rested between her lips. She considered jumping in so that the sudden cold could shock the anger from her. Yet she decided against it, choosing instead to rest upon the ledge of the stone fountain.
It was the same story that Grace had come to know so well; past dictates present. She was a fool to believe a musician such as Matthew wouldn’t possess an underlying arrogance. Even his mountain of humility couldn’t vault it. Regardless of whether there was obvious truth in Matthew’s argument, the manner in which he presented himself was cold, even borderline heartless. Grace could accept Matthew’s negative view of Kevin, but to suggest that she sever her purest relationship was absolute folly. One thing remained for certain; it was obvious that Matthew had never been truly broken, broken to the point where logic and reason became immaterial. Grace could forgive him for his inexperience.
The thought subsided and so did her anger. All that remained was a nagging frustration. But it was in that moment when the lost fragments of her story connected, and Grace knew that her time had arrived. It was time to complete the second part of her healing ritual and return to the place that had broken her. Grace hoisted her bag to her shoulder and arose from the fountain. She drifted her way downtown and snagged a bus on the wide avenue known as The Boulevard…
A knife in the dark…
An agonizing yell from a sinning father…
The soft flutter of footsteps down wooden stairs…
The screech of a window screen torn from its frame…
A girl emerged from the empty window and staggered onto the porch.
She was half-naked and stained with her father’s blood.
She didn’t falter as she fled from the terrace and vanished into the darkness of the night…
Grace quietly faced the ruins of a small two-story house while memories both pleasant and horrible resurfaced in her mind. Some had been forgotten by choice, while the rest had faded naturally through time.
The house had been long forsaken. Scorch marks along its exterior showed evidence of a fire. Gaping holes in the roof matched with boarded-up windows, providing a poignant image. But it made little difference to Grace. The woman stood silent and motionless, unable to shake the vision of her departure, her delicate psyche ever in flux.
In a world of rapid transition, forward and backward steps are often taken simultaneously. As we improve in a certain area, we neglect another. One fact remains undeniable: change is infinite, inescapable, and entirely necessary. The visual evidence was everywhere; even Hell With The Lid Off now boasted clear skies. So on a block in the midst of gentrification it was poetic that this house alone lay smitten. From a photographic standpoint, Grace had always felt drawn to derelict. Derelict held no secrets. It offered only the brutal truth. And for Grace, there were no truths more brutal than this.
Although she could never forgive her father for his actions, there were times when Grace pondered on the source of his unnatural cruelty. What were the deep roots of the twisted sickness that poisoned him? Of all her waking memories of the man, only a few involved him being genuinely happy. It made her wonder about the stability of his childhood years. There were many signs that suggested his upbringing was traumatic, similar to what he bestowed upon his children. There were even times when Grace almost felt pity for him. Almost…
But now was not one of those times. The thought of her father began to stir her blood. The rage within her swelled and reached its climax, spawning hatred. Grace began to tremble once more; her hallucination burned deep into her brain; her eyes locked onto the skeleton of her childhood. Then she screamed.
Grace released a cry that shook the foundation of Pittsburgh. Its walls quaked as a decade of pain and exhaustion charged from her weathered soul. She grabbed a handful of rocks and hurled them towards the broken house with all her might. She wanted to burn the place to ashes, although she knew that would accomplish little beyond landing her in a jail cell. As for those who heard her cry, Grace didn’t give a damn.
It wasn’t long before her hatred and her voice departed. Suddenly Grace stood empty, like a hollowed spirit with a massive void. But as predicted, the rain was to replace the fire. For so often sadness follows anger. All voids tend to fill.
Tears began to pour down her cheeks in great quantity. Grace slinked to the sidewalk, rested her back on the retaining wall, and then placed her arms on her knees and her head in her arms. Though she was the farthest thing from one, she felt like a loser. It wasn’t until her thoughts returned to Kevin that Grace pacified.
Then right on cue, she received a premonition of her sibling, who then lifted Grace onto her feet and reminded her of her own strength. The vision was enough to send her spirits to mend. Mustering her fortitude, Grace stood tall and observed her derelict home once again. Only this time she looked at it differently. It was no longer the place that had broken her but a place that could build her. Grace decided that she would visit this spot regularly, until she could gaze upon the house and feel no anger and all that would remain is sadness. Sadness alone Grace could handle.
With her newfound revelation, Grace held her head skyward. The tears had vanished from her face. Her eyes reverted back to the stone blue oceans they once were. The lioness had returned, and this time she was here to stay. For in the deepest chasm of Grace’s fractured core lay her strength. And she was strong. She could survive with the very best. As for her next journey, not even Grace knew which trail she would blaze. Perhaps she would spend the rest of her day doing photography. Or maybe she would seek out Tina for a little fun. If unsuccessful, she could always return to Gooski’s and drown herself in whisky. The day’s possibilities were endless.
Part of Grace felt the desire to write her story to the world. The world needed to hear her story. It was the tale of every voiceless woman who walked in her shoes. Yet she knew better than to believe the world would listen.
On that note, Grace held true to the gypsy she had long since become and began to walk sans destination. She strode confidently ahead, leaving her dilapidated past in the rear view, yet was completely unaware of the old grey Buick that was now approaching…
Frustration—the primary sensation Syd had been experiencing for the past two days. The same frustration followed Syd as he drove through his neighborhood with Brittany and Darius. The dealer was unable to come to terms with the fact that a scrub had bested him in such a daring way. His ego prevented him from admitting that a crucial error of judgment had been made. He felt murderous; losing his patience like a man without a belt loses his pants.
That was until they neared the childhood home of the scrub in question, and Syd’s gaze fell upon a woman in dark attire walking obliviously in their direction.
A terrifying smile appeared on the man’s face. He motioned for Brittany to slow down.
“Well, well, well,” he growled, his hand finding the gun in his jeans. “Look who we have here.”
It took Grace a moment for her to notice the old car. As the two became level, she turned to the vehicle and saw the man in the passenger seat staring her down, sporting a horrifying grin. He tauntingly tapped his gun on the car door for her to see.
One look into Syd’s malicious gaze was all it took for Grace to freeze up, her confidence immediately swapped with a surging fear. In her anger, she had completely forgotten Kevin’s advice on avoiding their old neighborhood. And now it was too late. Her senses clicked, and then Grace did the only thing she could do in situations such as these: run. She bolted as fast as her legs allowed her to, unaware that her backpack had slipped from her shoulders, unaware that Syd and Darius had launched from the car in hot pursuit…
Alex K.A. was born and raised in Pittsburgh’s East End. At age 18, while attending Taylor Allderdice High School, Alex began his writing venture by crafting acapella hip-hop lyrics. In the seven years that followed, he released two full-length hip-hop projects, The Belgreen Sessions in 2012 and Bird’s Eye View in 2015. A month after the release of Bird’s Eye View, Alex set hip-hop aside to write his debut novella, Hell With the Lid Off, which he released in June 2016. In early 2017, he released his second novella, The Windmaker’s Daughter. As for the future, he plans to continue writing and releasing short stories of varying types.