The world is so much louder than it was, and yet, it’s so much quieter than where I’ve been. You get used to it, somehow, the crush of human bodies, the smell of them so near, their warmth- intimate elements forbidden in free society. The air is crisp and strange, filled with pollutants I’ve never smelled before, but cleaner than the perpetually recycled indoor air.
I haven’t spoken to Arthur in a long time; he always told me what to do, but when I didn’t have choices anymore, he had nothing left to control. But Benedict is always with me, like a low hum resonating just behind my ears; it reminds me of my father. I used to talk to Charlie, too, or at least I thought I did; he always sounded so much like Benedict I was probably just confused. But Benedict has never left me, and never lets me forget; and for everything I’ve done, I think I deserve a little of the self-loathing he brings me.
I’ve gone by Philip since the day I realized no one could see past who I was; the isolation of a world where no one meets your gaze is impossible. But the world progressed while I was away. Having a mental illness, or someone who is differently mentally able no longer puts you into a category with molesters and deviants. It’s like having cancer- well, I guess they’ve cured cancer, but it’s like having cancer used to be. It’s unfortunate, but every family knows how it feels.
Family. Kristin was always so sweet to me. I took our parents away from her, but she never abandoned me; I probably would have. She died last year, complications after heart surgery. Her husband doesn’t understand me, and is enough from the old school he refuses to try. He wouldn’t tell me how to contact my nephew and niece- but in an age of information it was just polite of me to ask.
I called my nephew first, I don’t know why. Perhaps because his grandfather came first, or perhaps because I knew his father had poisoned him against me- his mother had told me that much. He blamed me for the loss of his grandparents. He even blames me for his mother; although if I broke her heart I did it some time ago, and wasn’t the reason it stopped working. And I said to him the same thing I said to her so many years ago, “I am so sorry.” He hung up without another word.
I didn’t call my niece. I thought, somehow, with pictures, the telephone would be warmer, or the reunion easier, but I was wrong. I shifted my feet on her doorstep, fighting with myself over knocking or leaving her be. She answered the door with a crystal glass in her hand, filled half up with the clearest water I’d seen all my life, and when she saw my face, it slipped from her fingers, and shattered on the floor. “Let me,” I bent down, and began placing the shards in my palm; one sliced my hand.
“The sweeper will get it,” she said, kneeling beside me, and stopping my work. She froze when my eyes moved from the floor to her face. “You look so much like her,” she said, and pulled me to my feet. “My brother called; I- I knew you’d come.” She walked towards the kitchen, and wiped her wrist across her eyes, and in the same motion pulled a towel from the wall and placed it on the cut in my hand. “I made tea. You should have a cup.”