The Nightmare Gift—An Illustrated Story
She sat in a position halfway between huddled and lumped in the far corner of the waiting room. The chairs there faced away from the lone television, gently blaring the twenty-four-hour news cycle with closed captions on, and so she had her own sort of cubby of isolation. She didn’t even have to occasionally make eye contact with distressed mothers or the agitated and dedicatedly impatient elderly.
There were things to do—she had brought her cell phone, her headphones, and a worn old paperback novel from the library—but she hadn’t pulled them out of her backpack since she had gotten there. She just kept sitting and staring at random features on the walls before her—the stock photography in generic frames, the beige paint on the wall, the plastic moulding just above the carpeting, and the large square sign that said “P” for pharmacy. Sometimes she would get curious, adventurous even, and crane her neck around to look down the long corridor of the compound. She could see past the lab department into the urgent care department and even a few suggestions of reception just before the large sliding doors.
But, without exception, her her heavily lidded, dark circle-besotted eyes would gaze lazily at the walls, blank and flat. Her life was accompanied by a doctor’s office soundtrack. Children would chatter, infants and toddlers would cry intermittently, and a lone, almost predatory woman would talk especially loudly into her phone about work—all the while with the rhythmic buzz of television, the calling of names of patients and the sounds of phones ringing.
She would alternate between having her legs drawn up onto the chair, made extra large for the particularly rotund patients, or having them splayed lifelessly before her, both feet arching inward. Sometimes she would take a moment to ponder the shapes that they would make. And then a nearby child would start to scream, and she would be shaken momentarily from her apathetic lull.
She looked terrible, too. Her dark hazel eyes were bloodshot, and it had been one day past the acceptable period between showers. Her hair, brown and curly (so of course frizzy at this point), was haphazardly pulled into a claw clip. She wore a worn out school sweatshirt, oversized with ruined elastic in the wrists from having bunched it up at her elbows so many times, and a pair of black jeans that had been washed too many times. They were a sad, uncertain gray. Her shoes were relatively new, the black canvas and white rubber not yet covered in indiscriminate grime, but somehow one was laced one loop lower than the other, and so its laces were overly long and beginning to fray. She hadn’t noticed that herself until today, sitting in the doctor’s office, bored.
She pulled her feet up onto the ruddy upholstery of the waiting room chair and picked at the lace sadly. It definitely wasn’t OK to just unlace and re-lace her entire shoe inside a doctor’s office. It was one of those “unwritten rules” scenarios that her mother would surely scold her for if she were there to witness it.
She immediately looked up and scanned the area before her, looking for whatever nurse had called her in, simultaneously grabbing her backpack beside her. She stopped when she saw that less than five feet away a strange man, somewhere in the vicinity of her age, was standing before her, looking extremely confused. His left arm was in a green cast, starting at his elbow and extending over most of his hand. His index finger and thumb were free, and she became momentarily alarmed by the sight of the two free fingers flexing and extending. Her mouth opened a little in obvious distress.
He looked at her like he had known her all his life, his eyes huge and dark and emotional, and he took another step toward her and struggled to find the words to ask a question that was just at the tip of his tongue.
She backed away as far as appropriate for someone restrained to a chair. “H-how do you know my name?” she asked before he could begin speaking. “You don’t look like you work here.”
For whatever reason, that was even worse than her flinching away from him. He frowned and took away the step he gave. “No, I don’t…work here…” He shook his head. “You don’t recognize me?”
Sydney hadn’t realized he was someone she was supposed to recognize. She squinted and tilted her head. His features were familiar, but in a generic way. He had a typical teenage face, with the suggestions of future hardness of features, and typical brown eyes. There was a bit of intensity to them, but it easily could have been that he was practically glaring at her at this point. His hair was short, and his skin had the impression of having recently been very tan—someone who once spent plenty of time outside but had recently become the indoors type. It was all very vaguely reminiscent of someone or something, but it rang no immediate bells.
She shook her head.
He shook his as well, though for different reasons. “So, like, you’re not even curious why someone you apparently don’t know knows your name?”
“Well, I never said I wasn’t confused. But I don’t know you.”
He folded his arms across his chest, at least as best as he could, and grimaced. “I thought you moved away, Sydney. I tried calling, but the number was disconnected. I tried going to your house to see for sure, and it was empty. I thought, like, the only reason you would just disappear like you did was because you were moving to a different part of the country, not fucking downtown.”
Sydney began to feel the twinge of a new headache. She lifted her hand to the puffy skin around her right eye and frowned. She could feel her heart starting to beat faster. She had moved, just a few months ago, from one side of the town to the other, and her parents had switched phone companies around the same time—her number was different. But…
“Look, I get it.” She looked back up at him, and his body language had changed significantly. The obvious anger had faded, and his shoulders had slumped. His broken arm hung limply at his side, while he emoted with his right. “I get if you didn’t want to talk to me anymore for some reason. That stuff happens. But you didn’t have to disappear like that. …And then just reappear like nothing…”
“I’m really sorry,” she said, nearly whispering. “But I don’t know you.”
“Edison? Marcus Edison?”
“I don’t even—how do you forget someone in a few months, Sydney? This is stupid. Just say you’re sorry or something, don’t act like you don’t know me. This is insane! Like if you don’t want to talk to me, just say so—don’t act like I’m a stranger harassing you!”
“Fine! I don’t want to talk to you, Marcus. Please leave me alone,” she whisper-screamed back at him. She grabbed her backpack and stood up abruptly, then pointed up to the screen above the pharmacy that now listed her name—Elwood, S.—in glowing red letters. “Look, it’s my turn to get my prescription, since you apparently know my name so well. I’m going to get it, and then I’m going to leave. Is that all right with you?”
She realized she wasn’t whispering anymore, and that people were starting to stare, but she didn’t care. She pushed her way past him and over to the pharmacy, glancing back to see him following her with his eyes, looking a little lost. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw him mouthing his own name to himself—“Marcus.”
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My life has been weirder than normal lately.
I’m thinking about being more aggressively “that paranormal girl” as a response.
A premonition, in the least superstitious way possible.
I’m used to bad things happening to me, either because of my own poor decisions, the poor decisions of others, or just poor luck. I handle it with calm reserve. I don’t panic. I just work through the negative emotions as silently as possible while my hands work mechanically through a solution. Crisis management is an effortless experience to me.
However, when it’s not me on the receiving end—when it’s someone I love and care about—I lose all that cool detachment, that methodical problem solving. I become lost, and my hands become weak. The sense of helplessness that I am so good at avoiding creeps in like a chill.
I don’t know what it means that my own art rarely speaks for a set of emotions or experiences unique to me. But tonight my thoughts are overcast, and I suppose retroactively I made this for myself.
Trip to the shore
The day was overcast, so it was already going wrong. It had been so long since she had been to the beach, and it really wasn’t supposed to include cloudy skies and a persistent chill. When she spotted it, brown and sad in the churning water, her heart sunk—not because she was certain this confirmed the death of some unknown stranger but because it meant her day was only going to get worse.
March 31, 2014—Samantha Garrett—for sale
Q:hey I came across this piece of artwork that you've done post/42776324614/the-freshwater-mermaid-watercolor-on-arches and I'm just wondering if it's for sale?
It was for sale, but someone purchased it quite a while ago. If you’re curious about where to find my art that is for sale, you can head over to my etsy shop.