“Who are you?” I demanded. The girl squirmed like a rat. She didn’t even lift her head. Gaze on the ground, she delivered her insistence like it was the sentencing for a capital crime: “You wouldn’t remember my name.”
Silver moonlight illuminated the tombstone behind her, an all too familiar name emblazoned upon my eyes. It threw me off my internal rhythm like tossing me off a bus. I may as well have been a sandwich with bread separated from the meat. However, it was enough to jog my memory. I remembered where we were exactly one year ago and what we were doing one decade ago. It had been a year since I saw this side of her, but I could never forget the other side- my best friend in the world, my only friend. I could almost see her behind the curtain of what she called her Other. Other had still not looked at me. All her windows remained boarded.
“Happy birthday,” I whispered. I knelt down to her, for the first in a year unafraid of being seen for my true self.
“Yesterday,” she grunted, uninterested in my true self.
One Year Ago
“So?” I demanded eagerly. “How did you do? Did you nail it?”
“Stop being idiotic, Max,” she said with a sad sigh. “You saw all those dots in their monkey suits, all you have to do is connect them. It doesn’t matter how you answered the interview questions, it matters who your grandfather was and how much money he donated. Look, I’m not saying you didn’t earn your position here, I’m just saying you’ll be the exception, not the rule once recruitment is over.”
“If you’re so convinced there’s no chance of a Southie making it here, why did you come? Why even try?”
“I wanted to see what it was like. I wanted to know the feeling of looking them in the eyes when they discriminated against me without repercussion or shame. Look, Maxwell Benedict Hoffstrater the Fourth, you’re a Northie and I’m a Southie; your future is grand and mine is drab. You’re destined for the lobby and I’m lucky if I get to work in the basement.”
“There’s no comparison between you and me, North Star Allistair. None at all. This isn’t a sign that you aren’t made for to be a Northie one day, it’s just a push to work harder.”
“It doesn’t matter how hard you work when you’re resume is only used as a napkin for caviar. Don’t you get it?”
“Don’t you understand, you’re doing the wrong work. If they won’t give you what you deserve, find another way that doesn’t involve them. Or make them look up from their caviar and see you.”
“Alright fine, so long as you’ll help me and no one can know yet. Also never call me North Star again,” she replied.
“Okay, but I’m thinking you could by North if you wanted to.”
“Too bad I have that pesky dignity in the way.”
“Star, come on.”
“No, Max, it’s just going to look like I’m desperate to be a Northie.”
“But you are. Ever since my dad was pushing us around in his wagon, you have been down for the streets of the Northside. You’re in love with it. And it’s the city you want, you hypocrite.”
“I thought I was supposed to be giving the guidance here,” North Star Allistair teased.
“Stop sign!” I yelled with a jolt.
“I was going to stop,” she lied defensively.
“You were going to give me a heart attack! Jesus, if we get arrested for some traffic violation, I will make you drive like a normal person.”
“You mean you’ll teach me to drive like a true Northie. After all, that is your definition of normal.” Her eyes were on the road now. Southies didn’t have self-driving cars, so she was clinging to the controls of mine like she was going to be driving her own vehicle any moment now. She kicked her purse away from her feet as if there were pedals, too; it was kind of cute.
“North…” I began.
“Yes,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Is it just the interview that’s making you obsessed with the class divide more than usual today?”
“Yes,” she repeated, softer.
“Oh my God!” we both screamed in unison. My memory is way too clear.
North. I thought. Where’s North when you need her? I should’ve known this would happen, inevitably. I should’ve footed the bills when she tried to treat her DID only to find it was ten times more expensive than her family’s house. But I didn’t, because I knew she had too much pride to accept help. Now Other was in control of their shared body and I was face to part-of-face with Cauchemar. So fitting you could slide it into a picture frame. So fitting you could build a house on the property. The nightmare- Cauchemar or Other or whatever you’ll know her as- in front of the gravestone with my name on it. My name, four times, like something you see on an old television.
I’m not the candy wrapper, I’m the actual candy. Aren’t I? My brain had no response for that thought. Only then did I feel the eyes on me. Star’s eyes. But cruel and full of pain. Ugly, biting pain searing from beneath the surface.
“Star, come back to me. The disorder is not your identity, it’s just a part of you. Come back to me,” I whispered. But it was too late; once her eyes were fixed on me, so was her attention. She rose to her feet, slithering up the air like a snake climbing a vine.
“Don’t you see, that won’t be happening,” she hissed with a shake of her head. “That’s like shoving a square into an oval and trying to make them match. Star and I don’t match; that’s why she left me in control.”
“You hurt her,” I barked.
“That’s true, but it’s of no matter now. Star… shall we say… fell from the sky, so now I am running the show while she recovers. Spoiler alert: it’s not going well for her in La La Land.”
“She had another break,” I muttered, picturing with a grimace the war she must have waged upon herself.
“Don’t be fretful,” Cauchemar urged me. “I’m here now- this is the time to rejoice! The look on your face is like resenting the soldiers on D-Day for fighting, Max. don’t you understand this is about liberation?”
“What happened to Star?” I demanded.
“She lost her mind, she fell apart,” Cauchemar answered, somehow seeming saddened to think of it as if she was remembering the depths of the connection between herself and her better half in mind and body alike. “After you died in that car crash, it was all over for her too.”
“That’s insane. What are you talking about, tell me: what really happened?”
“That’s it, that’s exactly it. She was driving home from City Hall after the interviews for those fancy positions running the city and everything. A van came out of nowhere- you know, one of the kinds that work like a bulldozer- and plowed right through you. You died and she lived, but her soul was buried right here in this grave, with you. All she had left was your wallet.”
I patted my back pocket and, sure enough, everything I was supposed to have in it was missing. All of me seemed to be missing as I stared from the gravestone to my personal nightmare, scared and confused and upset like a vegetarian choosing between turkey and ham. I’d lost my best friend… because she’d lost me. It was a new world of loss that sucked up everything it encountered like a sponge. A new world of loss is what hit me on the night of reckoning.
Thanks so much for reading; this may be the last short story I publish for some time.
Find highlights from my recently posted works here.