Never The Same
Never The Same16 mins 447 16 mins 447
Danielle. Not a name one would hear down in these parts, but it’s what her mother wanted to name her, after her best friend who died in a car crash. Does that mean if I have a daughter, she’d have to be called Eliza? It was a big if, but that’d be extremely awkward. She didn’t think she could ever get herself to say Eliza just like that, or with love, whatever that was, as she brushed in between her braces carefully. The Peaky Blinders Theme song played on her speaker, dictating the rhythm of her hand rotations. “On a gathering storm comes a tall handsome man..” Her other hand was occupied in untangling her hair. Maybe she’d have to say goodbye to Julia Roberts, and all the red that came with the hair and the outfits, because her curls were back to looking like Midas had touched them up. Uhh, finally. Who can deal with those smiley-wiley characters. Makes having braces bearable. She barely needed them, but she found that it had its uses, especially when you weren’t bad looking. Huh, I ought to to show them off more. She twirled into her bedroom, thinking about the next gag.
Maybe Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook. Much more her forte. The work it would take was worth dreading though. Black curtains in place of the fancy laced ones, vulgar depictions on the walls instead of fine art, and dim, jazzy lighting was just the easy part. The rest of it involved turning Youtube over for reliable tutorials on how to dance contemporary, that didn’t start with a ‘simple’ double pirouette. The hair dyeing and straightening would be a pain in the ass as well.“Danielle!! Get down here! Your clothes are done!!” A gruff, grumpy voice bellowed through the floorboards. It was Jordan, the gullible middle-aged man who’d stumbled his way into marrying her mom.“Coming!!”, she answered back. She never understood why he couldn’t just throw her clothes in a basket, like a sensible human being. Instead, he chose to light a fire under the neighbour’s butts, his thick vocal cords comfortably interrupting their morning coffee. She took a few steps to the door, slammed it shut, and shot downstairs, her steps like a baby elephant running through the mud on the lousy floorboards. In the laundry, she found her gangly step-dad, who’d let himself go in the past week.
Usually baby-shaven, he resembled an alcoholic, with his half-grown beard, misshapen hair, and ratty t-shirts. Her nostrils tightened, when she drew nearer to him. Ughh. He been living in a cold storage? He has heard of soap, hasn’t he? He avoided eye contact with her, holding a bundle of baby clothes in his hands.“You doing ok?” He asked, barely looking up. It was curious, Jordan making small talk with her. He’d given up ever since she’d told him that she wasn’t okay, because she was hormonal, and she was gonna faint from bleeding out. The memory still brought a smile to her face, the way Jordan’s face twitched, and flushed, and contorted.
She nodded, biting her top lip, gathering the heap in her arms like a gunny bag, watching Jordan unwittingly take the dishwashing liquid, and eyeing it. He dropped it, and faced her. "You know, it’s been a few days since you went to school”, he said. Resting her chin on her blouse, she considered him.“What, you never got holidays for Christmas? "But you live in your room.”“I always do. You never notice.” He shrugged, separating the whites from the rest, making the occasional mistake. “You want me out of the house, is that it?” She asked him.“No. I mean, you know what happened. I wondered if-” “Can we have this conversation when I’m not holding the ground floor of Gildenbury’s in my hands, yes?” He nodded, his jaws tensed suspiciously, as she got out there, after telling him which liquid he ought to use.
Poor Chris, she thought, which didn’t happen often. The green-eyed monster was the apple of his mother’s eyes, and had been been making Danielle clean his diapers since he could start talking. How her mom believed that she’d thrown all her makeup into the toilet she didn’t know, but it was one of the more nastier stunts he’d pulled on her. Four years of experience helped him realise that he was judge, jury, and executioner in the rustic, three-bedroom flat of theirs, and it made him insufferable. The sly grin that he’d have on his face after the fact made her want to punch him, and then she’d imagine being dragged into a grimy cell for assault on a child. That was enough to stop her bracing her knuckles.Over time, she learnt to suck it in and take it, and even make her peace with her step-brother. Of late, they’d even been on chocolate-sharing terms, which her mom disapproved of, not trusting her intentions. She’d only done it, so she could watch Chris smear more Nutella on his face, until he wiped himself on their mom’s blouse. Danielle expected an outburst. Her mom was OCD about her outfits, but she merely pulled his cheeks, and got to work with the Kleenexes, flashing Danielle the ‘look what you did’ with her eyes. Sometimes it gave Danielle this strange tugging sensation in her gut. A pull that would make her go on a tv show binge-watchathon, walled away from the world.
Despite that, the only times her mom had a smile on her face were when she was with him, and he with her. If she hadn’t seen Chris with her mom, she might’ve thought he was a cold psychopath in the making. Turned out he was just a nasty little cutie, who started watching prank wars on youtube too early, sitting with his favourite sponge-bob pj’s on backwards. And since he’d popped out, no-one told Danielle what to do, nor did much for her. Most times, she minded her own business, but it wore on her. Every other day when she went down, she’d find her mom sunk in the couch, vacantly staring upwards, with a dumbfounded smile on her face as she played with Chris. Besides her on the couch would lie a locked pillbox, the source of her peace. It was tempting to imagine what it would be like to shake her out of her stupor, curse at her, but then a voice in her head said,”Fuck that! You’re doing just fine on your own!” It was much easier to pretend that the outside world didn’t exist, and it even made her happy, but she’d have to go downstairs eventually. It was the way of life, and she’d run out of food and fresh clothes at some point.She snuggled into a black top and some jeans when she got back to her room, and whisked her sweater onto her shoulder. She turned to leave, cursed, and picked up her backpack.
By the time she reached the kitchen, Chris had his fist in a jar of salsa, dressing his cereal with it. She sat down next to him, the idea of eating nachos for breakfast not so appetising anymore. He didn’t even seem to notice her, his eyes examining the salsa intently. She ran her hand through his hair, and picked up a Nature Valley from the kitchen counter. Ehh, whatever. “You want some? It’s sooo goooood.” Chris offered, crushing some cereal in his pudgy little hands. She shook her head, and took off, trying to get to the bus stop early. Along the way, she let her senses roam, feeling their way across. The aroma of freshly ground coffee beans of Kilter’s Kafe reminding her of the turn she had to take, past the bust of Joe Frazier on 10th street. To her right, a couple of shady looking men checked into a club, right next to the morning shift workers for Lanton Creek’s Law Firm. Carrying a coffee in one hand, and their pride in the other, heavily groomed, and well dressed in crisp tuxedos.
Opposite their workplace were IT service centre offices, banks, and investment firms the length of a football field. She’d see all sorts on her morning and evening walks. Men and women that had the same saggy eye bags, and walked without really taking in what was happening around them, like a scene straight out of Night Of The Living Dead. A blind working man with a walking stick, who would greet her everyday, as the shoe cobbler serviced his stingy customers on the sidewalks opposite her. Next to him, a waist-down amputee woman with a rat’s nest on her head played Bach on her lute, an alms bowl in front of her. Not that she cared for it, because she’d seen the cobbler occasionally dip his hand in it for change, and she wouldn’t even tell him off. For the woman, the music was her legs, if she closed her eyes long enough; These were mundane observations, but not to Danielle. The middle aged British man in her head would always remind her, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players”. At least it made more sense than having secret magical abilities, and being called the ‘chosen one’.As the backpack weighed heavier on her shoulders, the quiet of the offices made way for the hustle and bustle of the street hawkers, and the food truckers.
The morning risers and fallers were their marks, no discrimination between those in white collars, and rags. Food and accessories were a universal language, and one bite of Salsalina’s enchiladas would send a dozen flavours leaping across your tongue, whether you owned a Mercedes, or a garbage truck. The heat of chicken tamales fresh from the cooker, and the oil searing on the noodle pan followed her around the bend, running dizzying circles in her stomach. Only when she turned the corner, and set her eyes on Naomi, that she found her distraction.Naomi sat cross-legged on the bench, barely keeping her eyes open. Danielle crept up on her.“Hey, you asking to get that bling snatched or what!!” She shouted, shaking her awake. Naomi let out a high pitched squeal. "OH my god Dani!! I swear to fucking god, I’ll kill you one day.” Danielle grinned. Naomi swore with the most attitude she’d seen anyone swear with. “Except I’ll wait for a while.” She raised her eyebrows at her. "What do you mean?” “I’m sorry.” Naomi leant in and hugged her, drawing back very sharply.“That was unusual.” She said.“Not what you supposed to say, but damn right it was.” Naomi replied. Danielle didn’t see this coming. She only hoped too many people wouldn’t know. “How ya holdin’ up?” Naomi asked. Shrugging, Dani sat on the bench next to her. Guess I’ll play along. She paused for dramatic effect. “Well?” Naomi’s dimples were out.“Not too well.” Reaching in her pocket, she pulled out the Nature Valley, and began tearing the wrapper, aggressively. “How high’s that casino your old man heads the security for?” “Whyyy??” The tone of Naomi’s voice got higher, well, higher than normal. “That’s what people do, don’t they.”“I swear Danielle, I’m seriously gonna kill you for this!!”“But I am serious Naomi. Imagine how peaceful it’d be.” She looked faraway into the distance, as Naomi grabbed her arm. “You hearin yourself?”
I ain’t never heard ya talk like this before.” Dani suppressed a smile.“Why, I thought you might like to come with me?”“Yeah right, what gave you that idea?” Dani could feel her arm shaking on hers. Oh, this is brilliant.“Well, I need you to be there for me.”“You fucking crazy, gurl, you know that!”“Why. Because I want to piss off the side of a building?”“No, because-” Naomi stared at her agape, and then hit her across the arm with a back-handed slap.“Oww!!” Danielle gasped, as her friend slid a foot away on the stone, looking away to the side. Her gold, serpent shaped earrings shone in the sun, partially hidden behind her side swept coils. The black sleeveless top she wore only accentuated the look, a heavy silver spiral necklace peeking out of it. “Guess I deserved it.” Danielle said. Naomi looked at her cold.“You damn right you did. You can’t be goin round, sayin effed up shit like that.” Danielle braced, as she hit her again. A house away from them, the front door burst open, a balding white man storming out, punching the air. Behind him, a woman trailed out, a baby in her arms. They didn’t bother to be quiet, as the entire neighbourhood would soon get their daily dosage of their weekly soap. When they were done, the wife slammed the door shut, the man walking tipsily towards a diner. "The fuck are you looking at!!” He spat at them. She realised she’d been staring, and turned to Naomi.“We sit here everyday, and he notices today. Just my luck.” Her friend laughed, not nearly as interested as Danielle was in the domestic. Ohh, right. She wanted to drop it, but her curiosity led her on. “So-you used to be the baby in that happy picture huh.” Smirking slightly, Naomi threw back her head onto the rest. “I almost wish I still was. Least they kept it real, no bs, and no fake kisses thrown around. The new one’s all quiet, and nice, and clingy. Don’t trust her to the Ashley and back.” Danielle agreed.
Nice and clingy were sure signs of deceitfulness in her book. A boy a year older than them came round their corner just then, his footsteps barely hitting the pavement. Slender Man, they called him, because he’d just come around all pale and ghostly, and say ‘hi’. They said ‘hi’ back today, exchanging the same look they gave each other every day. Danielle leaned in and whispered,“Quiet and nice. Right on queue”, as they laughed. She looked around, scanning the neighbourhood. At this time of the day, nearing 8:40 on her Apple Watch, the block had the looks of a ghost town. From the bend till the little red Chinese place, a silent film. If one strained their ears, they could hear cars honking, and the sirens of ambulances almost a world away. In other words, just two blocks. If one followed that road for a while, they’d reach King’s Street. Its gilded pavements, mermaids floating in fountains, and imps to fulfil their every whim. That’s what her 5 year-old head dreamt of, until she actually went there. Visits to the city for her were as rare as finding a blind man that could see, and she didn’t mind it. Huh, that’s one first rate racket. She broke the silence by cracking her knuckles, her friend cringing as if they were her own. Naomi criss-crossed her legs, motioning towards the church far to the right, at the faraway group. They came in formation, like a murder of crows. It was bizarre how each one of them stood exactly the same distance apart from each other, like they used a measuring tape for it. To clarify this, she’d even taken multiple photos over a week, and sure enough, her little experiment proved her suspicions.
Even if she didn’t live around here, or know the kids, it wasn’t hard to imagine where they were from. They made sure to come through the church lane and not the market one, to avoid any unworthy eyes, though they just said that the smell was unbearable. As far as she knew, she’d walked down that road before, and had no such complaints.Before, they came in cars that one would have to mortgage all the houses in the row to get. As they hit their teens, they couldn’t be seen shepherded around, so they would always appear in the same battle formation, having formed their own power clique. Plotting how to ruin teachers’ careers, discussing old trends that they saw as blasphemy, and setting standards for the next house party. All minutes of the their meetings. She didn’t put it past them to have the car parked in the back-alley though, with access to surveillance of the bus-stop. If so much as a finger were laid on any of the kids, there would be a national security threat level situation.“Here they come.” Naomi warned, busy sorting her coils, back stiff as a pole. She used to berate Naomi for doing this, but then understood why she did. Didn’t mean that she liked it though, and she scowled. Her friend casually whipped out her MacBook Pro, and started reading her pdf of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Pausing, and looking at Danielle like she was a schoolteacher, she asked, “what do you think Harper Lee meant by that?”
Danielle’s eyes rolled into her sockets.“That my brother is a little jerk but I can’t burn his toys alive, because it ain’t right.”“Huh, facts. Whatchu mean alive?” She laughed.“Well, I tried to fit Thor’s hammer on him once, and broke him in half.” A leaf fell on her shoulder, and she flicked it off. “Long story short, he buried the little guy in our Gardenia pot, and mourned him for a week.”By then, the clique’s heels were close enough to hear the click-clack on the pavement. Kayla the alpha, with her minions Courtney, Olly, Margaret, and Bjorn flanking her. They usually stood a few strides away, out of earshot. Distant, too, like they had nothing to do with Danielle and Naomi, except for the occasional greeting. Considering how they sniffed out threats, and their ‘wiping out the competition’ attitude, cordial was how Danielle preferred to keep it between her and them, but they came all the way, and stood right next to the bench. Her nose tickled from the flower garden of perfumes that assaulted her, as she coughed.“Hey Danielle.” Kayla said. Her tone was soft, as she looked towards the ground, her eye make-up somewhat smeared. “Umm..Yeah.” Danielle replied. She brought herself to make eye-contact with Kayla, her pale blue eyes startling her. Has she been crying? Kayla chased a stray strand of hair away from her cheek into her warm brown braid, and reached into her backpack. “The project Mrs. Petrucci assigned the two of us over the holidays.” In her hand was a neatly bound file, and a heavy one at that. Fuck! How’d I forget? “It was supposed to be a joint effort, but I took the liberty-” “You did the whole thing?” Danielle blurted out. She was less than pleased when Mrs. Petrucci assigned the project to both her and Kayla, and she was even less pleased now, as Kayla nodded sympathetically. “Why?”“Well, you know-” Kayla turned to look at her friends. “Just did us both a favour alright. Just take it.” “Why? I don’t need you doing my work for me!” Kayla recoiled, as her friends gasped. They hadn’t ever seen their ringleader do someone a favour, much less get shouted at for it. Kayla opened her mouth, but just then a horn blared around the corner, bringing the school bus with it. She and Kayla examined each other, not sure whether to scream at the other, or play it cool. Luckily for them, Naomi stepped in the middle, obscuring Kayla’s carefully put together crop top-denim shorts look.
She and Naomi boarded the bus and took their usual spots in the middle, as Kayla and the others sat with the older kids at the back. Naomi leant in slightly. "What was that about? The gurl never does nothing for nobody, and you gotta be pissed off about it.” Danielle glared back at her.“I’m not some charity that she’s donating to, because she thinks I can’t do-”“Hey!!” Naomi strained her shoulders. “Can’t do what? You one of the best students in class without trying, and people know bout it.” A tuft of hair fell on her nose. “Rich girl was just tryna be nice, cause-you know.”“Know what? Why’s she the Mother Teresa of English Assignments all of a sudden?” “She be taking pity on you Dani, cause she knows, and pretty soon, everybody’s gonna know.” She sighed, as she conceded Naomi’s point." I hate this." I know.” Naomi said. She buried her nose onto the window. Try as she may, it’d take a while for things to be the same. But, what if they never will?