In college, I went on a date with the son of my mother’s coworker. I couldn’t remember if his name was Jason or Justin, so I spent the entire night maneuvering my way out of saying his name. He... [+]
Sophie threw her phone down and slammed her head into the pillows. Her phone still buzzed. She knew it was Tyra, texting again to complain about her boyfriend. “Aren’t you going to answer?” Sophie’s eyes darted to the darkest corner of her room. That’s were Tragedy always sat.
“She doesn’t actually want to talk,” Sophie pointed out. “She just needs a human punching bag.”
“You need the punching bag more than her.”
Sophie sighed. Her digital clock beeped as it displayed a new time: 12:00 o’clock. “Happy anniversary to me,” Tragedy smirked. Sophie glared back at him.
“No one actually cares about you,” Sophie snapped.
Tragedy snorted. “Or you apparently.”
“Be quiet.” Sophie grumbled. “And stay away from me tonight.”
“But it’s my anniversary.”
“So?” Sophie muttered. Tragedy didn’t listen to her though. She could feel the memories hovering over her, circling like vultures.
After a night of reliving the last November 4th, Sophie numbly showered and dressed. She sat next to Tragedy for breakfast and watched quietly as Mom poured her morning coffee. The scar on Mom’s forehead still gleamed under the kitchen lights. “You doing okay, hun?” she asked. Sophie couldn’t tell if Mom remembered what today was.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Sophie lied. “How about you?” Mom didn’t answer. She took her coffee to the table and sat next to Tragedy. She knew Mom could see Tragedy, but she was a master in the art of ignoring him.
“Steve wants me in sooner today,” said Mom. “Sherry dropped her shift.” Sophie protested, but regardless, they were on the bus earlier than usual. When Mom’s stop approached, she jumped from her seat and gave a quick kiss on Sophie’s forehead. When the bus lurched forward again, Sophie decided Mom did know what today was. And if she could live normally, so could Sophie.
Tragedy took Mom’s seat after she left. “Perhaps you could tell someone today,” he said thoughtfully. “Both of us want you to.”
“They wouldn’t believe me.”
“And why not?” Sophie was growing irritated. Hadn’t they gone over this before?
“Because Dad’ll shut it down if it ever gets out,” she answered sharply. At this, the bus driver spared a small glance back, probably to see who she was talking to. Sometimes Sophie forgot others didn’t have Tragedy in their life like she did.
“You’re just afraid, aren’t you?” said Tragedy. Sophie ignored him and pressed her cheek to the grimy window. Each house she saw had the same dry lawn, chipped paint, and cracked cement. It seemed to be a reflection of the people’s conditions. “All of you are poor and rough,” Tragedy had once eloquently put it. “All of you know me somehow.”
At the school, Sophie spotted Tyra lounging by the gym doors, cuddling with her boyfriend she had just been complaining about earlier. “You should tell Tyra,” Tragedy said abruptly.
“You’re a coward, you know that?”
“No, I’m keeping me and my mom safe,” she insisted.
“But you’re living on eggshells, Soph.”
“Don’t call me that,” Sophie hissed. “We’ve only known each other a year. We’re not friends.” She left angrily and avoided him until lunch when he forced her aside. Tragedy pointed up to the sky, and the intercom suddenly crackled to life.
“Sophie Mendoza, please report to the office. Sophie Mendoza, to the office.” Sophie’s heart dropped to the floor. She hated when he did this.
“Wonder what’s his excuse this time,” Tragedy thought aloud. Turns out, Dad’s excuse was to drop off the clarinet Sophie had forgotten at home. If only the secretary knew Sophie had never played the clarinet a day in her life.
She walked in just in time to see him give his famous nod to the office ladies. With a fake smile to Sophie, Dad led her outside. He shoved the empty clarinet case into her hands. “You and Mom doing okay?” he asked gruffly. Sophie’s eyes smoldered.
“You don’t have to worry. She’s not saying anything and neither am I.”
Dad sighed. “Soph, you have to understand that my job is a political one. I need City Council to see me as a man they can trust. And I know today especially, it’ll be hard to keep that up-”
“If you wanted to seem trustworthy, why’d you do it?”
Dad’s eyes narrowed. “Because I fell out of your love with your mother-”
“No, you fell out of lust, you pig.” Dad grabbed Sophie by the collar and shoved her against the wall.
“Don’t you dare disrespect me like that again,” he growled. The sound of his voice drifted up the wall of the two story office building. Tragedy’s eyes fell on one window in particular. He thought how wonderful it would be if it was open right then, and the next moment it conveniently was.
Ms. Lupe heard Dad’s voice and could not help but rise from her chair. She peeked over the ledge and saw the chief of police threaten his daughter. Her inner counselor wanted to rush down and tear the two apart, but she resisted. She wanted to hear the raw, unfiltered Mendoza family dynamic.
When Dad finally left, Sophie retreated to a bathroom she knew would be empty. Rumors of a malignant ghost tainted the bathroom’s reputation, and Sophie found it to be a perfect asylum. She shut herself inside the smallest stall and wept. Tragedy leaned against the dirty sink and sighed. Sometimes he almost regretted having to pick on weak people like her.
The entrance door opened, and Ms. Lupe stepped inside. She recognized Tragedy immediately and gave a warm hello. “Sophie, are you alright?” she then asked. “Do you want to talk?” The bathroom was quiet. Suddenly, Sophie opened the door, walked past Ms. Lupe, and began to wash her hands. Her eyes flicked to Tragedy, silently blaming him for Ms. Lupe following her. The counselor noticed Sophie’s glance and said, “Tragedy, could you step outside for a moment?” Tragedy pouted but did as he was told.
“You can see him?” Sophie asked. Ms. Lupe smiled.
“A lot more people know Tragedy than you think,” she answered. “Now, was that your father I saw earlier?” Sophie looked up from the sink, and through the mirror’s smudges she swore she saw Dad standing there. Her eyes widened, and she bolted out of the bathroom.
That night Sophie skipped dinner and went straight to her room. With her door shut, Sophie slumped onto her bed and groaned. Like every night, her phone chimed with Tyra’s text, but Sophie wasn’t in the mood tonight. “Ms. Lupe was the perfect chance,” Tragedy yelled as he stormed into Sophie’s room, “and you blew it!” Sophie rolled on her side to face away from him. “Are you even listening?” He grabbed her shoulder and yanked her back to face him. He let go when he saw the ocean of tears pouring from her eyes.
“He scares me, Tragedy,” Sophie weeped. “He hit Mom. What if he hits me?” Tragedy’s shoulders slumped.
“It’s a risk, Sophie,” Tragedy admitted. “But maybe stop thinking about the cons. Try thinking about the pros.”
Tragedy thought for a moment. “You won’t have to pretend anymore,” he offered.
Sophie was intrigued by this answer. Maybe she wouldn’t have to pretend Dad still lived at home. She wouldn’t have to pretend all his affairs just simply didn’t happen. She wouldn’t have to pretend that when Mom called him out, Dad didn’t grow violent and bash Mom’s head against the counter. She wouldn’t have to pretend that Dad said, “I love you” when he came to visit her, instead of “Keep your mouth shut.”
“Not pretending sounds like heaven,” she confessed. Tragedy smiled, and Sophie realized he had been right from the start.
Tragedy wasn’t meant to be kept alone.
When Sophie stepped off the bus the next morning, she hesitated. “You can do this,” Tragedy reminded her. Sophie nodded and walked towards administration. Asking for for Ms. Lupe, she was allowed to quietly ascend the staircase to her office. She then opened the counselor’s door and froze. Ms. Lupe took off her glasses and asked, “Sophie, are you okay?”
For the first time in 365 days, Sophie had the courage to say no.