tw: internalized/intra-system racism, gaslighting, implied past CSA, child abandonment, childhood trauma, emotional abuse, anti-albino bigotry (referenced/kind of iffy descriptions)
I’m not really sure where to start with envisioning an ‘exit’ out of the Medium, but Jaylie isn’t giving me any more guidance. She’s occupied with her own business. So I’m left to my own devices, and I close my eyes, my headache already coming back.
I don’t think I like it here, much. I don’t know. Maybe if it was my own head I was in, I’d be more comforted. But I just want to be—
I don’t have a home. I have a crappy apartment, and I have a sister who’s conspicuously ignoring me, and…
Unbidden, a face comes to mind, and I’m actually relieved it isn’t Kiera. I know I’ve had weird dreams about her. No, it’s Will—stupid, blonde dumbass that she is. She’s been ignoring me, too, except, well, it’s not like I’ve been reaching out, either. I should fix that. And even that thought makes me laugh, because I’ve ghosted so many people in my life just not thinking about it, or not bothering to reach out, and maybe this time I should actually do something about it.
She doesn’t have a home, either. Even if I didn’t know what had happened to her family, I’ve seen where her sister lives—on a battered mattress in an abandoned school. I don’t know why that helps so much. It probably shouldn’t.
I also can’t say why, when I open my eyes, I’m standing in the Civic Hospital waiting room.
I forget to breathe, for a moment. But after a moment, it makes sense. I keep ending up here, don’t I? This isn’t just a waiting room. It seems to be my brain’s resting state, the place where I go where I don’t know where to go. That only makes sense when I’m dreaming, but the Medium is practically one long dream.
I suppose that’ll work for an exit, huh?
I take one cautious step, then another, towards the sliding doors that open into the vestibule. I don’t know what I’m doing—just that I’m following Jaylie’s instructions, best I can.
Then I stop as the doors slide open on their automatic motion sensors, the dirty glass letting the two kids on the other side into view.
“Oh,” I exhale.
She looks up at me, the tiny girl with the dark red, unbrushed hair and the black raincoat, and the year-old baby in her arms.
“Who’re you?” She isn’t as young as three, this version of me—she’s maybe seven or eight, which means she’s holding Johara a lot more comfortably than I was at the time.
“Uh. I don’t really know how to—”
“You’re me. Right.”
Well, that saves me the trouble. What do I do here? “Is this gonna be some sort of deep conversation about my inner child? Because I appreciate the idea, but I don’t have a particularly high tolerance for those.”
“You don’t have an inner child,” she scoffs. “I’m not a kid. I’m just short.”
“…Uh huh. You gonna let me out?”
“I’m not exactly stopping you.”
She’s right, actually. It’s not like she’s standing in my way. I can just walk past her, out through the parking lot—
I can’t do it.
I lean against the inside doors, keeping them open. In real life, they’d be beeping at me by now, but the waiting room is completely empty and the doors are keeping their traps shut. Probably so they don’t ruin the dramatic tension. “…How long have you been here?”
“How old are you?”
“Ah, so that’s how we’re playing this.”
She just glares at me.
“I don’t do psychic woowoo hippie shit, okay? It’s an absolute miracle that I’ve put up with the Sulfur crap, and that’s for lack of choice.” I sit down with my back keeping the doors open. Right at the threshold. This feels oddly appropriate, actually. “Besides, there’s somebody reading your mind, and then there’s…” I waggle my hand helplessly at my younger self. “This feels like the kind of thing my therapist would have made me do.”
“He did, actually. We bit him.”
“Well, we threatened to.”
I can’t help but smile a little at that. And this should be easy. This has all already happened. This is just a ghost—a vibration of the past into the present.
Except, it isn’t, because I keep thinking—if I can see and hear and feel the past, I should be able to change it. That should be how it works.
The younger version of me stares at me, then lowers her eyes to the ground. “Sorry,” she whispers. “Sorry.”
“For what? You don’t have anything to be sorry about.”
She doesn’t respond, and it slowly processes that I’m saying that to myself. Funny. It’s pretty much a cliche, ‘be nicer to yourself,’ but it’s true.
“You should go.”
I know. Actually doing it is going to hurt like a bitch. “Are you going to be—” I stop myself. I’m not sure she can answer that for me. I get to my feet, and remind myself that I have things to do, and people to talk to, and close my eyes and pretend I’m not going to cry over this later. Before I go, though… “Listen, I don’t know if you can answer this for me.” It’s the questioner in me. The curiosity driving me even when I’m not sure I want to know.
She looks up at me, eyebrow raising into her unbrushed auburn hair.
I swallow, swallow again. “You know why I can’t remember things. Don’t you?”
“Do I want to know?”
She shakes her head quietly. It hurts, realizing that whatever it is I’m hiding from (I’m not hiding from anything) she’s holding it for me. I wonder if I’ll even remember this later, and to be honest—to be honest, I kind of hope I won’t.
I walk through the second set of double doors, and into the rain.
I’m in somebody else’s dream, now. Jaylie’s, I think. I can see her dress in the downpour, although the rain isn’t touching her; the chiffon is completely dry. As I approach her, the rain falls away, the droplets hanging onto me and the pavement disappearing into a thick fog. I’m starting to think this isn’t just fog—it’s Jaylie’s fog.
She isn’t paying attention to me. Deliberately, I suppose. She’s too busy staring at the girl with us in the fog, sitting on the swing with her pale legs swinging in the fog. She’s white, or at least light-skinned, with white-blonde braids that are thinner and wispier than Jaylie’s, and thin, rigid lips in a face that can’t quite get rid of Jaylie’s echoes.
I stay quiet and try to keep my brain empty. Jaylie just crosses her arms.
“You can’t leave. You can’t.”
“I’ve got things to do! You can’t keep me here forever.”
Jurie gives Jaylie a vicious, blue-eyed glare. I can’t stop focusing on that. How Jurie looks like some Victorian postcard of a white girl, but wrong. Skin as white as snow, hair as pale as corn, eyes as cold as ice, but with Jaylie’s broad nose, Jaylie’s dense braids, even a darkening at her palms where Jaylie’s get lighter. She’s a photo-negative. “It’s not safe.”
“That’s my call—”
“No. It’s. Not.”
Even though this isn’t my fight, I find myself stuck between the desire to step back in fear and spring forward in anger, at the imperious demand in her voice. It’s not enough to think I don’t like her. No, she’s—
(where are you even from)
—somebody I wish I didn’t recognize as much as I do.
“We can be anybody we want out there, Jay-Jay,” Jurie mocks. “And this is who you want to be?”
“I can only do so much with the body. Besides, I like looking like this.”
“And calling all sorts of trouble down on our head?”
I know Jaylie’s a Mercury. But I don’t know exactly what Jurie means, unless—
Christ. I think I’m going to be sick. Jurie’s not talking about the dresses, or the attitude. She’s talking about Jaylie choosing to be Black, when she could choose not to be.
I absolutely, absolutely should not be here. But I’m not sure how to leave. Plus, it’s not like I haven’t had this conversation with myself before. Not this clearly, but it’s—well. I don’t have Jo’s hair, I don’t have Jo’s nose, but it’s almost worse that I’m the dark girl with red hair, wearing the oddness on my sleeve. You could dye it, you could cut it, you could do so much more to fit in, right? What does it say about you when you don’t bother?
“If I let you leave, I know you’re going to keep running your mouth and ruining things for us again.”
“Oh, right, because staying quiet fixes anything—”
“And speaking up helps how? You want to blame racism for being a fucking bitch?” Jurie’s knuckles tighten on the chains of the swing. “Finding literally anything else to justify your issues instead of just shutting up and dealing with it.”
Yeah, I can’t do this. I take a few steps forward—and a six-fingered hand appears on my shoulder.
“You can’t interfere,” says the long-fingered man—Sunvay, I think it is—with a serious expression.
“If you want her to leave with you, you have to let it be.”
“So she’s, what, defeating her demons on her own?”
The corners of his mouth twitch down, and it’s the most emotion I’ve seen from him yet. “Not quite, no.”
I suppose I have to take his guidance, here, especially if I want to leave. That doesn’t make it any easier.
“If you want to leave without her, by the way, you can.” He nods his head over to the place where the fog parts in the distance.
I sigh at him, trying not to be angry. “You don’t want her to leave, either.”
“Let’s just say I’m not sold on the idea.” He quiets down, watching the scene play out with a quiet somberness, his fingers still heavy on my shoulder.
Jurie kicks her legs back and forth on the swing. “I’ll let you leave if you stop blaming everybody and everything else for your own damage.”
Bitch. Bitch. Bitch.
“Why?” Jaylie replies, arms crossed over her chest, but I can see the tremble in her elbows. Jurie is—part of her isn’t the right word, I guess? But Jurie is an echo of something, just like whoever it was I was talking to. No, not in the same way. That comparison opens doors I’m not going to be able to close.
She just shrugs. She reminds me of a china-doll, and I know what everybody I’ve talked to was talking about, now. I kept wondering why nobody told me Jaylie was Black until I saw her – and it’s because Jurie is Black, but not; light-skinned, but Black-featured, sticking out almost the more for it. There’s no real safety in that, no matter what she claims. “Because sometimes it is your fault, Jay-Jay. And isn’t that more comforting? Just fix…” she waves her hand at her double, “this, and it won’t be an issue. But I’m not letting you out there with a chip on your shoulder. It’s too dangerous.”
I want Jaylie to stand up to her, so desperately. I don’t know what I’d do. And Jaylie’s so bold, so snarky, that I really do think this is a dealbreaker. That I’ll be going back to the real world on my own.
But her hands rise to her shoulders, clasping herself in a strange show of vulnerability… “Fine,” she snarls, but her heart isn’t in it.
“You can do better than that. Say sorry, like you mean it.”
Sorry for what? I should step in. I need to step in. Do something—
(they’re following us around the store again, just ignore it)
(you just don’t really belong in the gifted class)
“Sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause all this trouble.” It’s hollow. Of course it is. Just Jurie’s words, repackaged. But it sounds real, or real enough. “I need to do better.”
“There we go. Was that so hard?”
That’s it. I can’t do this. I shrug off Sunvay’s hand, ready to beat the shit out of the little princess, simpering pretentious little—
I forgot how strong Sunvay is. I’m hauled into the air, one hand over my mouth, other arm around my waist, and he’s right, of course he’s right, but I’m so angry that I want to bite him—
But Jurie is gone. The swing is creaking in the quiet air. And in the parting edge of the mists, the same place that Sunvay directed me to, there is now a door—a door that is the same deep, dark blue as the midnight sky, made of old wood panels, and covered in vines.
Jaylie walks towards the door. Sunvay lets go of me—and I follow, because I have to, but at the threshold, I look up at her, trying to figure out what to say.
I don’t know if she hears it, or she just sees the pity in my eyes. Frankly, I’d be angry too—it’s only luck that means I didn’t have to suffer through her watching as I walked through the hospital doors. But she grabs me by the shoulders and throws me through the emptiness behind the door herself.
I fell out of the mist onto a softer-but-bumpier landing than I’d expected. I—
I was not in Chandra’s kitchen. Shoot.
“What the FUCK—”
I found myself tossed onto the—ah, it was a mattress. Not my mattress. Not my—or Chandra’s—ceiling, either.
Then a familiar face appeared above me, cheeks flaring bright red under her shock of blonde hair. “Where the hell did you come from?”
“Oh. Hi, Wi—”
Oh, dear god.
“Will, am I in your bed?” I mumbled, slowly feeling my face heat up.
Maybe it was just seeing me so flustered. But Will suddenly seemed a lot more composed. “You sure are,” she grinned, eyes twinkling. “I’d have tidied up if I knew you were coming—”
I grabbed the closest pillow and whacked her over the head with it. It seemed like a perfectly natural reaction.
Will cackled, then pushed the pillow out of the way. “No, seriously, though, where the fuck did—”
“Medium,” I sighed.
“Speaking of which,” came the third voice in the room, “care to make introductions? Unless you’re busy flirting.”
I hurriedly sat up, avoiding Will’s glance. I wasn’t flirting. I didn’t do flirting. “Uh, Will, this is—” Then I paused, blinking in surprise.
“Jaylie. Jaylie Braithwaite.” She looked different in the real world. Not that different, I supposed. Her eyes weren’t silver, they were brown, and her braids weren’t as neat. But more than anything else, she was wearing—well, the kind of thing I’d wear. Boring and serviceable. Grey sweatpants and a black hoodie—no chiffon, no lace, no Victorian grandness.
“Do you look the way you do to yourself?” she snapped at me. Right. Still a Sulfur.
Will sighed, sitting up and rubbing her eyes. “Uh. Okay. You were in—” Then it processed, and she glared at me. “Jamal!”
“Don’t tell me off! I was getting her out!”
“And you are?”
“Apparently, the most wanted girl in Ottawa,” she quipped.
A knock sounded at Will’s door. ““I knew you were home! Will, talk to me, or I swear I will break this door down!” Oh, I recognized that voice. I wasn’t totally sure who it was, but I definitely knew it.
Will cursed under her breath. “Yeah, uh, you sorta got me at a bad time. Was in the middle of something.”
Jaylie gave me a look, then in my head, echoed, You have strange friends.
“That’s not going to work around me, sweetie,” Will sighed. “Let’s see, uh—”
She went for her window, and I tried not to roll my eyes. Apparently she had a thing about that. She yanked it open – but before she could get any farther than that, Cassandra rose up into view, her unimpressed scowl and crossed arms framed by the old, scarred wood. It was all the freakier for the fact that I didn’t actually know how many floors up we were.
“You and I need to talk.” Then she caught sight of me and Jaylie, and her face slipped into surprise. “…What?”
“Okay, fine,” I sighed. “You’re right. I have weird fucking friends.”