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The View from Up Here
The four figures huddled around the kitchen table even though it was the dead of night and there would be work and school in the morning. The hollow and detached teenager sat at the kitchen table, facing the Inquisition; pale, stony faces staring back at her, merciless and unblinking.
“How could you?” one finally spoke. It was the mother, wearing a dingy pink bathrobe that had seen better days and matching slippers with soles black from use.
The daughter in front of her looked like a deer in headlights, unsure of whom had asked the question and more importantly, how to respond. She shook her head slightly as though to shake out all the distractions and static of her errant thoughts. Perhaps she thought the question was rhetorical, for she didn’t speak, her lips pressed into a firm, mute line.
“Your mother asked you a question!” the father banged his fist down on the wooden table so hard that the coffee in his cup sloshed over onto the dainty pink tablecloth. No one seemed to notice the rapidly spreading brown stain.
Next to him was another girl, an older copy of the teenager, Katherine, only with darker hair and a face was streaked with makeup, mascara running down the angular planes of her face in rivulets. She let out a hysterical, blood-curdling sob. The teenager sat there with a stony face. Conflicting emotions flitted across her face as though she were trying to feel guilt and compassion for her older sister, but behind the appropriately shame-faced façade lay the triumph of a hard-won victory. The eyes were what gave her away; they were dancing with the bright flame of conquest and silent mirth. While her lips spoke placating, regretful words, her eyes danced with a curiously brilliant light. “I don’t know. I’m sorry,” she said finally, looking at her mother. She didn’t mean the words that spilled out of her lips, only saying them because they were expected. The thought flashed briefly across her mind that this scenario seemed awfully Skull & Bones and the corner of her mouth quirked upwards in a subtle gesture of amusement.
If she had hoped to alleviate her mother’s anger, she was mistaken. “It’s not me you should be apologizing to,” the mother said sharply, her tone as brittle as ice. Her distrust shone through her eyes like a beacon.
The teen looked at her sister. Brown hair in disarray, eyes bloodshot, and snot hung precariously on her upper lip. Katherine had never looked so awful in her entire life and a sadistic, dark pleasure brewed in the teen’s stomach as she took a savage satisfaction in being the one to have caused such distress. Words could not describe the delectable rush of power that surged through her form as she scornfully acknowledged Katherine’s “kicked-puppy” disposition.
The power she felt at that moment felt like a heady brew – her constant quest for meaning, for life’s purpose, had finally come to a screeching halt as she realized with a profound sense of clarity that she’d found her niche in the world. Control. In this moment, she was the one who had it. She wielded a power so great and terrible that she had managed to seduce Katherine’s fiancé, and what made it even sweeter was that she felt no remorse.
Like flicking a switch, whatever compassion lay within her breast had dissipated into nothingness. As Henry Kissinger had once said, power was the ultimate aphrodisiac. Tonight she was practically throbbing with power, incandescent with it, burning from the inside out with a white-hot intensity. Tonight she had stopped caring about the restrictions of morality or decency or conscience, and she felt a thrill race down her spine with the sheer ‘rebel without a cause’ aspect of it.
Almost as though she were protecting Katherine from the teenager’s contaminated gaze, the mother’s arm went protectively around her shoulders like a shield. “How could you?” she demanded fiercely, looking for all the world like a mama bear protecting her cub.
The show of support made the teenager nervous and she dropped her eyes to the blooming stain on the fabric of the tablecloth.
“How could you?” the mother repeated again, this time her voice breaking.
“I’m so ashamed to call you my daughter,” the father spat, taking a deep swill of his now cold coffee.
No one met the teenager’s probing gaze. All she wanted was for someone to look her in the eye instead of fixing their gaze on the space between her eye brows, that neutral space where it looked like you were making eye contact but really weren’t.
“She’s always been jealous of me,” Katherine finally spoke, wiping at her tears viciously with the back of her hand. Her eyes glared daggers at her younger sister, the sort of look that two women exchanged when no knives were present. “She’s happy I’m alone,” she continued in a pathetic little-girl voice. “She’s glad he’s gone. She wants to take everything from me.”
The mother placed her hand on top of Katherine’s and gave it a squeeze of support. “You’re not alone,” she said firmly. “You have us.” The way she said it made it sound as though their love only applied to their wronged eldest daughter and to their youngest no longer.
“You…I can’t believe this of you,” the mother said, finally making eye contact and then quickly darting her eyes away, blinking back the burning tears that threatened to spill. “They were going to get married,” she spoke accusingly.
There was a moment of uncertainly as guilt made itself known to her, unfurling in her heart like a traitorous beast. The teenager mentally shook herself, trying to snap out of it. Guilt was an emotion specific to only those who cared, she reminded herself firmly, and she most certainly did not care a jot. But something had to be said to appease the Inquisition…Finally the teenager spoke, her clasped hands in her lap in a show of penance. “I’m sorry,” she said again, this time louder, as though this admission of her sin would rectify the pain she’d caused the family. “But…” her eyes glanced quickly towards her father, “Isn’t it better to know now?”
Katherine’s mouth flew open in shock but she quickly remedied the unsightly expression with another pitiful whimper. “What are you going on about?”
The father’s gaze traveled to his youngest child, weighing her words carefully. The mother looked devastated and haggard, as though she’d aged ten years overnight.
“At least now you know that he was a faithless man,” the teenager said hesitantly, as though unsure whether or not now was the right time to speak.
“He matches my faithless, disloyal sister,” Katherine said in a low voice laced with bitterness.
The teenager sat there silently, letting the angry tirade continue. Every once in a while the father would stop staring morosely into his coffee cup long enough to snort in derision. The mother varied between soft sobs and staring at her younger child with a curious sort of detachment, as though wondering how on earth she was still possibly there.
Guilt hadn’t yet set in, if in fact it planned on showing its face at all. The younger girl sat there, facing her family, knowing that for her error in judgment she had lost not only their good opinion but also their trust. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to feel particularly sorry. She held herself apart from the family, a detached shell who kept murmuring “I’m sorry” whenever an interval that called for it arose.
Self-loathing swam in her stomach as she realized she was lying to herself and to them by complying with the charade of contriteness – yet for her to be honest about her transgression would mean they would think her a far more disgusting psychopath than she had already proved to be. So she sat there, waiting for the time when finally the family would rise from the table in disgust and disperse to their separate bedrooms, knowing that only when she was finally alone would she allow that one single tear to drop.
She needed them to hate her so she wouldn’t feel so disgusted with herself. Her entire family hated her and with good reason, she had to admit; it was hard summoning even an ounce of self-pity for herself when she knew she did not deserve that luxury. Katherine hated her. And maybe because of that lack of indifference could the teenager hope to one day be within grasp of forgiveness.