I’m never unsettled by anything. Expect if you count the dentist’s office, and the dentist himself whom I treat with an air as tense as an encounter with a dangerous wild boar.
However not withstanding this, when I was seven, I was coined the nickname ‘the Fearless Frances’ by a passing childhood friend and it was was since used in the years by the lingering friends and family alike. You see, it only took instances that ate up a minute of a day to earn the name. Um…for instance, when a huge hellish spider sunbathed on my screaming brother’s knee, It was I who took it off by dangling it from its leg with the bravado of a warrior.
There’s another bigger instance, one of many, I must say, that ate up up more than a minute of a day to earn the name.
When the water in our apartment on one fine day, unceremoniously stopped, my grandma grew very upset but I was as calm as my old neighbour Mr Darlington’s coffined corpse.
Why? you might ask. It was because I knew that if I approached the landlady and gave her my two cents worth, served up with a lot of spice which I did much to the horror of my grandma, she’d have to fix the whole water issue. After all, everything amounts down to the landlady’s need for a good stack of money and the tenant’s need for a good little house, and needs like these don’t vanish at the lack of courtesy, so why bother with it?
I was fifteen then, a measly little high schooler and grandma was shaking her head at my ‘unthinkable audacity’.
I stuck my tongue out at her once the water came back, much sooner than expected.
I always know the answer or at least build a way towards it. That’s where my confidence stems from, that’s how I know that by putting myself out there, I wouldn’t be making a terrible mess out of the problem but instead, be a mighty step closer to the solution. Of coarse, a blunder here and there has mushroomed across my experiences but they’re never alarming enough to shake up the base of this practice, which I guess is my lovely little heart.
Nineteen, short, brown eyed, brown haired and freckles in a number that outshines the stars. That’s me in your mind’s eye. On the inside is the aimless dreamer, the creative, the organised mess, the straight A student (give or take the occasional B) and of coarse, the fearless Frances, haha.
In spite of never listening to classes, talking back to teachers and talking too much in the general sense, I did exceptionally well at school. I was always good with numbers, I would say even brilliant but that would be tooting my own horn, which I just did (un)intentionally.
Anyway, I went hand in hand with numbers and the rest just strung along like a procession of special bonuses. After finishing school, I realised looking at art and studying them fulfilled the analytical part of my mind as well as the creative, often secretive one. And it appealed to me as much as a very aromatic and exotic looking dish would, so I thought and built the way, checked the outcomes, made the perfect decision and here I am, a happy first year student at our communal university of arts.
I never let anything slip out of my hands, nor do I let myself to let go. I guess I’m a perfectionist in some twisted little way. But nonetheless I had had it together all my life that is, until now.
Now, It’s like I’m living under an exclusive dark age that had been created and reserved just for me. And just can’t escape it.
You know, sometimes you sleep inside a good deep dream but then you suddenly wake and find yourself severing the light from the dark, crashing into a hazy disheartening mudslide from fantasy to reality. Well, that’s exactly how I feel now and it’s extremely unsettling for someone who isn’t unsettled a lot.
The morning sun glides across my reflection in the mirror which is essentially me dressed in a sweater and jeans. I stand scanning myself, like a drooping statue- face front in an awkward stance- when all of a sudden, I notice my shaking hands. A surge of unease spreads across my stomach. My hands shake only when I’m hungry which I’m not because only a few moments ago, I’d kept stuffing toast into my mouth until my throat throbbed and ached, and felt like someone out of those thrillers I watch had tried to slit it open or something.
I clench my fingers and I unclench them until they’re straight as an arrow. Back away from the mirror and settle onto my bed.
I decide (for the umpteenth time) that my patience would run thin if delve into my emotions.
The thing about my emotions is that they’re always sure to unearth another set of emotions and another and another until they become a mountain of emotions which when crested would explode into a dangerous emotional outburst. And I don’t want a dangerous emotional outburst right now, so I clog my mind with mantras and instructions to resist and stay in the ideal mood imagined for the ideal day envisioned.
I hear the sudden click of my doorknob being turned and it abruptly breaks me out of my reverie, making me shudder like a startled dumpster cat. Except I have nowhere to run in my arms length vicinity of my bedroom’s four walls. So I guess I have less choices than a startled dumpster cat.
My teenaged little brother walks in and in the gun-shot minute it took for him to walk in, I had promptly stood up with my back straight, crumpled my trembling hands out of view and proof checked my face, all done in in the background track of my racing heart. But soon enough an inexplicable pull of anger traps me in.
“Can’t you knock before coming in?”, I snap, with a fair share of asperity capable enough to twist the most brightest of faces.
My brother recoils and looks at me in hurt and disbelief and maybe I feel a twinge of regret, but then what I truly feel is that it served him right.
Because he’d come to my apartment with our grandma to visit me and in my place at least he should be able to learn good manners.
I wince inwardly at that scornful voice in my head; at its rare cameo.
“Just relax, will you?”, my brother says. “Grandma wanted you to pack some granola bars but ordered me to deliver them to you instead because you’re all holed up in your room and won’t come out.”
I roll my eyes and grab the bars from him. “Now shoo.”
He didn’t slam the door but he looked frustrated enough to do it. No, frustrated is not the word, it was more like this one- ‘I couldn’t understand what in the world was wrong with you when you when you acted out like that.’- though I don’t think letters could curve into a word so expressive as that. So expressive as that look on his face.
I sigh. “You know what? I didn’t either.”, I say out aloud and my heart hurts.
I stand for a while there, letting the slow incessant ticking of the clock seep into my skin until it reaches my head and tells me that it’s time to go. I pack the bars into my sling bag and rope it around my shoulders. Glance at the mirror for one last time, willing myself to turn back into my normal self again, If there ever was one.
He didn’t slam the door. He didn’t because then I’d just chide him again, he didn’t because of me and that is what matters.
Or does it?
I slam the door on the way out.
My potted daisies are on the cliff-edge of blooming; the little cream buds looking like an upended version of a white evening gown. I smile and make a beeline towards my small warm kitchen. Peer in like an owl and say, ‘My kindergarten days are well past me, grandma so you better not baby me, what with packing all those granola bars and all.”
Grandma turns her pitch white head toward me, her face bright.
“Oh there you are. Well, one’s never too old for a snack. And I made those bars myself.”, she says.
I touch my stomach mockingly. “And one’s never too old to pig out either and one will not restrain it.”, I say and file out of the hallway before she could reply but I hear her chuckling.
“And so I think kindergarteners are wiser!”, I shout, before slipping out of my apartment.
I keep stroking the flaky handrail as I walk down the staircase. Dust motes, looking like glitter in the scanty light, shower down on me as if I’m I’m stuck in some inverse fairy tale, complete with morbid princesses and demon dwarves.
The handrail ends and I realise with a jolt that I’ve ‘reached’ the ground floor even though I live only a floor apart from it. But hey, walking, as little it might be, adds up to a journey, right? God, I’ve never felt so abstracted before.
Old Mr. Darlington’s locked apartment stares foremost at my face. I walk past it and filter through the hall toward the main door.
Ever since his actual journey to the gates of heaven, his place held an aura of lone and bleakness as if it were an entirely separate being on an eternal lease. It’s funny how death is still capable of roiling the air around it even long after it’s gone. Some people may be afraid of it but no, not me.
I, the fearless frances perfectly understand that death is an inevitable part of the life cycle and simply consider it to be a long spell of a good comfy sleep with no interruptions, well except for maybe reincarnation.
I stand like a drooping statue near the lamppost – an uncommon pose for me when I’m waiting for the city bus. And fumble with my sling bag- also an uncommon action for me in any circumstances.
My deepest fear, for a long time has been doubting, but not doubting people because that is immensely essential to survive.
Or does it.
My deepest fear is doubting myself, doubting myself big time.
Because how can I doubt myself sternly if I hadn’t made stern decisions with surety? If hadn’t, if I had lacked surety of the answer or messed up a problem, then it kills a large part of my sound character. And this death scares me.
The bus zooms in, jolting me back again from my wretched abstractedness. Fresh spring winds adorn the city, ruffling my hair as I get in.
I see Susan standing outside our lecture hall, clutching a sleek but outsize roll of chart sheet. Voices and noise string the narrow hallway. She waves at me, motioning me to come over.
Her eyes shine. “Frances, you won’t believe it but I actually stayed up till three. Till three! All to complete this handwritten factual presentation of the renaissance!
“Woah. It seems like you’ve loaded in the entire era there. Da Vinci would’ve been proud.”
“Ha! Yeah, you know I need the full credit real bad. So this is what they get since I could never attempt the questions and I’m not planning to do so either!”
“Way to go, Susan.”
It’s a big day. The day where everyone turns in their assignments based on external works or get extra questions for evaluation. The lucky chances to create a saving grace for our scores.
Well, I could care less.
“Hey ladies.” Matt slips his bag down and leans back against hallway wall beside us.
I reach out and pull at his hair, a gestures he dislikes to an extent where I’m strongly fuelled to do it.
He glares at me.
“Okay, cut it out guys.”, says Susan. “Now, Frances you still didn’t tell me about your work.”
I shrug and then scrunch up my face in mock indifference.
And all at once I feel queasy. Very queasy.
I remember the time when all three of us met for the first time, within this very corridor, wedged between little kaleidoscope of students but never aware that we were a part of one too.
His hesitant introduction, her stiff answers, our favourite art pieces, their grateful laughs at my jokes.
The seeds of friendship as vital as the first sketch for a magnificent painting. All sown inside the precious walls of this college.
Susan is shaking her head now, turning to Matt. “How about you? Did you do anything?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t talk or think properly unless you give me the power source, which I had regrettably forgotten about this morning.”, says Matt.
Susan rolls her eyes.
“Here, I’ve got food.”, I fish out grandma’s bars from my sling bag and toss them to him.
He begins gobbling them up like a fidgety little kindergartener. I give him a little nudge, my eyebrows cocking up expectantly.
“Oh yeah, thanks.”
I feel like I’m puking myself out until I’m painfully numb and empty inside. Puking myself out until I’ve lost all my confidence to a dark damp shell of nothingness.
Or does it?
What happens when all of the blinding beauty fades away and the truth, as clear as day, the way it’s been all along decides to all of a sudden confront you in the face?
Because I was terribly wrong.
And I realised it. All at the cost of my belief, my faith in myself, the remaining facade of ‘perfect thing’, the remaining facade of hope and remaining close with the bonds I’d created.
Now all there’s left to do is to set things right and lose it all.
I swallow hard and take a deep breath.
“Guys I’ve got to see the principal now.”
“Why?”, Susan asks.
“Something about my credit.”, I mumble and turn, walking away before they could say anything, hard on my heels. I round the hallway around the corner and take one last look at the life I’d built here, swirling with fresh earnest and blind belief. Push back a stray hair strand behind my ears.
“Time for my own hellish credit.”, I say out aloud and my heart hearts for the second time.
It took quite a while for me to question myself and when I finally did, it unsettled me. It was as if I was awaiting an inevitable earthquake that would split and crack my ground like breaking glass. To be honest, it unsettled me more than the dentist’s office did, ha!
But now that the said quake has come, I feel nothing but relief. Relief at having reached the door to the principal’s office. Relief at having swayed to the side whispering that I’d been wrong.
I go inside.
The first thing I see is the glass painting fastened to the wall above the Miss. Kelsing’s chair. The brightly rich colours sprawled across the clear glass obscure the pure form of it. Just like it’d obscured reality from me.
I fetch out a letter from my bag and slip it into her hands. I couldn’t possibly play at being a dreamer if I had already woken up, could I?
“I quit.”, I say and my voice is calm and steady, like the fearless Frances’s would’ve been.
I stroll down the sidewalk to my apartment and somehow ironically I feel hungry. I can now try a hand at studying the coarse of my heart, math. The tiny figures of numbers and combinations as orderly and real as me. A design like no other, so you see I can be creative with anything.
The pain of quitting still tears at me like a fresh ghost.
I hadn’t thought of what I’ll say to Susan and Matt. The look on their face when I finally tell them the news is unimaginable because I’d let them down by letting go of the thing they loved and thought I loved. And the thought of our friendship’s fate after I leave gnaws at me, terribly.
I am too ashamed to admit to anyone that I’d actually been wrong at one of the most important junctures in my life. So I think I have to cook up some other excuse for my quitting.
Or does it?
Maybe I could just tell the truth.
I obviously have to be more cautious now. I can’t afford to make many more mistakes. But on the other hand I don’t believe that I can ever steer clear of them either. So when I don’t, I’ll have to take my fear and hurl it away just like I did with that spider. After all, doubting myself and admitting that I’d messed up gives about the same relief as having escaped a potentially poisonous six-legged creature.
I walk into my apartment. Dump my bag into a chair and turn towards the hall. My brother is sitting there, a coffee mug in his hand. “Home already?”, he asks with an uncertain smile.
“Yep, where’s grandma?”
“Outside, at the grocery’s. Look, what happened? Why are you home so early?”
“I’ll explain everything when grandma gets back. And I’m sorry.” I say.
He stares at me, surprised.
I am now ready to go inside my room and plunge deep into my emotions, letting them flow inside me with their hurtful pricks and tearful joys. I am now ready to feel it all. But first, as Matt would say, I require the power source.
A flutter of white catches my eye as I make my way toward the kitchen. I notice that a single daisy bud out of my plant had unfurled into a little blossom. I stoop down and pluck it up in my hands, the small white buds around its place rippling softly at my touch.