WHO: Antigone WHEN: Spread across the last year WHERE: Virginia, New York WHAT: Antigone is very, very tired WARNINGS Death, alcohol, mentions of violence, gun violence, hastily drunk coffee
Antigone warmed her hands around the first coffee of the morning. It was still dark (the coffee, as dark as the morning) and bread was rising optimistically in the oven. The smell of it filled the tiny flat, which belonged to a mall called Richard.
He was an old man, with cold feet. Lately, he was asleep a lot.
Last night, after she had bathed him and he was lying in the only bed, he'd said to her "Did you ever have an idea of what your life was, but it turned out you were completely wrong?" He'd been a soldier and a plumber all his life, finished any kind of formal education in 1935 at the age of thirteen, yet sometimes he would take her by surprise, look straight at her, and ask her something intended to make her question her entire existence.
"Yes," she Antigone, who knew exactly what he meant. She stood, tucking the blankets loosely under the old foam mattress. "Go to sleep, you'll feel better in the morning." The morning was a bad time for deep thinking. "I'm going to make bread."
He snorted a bit. "Don't forget the salt," he said, and was still muttering about the state of young women today, that so many of them didn't know how to bake.
He was probably teasing, but Antigone couldn't tell. Anything more subtle than a brick through a window went straight over her head.
She'd met Richard six months ago at his grandson's funeral. The grandson was also called Richard, and had gotten himself killed by driving into the side of a mall while out of his mind on speed. Antigone had been there to see him buried. Paid for it herself rather than let the morgue cremate him. Richard the elder had come to see him buried as well, for different reasons. "Evil fucker," he'd told Antigone, assuming that she was his girlfriend. "Put more ladies in hospital than I can count. I'm sorry if he ever laid his hand on you."
Antigone had smiled awkwardly. She was extremely uncomfortable with lying, but it served her interests to have Richard (the elder) believe that Richard (the younger) was connected to her in some way, and that she hadn't heard of his death because she'd been stalking every member of his family since before Richard (the elder) was born.
After the funeral ("odd sort of funeral, Ann, but we all say goodbye in strange ways,") Antigone had stayed with Richard (the living) because she guessed he was nearing the end of his life, and had no family he knew of left. She also stayed because she had nowhere else to be, but that was a fairly common state of affairs for Antigone. She moved into the flat that Richard (the deceased) used to live in, spent a frantic fortnight scrubbing it clean, then eight months later when Richard (the remaining) started to go through kidney failure, she'd sold the flat and moved in to sleep on his couch and take care of him. Richard tried to take care of her too, blaming his abusive grandson for her odd subdued manner.
Antigone told Richard a number of times that he was actually her little brother, but only when he was asleep. She couldn't bring herself to tell him to his face. She'd done that once, told the truth of herself to a lover, and it had ended extremely badly. Antigone still had nightmares, and they weighed down her tongue, keeping her from telling him the truth. It pulled at her every day, though. He should know that his sister was taking care of them. That he had family who loved him. That his mother was still alive and floating about the country. It hurt her every day that she did not tell him, but she didn't want to fill his last days with confusion or fear.
Last night - the night that he'd asked her if she ever thought her idea of her life was wrong, the first night she'd really seen him begin to agonize about his own life - he'd started the final leg of the messy journey of dying. Antigone had watched many people die over her long life and could tell when someone was beginning to let go. There was, in his eyes, acceptance and denial both fighting for superiority, but acceptance was beginning to grow stronger.
He didn't really wake up, that morning. Antigone did a lot of laundry around him, disinfected a lot of buckets and bowls. In the afternoon, his nurse came around and told Antigone nothing she didn't already know.
Also - she'd forgotten the salt in the bread dough after all, and it tasted atrocious.
He took seven and a half weeks after that night to die. Seven and a half miserable weeks. The last fortnight was spent in the hospital, where Antigone couldn't stay. Instead she stayed at home, speaking to nobody, drinking heavily and passing out. Other nights she got so angry, throwing plates against the walls, screaming curses at anyone she could think to blame; at her mother for bringing Richard into this world then abandoning him; at Ismene for forcing her to choose between her sister and her own integrity; at her father/brother for passing on the curse of living; at the whole world for being so unrelentingly harsh.
Then she'd spend the morning cleaning up her mess, and the whole day at the hospital, holding his hand.
Did you ever have an idea of what your life was, but it turned out you were completely wrong?
Antigone knew exactly what her life was: fixing what her family had broken, with interludes of trying to fix up the whole world. There were times she wanted more, so much more than what her life had turned into, but the gap between her real life and that ideal was a chasm, and it grew wider every year.
He died without asking her any more questions. He died old, and ashamed at his age. He died reluctantly, and with relief.
Antigone tore at her cheeks and wailed, and someone at the hospital snuck her a vicodin.
She saw his body prepared for burial, finding an independent funeral home that would let her assist. Antigone had a list of such funeral homes, all across the country. Antigone had lists for most of the things she needed in life. Funeral homes were near the top. Her mother had a lot of mortal children.
She saw it done, saw the oldest of her little siblings buried, and slept in her car that night rather than return to his flat. But when morning came she found herself back there, cleaning, organizing, sorting what was going to charity (most of it) and what she would take (his photographs and his slippers) and what should be thrown out (everything in the fridge except the wine). This felt almost as important as the burial; she couldn't leave knowing that one of her family was a burden to somebody else. The flat would be clean and empty and ready to make its next owner feel claustrophobic and lonely, and only then would she leave.
Then, once again, Antigone found herself with nowhere else to go and no-one else who needed her, so she turned her car North East, and began the long drive back to her mother.
Her mother no longer lived at her last known address, which was not a good sign. Antigone sat in her car parked outside Jocasta's old apartment building, flicking through pages of information to find the details of Jocasta's last known husband. She looked him up, but he was living in Idaho now, his facebook status listed as single.
"Crap," she said, the first word she'd spoken out loud for a couple of days. 'Single' was one of the worst words to hear in relation to her mother.
Hoping that Jocasta's phone number was still the same one she had from almost three years ago, Antigone rang. She hoped Jocasta was still in New York. Antigone wasn’t very good at being on her own – oh, she was independent, and stubborn and proud and she forced herself to manage, but sometimes it was just too difficult, and Antigone wanted someone who needed her.
Her hope came to nothing; the phone number no longer worked. The people in Jocasta’s apartment had no forwarding address. Antigone could find no trace of her mother online. She spent long hours on coffee shop wifi on her phone trying everything she could think of, but the phone offered her no leads, and her battery was wearing thin – her charging cord somewhere deep in the bags in her car. The feeling that Jocasta had married and moved on again settled heavily over her, Antigone wore it like a weighted blanket, pressing her body relentlessly toward the earth.
As evening fell, Antigone’s thumb hovered over Ismene’s number.
She thought about turning up at her sister’s place. Ismene holding open the door, Antigone on her front step. Ismene asking are you ready to apologise and Antigone answering I have nothing to apologise for.
Ismene may still give her a place to stay for a while, but their fight would hang over them both, like a stormcloud, threatening to rip open the sky.
Antigone missed her sister, but she didn’t know how much more sky-ripping she could handle right now.
At least she knew she wouldn’t be unwelcome with Oedipus, if he hadn’t left the city too. The streetlight above her flickered on as she started to drive toward his shop, or at least, the one she’d known last time she was here.
It, too, was gone. Parked outside what was now a laundromat, Antigone closed her eyes, teeth clenched as tight as her fists, and breathed in one solid breath that totally failed at fortifying her. She reached for her phone to call him instead, and found that the battery had totally died.
Antigone punched her fist into the middle of the steering wheel and screamed along with the horn, till people started to look at her with the aura of people who were about to call the police. She swore viciously at them out her window, then drove off someplace she could have a tantrum in peace.
But gods, how depressing was it, throwing a tantrum alone in your car? Antigone felt sick of herself when she was finished, her arms wrapped around the steering wheel like it was her only friend. She was grateful, now, that she hadn’t gone to Ismene’s. Messing up Ismene’s perfect life with her mess of a self.
What she felt like doing more than anything was crawling back to Richard’s house and falling asleep on his couch. Her heart ached. No, it screamed. She wanted to pull out all her hair and she couldn’t tell if it was for a tired old man who’d lived a long life without her or if it was for something else entirely.
Antigone got out of her car and started walking. The night air welcomed her as it welcomed every other soul walking the streets around her, most of them in loud groups, all made of linked arms and bare legs. She followed one such cluster of limbs into the loudest nightclub, mimed what she wanted at the bartender and took what was given. She could feel the music in her bones. And the grief. They sang a rhapsody in her blood.
She danced long, and hard; drank long and hard too – the night passed that way, and after a time of dancing harder than she was drinking, she started becoming aware that she was not just dancing as part of the crowd, but dancing with one man in particular. He was bigger than her, and his arm around her waist felt like an anchor. When he shouted something in her ear, she couldn’t hear it, but it seemed like a question, and she didn’t say no; the arm was the only solid thing that existed tonight, maybe.
He pulled her out onto a wide flat roof, maybe it was still part of the club, maybe they were somewhere else entirely. He asked her something again – she could see his mouth moving, and when she didn’t answer, he lifted her chin in his hand to make her look at him. “Want some water?”
“Ppppffft,” said Antigone. He laughed, and then they were someplace else. There was a seat there, two glasses and a jug of water and a strong black coffee Antigone didn’t remember ordering but must’ve, it was exactly how she liked it.
“Rough night?” he asked. Antigone pressed the cold glass against her hot face and looked at him for a long moment. He had a thick, short beard, and blue eyes.
“My brother died,” she said, and downed all the coffee in one. It was far, far too hot. “Fuck.”
“Ah, shit,” he said, and his face was falling, because of course his face was falling, because somedays Antigone felt like the thing she was best at was wiping smiles of people’s faces. Then he said, “Let me get you another one,” and went away, and she rested her head against the table (it was an outdoor table, metal and cool) and shut her eyes.
If she had anyone else to be looking out for, she wouldn’t be like this. But Richard was dead and Ismene was angry and Jocasta was missing and Oedipus was, for now, out of reach. If Eteocles and Polyneices were around, then fate was keeping their paths well separated, and it had been even longer, long and long, since her path had crossed with Haemon.
She just wanted to stay drunk for at least the rest of the night, but her tongue was burned from coffee, and, against all odds, the blue eyed beard was back with more. The cup clinked gently down onto the table near her head and after a moment, Antigone raised her head again.
“You’re being nice,” she said, accusingly. “What do you want?”
“Nothing,” he said, and she glared at him till he carried on. “I was dancing with a pretty girl, she looked wasted, I offered water and she demanded coffee and stormed off this way, and here we are.”
I demanded the coffee, thought Antigone. I stormed this way? “I’m not a pretty girl,” she snarled at him. “Do you know how old I am?”
He clicked his tongue. “That feels like a loaded question,” he said, and sat back in his chair, sipping his own drink. “No I don’t, I don’t know your name, even. All I know is you wanted coffee and led us here. This is a sketchy neighbourhood, I didn’t want to let you stumble through it alone.”
“I’d be fine,” Antigone said, but she softened, a little. She had recognised where they were – she didn’t know it well, but she had been here before. They were sitting in the back garden of an all night coffee shop, though it was less of a ‘garden’ and more of a paved area around a gas heater (currently cold and dark) with fairy lights and fake flowers twisted up the drainpipes of the buildings that hemmed them in. He was right, too; this was a sketchy neighbourhood to be in after dark – last time Antigone had lived around here there’d be a gang of Stymphalian birds making the place their own, and at least two men had died.
Coffee was alright, though. “My name’s Antigone,” she said.
He looked like he was about to tease her name, or at least mention that it was an odd one, but maybe he decided that she would have heard it all before, or maybe he thought she’d snap at him again (both were true). Either way, he didn’t. “Mine’s Maxwell,” he said. “I’m from Atlantic City, but I’ve been here four years now. I go to Tisch, finishing my Bachelor of IMA in the fall – Interactive Media Arts,” he clarified, at the slight questioning raise of her eyebrow. “What do you do?”
“I bury my family and write angry things on the internet,” Antigone said flatly. She’d taken a hiatus from True Dignity when Richard really started to die, she should, some point soon, email her boss and start writing again. Her statement stumped him, for a moment, leaving the silence awkward and cold. Antigone shook her hand toward him, trying to wave her words away. “Tell me about IMA,” she conceded, lifting her second coffee in her hands and taking a less painful sip this time.
Maxwell started talking again, a little hesitantly at first, but he was clearly in love with his study, and there was something restful about the background noise of someone else enjoying their own life. As she finished her coffee and moved onto the bowl of fries that had appeared, the background noise of him moved more toward the fore; some of the things he was saying were interesting, and Antigone hadn’t thought she’d had it in her, tonight, to be interested in anything.
They’d almost finished the fries when the door that led through to the cafe was flung open, followed by a woman. “Everyone stay calm but get on the ground; we’re being robbed.”
A wave of sound rushed over the others in the garden; swearing, mostly, shock and fear and the scraping of chairs as people hurried to make themselves smaller. Maxwell had his hand wrapped around her elbow as they ducked down under the table, the woman who’d warned them was under a table nearby; Antigone met eyes with her. She was an immortal too.
Shouting was pouring out of the cafe, angry men’s voices, and then a smashing of glass. Maxwell’s hand tightened, and Antigone’s breath caught, and from the other side of them came a rattling of metal as someone else from the garden kicked wider a hole in the chainlink fence blocking off a back alley. He made the hole wide enough to struggle through, and he and his mates went with him.
“Come on,” Maxwell said, standing up, and the other immortal said “No” but his eyes were on the alley, then Antigone. “Before they noti-”
He was flung backward before Antigone even heard the gun fire, though the sound ripped at her ears before he’d hit the ground.
The shouting from inside got more intense, and then everyone was screaming, and Maxwell was the eye of the storm bleeding out on the bricks. Antigone pulled herself toward him, and he grabbed out for her blindly, twisting his fist into her jacket. The other immortal, too, crawled over. “My phone’s dead,” Antigone hissed at her. “Can you-”
Maxwell arched his back with a tremendous groan of pain, and Antigone’s hand went to his face, the other hand pressed against the wound; the bullet had gone in through his collarbone. “It’s okay,” whispered Antigone, the lies you swore to the dying were true. “It’s okay, be still, be still.”
The sounds he was making said that okay was far out of his reach, but he was heading quickly and messily toward stillness. He was sobbing; Antigone was too, and the other immortal was pulling off her shirt to fold and press firmly against the wound.
He died before the ambulance arrived, and Antigone could feel nothing but anger. “Why?!” her voice was ragged, and gutteral, and low. “Why, why? Richard was ninety seven – but he’s only a baby. Are you happy? Are you pleased with yourself?” She was shouting at the sky, but which god she was aiming her words at, even she didn’t know. Anyone who was around, anyone who’d listen. Sometimes all you could do about the world was shout at it, even if that scream ripped her voice from her throat for the rest of the night.
In the awfulness that followed she could only whisper her statement to the police, but the other immortal spoke clearly, so she didn’t need to say much. There wasn’t much to say.
“Come on,” said the woman who'd told the police her name was Romeo. Antigone was past trying to work out what that meant about who she really was. “Let me get you home. Where do you live?”
“I have a car,” Antigone muttered.
“You are not driving tonight,” Romeo stated, adding, softly: “I know how that ends.”
“No,” agreed Antigone. “Got a bed in the back.”
There was a pause – Antigone didn’t look up to try and read what kind of pause it was – then Romeo said, “My place is close, and I have a spare room. You can shower. You need a shower.”
“Yes,” agreed Antigone again. She’d washed Maxwell’s blood from her hands in the tiny sink of the bathroom, but her clothes were covered in it, and sweat from her night besides.
“Come on,” Romeo said, reaching her long, bare arm out toward Antigone. She was just in a singlet now, a black one, tucked into her jeans. “Take my hand,” she added, since Antigone was just staring, and Antigone lifted her own and took what was offered. It was only once they started walking, weaving their way through the footpaths still full of people, that Antigone realised that she couldn’t remember the last time she held someone’s hand, deathbeds aside. How long had it been since someone’s fingers interlaced with hers this way?
Romeo’s apartment was not very far, after all, and high up above the street. Her front door opened to a short hallway, that opened left to a wide living space that reminded Antigone of a sea during a storm. There was a lot of grey, but it was more peaceful than it was threatening. A sea during a storm viewed from a warm, safe window, perhaps. “Here’s the empty room,” Romeo said, swinging a door off the lounge open. “There’s a little bathroom through there, if you get the water started I’ll find you a towel. And something to change into,” she added, looking at Antigone’s bloody visage. Antigone smiled thinly in thanks, worn out.
And although Romeo had said “I’ll be through here, if you want the company. I won’t be going to sleep soon,” Antigone fell into the bed almost as soon as she’d got out of the shower. She slept with the light on, and didn’t dream of anything.