The first thing she did that felt anything like near normal is buy an iguana.
She’d gone back home after...well just after. Home wasn’t her parents, who loved her in a deep, but vague way that was singularly unhelpful. Home came with hallways marked for her fingertips and a snug room with a window that let in the smell of clean cut grass. It had been her womb, this place and she had rejoiced to leave it for the wider world. And now it was her haven, enclosing her once more.
The world of the seeing was too full of meaningful silences.
Her community welcomed her back and made room for her at the table. Familiar voices lapped over her and brought her back to shore.
Still, her room was too quiet at night. Too many thoughts in her head. A pet, she decided. A real decision. Her own decision. Not letting her boat be guided by the vagaries of the tide. Nothing with fur. Not when D’s gesture still lingered under her palms and his kiss at the corner of her lips.
The iguana and her tank made the right amount of noise. Reba names her Gem for no reason except that it seems to suit. Gem requires care and Reba has to focus to give it to her. Keeping the cage warm and struggling through the contradicting opinions on iguana diets woke up her depression clogged brain.
“Can I touch him?”
Teenagers crowd the door of her room, swarming with their excitable hormones and oversized feet. She talked to them as they touch Gem, who will put up with their interest to a point. Once, she would have taken one or two of them under her wing, but her wings were fractured recently. She folded them tight to her and shooed the kids away eventually.
It wasn’t long before she remembered why she’d left in the first place. She got psychic bruises from all the noses sticking into her business. Four months after she arrived, she was leaving again with a giant iguana enclosure in the back of a friend’s pickup truck.
The dark room welcomed her back, even if most her old colleagues avoided her like the plague.
“Jealous,” Miranda declared, her arthritic fingers clacking against their lunch table. “They wish they were famous.”
“Not the way I got there,” Reba was having tuna. The only lunch option she hadn’t wound up sharing with D at one time or another in the airy cafeteria.
“You were in the Tattler, you know,” Miranda went on.
“What did she call me?”
“The Blind Bride of the Dragon.”
It caught her off guard, though it shouldn’t’ve. Because she had indulged, once or twice. Before everything, obviously. But she’d thought about finally settling on someone. Hanging up her coat in his mothball hallway and pouring them both a drink after a long day of work. How a ring would feel sitting on her finger forever.
Once, she’d imagined the lace of a dress and his hands hold hers so strong and sure.
“Hm. Guess I could go on the talk show rounds with that one,” she gave a wry smile and Miranda barked a laugh.
Freddie Lounds called her once. Reba listened in silence to the entire pitch. When it was over, she said:
“I’m sorry for you.”
“Why?” Freddie asked, light and sharp.
Reba hung up. She imagined Freddie laughing it off on the other end. But Reba meant it. She was sorry that anyone in the world made their living lapping up the tears left behind. After that, she didn’t pick up any unknown callers.
Her story would always draw in Freddie’s kind like flies to a corpse, but Reba wasn’t interested in storytelling. She fed Gem bean sprouts and listened to TED talks. She bought a treadmill and some weights, running at night when she couldn’t sleep.
She never got nightmares. Sleep stayed a peaceful retreat, but became far harder to reach.
It was day time that was harder. She kept forgetting. Which was strange, they really hadn’t been together long. Yet, she had come to expect him. When she walked to the bus stop, every car that drove by might be his truck.
“I hate you,” she told his ghost when she thought it might linger near.
And she did. And she didn’t.
She saw a therapist, who kept an office in a strip mall and spoke utterly without pretension or flourish. Dr. Yates breathed like he was underwater. Reba worried about his heart and lungs, but not his intentions.
“You don’t have to hate him,” Yates told her between sips of air.
“Don’t I? He committed atrocities.”
“And the world will remember him for that. You’re probably the only person that remembers him kindly. I don’t think there’s much danger in one single person sparing him a kind feeling now and again.”
“I don’t want to be Will Graham,” she confessed.
He paused, shifted and gasped in another breath.
“We can’t know what would have happened if Francis had lived. I think though, he was far kinder to you than Hannibal was to Mr. Graham. He never intended to drag you into the darkness with him.”
“If I hadn’t tried to run away, he might’ve.”
“But you did. And that’s why you aren’t Will Graham. He never had the sense to leave the house.”
Reba wasn’t sure her own motives were so clear. Of course, she had tried to run. She had been scared. She couldn’t remain with someone who did such terrible things.
Yet, that ice was a fragile place to walk. If D had given her time. If he had approached it differently. If he had not doused them both in flame or used her has a pawn. If he had crept closer and closer, stepping so deftly around her defenses and revealed all only a few months later....
What ifs. Questions in the dark.
Molly wrote her a letter. Reba wasn’t even sure who Molly was until she asked Miranda to read it to her. It was a short thing, half-apologizing for existing before divulging,
We’re kin, you and I. And I wanted to let you know that I’m so very sorry for your loss. If you’re ever in need of a cup of tea at the end of the pines, call.
And Reba did. Gem on her shoulder.
Molly was quiet and strong as an ox. They talked a lot, but rarely about the men who had exited their lives with such bloody force. What was the point? They understood each other and let their chatter stand in defiance of those holes blasted through the walls.
It was Molly that Reba called when she began to date again. It was Reba, who flew out on the anniversary of the Dragon’s march through the Graham household and stood sentinel on their freezing porch through the night with a shotgun hard in her hands. As she stood vigil, she felt the heat of D’s presence on the back of her neck.
“You were filled up with broken mirrors,” she whispered with her breath condensing on her lips. “But we could’ve made a whole vision if you’d given us a chance.”
His lips, phantom soft, brushed the corner of his mouth and then the heat was gone.
Reba made everyone scrambled eggs in the morning and Molly crisped bacon that called the dogs to brisk attention. When she boarded the plane to get back, it was the first time in a year that she felt that she travelled alone.
She cried silently into the world’s smallest napkins and sipped a too dry martini until the plane touched down. Gem scrambled to greet her when she walked back into the still air of the apartment.
“Guess this is the rest of everything,” Reba murmured into the scaly flesh of her companion.
There was another man eventually. Jim was short and broad shouldered. He made the usual mistakes in the beginning, but was quick to apologize and never repeated once corrected. He kissed her earnestly and brought over alfalfa for Gem instead of flowers. He wasn’t a man of great passions and he never gave up trying to explain the glory of golf to her.
When he asked if she wanted to get married, she spent a lot of time thinking about it.
“Let’s have a baby instead.”
She got promoted at work and found she liked being a manager. Her belly grew along with her responsibilities and she spent half of her maternity leave holding a phone with one hand and her daughter with the other. They named the girl Azure. Well. Reba named her. Jim nodded along.
The job lasted, Jim didn’t. Azure grew strong and clever, swinging between two houses with a grave air.
Life, in other words, went on. Days were busy and nights filled with the up and downs of parenthood mixed with too much baggage and long hours of work.
Freddie Lounds called her on the tenth anniversary of the Dragon’s reign of terror. It took Reba a surprisingly long time to figure out why she was calling at all.
“I thought it might be time for you to tell your story,” Freddie coaxed.
“Did you?” Reba ran her hand over the arm of her couch. It was stiff where Azure had spilled juice that morning.
Gem stirred in her cage, getting on in years, but still clinging fiercely to life.
“It won’t cause the same sensation it would’ve back then. It’s just your chance to reclaim the narrative.”
Reba reached into the tank. She ran a finger down Gem’s back. Scales. Bony ridges.
The space where wings could be.
“I don’t want to be a story ever again,” Reba said softly and hung up with a gesture.
Let her silence tell her tale. She would never be anyone’s bride. She was herself. Broken mirrors and all.