Awful Shadow, ch.7: Olivia Garcia

Monitoring: Olivia Garcia
Mesa, Arizona, USA

6:15 a.m. Mountain Standard Time
Monday, June 9th, 2014
13:15 Coordinated Universal Time
Monday, June 9th, 2014

Fast forward—

Olivia wakes to a pair of blaring alarms, one on either side of her bed and each requiring that she walk to one side of her room or the other. She’s been sleeping more deeply than usual as of late, but she can’t afford to stay in bed. By the time that she’s hit both alarms and dumped a glass of water on her head, Olivia is, if not wide awake, at least in a better position to force her legs to move away from her bed and get to the morning’s business.

The toothpick that Olivia set against her grandmother’s door last night is still there, so the old woman hasn’t been wandering. She bangs softly on the door—with the way that her Lita’s hearing is, “bangs softly” isn’t an oxymoron—and, hearing no reply, opens it to confirm that her grandmother is still asleep. Olivia breathes a sigh of relief that she can take a shower.

Six minutes later, hair wrapped in a towel so that she doesn’t have to spend time drying it, she starts on making breakfast. Lita Garcia shuffles into the kitchen while Olivia is cracking eggs and dropping them over the frying sausage. Olivia keeps her occupied with meaningless conversation about their respective dreams last night, her aching bones, and how Olivia ought not to make any breakfast for her because she isn’t hungry, and manages to keep her composure when Lita mentions something that her husband told her the other day.

Olivia pretends to be interested, asking questions and making noncommittal “hm” and “ah” type responses at all the right moments. She says “That’s very interesting” and even “I think that Abu’s being too harsh” when her Lita is clearly expecting something more substantial and definitely doesn’t say, “My grandfather’s been dead for four years.”

It’s hard to be angry with Lita. She’s breaking down in every way that a body can, and Olivia can’t even ask if she wants to die. By the time that Olivia was old enough to think that a question like that ought to be asked, her grandmother had fallen apart so severely that, honestly, there isn’t enough of her remaining to competently answer. Now all that’s left for Olivia and her father is to keep her Lita alive in circumstances as comfortable as possible for the rest of her twilight years.

Olivia doesn’t know if it’s morbid to hope that those years are very few. In some important sense her Lita isn’t actually still alive. It might be cruel to put it in these terms, but she’s like a zombie. Her grandmother is one of the the walking dead, moving and speaking but decaying before her eyes. Olivia’s greatest fear, after the near-certainty that this will happen to her one day if she lives long enough, is that her grandmother isn’t as broken as she appears, that there is some sensible part of her still inside, maybe unable to figure out how to communicate the idea but miserably aware of how far she has fallen. She dodges the subject or any hint of it, but still she wonders… If she dropped twenty IQ points, wouldn’t she know that she had lost something?

She refuses to learn more about dementia than she has to, too afraid to discover the probability that she’ll one day be locked inside a crumbling shell like her Lita’s, dying in slow motion and not even given the mercy of not knowing how much she’s losing.

By the time that the flatbread is done, her father is entering the apartment, coming home from the night shift. He reminds Olivia of a zombie in his own way, but unlike his mother he’ll recover once he gets a few hours of sleep. In the meantime, though, he still needs to stay awake, so Olivia prepares a large cup of hot chocolate for later reheating. He’ll be able to shut his eyes for twenty or thirty minutes before she leaves for school, but then he’s going to need caffeine.

This is their routine as it’s been for at least a year. They could afford to be less meticulous once upon a time, but as it stands they both worry that Lita could get up to something in the night while Olivia is sleeping and her father is away. If they had a stairway in the apartment then they’d have to lock her door from the outside, and as it stands they’ll probably have to do that anyway before too long, just to shut up the gnawing worry that she’ll hurt herself in some other way.

Olivia doesn’t know where her mother is, or even the woman’s name. There are a few points of conflict that they have fights over, like whether there’s any hope for Lita, but her father doesn’t want to talk about his ex-wife and she respects that. He’s promised that the whole thing is written down and safe in the lockbox that he keeps under his bed, just in case something happens to him and he can’t explain in person, and she’s willing to leave it alone until then. For now, the most important thing about her mother’s absence is that there’s only the two of them to take care of her grandmother.

She leaves the dishes for her father to clean up while she’s gone, and listens to an old Night Vale episode as she brushes her teeth, checks on her school supplies to make sure that everything is there, and performs a last-minute fifth proofreading of a social studies essay that’s due that morning. There’s little that she could do at this point, with no time left to print a revised copy before she leaves or and no opportunity to access a computer before class, and she doesn’t seriously expect to notice anything that she didn’t catch the third or fourth time around, but it makes her feel better all the same.

As usual, Olivia is the last one to the bus stop. The wind is no relief from the heat; as humid as the air is, it’s just more hot air being blown in her face. She’s grateful that she only has to wait a couple of minutes before the bus arrives, bringing with it a lovely air conditioner. There are some people who she would have sat beside and made conversation with, a year and a lifetime ago, but now she just makes her way to the back of the bus. Olivia is tired—of poor sleep, of her grandmother’s crawling death, of all this shit—and there’s been just one bright spot in it for her and all she wants to do is be alone and zone out.

Alone, her back against the window and her legs on the middle part of the bench, Olivia reaches down into that strange new part of her soul that woke up inside her a few months ago, and the world is repainted in a visual medley of brilliant yellows.


A/N If you’ve been enjoying Heroes Save the World or any of my other projects (like a series of worldbuilding guides) then please consider contributing on Patreon. If all of my regular readers donated $1 then I’d be making enough of an income to justify setting up a database of writing tools and reviving one of my old monthly columns. With a little bit more, I could publish some other short stories and even add illustrations to HSTW. To learn what sort of rewards are being offered and other neat stuff, check out my page on Patreon.

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