No Rest for the Wicked


eileen_icon.gif nick_icon.gif


young-eileen_icon.gif young-nick_icon.gif

Scene Title No Rest for the Wicked
Synopsis Brother and sister remember the past, unaware that they are in the same city for the first time in years.
Date August 4, 2010

Present Day, Brooklyn

'No rest for the wicked' is a phrase that Nick thinks of often — usually at 3 a.m., 4 a.m., 5 a.m. when he is tossing and turning unable to rest for fear of what dreams may come, or if he does manage to fall asleep, when he wakes up drenched in sweat with tears dampening his pillow, though he hasn't cried while awake for longer than he can remember. This morning, he rolls out of bed with a groan, having gotten only a few scattered hours of rest between the hours of 2 and 7, and he has to be at work in an hour.

He pulls on his jeans and meanders, sleepy-eyed and tousle-headed, toward the kitchen toward the smell of the coffee, the pot set on timer to be ready for him. Pouring a cup, he gulps down a couple of swallows before setting it on the counter and grabbing his pack of cigarettes and lighter where he left them near the stove. He shakes out one of the sticks, tucking it in his mouth and then bringing the lighter to the tip. The red pack of cigarettes he tosses back on the counter next to the stove he has never used in this dump of a studio apartment. He stares at the stove for a moment and at the British cigarettes, Capstans — the brand his parents smoked. The brand his mother smoked. The same cigarettes he stole from her purse in order to make some money off his classmates. After all, not everyone's mother was drunk enough to steal from — his mother had even been in the same room when he slipped the cigarettes from her purse.

The same brand of cigarettes he smoked the night his mother burned his hands on a lit stove. What was it, ten years ago? Eleven?

London, 1998

His sister's hands will always be smaller than his. Little white starfish wind the gauze around his palm and across his knuckles, their touch clammy and cold against the angry pink of his blistered skin. The door is closed, bathroom reeking of bitter smoke and the ointment's stink. Sophia's perfume, too — it permeates everything in the flat, even the towels that the children use to scrub dry their bodies and hair. Still damp from the last shower, it hangs off the hook beside the tub where Eileen sits with her head bowed, inky curls of hair plastered to her pale cheeks and brow by a greasy combination of sweat, snot and tears.

She hasn't said anything. Won't. Gray eyes filled with moisture are lowered and focus on her work. When she grows up, she wants to be a violinist, but her attentiveness and nimble hands would also make her a very adept nurse.

He sits on the lowered toilet seat, free hand smoking a cigarette he's stolen from his mother. Not, perhaps, the brightest move, but it is in that small act of rebellion that he can find his courage not to cry in front of the little sister he's trying to be brave for. He'd cried already — the salty trail of those tears is still evident on his face, pale in comparison to his painfully red hands that Eileen so delicately wraps.

Nick is not really inhaling — he doesn't even like the taste of the smoke in his mouth. It reminds him of his mother. Once it had been a pleasant smell, that mix of smoke and perfume, however cheap, but now it's sickening and by smoking his fag, he feels like he's drinking it in, swallowing it.

His fingers curl defensively when the gauze touches that skin, burnt by their mother deliberately, flattened against the red-hot burner in punishment. Before she can apologize, which he knows she will, Nick speaks:

"We'll get out of here, Lee. Wherever you wanna go. Where do you wanna go? If we were grown ups and could go wherever we wanted, where'd you wanna live? Anywhere in the world. Anything you wanna do. I'll get us there."

A safety pin winks in the bathroom's washed-out light, and Eileen pushes its point with great care and deliberation through the gauze, mindful not to nip the burn beneath. It comes out the other side glittering. "We're not grown ups," she says, hating the quaver in her voice. Blinking away tears rather than wipe at her face with her hands while they're still occupied, she clips the pin into place and picks up the tube of ointment, screws the cap back on between the tips of her brittle fingers.

"We don't have any money," is probably another good point, but it's spoken feebly and without much conviction. At eight, she's too young to understand just how important that is. "I want Da."

Nick shakes his head, taking another puff of the cigarette, then swapping it to the bandaged hand so she can work on the other — this one is less severe, since the police had knocked on the door and interrupted its punishment. "He's not coming back, is he," he points out, the question on the end the British quirk of ending sentences with questions that aren't meant to be answered. "I'm the man of the house - I'm just not big enough to fight her back yet." He's small for his age — one day, he'll be taller than average, but even if he were larger, would he dare to fight his mother? Tears spring to his blue eyes and he blinks them hard, trying to keep Eileen from noticing.

"Tell me where you'd go if you could, and I'll start working for it, Lee. One day, when we're bigger we can leave. We don't got to wait to be grownups. We just got to wait to be bigger."

Eileen's fingers curl around the tube of ointment, and she traces the edge of her thumbnail around the cap. She catches her lower lip between her teeth and bites down hard enough to turn it the same colour as her skin. Nick speaks the truth: their father isn't coming back. Either she must understand this on some level, or she lacks the energy and confidence to argue with her older brother, and why would she? Gregory is gone, and so he is her everything.

When she finally looks up at him, she's set the ointment aside with the rest of the gauze and is offering him both her hands. It's easier for her to show than to tell, and whatever it is that she has, it isn't in the bathroom.

Standing, Nick lifts the toilet lid and tosses in his cigarette, flushing it down and wishing the pain and fear would swirl down along with it. Used to his sister's quietness, Nick takes both hands gingerly in his own, gauze-swathed as they are. His hands are not tiny like hers, but too large, like his feet, for the rest of him. Before he'd left, their father'd said it meant he would grow tall, a hope held out for the boy who wasn't the smallest in his class, but still not big enough in his own mind by far. Especially now — now that it is him and his sister against the world, him and his sister against their mother — Sophia Ruskin was not a large woman by any means, but she still outweighed Nick and had a longer reach by far.

He nods to Eileen to lead the way, to show him what it is she doesn't dare say. Maybe it's like a wish — if she says it, it won't come true.

Their flat is small and the journey between the bathroom and Eileen's tiny bedroom so short that it can be measured in heartbeats. She only removes her hand from Nick's to creak the door open, admitting him entry into a sparsely-furnished sanctuary. Her stuffed rabbit, Peter, sits at the head of a bed covered in quilts — most girls her age hoard clothes and dolls, but his sister hoards linens for a nest that she can burrow into when like a woodland fox curled in its earth when it rains and the temperature inside the flat drops. The radiator doesn't work.

Hasn't since their father left. There's no one to fix it and Sophia doesn't see the problem. Once inside, she shies away from Nick and crouches down beside the bed. A moment later, she's halfway under it, and he'll ear the sound of her fingernails scraping along the floorboards. A pop. Something's loose.

She comes out with cobwebs in her dark hair, grime streaked across her face and a biscuit tin clutched to her chest.

He doesn't sit on the bed but instead on the floor, his back to the door, an instinctive defensive posture to keep whatever it is Eileen has hidden away safe from their mother's eyes, should she come searching for them. He's sure there will be more hell to pay. For the sin of diluting her alcohol, for the crying that alerted the neighbors, and even in some sick irony, the fact he lied — even if he lied in Sophia's defense, saying she hadn't done anything, that he'd tripped, landing both hands on the stove, that he was a clumsy child and everyone knew this.

Pulling his knees up toward his chest, wrapping his hands around them, Nick watches, blue eyes curious under his dark brows. "We can't live in a biscuit tin, Lee. Even you ain't small enough for that, bitty as you are," he says, smiling and making a small joke to try to get her to smile back.

Eileen hooks the tips of her fingers under the lid's lip. Nick receives a solemn look for his efforts, her featured pinched into an expression that's more suited to a wrinkled old woman than a child still too little to pull herself up onto the kitchen counter without squeaking a stepping stool across the floor first. She knows they can't live in the biscuit tin, thankyouverymuch.

It takes some effort, but she eventually pries the tin open without help from her older brother — there's so much she insists on doing by herself, and one day it's going to get her into a different kind of trouble — to reveal a stash of glossy pictures torn from magazines. She digs through them, pushing aside the Eiffel Tower, canals snaking through Venice, a faraway beach with sand like snow and a bleak stormy sea, eventually coming upon a small scene that depicts a small stone cottage covered in ivy that overlooks the ocean, wispy tufts of black and white grazing in a field beyond. Sheep.

She pushes the picture across the floor to Nick.

What had he expected? Not actual biscuits, no, but perhaps some money, the beginnings of a little cache that might start them on the path to freedom. His brows rise as he sees the pictures come out, giving a small shake of his head. But then there is an answer, of sorts. Someplace far from the noise and grime and soot of London, somewhere that one can see the sky and the ocean, and breathe in salty sea air.

"Scotland? Ireland? Wales?" he guesses — it could be any where that's rural and remote, but those seem the likeliest of choices. "'s pretty, but I donno if we could get by if we run away — that sort of place, they'd notice kids runnin' round without mums and dads, yeah? Can't just blend in like we could somewhere with buildings, can we."

He turns the picture in his bandaged hands, looking for any information on the backside, before passing it back. "'s pretty, for sure. Maybe we can get away from here, work somewhere for a bit and then buy ya a place like that," he says — childishly optimistic.

Eileen picks up the picture again and flattens it between her palm at her stockinged thigh, using the heel of her hand to iron out the wrinkles without tearing it. It's been handled enough that the paper is creased and worn. "They have selkies in Scotland," she informs Nick. "We could put on their skins and live in the sea with the finfolk. I like fish."

She places the picture back in the tin, feels her fingers brush against something beneath the paper, and a metallic shimmer is briefly visible between two crooked knuckles. A necklace — one she's probably not supposed to have, judging by the haste with which she covers it again.

Selkies. Nick doesn't have the heart to tell his little sister they don't exist. He'd long ago stopped believing in anything he couldn't see or hear or smell or touch for himself. Once he'd had a vivid imagination and would tell her stories of fairies and elves and goblins, but he'd stopped a long time ago. Before even the hitting had begun.

"I only like fish with chips," he says, another small joke, though he knows she won't laugh this time. He nods to the necklace. "What's that, Lee? I won't tell." It's a somber promise, the slight smirk at his own joke slipping from his face as he stands and moves closer, crouching beside her to peer in the tin.

"Mum's," is Eileen's hesitant answer, breath hitching at the back of her throat. She twists the necklace between her fingers as if debating whether or not to show him so he can see which one she's taken, but ultimately decides against it. Neither does she offer any explanation as to why. That she doesn't have any jewelry of her own might have factored into the decision, though it's just as likely that — like her collection of pictures — she felt it was pretty and wanted to have it.

She offers him a look at a thimble she lifted from a sewing kit instead. A wilted flower crumbled halfway to dust. A long black feather with an iridescent sheen.

"Don't get caught," he replies, brows knitting as he studies each item, his sister's sad little treasures in a biscuit tin. She deserves so much better than those sad pilfered items. He stands from his crouch and fingers the gauze bandage on one hand.

"I don't care that you took it, Lee, I just don't want her to find out and hurt you any more than she does already," he whispers fiercely. Lee is the good child, and even then, she's not exempt from their mother's wrath — what would happen if Sophia actually caught her doing something actually punishable in a normal parent's mind? "If she ever finds your little hidey hole, tell her I gave it to you. Any of it that's in it that's hers. She'll believe it."

Eileen snaps the lid back on the tin, taking the time to make sure it fits snugly and that all four corners are securely in place before she slides it back under the bed, though she does not yet disappear behind the skirt to stash it away under the floorboards again. Her expressive brows knit together in consternation and she makes a noncommittal noise at the back of her throat that sounds more feline than human and indicates neither yes nor no. She's yet to master the art of lying and she knows it — this is easier.

"What about Mr. Dreyfus?" she asks of the Ruskins' middleaged neighbour, a professor of languages and philosophy at King's College. Presumably, she means Mr. Dreyfus and his wife, Christine, who has shown the children nothing but kindness and treats their son Robbie the way that Sophia used to treat Nick in the before-time. "We could live across the hall with him and Mrs. Dreyfus and the baby."

Two years is not very long but at their ages, it feels like a lifetime at times. Nick knows that the idea of living with the Dreyfuses is just another faerie story, just like the Selkies. He shakes his head and turns away before he can see the tears spring to his eyes. Bad luck — that they'd been born to Sophia Ruskin and Gregory York instead of a loving, happy couple that would stay together and never hurt their son. Just bad luck. He believes it, and he wonders what they'd done to deserve it.

Later, his belief in luck would fade, and his belief in karma's vengeance would replace it.

"If we get taken away, Lee, we won't end up together, wherever it is we go," he whispers. It's the reason he lied to the police tonight, the kind-eyed man who asked him half a dozen ways what had happened, as if to catch Nick in a lie. But Nick is a skilled liar, unlike Eileen, and his story didn't change. There was nothing the man could do.

"It's late. You should go to bed," he says. He'd one day regret this night — if only he'd told the truth to the policeman. He would have spared her so much pain.

Dutiful as always, Eileen tucks her chin into a nod, but rather than rise from the floor, she buries her damp face into his back between his shoulder blades and grabs two tiny fistfuls of his shirt in her hands. I love you, isn't a part of her vocabulary. To convey this message, she changes the pattern of her breathing to match his, inhale for inhale, exhale for exhale, rising when he rises and falling when he falls.

Present Day, Staten Island

On the other side of New York City, a pair of gray eyes reflected in a mirror are staring into nothing. A young woman with ringlets of dark brown hair twisted back into an elegant knot pins a poppy to her curls and then drops her hand to the metal tin sitting on the surface of her vanity. Although Eileen is blind, she locates her mother's necklace with ease and pauses to run it between long, pale fingers with porcelain for nails. The memory curves her mouth into an expression that resembles a smile but in reality is the furthest thing from it.

A sharp snap fastens the silver clasp behind her head at the nape of her neck and to the shadow standing behind her in the doorway of her room in the Dispensary she says, "I'm ready."

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License