Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 1

There was a little boy and there was a little girl
And they lived in an alley under the red sky.
This is the key to the kingdom and this is the town
This is the blind horse that leads you around
Someday little girl, everything for you is gunna be new....


“Mom’s dying.”

My eyes left the vast, half empty parking lot of Sacred Heart Hospital and settled on my cousin, who stood beside me in the harsh chill of mid-November.

It had been nearly ten years since Charlotte had come to live with us and I still forgot that she referred to her aunt, my mother, in that way.

“I know,” was all I could say, all I had to say. I had heard the same upsetting news from my mother’s doctors some minutes earlier, before I had accompanied Charlotte outside so she could have a smoke.

And now, as I stood beside my cousin and breathed in a combination of her secondhand smoke and the cold air of what I didn’t know was the last morning of my mother’s life, I was unsure of what I felt.

Moments before, when inside, at the foot of my mother’s hospital bed, the memories of living with the wretched, yet loving woman had stirred a few unpleasant feelings inside me, the way the late autumn breeze was blowing around a few scattered dead leaves in the parking lot.

What was there to say for my past that had not already been said? My mother had tried her best. I would leave it at that for now.

“That Dr. Vick fellow said that she’s beyond help. That they did what they could,” Charlotte sighed, a puff of smoke billowing out before her mouth. I wasn’t sure if it was from her cigarette or the frosty air.

I looked out at the small, one story homes dotting the road across from the hospital, wishing I was in my own, curled up with a good book.

When I didn’t respond to Charlotte, she moved her dark eyes to my face in question. She didn’t like to be ignored.

“Hey,” she called, her voice rising. It caught my attention and my mind was ripped from the pleasant thoughts of my cozy little home.I turned to her, letting my left side lean heavily on the bar of the wheelchair ramp. The wind howled, and I pulled my coat to myself.

“This might be good for you…saying goodbye at last. It might…I don’t know. Let you move on a little,” she observed, putting out her cigarette much to my relief.

As her smoke cleared the air, words filled my mind. How badly did I want to tell her that I couldn’t just move on, as she had so simply put? That I couldn’t say goodbye, because I was hiding one last piece of my past under the heavy collar of my coat.

At this, the chain around my slender neck burned and I cast my eyes away from my cousin, afraid she might see the shame through the dim light of the early morning.

How long had it been since my mother had forced me to steal the stupid thing? From my own home at that…

“I’m leaving, Charlotte,” I started, changing the subject as I turned, pressing my stomach against the ramp like I had been doing before.

There was a pause. I frowned as she lit another smoke.

“Where to?” she inquired, her speech coming out funny from the cigarette clenched in between her lips.

She didn’t sound too surprised and a lot less concerned that I thought she’d be. I supposed she was planning the same thing.

“Gotham,” I sighed, thinking back to the past week.

Days before I had, by chance, run into an old high school classmate Sandra Kelley, who had long since left our sleepy hometown of Braidal for the bustling metropolitan of Gotham city, that stood tall and gray not 20 miles from my own house.

Sandra had been nearly ready to burst with excitement when we happened upon each other in one of the lone coffee shops in Braidal - She had been buying the coffee for herself. I’d been buying it for my boss- for one reason in particular:

She was set to be married in three weeks.

After practically blinding me with the rock on her left hand, her gaiety had seemed to go down when the conversation began to focus on a topic that neither of us seemed to enjoy: our occupations.

It had been made obvious just by my haggard appearance and frazzled demeanor that I was than thrilled with my current job. Sandra, in one way or another, had seemed to feel the same way.

It seemed that in all cases of love, problems had risen.

Because she would be married soon, and her honeymoon would be quick to follow, Sandra would be missing quite a bit at work. And with her boss, she explained, that was never a good thing.

And then, as if a light had suddenly gone off in her head, Sandra came upon an absurd idea: that I could come to Gotham and take her place for the month or so that she would be on leave.

Back then, it had seemed ridiculous, insane. The prospect of working out such a plan, that would most definitely not work, was beyond me. Sure, I’d been a secretary, but for a measly insurance firm. How the hell was I supposed to tackle Gotham?

But that was before my mother had had her seizure.

Before my future in Braidal seemed to be coming to a close.

“I’m, uh….taking a job there. A secretary position,” I explained, as I let out a yawn and checked my watch.

Five minutes to 6:00.

Charlotte let out a short laugh at my words. “A secretary position, huh? Well, there’s more than just one…”

I blushed and bowed my head, so my eyes met the worn toes of my clogs, a sigh they were used to. “Oh shush,” I mumbled, embarrassed, as the blood in my face subsided and my cheeks went back to their normal frightfully pale shade.

A loud squelch erupted behind us, and Charlotte and I both turned simultaneously to meet Dr. Vick. I watched Charlotte hurry to put out her cigarette like a little girl who was afraid of getting in trouble.

“Ms. Kyle,” he began, addressing me first, and then acknowledging Charlotte with an awkward nod of his head. He hadn’t noticed the cigarette or the lingering smoke in the air.

Dr. Vick let out a heavy sigh and I watched patiently as he fiddled with his clipboard and turned it about in his hands. When he finally was ready to speak, he kept his baggy eyes on his charts.

“I’m afraid…your mother has just passed.”

It was silent for a moment or two, with the exception of the buzzing fluorescent light overhead. When there was neither the sound of a gasp or a choked sob, Dr. Vick looked up from his clipboard in a tentative manner to check if I had burst into silent tears.

I had not.

Instead I nodded slowly and swallowed, finding my throat had hardened. But not from sadness at my mother’s death as was to be expected. I was upset that I hadn’t been in the room when it came to pass. I felt wronged that I had not been there to feel her heavy, condescending presence leave me

I jumped slightly as Charlotte ebbed toward me and placed a somewhat comforting arm around my shoulders. As her thick tobacco scent filled my nose I looked at her face to find it wet with a few stray tears.

I was unsurprised.

Charlotte loved my mother as her own. After both her parents died in a flash fire at work, my mother had been the only member of the family to even consider taking in the “problem child” that Charlotte had once been.

If not for my seemingly saintly mother, there was no doubt in my mind that Charlotte would not have turned out as pleasant as she had.She must have found it odd that I wasn’t crying.
But she didn’t know what my mother had made me do.

She could never know.

Telling her would ruin the sort of sisterly bond that had grown between us. Telling her would warp her view of me. So much so, that I believed her affection toward me would turn to repulsion.

Selina the liar. Selina the thief. Selina the killer…

Dr. Vick cleared his throat and I was brought back from the world that would-be to the world that was.

“I assume,” he began, “That with your prior knowledge of your mother’s condition that you’ve arranged some sort of memorial and burial?”

I nodded to his question, bitterly remembering a joke between Charlotte and me. My mother had smoked nearly all her life. We had poked fun at her nasty habit by saying that, with as many packs as she smoked, we should be ready with a coffin at any given time.

Sorrow crossed Dr. Vick’s face as he went on. “I’m very sorry. For both of you,” he added, hastily, his tired eyes moving to Charlotte’s face and then my own. “Your mother was a great woman. I’m sure all of Braidal will be mourning with you.”

I winced slightly at his words.

One of the many downsides of living in a small town: everyone know s everyone’s business.
I just cringed at the thought of crowds of grief-stricken people lining up at my door, baked goods in hand, ready to fill my already cluttered home with pleasant, joyous memories of my mother that I did not posses myself. I ached with anxiety at the thought of having to accept their home made therapy and their sincere condolences

Confronting people, not only in awkward situations, but in general was not something I enjoyed.

I shivered as the morning wind swept across the parking lot, blowing through the leaves of the trees nearby, hissing at me with its raspy voice of early winter.

Run. Run. Run.

And why shouldn’t I? My mother was gone. There was no one to hold me back from leaving. My mind wandered back to my home where all my stuff was already packed.

I could leave tonight, I thought wildly as a sudden burst of adrenaline rushed through my veins.

But then as quickly as the free spirit in me had been awakened by the wind, it died down just as the fierce draft became only a quiet rustle in the trees.

I peered over at Charlotte with guilt in my eyes, as if she had heard my excited thoughts. She was no longer crying but the fluorescent light above our heads caught the gleam of the wet tracks left behind by her tears.

I knew despite the feeble protests in my head that I couldn’t’ leave Braidal. Not yet anyway. I couldn’t leave Charlotte with the body of a woman who was in need of being buried, who wasn’t even her real mother. Her life had had enough tragedy. I wouldn’t be just another person to abandon her.

And I knew, deep down, in the darkest hollows of my being that even as my mother lay cold and still in her hospital bed, she would not let me go so easily.

I could run, sure.

But her presence, her voice, and the horrible memories of her would haunt me until I finished this. They wouldn’t stop looming over me like birds of prey until I put my mother in the earth.

“Thank you, Dr. Vick,” I said finally, speaking for the first time since he arrived.

It was his turn to nod in reply and I noticed then that he was still watching me expectantly, almost anxiously, as if at any moment I would spontaneously burst into a sobbing fit.
I couldn’t tell if he was disappointed or relieved when he saw that my eyes were staying dry.

He glanced briskly at his clipboard and then at his watch. His eyes widened at the small digital numbers that shone brightly back at him.“It’s been a long night and the sun looks about ready to come up. I think it’s best if I just let you two go home and get some rest,” he observed, running a weathered hand through his graying hair.

Charlotte squeezed my shoulder gently and smiled kindly at Dr. Vick. I wasn’t used to seeing her be this cordial to strangers, but I figured on this morning, at this very early hour, she was a bit fragile. Grief softened even the toughest of exteriors.

“Thank you,” she murmured, taking that moment to convey her own appreciation for the care Dr. Vick had given her foster mother in her last hours.

And with the exhaustion of an all nighter and the heavy feeling of loss on our shoulders, we began down the handicap ramp, shuffling our way through the dirty slush that had fallen from the sky the night before.

Teeth chattering and pale skin stinging from the cold, I reached the car first having shaken Charlotte’s arm off my shoulder. I was anxious to be as far away from the place that I knew held my mother’s body. Maybe then I could breathe…

“Wait! Ms. Kyle!”

My hand was poised on the passenger door handle, ready for Charlotte to unlock the old battered car, when the distant voice of Dr. Vick erupted across the parking lot, followed by the quick paced steps of expensive leather shoes.

I turned from the car to look at Charlotte, who shot a confused glance at me, before looking back at the man making his way across the parking lot. I did the same.

When he finally came to a stop before us, he was winded. He licked his lips excitedly as he tried to catch his breath.

I assumed that he was merely stopping us to mention the hospital bill or something like that. But as my mother used to tell me, to assume makes an ass out of you and me.

And she was dead right.

“Ms. Kyle, I thought you should know-before your mother died she was talking to one of the nurses. She told her she knew she would die soon and that she wanted to pass on a message. To you,” Dr. Vick declared as his breathing struck up its normal pace.

Charlotte and I exchanged worried looks. Her square face held a bit of curiosity. Mine on the other hand, held nothing but apprehension.

What could my mother’s dying words to me possibly be?

An apology was out of the question.

But the mind and the heart never really do give up hope on what they truly want. Even if it’s impossible to get.

“What did she say?” I inquired, trying hard to keep my voice steady though the fretful knot in my stomach was nearly unbearable.

Dr. Vick paused for a moment and it seemed Charlotte and I and the rest of the world held its breath. As if all of time and nature and space had stopped spinning to listen in on what was to be the sentence that would change my life forever.

I just didn’t know it yet.

Dr. Vick nodded and his mouth made a funny sort of grim smile as he passed on my mother’s final words.

“She said: ‘Red sky at morning, Selina take warning’.”

And then the world exhaled. And time and nature and space spun madly on. Charlotte seemed to deflate slightly, a bit disappointed that my mother’s message was not one of more clarity.

But me…I was furious. Everything inside me was screaming, yelling, ripping, burning.
I had lived with that manipulative woman nearly all my life, had put up with her bile and her criticism, did what she asked, even though it cost me everything, and now her last words, carried out on her final breath, was an old wives tale?

But despite the hurt and rage and pure wretchedness that were pouring into me now, I was silent.

Quiet as I had ever been, biting my tongue as usual. A mouse too ashamed to even squeak.

“Does that have any special meaning to you, Ms. Kyle?”

Dr. Vick’s tired voice tugged me out of my self- loathing thoughts. I shook my head briskly, as if to shake them away, and then replied to his question with the answer I knew would get me out of here as fast as humanly possible:

“Not at all.”

It was silent in the car as Charlotte drove me back to my house, which sat quiet and dark about ten minutes from the hospital.

Before receiving the call from Sacred Heart, Charlotte and I had been hanging out at my place. After the unexpected alert, in the clutter and confusion of panic and my messy packing habits, I had been unable to find my keys. I had been more than grateful to have Charlotte drive me down.

But now, I was regretting the decision.

I needed to be alone. Alone in the quiet where I could think. Just think of what she had said.

What I had told Dr. Vick had been a complete lie. My mother’s last words had made complete sense. They would make sense to anyone who had heard the rhyme sung to you over and over again as a child.

Red sky at night, Selina’s delight. Red sky at morning, Selina take warning.

This was merely an altered version from the original saying. My mother had made it her own, like many other things.

The verse was first used by sailors as a reference to the weather and how they could use that to determine what sort of day was in store for them while at sea.

Red sky at night promised a beautiful sunny day. Red sky at morning promised a storm.

That’s when it hit me. That’s when my mother’s words finally began to sink in, like an unfortunate soul in quicksand. An icky feeling cast itself over the surface of my skin and a dropping sensation filled my stomach.

My mother’s words were a warning that danger was coming. That a storm was coming.
I peered over at Charlotte where she sat in the driver’s seat. Her pretty face was turned toward the road and her dark eyes were shaded with thick sunglasses, in an attempt to block out the huge, fiery, almost red sun that was slowly making its way over the horizon.

My mouth parted slightly, as my eyes moved from Charlotte’s complacent face to the broad sky reaching out to forever just beyond the road.

It was red.

The giant ball of flame set to turn in the sky cast violent light all about the still sleeping town of Braidal and would soon fill each dark crevice and empty space with its ferocious beams.
The sky was bloody with daybreak and my eyes watered as I continued to stare at the sun, whose color matched the very juiciest meat of a grapefruit.

Charlotte seemed to take notice of how intently I was staring at the thing and with a worried frown, she tore her eyes from the road.

“Stop staring at the sun, Selina. You’ll go blind.”

She didn’t know how badly I wanted to do just that. Go blind to the world, to myself, to my past. Why did I have to see all of its ugly if it never even saw me?

Why was it always me who had to disappear?

I tilted my neck back so my head meet the headrest. I closed my eyes tight, to block out the warnings that bled into the front seat of my cousin’s car.

I didn’t know that at the same moment, approximately 20 miles from where I wanted to be, someone was doing the exact opposite.

He was opening his dark eyes wide, standing at the mouth of dank alleyway amidst the scum and the filth and the dirty, melting snow, staring at the blood red sky, somehow knowing that for a city that was soon to be his, things were about to change.