Scars & Souvenirs

one

The door rumbles along its track, settling in place with a resounding thud and clatter. Everything inside is exactly where it should be, stacked like Tetris blocks despite the long drive. Mackenzie sighs, pulls her hair into a sloppy bun, and climbs into the back of the truck.

Grabbing the first two boxes, she slides them to the edge of the trailer and drops them to the ground. A quick, silent prayer is sent heavenward to the Gods of Duct Tape and Bubble-Wrap when there is no tell-tale sound of anything breaking. She works quickly with the movers, tossing and passing over boxes as they carry them in one-by-one.

Finally, all that remains are the sofa and coffee-table she managed to snag at a Goodwill for thirty-percent-off before starting the long journey. Max’s knees and back ache from the repetitive movements of unloading her belongings, and the lightweight top she wears clings to her sweat-drenched skin. Her stomach growls its annoyance at being empty.

The cinnamon roll and coffee from this morning seem so far away. She’d only eaten at the insistence of the motel manager, an old man whose skin was nearly translucent with age and face was lined with years of life. She wipes her forehead with the hem of her shirt and sits on the rear bumper to catch her breath.

Only three floors, the building before her is much more unkempt than she anticipated. The brick is crumbling at the edges, and the paint on the windowsills has chipped away with exposure. It looks taken care of, though, despite the flaws in its facade.

A peaceful aura surrounds the place, and Max inhales slowly, straining to keep a hold of the hope that tries to bloom in her chest. The movers approach again. She shifts out of the way so that the movers can get the sofa from the truck. She has little faith, but a small part of her aches for something more permanent than a few months.

The movers leave as soon as the truck is empty, and Max stares around at the flat. It isn’t much - nothing she’s found over the last few years has been - but it’s now home. As fleeting as she knows it will be, she will just have to make the best of it.

The dry aching in her throat grows the longer she stands there, and she becomes acutely aware of the fact that her entire body has become little more than liquid fire. A week’s worth of showers won’t make her feel clean, though she supposes there is no harm in trying.

She locks the door, unlocks it, and locks it again. Her pulse picks up as she checks that it won’t open; under roaring of her blood in her ears, a voice tells her that the paranoia isn’t paranoia if it’s true. She shakes her head violently. She doesn’t need that particular reminder. She’s learnt that lesson well.

After grabbing a towel and toiletries from the box labelled Bathroom, Max makes her way through the barren bedroom to the attached bathroom. It’s small but clean. She dumps the items in her hands onto the counter and strips quickly. She avoids looking at her reflection in the mirror. Max knows too well what she’ll see.

The water pressure is surprisingly hard and forceful, pushing needlepoints into her tired, strained muscles. Max turns her face toward the shower-head, letting the water wash away the sweat and tears. The fear she carries with her abates in the pleasantness of the shower, replaced by the warmth of safety if only for just a little longer.

Dinner is a quiet affair, just a package of beef jerky and crackers. Max sits in the middle of her sofa and chews as slowly as possible. As she stares at the blank beige walls, she organises a to-do list in her head. First thing is to find a market that won’t drain her account just to step into.

The thought of going out into the world is terrifying, but Max is well aware that she can’t stretch a packet of jerky for more than a meal. Hell, it isn’t even a full meal at all. So she is going to have to deal with the fear.

Her heart thunders into a painful rhythm, palms growing clammy, when a knock sounds at the door. Swallowing thickly, she sets aside the box of Ritz and tiptoes on silent steps to the door. The landlady stands just on the other side when Max peers through the peephole.

She wipes her hands against her T-shirt and slowly pulls the door open a crack. You’re okay, she whispers to herself, no matter how little she actually believes it.

“Hi, is, uh, is something wrong?”

“Of course not,” replies Dolly quickly, her startled expression smoothing out quickly into one of congenial pleasantness. She smiles, lifts the covered dish in her hands. “I’ve moved so many times in my life, I have nightmares about all those first nights in a new place. And I assume that you’ve not got food in there?”

“I-I have beef jerky.”

Dolly lets out an inelegant snort and pushes the meal into Max’s hands. “Make sure you wash the dish before bringing back, please. I’m in 2C if you need anything.”

Max closes the door, fingers wrapped around the edge of the shallow pan, and feels off-kilter. She has an inkling that the landlady knew more about life than any one person should, considering she hadn’t batted an eyelash when Max tripped over her name when giving it for the rental application.

It isn’t much of a stretch, really, to shift her childhood nickname into a shortened variation of her great-aunt’s name. Max can only hope that Auntie Maxine won’t mind her moniker being used seven years after her death.

As soon as Max peels back the tinfoil to reveal the lasagna, her mouth waters. She’s inordinately grateful that she’s alone as she brings the cheesy surface to her nose, inhales the rich aroma of herbs and beef.

“So glad I gave up vegetarianism,” she mumbles as she digs through the box full of kitchen supplies.

It would kill her soul to have such a delicious meal that she can’t eat sitting on her counter - or worse, in the bin. Coming up with a fork, Max starts eating the lasagna straight from the casserole dish. The sauce scalds her tongue, nearly muting the explosion of flavour, and she hisses through her teeth as she chews the bite quickly.

This is massively better than crackers and dried meat, she thinks while going for another heaping forkful.

Belly uncomfortably full twenty minutes later, Max covers the food again and slides the dish into the refrigerator. A yawn forces itself out of her now that she’s eaten. She hadn’t realised she was as ravenous as she was, though it makes sense. She hates that it’s only due to her landlady’s generosity that she won’t starve tonight.

Max checks the lock on the door then crosses the living room to the boxes. It takes far too long to find the one marked for the bedroom. She stabs the tape with the tines of her fork, ripping through it with a struggle, and finally emerges victorious. Tugging the thick quilt from the depths of the box, she drags it toward the couch, blanket trailing along the carpet behind her.

Even with the uncertainty and horrors that weigh heavily on her, she manages to fall asleep within the hour.