Finally! We’ve reached the end. This is the last chapter of ‘A Place for Strangers and Beggars’. Then I can get back to some real blogging for a change. PS. I really hate happy endings.
A Place for Strangers and Beggars
New York City
Carter hadn’t been sleeping or eating well over the past few days.
She’d normally go to bed at nine, but still be lying awake by two, and then she’d somehow drift off into oblivion, and wake up an hour later, sweating and trembling. She’d look around her room, peering into the darkness, and then burst into tears. Then she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep.
She didn’t even bother to get dressed properly or wash herself. She threw her comb away and dumped her toothbrush into the toilet. She’d pull out nail clippers and clipped at her fingers, clipped away at excessive nail growth and even to the tips of her fingers. She didn’t even feel pain, even when it bled. Then she’d put the clippers away, look at her reflection in the mirror and start crying all over again.
Sometimes, she’d spend hours sitting at the foot of her sofa, on the ground, with her knees pressed to her chest while staring absent-mindedly into space. Her eyes would be red and blotchy, swollen and puffy due to incessant tears that wouldn’t stop flowing. Her stomach growled but she would ignore it, and eventually, she would suffer pains and cramps from her stomach digesting itself. She would sit there for hours, and eventually even forget to use the bathroom.
The telephone wasn’t unplugged anymore, and she’d have it ringing all day, except from night-time. She never picked up. She didn’t answer the doorbell, even when the landlord came knocking, telling her that she was due rent. She didn’t even answer when her friends came, wondering if she was alright and if she had decided to come back to work or if she needed more days off. She swore she heard her sister’s voice one day, outside the door.
She was too afraid to open it.
The doorbell rang and she whimpered, clamped her hands over her ears and curled into a ball on the floor, wishing it would go away. Eventually, the ringing stopped and she heard footsteps. She never heard her sister’s voice again.
That felt like a long time ago.
One day, she opened her eyes, shifted off the bed and put on her jacket, wrapped herself tightly. There were a lot of flies and she swatted them away from her. She went to the fridge and pulled out a pasta meal from the freezer compartment. She put it into the microwave and switched it on, then she left the house; didn’t bother to lock the door. Outside, people gave her dirty looks. She didn’t care, and kept her eyes on the ground, bumping shoulders with people along the way.
And they would say, “Watch where you’re going!”
Every time, she’d say, “Sorry.”
Or they would say, “Watch it, you idiot!”
And she’d say, “…Sorry.”
She bumped into another person, this time, she hit him head-on and she bounced back a little, but regained her balance otherwise. She stared at the man’s chest; looking at the recognisable shirt and worn-out jacket, and she recognised the familiar smell wafting in the air. She looked up; it was the dirty, smelly old man who always held the sign. The same dirty, smelly old man who saved her life just a few days ago. Only, he wasn’t so dirty or smelly anymore, but Carter sniffled. She looked down at herself.
She was a mess.
She was washed-out and sickly-looking, her hair was greasy and coated in oil. Her nails were cut and bleeding slightly. Dried urine clung to her leg, soaking through her clothes, which she hadn’t put into laundry; she looked horrid and smelt foul. “…Sorry.” She croaked out.
“Not your fault.”
Carter looked up, surprised. And he stared back at her, impassive as ever. She threw her head back down, her lip wobbling. “…I…never said thank you.” She uttered out, as they stood opposite each other in the middle of the street. “…You saved my life and…not only did I not thank you, but I gave you this look as if you were a total dirtbag. I’m so sorry.”
An awkward silence spawned between them.
“…I’m…I’m Evelyn.” She suddenly said, for almost no reason as she looked back up at him. “My…My name is…Evelyn.”
His expression did not change despite the fact that the girl was tearing in front of him. He grunted out, “Walter.”
She smiled wryly, yet snivelling harder. “Nice to meet you, Walter, I…” She sniffled louder this time, and dabbed at her reddening eyes, “I’m… so sorry. So sorry to bother you. See you around.”
And she walked away.
Daniel hadn’t seen Rorschach for some time ever since he dropped him and the girl off in Brooklyn at that rooftop. He wasn’t too surprised to come home, realise the lock to his door was bust and step inside cautiously, only to see the masked vigilante in his kitchen, snacking on a bowl of cereal and a few sugarcubes stacked up like jenga. “Rorschach. What are you doing here?”
“Oh.” Daniel raised an eyebrow. “…How did the case go? Did you find the missing girl?”
Rorschach slammed the cereal bowl back over the table and Daniel leapt back a little at the alarming sound. However, Rorschach was silent, his gloved fists curled into a tight ball, clutching the rim of the table cloth tightly. “…Too late.” He merely grunted out.
“I’m…so sorry.” Daniel said, after a few moments of silence had passed between them. He moved to sit down opposite the man on the table. “How is Miss Carter?”
“…Evelyn?” Rorschach smothered at his mouth and pulled his mask back down over his mouth. “…Upset. Crying a lot.”
“Well… why don’t you cheer her up?”
“No. Not right time.”
“Why don’t you… visit her?”
The response he elicited from Rorschach certainly was strange; the man gripped the table cloth tightly and then let go, looked away from the cereal bowl and onto the floor. He let out an almost helpless, irritated sigh, then slammed a fist over the surface of the table.
“Never…visited anyone before.” The masked man eventually grunted out.
At that point, Daniel chuckled good-humouredly. “Oh come on, Rorschach, you’re visiting me.”
“Just wanted food.”
Daniel laughed, a little louder. “You should go see her, Rorschach. See how she’s doing.” He said, “Why don’t you bring her something?”
Daniel looked up thoughtfully, “Hm… How about…Flowers?”
“Yeah, flowers.” Daniel replied, “All the ladies like flowers.”
“I don’t know. Any. Depends what she likes.”
“…Nnghh…” Rorschach grumbled under his breath, then slowly got up from his seat and walked towards the door. “Be seeing you, Dan.”
“Bye, Rorschach. Have a nice time.”
A few hours later, Walter bought the flowers, but he wasn’t sure what kinds she liked. So he asked for recommendations for florists, and when she only recommended the most expensive ones, Rorschach resisted the urge to punch her in the face. He ended up going to another florist and picking out the kinds he perceived Carter might like. He didn’t know what they were called, or whatever special hidden meanings they represented. They were just flowers. He’d gotten her an abundance of yellow, blue and red. And white.
Just in case.
Besides, Rorschach hadn’t seen her for some time ever since they departed ways in Brooklyn. He didn’t have time to follow her because he had thugs to beat up, making the streets at least a little safer to walk at night, and he realised she never came out of the house. She kept all windows closed and drawn; he wasn’t sure if she even was inside. He never actually broke in and went inside because something made him postpone until he spoke to Daniel earlier on. And seeing Carter back in the streets confirmed that she was at least well.
When he came to her apartment, he entered through the window this time, even if they were too small, and settled into her bedroom. On the floor, he realised there were a lot of photographs, all with the smiling face of the girl he failed to save three days ago.
The bedroom was empty, and looked untouched. The bed was made up, perfect and pristine, the covers stretched over the bed like marzipan on a cake. He looked at his feet; he’d accidentally knocked over her Mr Potato Head. This time, it wasn’t missing anything from his face. Picking it up, he placed it back into the rest of the diorama. Made sure it didn’t fall. On the mantle, he saw the Ozymandias figure, the Dr Manhattan figure, the Silk Spectre II figure, and the Nite Owl II figure. Behind a toilet roll, he found a custom-made Rorschach figurine. He mused for a while; relishing the fact that she had done a poor paint job. He settled his miniature self to stand beside Nite Owl II.
“Evelyn.” He called out, reaching out for the door handle.
There was no response.
But he could hear the telephone ringing.
Before he pushed down on the handle, he sniffed, and realised there was a faint, yet, horrible smell in the air; one smell he knew all too well. When he pushed open the door to the living room, he saw the kitchen and went in to investigate the phone first. He wasn’t sure whether to pick it up.
When the shrilling subsided, he worked out how to trace the caller. On Caller ID, it said ‘Mother’ and he found out her mother had called more than fifty times and that there were over twenty three voicemail messages. He put the phone back down.
Almost immediately, the phone started ringing again.
He ignored it and inspected the rest of his surroundings. It was a mess. The microwave was still on; a pasta meal inside, uneaten and growing green, fuzzy mould. Probably been there for days. The bin was empty, except from a bundle of ashes and empty beverage cans. From the open bathroom doorway, he could hear a tap dripping inside. He went inside the bathroom, found nothing interesting except from a bottle of sleeping pills, and a toothbrush accompanied by The Comedian figurine in the toilet. Aside from that, the house was quiet, except from the annoying hum of bluebottle flies. They seemed to be hovering towards a particular spot in the living room.
The phone stopped ringing.
He looked over the counter, just past the screen, and saw her.
She was sitting down, and she didn’t respond when he called her name out, again.
Her back was rigid against the sofa, her legs sprawled out. Arms at each side, her head cocked to the side, leaning against her shoulder limply like a ragdoll. Her eyes were open, staring into space. She hadn’t gotten changed out of the clothes he saw her in previously. A mass of red obscured her forehead, the substance dripping down her eyelashes, her hollowed-out cheeks, her pale lips. It trickled off her chin, staining her lap. In her hand, a small revolver sat limply. In her other hand, a scrunched up note.
Rorschach walked up to her.
He stared, and took off his mask, kneeled down.
She looked back at him forlornly, her lips slightly parted. That expression of hers, looked so sad, stuck in subdued melancholy forever. Rorschach took her hand, felt the icy touch from her fingertips and pried at her stiff fingers, as she continued to gaze at him longingly. He took the note and opened it.
It said, I’m sorry.
He folded the note back up and handed it back to her. She wouldn’t accept it until he bent her cold, blue fingers back around it. He reached out unsurely, and put a hand over her head; smoothed down her hair slightly, and moved it down to her cold cheek. Then he withdrew his hand, looked at the flowers he had brought for her, and placed them on her lap. He took one flower out, attached it to the front of the lapel of his coat. He stood back up and pulled his mask back over his face.
“…I forgive you.” He said.
But it didn’t matter now.
Evelyn Carter was dead.