Anima both hated and loved hospitals.
She could never understand this conflict of feeling, but in the fog of uncertainty her duality was one clear thing. Which in itself was a nice sensation. Certainty was not a constant in her life, by any means, so Anima grabbed what she could as long as it was agreeable. She was never too bothered by contradictions.
The familiar noises of Tannoy announcements, machines, beeping hearts and other aural chatter enveloped her as she walked down the corridor, coupled by the staid smells of chemicals, plastics and anaesthetics. Polite nods exchanged with the passing nurses and a few patients as well. In truth, it wasn’t just through open friendliness. It was partly because Anima had spent the last few minutes pacing through the same corridors to delay reaching her father's room. Ordinarily, such behaviour noticed by others would inspire suspicion, especially during such a paranoid political climate. Yet something kept everyone at ease around Anima during her trips to hospitals. Had she realised, she may have put it down in the 'pros' column of why she liked such places. Instead, Anima remained blissfully unaware as she eventually summoned the courage to peek her head into the door where her father rested, stretched out on his bed of sparkling white sheets. His eyes were closed, with only the pale tint of his pallid albino skin showing; the rest of his bulky frame was covered, giving an almost ethereal look to him. Despite having seen her father like this many times, Anima still felt her gut tighten a modicum. And this was just him sleeping.
"Are you goin' t' stand there or actually come in, daughter dearest?"
The deep rumble of his voice caught Anima off-guard. He hadn’t even opened his eyes. Had there been anyone else in the room they may have wondered what power exactly he had over her as she tensely stepped in. "Hey Dad." She tentatively pulled up a grey plastic chair and sat at the bottom of the bed.
"What, I've got leprosy now? Git up here." He still kept his eyes closed. Clearly his hearing was as keen as ever.
Anima shuffled awkwardly to the side of the bed, and sat down again, back straight and her hands pursed on her lap. She stared at her father's still features, almost unmoving if it wasn’t for his breathing. And even that was so deep and slow that it took whole seconds to register to his daughter's naked eye. She felt the very sudden urge to light a cigarette, even though she gave up smoking years ago.
"Mm," was the response. After a couple more seconds, she said, "You?"
There was a grunt, almost a snort. "You already know the answer. I like how you always try to humour me."
"Yes…" he exhaled pointedly."They do. But not this."
"Yeah, well, the rest of us manage." She immediately realised it was the exact wrong thing to say, but a clamp-like feeling around her throat stopped her from saying anything else.
Still without opening his eyes, her father's brow furrowed, showing wrinkles on a face whose years were impossible to tell beyond a generic 'middle aged'. "You think this is easy f' me? Decades of splutterin' and coughin' and not knowin' when my time is? The uncertainty, the pain, the-" he stopped and breathed out again, taking in a deeper, more measured breath. He next words were far calmer. "Oh, how I envy you, you ungrateful child. You don’t know how lucky you are."
The cigarette craving was getting worse. "You make it sound like you're dying."
Anima cursed under her breath, hoping it wasn’t audible. "You're all like you were turned mortal yesterday, for fuc-"
"Don’t you dare swear!" He sighed. "Your mother-"
"-took her 'affliction' with far more grace than you ever have." Anima wondered where this raft of courage had come from, hoping that she didn’t drown in the surrounding sea of trepidation. "Look, Dad… I… know it's not easy for you. Sure as heck wasn’t easy for Mum. But this needs to stop. You can't keep having Zeal help 'convince' people here to take you in every time you wish you were an angel again. I don’t even know why you'd want to be in a place like this anyway."
"Just… reminiscing. You wouldn’t understand."
"Oh, of course not. I'm just your mortal daughter. I've not lived for an eternity. My life is but a speck. Bollocks. Spare me the usual crap, Magus."
At the mention of his name, Magus' eyes shot open. His irises were deep red, shining brightly outside his bone white face. He stared at Anima for duration, no words coming from his tightly pursed lips. His daughter glared back, despite a powerful desire to leave the room. But she stayed fast in her seat, matching eyes for what seemed like hours in the seconds that passed. Then, finally, he closed them again.
There was a whole minute of silence between the two before Anima decided to break it. "Why do you always find it so hard to look at me?"
Magus' voice broke slightly with the first sound before he tried speaking again. "I…" there was a flicker of movement underneath his eyelids."I like the darkness. Sometimes. Reminds me of… before."
The longing for tobacco started to rise again in Anima's veins. Or at least, she thought it was for tobacco. She let the moment hang tensely and thick in the air for a few long seconds before she spoke again with equally heavy intent. "You know, parents are usually far more tactful when they repeatedly tell their child they were an accident."
A pained expression broke on Magus' face. Again he seemed to have problems in enunciating his words fully. His daughter could feel something inside her chest get tighter and her eyes start to burn. But she refused to move or give release to what was building. Eventually Magus said, "I didn’t mean it like that."
Anima's throat tensed. "No… you didn’t, did you." She looked over her father, lying in his pure white sheets, and shook her head minutely. Forcing the next words out, she said, "What did you bring me here for."
Magus' stifled a sigh with an awkward pause of breath. "When was the last time you used them?"
The words came from Anima, but they were slow and stupid. "Used what."
"Don’t play games with me, Annie. You know exactly what."
"Oh, for fuc- that's all you dragged me here fo-" Anima stood up and started to head towards the door. "Don’t worry, I'll just keep on suppressing all the things you've given me since birth. My abilities, my heritage, my full name – that's Anima, by the way… anything else you want to hammer down to the decks of the Titanic?"
Still Magus' eyes did not open. "Listen to me. Zeal came to me last night. Said something is wrong."
Anima stopped her pace just short of the exit. "Zeal always says that. I've had the delight of his company all day so far. Which is rare." She increased the spite in her voice. "He's never been much of a Godparent."
If there was any reaction to the barb, Magus hid it. "Something is happening. Things are changing. Whatever it is, you need to stay low."
"I've been staying low all my damn life, thanks."
"NO." Magus realised his voice had taken a sharp resonance that echoed around the room. He reduced it, but kept the severity of his original tone. "No. This is different. If Zeal is telling me, it's different."
She kept near the door but didn’t edge closer to it. "Different how."
"Zeal's tryin' to find out. Lot of rumours an' hearsay right now. And the Kingdoms don’t deal with rumours an' hearsay, which means problems. Something's got them anxious."
Anima could feel a dislike of herself from her reactions, but found it difficult to curb the rising petulance. Her emotions were running too hot. "And this has what to do with me, exactly? No one's going to come looking for me as long as I'm apparently not using the things I've not ever used throughout my shallow existence. And I have a negligent shadow demon to at least mock my lack of life direction. Far as I'm concerned, you're just telling me to do what I've always been doing: fuck all."
"Don’t you DARE swear in my presence again, you hear me? Don’t ever swear near me!" Magus snarled. "All I want is that-"
"All you want is for me to become a shadow," spat Anima, her father unable to force his verbal attempts of intervention between her venom. "That's all I've ever been. A reminder of a mistake you made with Mum all those years ago that got you in trouble. Well be happy. The Powers That Be may be up to something, but guess what; you're not immortal anymore, Mum's dead and I'm just the failed mortal progeny of two rejected angels. No one gives a shit about us. We're all just shadows. But at least you weren’t born one."
Anima turned to walk away, but stopped. There was no sound from her father; not in reply to her lambaste, nor in an attempt to stop her. Anima's body felt tired. Her head throbbed with pressure. Still she refused tears as she said softly, "This is the longest conversation we've had in ages. You know that, Dad?"
Without turning around, she waited for a response. When none came after a few seconds, a sense of deflation spilled from her lungs. Followed by her final words to her father. "Yeah. That's what I thought too."
And then she left.
[Copyright Corey Brotherson 2007. All rights reserved and cannot be used without permission. Thank you.]