Blocked: A Small Mercy

BY : Ghost-of-a-Chance
Category: +S through Z > Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Dragon prints: 64
Disclaimer: I don't own the Ninja Turtles; Donnie wasn't actually around for these and I make no money from this story.

To most who read this, this will simply be an odd little story about grief and moving on; friends and folks who have read "A New Lease on Life" and or its crack-fiction spinoff "Blocked" will know the story goes much deeper than that. 

This story began in Blocked with a cringe-ridden fictional setup meant purely for laughs - Donnie found himself inexplicably yoinked out of his world and timeline and dumped in the woods behind the Chance family home, then hilarity happened. Then, in 2018, my real life went to shit. Uncle Bob's cancer came back and metastasized to several vital organs, and I was dispatched to provide in-home care for "Granny Chance." I won't go too into detail but I managed everything in that house from her general care to trying to make a dent in the decades of accumulated filth she was content to live in.

Through it all, I slept in a room the size of a closet, surrounded by evidence of Gran's hoarding, mouse shit, and bugs, and did everything I could to make the house liveable. Whenever Bob was home between treatments, my workload doubled and I found myself playing referee for two grown adults intent on screaming and threatening each other and me. All this time, I was berated, yelled at, insulted, lied to and about, and verbally abused by Gran; I endured it all without showing weakness until she was asleep, then fell apart in private or on the phone. My husband was only able to visit on weekends, and my cats developed a fear of being alone. I rarely got more than six hours of sleep per night. My health took a massive downturn and the amount of physical work pushed my chronic pain into overdrive and taxed my damaged joints and back more than ever. That family is...was...emotionally abusive and toxic, so my PTSD kicked itself into high gear. I started having panic attacks and night terrors again, and spent more time sick than not.

Eventually, Bob and Gran both went into hospice for the professional care they needed, and I came home to recover. That December, Bob died; less than thirty days later, Granny Chance followed him. This is where the story begins.

 


We come into this world with a scream;
perhaps it's a matter of mercy when we can leave this world in silence.


 

A Small Mercy

December 2018

Hours before, Donatello would have sworn that life in the Chance household was fine. Sure, stress levels were high, and Ghost was crankier than usual, but she was a serial-grouch. Not to mention the holidays were just around the corner—Christmas was on the way and the impending holiday was stressful in itself for people who lived aboveground. Even with the general tension, though, Donnie was sure everything would blow over in time. Everything would be fine; the little family just needed to get some rest, take a night off, and approach the next week with fresh eyes.

At least, that was his belief an hour before. Now, he knew it was wrong. Someone was calling him—no, they were hammering his cellphone—despite only two people in this messed up world having his phone number. One of those people was in the house, probably lurking in the parlor and grumbling into yet another cup of tea. The other person never gave Donnie his number in return or it would be programmed in already.

Again the cellphone rang—once again, Donatello let it go to voicemail, worried about who might be on the other end and afraid of admitting his existence to a stranger. Finally, a change—the caller sent him a barely intelligible text:

COLlD ANSR DAMIT1

COLD?! Donnie shuddered, his scales prickling in warning. Cold Chance's phone was notoriously bad for texting, the blond's poor spelling aside; getting a text from Cold meant something was wrong. Cold never called him from work or contacted him on the phone; now, not only was the bristly blond calling Donnie's personal cellphone, he was hammering the line.

Something was wrong—Something was horribly wrong. Donnie redialed the number from memory. Barely a second in, it was answered. "Why haven't you answered?!" Cold barked at him. "Where's Ghost? Is she home, is she there? Is she breathing?!"

"Whoah, hang on," Donnie cut in. "What happened?" Silence—a long silence on the other end of the phone—somewhere in the distance was a clang of heavy machinery and a buzzer alarm. In the background, Donnie picked up a strange voice with an accent that sounded…Colombian? Guatemalan, maybe? Cold hissed out a sharp, tremulous sigh.

"She called earlier," he explained in an almost monotone. "I answered, she didn't say anything. I figured the connection was bad and hung up to call back…she didn't answer." Another sigh followed by a warning klaxon and someone cursing. "I got ahold of her mother for answers…it's time."

Donnie blanched. "It's…time?" he repeated weakly. "I don't—"

"Look, I've gotta get back to work," Cold interrupted, "I used up my break trying to get ahold of you two. I should be there right now…but I'd lose my job." Another voice mumbled something near the phone, then Cold snapped out an answer. "Just hold on, it's an emergency! That fucker John broke me out half an hour late, he can wait five minutes to go sit on his ass!" Heavy footsteps faded into the background. "Look, Don, you've gotta find Ghost—she shouldn't be alone right now and I can't be there for a few more hours. I'm counting on you, okay?"

Donatello had a lot of questions at this point—a veritable list of questions a mile long—but he had only one answer. "I won't let you down."


The unexpected phone call was the first sign something was wrong. The second was absolute silence in the parlor—a room which, just hours before, was full of life, sound, and a socially awkward brunette belting out Gaudete off-key and in rough Latin. Now, the room was silent—dead silent—the only sign of life was that same brunette standing over a plastic storage tote full of protective wrapping.

Donnie scanned the room for answers and did not like what he found. The Christmas lights, freshly hung and on a timer, were off and unplugged—the pre-lit artificial tree, too, was unplugged, and half the ornaments were missing. Ghost stood before the tree, cradling a blown glass bluebird in one hand and gently wrapping it in tissue paper. Her eyes were red and swollen, and her cheeks were shiny with dried salt trails, but her face had no expression. She just put up the decorations, and there were still many days before Christmas, but she was taking it all down without warning. This…no, this wasn't a good sign…something was horribly wrong. Cautious, concerned, he crept toward her and stopped a breath away; she gave no indication of noticing him.

"Ghost?" As hesitant as the greeting was, Donnie half expected she wouldn't hear him. Instead, she startled and fumbled the ornament, though she managed to not drop it. That, after all, would be a sorry fate for an heirloom Victorian reproduction. Donnie looked at the tree, looked down at the box of ornaments, then back to the tree, over to the bluebird in her hands, then back up at Ghost's tear-stained face. "What happened?" She turned away in dismissal, carefully enshrining the tissue-shrouded bluebird in a swath of bubble-wrap. He caught her by the wrist and relieved her of the package. "What happened?" he repeated, this time more slowly. "Why are you taking down the decorations already? You just put them up, remember?"

Ghost blinked as if confused, then forced a watery smile. "Christmas is over," she answered as if that explained everything. "Why leave 'em up if it's all over?"

Donnie stilled, confused, and whipped out his phone to check the date. "Christmas isn't over," he insisted as he showed her the phone screen. She refused to look, eyes focused on yet another ornament—a sparrow this time, a tiny resin trifle.

"Don't be ridiculous." The confusing woman still refused to look at him, her eyes darting back and forth between the miniature sparrow, her closed cellphone, and the already half-naked tree. "Christmas…is over…it has to be over because…" She froze, eyes wide and shiny, lips twisting into a crooked soundless whimper. "…because people…people don't…"

It took far longer for Donatello to connect the pieces than he cared to accept. Ghost was late putting up the tree this year–a good week or so late–because she knew something horrible might happen over the holiday season. She'd told Donnie many awkward stories over the last couple of years about Bob, her cantankerous uncle. Bob was fading. Two Christmases ago, he was diagnosed with cancer; after a period of possible remission, a fiasco with the VA, and a sudden downturn and onslaught of metastases, his time was running out. Ghost initially planned to not decorate for Christmas…if the worst happened over the holiday, she wasn't likely to have the heart to take it down. Now, without any warning, she was packing away the tree right after putting it up…the reason was painfully clear.

"The season is already over," he asked gently, "because it's a time of birth…not death?" Ghost choked, hiding her eyes and wrapping her arms tightly around her middle.

"Pe—peheep-le…" she stammered, choking on every thick syllable, "th-they don'…don' die…not f-fer…" The last went unspoken, cut off in a sound somewhere between a choking gasp and a pained cry. When Bob's cancer first came out of remission, Donatello learned something incredibly awkward about his eccentric hostess–he tried to offer her comfort and got a lungful of married pheromones in return. Since that painfully disturbing moment, he'd kept his distance when Ghost struggled with her emotions, and Ghost, in turn, didn't go to him for comfort. Now, though, he knew the alternative was worse.

Sometimes the only thing that could help was a sympathetic shoulder to cry on.


Cold returned home early—almost exactly at midnight—and promptly shrugged off his coat and gear. Before his supervisor let him off, he got the story in bits and pieces through texts from Donnie and occasional updates on his wife's handling of the situation. From the door, he didn't hear any crying—any sound at all, really—and he worried even more for it.

He found Ghost and Donatello in the living room, sitting on the old Grandma sofa in complete silence; one of Peter Jackson's J.R.R. Tolkien movies was playing on the TV, but without any sound, Cold couldn't tell which just yet. He plopped down on Ghost's other side and wrapped his arm behind her, petting her hair. No response…she just stared through the tumbler of Tennessee Honey in her hand, lost in thought. It had been a long time since he last saw her looking so…empty… "Any word?"

"Nothing yet," Donnie answered over Ghost's frizzy hair. "He's…" He glanced down at Ghost in concern. "I mean—"

"He lost consciousness this evening." The two men winced at her grief-raspy voice, but they held their tongues. "I just saw him this morning…now it's just…" Her voice finally cracked—her eyes shimmered, and she blinked away another onslaught of tears—she cleared her voice and tossed back another swallow of whiskey. "It's just a matter of time," she explained. "All we can do is wait."

Late in the night, or perhaps early in the morning, Bob Chance passed away. The world at large went on spinning its noisy track, but in the Thomas-Chance household, everything was still and silent.


Christmas was a gloomy affair. No carols played in the small, cluttered house; no gifts were wrapped, no cards mailed or cheesy holiday movies watched. The slightest reminder was always marked with tears from Ghost and silent brooding from Cold. After Christmas Eve and Day, life, for better or worse, continued on without any notice of Bob's death. Cold worked at the factory and came home exhausted and sore. Ghost took care of her usual housework, albeit at a much-reduced rate, and visited Granny Chance at the hospice.

Not even a month after Bob's death, Ghost again received a phone call which sent her still and silent, but this time the few decorations were all put away. This time, there were no tears; she used them all up the previous month. Donatello didn't understand the difference. Weren't both situations equally deserving of tears? "Gran's had a stroke," Ghost explained as she meticulously wound a plain black scarf around her hair and neck. "Ma's on her way…I'll be back when…" She fell silent, eyebrows and jaw clenching, and took a deep rib-straining breath. "There's potpie in the fridge an' we have Netflix 'til February. I'll be in touch." As in December, she accepted his encouraging hug without a fight, but this time she looked drained afterward instead of distraught.

Late that night, Granny Chance died as well; this time, Ghost chose tea instead of liquor. "I don't wanna talk about it," she told Donnie when she noticed him standing in the doorway. This time he let her push him away. Perhaps the distance would help.


On the day of the funeral, Ghost sought him out with the intent to apologize for "bein' bitchy lately." It took a while for Donnie to wrap his head around that one. She was grieving, and grief negatively impacted how people handled stress and made them prone to lashing out…but he held his tongue. There were better times to address her apparent 'I'm an asshole' complex than when preparing for a funeral. Instead, he gave her a weak smile then watched her disappear down the hallway again…then he followed her.

In the bedroom, some electronic device was playing a jazz number that often filled the house in the year before but not once since Bob's death: It's Only a Paper Moon. He wasn't sure what the connection was or what the song meant to her and wished he understood. Before leaving to care for her Granny Chance and uncle, she often sang or hummed that song while doing housework when she thought no one was listening; it was one of few she didn't butcher. Now when it came up on her playlists, she choked, sniffled, and skipped the track. Donatello wished he understood what that meant but balked at asking.

He studied her in silence, thankful Cold was in the shower and unlikely to interrupt, but refused to acknowledge why interruption concerned him. Unaware of her audience, she straightened the neckline of her floral blouse and shook out her black skirt, then perched on the edge of the rumpled bed to straighten her dark stockings and tug on her black flats…then she shrunk inward, shaking. His hand on her shoulder startled her. When her eyes met his – hers muted blue-green, and his verdant brown—her eyes were wet and vulnerable, naked eyelashes spidery and clumping together. Donnie dug a worn purple handkerchief out of his coveralls and passed it to her without a word.

"Sorry," Ghost muttered as she scrubbed at her dripping eyes. "I'm…a mess…"

"A lovely mess," Donnie agreed with a wry smile. She answered with a dismissive snort and rolled eyes. Last Summer, she probably would have chucked a shoe at him in jest; now, she just stared at the floor and idly spun her ring around her finger.

"We're never ready to say goodbye." The admission was quiet, almost a whisper. "I'm…I'm glad I got to say it this time." As if realizing her thoughts were taking her down a dark road, she shook her head and cleared her throat. "It'll…I'll…be alright. At least she isn't hurting anymore."

If Donatello had been human, he might have been able to attend the funeral with Ghost and Cold. If he had, he would have seen a family torn apart. Children argued under their breaths, and elderly friends attempted to push the focus upon themselves. One granddaughter cried herself to hysterics, and a grandson joked about the quality of the food served at the reception. Amidst it all, Ghost never let go of Cold's hand and saved her tears for the privacy of the cloakroom. All the while, she worried, wondered, and wished for the strength to rise above her feelings.


Spring came and went, and Summer followed, each with new crises. Ghost's health took a sudden and massive downturn resulting in several visits to doctors and, from what Donatello could gather from her scribblings on the calendar, a few specialists. After scattered urgent care and ER visits, the family still had no answers…they didn't know why she was always hurting, sick, weak, and struggling. Words like autoimmune and malingering were tossed around like they had any meaning to took warnings of a possible stroke, but finally, the eccentric woman started really taking care of herself while searching for answers.

Fall began with a renewed sense of purpose and determination. Ghost was finally taking care of herself again and undergoing grief counseling, which was long overdue. She never mentioned therapy until he noticed it on the calendar, but Donnie was still proud of her for taking that step. Of course, counseling opens up old wounds in order to heal them, and when old wounds are fresh again, people tend to become…touchy.

"Yeah…yes, I know, believe me, I—no, it wasn't right but—yes, but—Dad, I—" Donnie looked up from her laptop to make eye contact with the frustrated woman pacing with her phone. She grimaced and shook her head at him, then glared up at a plastic curler already falling out of her fringe. After several more interrupted statements, agreements, and platitudes, Ghost finally snapped. "Dammit Dad, I'm not yer supervillain origin story! Git yer own! I have to go!" Without another word, she hung up and turned the phone on silent; almost immediately, the screen started flashing with an incoming call she rejected. Her eyes, when they met Donnie's over the computer screen, were simmering. "Never," she seethed, "an' I mean never hurt someone with a grudge-gatherin' narcissist in their family. I'm the one who went through all'a that shit with Gran an' Bob an' he's the one pissed an' throwin' tantrums."

"If you think about it you both deserve to be angry," Donnie pointed out. Ghost wilted a little, then scoffed and rolled her eyes.

"I'm too tired to be angry," she argued, but her eyes betrayed it as a lie. She was angry—angrier than she was comfortable with—but she wasn't ready to admit it yet. Anger, after all, couldn't coexist with grief.

could it?


The month leading up to Thanksgiving was quite possibly the strangest yet. There were still no answers regarding Ghost's health; there was still no progress regarding the civil war building in her family. Ghost, for all Donnie could tell, continued on as though stopping meant she would never start again. Soon, Ghost was another year older, and November was almost over. Though the two had a rough start when he was literally dropped into her life, over the last year, Donnie and his strange hostess built an even stranger friendship. They shared the household chores along with their troubles, and the bonds and boundaries between them strengthened.

"Thanksgiving's coming up," he reminded one day, elbows-deep in dishwater. "Have you made up your mind?" Ghost winced, but hunching over the dishwasher with a pie dish wasn't the reason. "Still no decision, huh?"

"...no." Her lips tightened, and she put far more focus on positioning the heavy ceramic pan than it could possibly need. "My parents expect us to go...the whole family expects it. We've never missed a Thanksgiving before…" But… "...I don't know how I'll manage it."

"You mean without making a scene?" Fitting the skillet in the drainer nearly caused a collapse; how ironic it was that fitting in a family gathering this year was on the verge of doing the same to Ghost's sanity.

"How can I face those people? Aunt Bea—I can forgive her, probably, but Uncle E…" She growled under her breath and jammed a mug in the top rack with unnecessary force. Nope, she still wasn't anywhere near over what that man did; considering what Donnie overheard and what she and Cold told him the previous year, the fact comforted him in a strange sort of way. That anger meant she was finally ready to admit that what happened was wrong, and if the situation ever recurred, she wouldn't tolerate the same treatment again. "Gran forgive me, but I can't promise I won't punch her thieving, money-grubbing, self-centered son in the balls the next time I see him."

"And he'll be there." He inhaled a lungful of the humid lemon-scented air and glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "Skipping the gathering would upset your parents." Ghost nodded, a stray curl falling in her eyes only to be swatted away. "Punching your uncle would upset them worse, though, right?"

"...why've you gotta make so much sense?" Ghost sighed.

In the end, Ghost and Cold skipped the family gathering. Instead, they went out-of-town with Cold's mother for Thanksgiving, and Ghost woke up the next morning nauseous with a pounding ache behind her eyes. "How the fuck did I get a hangover if I never got drunk?" she complained.

"You had scotch on an empty stomach before we left, you drank three glasses of wine with a light dinner, and you had another scotch when you got home," Cold reminded. "I never saw you drink a single glass of water; it's a miracle you weren't dancing on the table." Cold probably took a pillow to the face for that one, but if so, it happened while Donatello was laughing too hard to see clearly.


It was December 8th, 2019. Anniversaries are supposed to be times of celebration; anniversaries of deaths, however, are not a thing to celebrate. One year to the day of Bob's death found Ghost sitting in the living room with Woozle in her lap and The Two Towers playing low. Donatello joined her on the sofa and wrapped an arm around her shoulders without a word. "The first year is the hardest," Ghost mumbled into the red fur between Woozle's ears. "Next year should be easier."

"You miss your uncle." Donnie scratched Woozle's backside and smiled at the cat's gruff purring and rolling. Ghost hesitated, her fingertips stilling on the cat's shoulder blades. Before, she refused to admit such a thing. First, she insisted it was pointless to miss Bob when she'd never see him again. Then she said she shouldn't miss him because being dead meant he wasn't suffering anymore. Finally, she focused on her anger over everything the dead man put her and her family through and insisted that missing him was akin to letting him off the hook for everything that came out since his death. How could she miss someone who let their drug habit destroy their life? Why should she miss someone who stole from his own mother, manipulated his siblings, took advantage of her kindness, frightened his nieces, and, if the stories were to be believed, may even have beaten his ex-wife? How could someone like that deserve to be missed? Still, the answer remained the same...

"I...I do...I miss him." Donnie said nothing of her shimmering eyes or her quavering voice; instead, he gave her a squeeze and passed her the TV remote. Sure enough, she sniffled, scrubbed her eyes dry, and turned up the volume.

Later that month, the Christmas decorations went up, though only half as many as usual. New Year's Eve came and went without any fanfare, then came the anniversary of the death of Granny Chance. This time, the Chance household was full of music, it smelled of spiced cider, and the Christmas lights were still glowing. "I've spent more'n enough time mopin' around," Ghost drawled when Donnie questioned her. "The least I can do is try to keep living."

Later that night, "It's Only a Paper Moon" came on while she brushed raw egg on the crust of a turkey potpie. For the first time in a long time, she sang along and let herself feel the regret she spent so much time trying to deny. In the hallway and out of sight, Donatello slid to the floor and listened, counting his lucky stars that his friend's heart was healing.


February 2020 brought sickness, and everyone in the house caught the bug before the month was out. Even Cold, whom Ghost professed "never gets sick," had a hacking cough for a few days. Ghost spent the better part of three weeks too tired to move, coughing, wheezing, and living on broth, Jell-O, and juice.

As March dawned, word spread of a deadly new disease called Covid-19. No cure—no treatment—no vaccine—no definite way to prevent it—an unusually high rate of infection and an even higher rate of deaths-per-infection—even Donnie was nervous about this one. By the time Summer was in full swing, several of Ghost and Cold's neighbors, a few of their friends, and half of Cold's coworkers tested positive for the disease. The world was in quarantine and still going to hell in a hand-basket. To top it off Ghost's health suffered again; one specialist diagnosed possible damage to the nerves and ligaments in one of her feet, while another struck Lupus off the List of Shit That Might Explain Why Ghost Is Always Hurting, Nauseous, and Sick. Ghost spent the next month and a half with her foot in a brace, sitting in her old recliner with her foot up, cursing at the world in general and threatening to "cane" anyone who came near her. If Donnie hadn't been so worried, the visual might have made him laugh.

Quarantine ended; the sickness continued to spread, and every month brought word of another friend testing positive. "If I wanted to die," Ghost grumbled one day while watching a news report, "now I know how to do it." Perhaps she felt Donnie's worried eyes on her because she added, "I don't wanna die, Don, I'm bein' a smartass." The year before, he would have wondered; this year, he had no reason not to believe her.


October arrived without fanfare and faded without progress or improvement. On one of the last nights, Ghost sat on the sofa mending a pair of Cold's lounge pants to the sound of Billie Holiday and Cold's video game controller clicking and his headset creaking. Donatello sat under the window poring over a thick book entitled The Golden Age. This would have seemed a perfectly normal night for the couple and their accidental roommate if not for three things: every now and then, Ghost snarled under her breath, she wore a murderous glare, and she had yet to stab herself with the needle a single time. After the first time several times she sewed around Donnie, he realized that for her, accidental needle stabbings were normal; the absence of such? Ominously abnormal.

"Did they insult your mother?" It took a while for Ghost to realize he spoke, then it took even longer for her to process the question. Whatever weighed on her mind, it was clearly heavier than it had any business being. "The pants. You're glaring at them like you want to kill them. What's going on?" Cold glanced back at her as if he, too, was concerned.

Ghost let out a loud, frustrated sigh, and the patterned cotton puddled sloppily in her lap, the needle falling and dangling from its thread; the image felt a bit too close to someone hanging by a noose for Donatello's comfort. "Thanksgiving." She met his eyes over his borrowed book far too soberly for someone nursing a glass of white Moscato and blueberries. "It's going to be at Gran's...the house was sold in-family and the new owner is hosting dinner." Cold scowled; Donnie grimaced. Donnie remembered the house with disturbing accuracy. After all the times he hitched a ride over on a late coal train to offer Ghost a hand with the chores and, when needed, a shoulder to cry on, he had only one response:

"You can't be serious." She nodded, and she looked entirely done with the whole issue. "There's only one bathroom," he reminded—as if she needed to be reminded after Gran wetting the couch every time the bathroom was occupied for two whole minutes. "One bathroom for, what, a dozen adults and five kids?"

"We're pushing twenty adults if'n ya count Cold," she quipped, but the joke fell as her tone. Cold flipped her off over his shoulder, and she retorted, "Maybe later."

"That house is a hoarder's nightmare," Donnie continued, this time, to himself, "there's nowhere to sit, the kitchen is infested with mice—there's a freaking hole in the living room wall!" Ghost tossed back a gulp of her wine. Before being recruited for Granny-sitting, Ghost never kept wine at home; now, there was always a bottle in the fridge.

"What Aunt Bea wants," she muttered and stared down into her glass, "Aunt Bea gets. The decision stands. I don't get a vote."


Back in the tail-end of 2018's warm season, Donnie hopped a salvage train to visit to what he called the Chance version of the house of Usher; he found Ghost out on the back porch, wedged between a bag of empty tin cans and a pile of newspapers. The cushion peeking around her thick thighs was all he could see of the bench she sat on, and a box of miscellaneous junk behind her nearly crowded her from her seat. Cicadas sang their final song from the darkness beyond the patio, and unseen crickets chattered from the rubbish piled around the porch. Ghost was silent, still, and empty; the old red bandana on her head told him she hadn't had a chance to shower in several days. Though the air was cold and she wore only shorts and a ratty sleeveless shirt, she never shuddered; though Donnie tried for an hour to encourage conversation, she never said a word. Gran had fallen asleep early for once—'early' meaning midnight—and Ghost was too drained to appreciate the break.

Only when Donnie came back from walking through the house, examining the state of the place, and making sure Gran was still sleeping, did she speak. "I kept pet mice as a kid," she told him without any preamble. "I didn't know there was a spring-trap under the bed." Finally, some sign of emotion—watery eyes. "I couldn't kill it...it was dying already, but I couldn't kill it...please tell me it's stopped squealing…" Donnie thought back to his quick glance into the guest room—it was more of a closet with a bed than an actual bedroom, really, and it was packed floor-to-ceiling with several lifetimes' worth of junk. He hadn't heard anything, but a dead mouse was a silent mouse...and mice would explain the droppings he found in the kitchen.

"I'll get it." At first, he meant to take care of the dirty deed immediately, but then he realized what went unsaid. "Have you never killed anything?" Ghost shook her head.

"Nothing bigger than a bug...I don't even kill spiders...if I find 'em, I take 'em outside." Ghost would never survive in his world, and right now, her survival in her world was up in the air. "Leave it by the shed, please? I'll...I'll bury it later. It was just looking for food and shelter...it didn't mean us any harm."

When he left, he threw the mouse in a neighbor's trash bin on the way to the train tracks. All the way back to Ghost's home, he kept remembering the haunted look in her eyes and the broken tone in her voice…and considering everything he saw in that house, and everything she'd told him...and every step of the way, he seethed.


In the present, Donnie frowned as if the word Thanksgiving was some horribly offensive slur. "Aunt Bea." He tested the word as if he didn't recall who Aunt Bea was. "She's the one who refused to sign off on admitting your grandmother to a hospice and volunteered you as a live-in nurse." Ghost nodded weakly and took a deep breath that lifted then slumped her shoulders; Cold's pants went unnoticed in her lap. "She's also the one who promised to take care of her for a week so you could have a break for your anniversary then left before the first night was up...and—"

"—I'm still angry." There was what Donnie was looking for. He closed his book, leaned back in his chair, and crossed his arms, studying her reactions; Ghost stared back at him over her glasses, and just as he was the night she found the mouse, she was seething.

"You've a right to be angry," he reminded. "Bea faced no consequences. Her brothers faced no consequences. They used you without so much as a thank you; now she expects you to go back to that house for a holiday meal without even a semblance of making it right." Ghost looked like she wanted to call him petty, then it fell apart when she realized she felt the exact same way.

"If only…" She fell quiet. Donnie arched one bare eyebrow at her—after all this time cooped up in the Chance household, he rarely bothered to wear his mask—and he uttered an inquisitive sort of hem noise. She forced the rest out. "If it wasn't for Covid...I'd happily ditch for Thanksgiving with Cold's ma—" Cold shot an incredulous look back at his wife, then shook his head and muttered something to a friend on the gaming chat. "—just like last year." Before Donnie could ask, she added, "she eats Thanksgiving out every year, pandemic or no pandemic." Donnie waited for a moment, hopeful she would follow up with another revelation or possibility, but none came.

"Cold?"

She snorted, but she wore the same crooked smile she wore every time her husband came up in conversation. Even a blind turtle could tell the odd woman was stupid-in-love with her equally-as-odd husband. "He won't care what we do as long as there's pie involved," she teased, and the man in question grunted an agreement.

"Then you have a decision to make, and only…" Donnie glanced up at the ceiling as he calculated, "...twenty-seven days, twenty-two hours, and—" Ghost was too busy choking on laughter to hear the rest. Twenty-seven days to make a choice she would rather not make at all.


December 8th, 2020. The air was cold—at least as cold as it ever gets in Missouri—and the small cat-hair-covered house was full of music. Softly, an off-tune voice sang along to a slow holiday number about the bleak midwinter. Lights hung in every window, a quartet of stockings hung on the living room wall—three red and one purple—and the scent of apples, cinnamon, and clove filled the air. In the parlor stood a half-decked tree, and before that tree stood a woman with tired green eyes, frizzy brown hair, and a small, crooked smile. Christmas was on the way again—the second Christmas since the death that sent Ghost's world spiraling out of control.

Ghost bent to rub her aching knee then when she straightened up, clutched at the middle of her back with a grimace. "You okay?" Donnie asked.

She paused, lost in thought, then met his eyes, determined. This day two years ago, Donatello found her taking down the tree because Christmas was a time of life, not a time of death. Today, she cradled that same glass bluebird in her hands, studying her reflection in one glitter-bedecked wing as if it held answers. A moment later, she shook her head and hung the bird from an empty branch. Nearby hung a small wooden guitar emblazoned with a three-letter name; opposite, a glass flower bore the name Gran. Christmas, after all, was a time to be with the ones you loved.

Ghost turned to Donnie, and where he once saw tears, now he saw hope. "I'm getting there," she told him with a wry smile. "It's just a matter of time."


 

For death to end debilitating illness may be a small mercy, but it is a mercy nonetheless;
perhaps it is not the size of such that matters, but our gratitude.



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