Chapter 16- The Illustrated Man

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The wine is soon gone, racing down the throats of the seven kids like gasoline, igniting fires inside them. Smoke billows out their heads in the form of laughter as slowly, like sparks caught in the wind, they all go their own way. Sidney and Noah stay to clean up, murmuring about business and becoming roommates. Alwin leaves for work, muttering about some book he needs to work on. Alex and Poppy depart loudly, teasing each other before Alex splits off to go work and Poppy races home. Jordan and Riley leave Sidney's house as well, wandering to the calm sound of silence.

"What are you thinking about?" Riley asks after a while, noticing how Jordan keeps staring off into the distance.

She takes a deep breath and then replies, "A lot of things. Just have a lot on my mind."

"You can tell me."

"I know."

With that, neither of them speak again. Jordan keeps walking towards the trailer, towards home, and begins to think and then starts to speak, so quietly it seems like only she can hear it.

"I can't help but wonder how many questions there are in the world, how many stories untold, how many answers unknown. Not all of us have our story written on our skin, though we all dread remembering it in one way or the other. That, oh, what was he called? Ah, yes, the illustrated man. The man covered in pictures, his blood literally moving stories and changing lives. His skin a tapestry and god the painter, I don't know how I could've forgotten him, or why I am only remembering him now.

"You know, my father used to tell stories, what they were, well, I can't tell you, because I can't remember. All I can say is that he was my illustrated man. Stories ran in his blood and spilled out of his mouth like sour milk. And I, I was the dog that lapped it all up without thinking, not even noticing the taste, the texture. Sometimes I even tried to copy his drawings, hoping they'd be tattooed on my memories like they were on him, but at the end of the day, all I got were vague shapes.

"If my father was the illustrated man, perhaps I am the scrawled child. I don't draw with ink on skin, I don't carry my stories that way. No, instead I write them down, hoping that I'll sketch out something more than a blurry image. I keep them on shelves in my memory and in case those burn down, I have real bookshelves too, ones that I can see and touch and breath in."

"And what if those burn?" Riley asks, skipping down the street like a pebble on water.

"I don't know, and that's what scares me most. Do you know how hard it is, to not really know where you're from or what made you into who you are today? That void in you that can never be filled but is always hungry, do you know what that's like?"

"In a way."

"How? You're the one who can remember, that's what makes you special, and what do I get? You have halls of memories and mountains of past experiences to look back on and what do I have? Nothing. Just a hollow ringing that echoes and echoes, until I can't hear anything else."

"I don't remember everything, you know. Only bits and pieces. Enough to paint a picture, but not a clear one." Riley mutters quietly, defending herself to a pair of deaf ears.

"But at least you know that something happened, that you, at one point or another, truly lived. I don't even know if I've ever felt alive, and what does it matter? It's not like I can remember any of it anyway, until..."

"Until what?"

"Until now. Only now do I know that I had someone, and somehow, I thought remembering would make things better, but what if it's actually making things worse? There's a certain pain that comes with not knowing, but there's also a numbness to it. Now, that I can see just enough to know that something, something real, is in my mind somewhere, I don't know what to do with it. Before I could ignore the fact I had a family who left because, well, it's not like I could really remember them, really think about our shared past. It's impossible to cry out for those that have left you if you can't remember them."

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