Jesse shivered in her bed. For hours now, she had been lying awake, listening to the sounds of the dying night, streaks of sunlight peaking over the horizon and into her window. Sleep was an elusive creature that she never managed to capture for very long. It danced just outside her grasp, taunting her heavy head and eyelids. Another night gone by now with only a moment or two of peaceful slumber. Her heart fluttered with the thought of facing another day.
Slowly she rose from the indention her body made in the soft covers and placed her feet upon the cold floorboards. Reality reigned once again. In the bed, even without sleep, she could pretend that life hadn’t changed. That her parents were not always crying and sad. That her father still had his job. That her brother still played in the backyard, his scabby knees covered in dirt and grass stains. He was always filthy when he came in for supper at the end of the day. Jesse’s mother had called him a street urchin, making him soak in the tub and hot water before they sat down to eat.
“There’s enough dirt on that boy for me to plant a garden! Jamie, do you crawl around underground to get that dirty, son?” He’d smile up at their mother, giggle, shaking his head.
Jesse closed her eyes to the memories, pushing them from her mind. There was enough remembering in the house, enough tributes to the dead and gone without reminding herself of them now. Time now for a shower to get ready for the day.
The mornings were the hardest part. Starting over each day, preparing for more heartache, more memories. More moments she wished she could fall through the cracks in the floor and disappear forever. She had developed a phrase, her own personal mantra, that she repeated throughout the day, over and over, until it was only a jumble of sounds that meant nothing at all.
“Smile. Just do it. Doesn’t matter if you believe it. Convincing everyone else that you do is the key. Play happy; everything’s ok. You are the strong one, the backbone. You can’t fall apart.”
She said it now as she made her way to the bathroom, leaving her pajamas in a heap on the floor. Jesse feared the consequences if she did stop saying it. The world would come crashing down around her and her family. She truly understood the momentous weight that Atlas must have born on his shoulders.