"All The Things"

- Kat

Rating: PG

Summary: Post ATY - Sydney deals with the emotional aftermath of a worst case scenario.

**

She is no liar, yet she will wash away

Honey from her lips, blood from her shadowy

hand,

And, dressed at dawn in clean white robes will

say,

Trusting the ignorant world to understand:

'Such things no longer are; this is today.'

- "She is No Liar" Robert Graves

*

At the drug store, she buys a pregnancy test.

But she is not pregnant.

She buys a kit that stains the plaque on her teeth, a glass thermometer and new weights for her kitchen scales. She takes them home in a large brown paper bag that bristles in her grip. Its folds are resistant somehow, proud. But even that rigidity fails. She holds the bag so tightly, jogging the last block to her house, that it tears.

Once inside, she empties the contents of the bag onto the kitchen counter. She fingers the pregnancy test - so long since she's bought one - and pops all of the tabs of the plaque stain kit onto the surface. She picks one up and crushes it between thumb and forefinger, watches the powder weather and weep dust. Satisfied, she grabs the pregnancy test and moves to the bathroom. She moves quickly, reminded of the last time she did this - Danny, and secretly, and hoping through fearing that 'not being careful' could be good this time - and closes the door with a flourish.

The air in the bathroom is stirred, the blind moves, and her hair whisps from her shoulders. She reaches the sink and smiles at her reflection. She's flushed.

Carefully, she unpacks the test.

*

Will used to send her e-mail all the time. Small forwards, little mpegs, bright messages that she'd be pleased to get, welded to her desk in the middle of the office.

Last week, he sent her e-mail. The subject line was, "You" and clearly the message had been sent from his account. He left no name.

Just, "Who are you?"

And then, "Who are you, really?"

She started to draft a reply. She entitled it, "Everything I know to be true."

Then she saved it.

Empty.

*

She shakes the test again to check that it's correct. No line in the window. No baby. No slow swelling, and the father kissing her belly and declaring, his voice hollowed by fear but trying for conviction, "Our baby."

She is not pregnant.

She goes to her computer and opens the file. Begins the document, "Everything I know to be true," with the words;

I am not going to have a baby.

She likes that, tries to smile for it, but with the colour draining from her cheeks finds the action hard.

She's starting with the truths that are easy to prove.

No line in the window. No baby.

She'll measure her height (5'8'') and step onto the scales, roll her tongue, hold her breath. And with each truth she can build a foundation, and on that foundation she can stand.

She is not going to have a baby.

*

Her father delivers a huge pile of photos and trinkets. He says, "I thought you might..."

And because she knows him, she finishes, "...thank you."

She throws them into a plastic bag with everything else there ever was of that life. The bag lives in her wardrobe, stuffed beneath the rack on which she keeps her court shoes. She had her feet measured. She takes elevens.

That night, she wakes at night and lifts the bag out of its hiding place. Just like it should be, the bag is heavy, loaded. She opens it carefully, minimising every sound she makes, and lifts out the old hat box, the shoe box her father gave her, the one remaining volume with the KGB inscriptions she didn't want them to take.

The photographs are never how she remembers them. Faded, handled and valued - they don't make any sense. Her parents, smiling, sand beneath them, sky above, inhabiting a world entirely separate from her own.

She looks to the familiars of her own pain - a wine glass, a picture frame, an old record on repeat - but finds them useless. She is surrounded by her own face, captured a thousand times, smiling. She knows each is receipt of a happiness that is real and that she wants to remember.

But she can't remember what made grassy-kneed, gap toothed, seventh grader Sydney Bristow smile.

Standing, she finds a scrap piece of paper and a stretch of scotch tape. On the paper, she writes,

"Everything there ever was" and affixes it.

She moves the bag back inside the wardrobe and closes the door. But it doesn't catch and with an eerie slowness arches back open. Anxiously she shuts it quickly, resting her head against the lightwood and pressing her palms into the grain to make the clasp click.

She can remember being curled up in her mother's lap, that woman's fingers through her hair and clean smelling, the rise of her stomach a restful pillow.

She has always loved that woman.

But there is not a truth within her.

*

She's daydreaming when the telephone rings.

A fantasy thick and dangerous. Arched smiles and heeled footprints in a sand eager to show the real weight of things. Whole histories given to regrets that gnaw at her toes when she is not looking, and sleep by her side when she is too cold to care.

He smiles at her in dreams, and winks like he knows.

Moving across the room, she picks up the handset.

After the initial pleasantries, Sloane's voice is low but controlled. He says, "Emily always loved her garden. It calmed her, helped her through some difficult times. I was thinking, perhaps you could pick some stems to dress the church."

Sydney wraps her fingers around the base of the receiver, pulls it close like a wearied friend. "I'd be honored."

"Good."

"And…you, how are you coping?"

There's no tell tale inhalation on the other end, no mumbling of words, no attempt to play for the disorganization of emotion people associated with grief. He answers, simply, "I miss my wife very much, Sydney."

Perhaps Arvin Sloane isn't a bad man, she thinks, expressing her sorrow once more, ("I'm so sorry,") before clicking the line dead. Not a good man either, but perhaps not a bad one. Perhaps just a man who knew his limitations, in possession of a list like Sydney's that made everything easier. Stripped, bleached and at his core a man with very few truths.

"I miss my wife very much," was Arvin Sloane's truth.

But not Sydney's. Sydney is branded by revenge, marked by it, scarred. Sydney sees in Sloane a man who killed, and kills, and will kill again. Much deeper than that, Sydney sees in Sloane a man she could kill. A man she could kill, citing vices she too shares, like Noah, lost in a world of lies. She could kill Arvin Sloane, kill him with hands she'd use to braid Francie's hair or make spice tea.

In her dreams, he smiles at her and winks like he knows.

But he looks with such belief, she wonders if he really sees her at all.

Her fantasy is dangerous and thick.

**

She thinks about him when she's not thinking about anything.

Alone, as much as she is accompanied. There, as much as here.

Her new handler is a woman. One with a large, accommodating smile and hands that seem to fold so neatly into her lap.

To her handler, she says, "Countermission?"

And her handler replies quick, words merging into one on a breath that is excited and full of verve, "But I thought...so soon after...and..."

The woman's compassion is as heavy as a perfume. Sydney feels it creep towards her, inhabit the air between them and finds herself suspicious of it.

She smiles anyway, long aware that she does this readily and often without knowing why. But then, she's always liked that.

She trusts the things she does without thinking. The instincts, the reflexes, the handholding with Francie in the dead of the night when the silence lingers and laughs. These things have not been processed enough to become false. These things are real, absolute.

She thinks about him when she's not thinking about anything.

*

In a mall, she hears a snatch of conversation with a familiar timbre and brings a small piece of paper forward from her pocket.

The list is long now. She's put a great deal of effort into honing the facts and making them correct. Item 78: her favourite movie is "It's A Wonderful Life." She re-watched it to make sure. She likes the part best where George Bailey stumbles through Pottersville in the deadest winter. She likes it because she knows the sequence was filmed in an Angeleno heat wave with soap flakes for snow. Item 79: She still wears glasses, thick- rimmed ones chosen the week after she had the laser surgery. Purchased because she was feeling nostalgic, and a little unnerved by the clarity.

Item 80 she writes quickly in a splintered hand, 'Sometimes I think I hear him when he's not there at all.'

She looks at what she's written and furrows her brow, but - spurred on - she writes, 'Item 81; I have lost so many people I don't even know what it is to lose anymore.'

She knows she didn't mourn him properly. She knows that she stood beside her father over his file in a darkened office. She knows that was the closest she got to a memorial service with a mother, in deep black, who wouldn't cry, gritted her teeth and refused to believe.

Sydney saw his body twist behind a glass. Sydney saw him drown. She looks at the paper, puts her pen to it but moves it no further. Watches the ink run out and blot, grow and misshape. After it, she writes, "Item 82; I don't like the music they play in malls" and then snaps the lid back onto her pen.

She knows she didn't mourn him properly.

*

Sometimes, she sleeps on the edge of Francie's bed.

Warmer there, allowing and drowsy.

Sometimes, she and Francie stay up all night and talk. Together, legs crossed like they were back in ninth grade fabricating ouiji boards, and sharing the little things. Francie talks of fear and pain eloquently and at length, she also laughs till her lungs lack air and her cheeks are tired.

There is no greater friend than Francie - strong in a way she doesn't realise and bold - bright - her arms maternal but her argument fresh. Sydney feels so old when they're together, engaged like a father is in a child; a distance tinged with regret, seeing potential in young eyes and feeling envy.

Sydney used to think words like "should" when it came to Francie. I should have a life like Francie's. I should be a better friend. I should try harder, do more, stay longer…

"Should" is a word she hates.

She should have told him so many things. She should have told him everything. He should have kissed the line where her hair met her skin, pulled the zipper on her pleated skirt, brushed the soft skin ebenath, told her, "You can trust me."

All that, "should."

Sometimes, she picks up the phone beside her bed calls the number to his house to hear it ring. It rings eight times and then cuts dead.

He was every truth she ever owned. By consequence, her captor.

She misses him.

*

One morning, she drinks coffee though her list states she's not fond of it and cries watching Good Morning America.

She goes to her computer and logs on. She finds the old message Will sent her, three weeks ago now, and opens the draft file she has been regularly updating, adds the last three items with a watery smile, and hits send triumphantly.

On the television screen Diane Sawyer comments, roundly, "All you ever could have wanted to know," and Sydney finds herself agreeing, nodding even.

Then she opens another e-mail, addresses it to Will and writes, "So who are you? Who are you, really?"

This is today.

*

Item 197: I never gave enough time to finding out whether or not I was in love with Michael Vaughn.

Item 198: But I am waiting for him.

Item 199: I am standing by the door.

Item 200: And I am not pregnant.

*

end

NOTES: Thanks to Rach, Elizabeth and Rhythm for their respective beta work. Thanks to Graves for the poem and Helen Dunmore, "All The Things You Are Not Yet" which inspired the title.