Title: A Better Life
Lyrics were donated by Shannon, and the song follows after the story. I don't think this was what you were expecting, Shannon, but thank you for the inspiration!
Um, it does need a bit of work, but I started looking at revising it just with a few tweeks and I realized that if I touched it again it was going to end up a ten-page story, if not longer. ;-p So I left it alone so you could actually read it sometime in this year.
Dreams are supposed to keep people alive, give them hope to carry on for another day, to reach for that happiness just out of sight. That's what we've been told. But I know another truth. Dreams can kill.
We married young. Probably too young. But we were in love and we wanted not only each other, but a life together and the happiness we saw ahead. If we were together, there wasn't anything that could drag us down. We thought.
But the years went by, and we struggled more and more, using up the bit of savings we had just to pay rent and get by, and things got that much worse when the babies came. Yes, they came, as they will to a young couple who take comfort and delight in each other and the pleasures of a night.
As the kids grew, and we moved from place to place going into the cheaper and dirtier sections of town, Danny changed. He clung even tighter to our dream of a better life. That one day we would get out of this city and make a better life for ourselves. That we would have a house and a bit of land. If we could just save enough money to get out, get out to the country, to a smaller town, somewhere, anywhere besides this dirty crowded city where a person fought just to stay alive.
It was a good dream, and I smiled and nodded as I changed diapers and sent the kids off to school and made lunches out of what I could save up from careful coupon clipping. Danny had something to look forward to, and it kept him going. Going to his grungy job and slaving away to bring home enough for us to live on. It was a dream, and he believed in it.
Then his dad got cancer. It sucked the life not only out of my father-in-law but also out of my husband. Danny watched his dad dying, cursed with the cancer that was surely from the factory he used to work in, and his dad cursed the factory and he cursed his life and he cursed his death. And Danny tried hard, but how can you give hope when there is only death? And so Danny saw his daddy's dreams turn to dust and ashes. Dreams that were cursed and despised as they proved that wishing doesn't make anything come true.
Danny was desperate for his dream after that. It would come true. He would make it so. He came home at nights and would stare at me and stroke my hair and whisper how pretty I still was and how we'd get out of here before this city killed me young. He was so concerned about me. I loved him for it, for he loved me so much that it just shone out of him. The dream of how it would be was bright and beautiful, standing out in our reality of dirty streets and dirty halls and dirty air.
So Danny decided to make it real. He stole a gun one day and held up a gas station. He'd planned on getting cash and a car and he and I and the kids would drive fast and far and we'd get outta this place. We'd drive to the countryside, we'd drive to a smaller town, we'd drive to freedom and a dream.
That was his plan. That he told me about as he sobbed and cried through the glass window that divided us when he was in his prison blues and I was on the other side. He'd killed someone in trying to make the dream come real. I believe him when he said it was an accident. He hadn't meant to kill, he only wanted some time to make the get-away. But heads aren't that hard and a blow aimed to stun instead took a life.
Took five lives if you count ours as well. Danny in jail, and me and the kids left alone. No job, no food, and the rent had to be paid.
I took what jobs I could. And struggled just to keep us alive. Dreams weren't enough to keep life in the body. No, dreams were what killed other people. I'd seen that truth for certain.
And then he came into our lives. The very embodiment of dreams and that happiness that was forever beyond our reach. The Mountie. A figure of legends and a forgotten light that we'd all left behind years ago.
He came to our apartment building and moved in with his bright red uniform and cheerful smile and polite words. He wooed the people into his circle with his open heart and caring ways. And we all came. One by one, we fell into his hands and started to open our selves and realize how poor we had been before he came.
No, he didn't give us money. What he gave us was hope and dignity and a bit of ourselves back. It was a ray of sunshine into this gloomy dirty city. He cared. Somebody who wasn't our family actually cared about us. He didn't go out of his way to insert himself into our lives, but rather he included us in his. He'd walk by our apartment doors on his way up the stairs, and if we happened to be in the hall he would say hello. He would tip his hat in that curiously polite way, and he would look us in our eyes, and he would say 'Good afternoon, Ma'am."
It wasn't anything special. A little old-fashioned, but not particularly elaborate or special. He didn't single anyone out, he treated us all equally. And it was all the more special for it. Slowly, we came out from our apartments and looked at each other and saw not a place that we needed to get away from but rather a place that held other human beings and ourselves that was our home. We started to smile at each other. Slowly, cautiously, we emerged.
Us young mothers started it first, as our children squabbled and cried and we'd look at each other and there'd be that flash of understanding between us. We all knew what it was, to raise children as we could. And slowly, our understanding turned to sharing. We talked in low whispers. About the kids, about the Mountie. Never about how horrible it all was and how we needed to get away. We knew better. All the young mothers knew better. We wouldn't get away. We couldn't. The only thing we could do was survive.
We started to come over to each other's apartments. To share cooking hints and pool our resources to make something more than survival. We cleaned the halls outside our apartments and put out little pots of plants. They didn't always survive, but our kids always managed to get us more. The Mountie would occasionally stop and give us some tips from the Great North. They always involved a story which we reverently listened to. Some of the tips were useful, many weren't. They involved a time and place that was so far removed from our lives that it was hard to believe it was real. But just the fact that he cared... It brought tears to our eyes and astonished us. It made us look to each other, and release that we could care as well.
Those were the good days.
The bad days were when I had to visit Danny. Danny hadn't changed. He still believed in the dream. The dream that if only we could get out, our lives would change. That there was a better life for us out there. "There" was always undefined. But his anxiety mounted as he saw me change.
I'd stopped wearing the pretty make-up and tight clothes that still fit me so well even after two babies. I was wearing comfortable jeans and loose shirts that were good for both working and relaxing in. The bright smiles that I'd once reserved for him alone were now bestowed on the other people I walked by. I even smiled at the guard one day when he held the door open for me. Danny couldn't understand why I'd stopped trying. Why I didn't believe in the dream anymore. Why I seemed content to live in the poorest and meanest section of the town.
And I couldn't tell him why, because I didn't know myself, really. Nothing had changed except for ourselves.
Life continued on in this way. The days had laughter for me and my children and our friends around us. We watched the young girls try to flirt with the handsome Mountie and we smiled indulgently at them but never once tried for ourselves. The Mountie was a friend, but he wouldn't ever be a woman's mate. Those of us who had families of our own recognized it, but the single girls never seemed to.
We were happy. Somehow, in some way, the Mountie had made our lives worth living again. We hadn't moved, we didn't suddenly have more money, but somehow we were now happy. It was... a dream. It wasn't Danny's dream, the one I had once shared. Instead it was a dream that we all lived and prayed we'd never wake up from.
But dreams don't last. One day, Danny came home.
He was wearing clothes that didn't fit and his eyes were wild and full of something a little like madness. He came to our apartment and told us we had to go now. That we were getting out of town and making it good somewhere else. That this hole wasn't life, it was death, and if I didn't want to die young we'd better get out.
The children cried and hid from their father. I wanted to do the same. How did I explain that I didn't want to leave anymore? That this was our home and we liked it here? He knew what we'd been through and what our dreams used to be. But he hadn't been around when the magic of the Mountie was working through our neighborhood. Danny had been in jail, his dream festering and turning into something dark and deadly.
For Danny should still have been in jail - he wasn't supposed to be released for another five years. He and some others had broken out. Desperate and with all hope lost except for the dream of freedom and a better life, they had hurt maimed other people's dreams by injuring guards and breaking out.
It was stupid. How were we supposed to get out of the city and move to another town with him a wanted man and an escaped criminal? It had been stupid the first time, and it was even moreso now. But Danny believed in his dream to the point where he didn't see anything else anymore. Just the promise of an impossible dream.
I tried to explain that it wasn't my dream anymore, that if Danny just calmed down and cooperated with the police that we could live a different life, a better life, right here and right now. That it didn't take an escape from the life we led now, that it just took living in the life we had. But Danny didn't understand it. He didn't know what the Innuit had to do with anything, and he was determined that we were getting out of there.
In the end, it was Danny that left. Left this life flat on his back with blood spilling out of his mouth and a bullet hole in his chest.
The cops hadn't had any choice. Danny hadn't given them any. They tried. The Mountie tried, the Cop tried. But Danny couldn't see the hope that they'd given to us, and so he died.
I didn't cry. I stood there with my hands covered in blood and bruises on my arms and throat, but I didn't cry.
The Mountie tried to reach out, in his honest, forthright way. But it wasn't the Mountie that I finally turned to. It was the Cop. The one that had shown us that it was okay to follow the dreams of a Mountie. The one that had shook his head at his friend and expressed the thoughts we all had. The one that traded sympathetic glances with us when the Mountie would express another impossible idea, not understanding what it was like in this City. The one that followed anyhow and gave us all hope that it was possible.
The Mountie had been a dream. But the Cop was reality. And he was the one that made us realize that we could embrace the Mountie's dream as well. If he followed, knowing what the truth really was, then we could as well. He shared our lives and knew what we were, and if he believed than we could too. The Mountie was our ideal, but the Cop was our hope.
And that day, with my truths shattered all around me, with my youth bleeding out his life at my feet and my children hiding in the rooms behind us, it was hope that I followed. Hope wasn't a dream. Dreams killed people. To believe too deeply in a dream was to deny any hope to the live we lived. Truth was knowing what reality was, and daring to reach out anyway. To hold the dream precious, while not giving in to fantasy alone. Something that we could hold without being afraid that we would wrinkle or stain it. Something that we could accept without wondering about our own inequalities. We didn't have to be perfection, we just needed to live.
Danny had his dream -- he finally got out of this life.
Danny was dead. So was his dream.
When it was over, when the cops and the sirens had gone away and the blood had been cleaned off the floors and the children had come out of hiding, the others came out as well. My neighbors and my friends took the children in and gave them hot chocolate and warm blankets and places in their children's rooms. They took me in and held me close and they cared.
They weren't family, not by blood. But they were my friends, and they took me in. They weren't a dream, they were reality.
And the next day, I got up, fixed breakfast, and went outside. I said hello to the Mountie. I said hello to the Cop. In their eyes were care and concern and honesty. The same that was mirrored all around me with friends and neighbors. The children and I, we would get through this. We had our friends, and we had ourselves, and we had a home.
A dream had died. But in the hard facts of reality, we had a better life.
WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE
In this dirty old part of the city
Now my girl you're so young and pretty
Watch my daddy in bed a-dyin'
(Yeah!) He's been workin' so hard
We gotta get out of this place
Now my girl you're so young and pretty
Watch my daddy in bed a-dyin'
(Yeah!) I've been workin' too, baby
We gotta get out of this place
We gotta get out of this place