Letting Life Lead
Introduction: Below is my debut fiction piece on WordPress. It only took a week to talk myself into it, twelve hours to actually do it, and half an hour to hit publish. I decided to put up a fiction piece but it isn’t new. I was pouring over all the old files, back as far as 1991 (anything before that is handwritten and not typed). Oh, there was much that was frightfully bad. My young self didn’t care and made no promises to herself or anyone that anything she wrote would be good! She wrote for herself, because they were words that needed to be let out. It was 1997 when I wrote the following piece. I did edit some so that it didn’t totally say that it’s ancient text! It had also been something of a point of view an dialog experiment towards the end, and I needed to clean that up for it to make sense. I hadn’t decided then how I was going to end it and I wrote it so that I could always take parts out. I changed the names because I had always intended to change them when I had decided on a final copy. This story is quite dark and might set off some triggers for some people. I chose it because I remember writing it, it only made me wince here and there, and I did share it with a few select people. I felt it would be a good place to start, to revisit that naive girl.
She stepped from the steaming shower onto the icy cold tiles, and puddles formed where she walked as she pulled an over-sized green bath towel around herself then made her way into the bedroom. Perfect, wet footprints followed her and droplets of water from her hair splashed, splaying patterns on the hardwood floor. She pulled on a black and red checked flannel pajama top and pants that stuck to her damp skin, not bothering to roll up the pant legs that bunched up at her heels when she walked. After picking up a comb from the bare vanity table, she paused a moment to push the cushioned stool back into place and wiped a bit of stray dust from the old, discolored mirror that no longer reflected. The comb ran through her shoulder length hair that was already beginning to curl, and she moved to the bureau to the cassette player. The tape had finished playing some time ago and was filling the room with senseless clicks and whirls. She turned the tape over noting that she had been meaning to finally buy something from the current century to play music, but the bad audio on the old tapes had a charm not unlike the desired flaws of vinyl on a turntable. Music that was too perfect, she thought, sounded the same. Cloned. The antenna for the radio on the old beast had long since been snapped off and was shoved in the junk drawer in the kitchen she remembered as she ran a finger along the groove behind the keys gently checking for stray dust.
The day had been spent in a frenzy of de-cluttering the apartment. Earlier, the vanity, bureau and end table in the bedroom had been full to capacity overflowing with bottles of gooey nail polish, powders, lotions, sticky tubes of half melted lipsticks, broken compacts of makeup, and tacky bottles of heady perfumes. Some of the shimmering, glossy lipsticks and polishes were years old and she hadn’t used most of them in that long. Normally it wasn’t in her nature to throw anything away as it was the curse of being a pack rat; but today the clutter was unbearable. In a fit of exasperation, she had dragged her forearm along the top of the table and pushed everything into a garbage bag. The procedure was repeated in the small living room making a clean sweep of aged papers stacked in piles on either side of the desk, back issues of newspapers, magazines, and junk mail behind the couch, pieces of cardboard and old TV guides full of shows long cancelled and channels long dead. All made their way into bags, tossed one by one near the front door. Even the four weeks worth of unopened mail spilling from the mail basket by the door was not safe.
The small kitchen, hardly big enough for one person to stand, was now clear of dirty plates, bowls, glasses and pots. The refrigerator was liberated from Tupperware hiding long forgotten mystery leftovers growing fur. Everything was thrown away–ruined plates and all. It took the better part of an hour just to haul everything down three flights of stairs to the dumpster. While out she’d made a quick run to the mailbox to mail a stack of bills except for the rent. That lone envelope rested neatly on the side table near the door with the word “RENT” written neatly in block script. A pristine stamp in the upper right corner was creased where she’d tried to remove it, but then pressed it back flat.
Fingers pressed play and the sounds of a harmonica and accompanying instruments filled the room again. She made her rounds making sure the windows and doors were locked, adjusted the shades, clicked off the lights, and paused momentarily at a second bedroom door. That was the only room that hadn’t been subject to Mr. Clean.. She hadn’t been in that room since—that day. The bed was unmade, the little portable TV and reading light was still on, and the little end table lay on its side amid the broken ruins of a bamboo plant and blue vase. The places where muddy feet had ground the dirt into the carpet remained untouched. When they left they banged into the antique bureau and knocked over a wedding picture and she’d heard the glass crack as the blue and red lights from outside the window had thrown patterns against the wall.
A hand ran over the deeply marred wood where the gurney had gouged through on the way out. She gasped in a sob then breathed through the lump in her throat and the ache in her ears. She kicked the folded towel deeper under the door to block the light. She shook her head, wet curls smacking against her cheeks, and put a hand over her mouth to push back the escaping sob. She knew it was foolish to try to muffle the sounds of the TV and to block out the light and the–air–with a towel. Foolish or no, it was tucked in tight. She stared at the door unblinking as a single incredulous laughing gulp burst through her lips between her fingers still clamped over her mouth. Irrational to have meticulously caulked the cracks around the doorjamb in a fit last week. Or was it the week before? She couldn’t remember when, but it had been the same day she’d decided.
Stiff legged, she turned and returned to her room and closed the door. After a moment’s thought, she pushed the bureau to a new position to center it with a picture on the wall making the brass handles clank and the radio fall backward. The tape had finished again and tired eyes stared at the radio for some time. She was sure that she’d just turned it on a few minutes ago, but it was done now.. She chose another, convinced that the other was faulty. The soft sounds of violins almost made her smile.
Opening the bedroom window, she leaned out and breathed in the slightly chilled dampness from the street below. From the window she could see the bell tower that chimed every hour, half hour and quarter hour—sometimes it was quite maddening. The rain earlier in the day had died down to a fine floating mist. The cool scents of wet leaves, grass, and asphalt mingled together in the air. Wafting odors of warm dough came from the bakery down the street and the perfume of tickling spices from the Cajun restaurant across the way. It was a little neighborhood that hadn’t changed much in a decades; charming it was said. The five-year old inside of her remembered the warm, giant chocolate chip cookies they’d get from the bakery on Friday’s after school that not even an adult could eat without making a mess of themselves.
The window was left open letting the silver moonlight brighten the dark room. She sat on the bed and pulled the burnt orange TV tray close to the bed upsetting the small, labeless bottle and can of Canada Dry. On a thought, she went to get the radio from atop the bureau. She grabbed another tape and yanked the cord from the socket; the music choked and died. The plug was slightly bent but went in the socket by the bed with a little coercion and she put on a new music selection. She plucked a smiling picture beside the bed out of it’s frame and put it under a crisp pillow.
The bottle opened with surprisingly little effort and she spilled the tiny blue tablets onto the tray then opened the can of soda. She thought about taking them one by one, downing them all at the same time, or taking them by twos or threes. Her fingers made patterns with the tablets lining them up in rows, then columns, then circles, squares, triangles, and happy faces. She considered that if she took them whole she might throw them up, especially on an empty stomach. The decision was made to take half whole and dissolve the other half. It took some time to carefully crush half the pile into fine powder with the back of a letter opener until each bit was uniform. When she tried to pulverize some them they kept slipping and sliding all over the tray and quite a few chunks went flying into dark corners and pinged off the wall. Using the letter opener, she scooped the powder piles into the soda can. It fizzed then settled. The larger chunks didn’t dissolve so well and left a bitter taste in her mouth and the can had to be twirled so that they didn’t settle to the bottom. She wondered if the pills were still potent after being in the back of the medicine cabinet for so long. The date and name had faded, but she knew they’d been prescribed for trouble sleeping. That had been a long time ago.
She didn’t know when her eyes started getting glassy or when her hands started shaking so that she could no longer hold the can or swallow. It was always that way. There were days when she felt nothing and then all of a sudden she would start whimpering and shaking so violently that she could scarcely take a breath. It had been happening more often over the past three weeks, so often that she was wary of going out; afraid she would start hysterics in the middle of the street.
A quarter of can had been ingested and four whole tablets gone when the phone rang. Startled, she hit the tray and several pills bounced and rolled on the floor and the can drained on the bed. Staring at the glowing green button, she tried to remember the last time anyone had bothered to call. Who would call? No one. There were no friends that would be concerned, no family left to call to say hi, and she hadn’t had a job in more than two years.
The phone rang a fourth time and she picked up the receiver and pressed.
“H’llo?” It had taken a moment to find her voice and it came out watery and every so slightly slurred.
“Where the hell have you been? I’ve been trying to call you all night!” A voice said through popping static and hissing.
She stared at a pill resting on the pillow as she rested her head it seemed to grow giant sized, then shrink, then blow up again.
“Don’t try to ignore me. Where the hell are you? You left me this damned number, but you didn’t tell me the address.” The voice paused then grunted something unintelligible.
She didn’t know why she just didn’t hang up. That wasn’t true. It had been so long since she’d heard concern in anyone’s voice that she just wanted to pretend for a little while.
“I don’t know why I always stick out my neck to save your ass. I should just let you get arrested and then maybe that one brain cell in your head will learn something…you listening to me?”
“Uh-huh.” Was all she could manage to utter through soft hiccups and sobbing, though she didn’t realize she was. She tasted the remnants of the bitter tablets stuck on her back teeth with her tongue.
“Don’t cry, I didn’t mean to yell…Alright I DID mean to yell…just tell me where you are and I’ll come get you…Is that the bell tower? You’re in the Square?”
The unfinished soda was seeping through and getting her leg wet and the rest in the fizzy liquid bubbled on the floor and ran down toward the window. She pressed her cheek closer to the crisp coolness of the pillow and breathed in the scent of clean. She tried to hug it closer and accidentally kicked the metal TV tray sending it crashing to the floor.
“What the hell are you doing?”
I’m just sleeping, she thought feeling light headed, her eyes drooping.
“What did you say? Meg!” The voice yelled.
The yelling made her ears ring and she might have hung up if she knew where her hands had gone off to.
There was a long pause. So long that she thought she was imagining the whole conversation. It wouldn’t surprise her if she it was all in her head. For all she knew she probably had fallen asleep watching TV again and having bizarre dreams about crappy dialogue. She did that a lot lately and had managed to accrue quite a large collection of movies to try and appease her insatiable appetite. There had been times where she would watch movies straight on through the night because she had no where to be and nothing else to do. In the last few months, she only went out to buy food and rarely getting up to do much more than go toilet. The voice said, in a tone that she couldn’t decipher.
“Stop dicking around and give me the address.”
She felt herself grin and thought she was speaking, but her mouth felt cottony. Her ears buzzed again as she heard barking and demands from the phone.
“…address…need…stupid….now,” were a few words she could make out.
She broke down into deep sobs then. And she could not hear, or did not want to hear what the voice was saying on the other end of the phone. It was some minutes later when her voice grew hoarse and she was to exhausted to cry.
“Where are you!?” The voice was sounding panicked now, but she could only catch snatches.
“Yeah. Lis’nin,” She answered unthinking, slurring feeling like she was floating on molasses , “2-3-7 Bower Street, 3C,” the words came out in a long, sighing breath. She stopped and put her hand under the pillow and touched the picture as the voices and smells faded and she felt herself drifting.
There was a numb and quiet.
A breeze flicked a hair from her cheek.
An inky dark.
Crashing. Shouting. Colors then bright white. Something made her feel suffocated, then sick and she tried to turn her head. She choked and warm vomit slid slick down under her shirt and on her lap. Then again on a shoe. She heard words jumbled in many voices, then one word repeated uncomprehending. Her lungs burned and her eyes watered. The smell of plastic made her cough, gag, and she threw up again and she felt hands turn her head and wipe her face.
“Name. What’s your name. Do you know your name?”
The light hurt her eyes and she could only see white and spots around the edges. Blinking felt grainy, rough, and burning. She couldn’t make her arms work to brush the spots away. One hand felt warmer than the other. Sometimes she thought she could smell cookies.
The voices kept pressing; some were deep some light. The sick rose up again in her throat then fell back leaving her woozie, shaking, with hot and cold goosebumps that hurt.
“Naomi,” her tongue managed to unstick long enough to appease the voices, “Naomi.”
(40 years in the making)
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