Thinking she’d put enough distance between them, she’d slow her pace for a minute. Almost immediately, it would work its way around her ankle and slowly pull her down as it spread. And unless she immediately took action, it would continue to grow till she was completely enveloped. Nearly immobile.
The immediate response required to stop it was not always possible. Not always what she wanted. The pain it brought was familiar. And comforting. Like a sad song that cut too close, combined with memories so vivid they brought back the moment. The people.
And she liked it. Liked giving into all things dark once in a while and remembering, even though it hurt. Just as she liked joking about all things dark when she didn’t give in. Joking like she didn’t give in. Keeping things light, exceedingly and purposely light, was basic physics after all. And it took constant vigilance to keep that light on - and all things dark at bay.
Hours would pass then, sometimes days, before she’d snap to, realizing she’d been lulled into complacency yet again. Left to feel like everything was settled and safe, instead of volatile and temporary. And she’d kick it away, pushing forward with purpose. Harder, faster. Setting a furious pace and burning with a brightness she knew it wouldn’t catch this time. A flame it couldn't extinguish.
Because every time it did, it tugged a little stronger, pulled her a little deeper and fooled her just enough to be a little terrifying.
You were nine years old when I became your mother, though I never wanted to be. Your real mom, the person everyone wanted to be around, because she was so funny, so giving – your real mom was so much more than that. But no one wanted to see it.
Every morning, after her coffee and usually well before we came home for lunch, she’d switch to grapefruit juice. She swore the grapefruit was slimming. And it was. I remember stealing a sip as she snatched it away, and that the bitterness of the juice made me gag. Or maybe it was the vodka, I’m not sure which. Either way, I’d discovered a secret that I didn’t understand, one that wouldn’t become clear until almost a year later when she took me to my first bar.
I used to dream about you dying. It wasn't something one would call a nightmare, really. It was darker. But most things are now.
The dream didn't happen with any consistency, but when it did, it would always end the same way:
I would wake up, not remembering where I was at first, the room in a haze. And almost immediately my heart would constrict and I'd jump to my feet, convinced you had died - and that I had caused it. That I'd willed it somehow.
And I would look at the machines - always the machines, as I only looked directly at you when it was absolutely necessary, because I feared doing so would weaken my resolve. They would be beeping rhythmically, slowly, keeping time with your ragged breath, while you hovered between life and death as you had so many times before.
I'd walk to the window then and watch the snow fall on The Charles. It was beautiful. You always seemed to get the rooms with the best views. And you always made a return visit during the winter - mostly during the holidays, so I was able to enjoy them.
After a while, I would return to your bedside, taking your hand in mine to whisper desperately, willing you to hear me and come back to the world. And willing you to change once you did. All the while knowing you wouldn't.
Then I would cry a little, but only a little - and less each time it happened - before the anger would take over and find release through clenched teeth, "Just do it then... Just. Die. Already."
And then I would wake up. And my heart would constrict as I leapt to my feet to look at the machines, convinced you had died - and that I had caused it. That I'd willed it somehow.
She felt the knife before she saw it. Working its way through her skin, the blade was unforgiviing. He was unforgiving.
The pain distorted whatever words she tried to scream and the pillow muffled the sound, allowing only a brief shriek to escape into the night. She craned her head away from him and gulped at the air, inhaling sharply, allowing the crisp winter cold to flash through her body like an electric shock.
Eyes wide, she fell to the floor as the blood began to cascade from her wound and crash sloppily to the ground, reminding her of the waterfall they had visited the year before. And reminding her of all the other places they had visited during their volatile three year relationship: Disneyland, the White Mountains, Vegas, and on and on and on. They had been on a lot of cheap trips. Had shared a lot of cheap thrills. Maybe that was what lead to this now? Was there nothing left to distract them from their steadily growing disgust for one another?
Though it mattered little, she had to know. “Why?” she managed in protest from where she lay slumped beside the bed. She listlessly grabbed for his leg. “Please,” she sputtered as blood sprayed out of her mouth.
He came back to her and hunched down, smiling widely. “Sweetheart, I’m gonna leave here happy, knowing I just denied you your dying wish.” And then he was gone. And a few minutes later – so was she.
The first time she pushed someone in front of a train it was an accident.
It was approaching five o’clock, the peak of the evening commute, and the station was starting to fill up. Shay walked briskly through the crowd, wanting to reach the far end of the platform as quickly as possible to get in line for the very last, and usually less crowded, car. Her backpack was stuffed with portfolio pieces, framed photographs, and various other memorabilia that had made its way in to her office over the past three years. It was time to move on – and she was glad for it.
Wind blew into the station from the dark train tunnel, blasting stale air with unexpected force that grew exponentially stronger the closer Shay got to the tunnel’s opening at end of the platform.
“Damn,” she hissed dejectedly. The line for the last car was unbelievably long. She glanced up at the arrival screen – four minutes left before her train would be pulling in to the platform; more than enough time to skedaddle to the other end and get on the first car instead . . .
Her short hair, haphazardly layered and highlighted, whipped wildly around her face when she turned and headed back in the opposite direction, away from the wind. Her hair gave an edge to her appearance that Shay knew her personality did not live up to, so she avoided eye contact (as usual) as she shuffled through the crowd, pausing only once to shift her backpack from one shoulder to the other.
“Hey!” A swollen man grumbled and gave her a small shove as she tried to squeeze past. Shay winced slightly, but kept her head down and said nothing as she continued on her way. The platform grew more crowded as the moments passed and she silently cursed the evening commuters that swarmed around her. Lately, she’d felt compelled to make small steps, baby steps, toward changing her timid tendencies, but she had a long way to go. She wanted to push her way through the crowd and tell anyone who didn’t like it to fuck off, but just the thought of it made her light-headed. That was too much. Quitting her job had been step one. Step two was unknown and that frightened her – but she figured that was the point. She laughed to herself then, remembering her other new bold move, the one that had caused all of her trouble to begin with – the lipstick. Dark and brown, it accentuated her lips, forming a mischievous pout, which she had discovered was impossible to ignore. She moved her hand to the side of her pack, feeling around for the elusive tube of lipstick as she continued on.
Distracted by the booming voice announcing the approaching train, Shay hardly noticed the little old lady as she approached her. The woman was bent over a bag, organizing various fruits she must have just purchased at the market. Shay felt the lipstick and jerked it out of the side clasp triumphantly, causing the heavily weighted backpack to swing down forcefully from her shoulder and slam into the poor woman, sending her sprawling on to the tracks. There was nothing Shay could do; nothing anyone could do, beyond watch in horror as the woman made a desperate grab for the edge of the platform. The train was too fast. It was all too fast. The horn blaring, the brakes screeching . . . and in an instant she was gone.