Thursday, February 26, 2015


           Her body was covered with scars, but Alice didn't mind. In fact, she secretly loved them. Her scars were memories that lasted, they were permanent. They were designs that represented events long past and people half-forgotten. They spoke about the life she had lived; that she had lived a life at all. She wasn’t a figment of someone else's imagination, brought into existence until she was no longer needed. Even when her thoughts got murky, her body held markers of remembrance.
            Alice traced her fingers around the star-shaped scar on her knee. Time had disassociated it from pain and connected it instead to recollections of her brother. Four years her elder, Paul had never really seen her. She was only his annoying little sister, never a person with worthwhile thoughts. Alice would hear stories about protective older siblings and wonder if the tellers were exaggerating. Their relationship was distant; strangers living in the same house.
            Except one afternoon, seven summers ago. She had begged him to take her to Grady Park, a few miles from their house. Their mother wouldn't let her walk by herself, despite her protests that thirteen was a perfectly independent age. She wanted to run, but she needed more space. Exercising in the area surrounding their house felt constrained, like doing chin-ups in prison or running in place. But she had covered for Paul three nights earlier, and he owed her. So he walked with her, grumbling all the way. When they reached the park, Paul sat on one of the benches, and tuned out the world through the earbuds of his iPhone.
            This made Alice angry. This wasn't what she had wanted at all. She thought about her expectations while she ran, mentally kicking herself for wanting him to notice her. She should have paid more attention to where she was putting her feet. Suddenly, she was flying through the air, surprised by the break in the rhythm of her steps. Her limbs were out of control, and landing was going to hurt no matter what she did.
            Her left knee absorbed most of the fall. The impact itself didn’t hurt very much, but the way she skidded afterwards made her eyes tear up with pain. The skin covering her knee had been ripped open and blood was streaming down her leg into her sock. It looked worse than it was, but it looked awful.
Alice picked herself up and limped over to the place where her brother sat. No passersby asked if she was okay. She supposed they didn't want to get involved, so they pretended that being hurt was entirely her own fault. She wondered if it was.
            However, Paul's expression seemed evidence to the contrary. He glanced up, spotted her, and immediately sprang to his feet. When he finally reached her, all he could manage to say was, "What happened!" It wasn’t a question.
            "I . . . had an accident."
            "Yeah, I'll say. You fell or something?"
            "Does it hurt?"
            "Sort of. I'm more worried about the blood than the pain, though."
            "We should go home . . ."
            Paul was trying to slip back into his nonchalance, but it was difficult. He was flitting about her like a bird, asking her questions and touching the area around the wound.              Her knee was throbbing. The blood had dried, forming a sticky line that would be hard to remove once they got home. Alice didn't notice any of this. For this tiny slice of time, she was the center of his attention, the focus of his worry. He spoke to her like an equal and told her jokes, trying to keep her mind off the pain he thought she was in. She knew that when they got back to their house and he could deposit her into their mother's care, this attention would end. The spotlight would shut off, and that would be it. But right now, she was important. Right now, her big brother loved her more than anything.
            And then there were those scars that she didn’t fully remember getting. Jagged red lines running down her back spoke of a dog attack from long ago, one that was now broken into little pieces until it seemed potentially fictional.
            She had been at her parents' friend's house, running around in the backyard with the other children. She might have been nine. She might have been older, or younger. This confusion was what made her question the reality of what had happened. Truth was in the details, and these were too murky for certainty.
            The dog wasn't a bad dog. In fact, sometimes he could even be considered overly friendly. It was only when he started running that he became wild. His hunting instincts kicked in, and then nobody was safe. If he caught up to you, he would try to take you down. No kid could outrun him when he was motivated to catch them. For this very reason, the adults tried to keep him on a leash.
            The children weren't unaware of this, either. However, their innocence and feeling of invulnerability often led them into trouble. So when one of the boys announced that he thought it would be a fun game to let the dog go and then try to escape from him, the rest of them agreed.
            The only thing Alice remembered for sure was how she felt in the minutes after. They had all scattered in different directions, daring the freed animal to chase any one of them. He chose Alice. She knew this before he touched her. That had been the worst part. Years later, she could still feel the base fear take over her brain and then her body, as she knew instinctively that she wouldn't be able to escape. She wasn't fast enough. It would only be seconds before he caught up. It occurred to her that she could relate to that gazelle on TV, the one that the lion chased down and tore apart. People watched it for entertainment, cheering on the predator and desiring to see him catch his prey. And that was her. The pain would arrive in mere moments.
            The she remembered lying face down on the grass, thinking that it didn't hurt as much as she had expected. The fear had been worse than the pain. She didn't realize she was screaming, but she must have been. The adults were alerted. The dog was removed. Her body was still in shock, and it took her a long time to be able to stand without assistance. That was all. It was so far away now.
            Things like this made her think about how much the past was a sort of fiction. Everything left of it was made of memories, and even those varied among the people who had experienced them. How could she ever be sure that what she remembered was what had happened? How could she check with others when they were just as likely to be wrong as she was? She was the sole witness to her life, and she couldn't help but feel unreliable. So she avoided talking about it. Alice rarely mentioned the past. Often she pretended it didn't exist.
            But those red lines on her back said differently.
            She had no such reservations, however, when it came to grieving for the future. She cried over it all the time. It wasn't the unknown that she was upset about, but rather that which she knew would never come to pass.
            She thought about the possibilities. Alice felt the fiery passion inside of her, the relentless drive. She saw strangers everywhere she went and wished she could reach out to them the way her mother could. To be able to strike up a conversation with someone she didn't know would be a gift she would value above all others. She could have it, maybe she did have it. But it would never be a part of who she was.
            What she was was the product of her experiences. She had come into this world with some form of personality, some identity and a set of skills unique to her. These things mattered, but only up to a point. In fact, few things were so easily crushed as the qualities that set one apart.
            Her sister had made sure of that. It wasn't apparent to Alice until several years later, but much of the person she became rested on how this sibling had shaped her. It had all been so secret, so hidden beneath the facade of a happy human being. Every word that Raquel had said to her was calculated. There had always been a goal in mind.
            The obvious, "Are you really going to eat that?" comments weren't uncommon. She eventually figured out that they were made by an equally insecure woman, and so she stopped taking them at face value. These were the words that were easy to ignore, the messages that were simply decoded. She could stop paying them any mind.
            And then there were the looks her sister shot her which sang judgment in every raise of an eyebrow. She couldn't complain about these to anyone, as it was her own fault for taking them so seriously. But when she made a wrong move or said something stupid, there they were. Looks of superiority. Looks of disgust. Looks that made Alice regret anything that made her a little bit different. Looks that made her never want to leave the house again. These stung more than any ugly comment Raquel could make. They were open to interpretation, and her sister knew that.
            But worst of all was the manipulation. Alice was certain that nothing so awful had ever been created, nothing so damaging to the human condition. Being controlled by someone she loved was painful. It hurt even more when she knew it was going on. Every sweet syllable uttered was a test, a way to get her to do something without the awareness of a motive. She could have just asked. She could have just asked Alice to perform whatever simple task she required, and yet she never did. Their lives together had been a game from the start and Alice hadn't wanted to play. The fact of its existence only held her down. From an early age, it was proof that Alice shouldn’t trust easily, that people weren’t deserving of it. She didn’t even live with Raquel anymore, but she still hadn’t been able to let this idea go. She doubted she ever would.
            Never once had she hated her sister. It had never occurred to her to do so. The things that caused resentment among others didn't affect her in the same way. She had been angry, that was true. There had been plenty of yelling between them. But there had always been a deep-seeded connection, love she felt that was unexplainable. It was untouchable. Their relationship was as broken as any could be, and yet what she felt was unchanged.
            When she got older, she saw the situation for what it truly was. She had so much cause to hold a grudge. She could reopen the same grief as often as she desired, and no one would have a reason to blame her. So what stopped her? What kept her from making a choice that would be fatal to their family?
            Alice knew Raquel had trauma of her own. When Alice was little, the whole world had seemed in her sole possession. She couldn't see things from other perspectives, for there was only her own. Now she knew that her sister had suffered, probably worse than she had. There was no excuse for what had happened between them, but there was room for forgiveness. So much forgiveness. Alice was ready to give it to her sister when the time came. Until then, everything would stay as it was.
            Scars were like tattoos that you hadn't paid for, not with money. They made you unique from everyone else, an original with a story. Once they found their places, they were there for life, permanent. People weren't born with scars, they picked them up as they went along.


            Tiny girl, wrapped in wool coats, knows the answers, but never shares them. She coughs into her hands and spits blood when no one’s looking. It’s not here that she belongs; we’re all aware, but we never talk about it. She shivers and pulls the coats closer.
            Tiny girl never speaks anymore, not for a while. She learned to use silence as a weapon, and now we all suffer. When she doesn’t lose her temper, she doesn’t lose. She can’t lose her temper if she doesn’t have a place in an argument, or a conversation. She watches people tie themselves in knots, she likes it when they squirm.
            But these days will end; it won’t always be this way. The time will come when the sides of this cardboard box will fall apart and she will finally have space to grow up. Her fingers will get longer, her lips will get fuller, her eyes will stay the same. The trauma that lives behind them will never leave, but it doesn’t matter. In fact, it is the only thing that will make her beautiful. That spark that lives and dies, looping again and again until it finally goes out.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Prodigal Daughter

            White hands clenching the side of a stone table, absentmindedly running a finger along the edge. She couldn’t get her thoughts in order. She didn't know where to put her eyes. It was a beautiful day. The sun bore down on pedestrians who acted like they enjoyed it. The blue sky glinted, and pretended it had never seen a cloud. She probably had friends who greeted this kind of day and saw it as an opportunity to go to the beach. Amy wasn’t one of them, not today. Today she was grasping the surface in front of her, trying to get a grip on the words rushing through her brain.
            “Look, I’m not asking you to tell me. You don’t have to,” Aaron said from where he sat at her side. “I’m just saying it would be much easier for me to understand what’s going on with you if I actually knew about the things you keep hinting at.”
            “Yeah,” she said. He reached out a hand and put it on hers. She rolled her eyes upward. The umbrella above the table was covered in dirt. She directed her gaze back down.
            “But it’s hard,” he said. “I know that.”
            “Yeah,” she said. She removed her left hand from its grip on the table and wiped her palm on her jeans.
            “But I also just want to stress that I’m not asking you to tell me,” he said again. “But you can. You can, and then, hopefully, we can move forward.”
            “I don’t even know what that means,” she said under her breath.
            “What was that?” he asked.
            “Nothing,” she said quickly.
            “Oh,” he said.
            “I just . . .” she started.
            “I just wish we were some place with less people. Somewhere more private.”
            “Okay,” he said, “I’ll keep that in mind.” He looked at the empty tables surrounding them. She could feel her face burn.
            “I mean, I don’t know, I guess this is pretty much as private as we’re going to get . . .” she said. “I think being outside is throwing me off. I feel so . . . exposed.”
            “That’s okay,” he said, “you don’t have to—“
            “Tell you anything. You said that, but also that it would be good.”
            He shrugged. “Well, it’s true. For you and for this discipleship.”
            A long silence followed. Then she opened her mouth and looked him in the eyes. Once the words began dropping from her lips, she couldn’t stop them. They hit the stone table in front of her and shattered. Amy summoned all the fear and trauma she had lived over the past twenty years and offered it to him. She pulled it from the tips of her fingers and from the roots of her hair. She felt her mouth go dry, and still she pushed the words toward him. A numbness began in her feet and crept up her ankles, her shins and thighs feeling like she had run ten miles. Her hands began shaking, but she couldn’t grab onto the table anymore. She was floating five miles above the conversation. At the same time, she was so rooted in her body that she felt like her legs were tied to the bench beneath her. The words, those words that had been so long in preparing themselves, streamed forward until there were none left.
And then they sat in silence again, the only sound her heavy breathing. She looked at him and begged him for something, anything that would surprise her. Aaron looked at her and said, “That’s . . . amazing. I’ve never heard anything like it. Your forgiveness . . . That’s God.”
            Amy wanted to close her eyes and throw her arms around his neck. She wanted him to bury his face in her unruly brown hair so that she could feel the weight of what he said. She wanted to cry, and jump onto the table, and run away. Instead, she sat there and conjured the most sincere smile she could. She said, “Yeah.”
            “Look . . .” he said. “You need to do something fun. Doesn’t that sound good? Something other than focus on . . . that?”
            Amy nodded. Her elation that he seemed to genuinely care about her overpowered her reluctance at this reaction.
            “What would you like to do?” he asked. She shrugged. “If you could do anything in the world right now, what would it be?” She shrugged again. He stared at her for a moment and released an almost imperceptible sigh. “Uh, you like . . . Mexican food, right?” he said.
            She blinked. “Yeah, I . . . I did say that.”
            He started nodding emphatically. “Good, then that’s what we’ll do! I’ll get a group of people together and we’ll go somewhere and it’ll be fun.”
            “Cool,” she said. “Sounds good.” Her brain was rocked by the notion that the person sitting next to her knew everything, knew all the memories that she had so carefully guarded for so long. Amy was hit by a wave of nausea. She closed her eyes. It’s okay, she thought, he wouldn’t have put himself in this position if he wasn’t ready.
            “Are you okay?” he asked.
            She nodded and tried to smile. “Great,” she said. “Text me and let me know about tomorrow.” Amy stood up from the table and pulled her bag onto her shoulder. She hadn’t realized how long they had been sitting and parts of her thighs had gone to sleep. She turned and started to walk away.
            “Amy,” he said, and she turned back around. “I’m really glad you told me. Really,” he said. “I’m honored.”
            She played with a strand of her hair. “Of course,” she said, as though she hadn’t had a second thought.
            The next night, they went across town to get tacos. Aaron pulled a group of people to come with them, just like he had promised. Unfortunately, Amy had never seen any of them before that night. Instead of letting her open wounds have time to breathe, she hastily stitched them up and covered them with her hands. She was charming and funny and smiled too much. Nobody could have faulted her behavior, and that was what mattered, right?
            Amy dragged herself so far inside her brain that, the next time she met with Aaron, she couldn’t find her way back out. They were at lunch, and he had a plate of waffles topped with whipped cream in front of him. She nibbled at an apple core.
            He was talking, and she zoned in and out. It was only when he stopped that she recognized the strange feeling between them. “Look,” he said, “I brought a verse for us to study.”
            “Right now?” she said, although this was technically the reason they were meeting.
            “Yeah, I think it would be good for us.”
            He pulled a piece of paper out of his bag and placed it in front of her. It was from Psalms. She stared at it without reading it.
            “I’m just worried about you,” he said. “I’m worried that you don’t really believe God loves you.”
            Amy turned her gaze to his face. She stared at the hard line of his brow and the corners of his mouth, and said nothing. He sat across from her and waited.
            Finally, he continued. “I also want to put it out there that I’m very aware this is an inter-gender situation. If you would be more comfortable talking with a woman, I can recommend some.” This, of all things, was what hollowed Amy out. That she had performed her life story for  him, and that he could still look at her and question if she was honest.
            She felt the words of the previous week fall out of her mouth, but this time she felt them fall on closed ears. The trust that had flowed from her fingertips was stopped up in her hands, and made them ache. She wanted to cry, wanted to slap him, wanted to ask what had changed. What she had done wrong, what had made him believe that she wanted anyone else to help her crawl away. He was trying to help, trying to make her more comfortable but, in doing so, he betrayed her.
            Amy turned her attention back to the paper in front of her. She picked up the pen next to it and started to scribble around the verse number. She let the silence between them build until it was big enough to snap him in half.
            Several weeks later, they sat in a group in his living room. She twisted a strand of her hair and waited. The room was bright white and the walls were mostly blank. A few suggestions at decoration had been made, including a movie poster from an old Hitchcock film and an amateur watercolor painting. Post-it notes lined the wall, filled with funny quotes and life advice.
            “Alright, everyone, let’s get started,” Aaron said. He sat cross-legged on the floor, but was still the head of the circle. His green eyes briefly rested on Amy, and flickered away. She took a deep breath.
            “Tonight, we’re going to do something a little different,” he said. “Tonight, I thought we’d let Sarah lead the Bible study for a change.”
            Amy’s stomach flopped over. The girl sitting at Aaron’s left smiled vacantly. Her black hair looped in curls all the way down her shoulders. Amy looked at Aaron, but he avoided looking back. She wanted to hold out both of her hands, grab his and ask what was happening. Why he wasn’t speaking to her, why she hadn’t been warned. Although he had started this group, she had been instrumental in building it up. If she hadn’t held it together with her bare hands, none of them would be sitting here. She scratched her cheek. His promises that she would be doing what Sarah was now doing echoed through her mind. She wanted to make a scene, she wanted to yell, and she wanted to leave.
            Instead, she swallowed down her screams and opened her Bible.
            Five months later, she lay in bed for the fourth hour. Her eyes floated from the window to the bookshelf to the wall socket, and back again. Amy could barely move, and she didn’t know why. That will that had always propelled her forward and pushed her into action had slowly deserted her. She needed to get up, but she couldn’t.
            Her phone went off. With a shaking hand, Amy reached out and looked at it.
            It was a message from Aaron. Hi! it read, Really excited for the new year. Looking forward to hearing your ideas for the program.
            Something that resembled fury yawned in the back of her brain and turned over. She sent back, I don’t think I can be a part of the program anymore. I’m not doing very well.
            A few minutes passed. Then he said, Are you okay? Do you want me to call you?
            She stared at the text for a moment. Then she said, No. I don’t know how to talk about it. Amy put her phone face down on the bed. She leaned her head against her arm and closed her eyes.
            Her heart pounded as she marched through the night. Amy could feel the effect of the whiskey as she tried to move her legs, could still taste it at the back of her throat. She focused on the bright lights of the restaurant in front of her.
            She walked in and looked around. She gave the hostess her name and was led into the back. She was shown to the table. She saw him staring at her, and wondered if he was afraid. She hoped so. She was ready.
            “Hi,” Aaron said. “How are you?”
            She shrugged. She sat down. Amy tapped her middle finger on the table. The menu lay on the plate in front of her.
            “Aren’t you going to look at your menu?” he said.
            She shrugged. “I don’t really want to be here long enough for that.”
            He stared at her. “Okay. So should we just jump right in?”
            She nodded.
            “I asked you here because—“
            “I bothered you until you would finally make time for me,” she interrupted. “Go on.”
            He swallowed. “Look, I haven’t seen you in a long time, and I don’t know what happened.”
            She blinked. “Do you really not?”
            He shook his head.
            “Do you think I’m an idiot?” she said.
            “No, of course not!” he said.
            “Well, that’s odd. You’re acting like you think I’m an idiot.”
            He looked at her. “Amy, what are you talking about?”
            “You think I don’t know what happened? I was there for all of it.”
            Aaron threw his hands out to his sides.
            She continued. “You found out what I really was, what really happened to me, and the way you acted around me changed. You stopped trusting me, and you took away all the things I worked for.”
            “I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting it to be so . . . intense.”
            “Then why did you ask?” she said. “Why did you hound me until I told you?”
            “Because it seemed important.”
            “It was.”
            “I said you didn’t have to tell me. You didn’t have to.”
            “Right, but you said it would be better if I did.” He was silent. She held out her arms. “And look how much better things are!” she said, with false enthusiasm. She threw back her head and laughed. All the pain that Amy had felt in the six months since they had last spoken came out in the sound.
            “I’m sorry,” he said.
            “It doesn’t matter. I don’t forgive you,” she said. “All of this, all of this bullshit that’s happened between us, it’s going to change me. The next time someone wants to get to know me, I’m not going to be able to share, not the same way. Not after . . .” she felt tears prick the backs of her eyes.
            “I’m sorry,” he said again.
            “Good,” she said, “you should be. You, this whole organization . . . nobody’s who they say they are. I was told everyone takes care of each other. That nobody gets left behind. Well, I’ve spent the last six months crying and throwing up and lying on the bathroom floor because my brain hasn’t been right and I haven’t heard anything from anybody.”
            “I’m sorry,” he repeated.
            “It doesn’t matter. I know what you are now,” she said, and shrugged, “and I don’t fuck with cowards.”
            His mouth curled into a thin line. She stood up. “I really, really would have done anything for you, you know? Anything you asked. If you had asked me to stay, I would have.”
            “Please stay,” he said, his voice coming out in a desperate squeak.
            “No,” she said. “It’s done.”
            She turned and walked away. Her mind felt like it was closing in on itself, so she took a deep breath. Amy had thought that after she said the words, after she had laid out the sentences that she had spent so much time thinking through, everything would be better. Instead, she felt tired.
            When she got home, Amy went into her bedroom and lay on the floor. She rested her hands over her eyes. Despite everything, she still wanted to be a part of it. She wanted to put herself among them and have them take her back. She wanted to forgive Aaron, to slip back into his life and gather him to her.
            But it was too late. She had given all of herself up and been left behind. Amy could go back, but it wouldn’t ever make those things okay. The love she felt for that community would seep out through her feet and puddle on the floor.
            She removed her hands from her eyes. Amy studied the crack in the ceiling, following the way it split and traveled until it met the wall.

Dying Dreamers

            Dreamer, where did you go? I saw you here, I saw you and I loved you and I knew you. Your arms were stretched to receive the arid land, your smile was ever so slightly cracked. You were there and you weren’t. You were on boats and underground, you were ready for everything, your lungs filled with the sweet forgiving air. We needed each other. I gave you your words and you filled my veins with joy.
            And then I filled my veins with something else, and you didn’t know how to look at me. You spat in my face and sold me out, you told everyone that I was dead and had always been so. You clawed at my eyes and you clawed at my heart, you pulled at my hair by the roots. Your sole purpose became to damage me so that no one else would love me the way you did.
            And then you left.
            You left and I screamed your name and still you were gone. All of me wants to hate you, but the tiny part that controls me expresses doubt. Doubt that, if you came back, I wouldn’t run into your arms and beg you to take me, to want me again. Doubt that I wouldn’t throw up these pills and crawl to your feet. Doubt that I don’t need you to tuck a lock of hair behind my right ear and tell me that we are strong and that we are brave and that we are together.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Drought

            The land wasn’t beautiful anymore, not in reality. What had been sweeping fields of mixed flowers and weeds and the odd blade of grass was now a barren plain of yellow stalks. They didn’t bend when the wind pushed at them; they barely even moved. It was like they were indifferent to the forces of nature around them. Well, that, or they stopped caring about the big, wide world when they were allowed to die where they stood. It’s hard to continue reacting when someone has left you for dead.
            But the land was still beautiful in Zach’s mind, and that was what was important. As long as he had his memories to fill in the gaps, he could handle the sights that made him want to stagger back and ask for mercy. He could carry on with his day and ignore the crunching sound beneath his feet.
            But not today. It was harder to ignore today.
            Today his foot touched the rock that sat, inconveniently, two hundred feet from the house and he was transported back. It was enough that it took some effort to get to, but was much too close to be a getaway from the house. An altogether unnecessary thing. Still, it was where seven-year-old Zach chose to sit that day.
            His feet made a comforting tramping sound as he stomped towards it. When he got to the rock, he realized it was going to be horribly uncomfortable, but it was too late. He had made up his mind, and he didn’t want his family to think he had made it incorrectly.
            Zach’s elbows rested on his knees and he used his tiny hands to rub his eyes. He knew they must still be red because they stung. He just wanted it to stop, but he didn’t know how. The side of his face throbbed, and he started to wish he had brought an ice pack out with him. Something, anything, to make this feeling go away.
            But he didn’t have anything. He was sitting on his rock,  thinking through the last few minutes. He wouldn’t be moved, not for anything. He would show them all who he was, and they would never forget it.
            Still, the wind started to blow colder and colder, and the sky twisted into a burning red. He began to wish someone would come out to get him. Maybe one of his older sisters, maybe his mother. He wouldn’t be moved. Well . . . he’d only be moved if someone came and made him. If they promised that things would be quieter when he came back inside.
            His resolve was breaking. Zach looked down at his shoes and tapped them together a few times. Then the screaming, the tears, the sickening pain, they were all there again. He didn’t want to go back inside anymore, even if it meant sitting out here after nightfall.
            But surely, surely, someone would come for him. In spite of himself, he twisted around and glanced at the front door of his crooked home. No one. No eyes peaked out from the window. So . . . waiting.
            He waited for hours before finally slinking back inside.
            The memory of this didn’t make his stomach turn anymore. It didn’t do anything, except exist. It was too far away to care about, to wonder at. Besides, he had gotten good at willing himself forward.
            Sweat dripped down the back of his leg. He was grateful for it. Despite the fact that this stretch of Midwestern land received a blanket of snow during the winter, this was how Zach always remembered it. It was the place where the heat tried to swallow him whole as soon as he left the house; where the weak of heart were reduced to piles of ashes in a few minutes. He couldn’t imagine the rain, although it must have rained throughout his childhood. It had been so long since he had last seen rain that he wasn’t sure he would recognize it if it finally showed up.
            The old blue barn sat out in the middle of the field, more crooked than it used to be. Zach wondered if it had truly shifted over time, or if he had just thought of things as sturdier when he was little. The building he had seen as strong and permanent was actually just a bunch of old wooden boards, hastily thrown together by his grandfather. The eerie curve of it ran straight into his brain and made him shudder.
            It was there that he had returned after his high school prom, his sweaty right hand firmly grasping his date’s. He had thrown the huge doors open, his eyes nervously searching the dark depths. His date cleared her throat and tugged at his arm. He turned and kissed her quickly. She tried to put her arms around his neck and draw him in, but Zach avoided this and turned back to the dark barn. His legs started to feel twitchy and his nausea grew. This place was different at night. He had spent so much time here, had thrown things up into the loft and chased out the snakes. He probably knew every corner of it, and yet now it looked at him like a stranger. Zach didn’t want to be here, and desperately wished they had never left the dance.
            His date cleared her throat again and said, “Well?” She let go of his hand and moved so she was standing in front of him. Zach almost reached out to grab her arm and stop her from entering the looming darkness, but gained control of himself. It’s nothing, just let it go and focus on who you’re with. Tonight’s the night.
            She smiled at him, a strand of her blonde hair falling across her forehead like . . . a worm. Zach shook his head and tried to clear his brain.
            “Is something wrong?” she said, her smile turning into an expression of worry and vague annoyance.
            “No,” he said, “of course not.”
            “Well, good,” she said. Her hands reached up to where the straps of her dress met at the back of her neck. She carefully untied them, her face lost in a frown of concentration, and let the dress fall to her waist.
            His mind cleared. Zach’s fear briefly forgotten, he took a step towards his date and reached out his hand . . .
            Suddenly the barn was flooded with light. Zach froze in place and blinked. He barely had time to process the horrified expression on his date’s face before the laughter started. Zach was overwhelmed by the thought that, somehow, hyenas had infiltrated the farm. His arms shrunk around him to cover his body. But . . . it couldn’t be . . .
            The faces of his two sisters appeared over the loft railing. Gasping for breath, Amelia yelled, “I’m sorry, are we interrupting something?” His date ran past him out of the barn. Zach couldn’t tell if she was sobbing or out of breath.
            “What the hell are you doing?” he shouted up at the loft, his voice cracking a little.
            “Sorry, sorry,” Rachel said, “we just couldn’t help ourselves.”
            “We were hoping you’d come back here,” Amelia said, “and you did! So, thank you. That was . . . entertaining . . .” She locked eyes with Rachel and they both burst into another fit of laughter.
            “You’d better stay up there!” Zach shouted. “When I get my hands on you two . . .”
            Rachel leaned her elbow on the railing and pushed a clump of her hair back. “You’ll what? Please let me know what you’re going to do once you get your hands on your tiny female siblings.” Zach felt his face burn. He wanted to hurt something, but Rachel was right, it couldn’t be them. His body was trembling uncontrollably from the combination of fear and humiliation that had so quickly run through him. He stalked over to the ladder that accessed the loft and put both hands on it.
            “What are you . . . Don’t!” he heard Amelia yell behind him. He ignored her and pulled. The wood protested, but the nails were so old they couldn’t hang on. The ladder came off the loft in a flurry of dust and wood chips. Zach threw it down next to him.
            “What the hell?” Rachel screamed. “What’d you do that for?”
            “Do you seriously not know?” Zach yelled back.
            “Well, thank you, now we’re all fucked,” Rachel said.
            “Good for us!” Zach threw out his hands. “You could always jump down.”
            “Do you want me to hurt myself?”
            “It wouldn’t be the worst thing.”
            “Oh, shut up.”
            The three siblings glared at each other. Amelia put her hands on her hips and then dropped them. Rachel was still leaning against the railing, taking deep breaths and chewing the inside of her cheek. Zach clenched and unclenched his fists. The silence covered them, and stoked the anger floating between them.
            Suddenly, Zach felt two hands land on his back and give him a push. He stumbled forward. He whirled around, only to be greeted by the sight of his mother clutching his date by the wrist. In her rush to get away from the barn, she hadn’t quite managed to retie the straps of her dress. She was covering her breasts with her free arm and looking around like a wild animal.
            “Who is this?” his mother demanded, her grip tightening.
            “Mom, stop, it’s my prom date. Let her go,” Zach looked from his mother to his date. He wanted to say something, apologize for this whole night, but the words died on his lips.
            “I will not let her go,” his mother said. Her face had turned red and her eyes bore right into his spirit. Suddenly he was eight years old and had broken a plate while drying it. “Please explain to me why half of her dress is off.”
            His face had to be bright red. “Mom, please just let her go . . .”
            “And what are you two doing in here? What is this? Some big orgy?”
            “Mom!” Amelia said. “It’s not . . . Just . . . Don’t worry about us, we’re fine. Just deal with what’s in front of you.” She gestured down to Zach. He glared at her. Her nose crinkled in a mocking expression.
            “Good God, boy, when I am done with you—“ His mother’s eyes caught the ladder behind him. She stepped forward, pulling the poor girl along with her. “What’ve you done?!” she screamed. All of Zach’s instincts told him to make a break for the door while she was out of the way. Instead, he pivoted in place and made a sound that was somewhere between a groan and a nervous laugh.
            “That was Zach!” Rachel said, pointing to her brother as if her mother didn’t know who he was. “Zach did that because he was mad at us!”
            “I swear to God, you three are going to be the death of me,” his mother said, her tone quieter. The sound of it cut through him. Her hands were shaking.
            “Look, it’s going to be okay, mom. Besides, it wasn’t really us,” Rachel said. She sat down and put her legs over the edge of the loft. “I mean, we technically started it, but . . .” She jumped to the floor. Everyone stared at her in shock. Her face went from her usual self-satisfied expression to one of sudden pain. A moment passed. Then she started screaming.
            His mother rushed forward. “What have you done?” she asked, her voice strained as she leaned over Rachel. In her worry, she had released Zach’s date. The girl ran back out through the doors and into the night.
            “A stupid thing, mom,” Rachel said, rolling back and forth on the ground. “I did a really stupid thing.”
            “You can say that again,” Zach said, relieved that the focus was briefly off him.
            “Shut up, fuckface,” Rachel said.
            “Rachel!” his mother said. “Language!”
            “Mom!” she said. “I think my ankle’s broken!”
            “All right, all right,” his mother said. She looked out the door, in the direction of the house. “Zach, do you think you could go get your father?”
            Zach’s stomach lurched. He looked from where Rachel lay on the ground to the door to the stressed curve of his mother’s lips. He didn’t want to go, but he needed to.
            “What are you waiting for?” Rachel yelled. “Go!”
            “Please,” his mother said, her voice softening, “it’ll be okay.”
            He nodded and turned. He focused on the movement of his feet. Soon, he was out in the night and approaching the house. It was okay. His sister needed him.
            Zach pulled back out of his memories. It didn’t matter now. He reached out and grabbed the doorknob. Despite all the years, the door held the way he remembered, then gave under the pressure of his hand. He pulled it open, and the scent of ten deserted years hit him and almost made him crumble to the ground.
            The kitchen light was on, and he made his way toward it. His lawyer was standing at the counter, the contracts laid out in front of her. She had offered to bring them to his apartment, but he’d wanted to see it again. All the furniture that his mother had lovingly collected had been scooped out, the house a shell of what it had been. The smell lingered, though: the smell of roast cooking, and the smell of his sisters’ perfume. He smiled at his lawyer, and reached out to the counter.
            And when his hand landed, it landed on his father’s, twelve years ago. His father was lying in a hospital bed, his eyes half closed. His skin had lost all of its harsh, ruddy complexion and stretched tightly over his skull. His hand twitched away when it felt Zach’s touch. He grunted.
            Zach sat down in the chair next to his father’s bed, his hands clasped in front of him. He tapped his feet and looked at the clock on the wall. His mother was supposed to come back at four, an agonizing thirty minutes away. His eyes flickered to his father, and then flickered to the wall.
            His father grunted again, and his eyes widened. His fingers twitched. Zach swallowed, and watched. His father’s eyes met his. “What . . . what are you doing here?”
            Zach took a deep breath. “You asked for me, dad.”
            His father wheezed in and out. “What are you . . . what are you doing in my bedroom?”
            Zach leaned forward. “We’re not in your bedroom, dad. We’re at the hospital. Do you remember coming here?”
            His father’s face pulled through a series of angry and bewildered expressions before arriving at something like acceptance. “I’m here . . . I’ve been here for a long time . . .”
            Zach nodded. When he had first heard of his father’s liver cancer diagnosis, he’d been ashamed of the relief he had felt. Of the overwhelming release that had gone through his body when they’d found out it was terminal. So many good people were taken from their families before their time, but his father wasn’t one of them. His father had been with them fifty-one years too long.
            The weathered man’s expression became panicked, and he made an effort to turn his head and face his son. “Zach,” he said. “Zach . . . I need to . . . I couldn’t . . . Please, I can’t . . .”
            Zach opened his mouth, then closed it. He wanted to hear it and he didn’t.
            “I just . . .” his father said, and then his expression glazed over. Zach watched, and his nerves pulled tight. He needed to call his mom, his sisters. They should get here, they’d be too late if they got here at four. Oh God, oh God . . .
            And then he heard it, as though it were a million miles away. That faint beeping that had served as background noise for so many weeks. It slowed, and then stopped. Then the constant whine of the heart monitor began as it warned the doctors of their patient’s distress. They rushed in. Zach stood up.
            He walked out, and as he walked out, he felt something he hadn’t felt since he was eighteen. Since that night in the barn, when his sister’s carelessness had led him back to the house. Zach felt his father’s fist collide with his cheek, then his stomach. All the air was knocked out of him. He walked faster, then stumbled to the ground, catching himself with his hands. He brushed them off on the sides of his pants, got up and kept walking. The blood was pounding in his ears. He felt his father’s hand wrap around his seven-year-old wrist, his head slamming into the wall behind him. He wanted to be out of the hospital, he needed to be. The sliding doors were in front of him, welcoming him back into the warm, blue world.
            Zach signed the contracts quickly. He had spent weeks working them out, and knew them almost to the letter. It was all there, it was fair. The land was being sold to their neighbors and would be consolidated into their farm. The rate his family was getting was better than the average, and they needed the money. Amelia had lived with their mother since their father died, the two women clinging to each other like they were the last people on Earth. Rachel had moved to New York, and nobody had heard from her for over six months. They were all still rooted in the past, just as he was. It was time to cut a few of the heavier strings.
            It was over faster than he had imagined, his lawyer’s eyes bright, her grip firm in their handshake. He didn’t linger over the house. Zach made a beeline for the front door and let himself out.
            He tried not to look at it as he crossed to his car, but his eyes wandered anyway. It hadn’t changed, but the land didn’t look as dead anymore. Maybe he was being swept up in the last of a gasping nostalgia, maybe it had just gotten later. But something about it welcomed him in as it said goodbye. The smell of the grass weaved its way into his hands, into his blood. He could cut the strings, but these things would always be here. They would always have formed him, loved him, and given him away. There would always be a place where it would never be done.
            And maybe that was okay. Maybe he could live with that. His lips twitched up. Then he climbed into his tiny car and drove off.

Search Party

            I call you back to me as I wander barefoot in the woods. Still singing hymns and opera songs, my throat has become bloody and dry. And still I push on as I promised I would.
            There’s a rope tied around my heart and I let it pull me forward. Its gentle tug is painful, and yet the pain is a comfort in this black forest.
            “Please,” I whisper gently, but even I doubt my intentions. I lay my head against the cool trunk of a bark-stripped tree. I murmur in relief as the sensation passes through my cheek and down into my body. “Please,” I say again, before collapsing to the ground.
            And it’s tempting to stay here and listen to the ground’s soft heartbeat. I could stay here and wait to die, and I want to. I close my eyes and imagine my life if I let the energy drain from my body right now. My fingers drum against the earth.
But in one sudden movement, I rise from the ground. My legs shake beneath me, but I steady my gaze on a point up ahead and feel strong enough to continue walking. The first few steps are agony, but the pain quickly recedes to the back of my mind.
            I begin a new chant, and soon my feet are moving in time to it. I scream as my voice begins to fail. I scream and scream until the entire forest is shivering to its roots in fear of me. It should be afraid. I’m coming for you. I will find you or you will find me and I will lead us away. I will lead us away from this place and back into the light.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The End, Again

            The hunger was a game, a game that Rebecca played every day, and nobody knew about it. She felt the hollowing, grasping feeling in the pit of her stomach, and she welcomed it. When somebody irritated her, she could summon a more focused fury if she concentrated on that gnawing emptiness. It made everything sharp and clear, and filled her with a powerful control.
            But today, the hunger was a disadvantage. She felt the champagne run down the back of her throat and straight into her stomach, the combination of alcohol and sugar making her dizzy. She blinked and wanted to set the glass down, but couldn’t. Today of all days, Rebecca needed it.
            Anything about the situation could have pissed her off, but so far it was the centerpieces. A bunch of white lilies sat in the middle of the table, carefully tied together with turquoise and silver ribbons. This bouquet was sitting in an angular vase filled with rocks. Rebecca ran her finger around the lip of her glass as she glared at it. She took another sip.
            She was sitting in the warehouse-sized reception room of the town’s only church. What must have been hundreds of people were milling around, refusing to stay in their assigned seats. The turquoise and silver theme extended to the entire room in the form of streamers and balloons, decorations that could have been found on sale at the local Diddam’s. There was a raised dais to Rebecca’s right, where the bride and groom were seated. The bride smiled expectantly down at her plate, her right hand holding her fork and poking it at the chicken breast in front of her. Her left hand was grasping the groom’s, whose mouth was in constant motion. The streak of grey that split his otherwise jet black hair seemed to be in agreement with the color scheme, the tapping of his fingers an off-beat nod to the music. Rebecca watched as the sides of his mouth twitched up into an uncomfortable smile every time he made eye contact with someone. He wasn’t looking at the woman to his right.
            Rebecca tore her eyes away from the sight of them. She felt her stomach churn and put out her hand to steady herself against the table. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, in and out. When she opened them, she was greeted by the sight of her untouched entrĂ©e. The scent of the roasted chicken wafted up to her, the hint of garlic making her stomach growl. Rebecca felt the characteristic twitch in her hand, and raised her glass to her lips. Taking a big gulp, she stood up from her seat and made her way across the room.
            “Jeremy!” she said, her voice coming out in strained cheerfulness. It was her second warning to slow down on the champagne. Her friend caught the sound of his name and turned towards her. Handsome Jeremy, with the face of a Roman statue and the piercing green eyes of the blackest cat. Rebecca would have gone for him in a heartbeat if she didn’t know that he had come here with his boyfriend.
            “Hey gorgeous,” he said. His left hand gracefully reached out and caught her by the waist. To all appearances, they were friends who were meeting in a casual embrace. Rebecca hoped that nobody could see the way she leaned into him. “What are you up to?”
            She shrugged. “This and that.” Rebecca downed the rest of her drink and set the glass at his table. “Can you believe all of this?” She made a wide circular gesture to indicate the room.
            “Becca,” Jeremy said, his voice dripping with pity.
            “No, I’m serious. All these tacky fucking decorations. And those centerpieces. Who thought those were a good idea?”
            “Sweetie, we’re not doing this.”
            She swayed a little where she stood. He was forced to bear the whole of her weight as he held her up. “Doing what?” She focused her big, blue eyes on her friend. She suddenly felt the guarded irritation emanating off of him. It made her nervous.
            “Trashing the wedding reception just because you’re sad.” Jeremy’s voice was low. “I get it, but it’s beneath you. Besides, I don’t like filling the role of your token gay.”
            Rebecca ran her fingers through his hair in what she thought was a normal way, although his facial expression indicated otherwise. She stopped. “I don’t see the problem with saying things if they’re true,” she mumbled.
            “Yes, you do,” he said. “Please, please, for my sake, try to pull yourself together. No more champagne. Have you eaten anything?”
            “Of course,” she said, but she blushed. She had always struggled with obvious lies.
            “So if I go over to your seat right now, your plate will be empty?”
            She tried to give him an incredulous look. “Empty is a lot to ask.”
            Jeremy sighed. “I’m sorry you think that,” he said. “Look, go back to your place and try to get a couple of bites in. I think my sister is about to give the toast.” He was right. The pale ginger was making her way to the dais where a microphone stand was set up. Rebecca saw the champagne glass and fork in her hand and wanted to vomit. She heard the telltale clink a few moments later.
            “Everybody? A moment, please,” the woman said and smiled a toothy smile. “I’d just like to say a few words about the lovely newlyweds.”
            Rebecca found that she was still standing at Jeremy’s table. She stalked to the back of the room, the words of the toast booming over her. When she got to the doors, she hesitated and then stopped. Everyone would notice if she chose to exit now. She didn’t want to be that person. She diverted her course to the left and turned to lean against the wall.
            It was only then that she realized the groom was watching her. When their eyes met, his lips tried to twitch up into a smile, but he forced them back down. Then a brief expression of anguish peaked through. Then he looked away.
            Rebecca ran her right hand down her hip, feeling the bones just underneath the skin. The black velvet of her dress grazed her fingertips. She wondered what thoughts had been going through his mind as he watched her leave. A mixture of pain and satisfaction ripped through her. She closed her eyes again.
            When she opened them, it was the bride that Rebecca focused on. The curls of her blonde hair rested artfully at the sides of her face. Her white dress hugged the curves of her body, her breasts pushed up into strapless perfection. Her expression was hopeful, and trusting. It should be. It was her wedding day. How could she know there was a stranger standing at the back of the room, wishing against everything that they could trade places. And for a moment, Rebecca could feel the lace underneath her fingers. She could smell the hairspray as her hair was ironed into place. It was a heady fantasy, and Rebecca could feel the tears prick at the back of her eyes as she looked over, as she looked to her left and saw him, was wrapped up in the knowledge that they would be together for the rest of their lives. Her bottom lip trembled, in the fantasy and in real life. She forced herself to push it away. She tapped her head against the wall behind her.
            Jeremy’s sister finished her toast and the crowd raised their glasses, all smiles and congratulations. Rebecca realized that she had left her glass at Jeremy’s table, and, for some reason, this made her feel more out of place than anything else. She watched as the groom gulped down the entirety of his champagne and held his glass out for more. She wanted to be the alcohol in his bloodstream, a source of comfort and destruction. Instead, she settled for being the anorexic at his wedding who had, inexcusably, lost her way.
            He pulled her to him as soon as they got into the apartment. He kissed her mouth, her neck, nipped at her collarbone. She closed her eyes and folded her arms around him. Her body felt freed when he lifted the shirt from her shoulders, when he grabbed her hand and led her into his bedroom, when she felt his skin against hers and sat up so she was hovering over him. And then he ran his thumbs along her rib cage and she watched as the light went out of his eyes. His mouth set into a line and his hands fell to his sides.
            “What is it?” Rebecca said, although she knew.
            “I can’t,” Tom said. “I can’t keep doing this. Not when you’re like this.”
            “Like what?” she said, and swallowed down the fear that crept up her throat.
            “Just . . . please just get up,” he said, and she got up and sat to one side. She ran her fingers along his arm in an attempt to comfort or connect with him, but he twitched it away.
            “I don’t understand,” she said.
            His chest started expanding and contracting more rapidly, and she watched as his misty brown eyes looked to the left, looked up at the ceiling. “You haven’t eaten anything yet today, have you?” he said.
            Her stomach dropped, and then growled. “I’m . . . I had a banana this morning,” she said, too hastily.
            His eyes met hers. “Please, please don’t lie to me,” he said.
            “I’m not—well, I guess I sort of am. But I’ll get something as soon as we’re done, I promise.”
            He blinked. “Well, we’re done.”
            She felt the weight of those three words on the palms of her hands. “I don’t understand why you suddenly care now,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “You didn’t seem so disgusted by me the first time we slept together.”
            “I’m not . . . disgusted . . . by you. I—it just makes me sad.”
            She raised an eyebrow. “What does?”
            He took a deep breath, and then sighed. “Watching you kill yourself.”
            “I’m not.”
            He reached out his right hand and ran his thumb along her hollow cheekbone. “That’s not what it looks like.”
            She jumped out of bed and walked into his living room. Forcing her shirt over her tiny frame, she turned to see him follow behind her and lean against the doorframe. “I don’t know how to convince you I’m not hurting myself. Not on purpose.”
            “Eat something,” he said. She watched the light play across his pale skin where he stood. “Please, I love you. I don’t want you to do this anymore. You’re perfect, you don’t need to be thin. Please, just eat something.”
            She wanted to explain it all. That it wasn’t about being thin, not really. That the brief, omniscient feeling she had whenever her stomach growled was worth anything. That knowing exactly what she put in her body, and what it was made of, gave her a sense of control that she had never had before. That she knew it was a problem, that it was dangerous, but that she had never been able to stop.
            She thought about eating, and Rebecca’s eyes welled up. She looked down and tried to make the tears go away, but one fell down her right cheek.
            “Becca,” Tom said, “stop it. You don’t have to cry about it. Please. It’s just food.”
            Rebecca shook her head and wanted to shout at him. Instead, it came out as a whisper, “No . . . it’s not.”
            “Yes Becca, it is. It shouldn’t be this hard.”
            She rubbed the side of her shoulder and shrugged. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
            His hands jerked up to his head and he ran them through his hair as though he wanted to pull it out by the roots. “So what do we do?” he asked.
            The feeling left her arms and the nerves started to crawl up her neck. “What do you mean?”
            “I don’t know, I don’t think . . . I don’t think I can be with you like this.”
            She wanted to fall to the ground, but she didn’t. Instead, she nodded her head as best she could and murmured a faint, “Hmmm.” She opened her mouth and started to gasp for air.
            “Please, Becca, it’s not because I don’t love you. I do. More than I’ve ever loved anybody. I just . . . that’s the reason I can’t watch this.” He reached out his arms, but she walked away as though she didn’t see them. They fell to his sides. “Maybe . . . maybe we should take a break.”
            She put her left hand over her face and crossed the room. When she reached the end of it, Rebecca paced back, her hand still covering her eyes.
            “It’s not forever,” Tom said, “I just want you to get well.”
            Rebecca took a deep breath and nodded. She wanted to say something, something that would change his mind and convince him that she was okay. But he knew she wasn’t, just as he knew. She threw her hands out in a half-hearted shrug. Then she walked to the door and let herself out.
            Rebecca looked at Tom now, ostensibly the happy newlywed, and wondered if she could have done anything differently. If she could have tried, if she could have checked herself into treatment. Would that have made a difference? Would that have made this clinging phantom go away? It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter now.
            She could do it for herself, but the very thought of that made her laugh and roll her eyes. She didn’t deserve big things, not even recovery, and she knew it.
            People were slowly milling towards the dance floor. The day had turned to night, and the guests were starting to feel the influence of the free-flowing alcohol. That was one thing you could say about the bride. Her father had enough money to pay for an open bar.
            Rebecca wanted another drink, but as soon as she moved from her spot at the back, the floor started to spin. She ran her fingers through her hair and looked up. The bride and groom were facing each other at the center of the dance floor. Inhibitions lost, Tom started to move uncomfortably in place. He hated dancing, but it seemed like his bride was having a good time.
            Realizing she could leave without being noticed, Rebecca opened one of the double doors and slipped out. The cool night air assaulted her as she stepped into the dark, and she took a second to embrace it. It held her, and let her know where she was. She took a couple steps forward and felt her legs shake underneath her. Rebecca was so focused on putting one foot in front of the next, she didn’t hear the door open behind her.
            “Becca,” a voice said, and she stopped.
            “Go back inside,” she answered. “Get back to your wedding.” She turned around.
            “Please don’t leave,” Tom said, taking a few steps toward her. Up close, she could see the lines that covered his face. The grey that had taken root in his hair was more advanced than she had thought. He looked old, so much older than she ever pictured him. A cold despair started to grip her, and she rubbed her arms to keep it at bay.
            She threw her hands out to the side. “What do you want me to do? It’s better that I just leave now. Better for everyone.”
            “Please,” he said, “I never get to see you anymore.”
            The despair fell away. “And whose fault is that?” she said.
            His left hand felt at the back of his neck. “Mine, I guess.”
            She nodded.
            “I didn’t leave because I stopped loving you, though.”
            “I know,” she said. “But you did leave. You wanted me to get better, but here I still am. So I guess you made the right choice.”
            “Don’t say that.”
            “Why not? It’s true.” She turned and started walking in the direction of her car. “Have a nice life,” she called back.
            A moment passed. “She’s pregnant,” he said. “That’s why we got married so quickly.”
            One last look behind her. She met his eyes and said, “I don’t care.”
            Rebecca didn’t know if Tom went back into his wedding. It didn’t matter. She focused on the clicking sound her heels made as she walked away. The emptiness inside her started to expand. It grew in size until it encompassed the entire parking lot. Still, she walked on and didn’t look back. It didn’t matter now. It couldn’t. Her blood continued to pulse and push her forward until she was, gratefully, swallowed by the night.