The fifth time my alarm sounds I force myself up in my bed, the glowing numbers of my clock mocking me as I make the incessant shrieking come to a halt. I look around my room in a blurry haze, hand resting on the empty side of the mattress. I pause.
My feet hit the cold floor, nerves tingling as I walk down the stairs, the wooden creaks echoing throughout the hollow walls. I enter my kitchen, starting the coffee pot before sluggishly moving to the stove to fry an egg. The smells fill my nostrils, bitter and almost rotten as I flip my egg onto a plate and fill a cup with black coffee. I slide my chair out from the table and sit down on the soft cushion. I pause.
My eyes rest on the empty chair across the table. My hands start to shake as I quickly looking back to my plate, clenching fingers into fists. I grab for my fork, letting out a breath before plunging into my egg. Soft innards seep out as I scoop up a bite, letting it rest on my tongue momentarily before swallowing.
After finishing my meal, I rise, refilling my cup before exiting my house. My feet hit the prickles of my doormat, the ‘Welcome’ peeling away from use. I slowly look down at the rolled parcel at my feet. I pause.
I bend down to grab it, looking at the recycled sheets before pivoting and going back inside. I sit back down, ignoring the chair as I open the paper with rough fingers, callouses scratching against the fibers. I read with glazed eyes, letting my coffee burn my taste buds as it slides down my esophagus. I welcome the feeling.
I’ve never found interest in the newspaper. It’s always bad news and botched attempts at trying to get people to buy something. The only reason it came was because of my wife. She wanted to order it to read the “hilarious comics.” Wanted to know what Garfield and the Peanuts gang was up to. My lips turn up for a moment. Just a moment.
I look at the pages like the ink is faded, almost unreadable as I flip quickly through the topics of politics, floods, and job openings. My fingers part the last two pages from each other with difficulty, my body having to force them apart, almost like it was glued shut. Glued like my eyes the day I walked into the bathroom after my tiring 12-hour shift.
I look at the paper as if it’s coated in blood; dripping down and covering my hands, soaking my palms with sticky, crimson guilt. The blocked print of Obituary morphs into scrawled writing like that of a knife slicing into thick bark. I pause. I force my eyes closed. Not wanting to look, not wanting to believe, my pulse heavy in my ears. I exhale, forcing my lungs to breathe, opening my eyes only to meet the other pair.
I stare at the picture of a woman for what seems like decades. Her blonde hair made gray and her green eyes made black, her features looking as hollow as they did that vile evening. I move to read the words under this colorless being, eyes bloodshot and burning.
Veronica McMillan, 35, of Albany, GA, passed away Tuesday, October 13, 2018, at her home. A single crystal bead falls from my lashes as I see her face, blossomed with color and smiling. Veronica was born July 16, 1983, in Albany, GA. I see her in front of her mirror, pulling a comb through her hair. Veronica struggled on and off with opiate addiction in her mid-twenties. She conquered that battle and enjoyed clean living for more than 8 years. I see her paling face, her small pupils, shallow breathing. That clean life soon changed when she was introduced to heroin a year ago. I let out a choked breath, as I see her limp arm, elbow crease crusted with blood. She was loved by many who will continue to cherish the memories they shared with her. She leaves behind her father James Foster, mother Kelly Foster, sister Denise Foster and husband, Patrick McMillan.
At that moment something flares inside me. A flicker of fire. A cacophony of combustion. The flames lick at my heart as I start to boil over with molten questions. Why did she? Where did she? When did she? How did she? How could she? …How could I? The blaze dies to an ember before being destroyed by a bucket of tears. I crumble into my hands, lungs heaving as I try to slow the waterfall that consumes me.
I stand after a moment on shaky legs, the waves trying to push me away. Something almost wants me to let them. I steady myself, taking one last shot of coffee before ascending the stairs. My feet stutter on the last step as my eyes catch the outline of a forgotten frame. What was once a colorful canvas of two smiling faces is now a light block of paint and a solitary nail. The first picture ever hung by us in this house. The first nail ever beat into wood. The first hug ever embraced. The first kiss.
Once in my room, I slide my arms into starched cotton and my legs into woven wool. I pull silk around my neck before sliding my feet into ebony leather. My body mechanically moves down the stairs and to the door, hand rigid as I turn the knob. I step outside and look up to the sky. What a terrible day for rain, I think as large drops fall down my cheeks, invisibly pooling at my feet and rising above my chin until I’m suffocating all over again. I pause.
The storm calms, the puddles drying and enabling my feet to move. I slide into the driver’s seat of my car, hands holding the wheel as I stare at my home. Something that has now become so foreign to me. Now, all I can do is turn the key and drive. Drive away from all of this, and never come back.