She haunts my half-wakened thoughts. I heard her, sitting in my recliner watching strangers cook foods I’ll never eat in places I’ll never go, while the grease-soaked scent of dinner from a paper sack lingered on. I heard her and my heart froze and shattered. I heard her and craned my neck to look out the window, nothing to see but shadows made deeper by streetlights and sharp corners and impenetrable walls. I heard her and my hand reached for the phone, but what to say and who will answer and where do I send them and how long will they take to arrive?
I long to look her in the eye and confess my apathy, to apologize for my impotent concern that left as quickly as a commercial break and comes back as often to interrupt my train of thought. I long to beg for her forgiveness, her absolution, something to release me from this Schrödinger-like purgatory where she either is okay or she’s not—only there is no box I can open to have the answer. I fear for her and I fear her and I fear what kind of person I’ll become when screams in the night won’t lift me from my chair.
And if it were me down there, alone in the grime and the dark, quickening my pace against the dangers of the night, if it were me . . . If it were my scream carried off on the midsummer breeze to swirl with traffic fumes and distant sirens, unheeded into oblivion, would I forgive?
I’ll never know, I know. My mind weaves fever dreams of all the things that could have drawn that cry of terror from her lips. I swallow a gasp when I jolt awake sweating in the darkness not sure if it’s still today or already tomorrow. As the dampness crusts in the corner of my mouth and my pounding heart sends blood to fill out the pillow-lines left in my cheek, the spider that crept across my limp body as I slept casts another silken cord from the window sill to the pothos in the corner. I squint into the gloom and it all seems so normal and I wonder if this is Tuesday and if I’ve got anything in for breakfast and if I’m supposed to work today and if the world stopped going mad and if I could have helped her and if and if and if.
And for this moment, just this breath in time, with blinking eyes and foggy mind and a blanket of bittersweet disorientation, it could just be that all those things are gone.
Alyssa Bushell lives and writes at the shore of Lake Huron in southern Ontario. She is newly hooked on flash fiction, having long worked as a baker. Alyssa is working on her cozy mystery novel and can often be found baking up new ways to procrastinate. Find her at: @WritesAly or AlyWrites.ca.