Debra challenged me to write from one of my own prompts. The result is heinously longer than I intended. Perhaps it will make up for the lack of a February excerpt.
The worst part is sleeping alone. The bed is too big, and there are one too many pillows. It’s not that I forget she’s gone, but every morning I’m blindsided by the thickness of the empty space. The loudness of it.
I try to ignore it. But even before I open my eyes I can feel the hollow in my gut. I roll until my feet hit the floor, and it feels harder than it used to. The solidness of it seems to make my bones shake and knock against each other as I stumble to the closet. I’m looking for a clean shirt, but all I can see are the empty shoes. She always had too many shoes. New ones littered the floor every season like multicolored dandylions. I used to curse every morning when I tripped on a pair of flip flops or a lonely stiletto on my way to the bathroom, swearing I was going to toss them all to the curb with the junk mail and the coffee grinds. Never did. Never will.
But it’s the empty shoes that wake up the monster, and before I finish getting dressed, my hands are twitching. I find it difficult to button the top button. I’m trembling, like the hollow in my gut is swallowing the rest of me.
I find myself in the kitchen, without remembering having walked there. The monster shoves me along, screaming in my ear. I fight it in the feel of the glass in my fist. I fight it in the moment between reaching into the refrigerator, and touching the orange juice, when my arm rebels and tries to reach for something else. I shake it off, but I’m fighting it again in the sound of pouring. And I fight it in the taste when I swallow, and I feel like I’m losing when there is nothing in my chest but coolness. Above my shoulders, there is not skin and skull and eyes and brain, only swarming, churning, throbbing.
Everything is sharper, harder, colder than it used to be. I remember it soft, and dim, and weightless, when the monster was young and just beginning to grow. Before I decided to fight it. Why did I decide to fight it? Suddenly, I can’t remember. Why should I? It’s never going to give up. It’s never going to get any easier. The shoes will never be filled and there will always be too many pillows. We used to be friends, the monster and I. The keys are in my hand, and I realize that, in a matter of minutes, in a matter of miles, I could exchange those keys for a bottle, for some relief.
But there are footsteps on the linoleum, and I am startled by a figure in pink pajamas. She smiles – she has her mother’s smile. I unconsciously hide the keys in my fist. She shuffles past me to pour herself a bowl of Cheerios, but pauses to kiss me on the cheek.
“It’s a year today,” she says. Nothing else. No I love you or I’m proud of you, but I can see it in her face, that she feels safe. Her old man fights a war for her every day. And every day, she’s the one who wins it. I slip my keys back into my pocket.