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A light went on in the backroom casting shadows down the hall. The door was propped slightly open and I could hear their voices getting louder and louder. That’s what is must sound like when Zeus and Hera argued up on Mount Olympus.
“You can’t think of anyone but yourself!”
“What! All I ever do is work so I can support you!”
“Are you accusing me of not working?”
“You said it, not me. While you are at home, I’m out on Wall Street putting my ass on the line.”
“It’s not easy! When was the last time you woke Annie for school? Or tried dealing with Ma? Or dealt with the town council trying to tear down our house? Besides, work is no excuse for you to stop spending time with your children. When was the last time you went to one of Annie’s science fairs?”
“You know I would do all those things if I weren’t so busy all the time”
“Making excuses again.”
“It’s the truth.”
“We all know that this only really started getting out of hand after Mike…”
Zoning out for a minute, I listened to their voices elevating, imagining what it would sound like on Garageband. There would be that little spike going upwards matching their shouting, but then a long straight line, indicating their long pauses between every sentence. That’s how their arguments always went. Loud, then silence, then a sudden burst, then more silence. Eventually, it died off. But usually not until far into the night. But somehow, somehow, I felt in my gut that something was different tonight. There was a sudden shift in the tone of their conversation as I slowly was dragged back to reality by the hands of fate.
“You know what! I can’t take this anymore. All you ever do is blame and criticize at me,” he grunted.
A door slammed as loud as a gunshot. An earthquake shook the whole house. I heard heavy footsteps drudge down the staircase to the living room. I heard someone grunt as they picked up something heavy, like a safe. Then the sound of glass shattering echoed through the house. The chain on the front door jingled, and I could hear the creaking of the storm door. Then there was dead silence.
I tiptoed out of my hiding place behind the treadmill. Slowly I slithered past the walls covered with our family portraits. There was the one of Mike standing in from of Johnson Park at his very first champion baseball tournament. The fields behind him were green in the height of summer. In the background you could see the other players running around playing tag. There was one of me all decked in pink glitter and twirling on my toes. I was only three and looked like I was about to cry. I really didn’t want to be on that stage. There was one of Mike and me in front of the Grand Canyon. Mike was a full three inches taller than me and making bunny ears behind my ears. I had him though, since when I he wasn’t looking I had put a “LOSER” sticker on his baseball cap. There was one where Mom stood behind Mike and me at a ride in Hershey Park. We all had towels over our shoulders, were dripping wet, and laughing. There was Mike wearing his white and gold graduation gold with Mom and I on either side of him. We all looked happy and Mom had the proudest smile on her face.
Then there was the one of mom in a white dress sitting on a fountain with a man in a black suit. They were smiling at each other and holding hands. It was happiest I have ever seen her. The man looked happy too, but I tried to ignore that. There was one where the same man she was with stood in front of a store cutting a ribbon by himself, a stern expression on his face. In another photo, the same man was shown with his hands crossed in front of the London Eye, no one else in sight. In another, the same man was shown in front of the lights and numbers of Wall Street, all alone and looking serious as hell.
I quickly turned my head to avoid looking. It’s all over now. I shook my head furiously making my hair sway back and forth across my face falling in front my eyes. I shivered. The window at the end of the hall had been left open, letting in a ghostly breeze whose icy hands crawled up my back and held my neck. The blackness outside felt like a deep abyss, one that could suck me in as soon as I let my guard down.
Quickly I pushed my curls out of my face and tucked them behind my ears, like I used to do when I was little. The door to my room was slightly open and I carefully pulled the cold wood open with my fingers. My fuzzy socks helped minimize the thumps of my footsteps as I made my way across the hard ceramic floor to my bed. I pulled back the blue-green silk canopy and made my way under the scratchy comforter where Tammy the bear was patiently waiting for me. Her eyes shined and twinkled as the light from my open window reflected on her glass eyeballs. Her white glittery plush fur glowed slightly, sending little spots of light all over the room. When I was little, I used think she was a magical creature from the land of unicorns and rainbows. And, of course, she had superpowers that could solve any problem in the world. Mike used to always made fun of how even as a teenager I still needed Tammy to help me fall asleep, but I just ignored what he said. He didn’t understand, especially not now. I pulled Tammy closed to me and stuffed the corner on the comforter in my mouth. The rough grains of the fabric made my tongue feel dry, but I just bit the cotton down even harder and harder until my teeth started to ache.
One, two, three, and four. I counted following the methodical rhythm of the clock. I imagined Mike off faraway, knowing that he would have been doing the exact same thing had he been here right now. I envy Mike a little. I wish I could leave this town, this place, this life. I wish I could talk to him, but it was too late. I closed my eyes and just tried to hold still. Mike would tell me to be strong. But, before I knew it, my pillow was wet with salty water and I had a sniffy nose. The back of my throat ached like it does when I have a cold. As much as I tried to avoid it, the truth was becoming clearer and clearer with every passing day and every passing moment. I didn’t want to admit it. I couldn’t. If I did everything would fall apart. The yarn that I had taken so much care to wrap tightly would fall to the ground and become a tangle of lies, stories, excuses, and questions.
Yet, there was one thing that I couldn’t do anything but admit: I was broken, I was bruised, and I was shot. I no longer possessed the flames that have kept me running all these years. My fire had died, and I desperately wanted to find the person who held the match that could light it again.
Hackettstown, New Jersey
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