Priscilla watched the long, slow burn of the cigarette in her left hand between her first two fingers with something akin to hatred. And desire. The taste of each draw was like poison on her tongue and the air she breathed in, a concoction of waiting death. She exhaled, nearly unable to wait to get the stained filter back up between her lips for another draw. After a few more puffs, she crushed the half-smoked stick against the nearby ashtray in disgust. It joined the myriad of other barely used cigarettes which littered the tray atop the picnic table. A complete waste of money. Thirty-eight cents each and they ended up as mashed butts, fodder for the trash can.
A chill went through her, even in the puffy, blue coat she wore, reminding her of the other reasons why she found smoking so distasteful. The New England winter weather brought a harsh wind which was unforgiving in its attack. It lowered the already freezing temperatures to an unbearable degree, making any and all exposed skin tight with the forewarning of frostbite. Priscilla quickly stomped backed into her work building through the employee entrance and let the interior heat warm her up. She withdrew her coat and hung it neatly with the others before switching from boots back to her professional shoes.
Her best friend, Nancy swept around the corner in an apparent hurry to get from the breakroom back to her desk. She gave Priscilla a wide grin as she juggled her microwave lunch and a diet soda.
“Cilla, I was thinking, we should go to Cracker Jack's tonight,” Nancy announced excitedly. “They have half-price on all drinks until seven o'clock.”
Priscilla thought about the bar the two of them frequented together. She considered each night after work when they went with the intention just to stay through 'happy hour' and the trick of the alcohol which lured them into staying until ten or eleven at night. She recalled the numerous drives home when she needed the windows down and the music blaring so she could somewhat safely get to her place without running off the road. She remembered the carelessness of meeting random men she invited to her apartment to spend the night. Or when she chose to dangerously go with them to theirs. She thought of the late bills which stacked up because she spent so much on drinking, she was short on paying her utilities.
“Only for a few hours, Nance,” Priscilla replied in a warning tone. “I can't afford to come in late tomorrow. Again.”
Nancy smiled cheekily and gave a little finger wave as she scanned her badge to go back into the work area. Priscilla heaved a deep sigh and went to get her own lunch. The breakroom was nearly empty at this time of day, since most people had come and gone. But she liked a late lunch because she didn't care for people's stares of judgment.
She opened the freezer and took out a small tub of Haagen daz ice cream. Going to the sink, she reached into one of the drawers beneath the cabinets and retrieved a spoon. Sitting herself in a corner with a napkin and her treat, Priscilla began to eat her Belgian chocolate ice cream to curb her afternoon hunger. She could feel the glances which came her way, filled with horror as she delved greedily into the carton.
Priscilla was at least one hundred pounds overweight, perhaps more. Her doctor warned her against sugars and not eating balanced meals. She was on the road to developing diabetes and a third chin. No one could be as sickened by the sight of her with dessert in hand as she was of herself. Her self-loathing didn't stop her from purchasing more junk food. It fueled the exact opposite response. She craved the sickening sweetness of chocolately sugar, just as she yearned for orange cheesy puffs which stained her fingers and tore at the roof of her mouth. That was her planned late afternoon snack.
If she could, she would have burned every processed food center to the ground. It wouldn't have stopped her from buying her crème filled powdered donuts for breakfast, as long as there were bakeries still around.
Her lunch complete, Priscilla left the breakroom, disposing of her trash and going to the ladies' room to wash up. She saw her reflection in the mirror and took a moment to wipe away the smudges and smears of her make-up's daily wear. She caught sight of an unsightly, pus-filled pimple on her chin and leaned in to see it better. With steady hands, she popped the blemish and wiped away the mess it made on her face and on the mirror. She knew the open wound would soon crust over and fill back up with poison. She would compulsively pick at it while she was at her desk. It would turn violently red and swollen and would hurt even if she didn't touch it. She would be forced to pop it again before they left for the bar and put concealer thickly over the spot to disguise the infection. By the time she returned home tonight, it would be at least twice the size and she would need to put prescription medicine on it to allow it to start to heal. Knowing all this, she still couldn't keep her fingerss from digging at the spot as she walked back to her desk.
Finding her way to her cubicle, Priscilla logged into her computer and put a headset on over her ear. She began taking calls as they came in, helping clients with their questions and problems. She was good at her job. Unfortunately, all incoming calls were recorded for customer service purposes. Later, random selections would be reviewed in order to determine if an employee met service standards.
Priscilla had been given a verbal warning for her use of coarse language when speaking on the phone. Though her swearing was limited to the lighter side of things—she never said “fuck”—her superiors did not allow for any common expressions. But Priscilla couldn't care less what her bosses thought. Freedom of speech wasn't limited to the pretty words. It was her mouth and she couldn't always control the things which came out of it. She didn't want to control them. No matter how hard she tried. She knew the next step was a written warning which would keep her from getting any sort of raise when review time came around. It was also the gateway to a final warning and subsequent termination. Not that she was going to let a job define her.
Five o'clock finally came around, but Priscilla had fifteen minutes to make up since she had been late that morning. That was another area in which she was warned not to continue her behavior. She told herself to go to bed earlier, to wake up earlier, to leave for work earlier, but she didn't want to. She liked staying up as late as she could. She wanted to hit snooze on her phone as many times as she could manage. She hated work so much, she couldn't bring herself to leave her apartment until the very last possible moment. She blamed it on traffic, on being pulled over by a cop, on an accident on the other side of the highway. She was embarrassed every time she walked in late. She berated herself for failing every time it happened. But she knew she would simply make up the time at the end of the day.
Nancy was waiting for Priscilla out in her running car. They each drove over to the bar/restaurant in their own vehicles and Priscilla saw the little light for gas go on again as she went the two miles down the road. She was too tired to get gas last night. She had been too late this morning to stop. She couldn't go at the moment, but she told herself she would remember on her way home. She had enough for now anyway. There was always some spare gas in the tank. She rarely ran out. Only once a month, maybe. She would be just fine. She simply wouldn't talk herself out of it later. That was always her problem. She would put it off until it was too late. But that wouldn't happen this time. She was sure she would be sober enough to recall its importance.
Priscilla and Nancy left the bar at twenty after ten. It was too late to get gas. Plus, Priscilla wasn't really sure she should be driving. She didn't want to draw attention to herself. She drove stiffly, with both hands tight on the wheel, her gaze darting all over the road. Her windows were down, whirling and whipping cold air at her face so harshly it brought tears to her eyes. She sang along to the blare of the radio, trying like hell to recall each and every word with precision as she hugged the double yellow lines with her left tires. She kept her speed exactly at the speed limit, using cruise control when she could. By pure luck, she arrived home safely.
As Priscilla crawled into bed that night, she grabbed her journal from the nightstand and flipped back to last January's promising list of New Year's Resolutions. Her fingers traced the words written there and tears filled her eyes. She knew despite her hopes and intentions, she had failed to keep the one resolution she had created for herself. That one promise was meant to better her life and make her happier and she wanted it more than anything. But she couldn't seem to make it happen. So, Priscilla found herself a clean, unused page.
She dated the corner January 10, 2020 and began to write. She expressed regret about not having fulfilled her last New Year's Resolution and how she desired another try. With hands shaking from drink and tears, Priscilla carefully printed, “I will forgive my husband for dying and leaving me.”
She set down her pen and closed the book, returning it to its place on the bedside table. The tears began to flow freely down her face, dripping onto her nightshirt.
“Ricky,” she said aloud to the empty room. “I know you didn't plan to get cancer. You didn't want to die. But you accepted that you had to go long before I ever did. I know you just wanted me to carry on without you and live my life after you'd gone. I've hated you for so long, for dying, for going somewhere I couldn't go. I've been angry enough to consider taking my own life.
“I pretended not to care about anything. I've thought maybe the more reckless I was, the more likely I was to get lucky and just die. Then, I could finally be with you again. But I promised you I wouldn't do this and I've broken my promise. I'm so sorry.
“I'm tired of hating, of being angry and not caring. I still love you and I want to be the woman you loved. So, I'm going to try to forgive you and put all of this behind me. I'm going to try and live, to care again. I promise you. This time I will keep my resolution.”
As she drifted off to sleep, for the first time in over a year, Priscilla slept without demons chasing her in her dreams. Maybe this time she really would keep her promise.