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Fiction Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

“Got any cigarettes left?” Zoe rounds the corner, her fire red curls whipping behind her as she falls to the concrete floor beside me. Before I can answer, her black nails are wrapped around the cigarette in my mouth, and pulling it to her own.


After a deep drag and an exhale of relief, she’s returning the cigarette to its former position. I suck in before asking a question I don’t want the answer to, “Are they freaking out in there?”


She laughs, “Of course.”


“I just couldn’t think of anything real to say,” I hesitate, waiting for the right words to form on my lips. “And I couldn’t read that garbage she wrote on the note cards.”


“I can’t believe the audacity. Why the hell did she think that was a good idea?”


“Save face, I guess,” I breathe in deeper this time, watching the smoke fog the view in front of me when I breathe it back out. I can't help but wish the scenery on the other side would change when the wind finally sweeps it away. “Guess you can't always count on Lana to do what she’s told, am I right?”


Zoe rolled her eyes. “It’s bullshit, Lana. You should have told her no from the jump." Her eyebrows drop in fury, creating wrinkles where skin was once smooth. "Although,” the corners of your mouth lift wickedly. “I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the front row tickets to her temper tantrum.”


I smile but don’t feel happy. Actually, I feel nothing. And that only fuels the guilt that lingers behind that nothingness because shouldn’t I feel something?


And then I’m frozen in these contradictive emotions of feeling relieved to have finally walked away from someone who has torn me down my whole life while feeling bad for the timing I chose to do it.


“Get out of your head,” Zoe demands. “It was well-deserved."


"Quite frankly," she continues a moment later, "it could’ve been so much worse. Your ‘dad,’” she air quotes his biological title with sarcasm, “abused you verbally and physically your whole life. Saying that you weren’t going to say all these nice things that aren’t true before stalking off is hardly as bad as the things you could’ve said about him.”


“I know, but now everyone is so pissed.”


“So what,” Zoe's voice squeaks and gets louder when she emphasizes 'what.' She pulls the loner from my pack of cigarettes and lights it in her first flick. “Who cares what these people have to say about anything? They all knew, and no one did anything.”


The sound of hysterical cries sounds from the other side of the walls, abruptly getting louder as the metal doors ahead bang open. I’m instantly triggered. I hop to my feet to run, but her words cut sharp through the thickening air.


“How dare you do this to me! To him! You selfish little brat!” I stop in my tracks, but Zoe is between us — like usual. Although her tiny frame is smaller than mine in height and weight, the aura that surrounds her is fierce and protective. And she’s not having it.


“Go back inside, Carol,” she warns. “Go back inside.” The cherry of the cigarette in Zoe's right hand is pinched off with the swift movement of her fingertips and swiftly replaced by a fist she is hoping she won't need to use.


I do everything to drown out the yells mixed with my mother's whiskey breath.


Feeling glued to my spot, taking the shots that I’m used to receiving, I force myself to make some kind of movement as her presence leaves me frozen in place like usual. My intentions are to slowly move back until I'm far enough to break the spell she has over me and leave. But to her, I'm mocking the distance between us. The fury grows in her.


Her hands start swinging, and Zoe’s effortless moves mirror hers, blocking each blow that is being willed to move distances ahead towards me.


I hear Zoe’s words to just leave, but I can’t stop looking at my mother’s face. I can’t stop wondering how the wrinkle-free features of a smaller, kinder woman once lived behind that hateful mask — once even liked me. Before my dad came back, my mother was clean.


Since then, alcohol has replaced meals, and I quickly became the epitome of everything she couldn't do — couldn't be — by becoming a young mother. And she made sure I knew it.


And just like that, I'm 10-year-old me running away again. I head for the only place I can think of, the abandoned building a couple of blocks away that has always been a safe place for me when the alcohol consumes my mother.


Before long, the thunder invades my ears before my other senses are introduced to the oncoming storm. My feet start making imprints in the dirt beneath me, thickening as the downpour gets heavier and the dirt turns to mud. The falling rain blurs my vision, creating tears on my face where there should be some. The lightning in the distance charges my adrenaline, and I pick up speed.


My drenched body lays against the side of the building, shaking slightly. I'm still charged with adrenaline but my mind is overwhelmed with exhaustion. That's when I see her red hair hopping in a ponytail as she rounds the corner, an umbrella in hand, but she’s not using it.


I start laughing as the relief of seeing her sweeps over me and my sanity. My ball of emotions unravels like I’m prey to a cat’s paws, clawing at the tightly knitted sphere I’ve built to protect myself.


Soaking wet, she pulls out a dry cigarette from beneath the umbrella as an offering. I smile and roll my eyes, feeling the toxic expectations of this town and the people in it ironically melting off me with another drag. The distance between my neighbor’s funeral home and my father’s cold body clears my head.


“I just wanna leave,” I breathe out, letting the air in front of me mix with the toxins I’ve taken in. “I can’t do this anymore.”


“Then leave,” she says assertively. “Get the hell outta here. There’s so much more for you somewhere else. This town has already sucked you dry. There’s nothing left for you to give it, or the people in it.”


My eyes move from my palms to her face, and it clicks for her. “I’ll be fine, Lana. Maybe even my daredevil soul with break up with the toxicity in this place too.” Her smile looks genuine, but there’s a sadness in her eyes I can’t disregard. There’s a sadness in everyone’s eyes here. Why does this town even exist?


“Can I tell you something, Zoe?”


“Always.”


“I don’t miss him. I don’t miss him at all.”


“I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t miss someone like that either.”


“But shouldn’t I feel something?”


“Lana, parents can be toxic too,” Zoe runs the cherry tip of our last cigarette across the concrete. A raindrop sucks the oxygen out of the ash, taking the light with one last sizzle. “It’s okay to be okay right now.”


And that’s when I pulled out the umbrella and decided to no longer let them suck the light out of me.

August 06, 2022 14:38

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1 comment

Michał Przywara
22:47 Aug 17, 2022

A story of death and rebirth. An abusive father dies, and it prompts the protagonist to assert herself, and at her friend's urging, to move on and start living her life. A funeral maybe isn't the best time to speak out about someone who just died, but on the other hand, she was denied her voice her whole life and it was time. Besides, her family seem to be against her, so it's not like she's burning bridges. One thing did catch my eye: "the corners of your mouth lift wickedly". Not sure where the "your" came from.

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