I sit in darkness, isolated from the world by a dark wooden door. If I think hard enough, I can imagine I’m standing in a sunny field, or listening to the roar of ocean waves. But I’m not. As much as I try, the thin closet door in the bathroom is not enough to block out the screams.
Curling up tighter into a ball, I struggle to not bump into the objects scattered around the tiny space. A shelf is a few inches above my head. My arms and legs are stiff, aching with pain from hiding here for half an hour. I don’t have enough room to stretch out. I try to relax my tense muscles, breathing in the musty air, and letting it ease out of my lungs. Mom’s voice explodes through the house. My stepfather is quick to yell back, a little further away from me. They must be in the kitchen.
I clench my eyes shut and cover my ears. Warm sand. Bright yellow sun. Baby blue waves crashing on a long, empty beach. It’s the place I go to every time they fight. Mom said we will go to the ocean and buy a house there. She told me that on one of her good days. When she hugged me and told me everything was going to be alright. When she stayed up late with me and we watched TV until one in the morning. When we laughed together and fantasized about a world where we could dig our feet into the hot sand and lay on the beach for hours. It’s a better world. A perfect world. But that is all it ever was. A fantasy. Now I am being dragged back to my reality. And in my world, we can’t leave. Not now, not ever. He won’t let us.
“-doing this. We agreed to not spend it,” Mom screams. I push my hands over my ears tighter, but with a pang of fear, I realize they are coming closer to the bathroom. I slide myself away from the door. My back hits the wall behind me, and I know there is nowhere to run. I touch something on the floor with my leg and it rolls away. Reaching down to the ground, I run my hands across the wooden tiles until I find it. I pinch the small oval with my fingers and pick up four more that had spilled. Medication. The ones that Mom should have taken six hours ago.
“It’s not my fault! I couldn’t stop them from taking it. They had guns, Emily,” Henry yells back.
“Oh yes, they took it with their guns. Don’t lie to me again. I know what you do for your ‘part-time’ job. Strange men knocking on our door asking for you. You disappearing every few weeks in the middle of the night without explanation. Why else would I find ten thousand dollars in your duffle bag?” she shrieks. I don’t understand what they are arguing about, but I know the fury in her voice, and the fear in his.
“Listen, I know this looks bad, but-”
“Don’t give me any of your crap, Henry. I’m done with you.”
“Emily, we can work this out, we can go to counseling,” my stepfather says desperately. I hear glass shattering onto the ground and Henry cries out in surprise.
“Shut up!” she howls. They move further away. Henry yelps in pain as another glass object crashes to the ground. They must be in the bedroom because their voices are fainter now.
“E-Emily- what are you-” Henry stumbles over his words.
“This ends now,” my mother declares. The screaming stops, and I hear a few murmurs, but I cannot decipher their words. I exhale, hoping it is over.
I should have known better.
The gunshot slices through the once-quiet house, louder than anything I have ever heard. My ears ring long after the sound dies out. I am left in silence, shaking violently as I wrap my arms around my frail body. Tears fall from my eyes, but I don’t know where they came from. Silence. The wall bites into my back. Silence. I hold my breath for over a minute, still waiting. Silence.
The closet door flies open. Bright light blinds me as I look upwards slowly, barely daring to move. A figure comes into focus. I can’t see her face, but I know. I know who it is. I know what the noise was. I know I can’t escape.
I know she didn’t take her meds.
Mom towers over me in the doorway. The lights behind her cast shadows across my face. I think for a moment she will help me out of my hiding place, hugging me tightly to her thin body. She will bring me over to the living room and we’ll watch cartoons with Henry like we did before. We will laugh and smile while eating dinner together. But as I see the small pistol in her right hand, I realize I am wrong.
She lifts the gun. I tremble with terror, looking into her bloodshot eyes, and see a ghost of the mother I once knew. I stare down the tiny barrel of the pistol.
“Mom…” I whisper. Her hand shakes, finger hovering over the trigger. It touches the black metal. My mother stares me down, unblinking. I can’t look away. Part of me wonders where Henry is. He would be able to talk to her. To make her stop this. The smell of blood drifts towards me, and I see dark red on her pants and shirt. Where did it come from?
I close my eyes. One Mississippi. She doesn’t move. I want to scramble up, out of this closet, and cling to her forever. Two Mississippi. I can’t inhale. Can’t move. Iced over with fear and horror. Three Mississippi. This isn’t real. I will open my eyes and see it was all a dream. Four Mississippi. Tears leak out of my closed eyelids. Where is Henry?
The shot echoes into the chilly silence. I flinch away, but keep my eyes clenched shut. A light clatter of metal, followed by a dull thump. There is no pain. My eyes fly open, and then I see her.
The gun rests on the floor, a few inches away from her pale hand. My eyes move slowly up her body, coming to a stop at her face. The bullet hole on the side of her head is tiny in comparison to the deafeningly loud shot. Her empty black irises stare into the void, glazed over with death.
I don’t move. I can’t move. I’m frozen, staring at the place my Mom once stood. The last place she stood. Life has left me like it did her. I don’t breathe. I don’t blink. I don’t think.
The silence has returned twice as heavy. It fills the room, clinging to the walls, touching everything in sight. Its fingers wrap around my cold body and I let it consume me with numbness.
I listen to the beautiful stillness that has filled me. The silence I have been craving forever. I am here, stranded as if on an island, isolated from pain and suffering. The silence welcomes me with open arms, and it envelops me with calming peace. I can’t feel anything. I don’t want to. Here, I am safe. Here, I am loved. I will never have to worry about anything.
Dark red blood leaks from my mother’s head and oozes into the cracks in the tiles. It trickles towards me, gradually coming closer to my bare feet. The dark liquid reaches my toes. I bend the tip of my foot down and brush the top of the expanding river of red. A small drop of blood leaves my toe, hitting the ground. I smile softly, staring into my mother’s cold, vacant eyes.
I have found my peace.
Image – Pixabay.com