Susan stepped through the doorway and into the abrasive sunlight. She had not been outside of her apartment in weeks. Her skin rebelled…burned. She could feel her pupils shrink, and they were already pretty pinned to begin with. She needed cigarettes. The cartons she had purchased lay in a pile by the door, empty, mocking her. She could hear them. She blinked and crossed the street.
The man at the liquor store knew what she wanted. He helped her. He did not know why he did this. A case of tonic water and ten cartons of cigarettes. They did not speak. He put the items into a bag and took her card. She left without making eye contact.
The sun chased her back to her flat. She lit a cigarette with shaking hands. It calmed them somewhat. The real calm was waiting. She pulled the drawer out and saw her gear. It sparked the shame and excitement and resignation that it always did. No matter. Nothing mattered.
She heard the phone and then the antique answering machine. Her voice sounded so strong and…normal. Then her son was speaking.
“Mom…it’s me. I just…I want to see you. I want to know everything is OK. I bought a plane ticket. You don’t have to answer the phone, but I will be there in a few days. I love you.”
Mom. The word stuck in her heart. It was a dull pain, like when a bite of steak gets stuck halfway down. It was draining. It hurt her.
Josh was just one of her children. The oldest. He was almost thirty now. Her mind was stung with images from the past. Family. John. The girls. Afternoons spent running in the park. They were like old family movies…surreal…they belonged to someone else. She knew that they were from her mind, but she could only just recognize the woman in the movies. She was strong, healthy. Her arms were smooth and tan.
Susan stood up and walked slowly into the sepia bathroom. The walls shimmered and she forced herself to look into the mirror. It was a gentle horror…like every time. She could not recognize the thin grey person looking back at her.
Their fault! The damn doctors. The pills. No one told her what would happen. No one told her that the pills would take away more than just the pain. They took away fear, they destroyed self-doubt. Then they stopped working. Then she began to climb the ladder. She could climb no further. She was as high as she was ever going to get. And there was no way back.
She would have to call Lou soon. He would come by and be gone in thirty seconds. She would count her cash and try to calculate. But she was set for now. She could continue to slide. She could shut it all down, blacken it. The shame would leave with the craving. She knew it. She turned off the bathroom light. The bedroom light. The kitchen lights. Until it was near dark in the apartment. And then she turned herself off.