My second assignment is due tonight. And so, in the spirit of continuing the scary habit of sharing, here it is (I'm not sure why I'm on such a dark kick with these assignments). It's long, I still need to figure out how to condense a post and add one of those "read more" links so it doesn't all appear here. Baby steps.
Write a story, or a section of a story, inspired by the opening line of Dante's Inferno: "Midway on our life's journey, I found myself in the dark woods, the right road lost."
“Joe, it’s me, are you there? Joe?” Sarah waits and listens as if she could hear him through the answering machine. She closes her eyes, “pick up, pick up, pick up”, willing him to hear her. She can see the machine on his desk at home, the light from the green glass lamp illuminating his face as he watches the blinking red message. She sees him reach for the Jameson. Sarah shakes her head and opens her eyes, no, there is no bottle. It would be easier if there was, if he was hurting, but he wasn’t.
“I need to talk to you, Joe, please. I’m sorry about before. But you have to pick up now.”
Sarah stays on the line for a minute that feels like twenty before hanging up. She moves from the bed to the window, peels back the curtain and looks out through her own reflection. The light in the parking lot from the funeral home next door is broken and shudders off every few minutes. When it does the street is dark except for the lights from inside the home. There are shadows of people in there. Maybe a family planning some services, she thinks. She looks at the cars in the lot to see if she recognizes any of them. She doesn’t.
Back to the bed, the pills are laid out on the nightstand in neat rows. First the whites, then the pinks, then the blues. They look like candy, like she could run a string through them and make one of those necklaces the kids used to wear and chew off each other. She tries the phone again. On the fourth ring the machine clicks over and she hears her own voice, "Hi, you've reached the Brady's. We can't come to the phone right now."
In the background of the message she can almost hear Lucy and Liam choking back laughs as they held the script up in front of her, how hard it had been to create one simple outgoing message, the laughing causing them to stop and record and stop and record again. Something inside hurts like a punch at the memory and Sarah hangs up again.
Leaning back into the pillows she puts the phone in her lap and pulls at the cord to untangle it. She hadn’t planned on not being able to talk to Joe. Sarah finds the marble notebook in the top drawer in the nightstand, takes a few of the white ones, and picks up a pen. She writes Lucy and Liam’s names, that she’s sorry they’ll have to go through this, how she just couldn’t find her way back, how she hates feeling like a burden, that they seem so grownup now. She pauses, flips the first of the blue pills around on her tongue and thinks of what to write to Joe. She doesn’t want him to be happy without her, but thinks that it might make for better reading for the kids if she adds it. She scribbles the words and hopes he’ll know she doesn’t really mean them. She thinks of the woman who has moved into her home. How she is nothing like her. How she won't know about that summer in Syracuse with Joe in '71 or what her babies looked like minutes after they were born.
She flips the page and signs it, reaches for the glass of water and forces the pinks down in two swallows. She finds the window in the now dark, blurry room and slips down the wall to the floor, rests her chin on the sill. The street light sputters off but she can still make out the foggy outlines of the family from the funeral home walking to their cars, hugging goodbye in turns.
The phone ringing behind her sounds like bells and she closes her eyes, imagines her own family in the lot beneath her, hugging goodbye after they’ve let her go.