This story is by Brandon Caudle and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Everything was perfect the day of my anniversary, right up until the moment I died.
From the time I woke up, it was magical. Jack had flowers delivered in the morning. He texted me love notes throughout the day. Client meetings flew by. Total bliss. That is, until dinner at our favorite restaurant.
The heart-shaped table mints seemed so innocent. What adult chokes on a piece of candy? Kids, sure. But not a thirty-seven year old woman who has her own marketing business and just bought a loft in the packing district with her boyfriend. A boyfriend with a job and a car, who wasn’t threatened by a strong, independent woman. A woman who has everything going for her!
Unable to breathe, time wrapped itself around my chest and squeezed the air from my lungs. Everything at the edge of my vision blurred, sounds dulled as Jack leapt in slow motion across the table. The table which pitched towards me and smashed me in the face. Looking back, that was probably me collapsing forward, but I wasn’t in a position to brace for impact with both my hands clutching at my throat.
Darkness closed in, the sounds of people yelling through water, or maybe a stack of pillows, then nothing. Past the kind of nothing in deep meditation. Far beyond zen. The terrifying place at the end of understanding. Leaning over the precipice into a bottomless abyss of what comes next. Nothing calm and relaxed about it.
And then I woke up. In my own bed. The sun shone through the window, the curtains were open and my phone buzzed on the pillow beside me. Just like yesterday. The day I died.
The day I died?
Flailing, I snatched up my phone from Jack’s pillow and stared at the screen.
Happy Anniversary, my love. Dinner reservations at 6 xoxoxo
What’s going on? I can’t breathe. What time is it? Look at the phone again. 7:07 am. April 7. April 7?!? That’s our anniversary! It was yesterday. Breathe. I need air.
I got up and walked out into our living room. Jack wasn’t there, he left early every morning, why would he be here. Why isn’t he here? I need to talk to someone. I need Jack. Breathe.
I sat down on the couch and looked at my phone again. Today is our anniversary. Today. Not yesterday. The day I died. This can’t be. I’m having a dream. Maybe my phone is somehow wrong. Maybe it has a virus.
A knock at the door. I opened it. Roses?
“Hey. Flower guy. What’s today’s date?”
He looked at his phone. “April 7. Hey lady, I just deliver these, it’s not my fault if your husband got the wrong day.”
One long shower, ninety minutes searching the Internet and seven botched client calls later, I can now give a master class in deja vu. Every conversation was a repeat of yesterday. The day I, well…died. Working from home sometimes seems repetitive, but nothing like today. I grabbed leftovers from the fridge and scrolled through the texts Jack sent me. The same ones as he sent yesterday. The only thing different today is the queasiness in my stomach as time marched towards six o’clock.
Jack came home and I was dressed and ready, my make-up and hair hiding my anxiety. In a few hours, I will die. No, I died yesterday. Breathe, that was just a bad dream. He came over and took me in his arms, hugged me like he does every day.
“Baby, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I mean, I don’t know. It’s just, I have this feeling…”
“Oh, no, are you sick? We can stay in and go out another time.”
“No, no, it’s our anniversary, and I really want to enjoy the night. It will be ok.”
What do I tell him? I died last night at our anniversary dinner, and I’m terrified to go to dinner? The same dinner that happened yesterday? It’s not real. I can do this.
“Yeah, Jack, let’s go to dinner.”
With a long hug and a concerned look, he took my hand and we walked downstairs. My spirits picked up, reassurance from being with him, calmness and comfort from being with the love of my life. The one I finally found. The one that brought me peace and happiness. The one I want to spend the rest of my life with.
The walk to the restaurant was familiar, nothing I couldn’t rationalize, we frequented it and the five block stroll was routine. Our preferred table was comforting, the dishes our go-to favorites. After dessert, the server cleared our plates and along with the refilled drinks, he placed a small, wooden box on the table.
The rasp came from my throat, my chest tightened again. Sound muddled. I looked at Jack, my eyes pleading. Please do not open the box. Don’t let death out.
In slow motion, his hand reached across the table, lifted the lid and pulled out two pieces of wrapped, hard, red candy. His face turned towards me, his smile faded.
I scrabbled and clawed my way out of the chair, gasping. Need air. Breathe. A mish-mash of sound and light assaulted me. I staggered into the table next to us, my hands grasped for anything, the tablecloth, a chair.
My foot caught in something, I looked down. A purse lay on the ground, my heel wrapped in the strap. I stumbled, arms flailed. In the instant before my head hit the sharp edge of the next table, I saw Jack trying to reach me, his arms stretched out, his face contorted in pain.
Daylight. In bed. Alone. Why are there no curtains on the window? My phone buzzed on the pillow next to me. Jack’s pillow. My Jack.
Good morning, my love. After work, I promise I will put up the curtains.
The date on my phone is February 7. I died last night. Two months from now. Where did the air go? Why does my chest hurt again?
“Jack, where are you? I’m freaking out, I need you now, call me back, baby, please!”
He will get my voicemail and call me back. I know he will. I can’t wait, I have to go see him, I need him to hold me, to tell me this is all a dream. Throw on whatever I can find and go downstairs. Breathe, just breathe.
Jack, call me, please.
I’ll take the metro, I’ll be in his office in forty minutes. There’s the train, if I run I can make it. Cut the corner here, just need to get across the road. No, not the light, please! A break in traffic, run now.
No one ever tells you how much pain comes the moment a bone breaks. Or worse, multiple bones. It’s probably because you’re in shock. Everything becomes hazy. And jumbled. How far did I fly from that car? Everything hurts.
What’s that noise? Is that my alarm? I haven’t used an alarm for years. Where am I? No, not again. I need to breathe. Wait a minute, this is my old apartment. The one I lived in when I met Jack. This is my old phone. How did I ever use this? What’s Jack’s number? How do I find him in my contacts? My chest is tightening again. Breathe.
“Jack, please pick up, pick up. Jack, it’s me. I really need to talk to you. Can you call me back as soon as possible? Please!”
Am I hyperventilating? Should I call 911? No, the’ll think I’m crazy. I can’t breathe. Maybe I am? Maybe I am! No, no. What’s that sound? Breathe. Oh, that’s my old ringtone.
“Hello? Hello? Jack, is that you? I can’t hear you. Let me go outside and see if I can get better reception.”
Oh my god, I remember this apartment, seven floors up and still crappy cell service. A tiny little balcony. Ugh. I can’t believe I lived here so long. I had to climb up the fire escape to the roof to get cell service half the time. It was so hard to hold the phone in one hand and climb the ladder with the other.
“Jack, hold on, I’m climbing up the ladder to get better cell…noooooo…”
I know this place. It was my first apartment, I shared it with my two best friends. Oh. It’s also where…that… that happened to me. And kept happening. I thought I would never get away from him. It took me years to deal with the memories. I never thought I would be ok until I met Jack. When was that…over a decade from now? Was that the front door? No, no, not again. He’s here. I can’t breathe.