This story is by K.J. Blanco and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Lily.” Someone whispers my name. I open my eyes to see a woman staring back at me. We are surrounded by nothingness.
“Where am I? Who are you?” I ask looking at the woman who looks familiar but strange at the same time.
“What is the last thing you remember?” I’m sure she asks me the question, but her lips never move.
My eyes roam the empty space. I can’t remember how I got here. The last thing I remember is a cheeseburger and a loud bang.
“Think harder my dear.” I jump as her voice sounds closer, but she hasn’t moved towards me. I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I remember dragging myself out of bed mid-afternoon. My mother rests motionless on the couch, an empty bottle in one hand, while the other rests on top of a pile of her own vomit. A pair of men’s boots wait by the door. I don’t stick around long enough to find out which suitor my mother decided to entertain today.
I head out the door and towards the food truck around the corner. I need a quick bite before my first shift starts. Miguel has parked his truck on the same corner for twelve years. He says it gets the most foot traffic in the city.
“Hola mija.” He calls out in a thick accent.
“Hola Miguel.” I try matching his enthusiasm but the damage from the night before has finally caught up to me.
“Como té sientes?” He probably asks how I was feeling because I look, and most likely smell, horrible.
I shrug my shoulders. “Same as always.”
“Ah.” He nods his head in understanding. “The usual?”
I don’t have to respond before he turns around to prepare my greasy meal. I’ve lived out the same day, everyday for the past seven years. My mom needed me at home, so I had to drop out of school and work two jobs. I’m not perfect, but without me my mom would be fending for herself on the streets, or worse.
I wake up midday, get a cheeseburger before I have to head to my first shift at the restaurant, then from there I rush over to the bar where I bartend, drinking half as many drinks as I make.
Miguel finally hands me my cheeseburger with extra cheese. I’m not disappointed as I take my first bite. I smile to Miguel who smiles back before his face suddenly changes. He ducks behind the counter and yells out something I don’t fully hear.
I don’t turn around fast enough but I hear a bang, feel scorching pain through my stomach and open my eyes to nothingness.
“I was shot?” I frantically ask, already knowing the answer. My heart thuds faster than ever. “Why?” I ask the being in front of me. “I’ve never hurt anyone before, why would someone shoot me?”
“You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” She shrugs, almost sounding sorry.
“How is that possible?” I begin to ask her, but she shakes her head, seeming frustrated with my series of questions.
“None of that really matters anyways.” She begins.
“None of it matters?” I repeat incredulously. It gets harder to breathe. I want to scream, but she stops me with a tender touch to my shoulder.
“What’s done is done. There is nothing we can do to change it.” She evenly explains. How can she be so calm when I’m so frantic?
“Why am I here?” I finally ask once I’m able to breathe correctly.
She gently smiles. “You aren’t exactly dead yet,” that’s not comforting at all, “but you can get there if you wish.”
“Get where?” She says nothing, only smiling at me. I’m not sure how it can have such a calming effect on me. Maybe it’s a super power of hers or something. “Are you asking me if I’d like to die?”
She nods her head.
“How could you ask me that? I don’t even know what’s out there?” I ask looking anywhere but at her. She reaches her other hand out and softly grasps mine.
“I could show you.” Her voice sounds like it is everywhere at once. The empty space feels like it’s moving but it couldn’t be, could it? The nothingness turns into millions of colors; colors I didn’t even know existed. The air smells sweet and it sounds like thousands of voices harmonizing perfectly together. My body feels warm and my heart steadies. The old aches and pains I’ve always felt vanish, as if they never existed. For the first time in my life I feel at peace.
A tear escapes and gently rolls down my cheek. It’s followed by another, and another until tears cleanse my face flowing freely like a waterfall. I haven’t cried in years.
“This is what is waiting for you, peace.” She explains, still gently holding my hand. “It’s your paradise.”
The tears still have not stopped coating my cheeks but I’m not sad. There is no void I’m trying to fill anymore. “This can be mine?” I ask unsure if I completely believe her.
She nods her head. “If you wish it to be.”
I don’t hear any deceit in her voice, but it sounds too good to be true. I wouldn’t have to carry around any worry or stress anymore. I wouldn’t have to work eighteen-hour days and struggle to make it through the week. I wouldn’t have to deal with my moth-
“What about my mom?” I ask her.
She looks away from me for the first time since I got here. “You would leave her behind, along with the rest of your life.”
“But she needs me.” I say, sounding more like a child than an adult. “What would happen to her without me?”
She shakes her head. “I can’t tell you that, nothing can sway your decision.” My tears start to burn, and my heart gets heavier. “Soon, you will have to accept my kiss. I can breathe life into you or take it. It’s up to you.”
“But I don’t know what to do.” I sob. I can finally have peace, but I can’t leave my mother. I can go back to her, but I’d have to deal with everything that comes with her. I don’t know what to do. The colors begin to vanish, and the harmonies disperse. Everything slowly changes until it’s only the two of us again.
“It’s time.” Her heavenly voice encases me like a hug.
“But I don’t know what to do?” I cry. I want to beg for more time, but she leans closer.
I can have the peace I’ve always longed for. Paradise is a kiss away, I can practically taste it. I can have what I’ve always wanted. Why should I let it go? What has my mother ever done for me? She’s only made my life worse.
I struggle to find answers but a voice in my head won’t go unheard. ‘That’s not true. She has loved you as well as she could. It may not have been perfect, but it was all she had, she gave you all she had.’ It emphasizes. ‘You were everything to her. What does that mean to you?’
When did those mesmerizing lips get so close?
‘I can have it all.’ I think as her lips are a hair away from mine.
‘What about mom? What will she have without you?’ The voice in my head calls out at the last second.
A pair of soft lips press firmly against mine. The colors of the universe swirl until they are one. My inner dialogue suddenly stops. I can’t feel much of anything, but someone gently holding my hand.
“Lily.” She whispers.
I open my eyes
A cheeseburger is waiting for me.