This story is by CC Sullivan and won an Honorable Mention in our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
CC Sullivan is an author from Toronto, Canada, who writes in the fantasy and women’s fiction genres. Her first published book is Masters of the Elements, a time travel portal fantasy. She is writing the second book, Warriors of the Elements, and a women’s fiction novel titled All We Lost.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a runner.
The door slammed shut, rattling the walls. I’d drawn it extra hard to make my point. Outside, I spun on my heels and zipped up my hoodie. The day had gone so well until we began arguing over something trite. And through some circuitous route, we’d ended back at a discussion we’d been having for the last few months. I could have stopped the argument, but I had already set myself up to bolt.
A gust of wind blew when the front door opened.
“Don’t be angry,” said Greg.
I kept my back to him, ignoring his plea. My jaw tightened. Don’t get upset? He’d been the one to bring up the subject of children again—one I wasn’t ready to face yet.
“I’m going for a walk.” I spoke without turning around.
“Rach, I won’t bring it up again. Come back inside . . .”
I walked away as his sentence trailed off behind me. I shoved my fists deep inside my hoodie’s pockets, my hands sheltering my growing belly against the elements. Why couldn’t I just bring myself to tell him? My feet hurried up the block at a steady pace.
The late afternoon light cast elongated shadows on the sidewalk, and immense oak trees created a canopy above my head. The stitched fragments of my being were unraveling again. I kept moving, one foot in front of the other, leading me further away from our brownstone, from us.
Dusk seeped in like ink, bleeding its way up the walkway. A dog barked in the distance, jogging my thoughts. I cocked my head, glancing left and right. None of these houses appeared familiar.
Around me, the street grew sombre. You’re not good enough . . . I shook my head to free the inner thoughts whirring through my mind. You don’t deserve him… A hollow echo resounded. No matter how far you run, you will never escape your past . . .
My heart raced. The burning sensation of a memory slashed across my back, and my throat constricted. The metallic taste in my mouth left me dry heaving. My gut clenched. I slowed down and took a deep breath. My head swirled, and I blinked to remove the little white dots swimming before my eyes. Leaning over, I threw up.
I should turn back; it wasn’t just about me anymore. Despite my inner turmoil, I couldn’t do this to Greg. I’d put him through so much already. Today was our anniversary, and his parents were joining us at the restaurant. I’ll deal with this later. When I checked my phone, the clock read 6:30 p.m., and I sent him a message.
— Be home in 10 minutes.
With no sign of life on this noiseless road, my feet moved faster, gaining speed down the sidewalk. Uncertain whether I was only ten minutes away, I quickened to a light jog when a yellow cab drove up beside me. The streetlights flickered on as the driver slowed and rolled down his window.
“You want a lift?”
I nodded, finding it odd I hadn’t heard its motor creeping up the street.
He leaned out. “Well, come on. Ain’t got all night.”
I jumped in and gave him my address. This would get me home faster. Outside the cab’s windows, edifices and street lamps became a blur of shadows and lights. I steadied my focus as we passed by a store, but I couldn’t place it.
“Where are we going?” I said. “I don’t recognize these buildings.”
“You’re going where you need to go.”
Leaning over to get a better view, I said, “We’re not headed in the right direction.”
‘This is the correct route, Ma’am.”
“Look, my husband is waiting for me. It’s our anniversary.”
I shifted my weight on the rubbery seat.
“Sure. So, why were you walking the streets by yourself so late on your anniversary?”
My cheeks burned, and a tremendous surge of heat exploded in my chest, spewing out like hot lava.
“That is none of your concern!”
“You’re right.” But he’d spoken in too casual a tone.
“Where are you taking me?” My voice trembled, and I protected my tummy on instinct.
“I’m driving you home.”
“But this is not my neighbourhood,” I said, wiping my sweaty palms on my pants.
“Don’t worry; I won’t hurt you.”
I caught his black eyes gazing at me in the rear-view mirror. I won’t hurt you? My pulse thundered in my temples. I gripped my fists and squeezed my eyes shut. It was all I could do to stop myself from screaming.
“I’m only following orders,” he said.
I glanced up at the mirror, but his dark eyes remained on the road. “Whose?”
“Yours. You asked me to take you home.”
My hand immediately went for the door, jiggling the handle back and forth. But it remained jammed.
“Let me out, now!”
“If I unlock your door, you’re going to hurt yourself,” he said in a firm tone. “Now, we’re almost there.”
The cabbie turned onto another street. I squinted, peering out at the dim setting. “Where are we?”
“You don’t recognize this place?”
I drew my face closer to the window, and he lowered the glass. He had stopped in front of a house with its porch dangling from two posts. A ball of angst tightened into a knot in my stomach. My gaze followed the discoloured siding to a crack spanning across the bottom of the dingy screen door—where my mother had kicked it in after my father abandoned us. I clenched my teeth, biting until I tasted blood in my mouth. I recoiled from the memory of the pungent smell of smoke clinging to the grimy curtains and ripped wallpaper.
Screams echoed in my mind. My parents fighting . . . My mother cracking a leather belt across my back as she ran after me shrieking, You’re ruining my life, you worthless floozy . . . Silence filled the house once my mother lay sprawled out on the mustard-coloured carpeting in a drunken stupor. At the end of each chaotic night, I crawled under my covers, recovering from the whipping and praying she wouldn’t wake up.
One day, my wish came true.
“Why did you bring me here?” I swallowed hard, past the lump in my throat.
“You brought yourself here, Rachel,” said the cab driver, “to face these memories from your past.”
“Do I know you?” I said, trying to get a better look at his face.
“No, but I am here to help you understand you’re nothing like your mother.”
I rubbed the sting out of my eyes.
“What about my father?”
“Your father was a coward.”
“Like me.” My tears flowed down both cheeks.
“No, not like you,” he said, shaking his head.
“But I gave up my baby for adoption, the same way he left me.”
“Rachel, your parents left you to survive on your own,” he said. “You weren’t able to defend yourself, and you were too young to care for your baby. You made the right choice.”
I gasped. Breathing turned into a struggle for air between my uncontrollable sobs—pain, anger, and regret struggling to escape my body.
He handed me a tissue.
“I’ve told no one,” I murmured, sniffling and blowing my nose.
“You must forgive yourself to move forward.”
“I’m so tired of running,” I said, taking a deep breath.
He nodded. “It’s time you gave yourself a chance.”
Patting the back of the front seat twice, he drove away from my hellish childhood.
As my old neighbourhood receded into the shadows of time, shackles of guilt and remorse struggled to keep me hostage. I squirmed. The further we drove, the weaker their grasp, until they loosened. And I slipped out of them.
I’m not sure how but, a few minutes later, he turned down my street and stopped in front of my brownstone.
He turned to me, his expression radiating warmth and kindness. “Rachel, you’ll be a wonderful mother to your new baby.”
At that moment, a weight lifted off my shoulders. “How did you know?”
He shrugged and winked. “Happy anniversary.”
After paying, I stood facing my home, twirling the rings on my marriage finger. I turned to thank the cabbie, but he had vanished.
Perplexed, I gazed up the roadway and checked my phone. 6:40 p.m. 10 minutes on the nose.
Opening the front door, I called out to Greg, who rushed over and folded me in his arms. It was time to make amends.
“I’m so sorry . . .” he whispered.
“No, don’t be,” I said, holding his gaze. “There’s so much I haven’t told you about my past . . .”
I was ready to open up, even though it wouldn’t be easy.
“Okay.” Greg wiped away my tears. “And I promise not to bring up starting a family again until you’re ready.”
I stepped away, a hand pressed to my abdomen. “Actually, I have some news to share with you.”