This story is by Nijah Jones and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
While Joe’s fingers are spread across her chest breath escapes in bursts, she believes she may just suck all the oxygen out of the room. Joe’s other hand is strangling the sheets while she tries to pull herself back to reality. Her eyes are bulging from her head into nothingness; she can feel the weight of Matt curled beside her, unbothered by her disrupted sleep. Her heart still knocking at her ribs as she reclines herself into her pillows. No one knows the nightmares have returned, she even convinced herself that it has nothing to do with the anniversary today. Before another excuse, she gulps down the remainder of fear. The room is soundless except for her synchronized respiration with Matt’s inhalations adjacent to her.
How do I know if this is not still a dream? She asks herself tucked in darkness. Her life feels like an equivalent to an endless dream since that night, like he could come back and do it all over again, or maybe she never got away and she is some lingering spirit accidentally haunting people like Nicole Kidman in that one movie about her being the ghost herself thinking someone else is preying on her when she is the intruder who will not abandon false reality.
Her posture goes erect in one sharp movement “June 7th,” she smushes the small button to cut her announcement short with one hand while the other shields her left ear. The sun spilling onto the part of the bed that Matt occupies with her most days
In the early mornings, Matt goes out for his jog and always brings back with him souvenirs from his brief travels. Croissants and coffee from Leu Belle Café three lampposts to the left every morning, a hairpin on her birthday that currently resides behind the nightstand, last week gossip of a finalized divorce, and yesterday the beggar he did not see digging through the dumpster behind Leu Belle’s in passing. He is her witness that life is not all bad once you must see it through the eyes of another person.
The bed grunts and sinks as she brings herself to her feet. Her hands are stretched in front of her to discover the doorway leading to the hall. She inspects the space ahead of her with her foot in a sweeping motion. Her hands and arms now extended beside her gliding over the woven tapestry hung on the wall the edge of a coffee table missing her knee by an inch, the rarely used bookshelf, her hands slipping over their seamless interior of the sofa, and finally, the small chill meeting the pad of her foot from the cold metal barrier between the rug and linoleum.
Her glasses tinker as she finds one window light spilling against her face. Her skin brushing past her potted peppermint sends a tingle up her stiffened arm reaching for the tap. Her body falls closer to the window inhaling the peppermint and the sounds of the occupants outside of it. The hiss of bus brakes nearby sends her mind down her light restricted memory lane pulling a moment from her past as she takes another swig of liquid.
“Hey there…that was close…are you alright? is there anyone you want to call? I’m Matt by the way,” those were the first words Matt said to her. That day she was reconsidering offing herself somehow he received her distress signal. She had stood weighing her options should she roam until something hit her or continue down her already dimly lit path with assistance. Her cane in the palm of her hand collapsed in on itself as she shoved it into her purse she started to take small strides forward.
She progressed on her sightless route she memorized the unequal parts of the sidewalk, where she’d detangle her cane from an unmanicured shrub at least twice. At the crosswalk, her mother’s voice violated her persuasive thoughts. Her mother would tell her as a child the angels would protect her. Her thoughts reverting to that night it happened she decided on a second chance for the saints to prove themselves to her once more. Without the guidance of her crutch, she clung to for dear life when her sight left her stranded, she prevailed. She heard a bus approaching in her direction.
Inching herself closer to the curb, the vocal machine was building in speed. Off the curb, the bus’s horn shrieked and someone accompanied her, dispatching her out of danger. The wind bounced off the metal past her face. Sounds of traffic decreasing as the sacred rescuer flew her to the safe zone. She remained stationary until he spoke those first words. Her lids in a mechanical motion were her only reply.
“Dr. Greely.” Was the secondary response to his concerned inquiry. Maybe if she called her sooner that day, she could have talked her away from the curb.
Matt had disappeared. When he returned, he took her hand and curled her fingers around the napkinned cup.
“Careful,” he said his hand still overlapping hers and there was that smile.
“I closed my eyes,” she had said.
“Well, I’m glad you missed your bus,” a shaky laugh tumbled out.
She hadn’t told anyone about her declining vision, not even her mother. After a week of modifications to her vision, smelling and listening to her way home was a habitual remedy. She began navigating at a novice level sometimes not aware of her spatial awareness until she heard someone say ouch. But within months the only time she heard that word was coming from her mouth because of a jammed toe.
The night it happened it was not until she reached the part of the pavement where light barely penetrated the darkness when she was conscious of another person was in her vicinity.
He came up from behind the pointy end probing her spine as he whispered “shh” as if making a sound could save her. She could feel every bone wilt. She could hear the electrical buzz of a store sign that had shone down on them before she was immersed in continual blindness.
the deeper they treaded into the dankness she knew nothing was going to save her not even the suction of the grime pulling at her shoes. As he lead her she was able to come to her feet and swing her stick until it landing a blow to some part of his body fully releasing herself from his protruding weapon. She listened for his footfalls to the left of her a puddle gave his exact location. She could still partially hear the electrical hum, so knew they weren’t far from light.
She could have run but something urged her to fight. He leaped at her and her knife flayed through layers of flesh so easily. The back of his hand stung her cheek knocking her to the ground. She can hear him extract the knife and tossing it swallowed by the water-filled pothole her feet flailing in the air.
His weight bearing down on her as he straddles her he is successful at restraining her beneath his knees. He thrusts his blade into her side while he covers her mouth warm tears slither past her ears and into the ground. An arm got loose and she ramed thumb into his eye forcing it through a layer of membrane he lets out a squall and another voice intervenes. “Heyy,” he lowered himself to her ear and whispered “See you soon” she could feel her necklace plucked off of her. The good Samaritan shuffled closer.
He was never caught and he did it again that time his victim was adequate with sight and it was in the morning when he attacked but she didn’t survive. Her back is to the kitchen counter stroking her forearm now.
“Hey..sorry I took so long I lost track of time.” his back turned to her drawing his key from its snug fit.
“Coffee…and I have something for you,” she tries not to wither away still encapsulated in darkness. Matt spoils her every month with a new gift last month a bracelet with the name Jill inscribed on it which she found odd because this one was tucked neatly in his sock draw until she asked about it.
She can hear him sit whatever he got her down on the counter. She moves her fingers on the surface of it has a metallic latch smooth and hard and the box itself is soft. She pops the latch and lifts the lid of it and feels the small links like something she has felt before but when it was new the cable is so fragile if she put pressure on it with her puffy inner palm it would be pulverized. “What is,” her smile disintegrates and her breath is caught in her throat she cannot help but continue tracing this object until her fingers reach what they have been searching for the pendant still intact the only thing preserved. It is tarnished with something dried, Blood?
“I told you I’d see you soon Joe” and there is that smile again.