This story is by Kim Johnson and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The wretched sound of a twice-snoozed alarm clock blared throughout Marcie’s apartment. The dreary 300sqft studio left little space for the sound to escape, yet somehow the ringing still wasn’t enough to warrant a response from her semi-conscious body. She continued to lie in a fetal position, curling up tighter with every ring as if it would shield her from the noise. Perhaps if she made herself small enough underneath the itchy IKEA comforter, the alarm would stop ringing, inadvertently granting her permission to remain in bed.
This was a daily practice for Marcie, and despite yielding the same results every time, she maintained this routine each and every day. But, as it happened most days, the noise of the alarm was interrupted by a loud banging on the wall she was cozied up against. While ineffective for Marcie, the alarm had no trouble waking up the folks in her neighboring apartments.
“Turn. It. OFF” the neighbor grumbled through the thin walls, punctuating each word with an increasingly aggressive thump on the wall. With an agonizing sigh, she sat up, reached for her phone and silenced the alarm.
Out of habit, she went straight to her messages and refreshed it twice- zero new messages. Same thing for her email- only this time, in addition to refreshing twice, she also took the liberty of signing out and back in again, hoping that the lack of communication was due to a technological error and not one within her personality. She wasn’t waiting on a specific correspondence from anyone in particular, but rather any sort of indication that someone knew she existed. She tossed the phone aside and turned her body toward the minuscule, barred window that looked as though it was designed for a prison cell.
The earliest signs of daylight were beginning to creep through the blinds, bringing to light the lack of decor and personality throughout her shoebox- calling it an apartment or studio is far too generous of a description for the four walls within which she lived. Or, more accurately, the space she simply existed in. There was rarely a moment where Marcie was fully conscious- whether it was sleeping, or utilizing various substances to distort her consciousness, the time she spent at home could hardly be considered living.
Several minutes had gone by and Marcie had yet to move- other than her spine sinking itself further into a crescent moon shape, keeping her comfortably slouched as she stared into the depths of her off-white wall. Alarms are usually indicative of someone needing to do something or go somewhere, and despite her what her actions and overwhelming lack of urgency would make you believe, this was the case for Marcie. An uncomfortable headset, fluorescent lights, and a never ending list of phone numbers belonging to innocent people who definitely don’t want to buy insurance eagerly awaited her presence. Nevertheless, she remained perfectly still, keeping her legs locked in a tight cris-cross position, with her shoulders drooped to her waist; a posture so distressing that it would make a chiropractor consider leaving their practice indefinitely.
Her eyes closed again, and projected on the inside of her eyelids were memories of brighter mornings in which she woke before her alarm, eager to begin the day. Days where each minute was expertly planned with challenging tasks that fueled Marcie’s desire to live. She thought of the times where she woke long before the sun, for there were too many activities to be done and not enough hours in the day, therefore there was no choice but to steal some of her precious eight reserved for sleeping.
Truthfully, there was nothing Marcie loved more than a schedule that required her to be precise every moment, putting out fires right and left, and taking care of each and every person who crossed her path. She thrived on being the anchor person in any situation, the vital piece of the puzzle when it came to solving the hardest ones. The extensive potential for what a day could hold infatuated Marcie, and she became addicted to the anticipation of opportunities that could arise and allow her to prove worth in a new way.
From the day she was born, Marcie was always three steps ahead of her counterparts- both figuratively and literally- as she even began walking months before her infant peers. Those steps would eventually turn into leaps and bounds as she easily surpassed anyone else daring to compete with her. She certainly wasn’t someone who naturally excelled at whatever they decided to do, but if she wanted to succeed at something, you had better believe that she did. Her bravery, tenacity, and clever aversion of anything she could potentially fail at garnered her a well-respected reputation from the entire town by the end of her kindergarten graduation- (seriously, you should have heard her commencement speech).
While the rest of her childhood and young adult life was far from smooth sailing, Marcie was a courageous captain who navigated the storms with such composure that anyone passing by would have no idea she was perpetually just moments away from drowning. Because of these tumultuous waters, it was difficult for her to navigate which way she actually wanted her life to go in, but she enjoyed the adventure of growing up as well as being praised by everyone work in any capacity. She didn’t know where to go, but she knew she’d become the best.
Eventually, the excitement of being the big fish in a little pond wore off, and she escaped her small town in hopes of finding a bigger vessel to float her dreams on. When she arrived in New York, she made an uncharacteristically seamless transition, and immediately hit the ground running, diving into a career that she could have only ever dreamed of.
She had the schedule of her dreams- one that was so jam-packed that there wasn’t a moment for her to address her own thoughts and feelings. It gave her an excuse to put her own issues on the back burner while she made miracles happen for everyone else. She was no longer the captain lost at sea; she had become a Lighthouse- a strong, solid structure, built to withstand the most cataclysmic of storms while providing a powerful beacon of light for anyone who needed help finding their way.
As with all light sources, the brighter they burn the faster they burnout, and our dear Marcie was far too distracted with ensuring the security of others that she failed to keep an eye on the kerosene levels in her own lamp. Far sooner than she could have ever imagined, her lamp ran out of fuel, and she was left trapped in the pitch-black tower of her mind with no way out.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort on her part; Marcie tried anything and everything she could think of relight the flame, but her world had become so dark that she wouldn’t have seen the matches even if they were there. With no light to share with the world, Marcie was quickly cast aside and replaced by something newer, brighter, and more reliable. Without out her fire, her passion, or her drive, Marcie was just another tiny minnow within a school of millions- too spineless to make a decision for herself and relied on the ocean current to pull her along.
This version of life is the one she dreaded the most, as she spent the first eighteen years of her life unknowingly studying the ways in which monotony and mediocrity withered away a person’s soul, evaporating their motivation to live. Each day beginning and ending the same, praying for even an ounce of excitement, joy, spontaneity- anything to slice through the thick armor donned while living a pedestrian lifestyle.
Without the recognition or her peers, Marcie no longer recognized herself. Her days became an obstacle course of dodging her own reflection, avoiding the lack of phone calls and emails, and counting down the minutes until it was appropriate for her to crawl into bed and not be scorned by the societal norms surrounding what a productive day should look like.
It took an exceptional amount of effort, but finally, Marcie convinced herself to open her eyes. The blinding light of a fully risen sun seared her retinas, indicating that the small moment she had taken to brace herself for the day had turned into hours. The sun had a way of mocking Marcie, with its overwhelming radiance and consistent ability to rise every single day despite the events that occurred on the one before, and how so much of the world depended on its existence to give them life.
Unfortunately, no amount of sunlight could resuscitate Marcie’s will to live- her sustaining light source had always come from within, and since the day it vanished, she may as well have been dead.
She shut her eyes tightly once more, and they would remain closed until the sun set.