They say the way to stop time is kissing. She stood under the shower, warm water streaming down her face, and she imagined their wedding. A Hollywood themed wedding, with R.S.V.P. cards that looked like theater tickets, guests arriving on a red carpet and metal film reels for centerpieces. He loved movies, she thought.
She tried his last name on. Could work.
No, maybe not.
Of course, there would be no wedding. She had no interest in getting married again. But she imagined it, just because. Because she’s a woman. She did this with everyone she dated; tried on their last name. She just did.
Not with the redhead. There wouldn’t be any wedding, real or imagined. Because he was already married. She knew she should feel bad about dating a man who was committed, but she didn’t. She just didn’t.
She’d known him fifteen years. He was barely twenty-one years old when he arrived from a small farm town in another country. They sat across from each other on the frigid concrete floor in a dim locker room in snowy Pennsylvania, and he averted his eyes, polite, but intimidated. They faced each other around the ring, meeting the first time as fighters, and later as lovers.
He remembered what she’d worn that night.
She walked through the entrance and the host pointed to his table without asking who she was meeting. He embraced and kissed her, then she slid into a seat, once again sitting across from him. Now he was a man, with the confidence of someone who had been through the rigors of life and ended up on top.
She studied his face, which was no longer familiar. He looked like the professional athlete and fighter he’d become. His thick, muscular physique was covered in tattoos and his nose looked like it had been broken more than once. His unruly auburn hair was shaved into a punk style and he was attractive in an unconventional way. He looked like he stepped off the set of Vikings. They had common views and values, yet he knew little about her. None of the deep stuff. None of the illness. None of the things she struggled with. And that was fine. He was a fun distraction. It was genuinely light. After the heavy mess she’d gone through the year before, something sweet was welcome.
She rarely connected with people, but something felt right about him and she didn’t know what it was. They were cut from the same cloth – that’s how the host knew. He was familiar. They knew all the same people, they traveled all the same paths. He felt a little like home.
He made her feel things she hadn’t felt in a long time. Elated, euphoric. When he texted, which was frequently, she smiled. He was there as much as the other wasn’t. He was warm, sensual and animalistic. It wasn’t mental with him, it was physical.
She wanted to rip his clothes off and bite him, feel him pressed against her. He told her his dreams of her, how he couldn’t wait to see her in a few days, he wished he could fast forward.
She had never been attracted to vapid or stupid, no matter how pretty a package it was wrapped in. He was bright, not afraid to say exactly what was on his mind or ask for what he wanted. They never ran out of things to talk about, but there were no profoundly deep conversations. An avid reader, he asked about her writing, which fascinated him. He didn’t probe for more about her life, and she was grateful. He texted to say he was thinking of her, morning, noon and night.
She liked him.
I’m into you, he said. I like being with you, around you. You’re easy to talk to. I want this to keep going…if you’re OK with it. I knew we’d be right. I haven’t been wrong yet.
And they were, but in a different way than she was right with the other. She wondered if the redhead was like her, crazy. Game recognizes game. He laughed when she suggested it. She appreciated crazy. She appreciated redheads. She appreciated tattoos. She appreciated kissing.
Anticipation. Waiting to do things they weren’t supposed to be doing. It was utterly intoxicating. He brought out the best in her. He brought out the worst in her. He brought out her, the person she knew for a lifetime, before the bipolar diagnosis and stabilizing medications.
He will never be mine, nor me his. It’s fleeting. Safe. I know exactly where I stand with him. He was honest; never afraid to say how he felt, never holding back. They agreed to that from the start, brutal honesty. He traveled distance to be with her, driving several hours after a day rife with flights, appearances and filming.
It was temporary. Dangerous. Was it the illicit element? Living in the moment?
When he stopped on the street lit sidewalk on that first chilly night and pulled her into him, people stepped around them or stared as he wrapped his hands in her hair, his lips on hers, and neither of them cared.
Maybe eight minutes passed. Maybe thirty. He pressed her against the brick building, and with his hand still wrapped in her hair, he pulled her head back and his full lips were on her jaw bone, down her neck…he came back up, parted her lips with his, and bit one, holding it gently with his teeth. His blue eyes crinkled at the corners as he grinned devilishly down at her. It was an audition. An invitation. He never once touched her anywhere else. He didn’t have to. This is what I can do for you…if you let me. The glow of the street lamps glinted off his dark ginger beard as they sized each other up. He brought her hand to his warm lips and kissed it softly, then tucked her arm under his for the remainder of the stroll. He wasn’t wearing his wedding ring. It wouldn’t have mattered if he was. She already knew the answer, and so did he.
Time stood still.
She rarely felt the child-like excitement about things she used to when she was off her medications. No matter how much effort she put into Christmas, vacations, food, it wasn’t there. It bothered her. She was so goddamn sane and rational. Here was a deadly taste of that hypomania she missed so much…that drug…her drug of choice.
The drug, that ever pervasive drug, from which she managed for so long to stay clean.
There it was, seeping its way into her life again.
I haven’t updated my blog in a while. The main two reasons for this are that I started school full time in autumn, pursuing a 4-year degree in 2 at an accelerated (and expensive!) art school for Creative Writing in Entertainment (TV, Film, Games). I’ve also been taking care of my significant other, who is out of work on disability at the moment. He had a horrific ice skating accident and managed to bounce his head off ice so hard, he got a concussion, brain bleed, brain contusion, rear lobe cyst and frontal lobe blood clot. Go big or go home, right?
We went to three hospitals before someone got it right. The first (Trinity) said he needed surgery immediately or he’d die. The second wouldn’t even give him the MRI he’d been sent over in an ambulance to receive, since they said he simply had a migraine. They gave him a migraine ‘cocktail’ he had an allergic reaction to and sent him home. (Don’t ever send anyone you love to Tampa Community Hospital.) Tampa General was a long wait, but worth it. Then came The Concussion Institute and various neurologist appointments. A second stay in the hospital to administer IV drugs round-the-clock to shrink brain swelling and address the migraines.
Brain injuries can hard to properly diagnose and take a long time to heal. Additionally, there are a lot of things to deal with. He can’t drive and has brutal head pain. There are issues walking around, speaking, vertigo, light and noise sensitivity. Then there are the personality swings. Emotional, hostile, anxiety, tantrums. Kind of like the worst bipolar behavioral mood swings you can imagine. He’s been wound up like a spring and the slightest thing makes him explode. He has been irrational, unpredictable and violent to live with and it’s been trying most days. He picks fights over laundry or how the refrigerator is organized. I’m on great stabilizing medications for my bipolar disorder, but there’s a cap. Things around here have been able to push me to over the edge and that calm, cool reserve I now have dissipates as fast as the blink of an eye, which has been alarming. I raised my medication a few months ago, but there’s only so much one can take at times. I am stretched to the breaking point and trying to do the best I can to take care of him.
There’s concern (read: he’s anxious as fuck) about being able to go back to work. He put himself through school as an adult and his career as an app developer isn’t possible at the moment. Screens and monitors make him worse. Money has been a challenge with lack of funds and medical bills. I’ve had to take on much more around here. There are a ton of appointments to drive him each week. It’s been really, really hard. A (very sweet) friend set up a GoFundMe for us back in February. If you want to donate or share, it’s certainly appreciated. Link: GoFundMeMedicalBills
Being a wrestler with pre-existing conditions, I’ve never been able to afford insurance and always opted to pay in cash when things got bad. (Or I’ve gone to other countries for treatment in cash.) I’ve also gotten my prescriptions overseas to save money. Now I’m insured and have had a brutal and up close look at this messy bullshit we call a healthcare system. What a joke. After using healthcare in Japan, England, Canada, Germany and various other countries, where the aim is to a.) get your diagnosed quickly and b.) tell you how to prevent coming back, I can only surmise that the reason Americans put up with this is ignorance. We don’t travel and have no idea what other countries have, so we have no clue how shitty our system truly is. With zero preventative care, several appointments just to pinpoint an issue, lack of addressing other issues (environmental, food), medical willingness to write a designer brand script for all ailments, referrals needed for specialists and insurance company denials to battle. Let’s not forget that we get to fork out lots of hard earned paycheck money for our health insurance and hand over even more in person for high deductibles on each office visit. The ever pervasive a-pill-for-everything mentality couple with the For Profit inflated costs, and it’s no wonder we have the highest priced heath at the lowest quality care. It’s frustrating. I wish others could see things for what they ARE. There’s a valid reason no other country has a healthcare system like ours.
Anyway, I’ve started writing more fiction and this is a Flash Fiction assignment I had recently. I’m new at this, so I’m living and learning!
The Moonlit Road
The cold air cut into my bones every time a car passed. I’d been walking this densely wooded road for nearly two hours.
Jesus H., I thought. What else can go wrong? The few who were out that night didn’t so much as tap their brakes. Maybe a bear can put me out of my misery.
A black pickup truck rolled to a stop.
“Where you headed?” The man had dark hair and a solid, muscular build.
“Town,” I replied. “Thanks. I’m Dave.”
“Tom.” He shook my hand. “That’s where I’m going after I make a quick stop. Did you break down?” His face and faded jeans reminded me of James Dean.
“No,” I said, shifting uncomfortably. “I…uh, had a fight with my wife. We were out this way, but she got pissed and took the car.”
He snorted. “Been there, friend. Been there.” He cracked the window and lit a cigarette.
“I haven’t. She just started acting…I don’t know. Weird. Different. I think she’s cheating on me. When I confronted her, she went crazy and accused me of cheating on her…and then she took the car.”
“Are you?” he asked.
“What? Cheating on her? No. I’m not.”
“Well, why do you think she’s cheating on you?’ Tom asked.
“Standard issue stuff. She’s suddenly working late, not returning texts or answering my calls, and she’s going out with supposed friends I’ve never met. Seems like bullshit.”
I’d also found new lingerie in her dresser. And in her car, ashes and a licorice gum wrapper. She hates licorice.
We drove in silence while the moonlit highway stretched before us. The occasional car passed, dampening the steady chirping of crickets that filled the air. Tom’s cigarette glowed in the shadowy cab. There was a Yankee Candle air freshener swaying from the rear-view mirror. Tahitian Breeze. It was slightly overpowering. Everything was at the moment. My stomach roiled and I was damp with feverish sweat.
“What are you going to do?” asked Tom.
“I don’t know,” I admitted, staring at the empty road. “We’ve been married fourteen years. I really don’t know how to be anything else. I’m just praying I’m wrong.” I could see Tom nod out of the corner of my eye. He took a final drag on his cigarette, flicked the stub and rolled his window up. The crisp breeze had been refreshing.
“Maybe you’re wrong.”
The lights from town became visible through the windshield. We passed McDonald’s. The greasy smell of fries which normally made me salivate now made me queasy. I needed to talk to her. I had to know what was going on.
“Here’s my quick stop,” Tom said. He turned onto a local road.
“Oh. I live down this way, too,” I said.
If we drive by the house, I can see if she actually went home.
Tom folded a piece of gum into his mouth. With a jolt I realized that the crumpled wrapper was Black Jack gum.
Before I could say anything, Tom pulled into 58 Teaberry Lane. My house.
“Be just a minute,” he said, leaving the truck running.
My heart felt as if it was going to pound out of my chest. She ran out to him. He kissed her. He gave her something and she threw her arms around his neck. She couldn’t see me behind the blinding headlights.
I’m going to be sick.
“Who’s with you?” She asked, squinting through the bright headlights.
“Nobody. Just giving a guy a ride. Gotta go, but I’ll call you later,” he said as he watched her go inside and shut the door.
Nobody. Should I throw this thing into reverse and drive off? Let him take me to a motel? Beat the shit out of him? Did he even know she was married? Did he know I existed? That I am not ‘NOBODY’?
I stared at the dashboard and tried to make sense of my racing thoughts.
“Okay,” Tom asked, as he opened the door. “Where should I drop you off?”
“Here.” I pulled out my keys.
“Are you going to walk the rest of the way?”
I took a deep breath and tried to steady my shaking hands and lurching abdomen. What the fuck. It’s over. Everything. Making dinner together. Sharing the bathroom in the morning. TV series marathons. Cuddling in bed. Our future. Without looking at Tom, I got out of the truck, stood tall, crossed the final agonizing yards of my driveway, and entered my house.
Owned by April Hunter.
“Dear Mom and Dad…”
I faltered, unsure what to write. What words could possibly convey what I was about to do? I didn’t want my parents to go to prison and whatever I wrote would be analyzed over and over again as part of the trial. It had to be meticulous.
From birth, everyone has a number on their leg, the date they will die. Try as they might; no one is able to prevent their inevitable deaths.
My death date was in three days, on my twenty-second birthday.
My mother had been inconsolable all week. My parents decided to have children because both of them had long death dates, and they felt that genetically, it would be passed down.
We had just lost my brother Lucas three years ago in a tub drowning. He had been one of the ones who tried his best to avoid it, changing all his patterns and staying home from school all week. He was only seventeen and terrified. On his death date, he didn’t leave the house. By dinner, the tension had eased up a little. Perhaps he’d managed to elude the impending fate. There have been more than a few urban legends about people who have avoided death through various means and tricks. Maybe his careful plotting has worked. By the end of dinner, we were actually joking around and enjoying our food.
Lucas had excused himself to the bathroom and that would be the last time we saw him alive. When he hadn’t emerged forty minutes later, my father banged on the door. With no response, he kicked it open. The details will never be forgotten. A Rorschach of scarlet splattered all over the side of the tub and across the white tiled floor. My mother, wailing screams behind me, shoved my frozen body aside. Lucas’s eyes wide open in shock in dark red water, and his neck at an oddly twisted angle.
He’d slipped and hit his head, drowning. No one escapes. Death is unpredictable and often gruesome.
So, how was I coping? I stared at my leg, scratching at the raised skin colored digits. There was a tiny scar across the eight from the chicken pox in second grade. Nothing had changed. The numbers were as clear as they’d ever been. There were only hours left.
A strange calm came over me as I set the lavish, crystal gown on my chaise to admire. Tomorrow was going to be my party, a birthday bash and Bon Voyage life party rolled into one. “Alexei’s Last Ride”, I’d named it. I didn’t see the point in finishing school, but I happily ended up with a lot of friends because my parents forced me to continue. I’d planned on leaving everyone with one hell of a memory, peppered with strippers and a disgustingly large stretch limo that would make them smile forever. Or, until their own death dates.
I had considered fighting my date at first. My friend paid a tattoo artist to change her death date numbers into the infinity sign. It was a great concept.
The tattoo artist laughed at her. We laughed with her. She died. Everything works in theory.
“Dear Mom and Dad,
It seemed the right thing to say. But was I?
Ever since I was old enough to grasp what a death date meant, every birthday card with a one-fifty amero bill and any extra allowance I could put away for as long as I can remember has all been used to collect government rationed painkillers over the years to prepare for this time. Sometimes people will sell their painkillers for a steep price on the black market, usually family of the very elderly.
Our government only allows us to grieve for a limited amount of time; five weeks and three days for a child, less for a spouse, but they don’t force us to physically suffer. Drugs are strictly forbidden and controlled worldwide, but we are allotted a certain amount when our dates, and those for which we are registered, get close.
After the grieving period has passed, the medication privileges are revoked and drug testing resumes. You are allowed one strike within a certain period of time of Mourns End, but after that, you face imprisonment. Everyone knew someone who had been in prison or still was.
Prisons became privatized in America several decades ago, back in the second Bush era when my parents were both just children. We’d learned in school that previously, the imprisoned population was nothing out of the ordinary. Privatizing it became immensely profitable and corporations from all over the world lined up to invest in US prisons. In short time, half of the world’s prison population was held in America, despite the fact that the US was made up of less than 5% of the world population. Nation of the free and brave. Well, maybe just the brave. People were imprisoned for the most minor of infractions, things what would not get a sentence in other countries. The strictest of countries, like Russia and China, didn’t even come close.
The profits grew wildly and private corporations started to require contractual “lockup quotas”, demanding 90-100% prison occupancy. The US government owned and controlled by the drug companies and corporations, began to criminalize everything in order to keep the money flowing quickly. All drugs were declared illegal, as was alcohol. Even vitamins and supplements were no longer available without a prescription. To be caught with raw milk or vitamin C and not have a prescription for it? Prison. Midwife for baby delivery without a permit? Prison. Even an aloe plant was grounds for imprisonment. Fear was the main emotion coursing through America’s veins.
A rumor circulated that one of the corporations created the death dates to thin the over population, except something went wrong and it spread much more aggressively than anticipated. Soon, every child was born with a raised, flesh colored date on their lower leg. No one knew what it meant at first. It was thought to be a birth mark until hospitals became inundated with babies bearing numbers; and then some began to die on dates which numbers coincided with those on their legs. These dates just suddenly appeared in 2041, like the AIDS explosion in the early eighties and rampant Autism in the late nineties.
My family didn’t know my plan, and I highly doubted they’d approve. My mother was ardently pro life and one of the head honchos that lead the push ending the era of Roe versus Wade. Once the death dates began appearing, the argument for outlawing abortion completely grew stronger with so many children dying. As luck would have it, several members of Congress had lost infants suddenly that year due to short death dates and had been forced to return to work after Mourns End. My mother struck while the iron was hot. The court case was overturned swiftly and silently without a single abortion clinic bombing, or a grisly showing of fetus photos with torn limbs.
The UN backed this decision and other countries followed suit. The world as a whole was mostly pro-life and disarmed whether they liked it or not. The federal government had decided that instead of going after America’s guns and risking more “Constitutional Rights” stripping backlash, they would simply stop producing and importing munitions.
Some were peaceful, like Canada and Germany. Russia, Morocco, Bosnia and much of South America were not. Bullets became worth more than gold for about a decade…then they were gone. Killing still occurred, but it took a lot more planning. Suicide was illegal. Failed attempts were imprisoned for life and if family members helped or had prior knowledge, they were too. Suicides have become unheard of since most people have a much keener awareness of how short life is.
I knelt down to the bottom row of my bookcase and pulled out the worn bible. It was a thick book that included both the Old and New Testaments and was translated in three languages; English, Italian and Swedish, with an extra section of the Old Testament in Hebrew. Its edges were frayed and the title had faded. It was my great-great grandmother Elizabeth’s. She’d had it during The Depression early in the nineteen hundreds and had passed down, from female to female until it reached me. I don’t think my great-great grandmother had anticipated death dates or girls dying so young that they wouldn’t have had any children. Then again, it was The Great Depression. Maybe she did. I opened it to reveal the hollowed out center compartment which had been conceived by young Liz. It hid her copper pennies, bread crusts, stamps and a gold wedding ring. Being in a different sort of depression now, it held the means to an end; my beautiful collection of freedom. Xanax, Vicodin, Percocet’s, Demerol and the rare Oxycontin which had been pulled from the market for nearly fifteen years.
My mind raced, but I refused to let the fear engross me. I wouldn’t live that way and I won’t die that way. My numbers don’t say when. I do. The best way to beat the odds is to not be one of the odds. I didn’t feel sorry. I felt in control.
I sat back down at my desk and picked up my pen again. Chewing the tip of it, I suddenly realized that only when you’re dying do you truly start to live. Your senses become more alert: colors more vibrant, smells crisper, details more fascinating. You realize that nothing is to be taken for granted, because it may be the last time you can enjoy your mother’s incredible sausage balls or the last time you’ll see your dog bound over to you when you walk through the door.
“Dear Mom and Dad,
We don’t get many choices in this world.
I’d like this one to be mine.
I love you, forever.
I tucked the note away into the bible with my pill stash for later. Right now, there was a party to finish planning.
Thank you for reading. I’m new to writing fiction.
(Copyright & story owned by April Hunter. All words and accounts on this blog are the sole property of April Hunter.)