Four Seconds

Spent, Evan rolled off her and was snoring in the space of a dozen heartbeats. There was no intimacy left. Only habit. Silent sobs wracked her, but the tears were conditioned as well. She was exquisitely empty. At first she had wondered that he never commented on her constant nocturnal weeping. Now she was pretty sure he was willfully oblivious. The scant few inches between them was a yawning canyon.

 

She rarely slept anymore. Whenever she closed her eyes, the vision of that crumpled red sled in the road haunted her. A patch of black ice and four seconds had changed her entire life, shredded her comfortable future. Most nights she stared unblinking into the darkness, obsessively reliving that horrific moment. If she did manage to doze off, however briefly, nightmares reflected her thoughts. She’d wake sweating and heart pounding, foot desperately stomping on phantom brakes. There was blood on her hands. No matter how hard she scrubbed, she could still see it. Her skin was rough and cracked from compulsive attempts to wash it off.

After the accident, her doctor had prescribed sleeping pills. They remained untouched behind the mirror of the bathroom medicine cabinet. Addiction ran in her family. The pills seduced, a siren song promising sweet release. The thought repulsed her. She was unworthy of absolution. Besides, she couldn’t bear to look in the glass. The face looking back at her was a gaunt stranger with soulless eyes.

With clinical accuracy she had transitioned through the first three stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining – before settling in guilt steeped depression. For a time she luxuriated in soul crushing misery. It nearly consumed her before she wrapped herself in the barren sanctuary of emptiness.

Evan’s wheezing snores punctuated the silence. She glared at the shadowed lump of his turned back. There was nothing left between them. Apparently, “for better or worse” had limitations and lately they were just going through the motions. When she had needed him most, he pulled away. Late nights at the office, covert telephone calls, unexplained charges on the credit card statement. They painted a damning picture.

She slipped out of bed, careful not to jostle Evan awake. The hardwood floor was bitter on her bare feet. She hardly noticed. Her soul was frozen, what difference did cold toes make? She blindly picked her way in the darkness, instinctively avoiding the creaky floorboard in the hall.

Moonlight streamed through the window, illuminating the den with wintry light. In their “Once Upon a Time,” she and Evan had blithely sat together on the porch swing. They’d talk late into the night, watching the moon rise over the meadow, basking in the magical light. Sometimes they simply recounted the trivial details of their day, other nights shared their deepest dreams. They made plans for their future – a wedding, a family, grow old together. Their lives were drenched in moonlit promise. They were young and the world had been kind to them. They had been so blissfully ignorant.

She hesitated, hovering in the doorway. Did she really want to look? She didn’t need confirmation of what she already knew. They never talked to each other anymore. They never shared the moonlight. There was no “Happily Ever After.”

She snapped open Evan’s laptop. It only took moments to break into his e-mail. He hadn’t bothered to change his password. Her fingers flew over the keys. It was all there in heart wrenching detail. Or it would have been heart wrenching, had she still maintained the capacity to feel. It just added another numb layer to the ice in her heart.

She had ached to experience some emotion, anything really. She had imagined that betrayal would have thawed the vacant eternity inside. It didn’t. Somewhere in the void there was an unheard scream, but she didn’t have the energy to release the rage. She remained fragmented, disconnected from her reality. Like watching a poorly written screenplay, she couldn’t muster any empathy for the leading lady.

The stranger was staring at her from the mirror. Those hollow eyes judging. She hadn’t remembered walking into the bathroom. God, if she could just sleep, if she could just feel. The emptiness was exhausting. The mirror woman gave her a flat look. There’s an easy answer. She argued with the reflection. Not that, never that. Go ahead, you know you want to.

She snatched back a hand that had reached for the medicine cabinet on its own volition. The thin lips in the glass twisted into a mockery of a smile. It didn’t reach those dark, dead eyes. Do you want to be me? Take them.

Her will crumbled. She swallowed. Again. And again. The empty pill bottle clattered, plastic on porcelain, as it tumbled into the sink. She defiantly locked eyes with the reflection, daring her to comment. The moments between heartbeats were a silent eternity.

Turning her back on the glass, she was possessed with a nostalgic urge to drink in the moonlight. She glided through the darkened house, feet unerringly headed to the front door. The click of the lock echoed, unnaturally loud in her ears.

The night was arctic as she curled up on the porch swing, tucking frozen toes underneath her. Hoarfrost transformed the moonlit meadow into a wonderland of crystalline edges. Dazzling and knifeedged, an echo of good times irrevocably shattered.

A gradual, dreamy warmth spread through her. Her chaotic thoughts slowed as she sank gratefully into drug induced lassitude.

Her breath fogged in the chill air. Puff. The moonlight was so beautiful. Puff. Evan never sat here anymore. He blamed her. Puff. She couldn’t fault him; she blamed herself. Puff. Her thoughts were fuzzy. Had it been only a few weeks, or was it a lifetime ago? Puff. Davie’s eyes had glittered with excitement when he saw that red sled beneath the Christmas tree. He had promised never to slide near the road. Puff. She was so tired. She knew she could see him again. Not broken and still on the pavement, but laughing and vibrant. Puff.

The night was still. She closed her eyes. Mommy will see you soon baby

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