“There are no words…”
Yet the words kept coming anyway. It was fine. She wasn't listening. Alice had been having more and more of these moments lately, when it seemed that the world had collapsed into a thirteen inch screen caught between channels and she was backing away, watching the square of light grow smaller and quieter. The fountain near the food court was gurgling. The woman blocking the way into Caldor was speaking. But Alice wasn't there.
“It's good to see you out. Can I help with anything?”
“No.” said Alice. “I was just…”
Then she realized why she was here and it took all her energy to keep from balling right there among all the fake trees and marooned shopping carts.
“No.” she croaked.
She rushed out and back to her car. The Caldor circular was staring at her from the passenger seat, crowing about their back-to-school sale. Alice couldn't even remember what had happened. Somehow the circular had triggered an automatic response in her brain. Before she knew it, she'd been about to fill a cart with clothes for a boy who was no longer alive. What would it have been like to haul that back home? In a way, the unwelcome well wisher had saved her from herself. In a way.
Now she had to face returning to the other thing, the thing no one would believe. It had no name.
Alice started the engine and drove through the slick streets. It had been a warm and wet August morning, but now the sun was piercing the clouds and catching every dew drop still hanging in the air, blinding her with a million flickering shards.
She made it home. She peered through the rear kitchen door. The trees were budding and swaying with the breeze and the weedy, thorny ground cover closed in on darkness. She couldn't see what she was looking for, but it was there.
The answering machine blinked “2”. The first message was from Lawrence.
“It's me. Hey… from what I can tell you haven't been out of the house for a month. Are you even eating? Let me at least get you some food. It's not a date. It's not me trying to get back in. I'm just worried.”
Alice was putting away the meager selection of groceries she'd bought when the second message came on an startled her near to death.
She dropped the jar of peanut butter she'd been holding and it smashed apart. Alice tried to replay the message, but it was gone. She heard footsteps. When she turned back, she caught a glimpse of something running. The kitchen door swung out and snapped back. Alice ran into the yard. Something had escaped through the brush. The leaves were rustling.
“Marcus?” she said.
It was more of a whisper, as if she were trying the name in her mouth the way one slowly gets behind the wheel of a car for the first time after an accident. The way a child climbs on a bike while still feeling the sting in his knees from the last time. And the name felt dry as it passed over her cracked lips. It stung. No, not Marcus. Marcus wasn't coming back. Alice returned to the kitchen.
And there was the jar of peanut butter, whole and sitting serenely on the table. She glanced at where she'd dropped it and the floor was bare. She wanted to call out, but that was probably a mistake. Best to not acknowledge it. She wasn’t going to allow that to happen again. The first time it had taken Marcus. She couldn’t let it take her.
In time night settled on her, rounded and smoothed by three glasses of gewurztraminer. She fell asleep with the fourth still mostly full on the nightstand and Joan Rivers chatting on the tv. She awoke hours later with the sensation of a warm body pressed into her back. Alice sucked in her breath and jumped out of bed.
Nothing there. There was, however, a shape sitting in the chair in the corner. It wasn't Marcus. It was adult sized, if hunched. Alice flung on the lights. The motion did not dispel the apararition. Rather, the thing stood and drew closer to her. It was an older woman.
“Mom.” Alice gasped.
“You can be with him.” said the other woman.
She shook her head. Tears burned her face.
“No.” she said. “Mom, No. I can't.”
“Don't you trust me?”
“What?” Alice was getting more angry now than sad or afraid. “You mean like you asked Marcus to trust you? Like you kept bring that damn dog back?”
“Don't talk like that. Amber was no damn dog. Marcus loved her.”
“But Amber died. You should've let him grieve and let go.”
“So you're going to let Marcus go? Just like that?”
“Not just like that.” said Alice. “But… he wouldn't even be gone if not for you.”
“He's with me now.”
“Marcus should be with me!”
Alice grabbed the full wine glass and threw it at her mother. The glass smashed by the chair. She blinked and her mother was gone. Alice collapsed and let herself sob. It was time to go. Time to leave this place. Not tonight, but not long. She pulled herself to her feet and wandered over to the phone.
She thought about the call from Lawrence. It was two in the morning and she was still feeling a little drunk. Now was probably not the best time, but Alice realized there were no best times. She picked up the phone, not knowing if she find consolation or wind up chewing him out for abandoning her. Did it really matter? A step in any direction was a step out of the past, out of the temptation to give in to the monster posing as her mother. Best to put one foot in front of the other, no matter where it might lead.
image courtesy of pixabay