Short Stories

Heartbreakingly Beautiful

She checked the time again and glanced out the window at her driveway. The leafless trees were dusted with snow and the street was as lifeless as a winter postcard. Her fluffy orange feline perched up in her lap with slight concern but then decided she wasn’t that interested. They both sighed in synchrony.

It was almost time to pick up the children from school and she was never late. Placing the cat down in her pile of blankets, she sighed again unable to control her disappointment. Had she said something wrong? Maybe she shouldn’t have gotten him a gift. She checked to see that it was still securely snug under the tree (as if it could have grown feet and left) and then made her way out the door.

***

“Mama, look at the ornament I made!” her daughter said, lifting the craft up to her face.

“Its lovely, dear. Very sparkly indeed,” she said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster, wiping the glitter from her leggings.

Her son was already opening the candy cane he received from his teacher, “can I have this now, mom? Thanks!” and popped it into his mouth.

She closed the blinds on the front windows just as her mother pulled up the driveway and her heart gave a small flutter.

“Grandma’s here!” the children sang as they ran to open the door. The cat fled upstairs. Christmas suddenly felt resurrected.

***

They had kissed on this very couch, she thought, as she watched her little ones with her mother; talking and tickling and laughing. They had binge-watched shows and ate food and drank wine here. Even the cat had cuddled with him.

“Why is your mommy so quiet today?” she heard her mother say, breaking her reverie. They were all looking at her now, her mother’s eyebrows raised.

“Don’t know, grandma, she’s being weird!” the children concluded.

“Who wants hot chocolate?” she asked, getting up from the couch without waiting for an answer.

As she added marshmallows to the mugs and a sprinkling of peppermint shavings, she thought about the last time she had seen him. How tightly they embraced one another, the tender kisses, the exchange of hopes to see each other again soon. She remembered their hike through a forest at the end of the summer, how he carried her on his back and held her hand as she climbed over rocks. And when they finally made it to the waterfall, they just sat together taking in all its beauty. She thought about his eyes. How they changed from a cool sky blue to a warm hazel green.

“Bringing those hot chocolates?” said a voice from behind her.

Startled, she spilled some of the sweet drink on the counter and said, “just cooling them off a bit, mum. Don’t want the kids burning their tongues!”

“Right, here, let me,” her mother said, taking the mugs, “maybe you and I should have some tea and cookies, hmm?”

There was nothing she could hide from her mother. She knew. She always knew. And having tea and cookies meant talking about it. But she didn’t want to talk about this. She had a Christmas to execute. There was no time to dwell about the possibility of another holiday alone. Without a partner. A companion. A friend. A love. The children needed her. And she would not fail them.

***

The letter from Santa had been printed and perfectly placed next to the plate of cookie crumbs and empty milk glass. The gifts were all placed around the tree. Everyone was asleep. Except for her. She sat in her reading chair by the fireplace, flipping through the pages of a book.

“While pretty flowers are instantly plucked, few people pay attention to plants with thorns and prickles. But the truth is, great medicines are often made from these.”

She stared at the words and recalled when they had exchanged novels by Elif Shafak; she had given him The Bastard of Istanbul and he gave her his favourite book, The Forty Rules of Love. The one she now held in her hands.

He too, was a single parent, which she assumed was the perfect fit for the both of them. She had fantasized about their children playing together, becoming great friends. One big family.

But then, the doubts resurfaced, the ones she had tried to suppress. This was not the first time he had left her in the dark. On Thanksgiving she had posted on her social media about colonization and violence towards Indigenous communities. He replied immediately stating that he “hates guilt culture.” She didn’t hear from him again until four weeks later. And for four weeks she told herself it was for the best.

The memories of the way he looked at her, his kisses, his morning text messages are what kept her from hating him. And what made her chase him even after he cut her off.

Maybe it was because she made him laugh. Or because they both shared an interest in mental health. Because they both liked reading. Maybe it was because he told her she was heartbreakingly beautiful. Being intimate with someone didn’t just mean physically. It was being vulnerable and raw with emotion.

She closed her eyes trying to shut out the thoughts coming in.

Maybe she was just so broken that she would accept attention from anyone, even if it was abusive. That she would even buy them a Christmas gift. A perfectly wrapped Elif Shafak book titled, Honor, tied with gold ribbon and a shiny bow on top.

She opened her eyes again and looked down at the book in her lap, still open to the same page:

“As long as I knew myself, I would be alright.”

Setting the book aside, she leapt from her chair toward the tree. Moving the piles of gifts in front, she got down on all fours and reached back to find the one sitting on its own. She carefully removed the tag and placed the gift back.

***

The cat purred in her new bed as the children tried on their new winter jackets. The floor was covered in shredded wrapping paper, toys, books and clothes.

Her mother looked on, smiling at her grandchildren, her face aglow, bringing out a light radiating from within her.

“Mum. This one is for you,” she said, handing her mother the last gift under the tree.

“A new book! Wow!” her mother said after opening it. “Thank you.”

With her mind a little less foggy, her vision clearer, her heart fuller, she replied, “no, mum. Thank you.”

She looked out the window, the snow glittering under the sun, and decided that she hadn’t done or said anything wrong. She was a good person who met the wrong guy. Maybe she was a little broken. But that’s what made her beautiful.

Short Stories

Blue

I’m screaming. I can see his face in front of me; lips blue, skin gone a pale yellowish. Like it would fall off his bones if I touched it. His eyes are wide open, but he doesn’t see me. He’s dead.

I wake up with a jolt, gasping for air. My throat is parched and my forehead is wet. As I slowly lift the comforter from my legs, I see a figure in the doorway, standing still, watching me.

“Mama?” a voice comes from the shadows, “are you okay?” it’s asking. I realize it’s the sweet voice of my six year old daughter. “Mama is okay,” I tell her, “just a bad dream.”

“Oh, I’m sorry mama,” she says hugging me. She looks up and asks, “Would you like some water?”

I kiss her forehead. What would I do without my little angels? My four year old daughter is still sleeping, surprisingly. “Thank you, sweetheart. But you should get back to bed, before your sister wakes up,” I respond, our arms still wrapped around each other.

“Okay,” she complies. “Good night, mama. I hope you dream about unicorns!”

I wish I could dream about unicorns, I think, as I make my way to the kitchen. I need cold water. And some Advil. My head is pounding. I’m leaning against the counter staring at the prescription bottles lined up. I pick up the Wellbutrin and open it. I pour the little blue pills into the palm of my hands. Such a beautiful blue. Reminds me of the ocean in Cuba. The water looks so blue, it almost seems fake. My mind is taking me back, lost in my reverie, to that day. That horrible, terrifying day.

*

We were sitting on the beach, the most beautiful one I had ever seen. Light and deep blue waves hugged each other, melting into that stellar crystal blue. The sand was velvety soft, a creamy white. The girls were in plain view, one jumping into the waves and the other with her little blue bucket, collecting the porcelain-like seashells. It was all so delicious. I was savoring every moment.

I couldn’t see my husband anywhere, which was even better. It was only the first day of our first-ever family vacation, and he was already being a complete nightmare. I was regretting inviting him on this trip, being well acquainted with his alcoholism, which is why I had taken my daughters away from him two years ago. But everyone deserves second chances, and I wanted more than anything to give our children memories of us being a family together. Memories that would stay with them forever.

There he was. I spotted him walking towards me, dragging his feet in the sand, and holding two cups. He set them down next to his lounge chair. I guess he realized I was glaring at him and he said, “Oh, did you want a drink?” Of course – both drinks were for him. God, it was still morning. He had barely eaten since we left for the airport the day before. I turned my attention to my girls, getting up from my chair. Their blue and pink bathing suits covered in sand. I wouldn’t let him ruin this for us.

Later, that evening, the girls and I got dolled up, deciding we would roam around the resort and take some family photos before dinner. We put on our cute dresses, I even wore make-up and opted for contact lenses instead of my oversized glasses. The maid had left pretty red flowers on the bed, butterfly flower or Mariposa, I think they were called. We placed them in our hair, tucking them securely behind our ears.

While doing a final check to make sure I was camera-ready, I saw my husband’s face in the mirror. I thought he was looking at me, and decided to do a little twirl for him.

“Doesn’t mommy look pretty, daddy? You look so pretty!” our eldest exclaimed. But he didn’t respond. He had a blank look in his eyes and his mouth looked like a bulldog’s – a very exaggerated upside down smile. He was sitting in front of us, but he wasn’t really there. I remembered he hadn’t eaten much of lunch, similar to breakfast, and dinner the night before. There was more rum in him than anything else.

“Are you okay?” I asked him. Again, he didn’t respond. He just slowly nodded his head. I sighed, and we all made our way out of the air conditioned room. We walked down the humid hallway towards the stairs leading out of the blue bungalow. Our eldest was in front of us, and our youngest next to me, holding my hand. Their daddy was close behind us, and I could see him from the corner of my right eye. As we descended down the stairs, he seemed to be doing a twirl of his own, a much bigger one. Turning around, like he was letting the warm breeze move him in a different direction. Did he look up at the blue sky? I called his name, but he didn’t respond.

He collapsed on to the concrete. I screamed his name.

“Daddy!!” the girls cried, “daddy, daddy!!”

His entire body was curling in, convulsing. His arms, hands and fingers folding in towards his body. His face was contorted; mouth slack on one side. I fell to my knees in shock, screaming his name. What was happening? An unfamiliar sound was coming from his lips, which were now turning blue. Pain. He was in pain. Foam bubbled and trailed down the side of his mouth.

Seizure. Seizure.

“He’s having a seizure!” I yelled, but no one was around us. The sound of our daughters’ sobs filled my ears. “HELP!” I yelled to the sky, “Someone, please help!”

An older couple walking by, down the path, heard my screams. He can’t die, I thought, as I stared at his blue lips. My husband. The father of our children. Our girls. They’ll be devastated. Don’t you dare die on me, asshole! Better to have a drunk father than a dead one.

But his face grew paler, and lips more blue. I felt my heart go from beating wildly, to stopping altogether. There were people around me now. Someone brought a blue square pillow out and placed it gently under his head. The voices around me were muffled.

Suddenly, I was having flashbacks of my father, laying on the bathroom floor, unconscious, with his vomit flowing over the tiles. My mother yelling into the phone, “you thought he doesn’t drink? Come take a look at your drunken son!”

“Ma’am? Ma’am?” a man was talking to me. What was happening? Where were my daughters?

“I’m a policeman, I’m Canadian. I’m here to help. What happened?” he asked me. I shook my head, the words choking me. “I… I don’t know. He fell. He started to seizure.”

“Is he epileptic? Has this happened before?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

I could see blood in my husband’s mouth. He must have bitten his tongue. His eyes were moving. But he wasn’t seeing me or anyone else. The Canadian man was talking to him. There were two staff members of the resort talking to each other. There were people behind me. But where were my babies?

“Senorita? There is an ambulance coming. They will take him to the hospital. You will need to bring your passports, please. Don’t worry, everything will be fine,” one of the employees was saying.

My daughters.

I got up and looked around. I saw my eldest standing at the top of the stairs, hiding, and crying. My little one was sitting in the lap of a woman I didn’t know. She had a little girl sitting next to her too. Her daughter, I assumed.

I climbed up to them, legs like jelly, extending my arms. “Come here, sweetie,” I said to my eldest, “daddy is okay, he’s okay.” I wiped her tears, and looked at my younger daughter, who was expressionless at this point. She looked comfortable in the woman’s lap.

“They’re taking daddy to the hospital now to check his ouchie,” I told both my girls.

The woman introduced herself to me, and told me she was staying in the same bungalow as us, with her husband and two daughters as well. They were also from Ontario. Fate.

“I’m happy to watch your girls for you,” she was saying. She asked another woman, who was also watching the scene unfold, for a pen and paper. She must have been the one who brought the pillow. Her room was likely close by, because she appeared a moment later with a pen and paper, as requested.

The woman holding my baby wrote her information down. Full name, phone number, room number. She said she would keep them entertained and taken care of while I accompanied my husband to the hospital.

After grabbing our passports and all of the cash we brought with us, I promised my daughters we would be back soon, and ran to the ambulance where they were taking my husband. The butterfly flowers were left on the concrete, soon to shrivel up.

The ambulance ride was nauseating. The stretcher he was resting on was moving around, the wheels weren’t locked. My heart was in my throat, thinking he was going to go flying out of the back doors at any moment. The paramedic focused on sticking what appeared to be ECG wires to my husband’s chest.

When we finally arrived, they transferred him into a wheelchair and brought him inside. It wasn’t exactly a hospital. It was a very quiet clinic, eerily quiet. No patients waiting anywhere. My eyes adjusted to the dim lighting inside, taking in the blue walls and high ceilings.

The room they brought him into was completely white. It was like being in a very large sugar cube. Only one bed, one chair, a sink, a few machines, and an IV drip.

I noticed when he was on the bed that my husband had soiled his shorts. It must have happened during the seizure. The same paramedic from the ambulance was inserting the IV needle into his arm, who also happened to be wearing completely white. He could have camouflaged right into the walls. Another man walked into the room, wearing regular clothes. He introduced himself as the doctor and began asking the required questions. His English was not very good and I was afraid he didn’t know what a seizure was. The extent of my Spanish was “hola”, “no habla espanol”, “per favore”, “gracias”, and “agua.” So I had to explain the seizure using actions. I wanted badly to just get the hell out of there and be with my daughters, but it didn’t look like that would be happening any time soon.

The doctor needed a urine test. They couldn’t take him off the bed, so he had to piss into a glass jar, right in front of me. I looked away. I remembered one of my co-workers snapping a poster on Snapchat from her doctor’s office, showing what healthy urine should look like. Clear. A little yellow is okay; just means you should be drinking more water.

His urine was dark brown.

I didn’t need a doctor to tell me he was severely dehydrated. All alcohol, no water. But he told me anyway, and also advised we would be there for at least another three hours. He left the room, saying he would return shortly.

We were alone in the room.

He looked up at me from the bed. I stood opposite him, my arms folded. Most people say when they see their loved ones in a hospital bed, that they look small. But he didn’t. He looked too tall and too skinny. I saw something else, too. His eyes were full of fear.

“What happened?” he asked me.

I took a deep breath and replied, “You had a seizure.”

“No I didn’t,” he scoffed. Of course. Mr. Denial was here now. He had always been in denial about his drinking. Why would it stop here?

Since there was never any winning with him, I knew there was no point in arguing.

“There are witnesses,” I simply said, “including our daughters.”

His large brown eyes grew even larger. I daresay he looked remorseful for a moment, but looking at him in his fragile condition only enraged me.

“You could have at least drank some fucking water,” I hissed.

He lowered his eyes, peering at the IV and then looked back up.

“I’m sorry,” he said. I didn’t know whether to embrace him or slap him. All I could say back was, “I thought you were dead.” My nose tingled, the lump rose higher into my throat, and when I felt the tears emerging, I left the room.

I walked into what appeared to be an office, where a nurse or receptionist was sitting at a desk. I asked her if it was possible to contact our resort so I could check in on my children. She was kind and eager to help out. I watched her dial the phone number, her long fingernails pressing down on each button. She tried many times, but wasn’t able to get through to them. I wished for some cold water to run over my dry throat and splash over my sweaty body. I needed to know if they were okay. I had never left them alone with anyone, except their teachers at school, let alone strangers in a foreign country.

A shrill ringing cut into my thoughts. The woman answered the phone and immediately handed it to me. It wasn’t my daughters, but it was one of the resort staff letting me know my children were fine. I finally exhaled. I don’t know how long I was holding my breath.

I walked around the empty clinic, not wanting to see that drunkard’s face. It was a mistake, I told myself, a huge mistake bringing him along. This was my fault. I should have come alone with the girls. When they think of their first family trip, this is what they’ll remember.

After getting several litres of water into his system, he was released and advised to not drink any alcohol for a few days. Only food and water.

“Of course,” he obligingly responded to the doctor, but I knew better. He couldn’t go a day without it. And I wasn’t going to stick around with my daughters to see how it played out.

That night, back at the blue bungalow, as he lay in his bed, and the girls and I in ours, I made a decision. It was over. Our marriage was over. Who was I kidding – we weren’t a family. I was foolish to think we could become one in seven magical days, with the Caribbean Sea at our feet.

“Mommy, are you crying?” my four year old whispered, lifting her head in the darkness.

“No,” I whispered back, through sobs.

I closed my eyes, and saw his face. Dead. Blue lips.

I didn’t sleep.

*

                I’m scooping the blue pills from my palm back into their bottle. See you guys tomorrow, I tell them. I check on the girls in their beds. Still asleep. I wonder if he is sleeping. Dead or alive? If he is alive, we wouldn’t know. I guess a drunk father isn’t better than a dead one. It’s the same to us. It’s not that beautiful smile that I see at night, the one I remember from our wedding. Not his warm eyes I see, looking down at me, while we dance. All I see when I close my eyes are the blue lips on his shriveled corpse.

Writings

Vomit Journal

Day 261 of depression, round 5.

I’ve moved from one side of the couch to the other side. It makes the charger plug for the laptop come out though. So I might switch back to the other side.

There’s laundry on the futon, not sure if its clean. Another heap of it on the carpet. And more in the washroom. But there’s an entire hurricane of clothes in the bedroom.

How much Netflix have I watched today? I’ve lost count.

The coffee table is covered with scattered items; DVDs, toys, crayola markers, Nutella jar and spoon, water bottle, dirty plate, ice cream sandwich wrapper, etc.

Toys everywhere. Why did I buy all these toys? Where can I put them all? Sometimes I want to throw everything away.

I wept today. Wailed, actually, quite loudly. Haven’t done that in a while. Stood in the middle of the kitchen, wiping my face repeatedly, lifting up my eyeglasses, wipe, more tears, wipe, more tears, wipe, now the tissue is soaked.

My ex-husband called me. Cried more.

I’ve been forgetting to take my medication this week. Hence all the tears today. When I take them consistently, I’m a little bit numb to all the feelings.

It felt good to cry. I feel lighter.

Pain weighs a lot. It’s no wonder my muscles are always aching.

Headaches, migraines, stomachaches.

They told me emotional pain and physiological pain are connected. I guess they’re right.

I’m so tired. I’m exhausted. I’m so tired in fact, that I’m tired of being tired.

There are days I wish I could sleep and not wake up until my body is normal and my brain is new. But then I get so much anxiety about oversleeping, I get dizzy and sweaty and that tiny lump in my neck starts throbbing.

I’ve gained weight.

In my first few rounds of depression I actually lost weight. Down to about 90 lbs. All bones.

Now I can’t even find my bones in all this blubber. My daughter constantly asks me if there’s a baby in my tummy. But she doesn’t know that I’d had to have sexed someone first, which hasn’t happened in ages.

That’s because I have no love life. I’m alone. Aside from my daughters of course, but that’s a different type of love.

My eyeballs hurt. Guess they’re sore from the crying.

My therapist tells me I’m not delusional or abusive or a neglectful mother, so that’s something. But I know I’m not enough.

They deserve better.

A lot of people my age are making a shit ton of money.  They’re successful. They have their own custom built homes. Luxury cars. They take a shit ton of vacations too. Their kids have their own rooms. Happy families.

Me? I’m drowning in debt. I live in a one bedroom basement apartment that I’m renting with my two children. I listen to the well-off family above me walk across their vast living room and hear them rustling around the kitchen every morning; the blender whirs and the kids are running down the stairs, and there are two parents and a nanny. And their home is immaculately clean. I’ve seen it.

I’m a liar. I lie to people. I smile. I radiate. I hug and laugh and plan parties for my daughters. I suck.

I’m a sicko.

Someone’s knocking at the door. Oh. No, that’s just my migraine kicking in the side of my skull. I got nervous for a second; how can I let anyone in to this mess?

(Photo taken in 2005 during round 2 of my depression)

 

Poetry

Trapped

“Why”, he asked me, “why stay?”

I looked away, not knowing what to say.

‘Maybe’, I thought, ‘it’s time to let him go.’

What do we really know?

He saw my pain, he took my hand.

“Come with me,” he said, and it began.

I followed him into his world; blinking, not from the light but because it was a terrifying sight.

The darkness, the frigid wind. It was bleak and it was grim.

Someone laughing, sent chills up my spine; it wasn’t the contagious kind.

He was gone; my heartbeat quickened; “where are you?” I called, my limbs all stiffened.

Sobbing, I heard, ran towards the sound. My screams piercing through me as I saw what I had found.

He’s in pieces, broken, blade in his hand. Crying tears of blood, unable to stand.

“I can’t, I won’t!” I said, “I won’t let you go! You’re coming with me, don’t tell me no!”

I gathered his pieces, broken heart and all, sew up the wounds so he could stand up tall.

We ran, hand in hand, I thought I saw the light. “We’re getting out of here!” I told him, “I’m ready to fight!”

Back to my world, it was getting close. He let go of my hand and said, “it’s no use.”

He was giving up, consumed by the darkness. He began to fade, blending in with the blackness.

“No!” I cried, “I know why you should stay! Your world is a cruel one, heavy without hope. But there’s another world out there, one you can cope! Let me bring you back there; I’ll stay by your side. Please, little brother, please don’t die.”

He wanted to choose life, he wanted to stay, but the world had failed him, persuaded him another way.

Poetry

Easy

It’s just easier. Easier to be alone.
Don’t have to worry about checking his phone.

Easier with the dishes. Not too many to clean.
Don’t have to worry about what he didn’t mean.

Easier in bed. No snoring in my ear.
No. Don’t miss his body, holding me near.

Easier in the morning. No make up, no shower.
No, don’t have to worry about marriage and power.

Easier with the kids. No drama at all.
Don’t have to worry if he’ll catch my fall.

Easier when the family gets together.
No, he’s not here again, I’m alone forever.

Easier without that diamond on my finger.
No, there’s no heaviness, no weight that lingers.

Easier without the smell. No more Bacardi.
Don’t have to worry about all his mini parties.

It’s easier to be alone. No more abuse.
Don’t have to care about his being obtuse.

Easy, just look. It’s easy to do.
No, my heart’s not broken, it’s good as new.

It’s easy to be hard. No more being weak.
No, I’m not crying, my eyes sometimes leak.

The easiness comes and the easiness goes.
After all, it’s what my kismet chose.