She never stops running. She just opens her eyes to a hesitant purple light at the window and sits up in bed. Opens the curtains, sees ice on her car down below, and curses. Then, she remembers.
“Morning, Jamie,” she says. Silence. The usual morning noises: coffee beans rattling as she pours them out. The whir of the grinder. Pit pat of her bare feet across cold kitchen tiles to the bathroom. It isn’t until she is brushing her teeth that his face appears in the mirror behind her, eyes sleepy but still bright.
“You're up early,” he says.
She shrugs. “Work.”
“Oh.” His smile drops. “Hey, I've been looking all over, but I can't find your guitar. Where is it? I thought we could write something today.”
She spits in the sink. How is it that six weeks ago, she was avoiding him, just so she wouldn’t have to tell him she’d sold the damn guitar, and now he’s with her everywhere, in all her intimate spaces? Watching her as she cries in the shower, or sits on the toilet, or guffaws at the TV briefly, before choking on it, ashamed that he, of all people, is there to see it?
She clenches her teeth and grips the steering wheel with cracking knuckles as she makes her way to work on the icy roads, trying not to think about that photo in the paper. The tangle of metal shards slicing into the wooden lamppost. The windshield, a map of jagged cracks, all converging on a single point, just above the steering wheel.
She breathes slowly as she drives. Tenses at each turning, waiting for the world to spin out of focus. Imagining the loud crunch, the gushing roar that must take place inside one’s head as it slams into thick glass. She slows to a tentative crawl as she turns into the parking lot. She is safe. Still, she has to sit in the car for ten minutes, waiting for her heart to stop galloping. Squeezing her hands between clenched knees, begging them to be still.
When she finally goes inside, Jamie is there. Sitting on the corner of her desk, wearing his torn black Ramones T-shirt and snorting with laughter as he takes in the thin grey carpet, the wobbly chair, and the white-white walls.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he asks her.
“Working. Living. Or trying to, anyway.”
“Like this? I would honestly rather be dead.”
She bites her lower lip until it bleeds.
Dinner is cold pizza on the sofa. Jamie stares longingly as she picks it apart into tiny pieces, barely tasting the few bites she takes. She drops her slice into the box and brushes the crumbs from her lap.
“So where are we going tonight?” he asks, eager eyes pretending not to notice that she is already in her pajamas. “What's next?”
“Nothing,” she says. “Bed. I’m exhausted.”
She ignores the disgusted look he gives her as she slinks off to the bedroom at 8pm.
It's election night again. A roar as the results come in. Palms clasping, warm hugs crushing, free rounds of drinks lined up on the polished wooden bar. They are celebrating the end of nearly a decade of ignorance and austerity. They are triumphant. They are invincible.
She steps out of the damp heat of the bar and into the breezy night. She breathes in the cool air and notices the fine drizzle gathering on her skin. Just like that night. But it's still wrong, and she knows it. There was celebrating in the street that night, she remembers. People shooting off fireworks.
Instead, again, she sees only Jamie, standing under a streetlight in the shiny rain-slick street, grinning and waving at her. He wasn't there that night, she reminds herself. He was in Bushwick, having another, and another, and another. Still, her heart leaps up and shudders in her throat, and she starts to walk toward him.
“C’mon. Get in!” he calls, as he opens the door of his little red Honda. But as she approaches the car, she can see that it’s already broken and twisted. He is already slumped over in the front seat. The horn is a non-stop blare. Her phone beeps in her hand, three times.
Are you coming?
Are you coming?
Are you coming?
She’s too late and she knows it, but still, she breaks into a sprint.
Rachel O'Cleary studied creative writing at UW – Milwaukee. She currently lives in Ireland with her husband and three children, writing mostly very short fiction in between school runs. You can read her work at Reflex Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Strands Lit Sphere, Janus Literary, and others. She occasionally tweets @RachelOCleary1.