Out of breath, p.22
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       Out of Breath, p.22

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
Page 22


  I didn’t promise anything, but continued to let her lead me towards her car. Being by Sara’s side, in combination with the drunken swirl that was overtaking me, eased my nerves … momentarily.

  The hour drive wasn’t long enough. It wasn’t long enough to sober up. It wasn’t long enough to prepare myself for the reason I’d returned to Weslyn.

  We pulled into the small parking lot alongside the light blue Victorian house. It looked so warm and inviting from the outside, but on the inside I knew it was filled with death. I shivered.

  ‘We won’t be long,’ Sara assured me, pulling me away from staring at the sign – ‘Lionel’s Funeral Home’ – posted on the lawn. ‘Come on, Em. My mom is waiting. Charles is with her too, to help with the details. ’

  I couldn’t really say what happened after that. I swear I blacked out, because the next thing I knew, we were back in the car.

  ‘Told you it would be quick,’ Sara said, buckling her seatbelt.

  ‘Yeah,’ I inhaled, feeling like it was the first breath I’d taken since we’d pulled up.

  ‘I just need to stop by the house to pick up my bag,’ Sara explained as we pulled away.

  ‘What? No!’ I exclaimed a little too loudly.

  ‘What’s wrong?’ Sara questioned in alarm.

  ‘I can’t go any further into Weslyn,’ I said passionately. I was grateful that they’d hidden the funeral home along the borders of the town, so the residents could remain blissfully ignorant of the pain in their back yards. ‘Please, Sara, take me to the motel. ’

  Sara was quiet a moment and finally said, ‘Okay. I’ll drop you off and then come back to get my things. ’

  ‘Thank you,’ I said, relieved. I pressed my head against the glass and watched the trees blur by. The numbness was subsiding, and exhaustion settled in. ‘Maybe I’ll lie down for a while. ’

  ‘That’s not a bad idea. ’

  Minutes later, it was like we’d crossed an invisible line and were instantly transported into a world of billboards and neon lights, with the roar of traffic flying by on the highway overhead. Sara pulled into the broken-asphalt parking lot.

  ‘This is where we’re staying?’ Sara asked. It was obvious she was skeeved out by the place. Admittedly, it wasn’t much to look at. The blue paint was faded and chipping, and the numbers on some of the doors had been replaced with numbers that didn’t match. There was a pool with a chain-link fence around it. The water was an unnatural hue of green that reminded me of a sci-fi movie where alien eggs incubated at the bottom of a pool.

  ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do?’ I knew it was her way of begging me to change my mind.

  ‘You don’t have to stay,’ I told her, opening the door.

  ‘Yeah, I do,’ she replied, her voice resigned. ‘I’ll check us in if you want to grab your bag out of the trunk. ’

  After she returned, I followed Sara up cement stairs with a rickety metal railing and allowed her to open the door to Room 212, with the second two slightly askew. The room smelled of chemicals, stale cigarettes and … age, like it’d been festering for too long within its decaying walls.

  Sara yanked back the thick dark blue curtains to let in the sun. It didn’t really matter; the room still felt dark. It shrank away from the light in permanent shadow. I didn’t mind. I felt an instant connection with its darkness, preferring it to the bright May sunlight outside.

  I sat on the bed furthest from the window and removed my shoes, contemplating lying down to recover from the fog that floated through my head.

  ‘I’ll be back in a little while,’ Sara promised, standing by the door, inspecting me. ‘I’ll bring back food too. ’

  She hesitated, conflicted about leaving me alone.

  ‘I’ll be fine,’ I said, providing the assurance she needed to walk out the door. She smiled faintly and left. I stared at the closed beige-metal door.

  Emma, I’m so sorry.

  I blinked away the feel of Anna’s arms around me and the image of her red teary eyes.

  You look so thin.

  I squeezed my eyes shut tighter, fending off the voices. Fragments of my time at the funeral home were surfacing now that I was sobering.

  Rubbing the grogginess from my eyes, I pushed off the bed, walked over to the large window and looked down at the pool with the plastic lawn chairs scattered around it.

  We picked out pictures to display tomorrow. Do you want to look through them to tell us what you think?

  Your mother requested to be cremated … Which urn would you prefer?

  I shuddered and wrapped my arms tight around my chest, shaking my head violently, not wanting to hear them, to see the shiny boxes and the ornate vases.

  Where would your mother have preferred to have her tombstone?

  ‘Stop!’ I yelled, clutching the sides of my head. ‘Shut up!’ I slammed my hand against the glass, and it shook under my palm.

  A small shack across the street drew my attention – faded cardboard signs propped up in the windows advertised beer and liquor.

  I breathed in heavily through my nostrils with my teeth clenched, trying to hold it together. But I knew it wouldn’t be long before I lost it completely. I eyed the liquor store again. A place like that probably wouldn’t card, but I didn’t want to risk it. I needed a sure thing.

  I scanned the parking lot, and settled on a figure by the pool. A guy in a white tank top and faded jeans sat on a sagging chair, smoking a cigarette, wearing oversized headphones. He looked like he was easily over twenty-one. I took in a breath, committed to silencing the noise.

  Grabbing my tote bag with my wallet and room key inside, I didn’t bother covering my bare feet. He didn’t seem the type to pass judgement. If anything, approaching him barefoot might win me some points. With that in mind, I clipped my bangs back, shook my fingers through my hair and stripped off my light sweater to reveal a fitted tank top beneath. I flipped a strap so it dangled off my shoulder and allowed desperation to provide the courage I needed to walk down the rough stairs towards the pool.

  It didn’t take him long to notice me, and he wasn’t subtle about it either as he scanned every inch of my body, sliding the headphones around his neck. I contained the shudder as he molested me with his eyes.

  ‘Hey,’ I smiled flirtatiously. ‘What are you up to?’

  ‘Not much,’ he responded, running a grease-stained hand through his mop of sandy blond hair. ‘You?’

  ‘My friends and I are throwing a party in our room later,’ I explained, trying to sound as flighty as I could, ‘but I can’t buy. I was wondering if you could help me out? You can invite your friends over too if you want. ’

  ‘Oh, yeah. ’ He grinned, licking his lower lip. I swallowed the bile rising in the back of my throat. ‘I suppose I could help you out. What do you want?’

  ‘Vodka,’ I said, almost too quickly. I grimaced, hoping he hadn’t picked up on the desperation in my voice. I dug in my wallet and produced a handful of twenties from the cash Charles Stanley had provided me earlier while we were at the funeral parlour.

  ‘Nice,’ he said admiringly. ‘You want the good stuff?’ I shrugged indifferently as he took the bills, his fingers sliding along mine in the exchange. I fought the urge to pull away. ‘Do you want anything to mix it with?’

  ‘Uh, not really,’ I responded, knowing I needed it as potent as I could get it if I were going to survive the next couple of days. ‘How about a couple of limes?’

  ‘Sure thing, sweet cheeks. ’ He winked. ‘I’m Kevin by the way. ’

  ‘Well, thanks a lot for helping a girl out, Kevin,’ I responded, trying my best to flutter my eyes – as pathetic as it felt.

  ‘I’ll be right back,’ he assured me, swatting me on the ass as he passed. I released a small yelp that made him laugh.

  In his absence, I filled a bag of ice and found a couple of wrapped plastic cups. I returned to the pool just as he strutted a
cross the parking lot with a paper bag teetering on his arm.

  ‘Here you go. ’ He presented me with two bottles of vodka. ‘I bought one for me too. ’

  ‘That’s fine,’ I responded, unscrewing the top and letting the clear liquid flow over the ice cubes, almost sighing as I gulped down half the cup. My stomach ignited upon contact, sending a shiver through me with a rush of saliva in the back of my throat.

  Kevin lowered himself onto the lawn chair on the other side of the plastic table, grabbed a cup and scooped ice out of the bag, an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth. He started talking. I had no idea what he was saying. I just nodded and stared at the green water, sipping the chilled vodka, waiting for the numbness – impatiently filling the cup two or three more times.

  Near my father. She’d want her headstone in the same place as my father’s.

  I crushed my teeth together, fighting against the persistent buzz of voices penetrating the numb barrier. I swallowed down the rest of the vodka and dumped more on top of the cubes of ice.

  It would be nice for you to share some moments you had with your mother.

  I was at the edge of the pool, staring into its murky green depths. My body was numb, but the voices kept talking. They wouldn’t stop. I slowly shook my head, needing to be rid of them.

  I closed my eyes and took a step. The water was cool, and the chlorine burned my nose as the water rushed in around me. I pulled my knees up into me and sank to the bottom, my feet thumping against the rough concrete. I kept my eyes closed. And finally, there was … silence. I hugged my knees tighter against me and absorbed the quiet.

  I released small bursts of air through my nose. After a time my lungs began to burn, but I didn’t move. I let the cool water keep me captive. The panic never set in, like in my dreams. I’d drowned many times in my sleep. I was always so afraid, frantic to breathe. But here … there was calm. Inviting me to stay.

  I ignored the need to inhale and the growing pressure in my chest. The water murmured around me. I opened my eyes and listened. It sounded like … yelling. I jerked my head up and saw two figures looming over the edge of the pool, Sara’s red hair hanging above the water.

  I pushed hard off the pool’s hard bottom and inhaled deeply as I broke through, swallowing water with the air. I began choking on the chemically tainted water, coughing until I thought I might vomit. My breath eventually evened out as I clutched the side of the pool. That’s when the yelling cut through, as if I’d just released the mute button.

  ‘Holy shit, Emma!’ Sara bellowed. Her shoes were kicked off, like she was about to jump in. ‘What the hell were you doing down there?!’

  ‘She’s a fucking psycho, is what she is!’ Kevin shouted behind her. ‘She looked like a fucking zombie who just kept walking into the water. Your friend’s a wack job, sister. ’

  ‘Shut up!’ Sara yelled over her shoulder as I pulled myself up to sit on the edge of the pool. ‘Just get the fuck away from us!’

  ‘You don’t have to tell me twice,’ he said. ‘Fucking psycho. ’ He continued rambling as he walked across the parking lot with the paper bag in his hand.

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