Take Care of Her – Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The bedroom floor was covered with an old blanket, mismatched shoes and an outdated video camera the size of a microwave. A frayed sweater and a dusty bouquet of silk flowers flew into the pile. Gretchen grunted. She couldn’t find it. Already on her hands and knees, she edged deeper into the closet. She winced and drew back her hand to rub her knee. Something sharp had cut into her skin. She groped blindly and grunted in frustration. Why had she kept every box from every pair of shoes she’d ever owned and then tossed them in this hole? She dragged an armful out onto the floor. Only one had a pair of shoes in them. Ugly ones. Another box had padded push-up bras and a garter belt. She shoved that one right back in the closet and far out of sight. The third box was heavy. Whatever was inside shifted when she lifted up the box. She’d found what she was looking for.

There was no system or strategy for her photographs. Years collided together—polaroids on top of glossy, drug-store developed prints. Her fingers touched faces. Her mother. Her father. Her sister. Her grey and white cat. She hadn’t wanted to do this. Rachel had suggested, and Gretchen was desperate. So far, this wasn’t helping. She turned the box upside down and the pictures cascaded onto the floor. Using her fingertips, she picked through them. Finally, she found what she was told to look for. A picture of herself. Kindergarten. First grade maybe. Outside in the sun. Gretchen was wearing a bathing suit. Her hair was mousy brown and laying on her shoulders in wet streaks. Her little belly rounded out between the nylon top and bottom. Her eyes were closed because she was smiling so wide. It was her and Gretchen didn’t know this girl.

Gretchen put the little girl on her nightstand, under her reading lamp. She was supposed to take care of this girl. That’s what Rachel said. To be the caring adult to give this baby in her bikini boundaries and respect and love. No matter what. She was lucky to brush her own teeth these days. How was she supposed to take care an inner child? She’d likely just tell the kid she was going to grow up to be a mess. Who’d never wear a bikini again.

As the grown up, she felt badly for saying that. She felt it. With all her heart. But, she didn’t want to tell the little girl that. Little one looked so happy. She didn’t want to take that away. The room went grey, then black and she closed her eyes.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 3

 

Chapter 3

Merlot was easy. Not cold. Not hot. Not sweet. Not something she had to think about. Not something she had to remember. The first glass was fast. The second, she drank as slowly as she could manage, thinking about every sip. Still fifteen minutes before her therapy appointment. She couldn’t wait any longer. Gretchen gulped the last of the wine in one sip and paid the bill. At least it was happy hour.

Rachel didn’t call her back into her office until 6:02.

“How’s the week been?” Rachel started.

Gretchen’s eyes filled with tears when she answered. “Same.”

“That’s okay,” Rachel said. “Remember what we talked about last time. You’ve had a loss. And you’re grieving. The feelings that you are experiencing, that are making things difficult for you, are normal. And expected.”

“Still?” Gretchen asked.

“There’s no timeline on sadness. I think you’re doing fine.”

“I don’t feel fine. I feel like I’m dying.”

“Is that a reasonable description of what you’re feeling?”

“I don’t know,” Gretchen said.

“Do you think it’s possible that you might be mis-naming this continued discomfort? Calling the feeling something a little unreasonable? That while you may be hurting, that you know you’re not actually dying?”

“This isn’t helping,” Gretchen said.

“Why do you think that?”

“I know what you’re looking for. Yes. I brushed my teeth today. Yes. I went to work. I slept. More or less. I ate. More or less.”

“And you don’t think that’s doing well?”

“I also cry every day. I think about him every day. I hurt every day.”

“That’s absolutely expected.”

“Maybe I should hurt. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I deserve it.”

“That’s a false thought.”

“That’s all I have.”

“Gretchen,” Rachel said.

“I know,” Gretchen said.

Rachel settled into a long pause. “What was your favorite birthday party as a kid?”

“What?”

“A true thought. A time. A happy memory. Something you loved.”

“I can’t think of anything happy. Nothing’s happy.”

“Is that a false thought?”

Gretchen curled her knees to her chest and tucked into the upholstered chair.

“What’s another version of that thought? Take your time and give yourself a chance to remember. To really consider all the possible choices.”

“My fifth birthday,” Gretchen said. “My mom let me paint my nails purple and I got a white cat.”

“That’s happy,” Rachel said.

Gretchen nodded.

“Was that girl worth it? The purple nails and the white cat? Did she deserve those things?”

Gretchen hugged her knees tighter to her chest.

“Consider that as an equally true and valid thought.” Rachel made sure she had Gretchen’s full attention. “You didn’t ask for this hurt or sadness. But you’re dealing with it. You didn’t ask for the job of healing yourself, but you got it. And your job is to take care of that five-year old. So make sure she knows how worthy and good enough she is.”

Gretchen didn’t cry any more.  She didn’t say much for the rest of the session.

She listened.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 1

(Favorite season means new fiction, new horror, new images. Slowly releasing my new short story.)

Chapter 1

Gretchen dragged herself through her apartment. She was sweating, even though she only wore shorts and a tank top—the same ones she put on Friday afternoon when she had come home from work. It was Sunday night. She hadn’t walked outside her door since then. Only inside. Pacing. Losing focus in the bedroom and finding herself in the kitchen, but not remembering how. It had been 47 days. They said, with time, it would start to hurt less. It hadn’t.

Why was it so hot? It was March. She walked to the door, to check the thermostat, but stopped at the couch. She was tired. Standing felt like she was trying to push away the weight of a dump truck with her feet. She needed to sit. So tired. She never made it to the thermostat. She put her hand on the arm of the couch and lowered herself into it. Her glazed eyes scanned the room. Didn’t see much of anything. Until the ribbon. It was wrapped around the base of a purple candle on the coffee table. She’d missed it.

They had gone to a jazz club the day after Valentine’s Day. Not this year, of course. Last year. He had to work on the day. She didn’t think she was a girl that cared about that nonsense. She didn’t want to be. But maybe she was. Gretchen didn’t remember getting off the couch, but she found herself on the floor, the red ribbon in her hand. The club had given those at the door instead of tickets.  They each had one, worn around their wrists until the end of the night. She’d saved hers. How was it still out? She’d packed everything away. Where she wouldn’t have to see it. She didn’t want to see it. Couldn’t. So, she closed her eyes. The ribbon curled in her hand. She heaved herself back onto the couch and fell asleep.

Malina and Grizella

For the two incredible women who walked with me through this year.

This is the introduction to Malina and Grizella, the warriors of my imagination.

 

Photography by the author.

Malina was still curled into herself and asleep when smelled the smoke. Her legs started moving before her mind did. There had been fires here before: cigarettes, an iron, and once a disturbed Iranian girl who simply loved the red glow of a client’s gold zippo and what it could do. That damaged girl and her tender scars had also briefly slept on Malina’s couch. She remembered all this before her head left the pillow and her legs started to process the motor action needed to run away. When she smelled the clove beneath the smoke, her body stopped and her eyes opened. The woman and her dark cigarette stood in Malina’s doorway.

“Out in the hallway. Don’t wake her,” Grizella said.

The smoking taskmaster finished her order and then she shut the door. Malina closed her eyes and let her body return to its automatic muscle responses that would get her out of bed and then out the door; let her body face what her brain would ignore. Her arms functioned on instinct to pull on a robe. They weren’t supposed to be in the halls in their underwear.

Grizella had placed herself, all six feet of her pipe-thin frame, only inches outside the door. Malina had to flatten herself, back against the door, to pass through. Grizella wasn’t about to move or make anyone else’s life easier.

“How much?” Grizzled asked, staring down at her. Grizella’s eyes were red and there was a scratch on her forehead. The make-up didn’t mask everything. “How much?” Grizella demanded.

Malina’s mind flipped through the meaning or possibly the translation of this. It wasn’t money. As a legal maneuver, years ago they started sending someone to meet the men outside the rooms. The girls never actually touched the cash or even witnessed the exchanges. So, it wasn’t money.

“How much what?” Malina asked.

“All you girls here, you think I don’t know things?”

The drugs. Malina crossed her arms over her chest, trying to fold herself deeper into her robe. She tried to forge a map in her mind – where her pills were in her purse, how to get to them and then get rid of them in the fastest, most direct route. She’d never make it.

Grizella did not like drugs. Selling them was fine. That was an acceptable income diversification. She usually kept a stash for clients who paid well and wanted an enhanced experience. Clients, of course, sometimes enjoyed them free of charge as her hospitable gift. Her girls doing drugs was different. She didn’t give a shit about the lives than could be wrecked. It was a matter of commerce. Drugs ruined faces, they ruined bodies, they ruined things that would need to be replaced. These men were really only kids, after all, and no kid wants to play with a broken toy. Buying new toys cost money. The other women didn’t know this. Grizella didn’t want them to know anything she thought or felt. But Malina knew. As she knew Grizella didn’t like it, but would tolerate it among most of the girls, but not Malina. Never Malina. She had promised.

“How much what, Grizella?”

And with that, the woman’s needle of an index finger jabbed through the flaps of Malina’s robe and into her stomach. Malina was more shocked at the motion itself than the unexpected pain it caused. She flinched and backed away from the stick of a finger.

“Baby. What do you think? How much baby?”

She knew, Malina thought. Of course she knew. She knew everything.
“I’m not sure,” Malina said.

“Not much yet,” Grizella said. “I already have an appointment. The Jew doctor. Day after tomorrow. To fix this.”

Malina nodded.

“I’ve never had a girl get pregnant as easy as you. All the time. I’ve lost count.”

Malina opened her mouth to apologize. Like she always did. But she stopped. She said nothing, and only curled deeper into her robe, cinching the belt at her waist.

“Just like your mother. All the time. Another baby. Your cipki taking one thing in or pushing another thing out every day,” Grizella said.
Malina stared at the tall Polish skeleton in front of her. The nose on that face, long and equine, was the same one Malina tried to hide on her own face. He mother had hated that same nose as well. Malina turned to escape back into her bed and the tin in the bottom of her purse.

“Nie.”

Malina stopped.

“I’ll give you two days after. Two days to stop bleeding. Two days to stop the drugs. After three days, if you are not fixed, all fixed, Abraham will take you away in the van.” Grizella blinked when she said his name. No one else would have seen. Malina did.

Malina didn’t remember the cigarette being held out to her. But her eyes were stinging from the strong smoke, as Grizella held it to Malina’s mouth, the moist tip soft and wet against her lips. Malina knew this woman and she wanted to forget her. She didn’t think or feel, but inhaled, held the smoke in her lungs, and let it seep out her nose. She just wanted to taste the smoke.

“But maybe, almost time for you to leave here anyway. Not so good to be the oldest apple left in the store, Teckla. You rot. Then, you’re only good for the rats in the alley.”

Teckla. She hadn’t heard that name spoken in a long time. Her old name. From her old life. Her dead life. Like the one she was walking through today.

The above is an excerpt from my debut novel Drowning Above Water. It is available now at Amazon in paperback and Kindle, and at independent bookstores throughout Pittsburgh. 

Malina and Petyr

An excerpt from Drowning Above Water.

“You’re so pretty,” Malina said as she ran her hands along Petyr’s blonde hair. “Your mother must have been beautiful.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t remember. But I think so.”

“I bet your babies will be pretty just like you,” she said.

They stretched out on her bed. He gave her space to move and reposition, but managed to keep physical contact with her skin. A finger on a shoulder, a heel on the back of a calf, but he couldn’t let her go. He looked at her. Her eyes were so busy; so much spinning behind them.

“Did you have babies before?” he asked. “When you were home?”

She shook her head.

“I’m sorry,” he said, kissing her forehead. She didn’t pull away from him, but she didn’t return the affection. That’s how it typically was.

“And what about you, my pretty boy? Do you have any babies?” She grinned as she said it. She knew very well he didn’t have any children. She knew he couldn’t imagine lying with any other woman but her.

“No babies. Only you,” he said.

“Yet,” she said. “You just haven’t met the right girl.”

“You are my right girl,” he said.

“Sweet, fantastic boy. So young. So hopeful. I don’t want you to ever learn.”

“You’ve done well this time,” he said. He didn’t mention exactly what he meant. But she knew. There were no pills in the tin in her purse. She had done well this time. He wouldn’t press her.

“Do you think we’ll be old together?” she said, propping herself up to look directly at him. “Grey and fat and limping? Do you think that will be us?

“Of course it will,” he said.

“No,” she shook her head.” You’ll find some heartbreaking girl…or boy, and run away together and never look back.”

He propped himself up to meet her. “Never,” he said. “I will never run away from you.”

“Then I’ll have to push you away when it’s time,” she said, pressing softly at his shoulder.

“You could never,” he said. I wouldn’t go.”

“What if you had to?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t go,” he said.

“I hope not,” she said. “You are what keeps me alive. And smiling for another day.” There was a knock at the door. Malina groaned and rose from the bed. “Make him wait outside for a minute, then let him in,” she said.

“Be careful,” Petyr said, rising to meet her.

“You be careful,” she said. “This is the easy part.” She squeezed his hand and walked off to the bathroom. When he heard that door close, he walked to the hotel room door, opened it, and made sure to close it behind him when he exited.

Drowning Above Water is the new suspense novel from Alyssa Herron. It is available at Amazon. 

Drowning Above Water – an excerpt

Malina and the Dock

Malina’s head felt as if it had been smashed in by a cinderblock. It hurt so much she was convinced that if her neck didn’t keep straining or spasming, her head would simply topple off her body. Her mouth was dry and gritty. She retched onto the floor but there was not enough food or liquid in her system for her to vomit. She only managed a sandy cough. It was stark black inside the trailer. She couldn’t see anything, didn’t know if it was day or night. Her legs ached and begged to move, to rise, but she was afraid to try to stand because she felt fairly certain she couldn’t. The grinding of machinery and wheels in the last hour had awoken her, letting her know that she wasn’t on the water any more. She’d made it across and she had no proof that she was dead. Felt like it. Would have been preferable. But she wasn’t.

Kneeling. That was the thing. Crawling. Try that first. Getting to her hands and knees, she felt moderately stable. But, a few strides later her arms stared to quiver. Another two paces and they collapsed under her. She didn’t know where she was in the tank, so she had to keep moving until she felt metal, which would eventually turn into the metal door. Turning, she sat down and inched her way ahead, using her heels to slide her along and her arms just to keep her from falling backward. It felt like hours. She counted forty-seven pulls until she felt her toes hit metal. Then she adjusted, putting her flank as close as she could to the metal plane. One corrugated segment at a time, she searched for the door. She was weeping with exhaustion.

When she opened her eyes again, she was still lying against the metal. Her face was flat and flush against the wall. She might have been passed out for thirty seconds or the better part of a day. She couldn’t remember where she had been or not been inside the box, so she started her forward scooting again, following her feet. Counting, she pushed forward seventy-two bumps and finally her hand brushed over the horizontal bar of the segmented door. Pulling herself to her knees she grasped the handle in both of her fists and pulled as hard as she could. The door creaked and leaned upward by an inch then flopped back into place. The tears wanted to come again, burning and itching her eyes but Malina disallowed it. With a wobble, she got to her feet, not taking her hands off the bar of the door. Throwing her weight up and back, she screamed as she lifted with everything she had. She laughed when the door slid open only a foot and a blaze of sunlight cut a path into the black trailer. She dropped flat to the ground and started to wiggle under the opening of the door to the other side. She had made it to the dock.

 

(Drowning Above Water is the new novel from Alyssa Herron. It is available now at Amazon.)

Birthday

 

Courtesy of Butterwood Bakery

September 30th.

My book’s birthday.

Finally together after years of drafts and lost phrases and tossing aside and picking the pieces back up only to lose my place and start again from the beginning, I got there.

It’s also my birthday.

I am not who I thought I’d be at forty. I’m not where  I expected geographically or metaphorically.  I’m not what I thought I’d be for sure. Sometimes, I’m surprised I’m here. But I am, and I feel like I should know more. Have things handled. Have moved beyond the same things that drowned me year after year. Still falling below the surface. Still trying.

My book is a lot like me.

Okay, it’s exactly like me.

Rambling where it should shush. Speeding past parts it should probably examine more closely. Much too vulgar and revealing than anyone needs. And ye goddesses is it sad. It’s a small story that tries to take up as little space as possible. It vacillates between whispers and shouts with barely a spacebar to bridge the gap. It’s resistant and stubborn. It shrinks from a compliment and believes its own negativity. It doesn’t shout to be notices but desperately wants the people touching its pages to feel something special when they look inside the cover. It knows it’s not a novel that’s going to be on stages and take its place beside giants. It’s ready to sit in a corner waiting. But still ready, because the story is important to the right reader. It is exactly the book I should have written. Maybe it’s the one I needed to have written. And I did.

So,  maybe I should learn to love it.

I just might.

Happy birthday, book.

Make a wish.

 

Drowning Above Water is now available in paperback and kindle at Amazon.