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by Michele Christopher
From my short short fiction collection
I cross the street and she’s there, in front of the drug store, waiting for me. She knows I had to pick up my meds and she’s there like a stalker, her eyes rimmed with the black of insomnia, her hands shoved deep inside her pockets. She’s staring straight ahead at me and I have to acknowledge her. My first instinct is to turn around and go home, go to the park, go anywhere else but to the place where she stands. But I need my meds and she knows this. She knows I’m not going anywhere but right towards her.
She at least tries to look shameful, bows her head a bit and bites her lower lip but I’ve seen it all before and I don’t let her little acts of manipulation phase me anymore. It’s old. But the mere act of pretending to be shamed tells me that at least she still has the capacity to recognize that what she’s doing is wrong. She knows she shouldn’t be here. For a split second I think about grabbing her, kissing her, pushing her hair back from her face and telling her I love her but then I remember that it’s gone, all gone and I’d be just setting myself back months if I did that.
I reach for the door to the pharmacy. Open it. Walk in. She follows behind me and stands at the counter with me while I wait. I say nothing to her. She grabs on to the sleeve of my parka and pinches it, holds just a tiny bit of fabric between her fingers, as if that’s all it would take to keep me bound to her. Maybe it is. I get my pills, sign the insurance form and walk back out the door. She’s trailing behind me like a pet, stumbling to keep up with my long strides, her fingers still gripping my parka like a lifeline.
Out in the cold air again I take a deep breath, exhale, and blow smoke rings with my winter breath. I fight off a surging nicotine craving by biting down hard on my lip. I draw blood, lick it off and savor the taste of my own blood, which alarms me. My god, I’m so fucked up. I walk east, not even bothering to step around the pools of slush, my sneakers making puckering noises in the melting ice and snow. She’s still there, still holding on and I start crying as I walk, I swear my tears are freezing up the instant they hit my cheek. I don’t care. I’m just walking and crying, walking and crying and she’s fighting to hang onto my coat.
My feet are soaked and my toes are numb and I pick up the pace because I need to shake her off. I turn around. I know better, but I do it. I slow down, baby steps over the sheets of ice in front of the school and I crane my neck and I can see her, black hair and pleading eyes and trembling lips and my heart cracks, bleeds and falls apart right there in front of the elementary school where the little kids put down their crayons and stare at the crazy man on the sidewalk, the man who is kneeling down in the wet snow, crying, screaming, all alone.
Someone comes out to help me and let them, for the first time I let someone help. They pick me up, hands under my arms and I go limp. I don’t even turn to look for her. I know she’s gone. I. Know. She’s. Gone.