The worst parts of our lives are the things we never see coming. The things we can’t prepare for because our nightmares aren’t made of them. Like my mother dying when I was nine and my father abandoning me six months later. Or being widowed by thirty. I never imagined any of those things, yet they all happened.
Then there’s the insanity. I never saw it coming. Never planned for it. And not once dreamed of it. Yet, here I am. Mary Williams. Thirty-two years old and slipping slowly into madness.
Probably. I feel sane. But the noises in my head say otherwise. Ones that sound like the old screen door on the back of my house creaking open when the hook is tightly latched. Or the echoes of footsteps crossing empty rooms. I’ve stopped running from those. My house is small enough that even with rubbery legs I can check all eight hundred square feet faster than dragging my wobbly legs to a neighbor’s house. The only thing I can’t seem to do is force away this fear. It’s always here. Scratching at the edges of my mind. Clawing my spine. It writhes against my intuition until running is all I can think of. And I would run. If I knew which way to go. It’s kind of hard to get away from yourself.
I haven’t always been a mass of paranoid delusions. Kim, my best friend since fourth grade, used to call me strong. A survivor. Capable of finding a way to cope with anything. Now, she and her husband Kevin have decided I’m having a grief-stricken mental break. And they aren’t holding their tongues about the opinion. Hence the reason I get pamphlets about mental institutions slipped to me when I’m walking the floor of my store. It’s already hard enough being the manager of a top clothing retailer without customers who happen to distantly know Kim reaching out as if it’s their duty to aid the poor grieving widow who’s slowly going mad. It’s embarrassing. Especially if my employees ever find out what the whispered conversations are about. Or were about. Kim isn’t exactly promoting her theory anymore. Not since I stopped talking about how I feel inside. Since I started smiling and saying everything is fine. Instead, she’s filling the vacancy in our standing Wednesday lunch with something equally disturbing.
The bulk of our midweek rendezvous has been spent listening to her babble about a blind date like it’s the best idea she’s ever had. Not surprising. She thinks all her ideas are Pulitzer-worthy. But after all these years and everything we’ve been through, she could at least pretend to hear me when I say I’m not interested.
Two can play this game. I’ll just ignore her. “How is Kevin adjusting to his new job?”
“He loves it.” Her bright blue eyes sparkle, hands rubbing so wildly together her blonde bob bounces over her shoulders. “Just like he loves me setting you up with his friend, John. The four of us are going to have so much fun this weekend!”
One surefire way to pump her brakes is telling her about the noises still plaguing me at night. Casually mentioning the footprints in the soft earth under my window, the random flowers on my porch, or maybe even my jittery repulsion to the darkly twisted words of a poem I found plastered on my windshield yesterday. But I’m not the only person at a busy mall driving a silver car, and I’m sure neighborhood kids are responsible for the flowers. Probably the footprints, too.
I’m not stirring up trouble for myself or putting her through worrying about me again just to get out of a date. She may have broken my trust and embarrassed me, but it was done out of love. “I’m glad Kevin likes his job and that he made a new friend. Didn’t you tell me Jenny isn’t seeing Rob anymore? I bet she’d love to double-date with you.”
“She can triple with us. But only after our double, because this weekend is a special occasion.” Stars dance in her eyes. “Wait until you meet John. He’s this six-foot-tall god! Body chiseled from pure stone. And I’m telling you, bring a bib. Because the first time I met him, I nearly choked on my drool!”
“I’m sure Kevin appreciated that. And…”
This time it’s me who’s checking out, words trailing off as my attention is drawn to the old wooden windows of LaTerra. Today, the yellow brick building with its glass front feels like a jail cell. A jail cell inside a display case. Me the bauble on exhibit. Intuition screaming. Bleating. Someone is watching. Cataloguing my every move. All the usual ridiculous nonsense.
Tremors scrape my spine. The hair on my neck rises, telling my every fiber to be afraid. But no one would waste time putting my boring life under a microscope. I barely socialize enough to have friends. Outside of Kim and her family, customers and co-workers during business hours are the extent of my connection to the world. Still, what I feel seems so real. It has for years. While cancer ravaged my husband, I began looking over my shoulder. Only occasionally then. Now that Mike is gone, it’s constant. Even when I’m visiting his grave.