Note: This was my entry into a short fiction contest. Didn’t win so I’m posting it here again…. Some day I’ll finish it….
As water filled the tub, her robe slipped from her shoulders and fell to the floor. She wished her restlessness could fall away so easily. Pulling her dark hair off her neck and shoulders, she stepped into the water and felt its warmth on her skin. She sat back and closed her eyes, hoping for just 10 minutes of peace. She took a deep breath and stared at the blackness behind her eyes. Another deep breath and the steam from the bath fill her lungs; the water gently rippled at the rise and fall of her chest. Another breath; the feel of the water began to fade. A breath… the blackness that surrounded her began to change. No longer was it the black, murky absence of sight. It solidified, forming the walls of a room, dark and empty. Out of the darkness a shadow moved, changing as it came closer; a silhouette. Transforming – a woman. Or was it a mirror? Elizabeth stood looking at a vision of herself, but the woman before her was different, faded and sad. When she spoke her voice had an echo-like quality to it, “Nice of you to come, Elizabeth. I was afraid my cries weren’t being heard.” Elizabeth shook her head; she must have falling asleep in the bath.
“Who are you?” Elizabeth’s own voice echoed in the darkness, “Am I dreaming?”
A sad, quiet laugh escaped from the vision before her. “No, this is no dream. I am a part of you, buried long ago. I’ve been here waiting until you needed me.” The figure moved closer and Elizabeth could see she was pale, like one who has not seen the sun in years. “I am the reason you can’t let him go.”
“Who?” There was really no reason to ask, his face blazed in her mind. She felt tears prick her eyes and the color rush to her face. “Why?” she asked at a whisper, her downcast eyes taking in blackness beneath her feet.
“He opened your heart to me again. You locked me away to grow up and become a wife. You thought you didn’t need me anymore,” The figure smiled, “but I’m a part of you. You can’t be complete without me. He showed you that just because you’re an adult that doesn’t mean life has to be so hard. He helped you to laugh again, I am that laughter. Every time he smiles at you, every time he is close, it is me you feel. That part of you, forgotten. Your happiness has been lost; I can help you find it. You don’t have to be lost anymore”
Lost? She wasn’t lost. She was broken; empty… she stared at the image before her. She was dreaming. That’s all. This wasn’t real; it was just a dream; the result of shame and suppressed guilt. She shook her head again and tried to will herself awake.
“I am not a dream,” she heard another laugh, her own laugh, come from the figure in front of her. “You are not crazy. You were meditating, looking inward, and you found me. This,” the figure indicated the darkness surrounding them, “is my prison. In this darkness you abandon everything you want to forget. You’ve even tried to leave behind your recent feelings here. I won’t let you ignore how you feel with him. You feel free for the first time in years. You don’t have to confine yourself the way you do with Michael. I won’t let you go back to the fake smiles and manufactured happiness.”
“I was a part of you when you met Michael. He fell in love with you while I was still a part of you. The early years he still loved you. Then you locked me away. You thought it was time to be an adult; he thought it was time to grow up. You started worrying more about making him happy and less about your own happiness. That’s when you put me here. And as the years have gone on, you’ve ignored your happiness and more locks have been added. Now you’ve completely given up. He is not the only one that matters. You matter too. You are trying to fit into an ever shrinking mold: his idea of perfect. Do you not see the more you give, the more you conform, the more the mold confines you? This life does not belong to him.”
As she stood in the darkness Elizabeth heard the faint sound of knocking in the distance. The image began to fade. Like the slow waking from a deep slumber she became aware of her surroundings. Elizabeth was in the tub, her cheeks wet with tears. Leeann was knocking on the bathroom door. “Mommy, I want to tell you something.” Elizabeth wiped her face and cleared the vision from her mind. At least she had a little time to herself, but a mother’s work is never done. She called her daughter in, “What is it Love?”
“Umm…” the little girl was stalling. As Leeann stood in the doorway, the sound of the living room television invaded Elizabeth’s quiet sanctuary. “I love you.”
“I love you too baby, now go to bed. I don’t want to have to come in there.” It was so hard to reprimand her sometimes. Elizabeth suspected Leeann knew this.
As Elizabeth finished her bath she thought back to the vision. Whatever it was she saw it was right, she had tried to let him go… she couldn’t. She didn’t regret what happened. A marriage can be a lonely place sometimes, even when you love each other. Sometimes you need a friend to fill the void. Sam was that friend. It was so easy to be with him, so natural. The sex had been nothing more than a causal fling, but he had a talent for making it feel like more. With his slightest touch and with every kiss she could have believed he wanted only her. He had filled the emptiness perfectly.
How could she have allowed this to happen? She knew she could never love Sam the way she loved Michael, but she preferred him in so many ways: the way they talked together, the way they sat together in silence, the way it felt when his arms were around her. Just being near him, was so much of a comfort. She loved the way he made her feel. She loved him. Not in the way that conjures images of happily-ever-after. There would have been no romantic future there, even if she were single. It was the love felt for a good friend. They were friends, nothing more.
Although she didn’t really believe in soul mates, she knew that Sam was closer to being her “other half” than Michael would ever be. In less than a year Sam knew her better than the man she had spent 15 years with. Michael saw her for what he wanted her to be…. Sam saw her for what she was. No matter how hard she tried, no matter how bad she wanted it, she would never be enough to make Michael happy. She couldn’t be what he wanted and she was killing herself trying. It wasn’t a physical death, it was a spiritual one. She felt empty inside. Life was a routine, she wasn’t living it – she merely existed in it, detached. She was walking through her life like an actor through a movie set. She knew out of all her friends Sam was the one it would hurt the most to lose. She also knew he was the one she would have to let go, but not yet. She wasn’t ready for that goodbye just now.
That night she lay in bed with Michael’s arm around her and tried not to think about Sam. When sleep finally took her she was haunted by a familiar dream. There was someone calling to her, just at the edge of sight. As she made her way in the darkness, shadows danced around her. A figure floated in and out of the darkness like a ghost. But the dream had changed. This time as she got closer Elizabeth found she was staring into her own brown eyes. She had just enough time to register the sadness before the emptiness retook the vision.
She cried out into the void and it swallowed her screams….