Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t.
Especially when it comes to her.
She stares out at the selection in the freezer, her hands at her sides with an unamused and disinterested expression on her face. It’s almost as if she sees through it, as if the human goods within are beneath her and I remind myself that even before, everything was. I’m reminded as I stare down what I know in my gut to be a vacant aisle and just like every other time, I am forced to tell myself that nothing is what it seems.
It’s not real. But it’s hard because, well, everything feels real. Like the chill in the air and the way her hand twitches before rising, lifting toward the handle. Or the way she grips it and my feet stop moving as the muscles in her arm flex and she pulls the door back, opening the freezer as an icy cloud wafts out. I can feel the cool air against my sweat-covered body and it’s as if I’m standing where she is instead of a few feet away.
My insides quiver and I swallow but the action is hard to carry through. It’s coming back to me, the memories or better yet, all the things I’d rather forget. I can hear them; screams in my head as the sound of pounding rain begins to echo in my eardrums.
Part of the trick. Another reminder, except I can barely hear it over the rain and then I can feel it on my skin. Thick drops of water falling from the sky, landing directly on me, somehow missing the roof above. Angry as they slam against my skin, they hit me from all directions and cloud my vision. I’m drenched as I take the next step and my body pushes forward even though I want nothing more than for it all to stop.
Each step brings me closer but it also seems to hurt her. Her skin, once fair and flawless begins to scar as deep and dark bruises taking over. Cuts and scrapes, gashes and tears. They cover her body, reminding me of the day she was found, cementing the way she looked in my memory. Her clothes ripped, her shirt hanging off her shoulders and she turns slightly, not enough for me to see her face but just the edge of her jaw and the dark marks around her neck.
Hands, big and strong had wrapped around her throat and squeezed until it snapped. My feet stop moving less than a foot away and I’m trembling despite the fact that I know how this will end. After nearly a year and a half of her twisted one-sided game, I know the words she’ll say before she even says them and just like every other time, I know they’ll feel like lashes against my skin.
I know what you are.
A fact that weighs heavy over me and as the rain stops, the screams rise and suddenly it’s harder to breathe.
I know what you’ve done.
The memories consume me, flashing through my head like rapid fire and each one feels like a slap to the face. My hands reach out and barely catch the front of a freezer door as the world around me sways.
And I know what you’ll do.
Because it’s habit by now. Because I’ve spent the last year and change doing it as if it were nothing. But, even I can’t deny how bad it’s getting. How each sighting leaves me weaker than before and how less and less I care for myself by the end of it. Worth it? If you need to ask, then you don’t know.
In an instant, it’s all over and suddenly I’m standing in the freezer aisle with a hand pressed against the fridge staring at various Eggos lining the inner shelves. The bright yellow boxes mock me as I struggle to pull myself together.
“You want these? Is that what it is?” My mother reaches past me and pulls the freezer door open, grabbing one of the boxes.
“All you have to do is say so if that’s what you want.” She studies the box before tossing it into our growing shopping cart and as she grips the handles, I can see her shaking her head. “You haven’t eaten these in a while. I thought it was a side effect of practically inhaling them when you were younger but I suppose that was just wishful thinking.”
“Mommy!” Emily runs into the aisle holding a box of chocolate Frosted Flakes high above her head. She’s halfway to us before mom stops her in her tracks with her words.
“Don’t start Emily and put it back. You don’t need that.”
“But it’s new!” Emily protests, stopping her running to pout as she clutches the box against her chest.
Mom shakes her head, standing her ground as I lean against the freezers and turn to face them, watching the scene unfold.
“I didn’t ask you if it was new. In fact, I didn’t ask you anything but I told you to put it back.” Mom said giving my young sister a squared look that to any other child would have made them tear up. But, Emily is stronger and she merely rolls her eyes before turning on her heels and marching back to the cereal aisle.
“Kids.” Mom says in a nonchalant voice as a family passes her and shoots her polite smiles.
I watch my mother pushes the cart away and the yellow box sits at the top, making my stomach churn. To the family that had passed, my mother would have looked like the average suburban housewife and while that was true, to me her words proved she was something completely different.
What my mother failed to realize was that her thoughts had been on a different child. I had never eaten an Eggo in my life and I hadn’t wanted to because of the way they were “inhaled”.
She had inhaled them. She had demanded a fresh box every time we went to the supermarket. She could sit and eat one after the other like everyone else could eat a whole bag of chips and not realize until they were at the bottom of the bag.
I had always known my mother was in a fragile state after everything but her memories were collapsing into each other and forming convoluted memories that she would then incorporate and attach to Emily and me and it all stemmed from her or better yet the “favorite”. I sniffed and looked down at the floor, my throat tight.
It had to stop. But the only problem was that I had spent the past year and a half wondering just how to do it. Ignoring her didn’t help. Talking back only made her more vicious and cruel. There was nothing left to do but just live it. But, maybe that was the only thing I had never stopped trying to do.