Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
|—"The Hollow Men" by TS Eliot|
A bright light fell on her eyes. She'd made it. That's what everyone on that Oprah show said they saw when they crossed over. A bright light. Those self-righteous idiots on TV, though, they turned their backs on the light. She'd told herself if she ever saw it, she'd dive right in.
She reached for the light, but her body felt as if it had been crazy-glued to the ground. Her head and ribs ached. And her mouth tasted like she'd licked the inside of her septic tank. She realized, as the world came into focus, that she was laying across that stupid wagon wheel coffee table he'd insisted on buying at some crap flea market. And the light was just the sun streaming through the dirt-caked windows of her single-wide.
She was still here. In a trailer. In a hollow. In the middle of fucking nowhere. Broke. Alone. A failure at everything. Even this.
Still, it was so quiet and peaceful lying there. Quieter than usual. Not even a cicada. It was the peace she'd imagined when she moved here. She wanted to just lie there, in state, until somebody found her cold, emaciated body stretched out in this mausoleum of a manufactured home. She wanted to do that, but she had to pee. And that damn wagon wheel was digging into her ass. And she needed a Coke.
She pulled herself painfully to her feet, surveying the damage she'd wrought in her stupefied state as she brushed the glass off her flannel pajamas. Not too bad this time. A few overturned chairs. Glass and empty pill bottles everywhere. At least she'd succeeded at destroying that tacky coffee table. She'd try to get it to the dump. If it wasn't too hard.
The room spun a little as she picked her way through the debris to the kitchen.
It was quiet. Too quiet. She vaguely remembered the TV had been on when she'd laid out all her pills on that coffee table. A half-month's worth of antidepressants and sleeping pills. Gone. Damn. Now she'd be without meds until the end of the month, or longer if they found out what she'd done with them.
Wolf Blitzer. That's who she'd been watching. He'd been blathering on about some breaking news crisis when she'd chased down those pills with a shot of tequila and a Budweiser. She didn't have a head for news anymore, but she hadn't wanted to be found watching America's Top Model or Celebrity Rehab.
The TV was off. And so was everything else. She flipped the light switch in the kitchen. Nada. She opened the fridge a crack, and it emitted a sour odor, although the contents consisted of exactly one hairy jar of olives, three ketchup packets, and hard slice of white bread. She'd given up eating anything but Cokes and saltines a few weeks ago.
She must have been conked out so long they'd cut off the power. At least she'd have water. She stumbled into the bathroom and turned on the shower, letting it run while she peed. It wasn't hot, but it was water. That was one plus for living so far out in the sticks that you had to have your own well.
The cold water pelted her skin, shocking her more fully awake. Must be the end of the month already. She'd taken care of everything else. The cats were at the no-kill shelter. She hadn't wanted to be that woman on the front page of The Southwest Times, found with cat shit all over the place and half her face gnawed off. She'd written her sister in Atlanta a note telling her the proceeds from the trailer and land were to go to the shelter—and he was to get nothing. Not even a cat litter box.
Damn, if it's the end of the month, if it's been that long, someone should've phoned or found her. Her sister. Her ex. The cops. Her counselor. Someone. Fuck 'em all.
Her life still sucked, and she was all out of meds. And Coca-cola. The water began to feel like shards of glass tearing her skin.
She pulled on a pair of his old jeans—hers were falling off her butt now—and his old Kyle Petty sweatshirt and dollar-store flip-flops. Anything else took too much effort. Even underwear.
The sweatshirt still smelled like him, a weird, comforting mix of menthols, Irish Spring, and WD 40. Let's give it six months apart, he'd said when she'd called to beg him to come back. Six long months had come and gone the day she'd sucked down the pills.
The phone was off, too. And her cell phone was dead. She couldn't remember the last time she'd charged it anyway. Or where the charger was. The old Jeep, though, was still parked outside. It was the only thing she had left of her step dad, the only man who'd ever truly given a damn about her, ever encouraged her to write her poetry. She'd failed him, too. She doubted she could rhyme June and moon anymore, not that her poems ever rhymed; the ability to put pen to paper had evaporated like cat piss on hot linoleum. It was the meds. She didn't want to take them, but he couldn't take the mood swings. He couldn't take her on the meds either. She'd changed, he'd said. She'd screamed she'd done it for him as he went out that door saying he'd be back for the coffee table. He never came back. She carried the cracked wagon wheel out to the Jeep and shoved it in the back with all the other things, mostly his, she'd been meaning to take to the dump.
She looked at her world from the outside. It consisted of one powder-puff blue single-wide trailer with holes in the skirting the cats liked to hide in. One rusty green Jeep parked on red clay. And 2.3 acres of scrub pine, a mile from the nearest neighbor, who ran a meth lab out of his trailer. All cradled in this ass-crack of a hollow.
This is a dead land. This is cactus land. The words rambled through her head as she drove down the dry clay road into town. She had no idea where the words came from.
Her radio had been ripped out of the dashboard months ago. Either her ex or some meth addict did it. Didn't matter. She hated country Jesus music anyway, but having nothing to listen to left her entirely too alone with her thoughts down the long road to the Piggly Wiggly.
She'd thought living this far out would have been her peace. Her inspiration to write. It turned out, she wasn't built for peace. Or solitude. Or quiet. It cracked her like that stupid wagon wheel.
It was so quiet out here, she'd told her sister once, that she'd never know if the world ended.
Still, someone should've checked on her. Missed her. Something. She leaned on the horn making it wail until it sputtered out into a whimper. The rough road, made rougher by a long winter, bucked her around even in four-wheel drive. If only she had the guts to wrap the Jeep around a sycamore tree. She didn't. She wrestled the trusty Jeep back onto the curvy dirt road and white-knuckled it to where the black-top began just outside of town.
The Piggly Wiggly lot was empty. She parked the Jeep alongside the curb. The doors were locked tight, and the lights were off. Only a handful of people lived in Miller's Creek. The store—and the Texaco station and the Post Office down the street—were the sum total of the town's commercial district. The nearest Wal-Mart was 30 miles away. Somebody was always here, though. Maybe it was a holiday. Was it the 4th already? She squinted at the date on the paper still in the box next to the Coke machine. June 17th. If that was today's date, she'd only been out of it a couple days. She didn't bother reading the big black headlines. She needed a Coke.
She picked through the sticky change in the Jeep's cup holder. Enough for one can. She plopped the dimes and nickels into the machine, punched the button, and waited. The coins made a lonely sound as they fell through the bowels of the machine. Nothing. She banged the button again, all the buttons, until she noticed how warm the machine was. How off it was. She kicked it. She slammed her fists into it, over and over. She couldn't even buy a damn Coke. One god-damned can. She crumpled to the sidewalk next to the sun-baked machine, sobbing. She wept until she drifted off to sleep, her cheek against the warm red metal machine.
She dreamt of Wolf Blitzer. Flop sweat rolled off his shaggy brow as he lugged that damn wagon wheel coffee table out to the landfill for her.
She snapped awake, confused for a moment to find herself slumped against the Coke machine outside the Piggly Wiggly, her Jeep still running, one tire up on the curb. She tried the pay phone by the entrance. No dial tone. She drove around town, her gas gauge dipping closer and closer to E. The pumps at the Texaco were as silent as the Coke machine. Everyone was gone. Evacuated. Dead. Raptured. Abducted by aliens. It didn't really matter. Whatever it was didn't take her.
She was still here.
She cut the Jeep's engine and stared at her reflection in the darkened glass of the Piggly Wiggly storefront. She looked like a wet mop in a sack of shit. And she was it. She stared at the window, at the notices for potluck suppers and the 4-H fair taped to the inside, at the darkened shapes, the displays of black-eyed peas and cat food behind the glass. She popped the hatch on the Jeep and pulled the flea market wagon wheel from underneath the other trash in the back. She hefted it like a discus and sent it sailing through the plate glass window of the Piggly Wiggly.
She needed a fucking Coke.
Angie lives in Roanoke, Virginia. Her short stories have appeared in magazines as diverse as Behind the Wainscot, Pedestal, Alien Skin, and Odyssey. Visit her poorly maintained blog at asmibert.wordpress.com.