She bought a Colt .45 and hid it in a carved wooden box under her bed.

There had been times, earlier in her life, when she’d looked forward to the night, the dark dropping like a veil. At the beginning of their marriage, she would sit at work, the last hour, watching the clock. At home, they made dinner, drank a little, went to bed.

Home was an island, then.

Now she dreaded the dark room, the endless hours—the faint light from the television casting mutable shadows against the walls. At some point, she always gave up on sleep and put the television on for company, something light, something with a laugh track, something to obscure the sound of the cars creeping past in the middle of the night. (Going where, at this hour?)

All night, she tossed and turned.

And then, very early in the morning, when she had fallen asleep at last, there were the birds, breaking the silence. The squirrels using a tree branch next to her bedroom window as a bridge onto the roof.

She dissolved tablets under her tongue and lay under the covers, looking up at the ceiling.

She wanted a dog. A dog would protect her from . . . what was this?

In the bathtub, she loosened the blade from a razor and ran it lightly against her wrists. All I have to do is press it, she thought, but instead she laid it on the side of the tub and leaned back onto the towels she had folded into a makeshift pillow.

She read a short story about a man who had killed himself and gone to some unnamed afterlife where he got a job and went grocery shopping and spent his evenings in bars, drinking and shooting pool. She was filled with horror and dread at the idea of another life after this one filled again with these mundane tasks—with the same traffic and long lines and phone calls and tax forms—the obligations, the illness and boredom and loneliness.

Could this be, she thought—continuous worlds that we walk through like a shotgun apartment or a series of train cars, one leading inexorably to the next?

Before, on her way to the bank, with the zippered deposit bag of cash concealed in a reusable canvas grocery bag, she had almost hoped that she might be hit by a car on her way across the street, or that she would be shot going into or out of the bank, but now it no longer seemed like a cure.

Still, too, she was desperately afraid that the thief would botch the job, and she would wind up in the hospital on life support. Then the police would have to track down her husband in his new condo next to the golf course and bring him in to make medical decisions or identify what was left of her body. Just one more indignity. The cathedral where he had once been a supplicant, now in ruins.

So she returned from the bank and sat back down at her desk. She was so still in the chair that she could have been a piece of moss, a bit of lichen. The numbers on the spreadsheet in front of her grew soft edges and slid across the page—or scampered, rabbit-like, into an ancient forest, across earth and leaves shaded by trees so enormous that she couldn’t see their uppermost branches.

But then she blinked and the numbers returned to their cells.

At home she slumped on the couch and watched recordings of reruns of cooking shows—Martha Stewart with her cool efficiency, kindly Jacques Pépin and the tomatoes, the sauces—and she ached for someone who would take care of her.

At work, she had always been the one who organized the party and brought in a card. In the first days, they had said, “I don’t know how you can be so calm,” and she had shrugged, and it had not been an act. It had been real, but it was also not real. She’d been hollowed out somehow in a way that she could never fully explain, but it didn’t matter now; too much time had gone by. She could feel herself shrinking—she was a child, an egg—something another woman could hold in the palm of her hand.

She was in a trance. She walked through the smaller train car of each day on her way to the next life.

She went home and took off her clothes and lay alone in the wreckage that was the bed they used to share.

And then, one morning, she didn’t wake until the alarm switched on. She went to work earlier than usual, and when she walked into the building, she found that the hardwood had been waxed overnight. The floor was so shiny that she could see the ceiling lights reflected in it.

She stood there on the periphery, with her coffee cup still warm against her hand, and she looked at the lights, and she felt that maybe it would be possible to go on.

 

© Leah Browning
[This piece was selected by Rachel Wild. Read Leah’s interview]