Tabitha’s gaze is directed at the blue flicker of the television, but it is a gaze with all the warmth and life of an abandoned rundown house at midnight. The kind that packs of local kids dare each other to enter only during the safety of a sweaty, luminous mid-afternoon summer. She reaches for a tall glass of tepid water from the cheap, aluminum card-table beside her. A dampened doily sticks slackly to the grimy glass as she drinks. As Tabitha places the glass back onto the table, it clumsily topples over with a loud metallic clank. She glances at it sideways but pays it no attention.
Tabitha is frail and insignificant in the vast cushion of armchair that envelops her. The room is dark and thick with dust. You can smell it. There are no photos on the mantle. No pictures on the wall. No memories.
The television clicks off and Tabitha walks to her bedroom with a pained gait, a byproduct of something more than just old age. She undresses and every movement of her torso is fraught with agony. A long puckered scar is still clearly visible through her wrinkled flesh. It isn’t fresh by any means; it is white and faded but is such an unnatural shape and angle that it dominates this tiny woman. Tabitha neatly folds her synthetic floral t-shirt and long, loose black skirt and places them onto perfect piles of identical clothing. Beside the uniform stacks is an old biscuit tin, the sort that holds those sugar-crusted, dry shortbreads that catch in your throat. She fishes out a worn, tarnished crucifix and stands in her greying bra and sagging underpants fingering the cross intently.
Sleep does not come easily to Tabitha. She groans and grunts with every twist and turn. A bottle of sleeping pills sits invitingly on the bedside table. It’s half empty and has been a constant friend, but tonight she refuses it. Won’t even look at it. Her eyes are furiously staring at the ceiling as if her sleeplessness is somehow the fault of the stucco; as if somehow the peeling paint is the cause of her pain; as if the ton of concrete above is capable of reaching into a woman’s chest and tearing out her heart.
Refusing the sleeping pills is dangerous. It means revisiting the past, whether she wants to or not, because lying in bed during the howling hours opens the shutters that Tabitha keeps battened down during daylight. She tries to ignore the encroaching darkness by smothering it with other memories; brighter, whiter, shinier memories. Days in the sun carefully watching teenagers in school playgrounds making sure they aren’t too close or too excitable or too naughty. A job she enjoyed. She lets those pictures crowd-in and hopes it will be enough; it’s futile of course. It is never enough and she knows it.
Tonight the darker visions come creeping, edging their way into her consciousness. Tabitha inhales deeply, holds her breath for just the briefest moment, then, croakily, she whispers a keening, aching whisper “why have you forsaken me?” There is no reply. The room is silent. But she waits because this time she expects an answer. It doesn’t come. Her brittle fist thumps the bed beside her and a hoarse, angry whelp escapes her. “Why is my imperfection not enough? I am not a god. Why can’t you”… she stops abruptly. Barely a sound escapes her lips, “… save me”?
Minutes pass; the woman lays unmoving. Her anger leeches out of her slowly, in inverse proportion to the oncoming raft of black memory.
A hidden corner of the playground, a group of snarling boys approach.
She reaches for the pills and swallows 2 dry.
Her wrists and legs pinned, tearing and kicking.
Sleep is poking its way into her brain.
Aching thighs and unknown wetness.
Slumber grabs hold of her eyelids.
A glint and thick blood everywhere.
Sleep wipes the boys from sight and carries her away. For now.
words: Kristen Hodges