|I am nothing without you and tortured by your presence and your love.|
It had been raining most of the night. Thick heavy raindrops whistled as they plummeted from the rainclouds high above the long desolate highway, caught in the flood from the headlights of Sharon's SUV with the empty deluxe car seat in the back, a pile of her clothes to the side, nearly a dozen pairs of shoes in the floor boards and a cardboard box filled with memories in the front seat. The flaps of the box were still soiled and smelled of booze. A thin 30-something mother of two and decade long faithful working wife, but times were tough now for her, especially in recent months. Marriage for her had always been rocky with the blame shifting equally on both sides, but after having their first child, a boy, Alex their lives quickly spiraled down.
Somehow they continued to carry on, mostly because each one found new ways to bury their true feelings deep inside their heart, in places normally reserved for trauma or unexpected life events that would ultimately define them. Because of this, Sharon changed and eventually lost herself inside motherhood. Life was suddenly charming to her once more, and with the addition of her son she felt like things between her and her husband might finally spike for the better. Day in and day out, she tended to her son, while juggling a job from home, finagling the two for the first year. It was trying, that much she accepted, but determination not to become that fragmented version of her own mother helped her through the toughest of times until, one day, she figured out the secret of a working mother. What she failed to realize, even now not fully understanding, was the bond she thought she had with her husband was a mere line drawn in the sand that washed easily away with the changing tides.
On one side was a woman who committed herself to do the right thing, no matter the cost, and on the other side a shadow that begged for substance, so that it no longer felt insignificant to the world. As she turned the SUV into the drive of the motel, a beautiful purple bolt of lightning danced along the skyline, zig-zagging downwards, disappearing behind the silhouetted treetops in the distance. She pulled into a parking space and sat still, her hands were trembling on the wheel and her face welted now with tears. "You're fucking worthless." His words bounced around inside her head like the crackle of lighting she witnessed moments before. Words that only meant something to the mouth that formed them, designed as tiny verbal knives that filleted her heart and drained her of any confidence she had belt up for herself in the months leading up to that moment they were spoken to her with such crisp and precise aim. He knew how to hurt her. He knew how to strip her of any love she had for either him or for herself.
From the shadows a pair of evil eyes watched as a visibly shaken woman got out from her SUV. The thunder drove the woman inside faster than she had anticipated to escape the potential of being struck by ravenous strikes of lightening, oblivious to the real danger lurking nearby waiting for the right moment to introduce itself.
"That will be 115.95. Cash or credit sweetie?" the older gentleman at the front desk asked. He looked to be in his sixties and smelled of cheap cigarettes. Judging by the yellow tips of his fingers he was a seasoned smoker who long ago stopped caring about a brand of anything, as long as it provided a nicotine fix.
Sharon handed the man her card. "Credit please." she said turning to a small television on the counter next to him.
"They say the rain is going to last throughout the night. Good thing you decided to stop. It's very dangerous to drive at night without a constant drip from the Lord's nose." he stated with a chortle.
She beckoned a smile to him and took back her card.
She returned to her car more comfortable in the elements knowing the rain would wash away her tears. She opened the driver side door and tucked the box under her arm, closing the door with her foot and proceeded back inside the lobby.
"Here you are Missy, room 407. Just hit the stairs right outside the door, up one flight and on the corner to your right." he said handing her the flat gold key. The head of the key had a small tattered piece of paper with the number 407 written in black ink pen that was beginning to smear between her wet fingers. "If its any help, we are not worth the tears."
Sharon wasn't sure if she should be offended or smile, so she compromised a slighted smirk turning for the door. The clerk shook his head regretfully, turning his attention back to the small television. Had he paused for a second more, he might have seen the shadow that chased the young woman up the stairs just after she left his company.
Sharon found her room and stood at the door, fumbling the key in her hand as she tried to jiggle it into the lock. The key hesitated and with a bit of frustration, popped out from the lock and onto the deck. She attempted to hold the box while bending for the key when a hand sprung out from around the corner and snatched up the key. The sudden emergence of a dark colored man frightened her, causing her to nearly drop her things, catching the box with her free hand just as its contents threatened to spill out onto the deck.
"I'm sorry." the man said. "I did not not intend to scare you. I saw you struggling with the box there and thought I would assist you when I noticed you had dropped your key."
She felt a bit silly and a tad embarrassed, thanking the man for his help. He handed her a key and a kind smile and then walked past her, disappearing around the same corner in which he came. She slipped the key into the lock and turned it. The door opened and not a moment too soon, feeling her eyes swell up again. What she needed was a nice hot shower.
Nearby a man stalked the motel, up one flight of stairs, blending in when witnesses emerged from their rooms unexpectedly, and down the stairs on the opposite end of the deck. He did this because he needed to know how aware those around him were. What did they hear or more precisely, what kinds of sights sounds peeked their curiosity the most. That's what made motels so attractive to people like him- there guests lack of concern for others. They only wanted a soft pillow and warm blanket to reset their traveling spirits and regain that appeal of conquest and thirst for adventure. He stood in front of room 407, looking down to the SUV. It was time to learn more about his victim.
Hope, that was something Sharon had long determined a cute name given to children. She leaned into the steaming shower. The stinging water ran down her body, washing away the odor of her long travel, the humility she felt inside and the makeup on her face. But she could not rid herself of all the ambivalent emotions running through her extremities, assuming control of her mind long enough to reach for the cold water tap and consider shutting it off. Her life had taken such a drastic turn for the ware that part of her wondered if she felt anything at all or could ever feel something again. Then her thoughts turned on her second child. Her name would have been Destiny.
Like hope, Destiny was supposed to bring her and her husband closer together. Life was going to retreat back into the recesses of the shadows and turn over a new leaf for her; a new beginning for the family she had given up everything in trying to build.
10 weeks into the pregnancy, she woke up late one evening with the most pain she had ever felt in her stomach. Wrenching and writhing, she woke her husband and cried that there was something wrong with the baby. This nightmare verified once he pulled back the sheets to help her from the bed. If there ever had been a moment in their life together that was completely out of their control, yet meant everything to the stability of the marriage it was that crimson moment that would forever leave them both marred by imperfection and guilt that festered inside them.
After her shower, she put on the housecoat provided by the motel and walked over to the box, removing one item after another, glancing at the pictures of her, her husband and son enjoying a moment at the park one summer day. Another photo was much older, wrinkled with time with its ink fading, this one of the day she married. It was a joyous occasion, she recalled. Finding the bottle with her fingers, she pulled the whiskey from the box and stared at it. It was clearly not the answer, she knew this; but, drinking to numb herself seemed the more likely thing to do. He had clearly expressed his discontent for her earlier that day. She was worthless to him. She could not earn enough of a living that he wanted from her, while caring for his child. She could not do the simple things he believed all women should be able to do; cook, clean, wash up, laundry, keep the house clean and tidy at all times, be there for him sexually when he needed her to be and not when she was emotionally prepared for him. All these things thrown up in her face daily, added up to this drunken shell of a woman someone, somewhere, would have appreciated more than the inflamed ego at home.
There wasn't even a need for popping the lock, some people never learned. This was his lucky day or so it appeared that way. The SUV was in a state of panic. Hurried packing, the lingering smell of alcohol, the child safety seat and...a letter in the visor on the driver's side. The stranger opened the letter and leaned back in the back of the SUV. The light from the flashing sign outside the lobby was just enough that he could make out the scribble.
Sharon stood motionless, eying the contents spread out on the small table before her. She considered phoning home to hear her son's sweet voice call her Daddy over and over again. Daddy was the preferred word for both her and her husband, although, when asked to find mommy he would always turn to her and point and then laugh as though it was a game played among them. However, she knew if a call was made it would only drag her back inside an endless loop that her heart and her health could not defend itself against any longer. She grabbed the ice bucket and set out in search of the ice machine.
The rain was still pouring as she stepped out into the chill, looking for a directional sign for the vending, heading up the stairs to the third floor where the ice and vending machines were located. Her head was filled with despair, confusion, doubt, remorse, regret and a number of emotions that broke against her will like flood waters bracing against paper levies. She had long lost herself the moment she loaded the car and slammed the door shut. Her shadow was now behind the wheel and without a face or identity to embrace it moved through life like a ghost, haunted by things it did not understand. The Ice machine sat between a nook in the wall, behind the vending machines and out of the way enough that no one could see in passing along the hallway.
She reached for the small metal scoop attached to a wimpy string on the top of the machine and stabbed at the ice. She then felt wet cold gloved hands grip around her throat from behind. Instinctively, she dropped the scoop full of ice and reached for the powerful hands at her throat, constricting tighter as she fought for air. Ice spilled onto the floor, crushing beneath her bare feet that fought for leverage, slipping on the cold ice chips that only provided more of a hold from her attacker. She was surprised at the power of her unseen assailant, the quickness of his emergence and grip around her that stole away the air from her lungs. She was further surprised by how little her limbs fought back. The quiet sickness that was an ambivalent monster at her body's helm, steering her with a certain level of satisfaction, convincing her depression that everything was happening according to plan; although, not exactly how first conceived.
She closed her eyes and a hot intense white light enveloped her senses. He stood before her, smiling lovingly and taking her by the hand. Vows echoed in her head and then the words faded, replaced by the rage spoken to her in recent months. The uncaring nature backing them that said no matter what the outcome, no forgiveness or apology would follow. Not this time. Not ever again. Nothing would ever be good enough, as long as the effort was coming from her. It was then she heard a voice unfamiliar to her whisper in her ear.
"I am actually doing you a favor." the voice said.
She had consciously attempted to free herself from the strangers grip, digging her claws into his gloved hands and pulling to the point one of her fingernails had snapped off. Incredibly, she had achieved becoming numb, either by the lack of air flow to her lungs or her mind had finally given in along with her will. Her life flashed in front of her eyes and her soul decided then that enough was enough. The stranger worked an arm around her stomach, squeezing the last remaining breath from her, tossing her against the side of a Coke Machine. Her head smashed the corner of the machine hard, as her body was released by the boa-like grip of the stranger, falling onto the floor her blood mixing with the melting ice cubes at her feet.
The stranger opened the door and stepped inside the room. There was a dampness in the air, along with the scent of jasmine emitting from the bathroom. On the table were photos of a beautiful family all with smiling faces, mementos from better times. the stranger's footsteps brought him over to the bed, the sheets still tucked into the corners of the mattress. He reached down and pulled back one corner, pressing into the pillow with a fist, and then reached into his jacket taking from it the letter he had found in the SUV. He then took the whiskey and uncapped it, splashing some across the bed, onto the floor at the table, along the table top and sat the bottle on the pillow on its side next to the letter.
He then listened very carefully at the raindrops slapping against the window, rapping on the glass lightly in a sonnet that only he could hear. Ironically, it made him feel something other than numbness. Pleased with the arrangement of things, he backed out from the room and quickly blended into the darkness.
A hundred and forty miles from the motel a phone rang in the early morning hours.
A tired groggy hand reached through the morning sunbeam shining through a partially opened window, fingers teased the cordless phone on the table next to the bed, finding a solid grip around one end. A disoriented man's voice uttered, "Hello." as an equally lazy ear listened to the voice on the other end of the line tell it that something dreadful has happened and wished to speak to the husband of one Sharon Keller. At this point, eyes sprung open more awake than they had ever been. Almost immediately after they began to water, and soon after cry freely in an uncontrollable frenzy. There was shock and disbelief. So much so, the man who was Mr. Keller could not will his body from the bed. His mind was now drowning in guilt, shame, sorrow and complete disarray.
"Oh god. This...this is some kind of joke right? Please god, tell me this is some kind of cruel goddamn joke!" he sobbed.
There was nothing more he could do. Nothing more he could say that would somehow turn back time and allow him the chance to say what his heart really felt than what his mouth preferred to say. He finally rose from the bed, clutching the phone and rocking back and forth. His mind searching for something it could use to make heads or tails out of what the detective was saying on the other end of the phone.
From the room down the hallway, a tiny voice stirred over the monitor. "Daddy?" the boy called out as he had done numerous nights and mornings, expecting "Daddy" to come. This morning things would be different.