In the morning, the flowers are dead again. The bright red of the roses has turned to a dark maroon. Their necks have been snapped, the heads hang over the sides of my mother’s antique vase. Ron doesn’t like to be defeated. Every day he makes the trip back to the florist and buys new ones. He brings them home loosely wrapped in shiny paper, carefully trims the stems and arranges them on the mantle. Today he finally breaks. He picks up the vase and hurls it at the wall. Murky water drips down the eggshell paint and spills across the hardwood, pushing tiny pieces of porcelain like rafts up a river. He looks at me in a way that makes me understand that this is my fault. I have caused these flowers to die, just as I’m to blame for the flowers dying yesterday, and the day before that.
There is something wrong with me. A darkness that creeps around my insides and sucks away any life I try to conceive. Ron doesn’t say anything this time. He leaves the room and I hear the shower turn on. I lick the edge of my lip where a shard of vase has cut me. It’s time to go.
At the bus depot, I buy a ticket to the coast. The seat beside me is empty and smells like vomit. A shadow crosses over my face and the warm, sweet breath of a child brushes my cheek. Lucy. She needs me. I haven’t been back. Not since my mother died and my father moved us to a cramped apartment in the city. These are memories I don’t want to think about.
On Saturdays while my mother rested, the Ambien dissolving into her bloodstream, my dad would take me to Frankie’s Billiards by the boardwalk. A place where middle aged men gathered under a thick blanket of cigarette smoke. Where the threadbare carpet was permeated with alcohol, daring the entire building to erupt in a blaze of desperation and testosterone. I spent my time in the attached arcade, as my father chatted up women in short skirts and lost his money to pool sharks. I met Lucy beside a pinball machine. She had a crooked smile and bouncy pigtails; we were instant friends. We played Ms. Pacman and chewed blue bubble gum. I told her my secrets, my hopes and fears.
I stretch out my legs and press my head against the worn backrest. It’s better now that I’m on my way. I no longer have to face Ron and the pain he tries so hard to hide. I can’t give him what he wants, what I want. I won’t miss his screams when he wakes up shaking and swears he sees a child standing at the side of the bed. I never let on that I believe him, how I can see Lucy too. I know she wants me back.
My mother was so well rested one Saturday that she took a walk into the ocean, and my father and I left town for good. He thought she’d given us a second chance. I made him stop at Frankie’s so I could say goodbye. It was lunchtime and there was no one inside. Except for Lucy. She stood in the corner wearing the same clothes she always did. Bright yellow shorts and a pink striped halter top. I noticed for the first time the whiteness of her skin, as though she had never been outside in the sun. She wouldn’t turn around no matter how I pleaded. Her shoulders shook and her little hands clenched into fists. When my father came in to find me, Lucy was gone.
The beach strip is deserted. Frankie’s hasn’t been in business for years. The windows are boarded up but the door still opens when I pull on the handle. The floors inside are coated with sand and the stale air smells of mildew. I walk through the pool tables, now tagged with graffiti, their felt tops ragged and torn.
There are still some half full bottles behind the bar. I pick one up and examine the viscous liquid. I imagine my father sitting at this bar, laughing while my mother walks deeper into the water. I wait for Lucy’s tiny footsteps but I don’t turn around. My hand reaches for the bottle of pills at the bottom of my purse. I’ve been saving them even though it means that I haven’t slept in weeks. For a moment I think I am just like my mother. But she left her daughter. I can nurture one. Every child deserves a mommy.
Something limps across the floor behind me. A shudder runs down my spine. I can no longer tell if it’s excitement or terror. When I turn, Lucy stands before me. I forget for a moment that I’m an adult, I no longer see through the innocent eyes of a child. I see her as she is, as she always was. There are dark patches on her cheeks, her leg sticks out backwards from her yellow shorts at an impossible angle. We are both victims and I won’t let her be alone. Lucy’s head tilts and I can see a smile form on her pale lips. I reach out for her, a daughter I can make my own. Someone else gets there first.
Although her body is bloated and bruised, filled with rancid ocean water, I know her. My mother wraps Lucy in one arm and sweeps her away from me. She lays a bouquet of fresh cut flowers at my feet. I can smell the rose perfume. My shaking fingers reach out to touch them and feel that they are full of life. I take a step backwards and my leg buckles underneath me. The flowers press against my face as I fall to my knees.
Another second chance. Piece by piece I will put the vase together again.
Allison Hall is a writer from Ontario, Canada. Her short fiction has been published in Montréal Writes, Cleaver Magazine and The Mulberry Fork Review.