This morning I scrubbed the apartment more thoroughly than was necessary considering I’d declined all visitors, both the well- and ill-wishing kind. I ignored the phone. The battery will be dead in a few hours and I’m considering letting it stay that way. If one more person puts a hand on my shoulder and asks how I’m holding up, I might do one more thing I’ll regret till my dying day. Of course, at this point, I know I’m going to Hell anyway.
I’ve been crying for weeks. The few people still talking to me say to keep busy. They’re right. I used to hate chores, but since the accident they’re a saving grace. It means I’m too busy to think too hard about anything.
First errand today is to pick up my contact lenses, the ones I’m not allowed to drive without. The receptionist at Dr. Yang’s Optometry frowns when I tell her my name. I either need to change it or move out of this cursed town. Probably both.
She takes a long time getting the new lenses and tosses them in a bag with a bottle of lens solution. I wonder who she’s related to, but don’t dare ask. She doesn’t look at me when she hands me the receipt. I mumble, “I’m sorry,” but she’s already turned her back.
Next stop is the laundromat. I go to the one across town because fewer people go there. I haven’t done laundry since the accident. I’ve been stuck in a cycle of shock, denial, and soul-crushing guilt.
As I get out of the car, a truck squeals to a stop in the intersection behind me, and I’m thrown back into the nightmare of screeching brakes, shattering glass, and screaming children. I take deep breaths, laying my head against the top of the car. I can’t possibly have any more tears left to cry.
There are three people in the laundromat. Luckily, I don’t know them. A young woman with earphones is sorting her whites and colors while bobbing her head to music. I envy the relaxed slope of her shoulders and her carefree movements.
A man sitting in the plastic chairs by the window absentmindedly runs a lint roller across his pant leg as he reads a book. This is just another laundry day for him.
The old woman at the end of the row of dryers is carefully folding a pile of cardigans. I shove a load of laundry into the washer nearest the door and push quarters into the slots.
As I wait, I use the dirty mirror by the door to put the new contacts in. I will always wear them now. The contact solution is cold like it has been refrigerated. I shiver as I place the contacts in my eyes, and I know I will hate this new ritual. Goosebumps radiate down my arms and a headache is developing behind my eyes.
More people must’ve come in while I was putting in the contacts. There’s a kid standing behind the woman with the earphones. He’s tugging at her skirt but she doesn’t pay any attention.
A woman sits beside the man reading the book, looking at him with so much love that you’d think it would be impossible for him to concentrate. The old woman is pulling more laundry from the dryer and folding it. Now three people surround her, watching her as if she is the center of their world. I wonder why she doesn’t tell them to back off.
The young woman is still ignoring the kid. She turns as if she has just thought of something, and then walks right through him like he’s not there. I gasp. But he is there. I see him. I also see the dials of the washing machine through his head.
Another dead child.
I must be having a mental breakdown. Maybe hallucination is another stage of grief. My heart is racing and the headache is getting sharper. The contacts are squeezing my eyes. The old woman brushes through the crowd of ghosts surrounding her.
An icy feeling skitters down my spine because I know there’ll be more than one ghost attached to me. I don’t want to turn and look, but I do.
A line of bloody children stands behind me, staring at me. I know without counting that there are exactly ten of them.
Again I feel the bus roll over as the windshield shatters into a million glittering pieces. I hear their screams and my own as I grip the wheel trying to make the wheels of the bus cling to something.
Now, in the laundromat, the children just stare at me expectantly. I want to take out these cursed contacts.
“I want to go home,” one of the children says. The others nod slowly.
They aren’t looking at me like everything is my fault. They are looking at me like the only adult in the room that sees them. And so I leave the contacts in, because seeing them is the least I can do.
I leave my laundry and walk back to the car. They follow, holding hands in a line across the street. They are in the car with me, reflected solemnly in my rearview mirror, and sitting beside me in the passenger seat. Eyes that were once brown, and blue, and green are now foggy grey.
I lay my head on the steering wheel and long to cry. But I can’t, because they’re all waiting for me. They’ve been with me this whole time, I realize, while I cried, and screamed, and inexplicably lived on.
“I miss my mom,” a girl says.
Her name was Claire. It was my job to remember their names, and it was my job to get them home.
“Is it time to go home yet?” Matt asks beside me.
“Yes,” I say. “Yes, it is…”
I know the way. And so I take each of them home. One last time.
Amethyst Loscocco is a technical writer by day, but prefers to escape the strict technical confines of brevity and bullet points, to delve into the limitless magical world of fiction. Her work has appeared in The Fable Online, Fantasy Scroll Mag, and Literary Juice. She lives in Oakland, California. You can follow her on Twitter @amethystwrites.