Twenty-five years ago, someone made a cosmic-level mistake (or was it a joke?) that put me in the womb of the wrong mother. Fifteen years ago, I realized it and took action, leaving behind a family who acted like animals and going out in search of myself. Five years ago, I was selling my services on a street corner to pay the rent. Five minutes ago, I was falling to pieces, a hopeful runaway turned crack-addicted whore going nowhere too slowly with no way to change course.
Colleen knocked hard and fast on the door of room 256 at the Sunshine Inn.
“Open up!” Panic. Did she know what I was about to do? I opened the door a crack. It was Colleen who raised me when no one else would; she had spent years healing my wounds, both glaring and hidden. She had done her best to keep me out of the life she knew all too well, and as much of a disappointment as I must be to her, I knew I had to face her now. I owed her that much.
She pushed her way in, forcing the opening wider and slamming me into the peeling wallpaper. With velocity and grace, she put her body at an angle to the door, but it didn’t shut. So this wasn’t about me. This was about shutting someone out. “Help me!” Her eyes were open too wide, her brow strained into thick wrinkles. I froze for a moment as I processed what was happening, the semi-automatic pistol dangling from my hand like a child’s loose tooth. Whoever the man at the door was, he was halfway in the room and gaining ground. Snarling, he swiped at the air with his thick fingers. I raised the gun, and, fully aware of the irony, shot the man who was struggling to let the night in.
When I had attached the suppressor an hour before, I thought it would keep the gun quiet, thwarting would-be saviors and giving me a better chance. Now I was stunned when the echo flowed over the grainy tile floor and up the walls to the water-stained ceiling, leaving only silence in its wake. In muted slow motion, the man’s body jumped and twisted backwards, and the door gave in to Colleen’s weight. It closed with a muffled slam as she crumpled against it.
Time itself fluctuated as we pulled open the door, dragged the fresh kill inside, and shut out the darkness. In all it could have taken seconds or minutes or hours. “He’s dead,” she whispered, and the room flowed red. Strange, in my visions it had been me lying on the cracked tile, and there had been less blood. Although there was really nothing funny about this, I had to suppress a chuckle. Maybe it was a coping mechanism.
We sat and waited in silence. We didn’t call the police. We wouldn’t have to; surely someone had reported the noise. The mothers of the motel were fierce in protecting their broken families. My icy fingers curled around the gun.
“What are you doing with that?” Colleen demanded of me.
“Is that the ‘boyfriend’ you keep saying you’re through with?” I asked. I could make demands, too, but with less confidence.
She saw through me. “You were going to use that on yourself.” In spite of everything, she was disgusted.
“I guess.” I looked away. The bloody corpse forgotten, I was simultaneously embarrassed and relieved at having been caught.
“Why?” Her blue eyes seemed to darken under her creased brow.
I shook my head. It was a fair question, but suddenly anything I had to say was inadequate and selfish. I’m broke? I want out but I’m too worn down to fight? I’ve disappointed you too many times? The woman who had been my rock for over a decade deserved an answer, but I didn’t have one worthy of her. “I’m sorry,” was all I could manage.
Colleen’s glare softened. Her graying hair was exquisite in the fluorescent light.
“Is that him?” I asked again, more gently this time.
She nodded. “You saved my life.”
“You saved mine.”
Tonight I killed a stranger in place of myself. And now the sirens draw near, and the woman who should have been my mother needs me.
Sarah Jenne Foster lives in Texas. She is both a mother and a writer, often fulfilling these roles simultaneously.