“Emma, no!” she gasped, her own voice awakening her. Not again. Usually the Ambien knocked her out enough to escape this recurring nightmare, but tonight her sister had invaded even her pink pill dreams.
Avery pulled off her eye mask and stared at the angry red numbers of her digital alarm clock. Two in the morning. She had to be at work in five hours. “Damn it,” she sighed as she struggled to untangle her legs from the sheets and step out of bed. After yanking open the door of her walk-in closet, she flipped on the light and rooted around the top shelf until she grasped the right bottle.
“Thank God for Ambien,” she said, fumbling to open the childproof cap. It took longer than usual, but soon she held one of the small, salmon-colored pills in her palm. She debated going to the kitchen for water, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Besides, she had dry-swallowed much bigger pills than this. Tossing it into her mouth, she caught her reflection in the full-length mirror hanging in the back of the closet.
Her eyes were frightening. Mascara lay smudged beneath thin slits of white sclera and pinpoint pupils. How those eyes stared back at her, so accusing. Before tonight she’d made it a week without popping a sleeping pill. Now she was on her second.
Avery covered her stomach with her free hand as she stood there in her underwear, ribs poking through her skin. She looked sickly these days, was pushing herself too hard again. High school valedictorian, sorority chapter president, now a lawyer in one of the top litigation firms in NYC—it still wasn’t good enough. No matter how much she accomplished, she’d never be able to make up for the death of her sister in her family’s eyes. Her breath caught in her chest as the memory of that night came flooding back to her.
Two-year-old Emma in the living room, giggling as she banged her favorite wooden blocks together. Avery, ten years older, was annoyed her parents had made her stay home to babysit as they dined out with friends. She’d been sitting with Emma on their carpeted floor, half-paying attention to her, half-eyeing the MTV video playing in the background. The phone rang in the kitchen and she’d left her alone for a minute as she went to answer it. The latest rap song was still blaring on the TV when she returned. Perhaps that was why she’d never heard the splash, or the cries Emma had surely made before her tiny body sank down into the depths of their pool. Avery had forgotten about the open patio doors. It had been warm and sticky in the house that night, and she’d unfastened them hoping to let in the cool outside breeze. Hadn’t her mother warned her multiple times against doing that very thing?
Avery’s heart was pounding as it always did when she thought about her sister. She realized she was clutching the pill bottle so tight her knuckles had lost their color. On a sudden impulse she threw the bottle’s contents at her reflection. An explosive pink cloud surrounded her, and then was gone. As the pills hit the hardwood floor, some bouncing a little, some rolling away, she remembered the time her grandmother’s pearl necklace broke one Thanksgiving dinner. That had been five, maybe six years ago, when she still spoke with her family.
“Look at you, so perfect, so happy!” She snarled at the pathetic creature in the mirror, the one drowning in the Ambien and extra large glasses of wine at dinner these days. Like the ones she’d had during her firm’s happy hour tonight, where she charmed and flirted with the senior partners; where she blushed when the silver-haired, recently-divorced gentleman of the bunch commented on her tight dress and slipped her his number. She barely recognized herself anymore.
She sank down onto her knees and scooped a handful of pills up off the floor. She’d never taken more than two before… would she stop breathing like Emma had? Would anybody care? Rolling one in between her thumb and forefinger, she hesitated for only a second before swallowing the rest. “Sweet dreams,” she whispered to her reflection. Time to sleep.
She curled up into a ball, waiting for the sedatives to take effect. As she stared over the tops of her perfectly-arranged shoes, her eyes landed on a forgotten cardboard box tucked away in the back corner. Her mother had mailed it to her last fall. Something about old photos, the letter preceding it had said. At the time Avery had refused to open the package; the past haunted her enough as it was. But now she was desperate to see the faces of her family one last time. She sat up and grabbed it, tearing open the tape with her fingernails.
The photograph on top was of her and Emma a few months prior to her death. They were at a zoo enjoying some ice cream cones. Avery had chocolate all over her lips and a goofy smile. She held her baby sister on her right hip with her free arm. Emma had both hands wrapped tightly around her sugar cone and was gazing up at Avery’s face.
She flipped over the photo, hoping to find the exact date it had been snapped. Instead she found her mother’s handwriting. My little angels. I love you so much, Avery.
She choked back a sob. Was it possible her parents really had forgiven her? She stumbled out of the closet and found her cell phone. She didn’t want to die. Not anymore. One day she hoped to be reunited with Emma, but she needed the chance to tell her parents she loved them, too.
“9-1-1 emergency,” a female operator answered.
She took a deep breath and said what she’d never had the courage to say before, “I need help.”
Rachel Printy lives in NYC where she spends her free time reading, writing, salsa dancing, and trying to teach herself how to whistle. She is thankful to her family, friends, and FWA St. Pete writers group for their feedback and encouragement while creating this story. Rachel’s other pieces “Sucia” and “Polepole” can be found in Reed Magazine issue #68 and Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Think Possible book, respectively.