It ended quickly, she had made sure of that.
Empty cans of cheap beer littered the small living room with its peeling wallpaper and stained carpet. Thick shrouds of cigarette smoke hung in the air, bearing down on her, another oppressing presence. She sat on the solitary armchair in the room, pushing it up against the flyblown window. An ashtray filled to the brim with cigarette butts sat on the window ledge, the ashes undisturbed on that hot, windless day.
I often wondered what went through her mind as she waited, steeling herself for death, or was it absolution she sought? Did she see my face when she climbed on the ledge, stepping gingerly around that ashtray? Did she remember her promises to me as she plunged head first onto the concrete?
We lived a life on trails of dusty roads, bouncing from town to town. We were two souls united in our need to hide from an abusive past. She had always protected me but never herself, taking the blows and absorbing the pain for me.
It’s silly, I know, but for a long time afterward I looked for her in the faces of strangers. Soon she became nothing more than a fleeting vision drifting across empty rooms. An elusive comfort, always beyond my reach.
A fresh start. It’ll be better this time, I promise, just you and me. Her voice tinged with hope echoed more faintly through each passing year. I believed her then, and I wanted to believe her now even though I knew the outcome would be the same. Hope has a sneaky way of making you believe in the possibilities even if you know it will kill you.
Time has looped back on itself and I have returned once again to that day when I found my mother sprawled lifelessly on the pavement. I was sixteen.
The night is cloudless, the air warm and still. I stand on the balcony watching the twinkling headlights on the roads, and people rushing toward unknown destinations at a breathless pace. A world passing by without me.
We lived the same life, my mother and I, seeking love and redemption in all the wrong places. I see her now: her arms outstretched, a smile on her face, soaring through the sky like a bird. She is free, and I envy her.
Perhaps I, too, can fly.
Erlynda Jacqui Chan is an avid short story reader who, after turning thirty, decided that it was now or never to fulfill her lifelong dream of writing. She resides in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and her short stories have been published in Gold Dust, Antithesis Common, 5th Story Review, The Green Muse and The Long And Short Of It.