Running sucks. Bad. Grueling miles of self-torture that I must have enjoyed in a past life. I slog through the city, past the sagging houses near the bus station and up the hills because they can’t stop me. I’m invisible to the elements, locked in my own brain. I feel the wind moving through me, with me, filling my body and becoming a part of me.
Patches of green grass, brick walkways as the city struggles to revamp the old part of town. I don’t know why I even bother running past it—the old townhouse of my old life, with the crooked shutters and the tin roof showing rust. But my steps slow. The tulips are breaking through, green stalks piercing the beige of winter.
The curtains catch my eye, dancing in front window. Fran, with a head full of brown hair. She’s so big now that I have to stop, clutch my knees and spit. A train bellows in passing. A light mist on my back.
I remind myself that she’s not there. Or that she is but I’m not. No one is anywhere anymore. Nothing is shit, just keep running.
A FOR SALE sign still rests in the weeds. FORECLOSURE on top like it’s some sort of prize. But the tulips we planted just keep coming back through it all. The other houses look the same: various stages of disrepair. The goal was to fix up ours then maybe buy the next one. Plenty of time for that, until a knife finds your abdomen.
I’m tired of running. I kick the sign and creep up those steps. The last one still bends, validating my existence in this world. But I’m knocked back with horror when Fran sees me. She giggles and hides when I turn to face her. She has Joanne’s eyes, maybe my nose. Dear God I need to go. Hop off the steps and take off, anything but this. Anything as I waltz right up and turn the handle.
Joanne is at the stove. Singing. I trip over her shoes in front of the door. She turns and looks right into my eyes and smiles real big. That smile that turns up her whole face. A marathon of hope churns through my brain.
“Fran baby, dinner’s almost ready.”
Fran stands barefoot, her arms at her sides, staring at me wide with wonder. She’s tall, a little person now, and I have to catch my breath as she slides over and hugs my leg. I touch her hair.
I’m not sure how she knows. Remembers? I nod. Put a finger to my lips, blinking away the tears because I’ve never heard my daughter’s voice. Joanne peeks in and concern grabs her smile, shakes her voice.
Fran smiles at me. Then she lets go and races away and into her mother’s arms.
“Mommy Mommy. Daddy’s here.”
This was a bad idea. I’m interfering, prolonging, being selfish. Joanne bends down and hugs our daughter, presses kisses into her head. “Oh Franny. He’s always with us.”
Fran points, her finger finding me.
“He’s in there.”
Joanne’s eyes glaze right into me. I shake my head. My clothes are bloody and torn. I cry and scream and apologize. I tell her how much I love her through the filter of death.
Then I leave. I bust out of the front door and run.