There was a time when her world didn’t look like this, Sarah thinks. But those days seem so far away now it’s almost like she’s remembering something from a dream. Or a movie about someone else’s life. With a weary sigh, Sarah pushes an errant strand of hair out of her eyes and resumes scrubbing the pot in the sink.
She can hear her toddler, Sophie, squealing joyfully at something on the television, and Sarah wonders what it must be like to experience the world through the eyes of a toddler. Every moment full of possibility and wonder. And even the bad moments pass quickly, soothed by a mother’s kiss or the discovery of a forgotten toy beneath the sofa.
Sarah can’t remember the last time anything made her feel that joy. She tells herself that she must have felt that way when Sophie and her baby brother were born. After all, they are her whole world. But she can’t find that joy anywhere within herself, even if she digs. All there is now is unending darkness, tunnelling through her insides like a very hungry caterpillar. And every so often, it reaches up to whisper in her ear.
The pot is clean now. Sparkling in the glow from the track lighting above the sink. Sarah places the pot on top of the pile of clean dishes in the rack and slowly peels the rubber gloves from her hands. At least the kitchen will be clean when Josh gets home from work, even if she has no idea when that will be.
When the darkness first started to grow, Sarah had turned it outwards, snapping at Josh and reprimanding Sophie for all the little things. Gradually, it had turned inwards, but by then Josh had taken on extra projects at work, often working well past the kids’ bedtimes and into the weekends. Sarah couldn’t really blame him. If she could have found a way to escape the darkness she would have done the same. But sometimes she remembered how full of life she and Josh had been, all those years ago, and she wondered if there was a secret hidden away in those moments that could have slayed the darkness.
Sarah shakes her head. It doesn’t matter now. It’s too late.
As if on cue, the baby begins to cry.
“Mama!” Sophie calls. “Milo’s awake!”
The walk down the hall to the baby’s room takes all the energy Sarah can muster. Her feet feel like lead weights and the air in the house presses down on her with every step. She stops in the doorway and looks at the baby, who is sitting up in his crib, his big blue eyes bright with tears. Like Sophie, he has blonde hair and fair skin. And his father’s charming smile. He beams at her and reaches his arms out to be picked up.
Sarah carries the baby back down the hall and then down the stairs to the family room, where Sophie is still watching television.
“Milo!” Sophie dances over to plant a kiss on her brother’s cheek. Sarah lowers the baby into his playpen.
“Can you watch him for a minute, Sophie?” Sarah asks. “I’m going to go get your snacks.”
“Okay,” says Sophie, and she proceeds to entertain her baby brother with funny faces and ridiculous sounds.
With effort, Sarah drags herself back up the stairs to the kitchen. She has to fight the urge to stop and lie down on the floor—an urge that has been growing in frequency over the last two weeks.
Just a little further, she tells herself.
In the kitchen, she grabs the kids’ snacks, which she’d prepared before she washed the dishes. Then she opens the fridge and grabs three bottles of juice. She doesn’t normally let the kids drink juice, but today is special.
Back in the basement, she lays out the snacks on the table. Sophie and the baby are thrilled about the juice, draining their bottles in no time. Sarah puts her bottle on the end table, picks up the baby and persuades Sophie to come and sit with them, even though it’s not really in Sophie’s nature to sit still.
Only when Sophie and Milo have both stopped breathing does Sarah drink the juice in her own bottle. Then she lies down beside her children and waits for the darkness to take her away.
This is my submission for the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge. This week’s 1,000 Words challenge tasked us with the following: “use one of the images in this gallery as a starting point for a short story, poem, free-write, or musing on whatever you’d like.”
I apologize for how dark this story is, but the character of Sarah came to me earlier this week and insisted that her story be told.
Image credit: “Emptiness” by Cheri Lucas Rowlands