Stay With Me

Every morning at 3:37 AM, Elena wakes up and stares at the ceiling. Her arm drifts over to the left side of the bed. She hasn’t been able to bring herself to change the pillow case that still holds a faint smell of perfume. After several minutes of uncomfortable silence, she grabs her own pillow and her blanket, and drags them to the couch in the living room, where she falls back asleep.

They say it takes 21 days for a habit to form. It’s been 32 days now, and she’s only just starting to get used to the routine. She’s learned to accept the pain in her neck and lower back from sleeping on the couch. The alarm on her phone buzzes her awake at 7:00 AM. She’s tempted to hit the snooze button, but forces herself to wake up instead.

Elena shuffles through the kitchen, turning on the coffee maker and putting bread in the toaster. For awhile, she made four slices, but today she remembers to only make two. She brushes her teeth in the kitchen sink, and lets her eyes drift around the apartment.

Dust blankets the bookshelves and cabinets. She can’t even remember the last time she vacuumed the carpet. On her way back to the bedroom to get dressed, she does her best to avoid even glancing at the bathroom door.

Nobody says anything to her about her showering in the gym. She thinks about working out, but she just doesn’t have the energy. Some days, the sound of water on tiles is more than she can bear. The rest of her day speeds by in a blur of lights and sounds. In the afternoons, she politely declines her co-workers’ invitations to lunch. In turn, they ignore the times when she cries at her desk.

The last few nights when she’s come home, the apartment has been cold. Even with the heat running constantly, there’s a chill in the air that settles into her bones. She turns the TV on to avoid the silence. Hours go by and she can’t remember what she watched. Sometimes she eats, although most meals are forgotten as well. All she wants to do is sleep.

In her dreams, Elena replays that night, finding new ways to fix the situation, to keep it from every happening. In one, she catches an earlier cab home from the bar. In another, she and Carmen never had a fight to begin with. She never said those ugly words, and didn’t have to see Carmen’s face crumple as they hit her like a knife. She didn’t have to feel the weird flush of joy she got, right before the shame washed over her, and she had to leave. That was the best one. Most of them end the same way, with the sound of water running in the shower and bright red blood circling the drain.

3:37 AM, and she opens her eyes to stare at the ceiling. The room is freezing. She smells stagnant water and a hint of soap. When she tries to move her arm, nothing happens. Frozen fingers caress her jaw. Icy skin presses against her body. Lips brush against her neck and a familiar voice whispers, “Don’t wake up.”

Tears fill Elena’s eyes as the fingers run through her hair. She wants to say yes. She wants to say that she was wrong. She wants apologize for everything that happened. All that comes out is a quiet whimper.

A cold arm wraps around her waist. Carmen’s voice is pleading now. “Don’t go.”

Tears run down Elena’s cheeks. She tries to say something, but the words die in her throat. Every breath catches in her chest. Her left side is going numb as the arm pulls her closer. The shadows in the room grow darker. She turns to the left, afraid of what she might see.

In the growing darkness, she can just make out an indentation on the mattress, where Carmen used to sleep. There’s a slight curve of a woman’s hip just under the sheets. She feels a hand brush against her cheek, and the words hang on the air.

“Stay with me.”

©2015 Chris Page. All rights reserved.

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