Recurring Nightmare

It was only a dream, but when I see him in the checkout line, three aisles down, my heart quickens, and I remember his eyes shooting bullets through my chest, two thumbs applying pressure to my throat.

The air in here is stifling. Leaving my groceries on the conveyor belt, I dash for the exit, nearly colliding with a woman steering two shopping carts, one carrying the three children who will devour the food in the other within a week.

The humidity of the late summer afternoon is a surprising relief to my lungs. But the reprieve is brief.

I hear the whisper of sliding doors behind—he’s followed me.

He doesn’t even know how much he should hate me. Suspicion of what I have done is far from his imagination. Yet it haunts me every night while I sleep.

He’s seen the woman with the three kids. “That will be us soon,” he tells me, “with my two and now our one on the way.”

Only, it’s not on the way. At least not his third. And it’s only after he bends to hug my expanding stomach that I notice who is with him.

His companion shakes his head, knowing what I want to say. How long can we keep this secret? Until the baby’s born? How long before family resemblance can no longer hold as an excuse for why his child looks more like his brother than him? And would he ever believe me if I tell him it was rape?

He stands to kiss me, lips dry and rough like the first time I told his brother no.

He says he’ll be working late tonight but will come by after his shift—the ex is watching the kids. As much as I love him, I tell him no. I must sleep. I don’t want the truth of my nightmares to slip out while he holds me.

A friend once offered me sleeping pills to make the nights more bearable. It risks hurting the baby, but I’m desperate to do anything. I’ll bury my head underneath a mountain of pillows because I fear his hatred more than never waking from a dream that kills me.

© Nortina Simmons 


Originally published October 6, 2017.

Stockholm

Detective Maye has seen it dozens of times before. Stockholm syndrome. When the victim develops an affection for her captor.

He holds his hand out for the feral child hiding under the kitchen sink. If not for her wide marble eyes, glowing like orbs in the darkness, he would think no one is there.

He shines his flashlight inside. Compared to the photo he keeps in his chest pocket, she is unrecognizable. Gone is the fair-skinned angel with the free-flowing blond hair. Her skin is caked in dirt, hair a dingy orange collected in one unkempt knot atop her head. The t-shirt she wears barely covers her. She folds herself like an accordion amongst the kitchen chemicals, no bigger than a bottle of bleach.

Maye curls his fingers into his palm to draw her out. “Come on. He can’t hurt you anymore.” But then he wonders how many times this man has promised not to hurt her.

He stuffs his hands in his pockets, and child psychologist, Dr. Pridget, steps in front of him, opens her arms like a doting mother.

“You’re safe now.”

Maye thinks it’s working. The child emerges. All skin and bones, falling hair and ripped fabric. She shields her eyes to the flashing of CSI cameras. Pridget moves to hug her, but the girl drops her shoulder. On hands and knees, she crawls across the floor, between Maye and Pridget’s feet, exposing everything the shirt doesn’t conceal to everyone in the room.

A sickness in Maye’s gut tells him she’s used to being naked around men, she’s used to the heaviness of their hands, the tightness of their beer guts pressed hard against her fragile body.

They watch as she does what she’s had to do to survive for the last six months—curl herself underneath the sinking chest of the now dead man who killed her childhood, t-shirt soaked in both of their bloods.

© Nortina Simmons


This flash piece was originally published September 15, 2017, and features Detective Frank Maye, a character from my Lost Boy work in progress.

Snapshot of a marriage

Here we go again,” he mumbles.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me,” she says.

“What have I done now?”

“What haven’t you done?” She points to the mess in the kitchen. “For once I’d like to not come home to more work.”

“Well, I made dinner.”

“Really?” Her frown spreads into a wide grin. “What’d you cook?”

“Oh, fried chicken, mac and cheese.”

“Hmm.” She scans the empty pots on the stove, the pile of dishes in the sink, the overflowing trashcan starting to smell. “Where’s my plate?”

“Oh, you wanted some?”

She lunges for his neck with both hands.

Liquid courage

He must think I’m dumb. I take another sip of wine. He drops to his knees professing his innocence. He doesn’t know she secretly recorded him, sent the video soon after he finished, all two minutes and thirty-two seconds, the weighed-down condom dangling from the tip of his penis as he walked by the hidden camera.

“Get out,” I say, “before I do something I regret.”

He doesn’t listen, tries to take the glass from me. I ball my fist and snap off the stem then thrust it into his throat, splattering my face with blood.

Funny—I regret nothing.

In sickness and in health

In sickness and in health, we promised, but as he lies in bed with a cough that strains his vocal cords, I sit 15 feet away in our hotel suite’s living room helpless and feeling as though I lied at the altar.

Our honeymoon ended days ago, but his positive test forced us to extend the trip and quarantine in a foreign land where the money is quickly running out.

“Anita,” his raspy voice calls.

I put on my mask and gloves. It’s time for his medicine. I hope a hot bowl of cabbage soup will help it go down.

Ritual

It’s become morning ritual.

The alarm buzzes at 5:30am. I hit snooze six times until it’s an hour later and drag myself out of bed.

The sun’s just beginning to light the sky. Two more snoozes and it’ll be too hot for a morning jog.

I pull my shorts over my hips, wrestle my tight sports bra over my broad shoulders, bend down to tie my shoes.

Already I’m out of breath and I haven’t made it downstairs yet.

I select a playlist. It’s Sunday, so I should listen to worship music.

“God, help me through this week.”

Ready? Go.


Today’s playlist

The piano teacher

It’s not my fault he wanted to dance.

I simply played the music and let him waltz me to me feet, spin me across the room.

This was only supposed to be a lesson, but before I’m even aware, his lips are on mine and his hand under my skirt.

And then she walks in.

“I’ll excuse myself.” I scurry to the bathroom down the hall.

These walls have always been known for their acoustics. In the evenings, the opera students come to practice their harmonies.

From the vent overhead the screaming pours down, fills the room, and my conscience.

Visitor

Tell me I’m not crazy.”

“You’re not.”

“See, why don’t I believe you?”

“Because I’m just repeating what you said.”

“So you don’t hear that?”

He opens his mouth, pauses, then closes it. We wait and listen. There’s the hum of the air conditioning, the thud of bass from our downstairs neighbor’s music, the distant chirping of crickets outside.

“I don’t hear anything,” he says. “Maybe you’re just—”

“Don’t say it.”

“Okay.”

As he lets out a loud sigh, the foot of our bed dips down, as if someone neither of us can see just sat in the center.

It’s been a minute

“It’s been a minute,” he starts after we’ve sat in silence in this busy cafe for nearly half an hour.

“It’s been two.” I pretend to wince at the coffee I sip from my mug. It’s long past scalding—not even lukewarm—but if that corny line wasn’t clear enough, the coffee solidifies it. I shouldn’t be here.

“How’ve you been?”

Well, I’d like to say I’ve been thriving since the divorce, but the truth is our daughter hates me and blames me for all her problems, I’m about to lose the house, and I haven’t been to work since Tuesday after rage emailing my micromanaging bitch boss, Sarah.

“Fine.”

“Mya says—”

“Mya doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

“Helen.”

“Rick”

“Look.” He swallows hard, juts his jaw, and makes a chewing motion, though his scone sits untouched on the saucer in front of him. “I know what I did—”

“Just like a man.”

The shift in his demeanor is immediate. I’ve struck a nerve. “What does that mean?” he says, a little more bass in his voice now.

“To assume that you’re the reason. That it revolves around you. No matter what happens to me, good or bad, it’s all because I once loved you.”

“I never said that.”

“You didn’t have to.”

The idle chatter around us invades our atmosphere again. Despite what he might think, I have no desire to sit and stare at him in silence for another thirty minutes. I reach across that table and snatch up the blueberry scone, ignoring his protests as I shove as much as I can into my mouth in one giant bite without gagging. He curls his upper lip in disgust, which amuses me given that the last time I saw him he was balls deep in another woman’s mouth still wearing the tux from our anniversary dinner.

“I know you need money.”

“I told you I’m fine.”

“That’s not what Mya says.”

“Why don’t you let your daughter stay with you since you two are so close.”

“You know we don’t have room with the baby.”

“No. I don’t know that.” Because no one tells me anything, like when the new Mrs. apparently stopped swallowing. Good for her, I guess. God only knows who the hell else his dick’s been in. I’d hate to taste that every night.

“I’m willing to cover the mortgage for you this month. But we agreed, you should have sole custody.”

“I wish Mya could see how great a father you are when she’s not around.”

I can feel his hot breath touch my bottom lip as he sighs heavily, and instantly I want to vomit.

“It’s impossible talking to you.”

I shoulder my purse. “The bank appreciates you finally paying a bill for the house you chose and then willingly left.” Who’da thought he’d downsize in more than just women. I slide the unfinished scone across the table. The saucer screeches to a stop just as the edge grazes his shirt. I stand and turn for the exit. I don’t bother looking back to see if he’s willing to swap saliva with me one last time, pandemic be damned. I don’t care.

I really don’t.

The Girl in Booth Seven

“Ready to order, hon?”

“Cof—” She coughs into her fist. “Just water.”

“Okay?”

“Cheesy grits. Can you cut up little sausages in it? Fried egg, medium. Oh…I probably can’t have it runny. Hard then. And can you put that in the grits too? Well, I guess I can do that.”

She turns and gazes out the window at the gray sky and wet asphalt of the diner parking lot.

I recognize that look. I had it at 17, as a runaway and seven weeks pregnant.

“I’ll put it all in the bowl. And decaf works.”

She smiles. “Thank you.”


Saw that a few blogging buddies are participating in Bloganuary. I’m not fully committed yet, but I liked today’s prompt: What advice would you give to your teenage self?