One of my goals for 2018 is to publish a short story every week. Well, I’ve been busy reworking my novel and taking a writing class. But I have still been writing stories. So instead of trying to find a publisher for them, I am going to publish them myself. I’ll be publishing them on Sundays and I have named it Short Story Sunday.
Here is the first one for the series called In the Blink of An Eye.
Joy. Bliss. Different labels for the same thing: a numbing feeling that lulls you into a sense of euphoria so life can blindside you. It had betrayed her trust and lulled her into complacency so that tragedy could knock her on her ass in the most unimaginable way possible.
From now on, when joy came creeping around the frayed edges of Asia’s life with its feel-good promises of butterflies and fairy tales, she would steel her nerves and brace for the impact. Two days ago her life was perfect. This morning she woke up to the phone call everyone dreads. The phone’s foreboding ring was laced with death, like her mother’s voice would be. She picked up the phone. “Mom, what’s wrong?”
The silence that filled the space before her mother replied told Asia someone was dead, she just didn’t know who.
“Asia, please come to the house.”
“I’m on my way but I need to know who’s dead.”
“Asia, you shouldn’t hear this news alone.”
“Mom, please. Just tell me.”
“It’s your sister, Asia. I’m gonna have dad come get you.”
It was Asia’s turn to be silent.
Asia swallowed. “N-no. I…ummm…I need to call Atara. She’ll come get me.”
Atara was Asia’s twin sister, the one her mother just said was dead.
“Asia, baby, let daddy come and get you.”
Asia hung up the phone and dialed Atara’s number. She willed Atara to answer. She listened to the phone ring. The tears that ran down her face admitted what her mind refused to embrace: something happened to the other half of her. She sent the phone flying into the wall. Black pieces of plastic and small shards of glass shattered everywhere.
“Atara, you will not do this to me, do you hear me?!”
Asia threw the covers off her legs and stomped out of bed. She snatched her keys and walked out of the house barefooted to her car. Her feet didn’t even react to the frigid, snow-and-ice-covered sidewalk. She was aware of what she was doing but was also outside of herself watching her own body move. She was in a movie and she was the star of the show and also the audience.
Her body was on autopilot as she drove to her parents’ home. The world around her was on mute. Time stretched just beyond her grasp and moved like molasses. Visions of life with her sister flashed like Polaroids in her mind: their first day of kindergarten; first day of junior high school; first dates; getting their driver’s licenses and their first car that they fought over who would be the first to drive it (this made Asia release a little snicker); and college graduation.
Asia forced herself to stop this final review of their lives together. Atara was fine. She had to be. They still had so many things they had to do together.
Asia arrived at her parents’ house without remembering what route she took there or even realizing that she had been shifting the gears in her car to do it. Her father was just beginning to back out of the driveway just as Asia was pulling up behind him. The back bumper of his car hitting her front bumper knocked them both out of the panic they were in.
His door flung open as he ran up to Asia’s car door. Asia looked up at her father through her window. The tears on her father’s face confirmed what Asia’s mother said. Asia’s breathing quickened. She shook her head and started to cry. “Nonono,” she started to scream as she kept her gaze on her father’s eyes.
Her father yanked at the door handle. “Asia, baby, open the door.”
Asia kept her eyes locked on her father’s. Tears ran down her face and saliva fell from her mouth.
Her father pulled the handle on her door several times. “Asia! Baby, please, open the door.”
Asia couldn’t hear him. Her father leaned down putting his gaze level with hers. He pressed his huge hands against the window and framed her face within them. He stared at her through the glass, their tears now synchronized. He nodded his head. She shook hers in reply.
“Open the door sweetheart,” he said.
Asia turned off her car and opened the door. Only one of her feet touched the black asphalt driveway before her six-foot-four father grabbed her up into a hug. Her head fell onto his shoulder as her keys dropped with a tinkling sound into the snow-covered grass.
Asia’s mother put her arms around them both. Asia wrapped her legs around her father’s waist like she did when she was little. Her father turned to walk her inside. As her mother walked behind them into the house, she saw Asia’s red toe nail polish. She rubbed Asia’s foot, the only consolation she could offer.
Inside the house, Asia’s father tried to put her down on the couch but Asia wouldn’t release her grip around him. He sat down on the couch and held her in his lap and rocked her. Asia’s mother sat down beside them and rubbed Asia’s arm.
When Asia’s soul was empty of tears, she sat up and looked at her father. “Where is she? Where is my sister? I want to see her.”
Her father let out a resigned sigh. He knew nothing would keep Asia from Atara. “I’ll take you to her. I’ll move your car. You go put some shoes on your feet.”
Asia’s mother hurried up to their old room. She paused at the door. Her hand flew to her mouth to stifle the sobs that wanted to escape. She went to her own room instead and got Asia a pair of her shoes. They all wore the same size. The memory of all the friendly arguments they had over borrowing each others’ shoes without permission ran through her mind as she grabbed a pair of slippers and took them back down to Asia.
She helped her daughter out to the car. She leaned down and cupped Asia’s face in her hand and kissed her cheek. She pressed her forehead into the side of Asia’s face and let it hover there for a moment.
“Mom, please,” Asia said.
Her mother met her father’s gaze and their eyes said what their voices couldn’t.
On the way to the hospital, Asia watched her childhood pass before her: the park where she and Atara played for hours at a time; their schools; the movie theater where they watched way too many movies and stole kisses with boys in the dark; the roller rink where they met their best friend, Angela (their dad called them the name the A-Team…it was his favorite TV show). The warm memories that every place used to hold turned cold as they slid past her window in silence. Asia looked over at her father. He stared straight ahead and blinked the tears from his eyes to keep them from blurring his vision. Asia grabbed his free hand and laced her fingers between his.
At the hospital her father parked and turned to face Asia. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Asia swallowed hard, then nodded her head. They made their way into the hospital and her father stopped at the desk.
Asia watched as her father talked to the nurse behind the counter and then pointed to her. The nurse sent a pitying look Asia’s way then picked up the phone and said something into it while she kept her gaze on Asia. After a few moments a nurse came over to Asia and her dad and escorted them down a side hallway to an over-sized elevator.
The nurse pressed the round black circle with the capital letter ‘B’ and the doors slid shut. After a few seconds the elevator made a sudden lurch that made Asia stumble into her father. The elevator began its labored descent making a low humming noise that vibrated in Asia’s feet. The elevator ground to a halt. The doors hesitated before jerking open to reveal a large glass window. A man sitting at a desk in blue scrubs stood up ceremoniously as the nurse led Asia and her father into to the door.
As they walked down the hallway to the door, Asia’s eyes kept staring through the glass at the table in the center of the room with a white sheet covering the body she knew belonged to her sister.
They stopped at the door. The nurse put her hand on Asia’s shoulder. “I’ll meet you back at the elevator. Take your time,” the nurse whispered. Her shoes made a squeaking noise as she walked back down the hallway leaving Asia to face her fate.
Her father looked at the table with Atara’s lifeless body on it and then back at Asia, her body trembling now.
“Asia, you don’t have to do this.”
“No. I need to see her.”
She walked toward the door to go in and her father walked with her. She turned and put her hand on her father’s broad chest. “Alone, daddy. I need to do this alone.”
“Asia, let me–”
“No, daddy. Stay here.”
He grabbed her and hugged her. She buried her face in his large chest and took a deep breath. She turned and walked through door and stopped at the edge of the table. Her father stood on the other side of the door with his hand on the glass wanting to do something but not knowing what it was. The man with the blue scrubs stood at the opposite end of the table.
“You take your time. Let me know when you’re ready,” he said.
Asia closed her eyes. Breathed in deeply through her nose. A movie began to play in her mind of her, her sister, and their best friend Angela, walking home from school one day. They walked past a group of boys and one of them said “look at the monkeys.” Atara was always more subdued than Asia and Angela, but not that day. She stopped and turned around.
“What did you say?”
The boys stopped and turned around. Asia was counting the heads. Three of them. It’d be an even fight.
“I said which one of you cowards said that?” Atara said as she dropped her book bag on the sidewalk, took off her earrings, and handed them to Angela.
“Atara, they aren’t worth it,” Asia said.
“Atara? What a stupid name,” one of the boys said.
“Why don’t you step up here and say that to my face?” Atara said.
Asia put her hand in front of her sister to keep her from moving too close to the enemy. Angela dropped her books and assumed a fighting stance. The stand-off had begun.
“Atara forget it. Let’s go,” said Asia.
Atara picked up her book bag and turned to walk away when it happened.
“You better keep walking, bitch,” one of the boys said.
Before Asia knew what was happening, Atara dropped her bag and ran up to one of the boys and punched him in the back of the head. Asia was stunned for a moment. She’d never seen her sister fight before. When one of the other boys tried to rush Atara, Angela jumped in and clothes-lined him.
Asia ran in and started swinging on the third boy just because he was there. The three boys were no match for the A-team. They landed punches like men. It took two crossing guards and a good Samaritan (who let Atara get in one more punch on purpose) to break up the fight.
Asia was jarred from the memory by the voice of the man in the blue scrubs.
“Ma’am? Are you okay?”
Asia shook her head. “I was thinking of the time when my sister and our best friend got in a fight with these three boys.”
The man in the blue scrubs looked at Asia with understanding in his eyes. “I understand.”
Asia nodded her head and the man pulled back the sheet just and tucked it below the chin of the corpse, then moved away to let Asia have a moment alone. Asia looked at her sister. Atara’s face was pale and lifeless. Her father looked on from the door. This was the last time he would see these two faces together.
Asia rubbed her twin sister’s pale face with her thumb and kissed her forehead, then her nose, then her lips. She laid her head on Atara’s chest and hugged her stiff body, hoping her sister would hug her back just one last time.
“How am I supposed to do this without you?” she said.
The room was silent. The hum of the fluorescent lights played like a dirge above them. She suddenly sat up to demand answers.
“What happened to her?” She looked at the man in the blue scrubs.
He looked back at her and then over to her father at the door.
“Answer me! What happened to her?”
Asia’s father rushed in the room. The coroner went to pull the sheet back over Atara’s body.
“Don’t you touch her,” Asia said.
The man in the blue scrubs froze. Asia turned to look at her father. The next words came out very slowly and deliberately. “What happened to her,” she asked again.
“She had a heart attack” her father said.
“A heart attack.”
“That’s not possible. She was a health nut.”
The man in the blue scrubs looked at Asia’s father as if he needed his permission to talk. Her father nodded.
“Sometimes they just happen.”
Asia looked at her sister again. She rubbed her hand over her sister’s hair. “Was she alone? Did she die alone?”
Asia’s father put his hand on her shoulder. “No, baby. She was at her job. In a meeting. She said she didn’t feel well and then she–”
Asia raised her hand. She couldn’t bear to hear any more. “What’s going to happen to her now?”
“We have to make her final arrangements,” her father said. He put his arm around Asia. “Come on. It’s time to go.”
Asia reached down and hugged her sister. Her father took a deep breath and tried to pull Asia back up. “Asia, we have to go now.”
Asia didn’t move.
“Asia,” her father said gently, “ you have to let go now.”
A week later the arrangements had been made and Asia sat lifeless in between her mother and father at the funeral. Staring at her twin sister in a casket was like staring her own mortality in the face. Asia stood and sat on cue but she was numb. The only thing that ran through her mind was how to begin her life without her sister and she couldn’t come up with an answer no matter how hard she tried.
Later at the interment after everyone left she stood next to her sister’s casket staring at the flower arrangement. Angela walked up quietly beside her and laced her fingers in between Asia’s.
“We aren’t the A-team anymore,” Asia said.
“When I walk away that’s it. How do I do that, Angie? How do I just turn and walk away?”
Angela let go of Asia’s hand and walked up to the casket. She looked at the flower arrangement and pulled off a tiny pink rose. Angela pressed her nose into the flower and let the sweet scent linger in her nose. She walked back to Asia. She handed Asia the flower. Asia took it. “Now what?”
Angela put her hands on Asia’s shoulders. “Take a deep breath.”
Asia took a deep breath and let it out. Tears ran down both of their faces. Angela took Asia’s hand. “Now we say something to her.”
“You go first,” Asia said.
“Okay,” Angela paused for a moment then began to speak, “I’m gonna miss you, girl. We ain’t blood, but that don’t matter. You’re my sister. When I have a child, boy or girl, I’m naming it after you, so you can be with me forever.”
“That was beautiful, Angie.”
“Thanks. Now it’s your turn.”
Asia stared at the white casket and all of the pink and purple flowers on top of it. “You always said that pink AND purple were your two favorite colors. You never would let anyone make you pick one over the other.” Asia and Angela both chuckled. “You’re the other half of me. Stay with me, Atara,” she whispered, “even as a shadow, even as a dream.”