Day 1

Day 1

Perdita woke to the blaring alarm clock radio combo as it played, turned to the maximum volume, “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.” She sits up in bed and turns the volume down enough that her thoughts begin to collect and the memory of who she is starts to come from the fog of sleep.

The morning light breaks easily through the cracked and yellow stained vertical blinds and illuminates the small motel room and it’s sparse, beaten up furniture. A round table sits in front of the window with a stack of yellow notebooks with formulas, notes, and handwritten calendars. Everything is neatly written notated, and well read. She knew every single word in those six legal pads, but she knew, in a couple of days, she’d have to read through them again.

The table was circular with one chair where the cushion was ripped, and the stuffing was coming out. She was lying in a full-sized bed with a worn mattress. A single lamp sits beside her on a cheap nightstand. In front of her is a single chest of drawers with a woodgrain RCA XL color television bolted on the top. Other than that, there was a bathroom with a toilet and a shower with small bottles of half used conditioner and shampoo.

She is naked when she sits up and scoots to the end of the bed with her feet on the flattened and stained carpet. There had been times in her life since The Incident that she had felt at a loss of who she was and where she was. To fix that, she had to ground herself by saying the month, date, and day.

“June eighteenth,” she pauses and thinks. “Monday.”

Then she said her name, her age, and her occupation while Wham! finished up their hit single. Finally, her body stopped tingling and the things around her stopped multiplying and her vision refocused back into everything being solid and singular. She turns off the radio and then stands in the middle of the room allowing the silence to fill her and settle in her body. There were things she had to do today that would require the focus that she used to have before The Incident.

Tomorrow she would be somewhere else happy that this day would be over and gone. That thing would have changed, finally, and she could breathe once again. Someone once, when she was having a bad day, told her that she would never have to repeat that same day over again. That every single day was a new day. That thought stuck with her until The Incident, and since then, it had felt like time had completely cease to mean anything. Every day was the same day since then, and Perdita knew that she was going to live that way until she fixed things. For the good or bad.

A cold shower with the grimy used bottles helped her ground herself more. She didn’t bother to turn on the light and showed by the light of the morning sun coming through the now opened blinds. Afterward she went to the table and pulled out the clothes that she had folded down into her black bag. She sat them out while dripping wet and sorted through the contents remaining to ensure everything was still where it was supposed to be.

This included her voice recorder, field notebook, the money that she had gotten wrapped, counted, and neatly placed in the false bottom, and a toothbrush. Also, inside were two silver bracelets with deep green gems set in the middle that, if she had at the moment, held to the sunlight, would look like the entire universe was glimmering just inside. She stared at everything laid out in front of here for a moment drying her hair with the towel and wondered exactly how she had made it this far.

There were answers, of course, she was a logical reasoning individual. But she didn’t want to think about it or what she was about to do. Both of those things, when she thought about them, made her hate herself, the universe, and the rules of the physical world. All of this, she knew, was working against her. And though she knew all the rules and how hard it was to break them, she did it anyways.

Perdita pulled on the stiff, still tagged clothes; a dark green shirt that slouched off one shoulder, a pair of straight legged high wasted jeans, and some random white shoes she picked off the rack. The girl hadn’t asked any questions when she unrolled a stack of hundreds to pay. She had just smiled showing lipstick-stained teeth and asked if she would have been interested in a card.

After pulling off the tags, she took all her belongings and packed them back in the bag minus the leatherbound notebook, and two BIC pens from a package she had in the side pocket of her bag. She had left everything else behind and this bag was the only thing she had left. She pulled on one of the silver bracelets and took the other, which was much smaller, and slipped it into her pocket.

Today was going to be the day, she thought, this was it.

Outside the morning was already too hot for her to consider comfortable. She had picked a room on the second floor, and she could see all the tops of the cars below her reflecting the white, unforgiving sun. From up there she could tell the pavement was already baked, she could smell the tar that stung her nose when she took a deep breath.

All the cars were empty. Most of the people, she figured, were night drivers and anyone left had gotten in late and were sleeping off the road dredge that had soaked into their bones. She could imagine some of them waking and eating pancakes later at a diner thought breakfast was way past before driving on to wherever they were going.

Because whatever this town was, she thought while trying to remember her car, it wasn’t anything that anyone should be their final stop. There had been numerous news articles she read of the place as well as a bunch of studies. The shoe factory on the outside of town used glue that, when used by the workers to assemble the soles, would eventually cause liver failure over years of exposure. Or that, eventually, the factory would be fined because of how the river turned orange and people that had stuck around got sick.

Right now, none of that was important. What was important was finding her car, looking up the address in her notebook, and then driving there so she could go on to the next step. She had, for so long, worried about the future that she had forgotten to live in the present. She laughed at herself at that thought, looked around to see if anyone saw her, and then spotted her car.

Just one step at a time, she thought, and according to her formulas and plans, this was step twelve-twenty-five. If the variables stayed the same, the outcome would go one of two ways. If it went one way, the steps would be over. If not, they would continue until the goal was accomplished.

The car was a ninety-eighty Oldsmobile that was solid black and had a few scratches around the bumper that she had put there a day prior. She opened the back door, the heat from inside the car was impossible to as it threatened to burn her skin, so she opened all the doors and stood there a minute looking over her notes. The book had folded pages, paperclips, and bookmarks which all were things that she needed to move to quickly. Before she started this task, the book was empty.

Finally, after the car cooled down, she rolled all the windows down, shut the doors and got in. Before she put the key in the ignition, she went over the steps on how to start the car and put it in drive. She said those things once while pointing at the appropriate sections, then said it again as she did them. It reminded her of someone narrating her actions as she did them, and that, to her send a sense of calm. She didn’t turn on the radio. Instead, she looked over the address and name of the restaurant-diner combo that was perched on the main road that passed just outside of town.

It was called the Tri-Color Gas n’ Dine.

She drove down the main streets of the sleepy town ignoring how clean the squat storefronts shone in the morning light. Nor did she notice how the men and women wore well pressed clothes and carried magazines and newspapers heading for their destinations. It was something so scenic and insignificant that if she had felt anything besides numbing grief, she would have slowed the car and took it in.

Instead, she was thinking about the person that was supposed to working at the Tri-Color Gas n’ Dine. The subject’s name was Sarah Coleman. All Perdita had to do was ensure that she was working and that nothing was out of the ordinary. She didn’t have to do that, but she wanted to make sure that the woman wasn’t home. That would complicate things and she wanted to keep it as clean as possible; all things considered.

The diner was, as she expected attached to a gas station. The roof of each were red, green, and blue striped. A long time ago there had been a company name written on the side, but it had long been taken down and the now name was painted on the side. There were seven cars already lined in front of the diner, so she had to park away. She could still see inside the large windows that revealed bright fluorescent lights, red pleather booths, a high-top bar, and the people all bent over papers and plates of food enjoying their breakfast.

Perdita looked over the data again.

Sarah was a thirty-four divorced mother with one girl of eight months named Natalie. Her daughter was being watched by an elderly woman in the neighborhood named Carol Simms. Sarah had a high school diploma and would only seek education that far. There was a high that she would keep this job until it shut down in five years or move job to job until she’s desperate and married a man named Jeremy Cornish who worked at the shoe factory. He liked to do only three things besides being an asshole at work:

1.) Sitting in his bare foot drinking Miller Lite.

2.) Beating on his woman.

3.) Molesting little girls.

That wasn’t going to happen, though. Perdita was going to save Natalie before any of that could happen to her. The next step in that was to confirm that Sarah was working. She sat there with her notebook in her lap going over the details and watching the people move through the restaurant. But the sun was getting too high in the sky and the glaring off the windows.

When she started this, there were rules that she had, but now she knew that she would have to break one. She took a deep breath and got out of the car and started walking toward the diner with her notebook clenched in her hand. That’s when Sarah stepped out of the diner, walked down the steps, and around the side pulling out a pack of cigarettes: American Spirit. Another check, Perdita thought, smoker.

She could have turned around, got into the car, and drove away with all her rules intact. But there was something about Sarah that she didn’t like to see; she was using her thumb to wipe away tears around her eyes while she held the cigarette between her pointer and middle finger. It was genuine worry that she had only recognized once before. So she walked toward Sarah and put on a kind smile.

Sarah finally noticed her as she neared. Neither of them noticed that the grass at their feet or the thick forest leaves around them grew brighter that if anyone else looked, it would have caused them to squint. The sun seemed to grow distant, and the bright blue sky darkened. None of this passed through their awareness because they knew each other without knowing each other. If someone was to see them together, even though they didn’t look anything alike, that person would have sworn that they were sisters.

Sarah considered Perdita for a moment when she came close, then offered a cigarette which she accepted. She put it to her lips as Sarah fired up the lighter. She inhaled deep and then exhaled.

“These things are going to kill you, you know,” Perdita said.

“A smoke isn’t going to be the thing that kills me,” Sarah laughed holding her elbow in her hand.

“You’re probably right,” Perdita smiled. She wasn’t. Lung cancer, age sixty-two.

“I’ve never seen you around,” Sarah said flicking the ashes. “Where are you coming from?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Perdita shrugged. “Only where I’m going.”

“And where’s that,” Sarah asked.

“Not here,” Perdita replied.

“You’re running,” Sarah nodded.

Perdita wanted to tell her that she was wrong and that she could fuck off. But instead, she nodded and stared at the woman. How could someone with her education read her so well? She didn’t know what to say so she sighed and took another pull.

“You got a man or kids,” she asked.

Perdita shook her head. She didn’t want to answer.

“I’ve got a run-away man and one girl, Natalie,” Sarah sighed.

“That’s nice,” Perdita said. She could feel her insides twist seeing the woman’s face.

“It’s more than nice,” she replied. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

This wasn’t what she wanted to hear. “But kids are hard,” Perdita said. “Right?”

“I didn’t know what true love was until I had her,” Sarah replied. “But I’m stuck here and I’m missing her first everything.”

“Then quit,” Perdita said. “Leave this place and go.”

“To where?” Sarah flicked away her cigarette. “To another town just like this one? With men just like these? To a job just like this?”

There wasn’t a good answer. She knew this. Sarah knew this. They stood there feeling hopelessness of two different kinds press on them. The sky was growing darker, the leaves greener, and the sun farther away. This wasn’t what she wanted to happen, Perdita thought, and she let it happen anyways.

So she opened her book to a section with a list of numbers. She copied a set of them out, then tore the section out and handed it a very confused Sarah. Perdita told her to quit her job after her shift and never come back, to use those numbers and everything will be okay.

“And don’t marry a man named Jeremy Cornish,” Perdita said.

“Why are you crying,” Sarah asked. “What is this?”

“Do what I say,” Perdita said. “For Natalie.”

And then she was back in her car. The sun came back, and the colors returned to normal. She was crying too hard to hear a thundering crack that echoed through the entirety of the earth as things shifted and split in different directions. There were consequences of what had just happened, but she didn’t care. Instead, she drove to the final address written down in her book. It was a trailer park; trailer forty-five with dried up shrubbery and grinding window AC units.

She gets out of the car, walks up the wooden porch, and knocks on the flimsy storm door. An old woman answers the door holding a child in her arms. Perdita looks down at the child and it looks at her. There are things the old woman is saying but she can’t hear them. Natalie’s little brown eyes lock onto her own and there’s a deep primordial recognition. One that time and space could not change, alter, or destroy.

Then there’s a click. Her body began to shift, and things began to stretch out in front of her infinitely. She could feel her stomach churn and there’s a single loud click. The sound of rushing water, thunderstorms, and roaring wind. Then the darkness took her and she knew nothing or no one.

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