I open my eyes. The nightmare is still fresh in my memory. I remember I was running—although I can’t remember why—and my body hurt. My heart is still racing, and my pulse is throbbing inside my temples. I try to remember more, but the memory is fading.
I get out of bed and go to the shower. I have a bad taste in my mouth, so I let the water run while I brush my teeth. I look at myself in the mirror, checking for anything that could have caused the pain. But all I see is my disheveled hair with my red locks falling over my face, covering the freckles on my cheeks.
I hold the brush with my teeth, while I tie my hair in a ponytail, and then I stretch my arms. My green pajama shirt pulls up, showing my round belly. I turn to the side and look at it, admiring the bump it makes under my green and blue pants. I run my hands over it.
A sudden noise startles me, and I drop my toothbrush. It makes a ‘thud’ sound on the ground.
“Did I scare you?” asks Paul.
“Just enough to give me a heart attack,” I reply, bending to reach for the toothbrush.
“Let me get it for you,” he says, and before I can stop him, he hands it to me.
“I could have gotten it,” I say ungratefully. “I’m not an invalid, you know?”
“Ok, ok, I’m just trying to help,” he says while lifting his hands in surrender. “I just want both my girls to be ok,” he adds, kissing me on the cheek.
“How do you know it’s a girl?”
“I just know,” he says while hugging me.
I look at our images in the mirror. We look so young and good-looking, carrying our life together. Nothing could be more perfect. But then he asks, “Can I join you in the shower?” and I realize how wrong I was.
I open my eyes. My heart is pounding, and I can feel my pulse throbbing inside my temples. I am out of breath, and the feeling of warm water and soap is still fresh in my memory. I look around the small room, a bit disoriented, but all I can see are the bunk beds and the chairs that contain our belongings. My black boots are on top of mine. I can hear someone snoring.
The yellow nightlight is still on, left not as a courtesy to us, but to help them see us, just in case anyone is crazy enough to try to escape. It happened once. A young girl, new, cried all day and night until she yelled “I can’t do it anymore” and ran out the door. We never saw her again.
I close my eyes. I can’t think about that now. I try to concentrate on the dream until I realize that I need to use the bathroom. But I can’t. It’s too early, and I don’t want to get in trouble. I try to go back to sleep, but after a while, I can’t hold it anymore. I’ll have to take the risk. I slowly get up, trying not to wake up anyone. I walk out of the room looking for the night guard. I see her at the end of the hallway, running, gun in hand.
“What is it?” she asks, pointing at me.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” I reply, raising my hands. “I can’t hold it.”
She looks at me, thinking about my request. I know that she’s going to have to report it to her supervisor. I know that they will have to notify their boss. That they will take it out of my break. But I gotta go.
“Please,” I add.
She frowns but then talks on the radio. I can’t hear what they say, but she replies, “Roger that” and motions for me to go.
“Thank you,” I add, walking slowly and making sure that my hands are still up. She follows me to the door, where I repeat “Thank you,” before closing the door.
Only then I can breathe. I close my eyes, and for a moment I forget where I am. Until I hear the guard saying, “Hurry up. The shift is about to start.”
I finish my business and I go out, remembering to keep my hands up.
I lower my hands while my nightgown slips down, covering my body. I jump in bed, wrapping myself in the soft, cold sheets. But I keep tossing and turning, unable to sleep. I look at my husband’s peaceful face in front of mine, and I throw my arm at him.
“What’s up, babe?” he mumbles, his eyes closed.
“I can’t sleep.”
“I don’t know,” I lie.
He must have noticed because he opens his eyes.
“Is that nightmare, right?”
I kiss him. He knows me so well.
“Babe, you know that it’s only a dream, right? It’s not real.”
“I know, but—”
“But what?” he interrupts me.
“Nothing. It’s just that it feels so real. Like I’m crossing the bridge.”
“I read once that ‘A bed is a bridge between dreams and reality.’ ”
He stares, not understanding.
“I am on a bed now,” I explain.
“I’m serious,” I reply, punching him on the shoulder, but also feeling a little less serious.
“Come here,” he says, pulling me closer and wrapping me in his embrace.
“You can sleep here, and when you wake up, I’ll still be here. Ok?”
I nod and close my eyes.
The shift begins and I’m already tired. But I have to go on with the day, or I’ll never see the next one. I shove the rocks inside the cart, and when it’s ready, I push it to the end of the tunnel. There’s a guard in there, holding her long gun against her chest. I leave the cart in the line and go back for more.
At the end of my shift, I sit next to the others, not knowing if they’re the ones who will sleep in the same room with me tonight since we’re all assigned rooms at random every night. One more trick to keep us from escaping. Sometimes I’m not sure who is more afraid of whom. But I can’t think about that now. I look around to see if I recognize anyone, which it’s hard to do, with the hats on our heads and all the black soot covering our faces.
The woman next to me finishes her meal and looks greedily at my plate. I would normally growl at her and turn around, but there is something about those big black eyes, and the white around them shining in the dark that reminds me of something that I can’t recall; something similar to pity, and I feel it stir up inside of me. I hand her my plate without thinking, and she snatches it, taking too many bites of the bread too quickly. I am afraid that she might choke, and then we will all be in trouble.
“Slow down,” I whisper.
“Quiet!” yells the guard, walking toward us.
But by the time she reaches us, the woman has finished eating and I have recovered my plate.
I am sitting outside, reading a romance novel. Paul is throwing a ball at the dog. The black Labrador runs to the end of the yard, grabs it, and then brings it back and drops it at his master’s feet, and then they repeat the process.
I put down the novel, bored with it. The endings are always the same. The heroin gets the guy, and they live happily ever after. I already have my happy ending, so why would I need to read about it? I look at my handsome husband instead, but a thought is bothering me. I have been trying to remember when I met him and, for the life of me, I can’t. Was it when we were both going to college or was it after?
The doctor said that pregnancy can cause some memory lapses, so maybe that is why; but the thought is still there, like a splinter under my skin.
Paul accidentally throws the ball at my feet, and the puppy comes over, flapping his big ears. The ball has gone under my recliner. I grab it and I’m about to throw it when he looks at me with those big, black eyes,
only the white showing around his completely black face, and I freeze. I have seen that face before. But where?
“Mary!” yells Paul, shaking me. “Are you ok?”
“YES,” I reply, louder than intended.
“Are you sure? It’s just that you were frozen. I kept calling you and you didn’t respond—”
“I’m ok,” I interrupt him, and throw the ball. He looks at me, still skeptical. I grab his hand to reassure him. “It’s the pregnancy, you know? The doctor said that it’s normal to zone out,” I lie.
He nods, still staring at me. I am grateful when the dog brings the ball back and drops it at my feet.
We’re in line, waiting for our assigned breaks when the same woman stands next to me. “Thank you for the food,” she whispers. I nod and move away before she says anything else. The last thing that I want is to lose my turn because I was caught talking.
“Twenty-One!” the guard finally yells. I move up front. “You were in the bathroom for five minutes this morning, so you only have 10 minutes left. Is that clear?”
Damn it, I think; but I nod, nonetheless.
I open the door to the room. There are 20 or so capsules aligned against the wall. I choose the first empty one. I close the door behind me and attach the monitors around my head. The cabin is cold, but I don’t care. I look at the options on the screen: beaches, mountains, forests. But I skip them all. I know exactly where I’m going. I close my eyes.
Rommy Nelson is the assistant student editor for Oak Tree Journal. She is also currently pursuing a degree in education at EGCC. Rommy has a background in journalism, outreach, social work, case management and is currently working as an instructional assistant for a special needs’ classroom. She’s also a member of the EGCC Writing Circle, the Southern California Writer’s Association, the Writer’s League of Texas, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. In her spare time, she loves reading, writing, gardening and spending time with her family.