There are dishes in the sink, and the kitchen trash can is overflowing onto the floor. The refrigerator is a billboard of finger paintings, homemade Mother’s Day cards, and past due notices. In the living room my coffee table is piled with stacks of bills and magazines, and I haven’t vacuumed the carpet in weeks. Piles of laundry dot the length of the hallway.
The uncontrollable clutter of my life is crammed into this apartment decorated with second hand furniture and hand-me-downs from more affluent relatives. It is one of a hundred units in the complex where I’ve lived for four years, but still don’t know my neighbors. It is past noon on Saturday, and I am still in bed. My son is sitting on the floor watching cartoons and eating his third bowl of cereal.
I wish I were someone else, someone who is happy and motivated and successful. I pray to experience a miraculous transformation into the kind of person who counts her blessings and who trusts it will work out in the end, but I’m trapped in the inertia of discontent. I am going nowhere, all the time, always foundering, always failing over and over to find a solid footing.
Underneath my skin and behind a cage of bones, my heart is a swamp, festering and sticky. There, knee-deep in the muck, lives the real me, the shameful me, the me I don’t like to look at, but can’t stand to leave behind — because if I do, then who will I be?
I keep my heart locked, and tell myself it is empty and not worthy of exploration. Then, by chance something — a whiff of cologne, a forgotten song, an old photograph — turns the key. I hear the beguiling click click click as the tumblers fall, and the door to my heart swings open, revealing a labyrinth of corridors, easy to get lost in and difficult to escape. I wander in. Just for a moment, to see if I have changed, if I am stronger, because maybe now I am different and finally whole.
I am not.
Having gone in, I find that I cannot leave; the door disappears and I have no choice but to keep going, because the only way out is farther in. It takes a long time to slog through the caverns – days, weeks, months. The worst part of me starts to like it there. I stop trying to pull my feet out of the mud, and I dive, eyes open, into the quagmire.
Somehow I am still part of the world. I wear my mask, a false face I have worn all my life that hides the real me. There I am, making dinner for my son, kissing my boyfriend, laughing with friends. I am an automation walking through my forgotten life, and no one notices I am gone.
I am angry at everyone. Don’t you see I’m not there? Can’t you tell I’m only pretending?
They cannot. I am too good at being someone else.
After awhile I am too tired to be angry anymore. I have no idea where I am, or how I got there. I try to wipe the slime from my eyes and have a look around, but the muck is not on them, it’s in them. Frantic, I hammer on the walls of my heart, trying to punch a hole through it with my fists. I must escape, and leave the real me behind, because the real me is delicious poison, and I want to drink it, and live alone forever.
It takes a long time – days, weeks, months – but finally I find the door, and I run through it, pausing only long enough to lock my heart again.
I swear I will never return, but I keep my mask on, just in case. It is uncomfortable, but it keeps me alive.
Thank you for reading. Here’s are some ways you can help keep this feature going:
- Submit a first line suggestion for next week in the comments section. No obscenities, please. Prompts will be chosen at random, lottery style.
- Come back to Bright Tuesday next Friday to find out which suggested first line was chosen, and to read the next Flash Fiction Friday story (750 words or less).
- I appreciate constructive criticism, so please offer your thoughts and opinions in the comments.
Fiction Writers: You are invited to write your own story using today’s prompt to post on your own blog. Please include a link back to this post, and leave a link to your story in the comments section. Doing so allows participating authors to read and comment on each other’s work, and also helps readers find new authors to enjoy.