by Em Catrin
A curse is a heavy weight to bear.
| Flames and smoke pour through the window, and I sigh and put my hands on my hips. I want desperately to feel upset but instead, all I feel is defeat. The firetruck roars up the street, its wailing siren shattering the quiet and the flashing lights paint the red brick faces of the buildings. I give a sheepish wave as Dan, the battalion chief, makes his way across the street to me. He scrubs a hand over his bald head and gives me a wide grin. |
“Well, if it isn’t my favorite customer, Bad Luck Bailey. I’d think you would know better than to try cooking again.” He chuckles, slinging an arm over my shoulder. I grimace and feel my face flush. I have the mind to look properly chastised as I lower my head and my shoulders creep up to my ears.
“That’s me, Bad Luck Bailey.” He laughs, and the corners of his eyes crinkle and the lines framing his mouth and bushy mustache deepen. “The oven wasn’t even on this time,” I say with a scowl and cross my arms over my chest. The nickname rankles if only because it’s true. The whispers start up as business owners and customers bleed out onto the sidewalk, their hushed voices like hot pokers.
“What do you know, Bad Luck Bailey strikes again. It’s like she’s cursed. It’d serve her right,” Elise says loudly and I glance over. Her mouth curls into a cruel smile, the scar on her cheek puckering at the action, and she tosses a lock of wheat colored hair over her shoulder. Guilt eats at me.
The comment echoes through me and I tip my head back, letting out a heavy breath. I stare at the bulging, dark clouds for a moment and I want them to crack open and wash away the sticky coat of shame and embarrassment that clings to me. If only she knew how right she was. I wish I had a crazy Aunt Maude somewhere who bent over a bubbling cauldron and whispered a spell into it as she mixed around newts’ eyes and old snake skins all because I broke her wedding china to blame this on. Instead, I’m haunted with the knowledge that it’s my fault and I don’t know if I will ever be able to rid myself of this Curse. I’m not sure I deserve to be free of it. I drop my head, fix my eyes back on the burning building, and force myself to absorb the destruction I’ve wrought yet again.
I wake with a start, screams chase me to wakefulness and my stomach churns. I throw my blankets off and race to the bathroom, an all too familiar routine. My knees crack against the grimy linoleum tile like a gunshot in the night. I empty my stomach, the muscles aching at the violence of it. Fat tears fall splash across my cheeks, snot pours from my nose, and I gasp for breath, heaving again as the memory of my nightmare slams into me.
The night is warm and muggy, and my sides hurt from laughing at Elise as she belts out an off-key version of the song on the radio. Her blond hair whips around her, tendrils dancing out the open window as we speed down the road.
“Stop! I’m gonna throw up!” Kylie shouts over the music, her words broken up by fits of giggles. Elise twists in her seat and beams at her sister, pointing an invisible microphone at her and Kylie is too busy howling in the backseat to join in. The song finally ends as we fly towards the intersection, the green light a beacon in the dark.
“Isn’t this so much better than wallowing in your own self-pity? You’re lucky you have the best friends in the world, you know,” Kylie teases, unbuckling her seat belt so she can lean forward and punch my arm. I roll my eyes and turn my head back to face her.
“Yes, yes. I have the best friends in the history of ever. Now put your seatbelt back on. I don’t want to get pulled over,” I tell her. She throws herself back into her seat and grumbles under her breath.
Elise screams and its drowned out by squealing tires and in the next second the deafening roar of crunching metal. Then we’re spinning and skidding across the asphalt.
I don’t know how I got out of the car. It’s my first thought as I stare at the wreckage followed quickly by blinding pain. My face burns from where it slammed into the airbag, my body aching from the force of the collision, and I can barely hear over the ringing of my ears. I’m vaguely aware that somewhere, someone is screaming. It smells of gasoline and smoke but there’s something else. Something sharper, more metallic. At first, I think it’s the metal, hot from friction, but as my brain comes back online, I realize it’s from the blood slicking my skin and painting the windshield. It’s coming from the lump in the road, growing and pooling and straining towards me like fingers beckoning me forward to drown in my sin. I can hear Elise still screaming for her sister who will never call back and I’m frozen. I know the Universe is watching and that She can see down into my soul as it blackens with every selfish second that I stand here to protect myself from seeing the aftermath up close and in technicolor. I know She’s going to punish me for the greedy breaths I gulp down that should belong to Kylie.
The sun has risen and chased away the ghosts I spent the night with on my bathroom floor when I finally get up. I wish it could chase away the all-consuming guilt. I turn the knob on the shower wall, the old pipes clanking, and it sputters weakly for a moment before spitting out icy water. No matter how long I wait, I know it won’t heat because the Curse knows I’m unworthy of the comfort a warm shower could offer. I bathe quickly, gritting my teeth to keep them from chattering out of my head, and when I pull my towel from the rack, it snags on a sharp corner and tears down the middle. The Universe laughs at me, reminding me that I fell out of Her favor all those years ago.
My morning is as I’ve come to expect. The dryer stopped in the middle of the night, so my clothes are damp and mildewy, my thrift store coffee maker shorts out when I start it up, and my key breaks off in the door lock of my ancient car. On my walk to the coffee shop just down the street, I step in wet cement with my brand-new sneakers, but I don’t notice until the barista shouts at me for tracking it across their floor. Once I’ve cleaned it all up, I feign interest at the papers on the overflowing community corkboard as I wait for my coffee. My gaze snags on a flyer for a metaphysical shop that boasts “HEAL ALL YOUR AILMENTS BOTH PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL” and I scoff, unable to comprehend the desperation that would make someone resort to candles and rocks to fix all their problems. Even as I think it, I can’t quite ignore the voice in the back of my mind that wonders if it could be real. My name is called and I grab my coffee from the woman behind the counter, stuffing a few loose bills into the tip jar, hoping that it will bring me a step closer to redemption. On my way back to my decrepit apartment, I trip and spill my coffee before I even get a sip of it.
Weeks pass in a blur of helping David, the owner of the restaurant, scrub away soot and replace drywall, and the nights are riddled with that awful nightmare and cold sweats. Every day I pass a fluttering flyer for a mystical cure-all and finally, I give in. It can’t hurt anything to go look.
The shop is dim, hazy with the cloying perfume of incense, and my eyes can’t seem to settle in one place for too long until they land on a woman propped up behind the front counter. Her dark hair is streaked through with silver, and she runs a bejeweled hand through it, the bangles on her wrist jangling. She is a whirlwind of color against the dark blue walls.
“Welcome in! How can I help you?” she says. Her dark, glittering eyes are assessing, and I worry she can see all the parts of me I hide.
“I saw your poster and I was curious,” I reply, moving through the store. I glance to my left and startle at the presence of the woman, not having heard her move.
“Your aura is muddy.” She steps closer, those stormy eyes roving over my face. “You carry a heavy burden and I think I have something that can help.” She disappears in a flurry of skirts behind a beaded curtain at the far end of the room. The sound of her rummaging drifts out and when she returns, she bypasses me for a wall of labelled jars. Her fingers dance over the glass before she settles on one, producing a purple, velvet pouch from the pocket of her paisley skirt, and scoops some of the grey powder into it. She waves me to the counter, and I follow obediently, my eyes taking in the pouch and the glossy, black stones laid out on the wood slab. “I can see the doubt in your eyes, my dear. I can give you this remedy but it requires you to believe. Not just in the power it holds but that you deserve for it to work. You have to let go of the guilt that weighs you down.”
My eyes fly up to hers and electricity zings through my body, a restless energy building up under my skin. How could she know? I swallow around the lump in my throat and nod, sliding my card across the counter to her.
“When you get home, sprinkle the powder under your bed. The rocks you’ll place under your pillow,” she says, ringing everything up and placing it in the palm of my hand, closing my fingers over them.
That night as I lay in bed, dust spread and rocks safely tucked beneath my pillow, I stare at the photo I pulled out of my nightstand. The three of us, Kylie, Elise, and I, stand with our arms around each other, grins so big our cheeks must’ve ached. It’s been years since I looked at it and I can’t stop the flood of tears. I hug the picture to my chest and whisper my apologies into the dark. I speak until my throat is raw and my eyes burn with exhaustion. I say her name, the word foreign on my tongue, until it’s embedded in the muscle. I imagine her laying next to me, her hand in mine, as she listens to me as I repent. I tell her that her loss aches like a phantom limb and that I wish it was me who died instead. She glares at me. I tell her that her mother doesn’t blame me but I’m not sure I deserve the forgiveness. She props herself on her elbow, a frown marring her eternally young face. She yells at me, reminds me it was an accident and that there was nothing that I could have done, and I should know she would never have blamed me. She lays with me until I fall asleep.
When wake from the nightmare a few hours later, I find it wasn’t as brutal as normal. I climb out of bed and turn on the shower to wash the sweat from me and when I step into the water, I still. It’s warm.