The woman leaned back, her tired eyes struggling to focus on the faces around her, blurs that surrounded her bedside. She could hear them whispering, concern in their voices as they refused to acknowledge the simple truth. She was dying.
It was an unexceptional moment in her life, she thought to herself philosophically. Surprisingly, she experienced no anxiety, only a calm peace that settled over her body. She anticipated the final breath, almost looked forward to it with a kind of morbid acceptance.
The voices around her got quieter, the turbulent babble of the living finally vanquished by the impending silence of death.
Instead she saw around her the faces of people long gone, the ghosts of her past coming back to haunt her in her final moments. They danced, swirling in vivid colors that reminded her of her youth, yet she felt strangely detached from them. Was her memory playing tricks again? She could no longer tell, her fatigued brain unable to distinguish between reality and the world that existed solely inside her head.
She blinked and suddenly she found herself in the middle of a party. She stumbled forward in shock as the sweating bodies wove their way around her, the pounding music throbbing through the floor up into her veins.
The lights flashed violently, and in the semi-darkness she could see the faces of her friends, mascara running in sweaty streams down their cheeks, their damp hair sticking to the skin on their backs and soaking through what little clothes they were wearing.
Their half-naked bodies twined around her, to the left they connected, tongues finding one another for a brief moment of ecstasy before pulling apart again, their shrill drunken laughs dismissing the moment into the timeline of the night.
The woman reeled in shock, the lovers blurring as her eyes struggled to focus. Suddenly, she was aware that she was beyond drunk, whatever she had taken earlier was mixing with the liquor to burn her lungs, pulling her forward into a blur of semi-consciousness.
Stumbling out of the writhing, indistinguishable shapes, she spotted the bathroom, the dull yellow door retreating from her vision as she pushed her way into it. Stumbling hard, she landed on the cracked tile floor, pulling herself by the edge of the grimy sink.
Spotting the mirror, she stared at herself in shock, her reflection fragmented by streaks of lipstick and broken glass. Brilliant blue eyes peered back at her from under a sweaty curtain of dull blond hair, clouded with a haze of drugs and alcohol. Her skin glistened with sweat and what remained of her makeup; her thick foundation smeared across her oily pores.
She heard retching from the stall behind her and as she turned, a man stumbled out of the stall, clutching onto the door for support.
He reeled into her, seemingly unaware of her presence, but she felt electricity run up her spine. Strangely, she knew him, remembered his body rubbing against hers as they danced to the harsh music, his tongue running circles inside her mouth.
She blinked again and found herself on a stage, the raptured faces from a sea of black swimming before her eyes.
Somehow she was giving a speech, her hands clutching the podium before her, the words flowing out of her mouth with an easy rhythm. Finishing, she stepped back to a wave of applause.
The president of the college approached her beaming to shake her hand. “Congratulations,” he whispered softly in her ear. She nodded slowly, catching her reflection in the glass behind the stage.
Her blond hair was pulled back neatly, her makeup done to perfection to accent her beautiful eyes, now clear of foreign substances and lit from within with a piercing intelligence.
She looked into the crowd and spotted the man from the club, cheering wildly as she stepped off the stage. He was next to her parents, who were smiling proudly. In shock, she realized they were cheering for her. It had taken her so long to reach this point, but she had done it.
Apprehensive for what the future entailed, she felt her worries subside as she considered the eyes of her fiancé. She knew with him that she was safe. They would be getting married in only a few short months. She already had a job lined up, but she doubted that she would have to work long if they managed to have the kids they so badly wanted.
“I now pronounce you man and wife…”
She looked at his lips, curved upwards into a smile, much closer now than they had been only a few moments before.
Somehow she was in a wedding dress, the heavy fabric pulling on her slim frame, the eyes of her friends and family watching.
“You may kiss the bride!”
He swept her into his arms, his lips curving gently around hers, his tongue inside her mouth for a brief moment before they sprung apart, beaming, to the cheers of the watching audience.
Then they were tangled together in the sweaty sheets of a generic hotel room, limbs intertwined under the florescent lighting.
She screamed in agony, an unbelievable pain tearing its way out of her body.
“Shh, shh, baby, it’s alright. You’re gonna be fine, baby, you’re gonna be fine.”
She could feel her nails digging into his hands, drawing blood as her back arched and she let out another breathtaking screech.
Suddenly she heard crying.
“It’s a girl!”
She closed her eyes, moving her lips in a silent prayer of gratitude. Thank god, the baby had survived.
“Baby, baby, look!”
She opened her eyes and twisted her head to her husband, beaming proudly at the little bundle he held in his arms.
Grinning, he gently handed the child to her.
She smiled, leaning over to consider her daughter’s eyes, the soft blue irises; the same color as her own.
A sharp crying brought her back. Sitting upright, she gasped as she realized that she must have fallen asleep at the kitchen table, her head resting next to a milk bowl that contained the remaining dregs of her cereal.
She could hear Rose sobbing in the next room, her little body producing a heinous noise that outweighed the physical size of her lungs.
Groaning, she slowly stood up, her greasy hair falling messily on her shoulders. She staggered into the next room, cursing the day she and her husband had decided to have children.
Staggering over to Rose’s crib, however, the baby was gone.
She reeled in shock for a minute, registering that the sound had stopped, the room neatly organized without the usual chaos that showed a child had ever lived there.
Blinking, she crashed back into reality as the noise starting again and she found herself staring into the red and purple face of her daughter, screaming to be fed.
The quality of the memories began to take on a dreamy quality now, and she felt separated from them, the grainy images affecting her ability to remember clearly.
What was happening to her?
Suddenly she found herself moving faster, the pictures flashing quicker and quicker before her eyes.
She saw the face of her husband, gazing back at her from the light of a candlelit table; it was their five-year anniversary.
She saw Rose enter kindergarten, grasping her to her chest for a last embrace before her daughter left forever.
She saw her belly blossom under her loose clothing in her mirror, the same stomach that once held Rose, was re-expanding to hold another.
She felt the pain of labor once again and watched as this child grew; Rose and her new son fighting and laughing as they discovered the joys of childhood.
She watched as Rose graduated high school, then college, with Matt right behind her. She could feel the pride in her chest, her husband beaming next to her as they watched their children grow and change, slowly becoming adults in their own right.
And then they were alone. Their house empty and bare, yet filled with new possibilities.
Slowly, she and her husband began to rediscover each other, finding each other like strangers, yet familiar in a comforting way. The same love that had sustained them in their youth changing into something more steadfast, more reassuring, yet just as passionate in their twilight years.
Then he began to pull away, slowly but surely, the cancer was destroying his body one day at a time.
She watched as he grew frail, his face collapsing in a sea of tired wrinkles. Then she was standing at his funeral, surrounded by a sea of black.
The tears fell freely from her eyes as she watched his coffin being lowered into the ground and she held her two children close, yet again there was that flicker of doubt; an uncertainty in the images she was seeing before her.
Gasping she felt the sharp sting of electricity tear through her veins, dragging her back into the land of the living one last time.
She felt the jolt again, the doctors trying desperately to restart her broken heart. But it was no use, they were doomed to failure and she watched them fade before her eyes.
Surprisingly the people who had been gathered around her bedside were now gone, and it was only the sharp sting of fluorescent lighting on plastic chairs to show where they once were.
Where was her daughter? Or did she still have a daughter?
She was growing increasingly confused, reality and fallacy clashing to confuse her. But she didn’t have time to figure it out.
Already she could see the room fading into a sea of black, her vision narrowing until she could see nothing but the vast emptiness before her.
“Call it. Time of death, 8:45 am.”
“Bloody shame, ain’t it? I hate to see these kids in here, strung out of their minds on heroin or whatever it is they’re taking these days. Ah well, someone had better notify her parents. Take her on down to the morgue.”