Prompt: Begin your story with the line “Her laugh broke the silence”
Her laugh broke the silence. A soft, breathy laugh – more sigh than giggle. “Nevermind, just ignore me.” She shook her head a little, maybe to show him she was joking, but more as if she was shaking the crazy thought out of her head, like shaking water out of your ear after a swim. The thoughts had been crowding her lately, they felt like tangible objects stuck in her head and crowding out everything else. She couldn’t think straight.
He looked at her with that patronizing, worried look he gave her. “I think you should go to bed early tonight,” he said. “You’ve been up late too much and you’re starting to get a little frantic again.”
Ah yes, she thought. More sleep. That was his prescription for everything. He was sure that if she just slept a solid eight hours each night she’d be perfectly normal. Whatever that meant. It was easier to humor him, so she knew she would go to bed when he did that night. She would pretend to sleep until he was deep asleep, and then she would lay there awake for hours. It was no use, she just couldn’t sleep.
But as she lay awake that night, the thoughts became overpowering. The more she thought about life, the world, and existence, the more convinced she became that nothing was real. Even her body ceased to have any meaning to her. It felt like a cage holding her in and if she could only just get out, she could be free. It all made so much sense to her, but whenever she had tried to explain things to him she knew she sounded crazy. And then he gave her the look.
Early in their relationship she had told her future husband about the diagnosis she’d been given when she was a teenager: that she suffered from chronic bouts of severe depression with episodes of paranoid delusion. Since that time, he had perfected the look: the “oh sweetie, you’re just being crazy again” look. Sometimes there were insidious little comments that went along with the look, but lately he didn’t need to say anything at all. The look was enough.
As she thought about this she turned to look at her husband sleeping by her side and the sense of unreality became overpowering. She was sure that if she reached out to touch him he wouldn’t be there. She lifted her hand to try, but slowly let it drop down on the comforter again. His breath was slow and regular and as his chest rose the comforter rose as well. She could almost feel it move. In a daze, she turned her head to the other side to check the clock. 4:22 A.M. As she stared at the lighted numbers, they began to shimmer. The longer she looked the more they shimmered, and then they began to vibrate and shake. Suddenly all of the sounds in the room, the city noises from outside, the ambient noise of the air conditioning and the refrigerator, everything became dulled and her ears started to ring. It became more and more intense until she almost couldn’t stand it. Just as suddenly it stopped. The other sounds came back and the lights stopped shimmering. She had to get out of there.
Quietly and carefully she pushed the comforter off and slipped out of bed. Without turning on any lights she found a pair of jeans and pulled them on. She didn’t bother changing out of the old college t-shirt she was sleeping in. As the front door clicked shut and locked behind her, she realized she hadn’t put on shoes or taken her keys or phone or wallet or anything at all. None of that seemed important anymore. The main thing was just to get away.
At 4:22 A.M. even the city was mostly asleep. The early-morning runners and delivery trucks weren’t out yet and most people had made their way home from a night out. Sure there were the late-night partiers heading over to the 6:00 A.M. bars and there were still cabs on the street. But it was nearly as quiet as it would ever be. The lights from the 24-hour Walgreens poured onto the corner and burned her eyes as she passed. And she knew there would be music pounding at the club down the street. So she walked up a block to get away from it all. The brownstones on this street were dark and stately – she gazed at them as she passed and tried to imagine the people living inside. Again the sense of unreality clutched her. She walked on almost unseeing.
The next thing she became aware of was the lake coming to meet her. This, at least, seemed real. It was a calm night and the occasional gust of wind sent small ripples across the surface, just often enough to create a sense of constant movement. The city to her right sparkled, lights still on in all the buildings. The water called to her and she felt herself drifting away from her body. The lights began to shimmer again and the air around her seemed to hum. It seemed that she had almost understood something, she had almost reached clarity. And then the pain came.
A sharp, stabbing pain through her head and right eye. It burned. Every sound and light and movement made it stab again and again. Suddenly she was back in her body and it was the worst feeling possible. She staggered under the pain and found the nearest bench to sit down. Just holding her head up was too much to bear, so she leaned over and cradled her head in her hands. Where a moment before she had felt herself filling up the sky, now all that she was was pinned down to this one spot, to this pain.
She must have fallen asleep, though how that was possible she couldn’t imagine. She was vaguely aware that someone was calling her name. She opened her eyes a crack and saw the dawn covering everything with a soft powdering of light.
“Oh baby,” he said, his voice worried and gentle, but with an edge of irritation and condescension. “Are you ok? What the hell are you doing out here? I woke up and you were gone and I had no idea where you were. You didn’t take your phone… I tried to call and heard it ringing on the desk. You scared the shit out of me. I mean, Jesus Christ.” While he had been talking she had sat up and looked around. He kept waiting for her to say something and when she didn’t he just kept talking. He was getting angry now. She needed to say something to head him off, to make this better.
“I’m, ah… I don’t know. I… have a migraine. I thought some fresh air would help. I’m… um. I’m sorry.” She tried to look at him and give him a little smile. “I think I need to go home and sleep.”
He gave her the look and shook his head. “Alright, here, let me help you. Come on. Let’s get home.” He pulled her up and put his arm around her and started to steer her towards home.
She looked back at the water as they walked away. What had it been trying to tell her? What had she missed? And how could she get back there? She meekly fell into step with her husband. Back home. Back to “real” life. She took a deep breath and tried to be brave and looked ahead. Ahead was all there was, after all.