Ghosts On The Stairs – Part Two
Read part one here!
The smell of bacon and freshly brewed coffee called me from my slumber. I carefully made my way downstairs; every muscle in my body hurt.
“How are you feeling?” my mom said as she kissed me on the head like she used to when I was home from school, sick. I shot her a fake smile, as I reached for the sugar and a spoon. “I know when you are lying to me. Are you drinking again?” The words flew out of her mouth as a tear rolled down her cheek.
“No, Mama, I swear. I don’t know what happened, the last thing I remember was going to the bathroom and…” I could not bring myself to finish the sentence.
My mother grabbed my face. Her hands were hot from fresh coffee and anger. I could smell the coffee and cinnamon emanating from her lips as she spoke. “So help me, Riley, if you are drinking again” My mother’s voice shook with frustration.
I pulled the small red plastic chip from my pocket. “Here, Mama, this is from Thursday’s meeting. After class, I took the train home and that was it. My mother poured black coffee into my favorite yellow mug with big purple flowers painted on it.
“Riley,” my mom said, her voice even.
I hesitated. “Yeah?”
“How is your arm?” We both looked down, and my eyes widened at a large ugly bruise on my right arm I have no memory of getting. “I have to work tonight, but I am calling Howard. I’m going to see if he can take you to another meeting.”
I sipped my coffee, knowing I would never win this argument. My mom wandered over to the wall phone and began to dial. I could hear her sobbing into the phone as I tiptoed upstairs. With my heart racing, I made my way into the bathroom. I struggled to look in the mirror while I scrubbed yesterday’s makeup off my scared face. A tear rolled down my cheek, and I began brushing my jagged and splintered teeth.
I jumped sideways as if I saw a substantial black widow spider.
I pulled the black shower curtain closed behind me, taking comfort in the darkness. I winced as hundreds of drops of fiery hot water hit my papery skin. I felt trapped in the corner of the shower.
I laughed, nervously thinking to myself that I felt trapped in my life at that moment; I felt like I was in a never-ending pit of despair, and I would never get out. All of my thoughts riding like venomous snakes, and I was a rabbit fighting for my life as the poison slowly seeped through my veins. I knew at that moment it would only be a matter of time before the world went black, and I, like the rabbit, would be no more.
I hunkered down in the corner of the standing shower. The ice-cold tile was a drastic contrast to the hot water, which assaulted my skin.
I struggled to make my way off the cold tile floor. My whole body hurt; every step felt like my muscles were going to rip in half. I laid down on the shower floor, letting the water from the dirty shower head dribble into my mouth. I stood up, resting my hand on every available surface as I made my way to my bedroom.
Slipping into a clean pair of pink panties and my plush white bathrobe. I made my way down the stairs, carefully counting every step. My mother gazed up at me nervously as I trembled and tottered my way down.
My mother hugged me, her face still hot and red from crying. Wet streaks formed under her eyes.
“Okay, Howard will be here to pick you up at seven. I gave him money to get you food on the way home. I don’t want you filling up on a bunch of those Dollar Store AA cookies.”
I nodded. I didn’t know what to think anymore, but I know I lied; I had been drinking that night, and no one would believe me if they found out that I had fallen off the wagon.
I went up to my room and crawled under my favorite soft white blanket.
When I woke up, the sun had set. I gradually felt around to find the light switch. I grabbed a pair of faded blue jeans off the floor, sniffed them to make sure they were clean, then put a dirty tie-dye shirt over my head. I had an eerie feeling as I made my way over to my vanity to try to make my hair look halfway decent. I shrugged off the feeling of being watched; it was probably just my imagination again. Sitting down in the vanity chair, I noticed something I hadn’t before. The glass was dirty and cracked. When I went to wipe the fingerprints off the glass, I saw hand mimicking mine. My stomach rose to my throat. This hand was way too small to simply be my reflection. I shook, struggling to hold the hairbrush. I looked up to the mirror and saw that same, transparent ghostly face and that blood-stained tie-dye shirt.
I woke up, for real this time, with my heart beating out of my chest.
I hastily grabbed a pair of jeans and a pink T-shirt for a band that I don’t even like anymore off the top of the basket of clean clothes my mother left in my room before she left for work. I threw on clean clothes and threw my hair back into a sloppy ponytail. There’s no way in hell I was looking in that mirror again.
Even though it hurt like hell, I ran down the stairwell. Not caring one bit if I fell and broke my ass. I made my way outside and found the carton of Camels and fluorescent pink lighter hidden under an old clay flowerpot.
I slowly let my sore, bruised body slide down the faded yellow siding. I force my body to sit uncomfortably on the porch and let cancer fill up each of my small lung sacks as I waited for Howard and his old basset hound to come to pick me up.
I could hear the muffler of Howard’s old truck before I could see the rusted green paint.
Howard rolled down the window, and his companion stuck his head out the window. It made me smile to see the old basset hound’s ears flapping in the wind.
“Hey, Freddy,” I said, standing on my tiptoes trying to pet the basset hound. I gave the pup a vanilla sandwich cookie that I had stashed in my pocket just for him.
I hopped into the passenger seat, pushing Freddy to the middle.
“I’m sorry he stinks,” the old man said with a laugh.
“It’s okay,” I said. I rolled down the window and lit another cancer stick.
“Now, Riley, you’re not supposed to do that. I get it; take things one day at a time. But try and cut down, okay, kiddo?” The old man put his pale, wrinkled hand on my shoulder.
I shot him a sort of half smile. As if to say, “Okay, dude, you caught me!”
“So, Riley, your mom told me what happened Friday. You want to talk about it?” he asked.
“No, not really,” I said, taking another long drag.
“Something is clearly bothering you, and I don’t want you to have to share at the meeting if you don’t want to,” Howard said. The tone in his voice sounded scornful and somehow wise, almost like he was trying to be the teacher I always wanted and the dad I never had.
I just died a little, and started playing with my hair.
“I told the truth, I really don’t know,” I said to the old man while staring at the air conditioner. “Yes, I have some wine, but it has been a horrible week. You know?” I have a bottle of Red Cat. Well, actually, a few bottles hidden under the sink and a few more stashed in my bedroom.
“Does your mother know?”
I played with my hair some more. “No.”
“I think it’s a good idea if I helped you to dump all of it.” he said. He placed a firm hand on my shoulder. “You don’t have to do this alone.”
“I know. It’s just, she doesn’t believe me. I think whatever’s in the house wants to drive us apart,” I told him, not even giving a damn if I sounded like a crazy person anymore. I don’t know what’s in my house, but I know it won’t rest until my family is destroyed. I genuinely fear that whatever this thing is, it wants me dead.
I leaned over the open window and threw up my meager breakfast.
Howard reached into the pocket of his black and red flannel shirt and pulled out one of those red and white striped peppermints, the kind they give you at the old-fashioned diners at the checkout counter.
The meeting was held in an old church; the place kind of smelled like mildew and old boxes. Only one light worked, the rest of the once-functioning overhead lights were all dead. It was almost a metaphor for all of us. We have the potential to be shiny and bright often, I thought to myself, but we would never be anything other than slowly fading away, leaving the rest of the people we love to pick up and try to fix it when none of us are strong enough. To be self-sufficient enough anymore. I hated those thoughts, and I hated the green lights. But, as usual, I sat quietly waiting for Howard to finish his turn at the podium. His rant this week was about some guy at the feed store who smelled like marijuana, and it made him very nostalgic for the days of Woodstock, or that time he and is now-deceased wife made love on the stage at a Grateful Dead concert. Supposedly, Jerry Garcia gave him a standing ovation after he finished.
I knew the story of my heart, and quite frankly, I didn’t care. All I could think about was going back to the house.
To be continued.