Today’s prompt was to find a contest or submission deadline with a theme we liked. I found this one after searching probably for too long. Content warning for panic attacks, dissociative episodes, and suicidal thoughts.
The venti latte wasn’t hot anymore. He hated cold coffee, which was why he’d braved the cocked eyebrows when he ordered it, an oasis of heat in a desert of frappucinos. He didn’t drink it right away, cause he thought she would be here soon. Then he didn’t drink it so he could convincingly say, “Oh, it’s fine. I just got here right before you.” Then he finally took a sip to look like he had a reason to be sitting at the table and it was cold.
He’s stared at it, annoyed at the waste, and wondering what to do. His head jerked up at the sound of the door for the hundredth time, but it’s another soccer mom with fanny pack. He dropped his head down again so fewer people could see him wipe away a tear.
What a shit week. Overdrew his checking account (he’d forgotten to deposit his tips from the bar). Ripped his favorite pair of jeans (they made girls (and boys) turn and stare at his ass). Injured his right knee (he helped out his 78 year old neighbor … in his favorite jeans). He had just been off somehow all week, not quite himself. No one else seemed to notice. But now this.
He looked out the window one last time. A laughing couple walked by. He saw her golden hair, pink lips, and his silvering hair and laugh lines, but he understood them as dead, skeletons pretending at life. His eyes darted back to his cup. Air staccatoed in and out of his lungs. His entire body prepped for danger under the soft jazz and the caffeine-infused conversations. The room shrunk around him. His latte spilled over the cup, ran across the table, and rained into a puddle on the floor. The cup followed, shattering, becoming what his mind new it already was.
The shop saw his terrorized eyes as this giant, strong man tried to leave as quickly but casually as possible.
Outside he drew the fresh air into his lungs. The part of himself that was still latched onto reality told him this was a panic attack, but the lost part of him screamed back that his panic attacks don’t come with hallucinations. He started moving, cursing himself for choosing a spot so far from home. He couldn’t get on a bus right now, couldn’t touch people right now. No cab either. No, couldn’t … just dangerous. Can’t do that right now.
He looked up into the face of the regular homeless guy on the corner, hand out for change, and the empty sockets of a skull grinned back at him. Don’t look at people. He looked up to the sky, still walking, just trying to get home. The twenty story apartment complex fell away into a gutted, bombed out shell of a building. Don’t look at buildings. This city was just people and buildings; he couldn’t just walk home with his eyes shut. Holding up a hand, needing to find some sort of anchor, he only saw his own death in the delicate play of the wrist bones turning his hand over.
His eyes went to the ground directly in front of his feet. He walked faster. The concrete was breaking, threatening to fall away; death was chasing him. The steadily shrinking aware piece of him repeated that it was not real not real not real and just get home just get home. The sounds of the city fell away, shooting his stress level higher. Piercing through the swirl of chaos was one, clear thought:
If this is my life, I will kill myself.
His head shot up and his jaw clenched. He started running, almost faster than his brain could make skeletons of the pedestrians, focusing on his target. The sharp pain in his knee threatened to stop him, but he screamed it into submission just in time to meet the five flights of stairs to his apartment. They were solid, not yet crumbling away. He doesn’t remember most of getting here, but he can’t think about that now.
He takes them two at a time until he tripped on floor three and slammed his right kneecap into the edge of the stair. He howls out his pain, but he keeps going, crawling up and dragging that leg behind for two flights until it was ready to work again. The 78 year old opened her door as he pulled himself to standing at his door, fumbling the keys.
“Are you okay, dear?” He couldn’t look at her. Looking at her would wish it on her. He whined out his nose and waved her back into her apartment. “Let me know if I can help.” He heard the door click closed and finally found the key that went with this lock.
Inside his apartment, he let the door slam (against apartment rules – the downstairs neighbor was going to say something again) and slid down the wall onto the floor. His body shaking, refusing his orders stop.
His kitten padded in and mewed at him. He forgot not to look at her, but she was okay, for now. She looked at him and mewed.
“Daddy’s not okay right now, kitty.” He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. She climbed up into his lap and stood on his legs, paws on his chest, to reach his face, licking away the salt between his eyebrows and purring louder than should have been possible. Her welcome home greeting. He cuddled her to his chest and then slid them both into the kitchen (this would be the only time that he would be thankful for the incredibly small space).
He gave her a treat (or maybe seven, he couldn’t focus on counting) and then poured himself a glass of red wine. The taste promised calm and soon. He flopped onto the couch, shut his eyes, and waited for the liquid to enter his veins.