Don't You Cry - Mary Kubica
In hindsight, I should have known right away that something wasn’t quite right. The jarring noise in the middle of the night, the open window, the empty bed. Later, I blamed a whole slew of things for my nonchalance, everything from a headache to fatigue, down to arrant stupidity.
I should have known right away that something wasn’t right.
* * *
It’s the alarm clock that wakes me. Esther’s alarm clock hollering from two doors down.
“Shut it off,” I grumble, dropping the pillow to my head. I roll over onto my stomach and swim beneath a second pillow to smother the sound, throwing the covers up over my head, too.
No such luck. I still hear it.
“Dammit, Esther,” I snap as I kick the covers to the end of the bed and rise. Beside me there are rustles of complaint, blind eyes reaching out to reclaim the blanket, an aggravated sigh. Already the taste of last night’s alcohol creeps up my insides, something called a cranberry smash, and a bourbon sour, and a Tokyo iced tea. The room whirls around me like a Hula-Hoop, and I have this sudden memory of twirling around a dirty dance floor with some guy named Aaron or Darren, or Landon or Brandon. The same guy that asked to split a cab with me on the way home, the one that’s still lying on my bed when I nudge him and tell him he has to go, yanking the blanket from his hands. “My roommate,” I say, poking him in the ribs, “is awake. You have to go.”
“You have a roommate?” he asks, sitting up in bed, yet beset by sleep. He rubs at his eyes and it’s then that I see it in the glimmer of a nearby streetlight that glares through the window and across the rumpled bed: he’s twice my age. Hair that looked brown in the hazy burn of bar lights—and under the influence of a healthy dose of alcohol—is now a pewter-gray. Dimples are not dimples at all, but rather laugh lines. Wrinkles.
“Dammit, Esther,” I say again under my breath, knowing that before long, old Mrs. Budny from downstairs will be pounding the ceiling with the hard end of her sponge mop to silence the rumpus.
“You have to go,” I say to him again, and he does.
I follow the trail of noise into Esther’s room. The alarm clock, a droning noise like a cicada’s song. I mutter under my breath as I go, one hand dragging along the wall as I make my way down the darkened halls. The sun won’t rise for another hour. It’s not yet 6:00 a.m. Esther’s alarm screams at her like it does every Sunday morning. Time to get ready for church. Esther, with her silvery, soothing voice, has been singing in the church choir every Sunday morning at the Catholic church on Catalpa for as long as I can remember. Saint Esther, I call her.
When I enter Esther’s bedroom, the first thing I notice is the cold. Drafts of frosty November air sail in from the window. A stash of paper on her desk—held secure by a heavy college textbook: Introduction to Occupational Therapy—blows in the breeze, making a raucous noise. Frost covers the insides of the window, condensation running in streams down the panes of glass. The window is pushed up all the way. The fiberglass screen is removed, set to the floor with cause.
I lean out the window to see if Esther is there on the fire escape, but outside the world—on our little residential block of Chicago—is quiet and dark. Parked cars line the street, caked in the last batch of fallen leaves from nearby trees. Frost covers the cars and the yellowing grass, which fades fast; soon it will die. Plumes of smoke escape from roof vents on nearby homes, drifting into the morning sky. The whole of Farragut Avenue is asleep, except for me.
The fire escape is empty; Esther is not there.
I turn away from the window and see Esther’s covers lying on the floor, a bright orange duvet with an aqua throw. “Esther?” I say as I make my way across the boxy bedroom, hardly big enough for Esther’s double bed. I trip over a stash of clothes tossed to the floor, my feet getting tangled in a pair of jeans. “Rise and shine,” I say as I smack my hand against the alarm clock to shut it up. Instead, I wind up turning the radio on, and a