I Hope You Find Me Online - Trish Marie Dawson

CHAPTER ONE

I can’t remember now how long their bodies burned but I do remember the sun setting before it was over, not far off in the distance, just beyond the still and dismal outline of downtown San Diego. Its flame-colored glare hit the Pacific Ocean and slowly, steadily, melted beyond the horizon as smoke drifted up in dark gray coils into the sky. The fleeing sun took the heat away with it, and as the first stars of the night made their appearance, the crisp chill of January returned.

Ash settled all around me, resting on my eyelashes and the tip of my nose…threatening to choke the oxygen from my lungs. I kept vigil over my dead family while I sat at the edge of the garden, slumped forward with my legs crossed and my hands resting loosely in my lap. A steady breeze from the approaching night collided with the draft from the fire, sending hot gusts of air in my direction. My face and arms stung from the warmth but the smell was worse than the heat. The strong odor of burning flesh kept my nostrils flared and stomach turning.

I knew that day it was true what they say; one can never forget the smell of a dead body. I know, I’ll never forget.

***

After spending several days in bed crying, my broken heart didn’t actually kill me like I had hoped it would. The weather felt cold and gloomy when I finally climbed out from under the covers and stumbled into the bathroom. I turned the water faucet on, but the tap was dry and for the first time that week, a stab of panic spread through my chest at the irony that I could die after-all…from thirst or hunger.

I blinked in confusion at the harried reflection in the oval mirror staring blankly back at me. The porcelain counter-top felt cool beneath my weak fingers as I leaned forward and stared at the hollow expression of the girl that resembled me. Her blue eyes seemed trapped in a stormy darkness, and the circles below them made her cheeks appear sunken in…completely defeated. Long, blonde hair hung from her scalp in greasy and knotted strands, having lost its luster.

I blinked again and pushed off the sink, wanting nothing more but to run away from that girl in the mirror, and my elbow grazed a small drinking glass, knocking it over the edge of the countertop. I gasped when it shattered on the white tile floor and watched, mesmerized, as a shard spun wildly away from my feet until it hit the edge of the fluffy blue bathmat, and bounced to a stop. I stared at the broken remnants of the glass with fascination, before I slowly reached down to pick up the large sliver that had nestled against the side of the mat, and pinched it between my fingers until a small bead of blood formed on the pad of my thumb. After letting the glass fall back to the floor, I rubbed the blood between my fingers until the warm fluid began to stick to my skin. Outside, the clouds parted briefly and sunshine teased behind the curtains, willing someone to open them, to let the light back in. When I looked back up at the mirror, it was me I saw.

***

I ran my fingertips across the grain of the distressed oak dresser, leaving thin trails in the dust as I stared at the picture frames, the generous pile of my son’s miss-matched folded socks, and my wooden jewelry box. Inside the small glass door I could see the delicate necklace my daughter gave to me three years before on Mother’s Day. I reached inside and tapped the golden locket until it swayed slightly on its chain like a pendulum, before carefully shutting the glass door, locking it inside the jewelry box forever. I stood in the doorway and looked at my neat bedroom and sighed. Everything was in its place, but I felt as if I no longer fit there.

It was the same feeling in every room I walked through, even my office, with the massive piles of school work I never got around to grading over the winter break that had snowballed out of control and spread along the desk top like weeds. A bright white piece of paper with a messy fingerprint on the right upper corner caught my eye, and I picked it up to read the name and title: Mariposa, The Happy Butterfly, by Cecy