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The Price I Pay

Randy Baker's Writers Challenge | Prompted # 4 Submission

By Alexandria StanwyckPublished about a month ago 9 min read
Top Story - May 2024
The Price I Pay
Photo by Gert Stockmans on Unsplash

Here is a link to Randy Baker's Challenge: Prompted #4

***

Joseph

It smells like desperation. Actually, it smells like bleach trying to hide the smell of urine, death, and desperation permanented into the studs of my new home. Even as the perky redhead in scrubs pushes me around in my wheelchair, blathering on about the different rooms and the schedule for the week, I can see a man pouring bleach in a bucket, preparing yet another attempt to mask the bits of horrid smell still peeking through.

I want to tell him it won't work, the bleach is nothing more than a placebo, tricking you into thinking the smell and germs are gone. I only learned that after years of cleaning up behind another one of my sickly mom's messes. (Dad died when I was young.) Once it seeps into the floors, the walls, it all becomes permanent part of the building and your brain.

Maybe the smell is why this place already feels like home, as much as I don't want it to be. To think I tried to escape it all those years ago, only to return to an eerily similar essence as I inch closer and closer to the threshold of Death's door.

"And your room is on this hallway, number 569."

The universe must think it is hilarious, as my mind flashes back to a trio of rickety numbers on a rundown trailer.

By Dakota Lim on Unsplash

As I am being pushed toward my room, I can hear someone cursing like a sailor before an object hits the floor. Curiosity yanks my head toward the sound, which appears to be coming from the room next to mine. A gorgeous pale woman with snow-like waves draped over her right shoulder sits on the bed, arms cross and her mouth twisted into a scowl. She seems like a song with a familiar melody, but the lyrics escape me.

A second woman in the room, possibly her daughter, scolds her as one would a child. "Just because you can't get your phone to work doesn't mean you have destroy it."

"Obviously, I don't have any use for it."

The younger woman rubs her temple, clearly frustrated. "What lovely logic you have, Auntie."

"All the better to impress you with, my dear."

Feeling as if I'm intruding on a moment, I look away and my eyes fall on the name plague next to the door frame. My heart races and the universe guffaws in my face. Anna Marie Williams.

"You look like you've seen a ghost, Mr. Hallett." Redhead observes loudly, drawing the attention of Anna and her niece.

No, Redhead, I'm the ghost. She, the only sliver of light from my childhood, is my price to pay for leaving 60 years ago and never returning until now.

"I'll be back, Mari. I promise."

"Joseph, don't you dare leave. I just want you."

"And I want to be the man you deserve."

Despite her fine wrinkles and a slight yellowish tint, her face is the same as it was back then, morphed into a righteous anger. Apparently her niece is aware of some our history, because she stomps to me and slams her hands on the arms of my wheelchair. Redhead tries to yank me away from her grip, but the woman's protectiveness is stronger.

"You hurt her, so do us all a favor, let her live her final days in peace. Stay away." Without giving me a chance to stutter out an apology or perhaps a poor excuse, the door slams in my face.

Thankfully, Redhead decides to quietly take me to my room, rather than open her mouth to spout out more "observations". After that, I'm alone, just like I've always been for years. It's what I deserve.

***

Four weeks later

Anna

By Danie Franco on Unsplash

You were the rich girl from the big mansion on the next street over; I was the mixed boy from a trailer park. Even though there wasn't a mile between our places, we were as different as we could be. If we both abided by society's rules, we would have never crossed paths. But we were both rebels, then we were both so in love with the people we were deep inside, dreamers who wanted to break free from our cages.

We had big plans for when we graduated high school--college, marriage, a family. When I told my mom I wanted to marry you, my Mari, she rasped that I needed money to keep a girl like that happy forever. I knew better. You always talked about how much you hated that your family had money. I tried to ignore it, and I could for a while. Us going away from all the noise and able to finally be ourselves in college, all that distance away helped.

Remember the day I disappeared for a while before we graduated college? I went back home to ask your parents for their blessing to marry you, Mari. They were disgusted with the fact that trailer trash would want to become a permanent part of their family. They had hoped that we were a phase, that you would grow up and find someone better for you. They said they would disown you if we got married.

I know how much you loved your parents and I couldn't be the one to wreck your relationship with them. I chose them and my insecurities when I should have chosen you.

I understand why you hate me because I hate myself. I thought I had to leave to be the man you deserved, someone who could provide for you at all times. Instead, I fell into the rabbit hole and couldn't dig myself out. All I found was how cold life was without you. Even though you want nothing to do with me, days feel warmer now because you are here.

"This letter is not so I can ask for your forgiveness, because I know I don't deserve it. But I do know that I could not let death claim us before I told you my truth and hopefully give you the closure you should have gotten years ago.

May your days be bright and as witty as you. Joseph."

Summer, my dear niece, folds up the letter and tosses it on my bedside table. "Well, I have to give the old man props, he's romantic."

Joseph always was romantic, so much so, it raised my expectations too high to allow myself to fall for another man. So yeah, I hated the bastard for years. I traded the hate for sadness a long time ago, or so I thought. I didn't realize I was still so angry until I saw him again. What I can say out of sight, out of mind.

I've seen Joseph constantly over the past month and now I just feel...pity. Actually, that would be a lie. I still love him. I never stopped. And truly, I feel foolish for holding on to the pain for so long.

Maybe I should talk to him, give us both some closure. Something like this, a grudge, I guess I would call it, its an anchor that has dragged the both of us down long enough.

"Auntie, you alright?"

How does one begin to answer that? "Fighting a losing battle takes a lot out of you." Holding on to the ghosts of the past and terminal cancer taught me that. "I'm just tired, sweetie."

Summer stares at me, probably trying to dissect what I meant by tired. My oncologist warned me about it when he determined the cancer became terminal. Tired would become more than a lack of sleep; it would twist into a sign of the end drawing near. After one last excess of energy, tired would mean your body was giving up. Every day, I sleep more and more, yet it doesn't put a dent into my exhaustion.

I'm just tired.

Maybe a nap will help.

"Auntie!" When did Summer get a twin?

Then, black.

By Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

***

Two weeks later

Joseph

After having Anna out of my life for so long, I was happy to be able to see her in the common areas, even though I was given nothing more than civil hellos. Part of me hoped the letter would swift things to more cordial territory, but I haven't seen Anna since I had one of the nurses slip the letter into her room.

Is it strange to miss someone who barely looks at you? I feel like an addict who has been sober for years who gets a couple of small hits before having it ripped away again. The withdrawal of having Anne in my vicinity feels like a worse kind of torture than before.

I take off my glasses and run a hand down my face. It takes every fiber of my being not to bust into the room to get a glimpse of her.

A gentle hand rests on my shoulder. "Mr. Hallett."

Imagine my surprise to see Anna's niece, Summer, I believe standing next to me. Her eyes and the bags underneath are glaringly noticeable, like she hasn't slept in a couple days. Instead of her usual annoyance at my presence, there is an overwhelming sadness.

"She's asking for you."

My heart starts racing and suddenly I'm the snot-nosed kid who realized he had fallen in love with best friend and rebel-in-arms. As we silently make our way to Anna's room, I can't help but rub my hands against my pants, trying to wipe away my nerves.

Once we get to her room, I notice how tense the atmosphere feels and how strong the smell is here. Bleach and death. Before Summer can place her hand on the knob, I stop her. I really hope I'm wrong, I accepted my price for leaving her behind, watching her from afar. Completely losing her, that price is too high. "She's dying, isn't she?"

Anna's niece doesn't answer, but she looks at me, tears running down her face. She folds her arm across her chest as she leans against the wall. "Aun...Anna has been dying a long time. Just death's at the threshold now rather than circling like a vulture." She shakes her head. "Sorry, something she said a couple of weeks after she passed out on me."

"I'm sorry. It's hard...losing people, especially like this."

"You would know, wouldn't you? Because of your mom?"

The eleventh hour, that was the hardest part of taking care of Mom once she was diagnosed with cancer. It wasn't the increase in messes or watching her waste away to nothing. It was the fact that I couldn't do anything to save her, just like I can't do anything to save Anna. All I could do then and now is be there.

"If you're ready, I can let you in."

If we waited for me to be ready, we would be waiting forever. So instead, I nod and prepare.

By Agê Barros on Unsplash

Anna

I want to rip the monitor out and throw it out the window. The fact I can't just pisses me off more.

The next minute I can't focus on anything except how heavy my body is.

An angel, no, Summer brushes my hair away from my face. "He's here, Auntie."

A hand gently brushes against my check. My Joseph. When is the last time I called him that?

I try to turn to look at him, but I have next to nothing left to give. Just a small lift of my fingers. Joseph keeps a hand on my check and grabs my hand with his other one.

"Joe..." Why does it feel so heavy on my tongue?

"Shh. You don't need to speak, Mari." Oh, how I missed him calling me Mari. Only he did that.

My chest hurts as I can feel myself struggle to catch my breath. I always seem to lose my breath around Joseph.

"I'm sorry I didn't choose you, Mari. I should have chosen our future date nights in the park, where we could hold hands and have a picnic under the stars. I should have chose hear you call me honey, even if you were irritated with me. And your laughter," I can feel his lips on my hand, "I missed so many moments of us crying and laughing."

I can hear him choking on his words. Don't cry. I forgive you, Joseph. Why can't I say it out loud so you'll know?

"I will always love you, Mari."

Oh, Joe, I will always love you.

There is some sort of beeping noise.

Goodbye, Joseph.

***

By James Garcia on Unsplash

A week later

Joseph

Mari and I are sitting on our front porch, old and gray, laughing at something one of our grandkids are doing. We hold hands, not wanting to let go of each other, even as the tears fall down our face.

I am so happy.

Then, suddenly, it's all gone. Where are you Mari?

My eyes fly open and I'm back in the cursed nursing home.

I don't want to stay here, tortured with the reality she is not here. So I do, what I always do. Roll over and close my eyes, eager for sleep to take over once again.

Word Count: 2190 words

***

Editor's Note: This short story was inspired by a poem of mine, The Price I Pay, linked below.

Stream of ConsciousnessShort StoryLovefamily

About the Creator

Alexandria Stanwyck

My inner child screams joyfully as I fall back in love with writing.

I am on social media! (Discord, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.)

instead of therapy poetry and lyrics collection is available on Amazon.

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Comments (9)

  • Shirley Belk23 days ago

    Life. You nailed all the twists and turns and regrets of the heart, but love returned. Beautiful

  • Axatours229 days ago

    congratulation , well done https://axatours.com

  • Nicho Carson29 days ago

    Congrats on your top story.

  • Congrats on your TS.

  • Caroline Craven29 days ago

    Gosh this was absolutely brilliant. Heartbreakingly sad but brilliant.

  • Rachel Deeming30 days ago

    Great story. I loved the way you built it up and that ending is so sad. Just waiting to die, living in his dreams.

  • Anna 30 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story! :)

  • Randy Baker30 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story! Well deserved. I thought you did a great job on this story.

  • Kendall Defoe about a month ago

    Beautiful 😍

Alexandria StanwyckWritten by Alexandria Stanwyck

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