Stifled

Stifled

(An original short story)

The overwhelming ring of my alarm kicked off at 5am and was met with a muttering sound of “Jesus Christ Mari, turn that off” as I pushed my way out of bed and grabbed the closest clean shirt I could find. My day started at 5am sharp, 7 days a week. I pulled on a pair of jeans I had worn last 3 past days and snapped my sneakers on as I grabbed my jacket and bag and headed out the door quickly and silently to avoid an argument that was building.

As I stepped outside onto the busy streets of the city, I was surrounded by sounds of screeching taxis and the train rumbling overhead so loud it shook the earth. I lit a death stick as the smoke surrounded and engulfed me as my only freedom from the constant pains, I felt in my chest radiating out from my insides. I hastily made my way a few blocks down a corner or two, over to the first stop of the day. “Best Coffee In Town” the neon lights lit the window shone as I pushed the door open, escaping the cold at my back.

“Morning Mari” Marcus, the owner of the small coffee joint exclaimed with an enthusiasm I hadn’t felt in years. “Morning Marcus” I replied as I grabbed an apron and threw my jacket and bag into the back room of the small, dimly lit coffee shop. The old bell chucked at me as a man dressed in a suit waltzed in, “two large black coffees and one with light cream.” He was probably an intern at a local big business they started putting in around the block, doing the dirty work for men who were overappreciated for the little work they put in but got paid the big bucks because a piece of paper signed by a famous college gave them the right to their entitlement.

I handed him the stack of steaming hot coffees and continued to follow the motions until the clock hit 9am. I ripped off the apron. I grabbed by bag from the back, “see you tomorrow Marcus” he waved with a smile as I rushed my way out the door. The clouds covered the sun today, making the world look like an overedited black and white filter online. I made my way down another 15 blocks, the wind whipping my short brow hair in circles until I entered a 4-story brick building with a fading sign. My parents always pushed an education onto me, and it wasn’t until I found myself working dead end job after dead end job that I took the advice seriously. I enrolled in a few classes which grew into what they classify as a ‘full time student’ status. Much like my jobs, my life is a dead end, so I started taking random classes until I landed upon a major in architecture.

The hours were long, and the work was hard, sketch, papers, sketch, papers. “How would you remodel the Empire State Building” or “What landmarks would you change in central park? How would you do it?” were questions I was bombarded with day after day from my professors as my brain spun like a broken carousel off the tracks. Sometimes between classes I stopped in the bathroom just to see if the dark circles under my eyes had grown, or if I even recognized the person in the mirror anymore. I didn’t. The clock hit 5pm and off I went from the tall brick building to a small bar.

“Evening Mari” the manager Tracey said as I hustled through the door, dragging my backpack behind me, “You okay girl? Looks like you’re having a long day.” I could see my pale complexion and dark eyes in the reflection of her sunglasses, “everyday is a long day Tracey” I said and forced my face into a smile for the first time in days. I never asked, nor cared why she wore sunglasses inside a dark bar at night, but without fail, she had a different stylish pair on every time.

I was still in my white shirt and worn jeans as I slug a waist apron on with the letter printed, “Hot Spot Highlight” in bright, pink letters and started preparing ice, lemons, and restocking the bottles of whisky and gin as the after-work crowd started to pour into the bar. An empty shell of a building turned into a bustling spot for alcoholics, casual drinkers, and bachelorette parties. Drink after drink I slung down the bar as I stuffed tips into the front of my apron. The business was a distraction from the looming cloud of anxiety and stress I had following above me.

The clock hit 12am and Tracey handed me my jacket after I had miscalculated and spiled a few drinks, “I think it’s time for you to get some rest doll” she said with a wink. I gently took the jacket and headed outside into the freezing night breeze. Another death stick, more smoke. The city wasn’t a safe place at night, so I always had my guard up on the short walk back to the apartment, pepper spray in hand.

I was one of the lucky ones to get back safe and I never took that for granted. I jimmied my key into the lock and heard the loud clicks of the bolts opening. I was met with the bright light of the TV streaming some sitcom I never found funny. “Mari, it’s about time. Jesus you were out all day, I’m starving what’s for dinner,” Jack spat the words at me like venom slowly sinking into my worn-down skin. This was a regular occurrence; Jack goes through jobs like a spoiled child goes through toys. His parents cut him off from their fund’s months ago, so I picked up a second job to meet the bills and scrape by on my school payments. I felt the weight slowly crushing down on me as I threw some left-over pad Thai in the microwave and laid it on the table in front of him. No words were exchanged, I silently made my way into the bedroom and curled up under the covers as the TV boomed in the distance. I could hear Jack laughing loudly and imagined the pad Thai spewing out of his mouth with every laugh.

5am brought on another alarm with Jack following up with his usual “Mari, turn that thing off, Jesus Christ its 5am.” I got out of bed, not addressing the alarm. “Mari, I said turn that off” Jack spat at me as I put on a sweatshirt and now my 4-day unwashed jeans. The carousel spun faster and faster until I felt like I couldn’t breathe anymore. Jack continued yelling about the alarm and I couldn’t help but laugh. I couldn’t stop, I was gasping for air and toppled over from an explosion of emotion like a child getting to ride their first big roller coaster.

I staggered my way into the kitchen and grabbed the dirty plate of pad Thai that Jack hadn’t washed, because god forbid he do anything other than watch reality TV and push his problems and woes onto anyone else. My hands moved so quick my body couldn’t react to the motions that my heads lead me to. Dish after dish I drilled in Jack’s direction, “Oh, I’m sorry. Is my alarm too loud for you? My jobs to scrape by not enough for you? Is this elegant life of living in a shoebox apartment not your dream situation?” I found myself screaming as I pummeled plate after plate in his direction. The shattering of dishes drowned out his screaming and words of hate he was throwing back at me. I grabbed my backpack and took one last look at this sad excuse of a man, so red in the face I thought it might pop off at the neck and explode into a million pieces, staining the walls and spreading the last six years of my life all over the universe. Covered in broke plates and dirty days of old food he stumbled out of bed and lunged towards me. I shut the door behind me so quick the slam rattled the building, leaving my only house key behind.

Today I didn’t head to the coffee shop or the old brick building. I didn’t head to the bar or the alleys in between as I rushed from one job to another. I headed straight to the train station, running with a freedom I had never felt. Upon entering, out of breath and wheezing, I made my way to the counter. “I would like a ticket please” I managed to get the words out through my heavy breaths. The attendant looked at me with such shock on her face and gently replied “where would you like to go?” I didn’t have a plan, I couldn’t think. It could have been the sleep deprivation or adrenaline, but I responded, “the next train out, anywhere.” She printed me a ticket and I gave her what little money I had left, stuffing the ticket in my pocket.

I made my way to station 3, not looking or caring about the destination. I planted myself in a worn-down seat, closed my eyes, and I could still picture Jack; covered in dirty food and broken dishes. The train started to chug along as I slowly slipped into sleep, not caring where I landed or what was ahead of me. The carousel stopped spinning as I drifted along with the slow lull of the train into a new world.


Janna Dimopoulos 3/7/2021

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