A Premature Birth

Qualified Entry: Fiction Category

By: Heather Surman

Someone once said a death wish is a compulsion to return to where we came from, Larkin figures Rab is homesick.  It’s summer and the soulless house is abnormally cold.  She gropes down the hallway, past the bathroom where a glass of water flecked with charcoal sits on the porcelain edge of the bathtub; an alter to self-destruction. Her roommate Rab is curled up like a fetus in a womb of white sheets.  Larkin thinks his dull face looks like the pills he swallowed.  She envies the black of his dreams, wanting to inhale sleep from his mouth and doze off to its steady sound.  Instead she checks his vitals for the fifth time, fingers searching for a familiar rhythm, doing her part to hold back the end of things.

Hours earlier Larkin got the call.  “Find me, Rab said, “I’m not far.”  He wanted to play hide and seek.  She found his truck parked along the Colorado interstate near a sign that read, move accidents from traffic.  The desert was no absolute color at night, only large and indifferent.  Inside the cab is Rab passed out next to a shiny package of ash-colored pills.  She pitched them into the darkness; the foreign pebbles spilled into the sand.

Someone once said youth are in a permanent state of intoxication—for youth is sweet.  There’s quite a bit of atmosphere at chez Rab.  Larkin remembers the party where she first saw him.  His place is stuffed with bodies, a tanked-up college crowd.  Girls are shuffling around in cramped shoes, the kind that leaves scares on your feet.  They’re wearing short skirts, push-ups bras, dangling earrings, and hopeful expressions while grasping the reassuring necks of perspiring beer bottles.  They’re focused on their host and his “deliciously sad brown eyes.”

Eyes have no effect on Larkin, she doesn’t like their nakedness.  Rab is always squinting, seeing the world in halves.  If the eyes are the windows into the soul, no one will ever see his.  What is a soul anyway?  Larkin is sure no one knows.  She doubts Rab thinks much about souls.  Who cares when all the guys want to be you and all the girls want to date you?  Across the room Rab and a buddy are talking and laughing while balancing their drinks.  Is Larkin impressed?  No, curious perhaps.  Larkin wonders what she looks like through Rab’s half-closed eyes.  The muscles of his tattooed arm flex as he lifts the glass to his mouth.  Two sparrows on his bicep flap their wings in protest.

Someone once said there’s power in what remains unspoken.  Larkin figures Rab must know this.  The antiseptic silence of the hospital room serves as a backdrop for her thoughts.  His real name is Robert, a name shared with a father he never knew.  Once, in the early days after a concert Larkin and Rab went to dinner.  She remembers Rab’s persistent digging, searching for the rattling bottle in his pockets, claiming he didn’t relax well.  Larkin thinks Rab is always angry, as if he never had a fighting chance to win at any game, at least not without pills.  A phlebotomist comes to draw Rab’s blood.  They all watch the vial slowly fill with dark liquid, and then something goes wrong.  The vial bursts, splattering warm fluid across the white linens.  For a few uncomfortable minutes Rab looks dead, lying within the twisted bloodied sheets of the bed.

Rab hasn’t left, not from this earth, not just yet.  The last time Larkin saw him his face was distorted, his passive puffy eyes blinked with neglect.  She thinks he was born premature, pushed into this world too quickly; his first breath did more damage than good.   He needed more time.  Maybe that’s what pills are—they let him go back to before, to childhood hide and seek.  Each one is a token, a simple swallow back in time, to a place of no remorse.


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