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I prefer the dark. Light can be harsh. It’s unforgiving. Darkness is tranquil, allowing serenity to overtake bright chaos.

My friends, when I used to have them, would always throw open the curtains immediately upon entering the house that I once shared with Daniel. I would complain, but my words would fall on deaf ears as they would constantly repeat that it’s not good for me to dwell in darkness.

Why? Darkness is the villain in the horror movies I love, but the reality of it doesn’t bother me. It often calms me at the end of a wrenching day. Walking into my dim house as twilight descended on the other side of the pulled shades would soothe me as no day in the sun ever could.

Sunlight means squinting against the beginning of a migraine that might root in and take hold for hours, only loosening after narcotics and nausea have done their nasty work on me.

I would be a happy agoraphobe if only I could afford it. But being mortal means paying bills, and that means having to work for other lesser beings for the money I need to maintain the soothing darkness behind my door.

My time living in Daniel’s house ended almost six years ago. When he died, I moved in with my grandmother. At the time of his death, I couldn’t be alone in his house. I couldn’t be alone period. I went to my grandmother’s tiny, cramped house with my cat, Maxwell, and I began helping my mother take care of her mother: a shrill, 90-something, racist, right-wing, fanatically religious, uber-critical crone who thrives on discord and pouts when her penchant for parsimony is pointed out.

My mother, Mabel, is married, but had been living with my grandmother because she was no longer able to care for herself on her own. Once my stepfather, Joe, was diagnosed with cancer – and since I was now in residence – she moved back home to take care of him and left me to fend for myself against Merle. It turns out, the house is now my crypt, and she is my miserly keeper.

Rarely do I cook anything, drive anywhere, clean any surface or complete any errand that I do not, in her ancient estimation, fuck up.

Jesus forgives. Jesus turns the other cheek. Jesus is a stand-up guy.

Merle excoriates. Merle condemns. Merle castigates until one’s only alternatives are binge drinking, pharmaceuticals or smothering her in her sleep with a pillow.

When I was married to my first husband, Martin, she was shocked at his influence on me. He was twenty years my senior, and while I will now readily admit that he was indeed far too old for me and definitely had far too much impact over my personal choices and behaviors, the fact that these choices ventured into frightening territory like vegetarianism, holistic remedies and left-wing politics readily displays the true innocence of these so-called subversive activities and the even truer hysteria my grandmother sought to conjure by suggesting that Martin must be demon possessed and that I was soon to be caught up in his diabolical web of evil if I were to continue in life with my narrow minded open-mindedness.

I’m now totally on board with any reality in which Martin was or is demon possessed. But that’s because he’s an asshole who was verbally and physically abusive and who became increasingly erratic in his everyday actions, and not because he preferred root vegetables to red meat, acupuncture to Tylenol and Ross Perot to Reagan.

Lying in bed this morning, I awoke to the infuriating sound of the house phone. I never answer the phone, and I hate that we still have a landline.

I heard her pick up as the caller was leaving a message. Alice, her home health aide, wasn’t coming this morning. That meant that I was on deck to shuffle into the kitchen behind her, wait for her breakfast order, listen as she told me how to cook it and then be criticized because she determined I wasn’t following her directions correctly.

What followed that, though, is my favorite daily moment: when I go back to bed after making Merle’s breakfast. I could hear her clucking as I went back down the hall about how I sleep too much, how I have things to do and that I’m too lazy for my own good.

I do sleep a lot. I admit that it’s my activity of choice. I. Love. Sleep. And I can always sleep easier during the day. I think that’s just pressed deeply into my DNA. From birth, my mother also slept better when the sun was up. When I’m asleep, I’m not fighting the constant oppressive onslaught of depression. When I’m asleep I’m not simmering in near-constant anger, often for no apparent reason. When I’m asleep, I can forget that I have wasted more than half my life making nothing of myself and that I have freely given in to the ease of giving up.

This morning has been like every other for the last several years until I awoke to the strange sound of silence on the other side of the brown noise coming from Alexa. (I can’t sleep in absolutely silence. It’s too loud.) Normally, the first thing I’m aware of is the unpleasant blast of the television coming from the living room. Under that, I can always make out the chugging rhythm of Merle’s oxygen being pumped from her bedroom. This morning, though, there was only the oxygen, no television.

While I noted this was odd as I lay in bed in the lovely darkness of my room, Maxwell curled in between my knees, I wasn’t immediately alarmed. Perhaps Merle had nodded off at the breakfast table. That had certainly happened before. Perhaps she had gone into the living room and nodded off before she turned on the television. That had also happened. If I could fall asleep as quickly and easily and as often as my grandmother did, I’d never leave my bed.

I got up, shuffled into the bathroom and did my business. Then I grabbed my phone, checked my email and then made my way into the front of the minuscule house to see where Merle was presently enjoying a snooze.

She was not at the kitchen table hunched over the remnants of her toast, nor was she in her aging recliner with the remote in her hand. She was on the floor. Facedown.

Why was my first instinct not alarm? Why didn’t I feel fear or sadness or some other emotion more appropriate to this kind of revelation? Why was I looking at what most certainly had to be the dead body of my grandmother, and all I could conjure up in response was something akin to relief? Perhaps that relief was really elation. Perhaps it all amounted to what was now a realization that I was about to enjoy something I hadn’t considered for several years: freedom.

I should check for a pulse.

I should call someone.

I should DO something.

Maxwell slunk to me and pawed at my leg, asking to jump into my lap. I leaned back in the chair, and he leapt up to my chest, settling himself and purring contentedly. He didn’t seem bothered by the body on the floor either.

I realized I was smiling and immediately laughed out loud in the silent room. What kind of monster was I that I was reveling in the idea that my grandmother was lying on the floor, most likely dead?

I sat in the chair until Maxwell was done with his cuddle. Then I moved to the body, bending down to touch two fingers to the side of her neck. I really wasn’t sure what I was doing, only repeating what I’d seen done numerous times on tv shows. I didn’t feel anything, but that might just mean that I was palpating in the wrong place.

Finally, I picked up the phone and dialed 911. I spoke to the operator, giving her all the pertinent information and then went to change while I waited for emergency services. I returned to the living room and decided to roll Merle over onto her back. It probably wouldn’t look right if EMTs arrived to find me standing there while my grandmother laid with her face in the carpet.

I stood at the door waiting for the fire engine to arrive. As the firemen were gathering their equipment, an ambulance pulled up. A small mob of emergency workers entered at once and began their work.

They asked questions as they worked. I answered fairly easily given the vast medical knowledge I had of Merle after living with her for almost six years. They quickly determined that she was indeed deceased and well past the moment where she might have been revived.

My only complaint was that the ambulance did not take the body away, instead leaving the number for the coroner’s office, telling me they were in charge of transport.

I immediately called and was told that someone would arrive within two hours.

While I was not immediately bothered by the presence of a corpse in the middle of the floor, I was beginning to grow unsettled and giggled nervously when I had to shoo Maxwell from atop Merle’s body more than once. Apparently, he was privy to some kind of feline sixth sense in which he was aware her essence was no longer in residence, and he now viewed her as nothing more than a rather pudgy climbing apparatus.

An hour into waiting for the coroner, I called my mother. I wasn’t looking forward to that. I knew she would be upset, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to feign the proper human emotion to empathize.

But it turned out I worried for nothing. Mom was rather stoic about the whole thing. Sad, sure, but not inconsolable. Her mother was 99 after all. It’s not as if a death at this point was a surprise.

She asked if she needed to come keep me company. I told her I was fine even though the creep factor was still increasing by the minute. I think what I really wanted to avoid was my mother seeing my lack of sadness.

I was relieved when the coroner’s van arrived, and from there things moved quite swiftly. Two orderlies loaded the body into the van while a third had me answer a few questions and sign two forms.

Then, she was gone.

It’s not as if this was over. Not completely. There was still a funeral to arrange and relatives to notify. I would have to put up with conversation and reminiscences and questions for the next week or two.

But… there was also the possibility of what came after. I could travel. There was no longer the babysitting ball and chain to affect each decision of what I could and could not do.

I could stay in bed all day. I could leave the house without word of when I would return. I could eat what I wanted when I pleased. I could take the phone off the hook and cancel the service completely.

I was free.

It turns out I wouldn’t need a pillow to do any dirty work in the middle of the night.


I am an emerging author of (mostly) mysteries and horror and working on an MFA in Creative Writing along with my first novel.


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