“The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out:
At one stride comes the dark.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
No one got a second chance. Not really. There were no reconstructed moments, no opportunities to make a different decision, because all the time between could not be erased. The consequences of choice remained. All one could hope for was a chance to start again.
Maris finished packing her bag. She zipped it shut, clutching the zipper tag between thumb and forefinger so tightly the raised letters on metal imprinted themselves into her flesh.
Time to go.
To her right, white curtains fluttered with a song’s rhythm, rising in a pale, curling billow and falling back again, the delicate rasp of lace against the window screen like sand settling over paper. Cold, the air—colder than it had been for more than a week. Too early. September was the month for embedding one’s fingernails into the last of summer, unwilling to let it go. Instead, the temperature felt like winter’s onset, as if the season was rushing toward bone-chill and long nights. When she’d first climbed into bed, the air had been refreshing. Now she hastened to shut and lock the casement before adding her wool coat to the items on the bed.
Maris glanced at the clock. Midnight. Yes. Time to go.
It would be hard driving on two hours sleep, but the weighted urgency would carry her through, keep her eyes wide and her thoughts alert. She hadn’t dreamed in a very long time. Not of that place. Not of the woman who waited for her there.
Reaching for the switch on the bedside lamp, Maris paused in contemplation of the brown plastic bottle she’d told herself to leave behind. The sleeping pills kept the dreams at bay, held the haunting down to a minimum. She didn’t take them every night. Last night she hadn’t, and the past had broken through. Perhaps it would all be too much. Perhaps…yes, perhaps she should bring the pills with her.
She grabbed the medicine bottle—and the diary, too—shoving both items into her purse. Before turning off the light, Maris gave herself a final look in the mirror, finger-fluffing her short, dark hair as she stared into the eyes looking back at her. Black-lashed, gray as smoke. Her eyes.
Outside, she stowed the canvas satchel, her laptop, and an insulated lunch bag on the passenger side floor. She tossed her coat over the seat with her purse and went back around to the driver’s side where she spent a moment studying the sky. Earlier clouds had been ushered to the sidelines by the cold front. Stars shone in velvety blackness, barely dimmed by the lights of the strip mall in the distance. Before the intervention of modern technology, sailors navigated by the stars. She supposed many still did. The last sailor she’d known had died nine years past. She hadn’t let his stories die with him, though. In those final days, she’d written down by hand into a notebook every word her father had spoken, then transferred the narratives to her laptop. One day she would see those marvelous tales of the sea published. That was her plan. But like many other plans, there were no assurances.
One hundred miles into her drive and the pavement of the interstate awash in the glow of her headlights, a pair of blue eyes flashed into her mind’s eye with such clarity her gut wrenched. She had no idea whose they were, but a name had come with them. A first name only. No one she knew. Maris pulled her car off onto the shoulder of the highway and stopped. Gripping the wheel with tightly curled fingers, she leaned toward the glow of the dashboard lights, bile churning in her stomach.
I’m sorry, my dear. So very sorry…
No one got a second chance.
(Look for Excerpt #2 this Thursday!)