A Short Story
By: Brittany Caruso
There’s something in the sky tonight. A tingle. A whisper. Electric, green waves roll their way across the starlit sky as if sending messages from the universe to the earth. The wolves’ howls in the distance, carried along by the chill, winter breeze, make their way across the mountains and down into the forest where Rebecca lies. Her velvet, brown hair caresses her pale cheeks as she turns her head to face the glass windows above her. She has finally made it back to Igloo Village. The howling breeze, as cool and soothing as the blanket of bleached-white snow on the ground outside, strokes the needles of the surrounding pine trees and compels the owls among their branches to hoot, almost as if in melody with each other. This is Finland in winter. Rebecca looks up through the clear, curved roof of her igloo, closes her eyes for a moment and breathes out a deep sigh of relief. She is alone. She is still. All is peaceful and serene. The warmth from the flickering fire calms her nerves as the smell of cinnamon from the burning and crackling pinecones kisses the air around her.
It’s just as she remembers it those three years ago. Her eyes glued to the sky; her body paralyzed in a state of blissful tension. Feeling as if she could be freed from her body and raised to the heavens in a momentous and enchanting flurry at any moment. She gazes through the glass with piercing blue eyes, and watching the northern lights above, she remembers why she’s here. She glances to her right and reaches with a delicate hand for the prescription bottle on the bedside table. She pauses. Making a fist with her hand, she shuts her eyes tight. Not yet. Music. She must have music first. Brian Crain’s “Song for Sienna.” Harmonious. Tranquilizing. She reaches for her phone and beings to scroll through her songs when she pauses again. There’s a noise at the door. A knock. Shifting her weight to the left and pressing herself up slowly, she slides her feet into her slippers and thrusts herself gracefully to the door.
A woman is there. She rambles on about how her husband got his tongue stuck to one of the glass windows in their igloo looking out to see what he thought was a bear, and how their phone is now dead. They have only cold running water and it won’t help to separate his tongue from the glass.
“Could you grab a cup of warm water for us and follow me to our igloo?” The woman kindly asks.
Rebecca cannot deny someone help. So, she goes to her bathroom, grabs a plastic cup from off the marble counter, fills it with the last droplets of warm water she probably has and precedes to follow the woman the fifty feet across outside on the padded snow to the neighboring igloo. The temperature outside is just above freezing. Rebecca uses her hands to grasp the little, plastic cup from all around to keep the water as warm as possible. She forgets her coat. She can’t even remember if she brought her coat here. She had planned to be alone. She had planned to stay inside. She didn’t think anything else would have been necessary.
The two women arrive at the neighboring igloo. As the woman opens the door, Rebecca slips past her and stands against a wall next to the couple’s closet and waits. Almost tiptoeing, the woman approaches her husband and taps his shoulder.
“Henry, I got you some warm water.”
With a strong lisp, her husband responds, “I told you not to go out there. I thaid I thaw a bear.”
“Well it wouldn’t be the first time you thought you saw something. Here. This nice woman got us some warm water from her faucet.”
Rebecca moves forward still grasping the little cup tightly and holds it out in front of her.
“Justh give it to me,” the man demands.
The woman takes the cup from Rebecca’s hands and gives it to her husband, who, with a bent back, pours the liquid over his mouth and tongue and slicks away from the glass with a small pop. Smacking his lips and tongue together he musters up another sentence.
“I could have done it mythelf,” he proclaims, still with slight lisp.
“Well be thankful you have a wife who is willing to walk outside in the freezing winter weather to help you,” she retorts.
He reminds her, “I never athked for your help.”
Noticing she is no longer needed, Rebecca begins walking backwards toward the cold breeze slipping through the door the woman forgot to shut.
The woman starts at her husband again, “You are the most ungrateful…”
Rebecca slips out smoothly and quickly, shuts the door as quietly as she possibly can and makes her way back to her own igloo. There are no bears. At least none that she can see or hear. She reminds herself confidently that bears are supposed to hibernate in the winter so she has no need to worry. She arrives at her own door shivering. She shuts the door behind her calmly and sits on the floor for a moment next to the small fireplace. She should have brought a coat. Winter in Finland is very cold. She didn’t think she would be outside again once she got here. Rebecca takes the comforter from off the bed behind her and wraps herself as firmly as she can between the plush, down feathers. Thinking of the woman and her husband she remembers the prescription bottle. She looks to the bedside table. Husband, she thinks. She stares at the small bottle for a moment then returns her gaze to the fire in front of her. The dancing flames are so beautiful. She feels her body warm once more and decides to get up, climb back into the bed and tuck herself beneath the silk sheets and comforter. She feels safe. Warm. Another magnetic, green wave rolls its way across the clear, black sky. She is momentarily stirred by its beauty, but can only bring herself to shut her eyes. Husband. The thought keeps repeating itself in her mind. A few minutes pass and she notices the silence filling around her. She shuffles her arm around, feeling for her phone among the sheets, finds it and grabs it tightly. She kisses the screen and opens her eyes to search for “Song for Sienna.” She finds it, presses play and turns her phone onto speaker mode. She lies back down with both hands on her device resting on her chest. She can almost feel her heartbeat in her hands pumping up through the small technology box. Four minutes pass. The song finishes. She plays it once more, and this time remembers to hit the repeat button so she can fully let go. But half way through the soft melody, a loud pounding jolts her upright. She pauses the music and looks around the room. The noise didn’t come from her door. She gazes through the glass panels and facing straight ahead, sees the woman she just helped shouting out through the bedside window.
“Thank you! You left before I could thank you, so I came to find you. My husband is fine now. His tongue is still pretty red but it’ll be fine…”
Rebecca gazes at the woman for a long moment with a blank face.
The woman persists; “would you like some company? We have some cards and a portable DVD player for movies. It’s really great.”
Rebecca thinks for a minute, closes her eyes, politely shakes her head no and lies back down.
The woman comes around to the door, knocks again, and continues shouting, “are you sure? My husband and I don’t mind.”
Rebecca pulls the covers over her head and sinks as far down into the mattress as she can. All she wants is for the woman to go away. She just wants to be alone. She is supposed to be alone. She lies still. The woman knocks again, waits for a sound that never comes, and then leaves. Rebecca pulls the sheets down to just below her eyes and breathing out another sigh, gazes up through the glass ceiling into the millions of stars above her head. Husband, the thought creeps in once more. A blast of neon green, followed by hints of orange and red in small ripples flashes in her eyes. Breathtaking. The northern lights never cease to amaze. There is a flash again. A tingle. A whisper.
Pausing for a moment as she lies still, the silence begins to creep its way back in. Rebecca moves her hands across the sheets, searching for her phone and finds it beneath her left leg squished by her thigh. She picks it up, turns on the screen, presses play once more on her song and rests the phone against her chest just as she had done before. Relief. She stays hidden beneath the sheets determined to not allow herself to emerge again. But something will not go away. The thought is almost shouting now, Husband! Scrunching her face, she shakes her head back and forth and moans in desperation. Go away, she urges. Leave me alone. All she wants is to be alone. Her mind forces her body to sit up. Something is telling her to look at her phone. She grabs the little device once more, turns the screen on, and presses the button to open her photos. As the medley of pictures appears before her, she throws her phone to the edge of the bed and slaps both hands to her face, rubbing them up and down frantically trying to erase the pictures. They are all of her and Charles.
She releases her hands from her face after some time. “Song for Sienna” has stopped playing. Perhaps the phone paused itself when she threw it. She needs the music though. So forcing herself to move, she sits up, leans forward with an arm outstretched and snatches her phone so quickly, the poor thing nearly escapes being thrown from her palm again. She sits cross-legged on the bed for a moment holding her phone in her lap and lowers her head. A small tear rolls its way down her cheek and strikes the phone’s screen with a silent plop. She grabs her sleeve, wipes the tear away and leans her body against the bed’s backboard, unhooking her legs to lay them out fully in front of her. She holds her phone before her face and staring at the blank screen, sees her reflection in the glass. She gazes deeply into the eyes of the tearing figure before her and quickly erases the image by blocking it out with her hand.
Gathering strength, she presses a few buttons and allows the medley of photos to bombard her once more while “Song for Sienna” plays on repeat. Charles. She looks away for a moment, then returns and scrolls through the images to find the last picture they took together. Charles. They are at the beach. He is holding her in his arms passionately. Smiling. Waving. Tall. Strong. Green eyes. Black hair. Every inch. Every detail. Beautiful. As a half curved smile paints its way across her lips, another salty tear runs down the side of her small nose. Husband. She stares at this picture until the screen turns itself off. She raises the volume of her music to as loud as it will go to drown out anything and everything surrounding her. She embraces her phone and allows the endless tears to fall down and off her cheeks. Soft, tiny, wet circles embed themselves onto the sheets beneath her as the song continues to play.
Rebecca clasps her knees to her chest and begins to rock back and forth. She looks to her right, to the bedside table and sees the bright orange bottle. Quickly grabbing it she reads the label as if she’s forgotten what’s inside. Oxycontin. She unscrews the cap. Pop! Looking into the bottle, she raises it to her nose and smells the air surrounding the large, white ovals. Chalky. Powdery. She flips the bottle upside down and allows the pills to gather in her cupped hand. She glances again to the bedside table and sees she has no water. So, placing each individual oval on a pillow, Rebecca removes herself from the bed again, walks to the small, unlit bathroom and fills the remaining complimentary plastic cup with cold water. She takes a few sips, fills the cup back up and walks back again to the bed. She places the cup on the bedside table and sits down, making sure not to disturb the pool of pills resting on the pillow behind her. She breathes deeply again and faces the glass windows looking out to the darkened forest surrounding this quaint Igloo Village. She shuts her eyes and bends her body down, resting her forearms on her crossed thighs and places her face in the palms of her hands. A brilliant flash of green fills her entire room; but this time it goes unnoticed. The howls from the wolves among the mountains are so distant now they are barely audible against the delicate melody of the song. The breeze continues to rustle the pine needles, but there too, the owls have fallen silent. Another unnoticed flash. A tingle. A whisper.
Rebecca catches herself, having nearly fallen off the bed. She drags her legs beneath the warm covers and meticulously grabs the chalk white pills from off the pillow, one by one, and places them in a small depression of the sheets between her thighs. She takes her phone and places it on the bedside table. She picks up the small, white, oval-shaped pills in a single handful. Holding onto them tightly, she looks up to the sky. Green waves pour over the heavens like crashing waves on a shoreline. She closes her eyes and takes in a deep breath. She gently raises her hand, loosening her grip to expose the pills and opens her mouth. She stops. Her song has stopped and her phone is vibrating. She reaches for her phone to see who is calling. Mom. Today is three years ago exactly. The anniversary. She pauses and stares at the bright screen flashing her mother’s face. She wants to answer. She wants comfort. She wants to cry to her mother in anger and sadness. But she can’t. She won’t. She doesn’t. She clicks the red button and the vibration stops. Placing the phone down, “Song for Sienna” starts playing again and Rebecca rests her head against the wooden backboard of the bed. Grabbing one of the pillows, she places it in her lap, slides her arm beneath the comforter and opens her other freed hand to release the pills on the pillow. She looks at her hand and sees it stained with white. This is no good, she says to herself.
Rebecca forces herself off the delightful bed once more, and heads back to the bathroom. She turns on the faucet and rinses her hands beneath the ice-cold water. There is no warm water left now. She dries her hands on one of the creamy, white towels and begins to leave, but pauses a moment and walks back to the sink. She decides to splash some water on her face. She wants to be awake now. She wants to look clean. Refreshed. Finishing, she pats her face dry and walks back to the bed. She stands at the edge of the mattress and gazes down at her pills. Placing both hands down she kneels to the floor. Husband. The tears begin to fall again, but she wipes them away. She just washed her face. I want to be clean. She starts to pull herself up, but stops and decides instead to lie on the rug on the floor next to the bed instead. Her arms lay flat on each side of her body and her legs are stretched straight out.
The cold breeze continues to whistle outside as Rebecca lies on the floor. Her eyes are closed and her breathing is soft. Another flash lights the room, but Rebecca’s attention is inside herself. She quietly contemplates. Husband. She is alone. Nervous. Unsure. She wants to feel love again. She wants to feel safe inside an embrace—a groan. Not from her, but from outside. She lies still. Another groan—this time almost twice as loud as the first. She opens her eyes. Groan, groan, groan. Louder, louder, louder. Rebecca sits up, still halfway in a daze. She peers through the glass, but sees nothing. She hears crunching in the snow close by. She walks to the curved, glass windows and peers outside trying to glimpse whatever it is that is making the noise. Please don’t be the woman again she thinks. She hears another groan, this time coming more from behind the door. She glides quietly across the floor to the other end of the room and tries peering through the peek hole. She can’t see anything but darkness. Groan. From the right this time. Groan, groan, groan. She hears some exuberant rustling in the trees just beyond and then, the noise stops. She wants to open her door to look outside, but reminds herself she has no coat and advises herself against it. No more leaving. No more distractions. She begins to walk back to the bed and right before sitting down hears a noise again. It’s another knock on the door. Please don’t be her. She really does not want to answer. She stands still wondering if she should inconspicuously turn off all her lights, but the knock comes again. This time though it is a man’s voice that muffles through.
“Hello? Ma’am? My name is Gary. I am the park ranger for the Village and we got word there were some bears in the area. I am here to investigate the disturbance. There are bear tracks right outside…”
Rebecca answers the door.
“Hello ma’am. There are some bear tracks outside your door here that circle your igloo. We just wanted to make sure everything was okay in here. Did you see the bears or which direction they left in?”
She points her finger to the right by the trees.
“Thank you. We are going to send a team out to force the bears in another direction. There shouldn’t be any more disturbances for you this evening.”
Rebecca replies, “thank you.”
The ranger leaves and Rebecca shuts the door. Hopefully for the last time. She walks back to her bed and moves the pillow with her pills to the other side as she crawls into the sheets tucking herself in as tightly as she can. She can feel her phone beneath her back humming her song. She turns on her side, grabs the phone and puts it beneath the other pillow she is laying her head on. The music streams steadily and softly through the down feathers between the silk pillowcase and into the air surrounding her. Grabbing the loose pillow with her ovals, she places it closer to her side. She can see them. The pills. They look like little clouds in a silky, gray sky. She takes both arms from beneath the sheets and with one, grabs the small cup of water, and with the other, picks up one of the ovals.
This is why she is here. Husband. He is gone. All her love is gone. Her passion. Her feeling. Her emotion. There is nothing. For three years she has tried to survive, but the loneliness has finally taken its toll. Meticulously, one by one, Rebecca swallows each pill with a small sip of water until all thirty-two are gone. “Song for Sienna” plays. The sound fills her mind as it continues to filter its way through the pillow. She gazes once more to the electrified sky. Flashes of green show brighter in the night than she has ever seen before. She closes her eyes. She is starting to feel tired. A different sound creeps its way into her ear. The ranger must have gone next door too. The husband is proclaiming out loud that he did in fact see a bear, still with a lisp. The woman yells at him to stop shouting and all Rebecca can do is let out a tiny hiccup of laughter and smile. Husband. She continues to lie still with her eyes gently shut as a smile caresses her face. “Song for Sienna” continues, ends and repeats, as a compassionate rush of velvet blackness fills her body. There it is again. A tingle. A whisper. There is something else in the sky tonight…