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The subway rattles, and my body sways as the train stops. It feels as if my mind and body aren’t quite in sync. The train is still and quiet before the doors open but my brain is still shaking. Only a few people get off at the stop, but even more come on; The tide of people inside the train crash together to make more room. I hear people talking, some even laughing, but they sound as if they are above ground, far away from here.
The voice is near me. I hear and understand it but my mind lags and I do not react.
“Ma’am? Would you like my seat?”
His voice is loud, almost a shout, and my head snaps around. His face is calm and inquisitive; handsome and clean just as he would have been. The same green eyes too, but his hair is a shade lighter.
“Would you like my seat?” I think he repeats.
I must look like an old woman. Well, only ancient women have dead sons I suppose.
“Oh, thanks.” I mumble. Heads turn around, up and down, all to look at me as if I said something loud or obnoxious. My mouth tightens, I grip the pole as I sit down. The train rattles on and I crack my neck, eyes shut.
My cell phone rings, snapping me out of any peace I may have found. No one seems to notice, but I feel embarrassed and answer it as quickly as possible.
“Hello?” I use my receptionist voice. I see the young man, who gave me his seat, glance down. For a second it looks like his mossy green eyes changed to brown. I lower my voice.
“Hello?” I repeat with a harsh whisper, the same voice I’d use when Ben made a scene at the grocery store. The phone just keeps ringing, louder and louder with each trill. People are looking again. Why do they always look?
“Hello? Hello?” The ringing fills the subway car and I have to shout just to be heard. I try turning the phone off but the ringing just goes on and on. I yell louder, desperate for it to end. I feel hot and my lips quiver. Everybody is staring, none of them seeming to mind the noise. Just me.
“Hello?! Hello?!” The ringing of the phone is now deafening and the trilling worms itself into my brain. It reverberates in my skull. Now everybody is gawking, some are laughing.
“It’s not my fault! It won’t stop ringing!” I yell. It does nothing to make people stop staring. I breathe in and out. My throat is cold and my lungs need air, but they also feel too full.
“Hello?” My voice cracks this time and my face crumples, the map of my wrinkles defined. The front of my brain burns and I throw the phone across the train. It hits a young boy in the head and shatters. Everybody gasps, some run away and some go to the boy. But he is not crying, he is not bleeding. He is just there. Sitting in the seat opposite me, wearing his little suit. I take a sharp breath as my lungs falter.
The train stops again and the mass of people crowd my vision. My breath shudders, and he is gone. Tears run down my face as I think of him just sitting there, looking out the window at the empty blackness of the subway tunnel. He was there with me,watching and waiting. My shoulders hunch over and I weep again.
Fog clings to the trees, and the grass is cold under my bare feet. I hold my red, flat shoes in my right hand, and breathe in the freezing air. Jameson park is downtown, surrounded by skyscrapers and streets on three sides, and a vast lake on the fourth. In the summer Ben and I would sit on the small pebbly beach and eat sour Skittles. Waves lapped around our toes, and he would run away laughing from the water.
My feet are red and swollen from walking on the frosted ground, but I don’t mind the pain. At least I can feel something. I reach the big oak tree where we would sit, green grass dampening our shorts and the sun shining on our faces. I sit rigidly, with my back against the hard trunk, and breathe deeply in and out. I haven’t been myself recently. Or at least that’s what everyone has been telling me. I can feel them staring at my uncombed hair and my mismatched clothes when they visit to see how I’m doing. My sister is very concerned for me. I bet she was the one who called on the subway. Ben probably broke my phone when he was playing Angry Birds. He loves that game, I’ll tell him to be more careful next time.
Then it feels as if one of the waves comes crashing over me. All the water in my body freezes over. I remember that there is no next time. He is gone forever. Permanently. He may appear in my dreams, still and silent, but I will always wake up. My eyes will open every morning, stare blankly at the sun as it shines on other mothers, and I will weep. I hit the back of my head against the trunk of the tree repeatedly. I feel numb and dumb. Then, like projectile vomit, a slew of tears pour out of my eyes. My throat gasps and I yelp at each wretch of pain. I hug myself, put my head in my lap, and cry. I cry in a way I have never allowed myself before. The tears stream down my face, collecting in the little hollow above my lips.
My legs lift me up and I have the sudden need to run, to jump, to flee from here. My breath is bottled up in my lungs, and I turn my head, searching. Then I’m off. I run frantically and would have looked like one of those skinny moms who jog if I wasn’t wearing an oversized puffy coat and saggy sad girl shorts with ripped leggings underneath. I’m still barefoot but numb to any pain. Gravel sticks in between my toes and trees flash past. I don’t know why I’m running, but there is a guttural feeling that I need to get far away from here. I stop abruptly when I get to a dock, slowly swaying in the water. Boats are tied up to either side of it. I catch my breath and pull off my red puffy coat, it will only weigh me down. I leave the coat on the ground and walk onto the dock. Ben’s dad has a boat here, or at least he used to. He would take Ben out onto the lake every other weekend in the summer.
I push a sweaty strand of hair out of my face. Some left over tears gather on my eyelashes as I slowly walk over the splintery wood of the dock. Fog masks the horizon, everything is cloudy. I reach the end of the dock and curl my toes over the edge. Closing my eyes, I feel the breeze against my rough skin. My hand brushes the teardrops away from my eyes. My lashes tickle my fingers reminding me of when I would read to Ben. He would get really close to me to look at the pictures and his face would be against mine, his lashes touching my cheek. I open my eyes and my eyebrows furrow in sadness. Everything reminds me of him. Every place, pebble, and piece of lego. He was my entire existence, the one thing that I truly loved. Without him, what is my life? These past six months have been unconnected moments in time that mean nothing to me. I am losing my mind. I see him wherever I go, I hear his voice in my head along with others. I am broken beyond repair. I look down at the empty blackness of the lake and close my eyes. I can feel the air seeping into my pores and the clouds wreathing around my head. I tumble forward into the blackness.
My eyes immediately flash back open and any sadness has been replaced by fear. My spine snaps back and forth from the icy cold water. I scream and swallow a muddy, green gulpful. I kick and throw my body around, bubbles and froth swirl around me. Terror and crashing waves deafen my mind. I have no concept of what is up or down and I desperately need air. Then, in the swirling fear I hear a voice. A high clear voice screaming and shouting.
“Mommy!!” It is just in my head, it is just in my head.
“Mommy! Help!” I swim toward the voice and try to see through the muddy water. I need air, I need air.
“Mommy! I’m drowning!” Then I see a little body sink down and hit the mud ground, unconscious or dead. I frantically swim towards the body, my eyes and lungs stinging. I can’t see him that well but as I get closer the mud no longer blinds me. He is wearing a little black suit. I grab him, hug him close against me, and swim to the surface. I break through the water and gasp in a whole lungful of air, then spit out the green mud. His face is up against mine and I spin my head around looking for shore. His mossy green eyes open.
“Ben, Ben, what are you-? How are you-?” I am out of breath, and begin to cry. He is in my arms again. He is dripping wet but I can feel the warmth of him against my body, the light of my life. I sob and hold the back of his head, treading water and brushing his hair with my wrinkled fingers. My salty tears mix with the fresh water that clings to us.
“Mommy. Mommy I’m drowning.”
“No, no you’re safe with me. I saved you. You’re safe. You’re okay. I love you. You’re safe,” I gasp between sobs.
“No, mommy, stop. Stop crying, I’m drowning. I’m drowning,” He whispers this to me quickly and hurriedly. Scared that I won't hear him.
“No, you’re okay, you’re not drowning.” I shiver in the cold and my voice cracks, “You’re safe.” Suddenly he takes both his ice cold hands and holds my face, looking straight into my eyes with his dark green ones. I look back, still crying.
“Mommy, stop crying,” he says forcefully and desperately. I wipe the tears away from my eyes.
“Okay, no crying, no crying.”
“No, stop, stop, stop crying. I’m drowning. I’m drowning.” We look at each other for a moment. My body is numb and I fear that I’ll die of the cold out here, but with Ben near me again, I will withstand any pain. I cry again looking into his eyes. His body goes limp and slips out of my arms, into the blackness of the water.
“No! Ben!” He’s sinking faster and faster. He is only visible from the shoulders up. He is screaming.
“Stop crying, stop crying!” He yells, gurgled and I wipe my eyes. Suddenly he is no longer sinking, he swiming back to me, I grab him and hold him tight. He will never leave my arms.
“I thought I’d lost you, I thought I’d lost you! What happened?”
“Mommy you have to stop crying. I try to rest, I try to go to sleep but every time you cry for me, I drown. My clothes are moldy and my hair is never dry. Stop crying, stop crying. I need to rest, I need to go to sleep.”
I let his words sink in and let my tears dry. I see the bags under his eyes and think of the past six months. We’ve been drowning together in a blackness, deep and unchartered. Every tear I shed has been poured onto him. He needs to rest. I need to rest.
“I love you, I love you,” I whisper into his ear.
Suddenly he is gone, a figment of my messed up mind. I let him go and look towards land.