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by Andrew Curtis
Not For Sale
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Not For Sale
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Karen sits alone in her studio apartment in complete darkness with her head in her hands. Tears are dried on her face from crying for the past house and a half. Her cat, Ellie, has been by her side the entire time and is walking in and out of her outstretched legs, looking for attention. Karen wipes away a few last tears and pushes Ellie away with her left foot.
“Go away,” she weeps, “mama doesn’t want you to see her like this.”
Ellie walks away hurt and rejected.
Karen’s bottom lip begins to tremble as tears again well up in her already puffy eyes. She reaches for the bottle of vodka sitting on the table next to her and takes a long, burning gulp. Her tears subside as the alcohol numbs her feelings. Trying to stand, her knees shake and she staggers to keep her balance. She falls into the other wooden chair, unable to stand. Karen lies on the ground holding her head and shaking from the excessive amount of alcohol she’s taken in.
Her apartment looks like a bar fight has just ended in it. Empty bottles of vodka, gin and rum are strewn across the floor and several more are toppled over on the dining room table. Her only ashtray is overflowing with cigarette butts, some of which have rolled out, leaving burns on the scratched table top.
The insidious apartment only falls below eighty degrees in the dead of night when the air chills. She has not paid an electric bill in over three months. Winter is steadily approaching which will bring frigid temperatures inside and out of the dwelling. Stacks of unopened bills and letters are lying on the floor next to the front door. Some are letters from concerned friends and family, the others are junk mail.
Karen finally sits up and takes another shot of vodka. She winces as the liquid burns her lips and throat. She grabs the table and pulls herself to her feet. She rocks back and forth, trying to stay still. Her head drops over and over as she has no strength left to hold it up. She staggers into the kitchen to try and see if she has any food, full knowing that she doesn’t.
She opens the refrigerator and is greeted by an awful stench emanating from the spoiled milk. The only other items in the dark unit are an empty bread wrapper, a bottle of vodka and a can of diet soda. She closes the door and opens the freezer. The smell of mildew turns her stomach, forcing her to vomit in the sink. She wipes her mouth with an already soiled rag and begins opening the empty cupboards. The only item is an open can of cat food.
She stares at the can and looks down at Ellie, who again is rubbing her legs striving for attention.
“Go find a mouse,” she yells.
Ellie looks up at her with sorrowful eyes.
“GO, I said!” clapping her hands to scare the cat away.
Karen pulls the can of crusted food from the cupboard and looks inside. She retrieves a fork from the drawer and takes a small bite. Unable to stomach the food, she spits it out, dry heaving.
She slides to the floor again sobbing, dropping the can of food. An overwhelming blackness envelops Karen’s entire heart, squeezing the life out of her. Even with her eyes open, she cannot see. It is too dark to see any way out of the hell she has created. Her mind flashes back to when she held the .38 pistol firmly between her teeth. She wished at this moment, that she would have pulled the trigger.
Ellie cautiously sniffs the dried cat food, passing it by. She licks her lips as she looks towards Karen who is staring off into oblivion. Ellie takes one step in Karen’s direction then pauses. Her feline mind takes over and she races to the window sill, looking out into the alley below.
In that cell of pity and despair, Karen knows she is absolutely alone. No one cares for her and she feels the same to everyone else. She doesn’t care. She grabs the bottle of vodka from the floor and takes a burning gulp, wincing as the toxin brings tears to her eyes. She slams the bottle to the ground, causing Ellie to jump from the sill and run to the couch.
Karen grabs her knees and hugs them close to her chest, rocking back and forth. Nothing she can do is making her feel comfortable. She can’t drink enough and she has already drunk too much. She realizes she has no more tears left to cry. She is emotionally and physically drained.
Out of the corner of her eye she catches a glimpse of a letter from her mother. She snatches it from the pile of mail and turns it over to open it. Her mother rarely sends money but she just knew there would be something in there for her. Her mother had written on the back of the envelope, “Please come and see us sweetie. We love you.”
Karen takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. Her mind drifts back to when she was 14 and had nothing to worry about besides boys and school. Her mother had said to her the day she was leaving for spring break, “Please write and call us sweetie. We love you.” How she so hated those words today. How can anyone love someone? Why would anyone love someone? And especially how could anyone love her? She was unworthy of anyone’s caring, much less their love.
Karen stares at the unopened letter almost burning a hole in it. She clenches her teeth, trying to keep from yelling. She closes her eyes again, trying to remember a pleasant experience from before the family situation. She drops her head to her chest, takes a deep breath and flings the letter as far across the room as she can.
She slowly rolls over on her stomach, violently weeping. Her body quivers from the emotional seizure. She pulls herself up to her knees, blinded by the tears that stream down her face. Ellie quickly looks at her then focuses back on the window and the traffic two stories below her.
Karen gazes up to the cracked and stained ceiling with a sorrowful face that would make the strongest man fall to his knees in pain, weeping. She clutches her hands together; interlocking her fingers and bows her head. Her chest expands as she inhales a deep, replenishing breath.
“If you’re up there God,” she whispers, “make this pain go away.”
Slowly, she rocks back and forth hoping the motion would get his attention. Her parents had brought her up in the church and forced her to go until she was 18 and decided for herself that she didn’t want that kind of life. Her friends didn’t go to church and always looked like they were having more fun than the stiffly dressed members of the congregation.
A soft knock at her door breaks her concentration. She opens her eyes widely, still staring at the ceiling. She slowly wheels her head around, peering over her shoulder at the door. As she stands, another knock hits the door, louder than the first one. She glimpses up at the ceiling as a smile emanates on her face. With her heart pounding and mind racing, she strides to the door and opens it.
A child, no more than eight years old in full Girl Scout attire, smiles up at her.
“Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” she asks. Her two front teeth are missing, increasing her cuteness.
“I’m sorry,” Karen frowns, “I have absolutely no money right now.”
The girl thanks her for her time and walks to the next apartment door, quietly knocking, hoping to sell the ever famous cookies.
Karen grabs her wallet, shoves it into her pocket and walks out into the
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