Kaylee opened her eyes. Still groggy, everything looked that pale, washed out grey color that let Kaylee know the sun had just started to rise. She glanced over at her husband, Luke, still fast asleep, his chest rising and falling, corresponding to a light snore.
She wiped the sleep dust from her eyes. Suddenly, she felt hyper, completely awake, and almost manic. Her energy level hadn’t been this high in ages, and she felt excited to greet the day.
She threw the blanket back. Her skin prickled with goosebumps as the chilly spring air embraced her. Birds chirped outside. The sound seemed too loud, and she remembered that the windows were open. She smelled misty air, budding trees, spring flowers, and grass. The thought of it all tickled her nose, and she held back a sneeze, not wanting to awaken Luke. She gingerly climbed from the bed and stepped with bare feet onto the cool wooden floor. The floor felt gritty as she walked out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and into the kitchen. She made a mental note to sweep later.
She emptied out yesterday’s contents from the percolator. She grumbled as some of the grounds missed the trashcan and landed in the floor, but then she shrugged it off. She was already planning to sweep. She refused to let it bother her. She refilled the percolator with fresh water and coffee grounds and then plugged it in. It hissed and popped as it heated up.
She looked out of the window over the kitchen sink. The rising sun poised ever so resplendent, a heavenly display of oranges and reds. Mostly reds. What was that old saying, “Red in the morning, sailors take warning.”? She thought the sky had never looked lovelier. She smiled, admiring the ominous beauty of the coming day.
This dawn seemed magical and fresh. Everything felt different. She couldn’t believe how depressed she’d been yesterday, so utterly down. Middle age taunted her, whispered sour everythings in her ear and made her feel the harsh movement of time slipping away with each breath like dandelion seeds in a summer breeze.
She’d gotten grey hairs this year, and recently, she noticed that her locks were thinning! She told herself that if her hair became too ugly, she could get a wig, but she didn’t want that. She wanted her own hair, thick and luscious, atop her head! Moreover, she’d noticed some wrinkles defiling her perfect skin! Her face looked like a crumpled piece of crepe paper, pulled from the trash can and smoothed out for a second use. She saw a hideous monster when she gazed into the mirror. She felt so distressed! So much of her ego was tied up in her looks. She didn’t want to be old and ugly! She knew these emotions were shallow, but she felt them all the same. She felt helpless. The stress of losing her job had been too much for her, and it was ruining her beauty.
She exhaled a soothing breath. Today was a new day. She recognized that her dysphoric self-image was likely exaggerated and hypercritical. She’d go to the day spa, get a facial. Maybe she’d get a new haircut and dye job. What she needed was a make-over. She could age gracefully and still be pretty. Her problems could all be solved with a little self-indulgence and a shopping spree.
Today would be a good day.
Not like last night. She’d had a huge blowout with Luke. Again. Kaylee felt unfulfilled. She wanted to go back to college and finish her degree. Luke had told her they couldn’t afford it. Luke didn’t seem to care that she fluttered in the breeze like a tattered and sun-faded wind sock!
Kaylee felt like Luke wasn’t being supportive, felt like he hadn’t been empathetic to her needs in a long while. Luke drank too much, but he wouldn’t admit it. She wanted him to make some grand gesture to show that he still cared, but he remained oblivious. She thought he would’ve done something special for her fortieth birthday, maybe throw her a surprise party or buy her a fancy gift, but he didn’t. All he did was take her out to a mediocre restaurant, one that didn’t have a dress code or reservations. Furthermore, at the last minute, he’d invited his bellicose mother to tag along. Then he drank too much, like usual.
Last night, she’d felt over the hill and worthless. Their problems had seemed insurmountable, so huge and important. She’d yelled at him, aired her every grievance. He’d dismissed her with a smirk and a shrug. She’d stormed off to their bedroom and seethed, alone with her thoughts.
She’d held a bottle of antidepressants in her hand, pondering how many it would take to end it all. She’d sipped wine straight out of the bottle, all the while wondering if Luke was ever going to come upstairs and apologize, tell her everything would work out, promise to find a way. After all, she’d worked two jobs to support him while he went back to college. Surely he’d realize she wasn’t asking for too much. She waited and waited.
Last night, she’d felt unloved. Unappreciated. Old and valueless.
Not today. Today, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. At this moment, she felt happy. She felt certain that Luke would come around. He would apologize, tell her how much he loved her, tell her that her happiness mattered. Today, she would have a good day. She would call her friends up and see if they wanted to hang out, maybe see a movie. Today, she’d wear her favorite dress and eat a giant ice cream Sunday, calories be damned!
Luke awoke. He felt hungover, heavy in the head and sloshy in the stomach. He remembered the fight he’d had with Kaylee the night before. He did love her. He wanted her to be happy. Maybe he’d been too quick to say no to the idea of her going back to school. He stretched and yawned, then wiped the sleepers from his eyes. He wanted to apologize. He rolled over to see if Kaylee was up yet.
Kaylee heard Luke scream, a low, guttural, frantic yowl that filled the entire house with a thick sense of dread and doom. Her blood pressure skyrocketed. Her breathing became fast and panicked as she rushed up the stairs to help Luke.
She flew through the door into their bedroom. She found Luke on his knees in the bed, leaning over a pile of pillows, desperately shaking it. His expression displayed shock and dismay.
Kaylee felt a lump in her throat. “Honey, what’ wrong?” she asked as she slowly walked forward. He ignored her. “Honey?” she called out again. She noticed the empty wine bottle on the bedside table. Then she acknowledged the empty pill bottle beside it, right where she’d left it.
At that point, reality flooded in on her. Luke wasn’t shaking pillows; he was shaking her corpse.
“Wake up! Wake up, please! Kaylee! No! Please just wake up!” he sobbed. He pulled her close to him. He should’ve came up and apologized last night. He should’ve at least kissed her goodnight when he’d finally stumbled to bed.
Kaylee felt the floor drop beneath her, and she hovered in the void, one more lost soul drowning in despair and bitterness so thick like old gravy.
Tears streaked down Luke’s face as he rocked her cold, lifeless body in his arms, and he wondered why he could smell fresh coffee.