The Ugly Place – Flash Fiction

The lacey shadow of the leaves, stretching across the floor as the sun moved west, stirred ever so slightly as the breeze danced through the trees, a swaying sigh of nature as it had always been.

Nature was about the only thing she could count on these days. Nothing else seemed to make sense any more.

“Get up, Rach,” she grumbled to herself, rolling over to check the time. It was well past noon, too late to justify going back to sleep and too early to say she was simply turning in early. Plus, she’d already spent most of the first week of summer break in the comfort of her bed—a big queen-sized safe haven that took up most of her tiny bedroom.

As if on cue, her mother rapped on her door.

“Rachel, do you want some lunch?” her voice was tight with concern, as it had been for the past few months. “I made grilled cheese.”

Rachel sat up, trying to decide if she was hungry. It had been almost a full twenty-four hours since food passed her lips, but she didn’t have the smallest trace of an appetite.

“I’m fine, thanks,” she said, her voice hoarse. She hardly spoke a word, and when she did, her voice came out like a frog’s croak, deep and throaty.

She could practically hear her mother shaking her head as her footsteps retreated down the hall.

Rachel exhaled, pushing every bit of air out of her lungs before taking a breath again, and flopped back into the nest of pillows she’d set up for herself.

She knew she was in that place again. That dark, ugly place that made her fear her own mind. That place between wanting to die and not caring to live. Where nights and days mix and tangle and become one behind her blackout curtains. Where the thought of leaving her bed caused her physical pain. Where she felt the desperate need to cry, to sob heavily and wet into her pillow, but couldn’t bring herself to care enough to let it all out.

She’d been here before.

This time was different, though.

She had a boyfriend. She’d just graduated valedictorian of her class. She was going to her top choice school in the fall.

But she couldn’t care less.

“You’ve got to pull yourself together,” Matt had said, the day before he left for his annual family trip to Europe, or Australia, or wherever his parents were taking him this year. He had her by the shoulders, and she almost expected him to shake her like a ragdoll, to slap some sense into her. “It always gets better, you know it does. I don’t get why you can’t just be happy.”

Be happy.

His words filled her mind, her lungs, the space around her. It was if someone was playing them on a loop somewhere in the room and she couldn’t escape them. She tried to exhale the words, to push them from her body, and before she could think to calm herself, block spots dotted her vision and she retreated dizzily under her down comforter, gripping the side of the mattress as if it were the only force holding her to the earth.

Why couldn’t she just be happy?


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