Savannah awoke on the front porch of her house.
She stretched, then walked through the front door. The entry smelled like stale smoke. She creeped into the living room. A small pile of smoldering cigarette butts lay on the coffee table, as did a littering of beer bottles, as did a green residue that Savannah knew was weed.
Her stomach clenched. Her mom had stepped over her to get into the house. Sava bit her upper lip to avoid screaming.
She began to clean the mess, throwing the cigarettes into a coffee mug full of water, then dumping that in the trash. She recycled the bottles, then vacuumed the rest.
When she finished, she peeled away and trudged into her room, her heavy feet plodding along the hardwood. Pictures of her dad and her mom, of her and Danny, all together, all smiling, hung from the walls. The picture represented the illusion of happiness. Smiles and laughter made immortal.
Savannah didn’t remember a single moment from her childhood where she smiled, but the images hung as proof, or at the least, they hung as a dream, an illusion, a mirage of another world.
She walked into her room, wanting nothing more than to collapse onto her mattress and drown the world in sleep.
Instead, she found her mom sleeping in her bed.
Quietly, Savannah shut the door then sat on the floor with her back against it. She watched her mother’s body rise and fall. Smelled the piss that stained her sheets. The vomit that matted her hair. It was all too much.
Not the piss or the vomit in her sheets, or on her mom.
It was the backdrop. Her pink wallpaper adorned with white and purple and yellow flowers. A little girl’s room. The walls of an innocent child who knows nothing but happiness and love and safety.
And those walls blanketed Savannah’s mom as she slept off her fucking high, sleeping in her own urine and spew.
But Savannah didn’t cry. She refused to shed tears in front of that woman, even if she slept through the act and never knew otherwise.
Then a dangerous thought slipped into Savannah’s mind. A thought so tempting, her fingers twitched with anticipation.
How easy it would be to grab a pillow and suffocate the woman? No one would know. They’d chalk her death to an overdose. Choked on her own vomit. Savannah and Danny would finally be free from the emotional prison they lived inside.
Savannah’s eyelashes fluttered as she fought against the tears. She always fought. She knew no other way to survive.
Then her mom coughed and rolled in the bed.
Savannah startled. She placed a hand over her mouth to suppress a yelp, and she held her breath. She didn’t want want to interact with that woman in the bed. Using the door to stand, she shuffled over to her mother.
The woman lay on top of the sheets. Chunks of half-digested food clang to her cheeks and spilled onto the pillow.
Savannah gagged at the stench.
Another pillow rested on the floor. Savannah picked it up and set it on the side of the bed. She lifted her mother’s head, moved the soiled pillow away, and placed the clean one underneath.
Then she stepped out of her room and into the hall bathroom.
She caught her reflection in the toothpaste-stained mirror. Red stole the white from her eyes. Her hair tangled around her head like a shoddy bird nest. She looked thirty, not seventeen. Like a woman, exhausted and worn. She didn’t look like a high school girl without a care in the world, other than grades and boys.
Savannah grabbed a hand towel, ran water over it without looking up at the mirror, then entered her room again.
She dabbed the sick off her mother’s dried, uncared for skin. Slid it from her graying, frizzy hair as best she could.
A tear broke from the corner of Savannah’s eye. She wiped it away.
Savannah lay on Jose’s bed and stared at the chipped and molded ceiling.
Every time she drifted between reality and dreams, she heard scratching in the wall, like rats chewing through boards. And each time she bolted awake, for a split second she thought she saw a man standing in the corner of the room. A dark figure with long arms and longs legs who wore a brilliant mask. The figure only lasted a blink. A fleeting figment of her restless sleep.
She rolled around until she became a ball of warmth and energy. Opening her eyes, she stared into the gray darkness of the room, hoping her lids would become heavy and collapse with fatigue, and she’d collapse into sleep with them.
But they didn’t. And she didn’t.
Eventually, Savannah sat with her back resting against the bed’s headboard. She grabbed her phone from the nightstand. The blue light glowed in the darkness. The time read 10:30 PM.
No new messages from Jose. No new messages from her mother. Just a few Instagram notifications.
Clicking the screen to black, Savannah whipped her legs around and set them on the carpet. She flipped on a light switch. A yellow flood swept over the small room. If a man had sneaked into the room and spied on her dreams, he had vanished with the darkness.
Savannah noticed clothes piled on the floor. She followed the laundry to the foot of Jose’s bed, where jeans and socks tried to climb up the sheets. The sight broke her.
The cleanliness of the house was the one aspect of life she could control.
Never had any room in this house fallen to such disarray. Never had her life descended into such uncertainty.
Her shoulders trembled. She held her breath in a attempt to fight against the tears, but they broke free.
As she sobbed, she dialed her brother’s number. The phone rang twice before going to voicemail. Twice. He had ignored her call.
“Where are you,” she said through tears.
The voicemail greeting played. The tone beeped.
“Jose, it’s me. Again. Where are you? Just, just call me back, okay?”
When she hung up, she hissed a curse and threw a sock across the room.
Dialing Evan, she tried to regain an ounce of composure.
“Hello,” Evan answered with a heavy voice.
“Hi,” she said. She sniffled.
“Are you okay?” he whispered. He sounded sincere, like he actually cared.
“There’s clothes everywhere,” she blurted. “On the bed and the floor, and the drawers are open and vomiting outfits. I just…it’s such a mess. Everything is such a mess.”
Evan didn’t respond for a few seconds. Savannah hiccuped into the receiver and tried not to break down into racking sobs.
“Jose didn’t come home?” Evan asked.
Savannah shook her head, not realizing Evan couldn’t see her. “Neither did my mom. I just want to be a normal seventeen year old girl. I want my room to be a mess, Evan. I don’t want to care if there’s clothes everywhere. You know? Why do I have to care? And I don’t know what to do.”
“Are you getting ready to go to Tylers?”
“Yeah. Can I pick you up?”
“You don’t have to do that,” Savannah said, wiping away snot. “I can handle myself.”
Evan chuckled. “To be honest, I’m more nervous for QP. I don’t want you hurting him.”
She snickered. “When can you be here?”
“Let me get dressed and I’ll be over in ten,” Evan said. “Oh, and Sava.”
“Clean your room in the mean time. We all know you’re gonna be thinking about nothing else if you don’t.”
“See you soon.” Savannah disconnected the call, then dialed QP’s number. The phone rang three times. Her stomach sank when she convinced herself he wouldn’t answer.
“Hello?” Wind rushed into his phone’s speaker. “Savannah?” He yelled into the receiver.
“Hey, QP. I can’t sleep. I was hoping you still planned the…adventure.” She felt childish saying it. Adventure. Like they were kids roleplaying in their backyard.
“Duh,” he said. “We’ll be there in twenty.”
“I’m more like thirty out. Can you wait?”
“I’ll always wait for you,” QP said, then he broke into song. “So, Baby, I will wait for you, cause I don’t know what else I can do.”
“QP,” she said.
“Don’t tell me I’ve run out of time, if it takes the rest of my life.” He continued to sing.
His voice sounded pleasant. And Savannah grinned with warmth. “Shut up, QP. See you soon.”
“I really need you in my life.” He sang until she hung up the phone.
If they were going to be digging holes in a cemetery, she didn’t want to be easily spotted. All black attire seemed the most appropriate. She crept into her room and threw on a black sweatshirt and some black athletic pants. Before exiting back to Jose’s empty bedroom, she stole one more glance at her mom.
Her scabbed lips were curled upward, in a half smile, as if she were happy.
When Sava returned to Jose’s room, she began to fold the clothes scattered around. She wasn’t even halfway done when the doorbell rang.
For a second, the dark form with the mask appeared in her mind, and she froze with fear. The figure removed the mask and behind it was Jimmy’s face. Dead and painted white with makeup. His lips held together with black staples.
The doorbell rang again.
Savannah remembered that Evan had planned to meet up with her. She opened the door and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw his thick, fiery hair.
He wore a black sweatshirt and dark blue jeans.
“You’ll probably need a beanie,” she said. “Your hair isn’t quite inconspicuous, you know?”
Evan reached behind him and pulled a black beanie from his back pocket. “I’m way ahead of you. You ready?” he asked as he settled the head cap over his hair.
She locked the front door behind her and they jumped on Evan’s bike. The image of Jimmy’s dead face behind the mask lingered in her mind.