By Kim Plyler

A life on Old Fork road is not one to be envied. A strip of unpaved dirt, the farther south you go, the less money there is to be found.. I live as far south as you can get, alone. Work is scarce; there isn’t much left to this town after the factory closed, and with everything that happened after, there isn’t anyone left to even run a grocery store. Money is even harder to come by, a dollar here and there, and now those few dollars are spent up too. This whole town has dried up, and I’m the stubborn soul to remain.

I sit in my ramshackle home, holes in the plaster and tears in the linoleum, and feel as though each of my few possessions is mocking me. The refrigerator in particular, with its gentle hum like a siren’s song luring me to open its door, only to be greeted with chilled emptiness. The noise of it no longer sounds like a gentle hum, but a wicked laugh at my slow starvation. I wonder which will come first: starvation or madness?

I’ve always had trouble with leaving my house. As far back as I can remember, my mother always warned me of the dangers of the world. War, disease, the violence of other people. By the time she passed she had already filled my brain with the thought that it was simpler, safer to remain in my own home. Always. This was manageable back when I could work from home, when there were other people in town to bring me necessities. Now there is no one left. I wonder if I am the only person still in town. No one has come to check on me, and phones stopped working weeks ago. I have no way of knowing what’s happening outside my door unless I open it, and I dare not. Every time I try, I hear my mother’s voice scolding, yelling, pleading, just before my hand reaches the knob. I am trapped by my fear, trapped with my fear.

I was never allowed to attend school. My mother taught me at home, the basics, what I would need to know in order to gain some sort of income. She, like I, worked odd jobs that didn’t require her to leave our living room. She had one of the local boys deliver groceries and supplies once a month, hoarding what she could in case of emergency. We never went hungry, but she never allowed us any excess in the event that times got tough. She was very strict in matters such as those: Everything I know about living this way came from her. It’s all I have ever known.  I never resented her for the way she raised me, the way she forced me to think. She was never a loving woman, she never treated me well, but she was all I had .Now I wonder if I should have; if I had resented, resisted more, maybe I wouldn’t be here. Maybe I’d have the strength to leave.

Days later, I have finally exhausted my stockpile of supplies. My limbs feel weak, I can’t bring myself to move too far from the tattered couch, and my head feels fuzzy. Thoughts flit in and out like lightning bugs that I can’t catch.  I fall into, fitful sleep and awake to…noise? From the kitchen? I stumble in to find a female figure, back to me, rooting through the cabinets.She turns, and I’m startled by the most familiar face.

“You can’t…You’re dead.”

“As you will be soon. What’s the matter with you? There’s no food in this house!” My mother’s voice is just as I remember; angry and exasperated.

“This…this isn’t real.”

“What is wrong with you, stupid child? Didn’t you learn anything  from me? It isn’t hard to keep food in this house.”

My mind is reeling. For a moment, I believe it actually is my mother, but no. I found her after she passed, watched men take her body out the back door. There’s a headstone that I can see from the window. I may be hallucinating, but my mind isn’t so lost that I’ve forgotten that.

“Mother it’s not my fault, something happened and-“

“Silly girl, always making excuses. Didn’t you ever listen to me? I should have known you couldn’t survive without me, so incompetent you’d let yourself starve, get yourself killed…”

Even as an illusion my mother sees me as weak. She continues on, belittling, insulting, and as she does, I’m reminded of all the years of this torture I endured. Of seeing other kids playing outside and being told how stupid I was for wanting to join them, to have a normal childhood. I’m reminded of the life that she stole from me.

“No. I’m not getting myself killed. You. You are..”

“I beg your pardon? Oh, it’s just like you to go blaming someone else for your problems, never could take any responsibility for your actions. Shame on you!” The more she speaks, the fainter I feel.  I fear I won’t last much longer, but I muster the strength to reply. If ever there were a time to stand up to her, it is now.

“NO. This is your fault. It’s your fault that I never got to have a life, your fault that don’t know what the world is really like, or how to live in it. It’s you that kept me alone and afraid. And when I die here, alone, and there’s no one around to find my body, to remember me or mourn my death, that will be your fault too.”

My vision is blurry now, nearly blind, but I feel resolute. I’ve finally said everything that I’ve been repressing for so many years. I’m making my way to the door, stumbling, my mothers voice ringing in my skull, all the warnings I’ve heard my whole life. I feel rather than see my fingers find the doorknob. It turns.