Morning Fog

My alarm went off at six in the morning. I know that’s not early for a lot of people, but it is for me. Despite working full-time for a month, I still wasn’t able to get up this early easily.

I hit the snooze button without even opening my eyes.

The alarm went off five minutes later. I snoozed it again, shoving my phone under my pillow to muffle the sound the next time it would go off.

I’ve used the alarm on my phone for over two years now, ever since the plug-in alarm clock I had died.

I could hear the alarm even through the pillow, which, rationally, I knew was a good thing. I didn’t want to be late, I just didn’t want to get out of bed yet.

I used to have a phone with three alarms. At night, before going to sleep, I used to make sure all three were set. One with the time I wanted to get up, which I would invariably snooze through for twenty minutes, one with the time I needed to get up, and one with the time I needed to leave to avoid being late.

Since I switched phones, I’ve had to make due with only one alarm. I set it for the time I’d like to get up, so I can snooze for a while. It makes me feel like I’m getting a little extra sleep, even though it’s disrupted sleep and therefore not restful or good for me at all, according to my sister who yells at me whenever I mention snoozing.

Keep eyes closed. Hit alarm. Snooze.

The only time I can ever just wake up is if I have some sort of event or special activity planned. When I have a morning flight, even if I’ve only had two hours of sleep, I will wake up and be ready to go in just a few minutes. Plenty of time to sleep on the flight. But apparently work isn’t an important enough occasion.

My mind was awake at this point, but my eyes were still heavy. I knew I needed to get up, to get ready. Luckily, I plan for this and usually set out the clothes I’ll wear the night before. Or at least have them in mind.

My alarm went off again, and I managed to roll out of bed, pull on some clothes, and make my way to the bathroom. Hair and teeth brushed, sleep out of my eyes, phone, keys, wallet. I made my way to my car. Fifteen minutes to the Metro, but at one of the lights I needed to get my phone out of my bag to finally dismiss the alarm instead of snoozing it.

I managed to find a parking space on the second level of the garage, a rarity at this time. Usually I have to go to the third floor. But the space was pretty tight. The car on the left was parked in its space, but the SUV on the right was pulled right up on the white line.

I got my bag and started to the Metro entrance. While I’d had a surge of energy to get me to the Metro, I was already fading back to sleep. I picked up the Express newspaper and waited at the gate for my SmarTrip to scan. I’d been having problems with it for the last few months. It took a long time to register with the gate. It caused me to miss trains on too many occasions, but right now my mind was too foggy to really care.

Once I got through, I went up the escalator, walked to the last car of the train so I could get off only a few feet from the escalators at my destination stop, sat in a seat facing forward, and rested my head against the window of the car, my newspaper a thin barrier between my face and the cold plastic.

I fell back to sleep before the train left, knowing I would be a few minutes late, and hoping I would wake up before my stop.

The Death of Etta Calloway: Routine

It was just another day. Like any other day this week, or month, or even this year.

Claire was a very organized person. She followed a precise daily routine, a weekly routine, and a monthly routine. And she very rarely varied her routine.

It was a weekday, so according to her weekday routine, Claire would get off work at 4 p.m. She would walk a block to the Metro and wait precisely two minutes for her train to arrive.

Claire hated taking the Metro. The trains were so unreliable. While there was usually a train schedule for 4:08 p.m., sometimes Claire would have to wait for up to six minutes for her train. Claire longed for the days she’d seen in movies where a train conductor would hurry along the dallying passengers, shouting, “Keep it moving. I got a schedule to keep!” before starting the train up and leaving at the exact time listed on the train schedule.

It would take seventeen minutes for the train to get to her stop. When the doors would open, Claire would step out of the car exactly lined up with the stairs to the exit. It would take another three minutes to get to her car, and then another two to exit the parking lot at exactly 4:30 p.m.

Claire went in and left work early so she wouldn’t have to deal with rush hour. Traffic and accidents and too many vehicles on the road. Rush hour was just daring her to break her schedule, and she couldn’t do that.

Since it was a Tuesday, according to her weekly schedule, Claire would stop at the grocery store. She would check her list and notice that this week there were only two items she needed for the recipe she wanted to try tomorrow night.

And since it was the second Tuesday of the month, according to her monthly schedule, she would stop at the pharmacy in the grocery store to pick up her prescriptions.

Claire allotted an hour at the grocery store, but since she only had to get a few things, she would be out in only twenty minutes.

But things didn’t go according to plan.

Instead of leaving work exactly at 4 p.m., Josh from marketing caught her in the hall as she was headed to the elevator. He talked to her for a good two minutes before realizing that she was getting antsy and kept checking her watch.

This wouldn’t necessarily cause her to miss her train; she could arrive just as it did and get on, even if it wasn’t in the right car. And sometimes the train arrived late.

But today it was on schedule. Claire saw it leaving as she arrived on the platform. She glanced at the schedule and noted that the next train would arrive in fifteen minutes. It took seventeen minutes. And then the usual seventeen minute train ride was delayed at one of the stops because the car doors wouldn’t close. They had to offload the passengers onto the platform, where they had to wait another four minutes for the next train to arrive.

Claire didn’t get to her car until 4:55 p.m. And she didn’t leave the parking lot until 5:01 p.m. Even the extra twenty-five minutes showed an increase in vehicles leaving for the day. Her trains had been more crowded than usual. And there were far more people waiting to exit the lot.

It took ten minutes to get into the grocery store, where Claire picked up her prescription and her few groceries. She returned to her car and started driving the remainder of the way home. While it would only take fifteen minutes at four-thirty, there was more traffic an hour later. Claire caught every red light, causing her ride home to take twenty-two minutes. She pulled into her parking space and went to get the mail.

She picked up both her own mail and her next door neighbor’s mail. Mrs. Calloway was sixty-two years old, but had bad ankles. When she first moved into the area, three years earlier, Lucas Calloway, Mrs. Calloway’s nephew, had introduced her around the neighborhood. When he’d realized how routine-oriented Claire was, he asked if she’d look in on his mother everyone once in a while, knowing it would be done.

She was inside her house with her mail three minutes later.

She changed into more comfortable clothes and went over to Mrs. Calloway’s house. She usually brought the woman her mail at 6 p.m. and stayed with her for half an hour to make sure she was doing alright. Though initially she’d only done it at the request of Lucas Calloway, Mrs. Calloway had quickly charmed Claire. She was an unpredictable and quirky woman. Mrs. Calloway knew Claire liked to keep order, and respected the differences in their personalities, never forcing her unorthodox behavior on her neighbor.

Claire let herself into the house. She’d been given a key early on in their relationship so that Mrs. Calloway wouldn’t have to get up to answer the door. Mrs. Calloway’s two cats, Annie and Winston, twined around Claire’s legs as she came in. Though they had been standoffish at first, the cats had grown to accept Claire. But today they were unusually affectionate.

Claire announced herself, but didn’t hear a response from Mrs. Calloway. She made her way through the house, until she got to the living room, where the older woman was sitting in her chair, a glass of water on the table to her side along with a novel and the crossword of the day. She always said the crosswords kept her mind sharp.

Claire went to check on Mrs. Calloway, but as she rounded the chair, she didn’t need to check to know the woman was dead.

The Death of Etta Calloway: Shopping

It was the perfect dress. Knee length and bright blue. An empire waist with another two sections in the skirt. The back was like that of a tank top that pulled together in the front like a dress with the usual two straps. And did she mention that it was bright blue?

There was another in purple. And another in a blue and green pattern. But it was the blue one that caught Lena’s eyes. They caught and held.

It was perfect for the party she was going to this weekend. The weather had finally gotten warm. Aside from one weekend with freak 70-degree temperatures in February, it had been one of the coldest winters in recent years.

Now it was finally looking like spring again.

The party was going to be this Friday night. A birthday party for Jessica Wilson, a girl Lena had gone to college with. She hadn’t seen Jessica in a few weeks, but once upon a time they’d been close. According to the Facebook event, Lena knew only a few of the people who were definitely attending. And she hadn’t seen them for a while either. So she decided to get a new outfit for the occasion.

She’d been saving money for months now, on a stringent budget that only allowed for a few frivolities every once in a while.

Her boyfriend had a different concept of money. Jake always said people were happier if they did what they wanted with their money. But he didn’t have to worry about it the way she did. She’d be unemployed for months, living off the savings she’d made at her part-time job. Living off her father.

But after college, until she turned twenty-eight, that was over. She had to make her own way.

But she’d been saving. And she finally found a job. Not a great one, but a full-time one that offered benefits and a much better salary than she was used to. She’d splurge a little extra this month on the dress. No, dresses. She’d get the purple one, too. With a nice jacket, she’d be able to wear them to work, too.

She knew exactly what she’d wear it with. The red shoes. Last month, her splurge had been on a pair of five-inch heeled one inch platform red shoes that wrapped around the foot, tying in three knots at the front of the foot and with a small zipper up the back.

At first, when she’d seen them, she wasn’t sure. But then she’d tried them on. They were the most comfortable heeled shoes she’d ever worn, and the easiest to walk in, since they strapped around the ankle. And she couldn’t stop smiling at how tall she was.

At five-foot-four, Lena was not a short woman, but she wasn’t tall either. And she dearly loved it when she was tall. Thank god for heels, even if she could barely walk in most of them.

So, the blue dress. The red heels. And what jewelry? Of course. The long red necklace she’d gotten in Mexico years ago. She hadn’t had very many opportunities to wear it. But these shoes would change that.

She was in line at the store, waiting for the cashier to ring up her purchases when her phone rang. She looked at the screen and saw she had two missed calls and a text message. Damn store. She never had good reception in it.

It was Lucas, her half-brother. He was twenty years older than Lena, but she was closer to him than she was to most of her other half-siblings. Except maybe Michael, but everyone loved the baby.

“Hey, Lucas,” Lena said when she answered the phone. “What’s up?” It wasn’t unusual for them to talk during the week, but they usually did it via text or a chatting service. Phone calls were generally reserved for weekends when they could have longer talks. Or if something was wrong.

“I tried calling you earlier,” Lucas said. “Where are you?” Something was wrong. She could tell by his tone.

“I’m shopping. I didn’t have service.” Lena paid the cashier and grabbed the bag with her new dresses, heading out of the store where, while she’d still be in public, she felt she’d have a little more privacy. People wouldn’t be quite as close to be able to listen if they were so inclined. And then she’d be in her car. “Lucas, what’s wrong?”

“It’s Aunt Etta.” Lucas took a deep breath, as if deciding how to say something. “Lena. She’s dead.”


I was captured.

He held me to him, gripping me and pulling me close like a child with a teddy bear. The position I was in was uncomfortable. I’d been lying down too long and my right leg was starting to hurt, the dull ache of inactivity.

He pulled me closer, pressing my stomach into my bladder in a supremely uncomfortable way.

“I need to get up,” I said quietly. I didn’t want to jar him out of his sleep. He needed to be eased out of it, or he’d be cranky for the next hour.

“No,” he said, still mostly asleep. “Stay.”

He pushed his nose into my hair and took a deep breath, a long inhale. “Smells good.”

He hugged me closer.

Groggy with sleep as he was, he probably didn’t realize how uncomfortable this was. He probably didn’t realize how much I needed to get up. He probably thought this was a nice morning. No need to get up. No alarm clock. Lovers lying together, lounging the morning away.

Usually, I would have no problem with this. I would lie here, content in knowing I was wrapped in the secure blanket of my closest friend. Content in knowing someone I loved, loved me back.

But this morning was different. The position was almost unbearable. I’d woken ten minutes earlier with the insistent pressure of my bladder, telling me it couldn’t hold out any longer. I had been wide awake within seconds, knowing I couldn’t stay in that position much longer without bursting. It ruined the whole dynamic.

I didn’t want to be here. I needed to get up, to move, to do something. But every attempt to adjust caused him to hold me tighter, wrap me up, until I was a prisoner in his loving arms, staring at the ceiling as he unknowingly held me against my will, a captive in my own bed.

The Death of Etta Calloway: Walking the Dog

Alison Griffin was walking her dog, a year-old, tri-colored beagle, Oliver, when she saw an ambulance leaving one section of her neighborhood. Otherwise, the area was quiet. If there had been a big hullabaloo over whatever happened here, she’d missed it.

Alison lived three streets over, or just along one street if you looked at a map of the neighborhood a little different. There was a large green island of grass just in front of her house that Oliver liked to run around in and a patch of trees the developers had left alone when they’d started constructing this section of the development fifteen years ago.

Alison had been lucky to get this house when she did. She’d barely made the cut for tax breaks for first time home buyers. If she’d closed only a week later, she would have missed the date. But she’d managed to pull it together in time.

She’d lived in the townhouse for just under a year and a half, and she still loved it. It had taken a while to settle in. She just didn’t have that much stuff. So, when she emptied her boxes from her apartment, it only filled up about half a room. But that worked for her. Not having a lot meant she was open to endless possibilities.

She painstakingly cleaned everything off and down – who knew what the previous owners did with the place – and she painted. Pale green with darker trims and a yellow accent wall in the master bedroom. The living room had red half walls with a white ceiling. The kitchen was a dark blue with a white contrast. She loved the solid colors, but of course they needed lighter areas to reflect the light and make the space look bigger.

Alison had gotten a number of her male friends from college to help move her furniture. There were only a few things from her apartment – a queen-sized bed, a dresser, a table and four chairs, a couch, a small cabinet for the T.V, a coffee table and two bookshelves. Enough to fill an apartment, but certainly not enough for a three-level town home.

Alison had gone back to her parents’ home, where she’d raided her old bedroom. They’d been in the process of emptying out their basement and getting rid of items they’d accumulated over the years, so Alison was able to leave with a lot more than she came with.

The entire house didn’t match together, but she was able to create a unique feel to each room. The basement was cozy. The living room had a lot of floor space. The guest room had a twin bed. The second guest room was now a library and office. It was hers, and it was home.

Oliver, with his cute puppy nose, scented something along the street and started straining against his leash.

Alison was able to restrain him, but quickened her pace to allow him to run forward a little faster. When the pair got a little closer, Oliver’s nose to the ground and Alison’s concentration on the road, Alison noticed a woman leaving one of the end units with a cat carrier.

The woman was talking into the carrier and moving cautiously down the front steps of the home. She walked down to the other end unit of the group of townhouses, went up the steps, opened the door and disappeared inside.

A few minutes later, as Alison was headed around the cul-de-sac and away from that particular group of houses, she saw the woman rush out of her house again, still carrying the cat carrier, but this time with a lot less care, and head back for the town home she’d initially exited.

While somewhat curious what all that was about, Alison decided not to pry into the strange doings of her neighbors. She shrugged off the entire incident and kept going with her walk, Oliver again tugging at his leash so he could go explore.

Not Wanting To Is Not Good Enough

“I didn’t want to go out,” Jane said. “I didn’t want to spend time with those friends that night. I just didn’t want to do it.”
“And?” Mike replied.
“And what? I didn’t want to do it, and it wasn’t enough for her. She wanted a reason, like, ‘Oh, I’m not feeling well tonight,’ or ‘I already have plans.’ But I felt fine and I didn’t have other plans. I just didn’t want to go. But saying I didn’t want to go wasn’t good enough.”
“And when was saying, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ actually good enough?”
They were sitting on a couch in Jane’s house, a half-eaten, quarter-cooked-with bag of chocolate chips resting between them. Jane was covered with a blanket up to her chin with only her arm sticking out to grab some chocolate chips every once in a while. She really wanted a Snuggie to solve the problem of her cold arm because despite the jacket she was wearing her arm was still chilly every time she reached out to snag a chip.
Mike, on the other hand, was fine. He sat there with only a T-shirt and whatever part of the blanket happened to fall over him. Jane always told him how jealous she was that he could go the entire winter with only a long-sleeved shirt.
Jane sighed. “I don’t know. The early 1900s. Definitely the 1800s. But I warn you, all my information comes from historical fiction books. People would send out invitations and you either accepted or declined. And if you declined, you didn’t have to give a reason.”
“Okay, fine, the 1800s. But in your lifetime? Saying ‘I don’t want to’ probably only worked when you were five, if it even worked then.” They both paused for a moment, considering. Mike broke the silence. “Why is that even a good reason?”
“It doesn’t have to be a good reason, Mike. Although I would argue that it’s, in fact, the best reason.”
“What? Why?”
“Well, obviously because you really shouldn’t do things you don’t want to do. You shouldn’t be forced into them. If you do, you’re giving in to peer pressure, which, according to my years in the public school system, is a bad thing.” Jane barely even remembered Mike was home schooled and her comment could be taken as a jab before continuing her argument. “It also shows that someone else’s will is stronger than your own, that your own wishes and desires don’t mean as much as someone else’s, and that other people can walk all over you.”
“I don’t know if inviting you out on the town for a night is walking all over you,” Mike commented archly.
Jane continued as if she hadn’t heard him. “Always putting someone else’s desires before your own is disastrous for your sense of self.”
“I don’t mean all the time,” Mike replied. “And isn’t friendship about compromise?”
“It’s not about the friendship, it’s about not being able to not do something without an explanation. No, not even that. Because you don’t want to. You can still be great friends. You can hang out all the time. But if you say you don’t want to with no other explanation, it’s not enough. And it should be.” Jane realized she was starting to go into rant mode and took a deep breath. “Look, I don’t want to come up with an excuse. I don’t want to lie to my friend. I’m just being honest when I say I don’t want to go. But for some reason, that is unbearably rude and is therefore not allowed.”
“And you think being polite is overrated?”
“Yes! Sometimes it is.”
“You know, it’s a sign of affection if you do something with, or for, someone else. Not being polite, and the less you do for other people, the more you’ll be considered a jackass.”
“You’re missing the point. I’m not talking about doing it on a regular basis. I’m not talking about regularly flaking out on my friends for no reason or being intentionally rude. I’m just saying that I wanted to be honest. I wanted make it clear that I just didn’t want to go, without lying or skirting around the issue. Maybe that’s rude, but we’ve been friends for years. You’d think she’d understand that sometimes I just can’t deal with the niceties of society and not take it personally. I didn’t want to go, and I wanted to tell her that. And the fact that I didn’t want to go was ‘not a reason,’ according to her. But that’s the point! Why do I need a reason? Why do I need an excuse? Why do my time and actions need to be accountable to another person, when my actions, really have nothing to do with them? It’s not an attack on her. It’s just a personal decision.”
Mike paused for a minute, thinking about what Jane had just said. Before he spoke, Jane could tell he had lost interest in this conversation, but was aiming for a new one. There was a curve to his lips and a glint in his eyes that warned her he would say something she wouldn’t like, even if it was just because he didn’t agree with her.
“I hate to go off topic, but actions should always be accountable.” Mike reached for a few more chocolate chips. Then he stood up, shaking the bag. “Bag’s empty. Be back in a minute and we’ll get back into this.”