It called her name. Like a dog whistle that only she could hear. The moment she saw it everything else faded into the background and the last few sober days meant nothing.
“Earth to Ella.” Her mother waved a cocoa skinned hand in front of her daughter’s face.
Ella snapped back to the conversation and realized she hadn’t heard a word her mother had said. “What? Sorry.” She tried to smile. In truth, she didn’t feel like smiling. Or eating. Or doing anything but curling up in her bed and sleeping.
“What’s wrong. You’ve been acting like a zombie.” She probably looked like one, too. Everything hurt. She felt nauseous. Her head was pounding.
Her eyes kept darting back to it. A tiny pill on the floor of the restaurant.
“Nothing, I just–” she struggled to think of an excuse. Nothing came to her.
“You just what?” Before she had to answer, the waitress stopped in front of them, setting their drinks down. Ella’s eyes darted back to the ground. The waitress took a step back and pulled out her order pad, the heel of her shoe a mere centimeter away. Ella’s whole body tensed.
“Ella. What do you want?” She didn’t even hear her mother. She was focused on the pill. “Ella.”
Back to reality, again. “What?” she snapped. She was so irritable. Everything pissed her off.
Her mother was silent. Then, “Please tell the waitress what you want.”
“I’m not hungry.”
The waitress half smiled as she tucked her pad into the band of her apron and slid the pen behind her ear. “I’ll go put your order in and be back to check on you in a few,” she said then turned and headed to the kitchen.
Ella closed her eyes. This was not the real her. Or maybe it was. She couldn’t tell anymore. Where the real Ella ended and the fake Ella began. She could feel her mothers heated stare and opened her eyes again. She knew her mother was mad but she didn’t care. All she could think about was grabbing the pill off the floor and devouring it.
It had been days since she’d had anything and now she was frantic. She was sure someone would see it before she got to it. Or step on it. Crush it into a thousand powdery pieces. What a waste that would be. She looked at her drink, the thin plastic straw bobbing around in her Dr. Pepper. Maybe she could snort it if it came to that.
Jesus. What was wrong with her? She didn’t even know what it was. It was probably a simple aspirin. And here she was, ready to suck it up off a public walkway just to get a high that would last, what… an hour or two? Hell, was she going to follow the person who stepped on it and lick it off their heels, too?
The waitress brought her mother’s food and she ate in silence. It was awkward. Everything between them was lately. Part of her was sorry and part of her just wanted her to look away long enough for Ella to grab the pill. It’s all she could think about. So when her mother announced she was going to go to the bathroom, Ella’s insides jumped for joy.
She scooted to the edge of the booth and when she was satisfied no one was really paying attention, she leaned out and swooped up the pill. She slid back into her seat just as her mother walked through the open hallway and came back to sit. Hands in her lap, Ella toyed with the small tablet, flipping it over and over. The imprint told her what she needed to know, that she had lucked out. If you could call it that. She could end her days of suffering for an hour or two, only to have to start all over again.
Or she could destroy it. Chuck it. Flush it. Melt it. Say a final goodbye and give it a proper funeral. It was her choice. Completely up to her.
“Ella, I said let’s go.” Her mother was already standing at the end of the booth, purse on arm, bill in tow. She followed, maneuvering her way across the vinyl until she, too, was standing, her immediate future sandwiched between two fingers. As they turned to leave Ella paused. She watched her mother as she walked to the front. Ah, hell with it, she thought. I’m not ready yet. Her mother didn’t notice that extra ten seconds she took as she stayed behind and grabbed her drink off the table. Didn’t see her toss the little blue pill into her mouth and swallow. She had already paid and was out the door.
The entrance closed behind Ella and she pulled her jacket in tighter as the freezing wind hit her. It was late December and the air was cold and damp, the sky a dull gray. Her mother hadn’t waited for her, she’d already crossed to the other side of the parking lot and was starting the car. Puffed rings of smoke floated from the tail pipe and the brake lights glowed red in the dimming light as Ella stepped out from in between two parked cars. She hadn’t seen it. The silver SUV that had turned into the parking lot, going much faster than it should have. She stepped onto the open pavement and it slammed into her, throwing her body into the air. For a millisecond she felt everything, as if her insides had been crushed one by one with a ball peen hammer. Then she felt nothing. She was gone before she even hit the ground.