J.M. Blackman’s Picture Choice: One
Title: The Rabbit Hole--Part I: Dear Me
I take the same route home every day. It never differs. I think that most people are like this, but for me, it’s different. I need the pattern. It’s not that I’m OCD--at least, I don’t think I am, though I’ve never taken the steps to get a definitive answer one way or another.
I figure if it isn’t damaging, it isn’t important enough to name and record. And this isn’t damaging. In fact, it’s reassuring.
I cross the same freeway every day, and every day, there’s bumper to bumper traffic. Some days, I can even spot the same cars. And though they don’t know it, those drivers--faceless, nameless, unknown--are my friends. I see them often enough. And they do all the things that friends do. They listen when I had a bad day. They’re there for me. They are, more or less, dependable.
I pass BJ’s every day, the same corner store where I get a Sparkle Jerry Cherry Laffy Taffy. I don’t always eat it, but I always buy it, because not many stores carry that flavor. And it’s the best flavor. I don’t know why the place was called BJ’s. The owner’s name was Ahmed. He was Saudi. I didn’t know if there was a Saudi BJ out there anywhere.
The best part of my trip before I reach home is passing this same orange building. It has a ton of character. At the right time of year, the sun is setting just as I’m walking home. And this building--I think it’s an apartment building--lights up like a roman candle.
I knew the building’s wide scar, where it had shed much of its outer smoothness for its true self: crumbling brick that refuses to quit. I knew the windows whose paning had begun to rot, and the slash of red paint where a vandal thought meaningless color swaths would really pop. I knew the green lamp post, slightly cocked to the right, as if in thought. I even knew the fearless weeds: tall and thick, like baby beanstalks.
One of my favorite things about the building, though, was the growing hole at the bottom of the building. I’d made stories in my head that it was the entrance to Wonderland, though in truth, it probably wasn’t even a real rabbit’s hole. Or any animal’s den. But it was fun to think of it as the rabbit hole, where possible escape from the drudgery of life was within reach.
Now, since I know every square inch of this wall, every knick, every overgrown weed that crawls up its side--I noticed when it changed. And this change wasn’t little: one day there suddenly was a rock there. Not a skipping rock. I wouldn’t have noticed that. But a boulder really. It was big enough that I could have climbed on it and had a seat.
It was the weirdest thing I’d ever seen. Why would anyone ever just leave a boulder there? It certainly couldn’t be fore landscaping. I’d been walking this route home for years, and the grass had never been as much as cut.
I stopped walking. I don’t ever do that. Not even to tie my shoes. I stop at BJ’s, and that is it. Every time. Except for today. Stopping made my heart thump. The thumping made my chest feel hollow. It was way too loud. My face began to sweat and the sun suddenly felt too hot. I turned and kept walking and didn’t stop again until I got home.
The next day the boulder was gone. I felt a sense of relief that to anyone else would have been a clear sign I needed clinical help. I was beginning to think the same.
Especially when the boulder appeared again. This time when I stopped walking I charged toward the boulder. I kept at arm’s length when I reached it.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I demanded, as if it would answer. “Again.” For the boulder to respond was very nearly the last thing I needed in the universe.
I circled the boulder and stopped when I’d reached its opposite side. There was a huge red arrow spraypainted pointing down. I looked around. Who would leave this? For who? Me?
My eyes reached the bottom of the arrow and I saw some scribbled red writing at the bottom. I looked around again. It couldn't hurt to read the message, could it?
I stooped to read it. It said five words.
“Aniyah. Check the rabbit’s hole.”
I flew backwards so quickly I hit the building behind me, squealing. I didn’t walk off. I didn’t look around. I ran blindly toward my apartment and worked really hard not to hyperventilate.
I was Aniyah. The message was for me.
I wanted to find a different way home the next day, but my mind couldn’t wrap itself around the notion. So, I’d walk past the building and I’d walk past the boulder without stopping. I’d ignore it until it went away.
It didn’t go away. And eventually, I couldn’t ignore it, so I stopped again and returned to the arrow. This time the message at the bottom said, “Welcome back. Rabbit hole. Now.”
I turned around to face the hole like I was in a scary movie. But nothing jumped out of the hole. Nothing screamed from the darkness and attacked me. So, I knelt and used my phone to light the hole. There was a ziplock baggie. I pulled it out. Zipped inside the baggie was a rolled up piece of paper. I didn’t open it there, but took off for my apartment before anyone could ask me what I was doing.
At home, I sat the ziplock baggie on my coffee table and went to the kitchen to cut up an orange. After I had even slices, I took a shot of vodka from the fridge and slammed an orange wedge in my mouth. My chest was burning. My eyes were watering, and the buzzing in my head was loud enough to drown out the voice telling me to throw the baggie out the window and Google Map a new way home.
So, I sat and tore the ziplock open, unrolling the paper with slightly sticky fingers. The first line was hard to get past.
In my writing, it read, “Dear Me.”
One shot of vodka was not going to be enough.
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J.M. Blackman is a Language Arts teacheri and a feminist. She endeavors to review nearly everything she reads and is a happy wife. She's a SFF enthusiast, loves dark humor, and has an unhealthy need to protect the image of Batman.