I am excited that Nothing Any Good can be utilized as a platform not only for assisting writers throughout the writing process and promoting their works, but also as a platform to explore new works from up-and-coming authors. Despite what some might think, I don’t believe writing should always be done in a vacuum. Having a community with whom to share essays, short stories, and musings is a valuable commodity for writers. I’m pleased to bring you Maria Nestorides and this haunting short story.
The Voices In My Head
by Maria Nestorides
I startle out of a dreamless sleep and it’s as if I’ve been under water and I’m coming up for air. That deafening silence my earplugs provide, throws me off kilter. Sometimes, when I pull them out of my ears after a night of tossing and turning, it’s like a release from being held captive in my head, in that void of isolation from the outside world. It’s just me and my voices. They argue their positions, quarrel with my logic, urge me to take action, insist they’re right.
I haven’t slept. Not properly, anyway. They’ve kept me up all night and I’m irritated, but I know they’ve been over-agitated because of what day it is today. A feeling swishes around inside me and among the familiar voices I hear one I haven’t heard in a year.
“Mommy,” it says.
And that feeling scales my throat, almost choking me. My arms are limp like the rag doll lying next to me in my bed.
“Today,” I whisper to her, picking her up. “I’ll take you to her today.” The rag doll smiles at me and gives me a little wink. She’s happy she’ll see Claire again. So am I, but I realise I must get up and get moving. I have a big day ahead.
I stand in front of the bathroom mirror so I can see my ruddy cheeks. My straw-coloured hair, like the fur of a shaggy dog, flops over my eyes. I smack my lips together. They feel dry. My finger glides over my lips and the sharp eucalyptus scent of my lip balm surrounds me. “Hello, how are you?” I say to myself and it’s as if I’ve opened a Pandora’s Box of voices that flood my head with profanities aimed at me. I’m tired. So tired. But I must find the strength, today of all days.
Great wafts of white breath stream from my nose and mouth. I walk with my coat collar pulled up as far as it will go, my steel-toe boots give me sure footing as the soles grip into the snow like a four-wheel drive. Not very feminine, I know, but then again, the only feminine thing I’ve ever done is give birth to Claire.
“What?” My voice rings out on the near-empty street and people huddled up in their coats scurry away from me, but I’m flustered at how many voices are echoing in my head today. And particularly Claire’s. But, then again, it’s only to be expected she would be speaking to me again today. “I know what to do,” I reply, “don’t keep nagging, you’re making my head hurt.” Laughter rings through my head, almost a cackle, and it conjures up evil feelings in me. I know this evil lurks in me.
Doctor Zinger’s office is warm, and the difference between the temperature outside and in here stifles me. My face must be ruddier than usual now and I pull my turtleneck sweater away from my throat to release the pent-up heat from my body.
“Hey, Dr Zinger,” I reply. “How’s it going? Good, good. Voices? No, no, none.” I shake my head, trying to appear truthful. “These meds really do work.”
Dr Zinger’s eyes: brown, understanding, pitying, mocking, say, I am better than you. Look at me sitting in my ergonomic leather swivel armchair, solving your problems because I can and you can’t. Behold me. His mouth moves. Words I know how to react to are shot out at me and I manoeuvre in the way I have become an expert at, the way I was trained to do back in grad school, swatting some words here, acceding defeat to others, but staying in balance, never winning, but never losing, either. That way I don’t attract too much attention. He would catch on if I did, if I lost or if I won. I would be labelled “uncooperative” or “delusional.” This way, the way I manoeuvre myself, I get away with it. I answer the routine questions, yes, I take my meds every day; yes I feel much better; yes I’m sure if I keep doing everything you tell me to do, Dr Zinger, I will be able to function in society without much difficulty.
“Yep, I take them religiously, exactly the way you told me to, Doc. I’m working today. Yeah, I’ll be driving cross-country. California. No, I don’t have any other issues I want to discuss with you. Except…” His face lights up as if this is the highlight of our session, as if he wants something to be wrong with me. “The company has installed GPS systems in all the trucks.”
And I realise it the moment the words are out of my mouth I’ve given him a prize catch. “No, the GPS system doesn’t bother me, actually.” I try to make a quick save. “I wanted to tell you they’ve installed them and if this had been a year ago, I would have been freaking out, wouldn’t I?” As he nods at me, I want to bludgeon him with the butt of one of the bespoke fishing rods he must have lined up in a custom-built closet at home.
“Yes, I know what day it is today. Claire… Claire… No, it’s okay, I don’t need a tissue. I’m fine. I think I caught cold. There are so many germs going around, even though I spend most of my time alone in the truck. Maybe it’s something I picked up at one of the truck stops. Yes, I’ll be fine. Thank you for everything, Dr Zinger. I’ll see you after I get back. What?” I nod my head. “Yes, I’ll call if I need anything. Thanks again.”
I pull myself up into my truck. I’ve decorated it a little, you know, so it feels somewhat homely when I’m on the road for days. Hanging from the rear-view mirror is one of those cardboard, pine-scented, tree cut-outs. I’ve got a cup holder on the dash right next to the picture of my little girl. It’s the one I gave to the police when they were looking for her, the one I made sure they gave back to me when they didn’t find her, and it’s stuck there with two-sided tape next to an image of Jesus Christ on the cross my mom gave me. My mom always told me Jesus died for me. For me! Imagine that. In the picture, Claire is wearing that blue calico dress her daddy brought back from his trip to Albany. He didn’t bring anything back for me. Only for Claire. I pretended I didn’t mind, but when he wasn’t looking, I put something in his meatloaf that made him very good friends with our toilet basin for a couple of days. I could’ve done worse. I was lenient that time.
I love driving. It’s the only time the voices are quiet. Or at least, quieter. This is a long, icy stretch of road but I’m not worried. I’m a seasoned driver. I’ve driven through some of the most sweltering heat and some of the worst snowstorms this country has ever seen, when we were up to our eyeballs in the fluffy stuff. But it was different back then when it was my truck, the road and me. Sometimes the radio kept me company with a bit of rock n roll. The pure stuff. Nothing like the ‘music’ they play today. Elvis tells me it’s evil and I believe him. Have you heard how much profanity there is in these new ‘songs’ as they like to call them? Half the time there isn’t even anybody singing, there’s somebody talking over the music. Elvis says God will punish them but that’s where he’s wrong, see? I’m tired of waiting for God to do His job. I’m the one who has to take charge of my issues – no one else. Dr Zinger made that clear to me.
The white lane dividers on the highway sweep past one by one and I tap out a rhythm with my fingers on the steering wheel. I can almost feel the GPS beep sending a shock through me with every ping they receive back at base. I’m on the right route. I won’t stray. Like last year. At least I know nobody’s managed to stick a GPS locator anywhere on my body. I know. I’ve checked everywhere. I haven’t been to the dentist in God knows how long, and I don’t have any cavities that have ever been filled. I know fillings are the best place to hide tracking devices. I haven’t been to the gynaecologist since Claire was born. If I get weirded out that someone’s planted one on me while I’m asleep, I hack the skin open there, and dig into the wound with my fingers, just to make sure. Sure, it’s painful, but better to be safe than sorry, I say. Yep I’m pretty sure my body is free of all bugs.
But this truck isn’t. No. That’s why I drove my car up here last weekend. I didn’t want their GPS picking up any stops I’d make with my truck because, let’s face it, they know where I am, where I’m going, where I stop for fuel, how fast I drive, how long I stay in the sleeper, they tell me what route to drive, how many RPMs I can use when I climb a hill, and it goes on and on and on. So I used the Chevy and drove up last weekend. I left it in the parking lot and hitchhiked back. They say hitchhiking is dangerous, but the guy that picked me up was as sweet as honey. I fucked him. You know, as a sort of payment for services rendered. I’m not one to neglect my responsibilities. Not that I didn’t enjoy it. I wasn’t going to refuse myself a little pleasure. The only trouble is that the voices get worse when I’m on an emotional high, so what with the voices in my head, and the guy moaning, I kept telling him to shut the fuck up. He was a moaner, I’ll tell you that much.
Last year when I drove up with Claire, she sang all the way there, bless her, and I even joined in towards the end. I was happy she was going to be free, at last. Free from all the despondency and disorders of this world. This was not the life I wanted for her. Hell, this wasn’t the life I wanted for me, either.
A spike of pain pierces through my head and it spreads down to the cradle within me that held Claire for nine months. The pain always spreads down, as a reminder that I should never forget. Especially not today. The anniversary of the day she abandoned all earthly cares and joined the angels. I’ve been dreading and anticipating today with a tingle in my belly instead of that dull ache that usually throbs through me.
Not far to go, now. I leave the truck at the truck stop so they won’t be able to track where I’m going and walk a few hundred feet to the parking lot.
There. My little Chevy. I hope it makes it in this snow. It’s never failed me so far. The Chevy feels like a Matchbox car after the truck. I drive for a while until I reach the place and get out.
Gentle flakes of snow fall around me. The sound of each one of my steps echoes through my head. Everything sounds so loud, as if it’s been amplified. I can hear a leaf drop, a drop of water drip down to the ground, the ruffling of my clothes. I put my hands over my ears but it doesn’t make a difference. A bead of sweat lines my upper lip despite the cold. Free! Free! Free! The words echo in my head. The voice sounds squeaky and high-pitched and I realise I’m the one yelling it. My throat stings as the words bubble up from my gut, through my throat, out, into the void expanse of white.
“Shut the fuck up!” scream the voices. I’m used to the hissed profanities in my ear that tell me of my uselessness, my spinelessness.
The place hasn’t changed much since I was here last year. It’s an opening in a clearing in the middle of a wooded area. The kind where you can see the sky if you lie down and look up, past the tall trees that seem to go up forever and caress the sky. I want to ask them to take me up with them. The voices are getting louder. I knew they would. They sense my excitement and they’re excited, too.
I find where Claire is buried.
I remember her expression as the knife pierced through her soft skin, into her belly. I’d read somewhere it’s a sure way to end someone’s life. Her eyes were full of surprise. I think she couldn’t believe she was going to be free at last. She was so grateful to me. She kept calling out ‘Mommy, mommy.’ “Hush Claire, don’t thrash so, you’ll be at peace soon,” I said. I wanted to tell her she didn’t need to thank me, that it was part of a mother’s duty to keep her child’s best interests in mind. She made the snow so beautiful, with that deep crimson flow from her body. Beautiful. There is such beauty in nature, but you just have to know where to look and you have to have the courage to release it. It’s not easy being brave. Ask me, I know.
I pull the same hunting knife from my belt now. It’s grown warm close to my body and I position it so it’s facing inwards towards my own belly. I’m surprised at how much strength I need to thrust the knife inside me. My body is a lot tougher than Claire’s. The voices sound delirious now. They are ecstatic, laughing and celebrating. I am too. I’m going to be with Claire today. I feel the warmth flowing from me and soon there is another beautiful creation in the snow. I scrape my fingers through the crimson surge, mixing my blood with the white snow. It’s a work of art. The cold grasps me by the throat, squeezes me until I can’t feel it any more. Until I’m floating next to the tree tops and I can see myself lying on the cold, snowy ground, my arms spread out as I lie face down in the pure white, and I hug the place where I laid my little Claire to eternal rest.
I repeat the last words I spoke to her. “Hush Claire, don’t thrash so, you’ll be at peace soon.”
And so will I.
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About the Author
Maria Nestorides lives in sunny Cyprus with her husband and two teenage children. Her short stories have been published online at The Story Shack Magazine and also on Inkitt. Maria also contributed a memoir to the book Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser. You can find Maria on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.