“How much wine, Sarah?” the voice asked.
Sarah was sleepy, and didn’t want to be bothered answering such questions. As she lay in bed, she visualized running along a lake shore. The surface of water was gun-metal gray and the light was low in the sky. It wasn’t easy running on the sandy beach in her heavy boots and winter coat. The sand giving way beneath her feet made every step seem like the greatest effort.
“Sarah, are you hot? You’re kicking off your covers,” the voice said. The voice seemed distant and faraway. Where was it coming from? Maybe it’s coming from the sky–the voice of God? No, it was only Paul, her husband. And she realized that she was on their bed at home.
In the distance, she could see an emerald green object lying on the beach. It was resting in a large debris pile, which included a broken-off corner of a Styrofoam cooler, a torn life jacket and the bright beads of a fishing rig all lying in a small, tide-created depression before a rock. She could not quite make out what it was.
“How much wine, Sarah?” Paul asked again.
Sarah had always enjoyed long walks on the beach, looking through the jetsam and flotsam of ships and the odd castoffs of beach-goers that would inexplicably wash up in the oddest places. They seemed like the tea leaves at the bottom of a cup that a fortune-teller might use to tell the future. She felt an urgent desire to find out what the green object she had spotted up the coastline was. But it seemed to get farther away, the more she ran.
Now she heard Paul’s voice again, but this time his voice was directed to someone else. “I think she’s OK,” he said. “She’s just had too much to drink.” There was something in Paul’s voice that wasn’t right, she thought. A kind of shakiness. Amused, she wondered how she had ever mistaken his reedy voice for the voice of God. For a moment, she had a vision of Paul as a small, lost child.
She spotted a boat covered with a tarp tucked behind a nearby sand dune. When she pulled back the covering she found it contained a small outboard motor and a gas can. With the steep slope of the shoreline, it was easy for her to pull it down to the water. Soon, she was speeding along the lake’s shore, the cold winter air blowing through her hair. Freedom, she thought despite the biting cold, feels like this.
“Well, all right,” said the other voice that she realized as belonging to their neighbor John. “Have you thought about getting her back in treatment” he asked hesitantly.
Sarah throttled the engine into high gear, and it’s whining soon drowned out the voices. Impulsively, she took a small knife that she had found tucked into one of the gunwales of the boat, and maliciously cut the line attached to the anchor. She picked up the anchor, which was surprisingly light, and gleefully threw it into the water. I won’t be needing that, she thought. She watched as the bubbles rose where the anchor had entered the water, and wondered what it might meet on its way to the bottom.
“Yes, I know,” said Paul resignedly. “She has been–erratic. I thought she was doing so much better.”
Sarah felt her heart beat faster as a wave of anger rose within her. I won’t go back to that place. It’s like prison, she thought, and so humiliating. She felt a shiver go through her body. Paul was always trying to save her, but she knew her heart.
By the time her anger subsided, she realized that John had left and that Paul was sitting on her bed next to her.
By now she had reached the shore that had become the object of her journey. She waded through the shallow water–feeling the deathly cold water through her rubber boots–onto the beach and walked a few steps so that she stood over it, the large green bottle on the beach. So that’s it, she thought.
“A magnum,” she said weakly.
Paul leaned in close to her. “What?” he said.
“You asked me how much wine.”
Paul didn’t respond, and for the first time it occurred to her that perhaps something was really wrong. She began rummaging through the debris with her foot.
“A magnum,” she said again.
With a little push of her foot the bottle rolled down to the waterline. In her half-sleeping, half-waking dream, she gave a little gasp. Half-buried in the sand where the bottle had been, was a handgun. The one she kept in her bedside table with the .357 magnum cartridge.
I’m so sorry,” she murmured with sudden realization. And for a moment she was very grateful to Paul. He had not called the police, only the doctor who was also a neighbor. Good, sweet, dear Paul. Why did I shoot at him with my gun?
“Don’t worry, Sarah,” said Paul slowly after a long silence. “I know you didn’t mean to. We’ll get you the help you need this time.”
Sarah reached down and carefully picked up the gun as if she didn’t want to get her fingerprints on it. Examining the gun’s chamber, she found three bullets left. She thought of the group and individual sessions, the forced, false sense of community, the bogus psychotherapy. And through it all she would have to lie about her true feelings, if she ever hoped to get out of that awful place. Sarah stared out at the lake, watching the boat that had brought her here drift far away. For the first time in a long time, everything seemed clear.
“Good, dear sweet Paul,” she murmured, and she could feel the weight of his body as he held her in a long embrace.
She retrieved the magnum wine bottle and placed it on the rock and then walked off twenty paces, turned and fired. The bottle shattered in a violent explosion of glass, fragments flying everywhere. She felt a surge of power as she shot twice more, reducing the remains of the bottle to even tinier shards. She felt her face flush with happiness. It was a good day for hope seemed to have returned. Yes, she would get control of her life again, all right, she thought, as a smile spread across her face. Good, dear, sweet Paul, next time I’ll aim for your heart.
Note: The closed captioning on my television occasionally freezes on a random line. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to use these lines as writing prompts. The rules of my writing game are that I must write a short-short story in a single sitting.