Defining Character

A beautiful woman wearing a white button-down blouse and a nude skirt stands in the center of the grocery aisle clutching a bottle of Excedrin. She can’t remember the last time she didn’t have a headache. Her raven black hair falls down to her lower back and she wears a full face of makeup. Hurried shoppers maneuver around her, pausing for only a moment to wonder at her strange behavior. Her blank expression never wavers. She stares at the item ahead, unblinking. A bottle of whiskey is perched on the shelf directly in front of her. She was drunk off that whiskey the night of the “accident”. Drunk enough that it took until now, staring at the instigator of the evening, to remember the details. The smell of his cologne clinging to the seats… the snap of the brake line. Crimson lipstick and alcohol on their breath. Cruel laughter echoing throughout the night. Memories come rushing back, paralyzing her until a clumsy shopper knocks her back.

She stumbles into the shelf behind her, her heels threatening to snap. The shopper begins his flustered apology, parks his cart, and rushes over to help her. Even without heels, she towers over him. She glances down at the calloused hand reaching toward her. In one swift movement, she pushes off the shelf and steps around the man as she hurries out of the store.

No buzzer goes off and no one tries to stop her. She darts through the door still holding the bottle of Excedrin. Warm air cocoons her when she steps outside into the hot summer day. The clicking of her heels against the pavement and her increasingly heavy breaths are all she hears. Her steps speed up when she spots her car. A black Cadillac parked next to a shopping cart collector. She pulls the already unlocked door open and collapses in her seat. When she realizes she’s still holding the Excedrin she hurls it into the passenger’s side and grips the steering wheel. She focuses on her breaths and tries to ignore the wrenching in her stomach. When the wave of emotions roiling inside of her subside enough for her to function she starts up her car. She speeds out of the parking lot. Her body steers before her mind knows where she’s going.

It’s been almost four months since the funeral and this is the first time she’s visiting the grave. The cemetery is empty but she hesitates anyway. She doesn’t know why she’s here. She tells herself she doesn’t grieve him. And yet she breaks down at the slightest reminder of that night, of what she did. She wonders how his wife is doing but doesn’t dare reach out to her. After the funeral, there was an unspoken agreement to never contact each other again. She’s widowed now, probably basking in sympathy and newfound freedom.

When she reaches his grave her heart pounds and her head feels light. She drops to her knees next to a vase of wilted flowers and bows her head. Tears swell in her eyes. She kneels there until a strange hand grips her shoulder.

“How did you know him?” An old woman holding a bouquet of red roses asks. Her face is pained and she speaks with empathy. Her words are soft but strained. The kneeling woman slowly raises her head but pauses for a moment before speaking.

“I didn’t,” she responds. “Not really.”