Letter Opener – by COLT PRYOR

“Ew! Aunt Sara has nasty words on her phone!” Carter yelled, throwing my phone down, eliciting dirty looks from my youngest sister, Dawn.

I shrugged and smiled, moving slowly to collect my phone from the couch where it lay face-up, flashing, before I looked at the screen and grimaced. I laughed. It was more of a low groan, though.

Flashing on the screen were two messages.

“I know I can make your pussy so wet.” 

My groan-slash-laugh intensified.

“Tell me you’re wearing that dress with no panties.” 

I tugged at the bottom hem of my dress.

I caught Carter staring at me as I did so, watching me with intensity, looking at the fabric of my dress, before darting his eyes away and shaking his head.

“You know how it is, working all the time, Dawn,” I said to her through gritted teeth, voice high-pitched. More of a squeal.

She crossed her arms and clenched her jaw. Then she leaned to the side.

Dawn’s was the kind of couch that was smudged with kid-filth; yet it also radiated an enviable innocence and lived-in warmth. My buzzing phone was rotten as soon as it had hit the wrinkled leather. And I became rotten as I’d grabbed it, claiming its decay as my own. I felt it spreading upward as it reached my fingertips; I began scratching at my forearm.

Dawn then leaned forward, on her tippy-toes, catching a glimpse of the messages on my phone and gasped.

“Uhhh…” I said as I fumbled with the phone.

I held my handbag too close, too possessively.

Carter, Joshua and Leo were now in a triangle of testosterone, speaking in low voices, giggling.

“I don’t appreciate you bringing your pornography into this house, Sara O’Harley,” her mom-voice nagged, as she walked at a harried pace into the kitchen.

“It’s not porn,” I said, petulant, red-faced, following her.

“Well, it’s just as bad and so it might as well be.” She then rushed past me as though she were suddenly overcome with an urgent task.

“Do you hear yourself? That doesn’t even make sense!” I balked.

She began busying herself with idle kitchen-work; scrubbing already-clean countertops, clearing plates, rearranging her maddening knick-knacks…

My phone buzzed in my hand again.

She crashed two ceramic mugs together as though this would somehow show me her disapproval.

She was a far cry from her younger self, spry, with raven hair and a spirit for danger. Now she was that mom at the park shrieking at her children with a bad perm in her hair.

“I never meant to hurt Hal. I was hallucinating,” I said.

“We don’t speak of that night in this house, Sara O’Harley,” she said.

If you use my full goddamn name one more time….

“Listen, I know it looks bad–but it’s part of a work thing, I swear.” My pleading tone was no match for her suburban-mom-in-khakis-lean.

“Have you lost your fucking mind?” she screamed.

Oh yeah, Dawn, because screaming ‘fucking’ is so much better than the kid seeing the word pussy. 

“I–no, I haven’t,” I huffed and sighed in that way that I used to when we were kids, arguing. I crossed my arms.

“Who is this guy? And, really, again, Sara? Keep it in your fucking pants. For once!”

“MOM!” Carter whined, “Sara isn’t wearing pants. She’s wearing a dress! Dummy!” he said, poking his head into the kitchen from around the corner.

“Carter! This is none of your business!”

Damn, her voice was shrill. 

She thrummed her fingertips on the kitchen counter-top behind her, glaring at me.

Dawn’s belly rested comfortably over the waist of her pants, her plaid shirt barely holding on in the front, the buttons crying, “Help me!” as they clung to their life raft that was tattered, stretched, cheap fabric.

“You know, Sara, you seem to enjoy your self-destructive behavior. It’s sad.” She pushed up her sleeves and began to run hot water over the dishes.

Did I enjoy sex? Was that what she meant? Well, yes…

“Y’know you’re gonna catch somethin’ one of these days if you don’t quit runnin’ around like you’re doin’,” she said, her eyes huge and bug-like, head bobbing up and down.

I rubbed my temples hard, like I was trying to push something back into place. Or hold my head together.

With Dawn’s throng of boys screaming, the hot water blasting and her endless, shrill ranting, I felt the anger bubble inside me. The kind of anger that had bubbled when things got bad that night with Hal.

“But it was a goddamn letter opener!” I’d sobbed to the officers in my living room. My bottle of pills had the top off, thrown haphazardly under the table, only one, sad pill left. The fill date seemed to come alive and dance around, announcing I’d just filled it the day prior. 45 pills. One of the officers picked up the bottle of pills after I’d been burning a hole through it with my eyes for what seemed like eons.

He gestured over to Hal with questioning eyes, who was full of blood, face swelling up.

Hal sat there in a daze. “She’s never done this before. I mean–any of this,” he said softly, sniffling.

I don’t really know what happened–all I can recall is seeing myself on videotape talking to the officer at the police station, telling them that I had been trying to pop a balloon.

“Why’d you take all the pills?” Dawn had asked me a week after the incident.

I’d sat looking at the wall blankly, eyes sunken in. “Because I was dying.”

“No, you aren’t dying,” she’d said.

“I was dying inside. Every day.”

I couldn’t focus on that night, though. Nights, actually. I’d spent 96 hours in a jail cell.

I’d just wanted to feel something again, anything–anything that wasn’t this overwhelming, stifling depression that expressed itself through subtle irritabilities and my unwillingness to do anything other than sit around all day.

Goddamn it. 

“Goddamn it, Dawn. You’re such a judgmental ass,” I said, breaking back into the present, before I grabbed my keys and scurried to the front door.

“Mommy, is Aunt Sara going to meet that nasty man from her phone?” Carter yelled over his glasses, looking up from his iPad.

“I’m still fucking here, Carter, you can ask me yourself!” I yelled back at him, my voice scratchy and hoarse.

“Hey–hey, Sara!” Dawn chased after me, wagging her finger in my direction.

I turned around. “Dawn, you’ve never supported me. Ever. And it hurts.” My voice cracked with a few tears that were making their way to the surface.

Her face fell when she saw my hands shaking. “You and Hal have just finalized the divorce; I just…I just want to make sure you’re, you know, okay.”

“I’m not okay–I’m great, can’t you tell?” I asked, eyes full of tears, voice verging on psychotic.

“We’re all worried about ya, Sara,” she said, her Midwestern accent thick–making my eye twitch.

“Don’t bother.” I could hear all the packs of condoms and pill bottles rattling and crinkling, rolling around inside my purse. I turned away from Dawn while I closed the front door behind me. I could hear Carter whispering something as Dawn began to sob.

I texted Alex back. “Be there in 5.”

My heart leapt in my chest. Flashing off and on my phone’s screen were the police’s images of Hal after I stabbed him.

*****

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***Colt Pryor is an American fiction writer currently seeking representation for her books. In the meantime, she enjoys gardening tools, polishing her jewelry and staring at herself in the mirror for inordinate amounts of time–with zero guilt.***

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