A Pocketful of Second Chances by James Nordlund

Anne-Marie shifted the weight off of her sleeping arm, letting the tingles subside as it hung over the side of the couch. The faded yellow and maroon paisley patterned couch had been her asylum for about a week now. Rebecca would let her stay on that thrift store purchase as long as she wanted to. The tiny apartment in Tacoma, Washington smelled of ash and body odor. Anne-Marie lit up a cigarette.

“So, you think you’re going to get off that thing before noon today?” Rebecca teased from the kitchenette, pouring herself a cup of coffee.

“I don’t got shit to get up for,” Anne-Marie said in a held breath, letting the smoke exit her mouth slowly before forcefully blowing it out.

“Well don’t get in a funk. Veda is coming over tonight to play cards. It would be nice if you weren’t sulking in front of the TV and actually joined in like you used to. You know, you can have a beer or two. I’m not gonna rat you out,” Rebecca said as she walked over and sat in the armchair near Anne-Marie’s head-side of the couch.

“What the fuck, Beck? It’s only been six days. I still got another week or more of detox before I can even stand to have a peaceful conversation, let alone a frickin’ beer.” Anne-Marie growled before she wet her fingertips to snuff out her smoke and dropped the butt into one of many half-empty cans of cola.

“Oh, I know baby. I don’t want to pressure you. It’s just, I miss you.” Rebecca leaned in for a kiss but Anne-Marie closed her eyes and turned her head. Rebecca stood up. “Okay, well, I guess sleep some more if that’s what you need. You know, you’re lucky I even took you back,” she said and left the apartment hastily, slamming the door just enough that Anne-Marie thought she was angry.

“I’ve got to get out of here,” Anne-Marie whispered to herself, opening her eyes slightly to ensure Rebecca wasn’t playing a trick on her.

It was 9:33 a.m. Anne-Marie squinted at the mirror-clock next to the television that had annoyingly reflected a white-hot glare from the bright, overcast morning that leaked through the blinds behind the couch. Her eyes burned, head throbbed, and the energy in her body was non-existent.

She had been sober for about a year before relapsing hard. She and Rebecca had met at a narcotics anonymous group shortly after she cleaned up. Their backgrounds were kind of similar. Although Rebecca wasn’t as defiant as Anne-Marie, they both grew up in foster care because of druggie parents, and they were both in their late twenties when they got sober. They fucked the first night they heard each other share stories at a meeting. Anne-Marie knew that Rebecca wanted a serious relationship almost immediately after their first couple times together. The pillow talk haunted her thoughts. The passive aggressive tone Rebecca would get when Anne-Marie tried to ignore her irksome talk about living together and adopting a child had made her skin crawl. She didn’t have time for someone else’s feelings when she was only barely able to start feeling anything at all herself.

One night she snuck out of the apartment after Rebecca had fallen asleep and walked two miles through downtown to her old dealer’s flop-house. She abandoned her job, lost her apartment, and didn’t leave there for over six weeks. She called Rebecca to come save her after her dealer was arrested and word spread that the flop house was going to be raided.

Now she has to live with Rebecca. There’s no place else to go.

Anne-Marie sat up and stretched a bit before abandoning her sanctuary of blankets and cushions. She stomped through the kitchenette to the bathroom and yanked open the medicine cabinet. “Thank Jesus.” Her hands fumbled with a bottle of Nyquil. “Stupid bitch didn’t even take this shit out of the house for me.” She held the bottle in her hand. The list of active ingredients looked so enticing. She looked at her puffy, red splotched face staring back in the mirror. She didn’t recognize herself. Had she ever recognized herself? Was there a time that she can think back to that her own face was a familiar one? She left the unopened bottle on the bathroom counter and slinked back to the couch, where she soon passed back out.

*          *          *          *          *

Veda’s squawking laugh woke Anne-Marie with a stir.

Rebecca’s voice trailed off as she noticed Anne-Marie sitting up on the couch, head in her hands. “Hey Annie, baby. You feel sick? I saw you found the Nyquil.”

Anne-Marie’s head was still very groggy and her empty stomach ached. “No, I don’t feel sick.” That was a lie. Rebecca and Veda had hot-boxed the apartment in cigarette smoke and it was hard to get a breath.

“Come sit down. We got some pasta.” Rebecca’s words sounded like needles in Anne-Marie’s ears. She stayed on the couch.

“How have you been, Annie? It feels like forever!” Veda said, then lit up another cig and took a slug off her beer.

“I am still not feeling very well. I really just need more time I think,” Anne-Marie answered.

“Oh that’s nonsense Annie! You know you want to have a beer. There’re cold ones in the fridge!” Veda gestured toward the off-white refrigerator, which was covered in N.A. magnets.

Anne-Marie’s eyes hurt looking at Veda’s smiling, flat, long face. “I’m taking a shower.”

The water steamed the small bathroom like a sauna. Anne-Marie slid down the wall and let herself fold into an upright fetal position with her head between her knees. Tears streamed down her face. “What the hell am I doing here?” Anne-Marie shakily murmured to herself.

Anne-Marie was thirteen when police stormed her parents’ house and took her father to prison. Her mother had been gone somewhere for a while at that point, so Anne-Marie was put into foster care. She began rebelling quite regularly; skipping school, running away, and living a life of vagrancy until the authorities found her again. This went on until she aged out of foster at eighteen. Periodically, on her splits from foster and after, she would find her mother sprawled out on a couch in some dope house, or wandering the streets of downtown Tacoma looking for a fix. Anne-Marie felt like she was her mother’s nurse; more of a mother than she had ever been to her. Until two years earlier, when Anne-Marie’s mother was found dead from an overdose in a McDonald’s bathroom, their relationship was based on enabling each other to delve deeper into drugs. Anne-Marie’s addiction started when she was still very young, as one might expect. She was drinking at ten, smoking pot by twelve, did her first line of coke in a junior high school bathroom stall—the boy’s bathroom—and was snorting meth regularly by the time she dropped out of the eleventh grade. She doesn’t remember losing her virginity. It could have been with Bobby. Wait—Brent? Or was it Brian? The names of people from her parents’ house before she was put into foster care were nothing but a vague impression, like most things from that early portion of her life.

A half hour passed before the shower began to get cold. Anne-Marie turned the handles slowly to off. She wrapped a towel round her head and slipped on a robe. She could hear Rebecca and Veda cackling. A burning rose inside of her. She saw that the Nyquil was still sitting contemptuously on the counter, mocking her. Her feeble fingers clutched the bottle and, hesitantly, she gulped down until she gagged and spit a mouthful into the sink. An energy that felt like it wasn’t her own passed into her, as she went directly from the bathroom to Rebecca’s bedroom. Rebecca had left her wallet on the dresser, next to her purse. Anne-Marie dressed for a long, cold, night walk.

“What are you doing honey? You look nice!” Rebecca sounded insincere, though Anne-Marie might have placed her own inflections on her lover’s voice.

“I need some fresh air. I am just going out to get some smokes.” Anne-Marie didn’t even look at the two sitting at the kitchen table and with near mechanical movement exited the apartment.

The streets felt like a childhood home. Like a place that once held comfort and understanding but was now vacant and run-down. She smelled the grease, oil, and exhaust that still lingered from rush hour traffic. Stars above gave no relief. The lights of downtown in the distance no longer pulled her in like they used to. Fourteen more blocks and she would be at the Greyhound station. She felt inside her coat pocket and flicked her thumb across the stack of $5s and $10s she took from Rebecca’s wallet. “I am going to Los Angeles. Fuck this depressing city. Fuck those depressing bitches at the apartment.” Her words empowered her and she began walking with renewed alacrity.

It wasn’t long before she sat on a bench, ticket in hand, watching and waiting for the bus to begin boarding. She looked on as five tired and beleaguered passengers marched into the vessel. She waited another fifteen minutes. Thoughts of fleeting safety, of misguided second chances, of memories thin and stretched over a rigid frame until nearly transparent, and a future that could only be filled with more deplumed yesterdays, no matter where she went spun luridly through her mind. A ragged looking, second-hand clothed mother and her daughter gradually slid into the bus.

The bus driver examined Anne-Marie, who stared back unflinchingly. “All aboard!” he called out to her.

Anne-Marie raised her hand and waved the bus on. She watched as her next second chance closed its door and shifted into gear, leaving behind it a lot as empty as Anne-Marie’s heart.

 

*James Nordlund is a Writing Studies major at the University of Washington Tacoma that hopes to someday teach English and writing students to love (or at least understand) the intricacies of the written word. He has lived in Graham, Washington his entire life and enjoys travelling to nearly every nook and cranny of the mostly rainy Northwest state. While poetry is what he seems to do best, writing in many genres is important to keeping his mental faculties stable.