Don’t You Want Me Back?

     It stank in this place where I ‘self-medicated’. 

     I called it that because I didn’t want to say I was strung out on something I’d actually forgotten the name of, because I was that addicted. 

     But the alternative of memory was worse, and death would have been a lot more certain.

     As it was, it all seemed unreal.

     When Carla died in the accident, I broke down, lost everything, because she’d been a lifeboat in an ocean of garbage, betrayal, and abuse.

    She was the one light in the darkness, and I walked toward it as she walked toward me, though I’ll never figure out what it was she saw other than a shadow trying to crawl out of the void. 

    I didn’t  know that shadows have no business crawling toward light.

    I’m sorry, Carla. I thought that sentence for untold times, for untold years as the chemical cocktails I indulged in began to dissipate my body.

   I was okay with that, but then I saw Carla one night in the small hours of the morning, standing in the corner of my hovel.

   “There is a way…” she told me. 

   I grasped at the chance. “Tell me how.” 

   She told me, and the following night I went to see.

                                                                ***************

    This place stank too, but more of an effort was made to cover it up.

    It stank of desperation, hope, and ruin, and its appearance was almost a parody of a carnival fortune teller, but the old woman who owned the place took herself seriously, and I should have done that too.

    “Your Carla, she died in an accident,” the old woman told me. “Do you want her back?”

    I swallowed, nodded, and took the offered bottled water. My body’s moisture had been gulped by the chemicals I put into it two hours ago, and decided to go do what Carla told me as reason and the ability to function flickered under the drug’s onslaught.

    “She told me there’s a way…”

    “Yes. Do you know where she is?”

    I did. The family came and put her there, blamed and rejected me, and cut me off from Carla in a way I never had been in life.

    But she loved me and came to me, even if I was the cause of her end.

    I didn’t think I was, but guys like me never blame themselves.

    “Yes.”

    “Do you want her back?”

    “Yes.”

    She looked at me for a long moment, so long that I began to shift in my seat, sipping the water to keep up my end of the silence.

     Finally, she nodded. “Very well. It will not be pleasant, and I make no guarantees.”

     I held up a hand to stop her from going further. “Wait a minute. Will she be as I remembered, or as she is now?”

      It had been a while, and I’d read stories about this kind of thing before…before all this.

      She gave a heavy sigh that puffed up her round, stunted body for a moment and made her look, just for a second, like a beating heart. 

      “I make no guarantees.” 

                                                                ************

      She said something about blood, and making a sacrifice, and digging Carla up, and some words I was supposed to say. 

     I didn’t do any of it, even after making plans to break in, or climb, or do whatever it took. 

     The place was in a wealthy, snobby neighborhood, so there’d be video, security, twenty four seven protection; I’d stand out like a bloodstain on white marble, sure to be harassed by the cops.

     After that, who knew? They’d be free to do what they want with me, and to me.

     I laughed at myself, imagining my clothes to be in the style of some Victorian grave robber digging up corpses for money, my one and only contribution to science. 

     But as I kept putting it off, something in me changed, and for some reason the chemical need didn’t seem as urgent now.

     Carla came to me again, between injections, as I was letting the last one fully dissipate. 

    Where are you, Warren? She told me you came to see her, and she told you what to do.

    I sat up in bed, despite the pain it caused. I had to see her, but I didn’t want to be prone and vulnerable. “She did.” 

    Carla looked like she always had before the accident, but I could see the cracks in the broken wall behind her now. The last time, I couldn’t. 

    But you didn’t come for me. I thought you loved me.

    “I did. I still do.”

   Then why haven’t you done what she told you? I’m waiting, but every day you don’t, I get weaker.

   Don’t you want me back?

   “I did, but I didn’t want you back…like you are, there in the ground now.”

   What?

    “I asked her if you’d come back to me like you were in life, or now. She told me she couldn’t make any guarantees. In other words, she didn’t know. If she’s all that good, with all the people she’s supposed to have helped, why wouldn’t she know?”

   Carla floated there in front of me, silent, her sunken eyes still somehow managing to convey hurt at my hesitancy, at the fact that I’d even delayed at all to what…rescue her?

   You’re leaving me.

    I got up on my feet. “Carla…” I moved toward her spirit.

    You’re leaving me! 

    Her flash of anger made me jump, and I stopped moving. 

    The silence grew tense, long, awkward. She was waiting for me to confirm it. 

    I merely sighed, which said everything I couldn’t. 

    Then come to me, she said.

    “What?” 

    Come join me, Warren. Put together one last blast of what makes you feel good, and join me here. We’ll be together again, with no one to stop us.

    I considered it. Everything was there, in full view. 

    Everything was there but the need for it. 

    Warren…? She was still there, but a darkness in the center of her manifestation was slowly spreading. 

    I looked back at the busted table, and all I had to do was use the equipment to feel that familiar, toxic warmth once more, feel it for the last time.

    The old woman said it would take a sacrifice, but didn’t say it would be me. 

    Warren, don’t you want me back?

    I don’t know how much longer I stood there in the sick, shadowed darkness of what I’d become, in the small hours of a cold night with a chill wind storming the cracked windows,  driving out the cloying, putrid stink of my wasted life, and taking something else with it.

    I only know that when I turned to look again for Carla, for the ghost of the woman who’d been the light in my earthly darkness, she was gone.

    It was only then I realized our roles had been reversed.

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