I counted the bottles of cough syrup after pulling them out from beneath my bed and setting them on my desk.
The numbers started to drift away and I just stared at the empty wall in front of me, trying to memorize each line and each imperfection of the drywall. I had wanted to paint the walls a bright blue when I was younger, but my parents riddled out adult words about renting homes and loans and mortgage rates—things I still didn’t completely understand.
It was Sunday morning and my mother had woken up early to iron her church dress, to make the high neckline lay flat to her small chest and she pressed each pleat an extra time to make sure the lines were sharp and elegant. She didn’t like wrinkles or messy buns or her food touching. She would do all of our dishes each night out of fear that someone might put them away wrong or leave a glass marked with water. Imperfections made her cringe.
I had watched through the crack of my door as she straightened my father’s tie and handed him his Bible before they both left for church. I heard the jingling of the door as my mom came back to unlocked and relocked it, just to make sure. I used to go with them to church, but I didn’t like going anymore because I could feel people’s whispers and I felt crippled by gazes that people would try to hide beneath their sunglasses.
For a while, they made me accompany them even on short excursions, like going to the grocery store or to the pharmacy. When we were at home, they would prop open my bedroom door with a stack of carefully chosen books, hoping that I would pick one of them up and that all of the words would make sense, and I’d line up my priorities in a way that would make my mom almost smile.
They had stopped doing these things for this last weekend, though. My mother came and picked up her stack of inspirational books and let my bedroom door slowly creak shut. She left me a box of tampons outside my door on Saturday, but she hadn’t dragged me to the store to get them with her. My father and her saw an end nearing for them; a door that would soon shut, and someone else could be the one to look over my shoulder, prepare my meals, and peek into my bedroom as I slept.
It had been an hour and a half since they had left and I had moved on to looking through my CD’s. I didn’t want to listen to any of them because that would probably leave some unknown verse in my head, stuck on repeat. So I just sifted through the cases that were stacked in my closet, some lying on the floor between piles of clothes and books, an old pack of Newport cigarettes, and some wrinkled sheets of old homework from last year, before I had graduated from high school. I tried to remember my favorite parts of each album because I knew my mom wouldn’t let me bring them with me.
I picked up the pack of cigarettes, took one out, and lit it. As I exhaled, I looked at the last two cigarettes that still lived in the box. I would probably smoke them if I had time. I didn’t want to waste them.
My mom had always warned me about cigarettes. She told me that the nicotine was addictive and she said my face would look like a gravitational mess. She didn’t like wrinkles.
But she especially warned me about addiction. I didn’t like to listen to her shaky discussions of her own mother’s addiction to cigarettes. I only started smoking to destroy my mother’s addiction to perfection. I wanted to help her understand my burden and to help her see that I wasn’t a dress that she could lay out on her ironing board. I had faults deeper than my skin that couldn’t simply be pressed out with metal and steam.
Cigarettes were an addiction for sad people, though, and I didn’t like being sad. But today, I clung to the nostalgia that was laced through the tobacco and nicotine. I stood in the center of my room and picked out each hiding spot with my eyes—the hollowed out book that I kept the little white pills in, the jar that held mounds of strawberry candies to hide the bottle of pain killers I had stolen from one of my friend’s parents, the floorboard that lifted to reveal empty bottles of two dollar wine and cheap vodka.
I heard the front door open and I counted the footsteps of three people walking in. My parents thought it would be a good idea to have someone from their church sponsor me. I knew their routine of welcoming someone in to our house and I knew that, even though they were here for me, I still had a few minutes before they would take me, their victim, hostage.
I sat down at my desk chair and pulled out a small baggie that had been hiding at the back of my desk drawer. I held my cigarette between my teeth as I poured the rest of the snowy white powder out on to my desk, next to my empty bottles of cough syrup. I didn’t bother hiding anything because I knew my room would be thoroughly inspected by my parents as soon as they returned home without me.
I smashed the cigarette butt on my desk before leaning down to inhale my last escape. I had lined this one up really straight and perfect. My mom would have been proud.
Just then, she knocked on the door and I turned in my chair to face her standing there with my father and an unfamiliar woman who must’ve been from church.
My mother winced as I wiped the white dust from my septum.
— Imperfections (a [short] short story) by Robi Foli (via stre55ed)