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Activating Anti-Venom

— by Clare Greene                                                                                >>BACK

Marilyn wiped away the steamy fog from the bathroom mirror and looked at her blurry reflection.  She tightly wrapped a towel around her, tucking its corner under her arms.  The door to the bathroom was still closed but somehow, the foggy steam was slowly starting to dissipate.  Where does it go, she wondered, with no way out?  A loud and impatient knock interrupted her thoughts.

“You almost done in there?  I have an 8 a.m. meeting and you’ve been in there for over 15 minutes.”  Her boyfriend of four years, Brian, waited outside the door, resting his hand on the knob, ready to turn it as soon as she gave the OK.  But Marilyn had locked the door this morning and was not ready to open it.  She leaned her svelte frame against the vanity, letting out a sigh.  He knocked again, this time with more insistence.  “Marilyn, I need to get in there.”  His voice was rising.  She turned to look at herself in the mirror once more.  The fog was evaporating and she could now see herself more clearly.  That was all that she needed.  Marilyn moved toward the door and took a deep breath.

“Here you go,” she said in the same instant she unlocked the door and turned the handle.  “It’s all yours.”

“Finally!” Brian rushed into the bathroom, towel in hand.  “Jesus, Marilyn, did you shower in the tub or on the floor?  Why are there puddles everywhere?”

“Good morning to you, too,” she called out to him as she walked into their bedroom.  Perusing through her closet, she scoured her options and finally settled on her old, familiar favorite:  a stunning black pencil skirt and a burgundy wrap top.  She paired them with her favorite shoes.  Marilyn’s mother always told her that the best way to start your day in a good mood is to dress for it.  She’d also told her daughter that it was better to spend your time searching than to waste it settling.

By the time Brian was out of the shower, Marilyn had made the morning coffee and was starting on her makeup.  Brian’s preoccupation with rushing around for work left him less than captive to Marilyn on this particular morning.

“Coffee’s on in the kitchen,” she offered, in between eye shadow applications.

“Good,” he replied, rather than the expected Thanks.  “I’m going to need that today.  We have a huge meeting with an outside company this morning.  The next year could hinge on how this meeting goes.”  He hurriedly looped his tie around in circles, trying to knot it.  Marilyn continued on to her mascara.

“I meant to tell you,” she began.  “Last week, I had the craziest dream.”  With no acknowledgement from Brian, she continued, “I dreamt that I was bitten by two cobras, and I was so scared I wasn’t going to survive the bites.”  She brushed her lashes again and then paused to look at him in the mirror.  “What do you think it means?”

“How the hell do I know,” Brian began.  “But I’ll tell you what, the day you dream about having the winning numbers to the Powerball, you let me know and I’ll go out and buy a ticket.  Then we’ll know your dreams mean something.”  He laughed at his own suggestion, and walked back to the bedroom to put on his socks and shoes.  “Are you headed to office this mornig, or what?” he asked Marilyn.  “You don’t seem like you’re in much of a hurry.”

Marilyn’s eyes widened anxiously, but Brian was in the other room and didn’t catch this.  For a brief moment, panic echoed in her racing heartbeats.  She hadn’t told Brian about her manage meeting from three weeks ago, when she got the news that her full-time hour allotment would be reduced by half.  It was an effort to “cut hours, not jobs” at the bank.  A teller at the bank’s first branch outside the city, Marilyn was just one really bad mood away from leaving her job altogether.  Why she’d remained there as long as she did was more a credit to Brian’s powers of persuasion than to her own desire to be there.  She had rationalized, at the time, that he wanted what was best for her, for them.  Two years ago, they broached the topic of the life they wanted to live together and in no uncertain terms, Brian made it clear that it was time for Marilyn to grow up.  Her childhood dream of dancing professionally had only gone as far as side jobs with local theatre companies and a regular gig as an after-school dance club coordinator.  He had encouraged her to take the bank job as a way to reprioritize her personal and professional goals.  After all, he’d once told her,  “The only adult dancers I know are ones who dance on poles.”  Surely, he surmised, she didn’t want to become that kind of dancer.

“Normal time,” she finally answered back to him, swallowing down the remaining anxiety.  She twisted her damp hair back into a chignon and fastened it with some bobby pins and a clip until it felt secure.   “My boss is out this week so I can take my time coming in.  Nice change for once.”

Their life together could be – and would be – summarized by the routine events that took place in the next ten minutes:  Brian combed and gelled his hair in the bathroom mirror, grabbed his coffee and coat, planted a kiss on the side of Marilyn’s mouth, and rushed out the door.  He had told her that today was going to be an important day for him, and he promised that the course of the next year would be decided by the way things went for him this very morning.  What he didn’t realize is that the course of events this morning would undoubtedly impact both of their lives.

After he left, silence fell over the apartment.  Looking at the window, coffee in her hand, Marilyn noticed that thick, gray fog sat over the city.  She could almost make out people and cars on the street below their 2nd floor window, but she couldn’t see the windows of buildings just a few blocks down from the street where they lived.  Far away, she heard the dull wail of the light rail’s horn as it made its way over the surface of the city and through the fog cloud.

Brian and Marilyn had lived in this space, part of a former warehouse, for the past two years.  Their apartment used to house the assembly line production for a textiles manufacturing company.  Brian’s dad owned the building and he was expected to pass it on to him in the next few years, after Brian had proven his real estate management prowess with a few other big deal holdings.  The great part about living in a building owned by his father is that Marilyn and Brian were the only ones who lived there; the future plans for the building were on perpetual hold while his father decided on how to convert the space into luxury condo units.  The bad part about living in a building with no neighbors is that there’s no one there to look after you, no one there to tell you about who comes and goes, who came looking for you, or who shouldn’t have been there at all.

It was less than three weeks ago, shortly after learning about her reduction in hours at the bank, when Marilyn came home from work and found that one of the locks on the front door had not been turned.  Odd, she thought, since she was the last one out the door each morning, and was presumably the last one to lock it.  Looking back, one could say that the unlocked door opened up many things for Marilyn, among them doubt and a sinking feeling of sick dread.  She began to notice things that she hadn’t thought about before, like the Internet Search History tab on their computer.  And she began to do things that she hadn’t ever done before, like look at it.  Brian was always a little lazy, but not logging out of his email account was the worst way he could have ever let things slide.  A picture of their relationship emerged, and it had become crowded by the presence of several other women.  The betrayal broke her in half.  As the world she had known imploded on the computer screen, Marilyn silently crumbled into her own devastation.

If the dream she had about being bitten by two cobras were any indication, then Marilyn had been given a glimpse into the powerful effects of poison on one’s life.  Working at a job she had long hated and staying with a guy she now resented would undoubtedly destroy her.  She had told herself that to sacrifice is to love, but this bartering system hadn’t been working for her.  She’d spent the first week and a half crying in the shower; the rushing sounds of the water nearly hid her howls.  But the initial punctures had given way to the tender wound, an area so painful to touch even after the bleeding has subsided.  By the second week, Marilyn had managed to stop crying long enough to assess her current condition. It was remarkably clear to her that the puncture wounds were deep:  she had no love here, no reason to continue existing in this space.  By the middle of the third week, Marilyn’s agony turned into a desperate reflection as she contemplated the meaning of her dream, the reason for her life, and what form of anti-venom she could activate to stop the painful poison.

Shortly after 9:15 a.m., she set in motion a series of actions that she could not undo.  She pulled out a container from a back part of a kitchen cabinet and fumbled trying to open it.  She managed to unscrew the top and pull off the cap in one clumsy motion, spilling it onto Brian’s shoes that were lying on the floor by the balcony door.  No regrets, she told herself.  Marilyn shallowly breathed in the strong fumes and tasted the toxins with all of her senses, letting out a stifled cough.  Trust the journey, she told herself, carrying the liquid with her into the bedroom, where she pulled out a box from underneath the bed.  She estimated that the entire process would only take her about five to seven minutes to complete, and then it would all be complete.  Reliving the revelations of the last three weeks would finally stop.  Wallowing in this sickening misery would finally be over.  Focus on now and then focus on forever, she told herself.  For the first time in weeks – and maybe even years – contentment and purpose had finally surfaced within her.  Marilyn knew that she was making the right decision.

By the time she hit the corner of Light and Wheeling Street, Marilyn’s walk became more hurried and the morning fog was barely visible in the sky above her.  The tote bag she carried, filled with just her bare essentials, tapped on her back with each step; the rhythm helped her to focus on walking.  No new feelings washed over her except perhaps an acute sense of go.  She left the apartment while the coals in the charcoal grill were still hot with orange heat, turning the last of their artifacts into dust. The grill on their balcony has just been host to the literal toasting of memories:  photographs, ticket stubs, birthday cards, and anything else that could be incinerated was and in a matter of minutes.  Lighter fluid helped to accelerate the flames, and she tearfully watched as photographs burned from the inside out, leaving only a crude shell of a charred frame.

As Marilyn turned the corner and headed toward the light rail station, she passed by a mailbox and dropped in a large manila envelope addressed to Brian.  In 1-2 days, he would open it to find copies of his emails and a brief note from Marilyn.  It summarized their 4-year relationship, her 3 weeks of agony, and the 7 minute balcony inferno in just 10 words:  Life’s too short to not live for what you love.  And one final item, her key to the apartment, would be stuck in the corner of the envelope.  It was wrapped in a post-it note.  “P.S.” it read, “Don’t forget to lock the door when you leave.”

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