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“Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?” Albert Camus

        She lie in bed waiting for the alarm to sound.
Her eyes wandered slowly around the room as she listened to the winter wind whistling outside the apartment. The darkness seemed like a physical thing—shadows moved upon the wall like pale ghosts. They were animated by what little light filtered in through the tress and the small, bedroom window that hung like a dark portrait on the wall.

        She looked at the clock.

        3:38

        3:38

        3:39

        How many years had she been doing this?

        She was sixteen. He was eighteen, and they made love that summer beneath the stars. He was her first and she had gotten pregnant. He promised to marry her and they both dropped out of school. He got a job working construction and they found a small apartment. While she was making a home of it, he started going out drinking with his friends after work.

        One night she had prepared a special dinner for his birthday, and then sat and watched it grow cold while she waited for him to come home. He finally stumbled through the door drunk. He tried to force himself upon her. She resisted. He struck her and she had fallen over the end table. There was bleeding, and then the miscarriage.

         He felt guilty at first, and was genuinely concerned, but as her health improved, the distance between them grew. She remembered lying in bed beside him in the dark—neither of them touching, neither of them speaking—how even then the darkness seemed to be the only living being in the room.

        “I love you,” she had dared to say.

        “Don’t be silly,” he replied indifferently. “People like us don’t fall in love.”

        She looked at the clock.

        3:48

        3:48

        3:49

        He started drinking again, but instead of waiting for him to come home, one rainy night she packed her things and called a cab. She had no place to go. Her parents had disowned her. Her friends had abandoned her. She only knew she couldn’t stay there. She rode around aimlessly in the taxi most of the night. When the rain let up, she took what she could carry and at the next light jumped out of the cab and ran as fast as she could.

        She took shelter in a church the rest of the night. The priest had found her in the morning shivering in wet clothes, sleeping between the pews. One of the nuns had gotten her a change of clothes. Another had taken her to the kitchen and made her a warm broth. She went on to work in the kitchen, preparing meals for shelters managed by the church. After a week or so of learning a few skills she struck out on her own and found a job waitressing.

        It was then that she discovered she was pregnant again.

        3:58

        3:58

        3:59

        Not waiting for the alarm, she crawled out from beneath the warmth of covers and padded across the cold, hard floor into the bathroom. Standing before the mirror, she looked deep into her coal-black eyes for signs of life. She had been more awake waiting for the alarm to sound. Turning on the tap, she splashed cold water on her face.

        How many years had she been doing this?

        She carried the child to full-term, working until her ankles were too swollen to stand. Taking a leave of absence, she spent eighteen hours in labor with no one there to hold her hand. She finally gave birth to a daughter—Hope, but even Social Services took that away from her. She vowed never to fall in love again.

        She looked into her eyes for a sign of life.

        Wiping the sleep out of her eyes with a towel, she brushed the tangles out of her hair and began putting on her face. Then, padding back out into the bedroom, she sank down on the bed. She caught a glimpse of herself in the dresser mirror, and couldn’t help but wonder if she wasn’t just a ghost herself. The daily grind. Fighting to make ends meet. What was the point if you’re simply existing?

        She practiced a smile on herself in the mirror.

        She failed to impress herself. Good thing I’m not living on tips, she thought. And thank God for regulars. She pulled off her sweatshirt, and standing up, fastened her bra and pulled the straps up over her shoulders. Well, at least there’s a little life left in these. She grabbed her blouse and skirt off the dresser and put them on. Sitting back down on the bed, she pulled on a pair of warm, cotton socks and slipped her feet into her Reeboks.

        She looked at the clock.

        4:28

        She slipped into the overshoes standing at the door, and pulling on her gloves, looked back into the darkness of the apartment.

        “People like us, don’t fall in love.”

        Stepping out into the cold, she closed and locked the door.

        The alarm clock sounded behind her.

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