Meredith sat quietly in the center of her room on the carpet that had been freshly steam cleaned for the party. Against the far wall sat all the gifts she’d received, still in their fancy sacks.
The wind rattled the windows as the evening news, barely audible from another room, reported a blizzard on the way. She loved snow and the sound of haunting wind ushering it in. The house creaked against the gusts, and she closed her eyes, listening to the invisible. She liked that things unseen could be heard.
Her mother would be gone for exactly thirty-two minutes to take home the toddler and infant she babysat three times a week to earn a little extra cash for the family. Her brother was at work, his third job, to try to make ends meet. Such small problems, money and food.
Meredith wanted to keep listening to the wind, but time was running out.
She placed the baby monitor and its receiver in front of her. Sky blue plastic, both with long white cords. She stared at them…portals to reality, a reality that told her who she was. What she was.
Her friends still didn’t know she had heard them when she’d gone to the back bedroom to get a sweater. But she heard everything through the baby monitor. Every word.
She didn’t know she embarrassed them by how she dressed. She didn’t know her hair was ugly.
She’d clutched the sweater she’d gone to retrieve, the one with the small hole in the sleeve, and listened for a long time. She didn’t come out of the room until they left.
The wind howled, reminding her that she had better hurry.
Meredith took the end of each unit, where the plugs were, and tied them together, pulling them as tight as possible.
Then, with the rope to the toy horse her grandfather had made her when she was four, she added more length, closing the knots. She stood and tugged against the rope, tightening each knot one more time.
Her knees shook, which surprised her because until now she had felt calm and peaceful. Nearly euphoric, which made her realize she had indeed chosen wisely. But the piercing whistle of the wind through the house caused her to shiver. She never questioned whether she had the guts to do it. Other people questioned things about her, though.
She stood for a moment in her room, reconsidering the closet. The high bar would hold, but she knew her mother and knew she would need a place of solace when this was over. So she went to the garage.
The garage door shook against the wind, its metal rattling as if someone were outside shaking it furiously. Her father’s workbench stool would do. Something without wheels but unsteady enough to kick over.
Meredith studied the steel tracks bolted to the ceiling. Their family was the last on the block to still have the manual roll-up garage door, but she respected that about her dad. He wasn’t a sellout. She always wanted to be like him. He was charismatic, likable. But her brother got all those traits. She carefully climbed onto the stool. The last thing she needed was to fall and break her arm or something. That’d be just her luck.
She stood erect, looking down at all that was in the garage. Her gaze fixed on the oil stain her dad had been trying to remove for a week now. He scrubbed and scrubbed but couldn’t get rid of it.
Stains are permanent, Dad. From her back pocket, she pulled the rope and notes she’d copied from the library yesterday. She glanced over the drawing she’d made. It was pretty self-explanatory. She stuffed the paper back in her pocket and felt her other pocket for the small envelope, a note to her parents and brother telling them she loved them and she was sorry. She pushed it in deeper.
Meredith tied the noose like she’d studied, then lifted the other end and tied it twice around a thin, sturdy beam on the track above her. It didn’t have to hold forever. Just long enough.
Her heartbeat reminded her that this was not going to be an easy task. She never expected it to be. But the euphoria had vanished.
Her hands started shaking. Tears fell against her cheeks. She’d prepared for this.
She’d decided on a countdown. After all, she was blasting off to somewhere far better for her and everybody else. She’d settled on starting at twenty, because that was her age and that seemed like a decent number. Not too long, not too short. She had one more test. She took a deep breath and then yelled, “Can anyone hear me?”
She listened. But all she heard were those awful words from the girls. Over and over. She couldn’t get them out of her head.
She tried one more time, this time louder, to give it a fair shot. “Can anyone hear me?”
Nobody answered. Nobody ever would.
Meredith pulled the noose around her neck and turned to see out the garage door windows. Her favorite tree, the weeping willow her father had planted when she was born, was in sight. She tightened the noose one more time so that the cord pressed deeply into her neck.
“Twenty. Nineteen. Eighteen. Seventeen. Sixteen. Fifteen. Fourteen. Thirteen. Twelve. Eleven. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two.” She clenched her fists. “Can anyone hear me?”
She thought she heard a voice nearby. Then another sound, like a door shutting. She stopped breathing to hear better. But it was only the wind teasing her. Tears bled down her cheeks. She fixed her eyes on the dark stain below her.