The day was barely over, and already I was already exhausted. I found a nice spot outside with a bench, under a tree, to sit down, and settled in with a sigh. The sun was still out, but it was getting on in the evening, so the heat had gone down, and there was a light breeze blowing in that kept me cool.
This was one of the perks of living in a small town. In the city, unless it was at the park, finding a place to relax on your way was pretty much impossible.
I still miss the city.
I readjusted my coat around me, then buried my hands in its pockets. I stretched my legs out and crossed them, then relaxed my spine against the back of the bench. I took in a deep breath of fresh air and let it out slowly.
Being home is pretty nice, too.
It had been ten years since I'd left my small town to run to the city. It wasn't just me, either, almost everyone I knew back in high school had left our sleepy little town for the city, or other bigger towns. Because of that, coming back had been a bit awkward for me, since all the people I knew were parents of people I knew in high school. But, it wasn't as if I had no good reason for coming back. I just couldn't stay in the city any longer.
The only problem was my job prospect.
When I left for the city, I went to college, and then business school, and worked my ass off to graduate with honors. I worked a lot of part-time jobs through college and while I hunted for a job. I got lucky to find a good position, and for the next six years, I worked my way up. I didn't get that far, but compared to other people my age that started out at the same time as me, I was successful.
Mom kept telling me everything was okay at home so I would stay in the city, because she cared about me being happy. And for a long time, I was, until things completely changed.
Mom was single and alone. Even when I had enough money to find a suitable apartment for the both of us to live in, she refused to leave our small town, because she was born here, she grew up here, fell in love and had me then raised me, mostly alone, there. To her, it was a home that couldn't be replaced. I understood her feelings and went along with it, but I was still uneasy. I felt bad about leaving her alone. So when the excitement of the city finally wore off, I quit my job, packed up and moved back.
It had only been a few weeks, and I wasn't sure if I regretted the decision yet or not, but my heart felt more calm, less guilty and restless. Besides, life in the city was pretty exhausting. Now that I was back home, and had some cash in savings, I had a lot of free time while looking for more work. I also had plenty to fill up that 'free time', an online job that helped with bills, so it wasn't like I didn't have any income at all, but I knew soon, the other bills would start to pile up.
No need to worry about that now, I thought with a sigh.
I looked up, because I had no idea how long I'd been sitting there lost in thought, but I decided to get up and leave before it got any later. It wasn't the cold season yet, but it still got pretty cold at night, and I was in a dress that only fell to my knees. I hated the cold. Besides, the place I was heading too wasn't too far off.
One of the good things about living in a small town was how simple it could be to walk everywhere you wanted to go. There were places where you'd need a car or something, but even just having a bike made getting around pretty easy, not like in the city.
Still, I thought. Is the store a lot further away than I remembered or what?
I'd been going back and forth to the store for weeks and never did I feel as tired as I did right now. Then again, I was older at twenty-eight. And, in my old job, I did spend most hours of the day sitting at a desk, so I'd never been athletic, and now I was doing a lot more physical exercise then I'd ever done in the city.
I shook my head at the thought that I was thinking that I'm old. I was nearly thirty, not seventy. It was just the change in scene and having so much stress in my life, something that I hadn't had until now.
When I finally had the store in sight, I breathed a sigh of relief and picked up my pace a little. If I could have gone out earlier, then maybe I wouldn't be so tired. But I spent the time with Mom instead and didn't even realize I needed to make the run until half an hour ago. I could have found some kid on our street to make the run for me, they tended to be helpful as long as you gave them a little something back, but that was just me being lazy, and Mom would complain about me bothering the neighborhood kids.
The store doors slid open automatically when I stepped close enough, and my body relaxed once it closed behind me. I had this ridiculous sense of accomplishment just for making it, and my legs even shook a little bit.
I looked up at the call of my name.
"Mrs. Jones, hi."
Margaret Jones wasn't exactly a neighbor of mine, since she lived a few streets from where I did, but she knew my mom. I didn't want to stop and chat, so I gave her a polite smile, one of the things I'd learned from working in an office.
"What a coincidence to run into you here," I said, picking up a basket and loitering.
"I was doing the shopping for the family," she said with an airy wave of her hand. "I'm guessing you too, huh? Oh, I wanted to ask, how your mother's been doing recently. I haven't been by to see her in a while. I've heard that she's not too well, poor thing."
The smile strained on my face a bit as she went on talking, but I didn't stop her. Instead, I cut off the dark emotions growing in my chest and made my smile extra bright.
"Mom's doing just fine, actually," I said, as sincerely as I could manage. "But I need to get done and get back quickly. We're supposed to be making dinner tonight, and we both need to go to sleep early."
"Are you still job hunting?" she asked. "If you are, I could ask my son to look into his company if there's an open spot? It's only an hour away by car, so you'll be close by in case your mom needs anything."
"Uh, let me get back to you on that. I still want to try my options and besides I can't be too far from home. You know with mom. I need to think about working from home maybe on a part-time basis or something..."
I was rambling and talking about my situation at home. Something that I tried not to do. I just got on with things, that was the only way to deal with it all in my mind.
I moved away from the shelves and bursted out, "I'll talk to you later!I really need to get going."
I gave her a last, bright smile that was so wide it made my cheeks ache. Then, I darted out of her sight before she could start speaking again or even worse ask me anymore questions.
That was one of the cons of being in a small town. When there was news, big or small, it tended to travel around fast. It was hard to tell who was being genuine or who was looking for a juicier story, but I hated that my mom had been turned into the topic of gossip in town. Well, me, too, for being one of the kids of my generation to come back home. Even Mrs. Jones' son, who'd been a senior in high school when I was a sophomore, lived in the next town over where there were more office buildings and thus more jobs.
I knew Mom was sick. She'd been diagnosed a while back, and I wanted to come back then, but Mom kept insisting she could handle things. I took her word for it, but that was when the guilt and the uneasy feelings started to pile up, to the point I couldn't take it anymore, so I came back.
Mom had dementia, and when I got back and saw just how she'd been living, I couldn't help but berate myself for not coming back a lot sooner. We had relatives in town, but it was an inconvenience to them to look after my mom and live their own lives as well. There had been a lot of people helping out in the beginning, but the numbers dwindled. And then, I got to see it for myself, the times when Mom acted differently, forgot things she should know. I was devastated, and I was dreading the day it would happen, that my mother would look at my face and not recognize I was her daughter.
Don't think about it, I urged myself. Just worry about what you need to for now. Leave other problems for later.
Dementia could be pushed back by drugs, but it couldn't be avoided or cured, so it was only a matter of time. If I was lucky, it wouldn't get that bad, but there was no use worrying myself to death about it when I had other, more pressing matters to think about at the moment. And right then, the only thing I had to worry about was getting enough groceries to stock up our kitchen.
Besides, the moment I decided to come back home, there was no turning back. There was the cash I had in savings, and I also sold everything I had in the city, so there was nothing for me to go back to even if I wanted to. I didn't just take a leave of absence from work. I could have been allowed up to three months since I was a good employee who was never late and did my job well, and it was a family emergency. I'd been given the option of taking an extended leave instead of outright quitting, but I insisted on resigning because there was no way I would leave my sick mom alone.
Out of nowhere, my eyesight blurred, and I felt dizzy all of a sudden. I stumbled on my feet and just barely managed not to fall, or grab onto the shelves and accidentally drop something to the ground. I put a hand to my head, frowning.
"Are you all right?"
I looked up to see someone in the store's uniform standing not too far away from me, watching me in concern. I straightened myself up and sent a smile her way.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just a dizzy spell, but it's passed now."
I walked on with the basket, wishing I'd picked a cart I could push instead. My body was feeling heavier as if I needed to sit down again. This was another reason I'd thought coming back home was a good thing. Recently, I hadn't been feeling too good myself, being drowsy all the time, slowly losing my appetite. Before I resigned, I'd noticed the quality of my work slipping, and I thought I needed a break, so coming back to my small, sleepy town was perfect.
Suddenly, I felt out of breath and I wished I'd stayed on that bench for a bit longer. I was thinking of the road back home and already dreading it, and my basket wasn't even half filled with everything we needed at home.
Just keep moving, Sandra, I thought. One foot in front of the other, that's it. Just finish up, get everything home, and you can go to sleep for as long as you like.
Already, I could see everything slowly growing black, my body growing even heavier as if I was falling asleep and I couldn't control it as I felt myself drop to the ground and everything around me, turned into darkness.