Read Part 1 here! Please feel free to leave comments with suggestions!
Sylvia wiped everything down as slowly as she could, squeezing every last second out of her workday before she had to head home. Her bony arms stuck out awkwardly from her uniform as she cleaned. She couldn’t seem to make herself eat these days; it just didn’t seem worthwhile.
Sylvia trudged up the stairs, praying with each step that when she opened the apartment door she would see him lying on the couch like a beached manatee, snoring away. The nights when he passed out before she got home were like Christmas to her, and she creeped open the door to see if Santa had left her a gift tonight . . . yes! Manatee status confirmed. He was out until about noon tomorrow.
She tiptoed in out of habit even though there wasn’t much concern he would awaken in this state. Slipping into the bathroom, Sylvia took a long hard look at herself in the mirror. She looked way older than 26, she realized as she stared. Her face had lines on it that only a grandmother elephant should have. Her skin sagged dully over bones that used to be graced with youthful muscle tone. If she saw her dear mare Susie Q in the equivalent of her condition, Sylvia realized, she would be beyond livid.
So why did she not feel that way about herself? It was wrong, she knew. She’d had loving parents who had taught her to appreciate herself for who she was. It was like she was that frog who got placed in the pot of water, and then the water gradually heated up to boiling, before he could realize and jump out.
She began to undress so she could wash off the smell of coffee and cleaning bleach when she felt something in her pocket. It was a pen that she’d forgotten she had shoved in there when she found it on the counter after the men had left. It said Benfield Racing Stables in purple, listed Michael Benfield as the head trainer, and gave a phone number. She stared at it like she’d never seen a pen before.
She wasn’t one to believe in signs, but she was one to answer a call if the call was strong enough. To Sylvia, in that moment, the call was stronger than that pull of whiskey she’d taken when she’d walked in the door to help her sleep. It was a split decision, but an unwavering one. She was going to Walther Downs. She didn’t know what she would do or say when she got there, but that didn’t matter. She was going to be with horses again, and that meant she was going to feel unconditional love again.
Sylvia trembled with a mixture of excitement and trepidation at her plan. What if Jackson did wake up? Once he was awake he wasn’t so much like a lumbering manatee anymore- more like a hairy ridiculous gorilla, but still scary. What if he figured out where she’d gone and tracked her down? He had known of her love of horses at one time, though if he remembered she didn’t know. She pushed the what if’s aside; they would only act as stumbling blocks to her now.
Suddenly nothing seemed to matter anymore except getting to that racetrack. It was a ray of hope, and the smell of coffee and bleach on her skin seemed to dissolve as she thought of the things she should gather. She grabbed fresh clothes, bathroom necessities, some granola bars, and shakily shoved them in her old duffel bag. She felt like a hobo putting together a little knapsack to carry over her shoulder, she felt like a small child running away for the first time. She felt . . . liberated. Terrifyingly liberated and she wasn’t even out of the apartment yet. Last she reached way down into her pillowcase and pulled out the cedarwood Christmas tree ornament her parents had given her, in the shape of a horse. She pressed it to her mouth in a kiss and breathed in the still lingering cedar smell. It gave her that last little bit of love for her past mixed with hope for the future that she needed to take the dreaded steps toward the door.
Jackson the Manatee was still snoring, one flipper now flopped over the edge of the couch. Should she leave a note? Some sort of acknowledgement of the long-ago days when they had been happy? No, of course not, she realized sadly. He had burned all those bridges already. She slipped out the door with no more qualms, clutching the ornament for strength.
To be continued.