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by Tammy L. Breitweiser

She is cross legged on the beige carpet in between the triangles left by an industrial cleaner. The chemical smell burns her nose. The storage space beyond the sliding glass door is open. She wonders if snow is blowing on her plastic bins but doesn’t move. The living room furniture is an eclectic mix from the dollar store, books, and an heirloom seven foot table that takes up all the room in the dining space. It was a fight to keep it in the divorce. She wasn’t giving it up.

Everything is the wrong size: A large bathroom holds the stackable washer and dryer larger than the kitchen. She can never get warm enough no matter how hot the shower water flows. The bedroom holds a mattress and dresser. Only bottled beer and string cheese are in the refrigerator and will not be consumed together.

The walk-in closet reminds her of the space under the stairs at her grandmother’s when she was little. The “Fort of Reading” it was named. Comfort is recreated with the door closed. The empty space of the apartment echoes when words escape so the closet becomes the phone booth.

His words echo in her head. “It is our life and no one else lives it. I don’t care what everyone else says. I don’t need their approval.”

She is alone, but not lonely. She is sheltered and insulated. Outside is urgency and panic like when you are waiting for the phone to ring but don’t know exactly when. Little sleep happens unless four beers are consumed. When that doesn’t work it is straight tequila.

She shops for food on the way home when she remembers or there is no more beer. No balanced meals, just pieces to make the stomach stop growling. Sometimes it is toast.

Many quiet hours are spent on the floor. There is no conscious passage of time, just indications of the sun coming or going. Work and then back home. Wanting to be back home before she even gets to the car in the morning.

She is sleepy when she is supposed to be awake, and awake when she is supposed to be sleeping.

Books are everywhere. They are the escape from reality into someone else’s words. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem is checked out from the library. The card is the passport to freedom and sanity.

Within three footfalls from the too big table to the living room she crumples to the floor. Grief grips her with the surprise of a heart attack. She cannot breathe and the sobs heave her chest.

The phone rings … how did he know?

The recorded message is loud. “Do you accept the collect call from Crow County Correctional Facility?”

It is good to hear his voice after pressing 1, even though she knows prison is his new forever home. It is time to tell him she is in a prison of her own.

Tammy L. Breitweiser is a writer and teacher who is a force of nature, an accidental inspirationalist, the keeper of the little red doors, and a conjurer of everyday magic who is always busy writing short stories. Her poetry has been published in The Storyteller Magazine and her flash fiction in The Ninja Writers Monthly and Elephants Never. Her essay is published in the I Wrote it Anyway anthology. You can connect with Tammy through Twitter @TLBREIT.