Turn Off the Lights

by Jenson Smith

Elmira steers her Target cart around the woman with eight million children and races into the bathroom. She can hear the cart slamming against the concrete wall as she locks the stall door and yanks her pants down.

“Uff da! That was a close one,” she thinks. Her timing has been off in general in lately. Everything seems to come on so suddenly. She tries to plan, but her to-do lists fly off the page one by one as if to say “fuck you for trying!”

The door opens and she sees two sets of Keds walking in. “Must be teenagers,” she thinks. High pitched laughter. Yup.

Elmira, named after her grandfather, Elmer, has always felt old. She prefers slip-on shoes. She likes to settle in early. She always prints her boardings passes and –

“Ahhhhhh!!” the girls squeal.

She just can’t handle loud noises. “That’s my cue,” thinks Elma as she flushes to signal her presence and departure.

Back at her cart, she spots the homeschool family now chowing down on hot dogs. Despite being composed of almost hundred percent chemicals, the salty charcoal smell momentarily makes her question her vegetarianism and then… “Oh that’s right! I need almond milk,” she thinks. Sometimes her ADHD does pay off.

The lights are beginning to become too bright. The music gets louder. It’s a Christmas song. It’s Mariah Carey. A large man in a mega hat winks at her as he grabs a jumbo pack of toilet paper. MAY DAY – MAY DAY – MAY DAY – MAY DAY – MAY DAY!

Elmira dashes into the gardening aisle, trying to catch her breath. Accustomed to panic attacks, she knows she has to find the closest dark space asap. A light flashes on the bottom shelf. She crouches down to look. It’s one of those tiny winter villages, and one of the houses is all lit up. A fire place is crackling. A cat meows. The smell of hot chocolate wafts through the air…

Elmira leans closer. A deep part of herself begins to silently pray. “This is working. Thank you, Jesus – God – Fairy godmother – Buddha- whatever you are- for commercialism today. Can I please, please just go there for one more -”

Suddenly the homeschool family turns down the aisle. Elmira closes her eyes, trying to hold onto the image a little longer. “Keep going!” a tiny high pitched voice whispers.

Elmira nods. Now she can see with her eyes closed! A blanket. A piano with with candles on top. Snow falling. It’s a full moon. “A little more!” say the voice.

Long hair. A silky nightgown. Her favorite Old Navy fleece from 2000 that she hasn’t been able to find in years. “You’re almost – ”

The homeschool twins interrupt the voice and as they collide with her butt. Elmira goes plunging down, down, down and POOF! Darkness. Silence.

She opens her eyes. A black cat with green eyes is staring back at her at her lovingly. Elmira rolls over on the soft blanket. The fire in the fireplace and forms a smile and then goes back to normal. Her eyes scan the room. It’s a beautiful cottage filled with books, chocolates, and introvert treasures galore.

“Welcome!” says the voice. “You made it!”

Elmira sighs. Finally.