Rita carefully folded her periwinkle sundress and placed it in the bottom drawer of her walnut dresser. She picked up the empty basket and returned it to the laundry room. She used to enjoy the ritual of exchanging her summer clothes for the sweaters and turtlenecks she used to fight the chill of autumn, but this time it, like seemingly everything lately, was making her a little sad.
It was only five o’clock, but already the day felt as if it had gone on far too long. Rita considered going to bed, but knew if she did her mother would nag her about the importance of keeping a regular sleep schedule. So instead she walked to the backyard and sat on the slab of concrete that tried unsuccessfully to pass as a porch.
Rita’s pale green eyes studied the oak tree that was the lone resident of the yard. The edges of its leaves were tinged with brown, and she knew it wouldn’t be long before they were scattered across the grass. She recalled the leaves of New England, where she had been last year, remembering how their deaths were much more spectacular, vibrant reds and yellows instead of the dull brown she saw here.
The world felt overwhelmingly quiet and still.
Rita had escaped her stifling hometown to head far away to a prestigious college, but her slow unraveling had brought her right back where she started. Her high school friends were all away, delving into the next chapter of their lives, but she remained stationary, treading water, marching in place. Her days now were not spent in classes but simply devoted to being lost inside the labyrinth passageways of her own mind, slowly folding in onto herself more and more. The world beyond the borders of herself was becoming out of focus, far away.
She tried to think of something to do to pass away the rest of the day, but no activities seemed appealing. Nothing could hold her interest. She used to love to read, but now the words blurred together on the page. Her concentration would not last long enough to make it through a paragraph, to follow the progression of the plot. Everything was lost in that steady drumbeat in her mind that told her again and again that she had failed, she had fallen apart and ruined it, she had not been good enough to make it.
She felt the certainty of what would happen next staring hard at her, but she still couldn’t quite bring herself to look back at it. She peered around the edges, trying to see if there were some other possibility hiding behind it, some alternative that was not so drastic. But she found none. Finally she stopped trying, and went back inside the house.
There were so many options, but only one called out forcefully to her. She wanted it to be spectacular, bright and colorful like those New England leaves. The lock of the bathroom door clicked obediently into place. She opened the medicine cabinet and took out a brand-new disposable razor, garishly yellow.
She sat down in the bathtub, holding the cold metal of the blade against her thin wrist. She wondered how much blood there would be. She took a deep breath, and then she pressed hard against her skin.