Juno Books
An Excerpt From Twelve Steps From Darkness by Karen E. Taylor

[ Information on Twelve Steps From Darkness ]

From Chapter One

Outside the bar, Laura cursed the bright June sunlight and fumbled in her bag for her sunglasses. Ignoring the disdain in the glances of passers by, she shook her head and mumbled to herself until finally, beneath wads of tissues and crumpled receipts, she located the glasses. She put them on with unsteady hands and fished once more for her keys before looking around to get her bearings.

Locating her car, she got in and started it, adjusting the rear view mirror. She put it into reverse; it sputtered and stalled. Frustrated, she jammed the gearshift into park, restarted the engine and revved the motor. She could still feel the alcohol surging through her system and wondered briefly if she should go back inside and have Ted call her a cab. Or at least have another cup of coffee.

Except she feared reentering the bar, knowing that the extra coffee might turn into another vodka martini or two and for once the longing to talk to her daughters was stronger than the urge to drink."I can have coffee at home," she told herself firmly, and shifted over in the seat to look into the mirror again, this time to check her appearance. Laura combed her bangs back with her fingers and removed her sunglasses. One glimpse was all she needed; she put the glasses back on to avoid looking at her eyes and the puffy bags underneath that had formed over the past few years.

* * *

"Great," she said, "just goddamned great," and shifted her car into reverse. Her foot slipped off the brake and hit the gas pedal at full force. This time the car did not stall, but surged backward, directly into a car just pulling into the parking lot. When she recognized the red and blue lights and the uniformed man emerging, she said nothing. She didn't even swear. Instead, she went back into her purse, rolled down her window and extended her wallet to the policeman. He took one look at her and she gave him a a rueful smile. After the questioning and the breath test he returned to his car to make the necessary arrangements. Laura folded her arms over the steering wheel, rested her head on them and slowly, desperately, began to cry.

Three months went by in a blur of appointments, appearances, three months of signing papers and waivers, seemingly countless interviews by clerks and mental health counselors. Eventually, it had been decided that she would qualify for the ARD program-- Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. Her final courtroom appearance was just a state-mandated necessity.

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. She rolled the social services jargon over in her mind with a cynical laugh. Fancy words for getting my ass in gear, she thought, words to justify locking me away for four weeks, taking away any defense I have against the world.

She panicked slightly at her thoughts, then tried to calm herself down. Even as a passenger, the cab ride from the courthouse had almost completely unnerved her; one of the reasons she worked and lived in the suburbs was to avoid the downtown traffic. Although not being able to drive the last three months had been inconvenient, she hadn't missed bumper-to-bumper traffic. Her father had promised to take her to and from the courthouse. That he was supportive and offered to drive was not a surprise, but then neither was the fact he'd had an "emergency" at the last minute and canceled. Their telephone conversation that morning was typical of their relationship: brief, but vaguely loving.

"Take a cab, honey. I'll pay."

"Thanks, Dad," Laura said.

"I'll call later. And remember, don't let the bastards get you down. I'm with you on this, honey. Take care, I've got to run."

Laura hung up the phone and indulged in a bitter chuckle. Of course he was with her; he'd faced the same situation so many times himself. He'd gone the rehab route without much effect over the years. She couldn't remember one special occasion in her life when her father wasn't drunk: birthdays, anniversaries, funerals. Laura, herself, had discovered the dubious comfort of alcohol at the age of seventeen. It filled the empty spot her mother's death had left, an emptiness that Tony and the girls had, for a time, alleviated.

"Life's a bitch, and then you die." With a brief smile, Laura read the words from a parked car's bumper sticker, and directed the driver the last few blocks home. The area was residential, very suburban and very quiet. Not quite the typical neighborhood for a divorceé, but the housing values were depressed due to some unsolved kidnappings in the neighborhood years ago. And, Laura thought sadly, I've no children to worry about. The cost of the new house had been hard to turn down, especially since Laura was able to finance the whole thing herself with the divorce settlement.

They pulled into the driveway. She paid the driver and got out. He waited a few moments for a school bus to pass, then backed out. Laura stood at her door, house keys in hand, and watched the bus stop a few doors down.

When Mandy and Lizzy were younger and they were still a family, she had looked forward to the arrival of the bus. They would burst through the door, flushed and grinning, hungry for the afternoon cartoons. That was all in the past; with the death of her son, Matthew, before he'd even reached two months old, Laura turned once again to alcohol. And although Tony had begged and pleaded with her to stop, she didn't. She couldn't. Each new day, each movement reminded her of the life that she'd carried so close to her, now lost forever.

Tony had left her, finally, taking the girls with him. That had all happened in a different neighborhood, a different house. Here she was making a fresh start. Laura frowned at that thought as she opened her front door. She'd honestly tried to stop, had tried to discipline her drinking; but eventually it came down to the fact that she had no reason to do so. Tony had seen to that; in one blow he removed her reasons for trying, her reasons for living.

"Shit, Laura, don't get morbid on me," she admonished herself, her voice echoing through the house. Then she smiled when she heard a soft padding up the cellar stairs. A scrawny black head appeared through the cat door, followed by a stringy body. "Hi, cat," she greeted the animal, reaching down to scratch his head. "Did you miss me?"

The cat gave a pitiful, quiet meow and ran to the kitchen. Laura laughed softly, went to the refrigerator and spooned some food into his dish. Leaning against the counter, she watched him eat with a maternal satisfaction. He'd finally begun to fill out since she'd found him outside her new home, no more than three weeks ago, drenched and terrified. It had taken a lot of coaxing and even more patience, not to mention cat food, to convince him to move in with her. But now he belonged here and to her, and Laura felt comforted not to be entirely alone.

He finished his meal and jumped up to the counter, rubbing up against her sleeve. "Hey, baby." She put her face down to his and let him lick her cheek. Then he jumped up to her shoulder and wrapped himself around her neck, his throaty purr tickling her ear. She walked back to the bathroom of the small ranch home. I'll have to make arrangements to have him fed while I'm in rehab, she thought with a grimace.

"Rehab," she said aloud, wincing as the cat dug his claws into her shoulder before jumping down. "Beats jail, I guess, but not by much." She started running water into the tub, added bath oil, lit three votive candles, stripped off her clothes--the low heeled pumps, navy suit and white blouse worn to impress the judge with her professional status--and kicked them across the room. She turned out the light and tested the water. Satisfied with the temperature, she walked away and went to the medicine cabinet.

She opened a bottle and swallowed two Valium, with no water. "A second chance, they called it," Laura said to herself in the mirror as she pinned up her long black hair. Her eyes looked better, less red although the dark circles underneath had not gone away. In the candlelight she looked younger, prettier.

Laura smiled at her reflection, stepped away from the mirror, then lowered herself into the tub with a grateful sigh. "I guess we'll see about that."

The hot water relaxed her thoroughly and she leaned back and closed her eyes. She shifted her position slightly so that the water covered her ears. The soft drumming in her head was rhythmic, soothing, hypnotic. Laura lazily soaped herself, observed by the watchful eye of the cat, sitting in the hallway, grooming himself after his meal. Suddenly he stiffened and arched his back. With a low throaty growl, he took off and ran to the bedroom at the end of the hallway.

Laura sat up and smiled. "Dumb cat," she said affectionately, then settled back into her previous position. He was so spooked, she thought, but not without cause. The last time she bathed, the phone rang and as she hurriedly tried to answer it, she'd lost her balance and fallen, accidentally dousing him and the entire bathroom with half a tub of water. I guess cats think they're better off dead than wet, she thought, succumbing to a pervading drowsiness.

The phrase filtered into her consciousness. Better off dead, better off dead, better off dead, blending into the pounding of her ears and the beating of her heart.

Laura lay immersed in the water, her body inert and limp, her mind drifting slowly. She was aware of the feel of the water, the scent of the candles and bath oil, but made no connection between these senses and reality. She knew that the words spinning in her head were the only reality.

Better off dead, better off dead, the words lost their meaning in the repetition, like a child's sing-song chant.

Child, children . . . the words kicked off warning signals, but her mind, aided by Valium and an unnatural languor, floated past them and replayed the events of the day, then the events of the past few years. Dismally she viewed her life, solitary now and doomed to be forever. She saw all her mistakes magnified; she saw all of the chances she'd lost, the opportunities she'd never pursued. Will it ever get better, she wondered, will it ever stop?

Easy enough to stop, her mind advised.

And the chant continued--better off dead, better off dead. The walls pulsed with the words in her head.

Detached and disinterested, she watched her arm reach out of the water and find the razor she used for her legs. Her father's old safety razor, its stainless steel sparkled in the candlelight, glinted coldly on the water's surface. Laura turned it over and over in her hand. This too had no reality.

A new refrain was added, silently, internally, but somehow it echoed through the empty house.

Do it, Laura, do it.

Her fingers moved of their own volition, removing the double-edged blade from its holder. Vaguely she could remember replacing it recently. When had it been? Was it only yesterday? No matter, she knew it would be sharp, not dulled by hair or skin.

Do it, Laura.

There would be no pain, it would not be real.

Do it, Laura, nothing is real.

Yes, her mind answered and the voices that were no part of her agreed.

No pain, no problems. It will be over soon, all be over soon. Do it, Laura, it will be easy, easy enough to stop.

"Yes," she whispered over the cooling water.

"Yes," she whispered and watched, uncaring, unfeeling, as her fingers deftly slit her wrists open to the bone.

Yes, the voices sighed.

The water darkened, the room darkened. Before blackness descended she saw the blade drift, gently and silently, to rest on the bottom of the tub.

[ Top ]
[ Information on Twelve Steps From Darkness ]

Copyright © 2007, Karen E. Taylor. All Rights Reserved.

Juno Books
copyright ©2007