I wake abruptly: heart thumping, breath jagged and the adrenaline coursing through my veins. My mouth is dry. The echoing of a car horn slowly fades as reality seeps in.
I roll onto my side, and squint at the fluorescent light projecting off of my phone: November 23, 9:17am. Climbing out of bed, I open the blinds to the bleak dawn, but only to hastily close them against the fog diffusing across the window pane.
Cold licks at my face and sneaks under my pajamas, spreading across my skin like the lacy tide on a frigid winter beach. With a numb nose and gently chattering teeth, I slip my robe on and head downstairs.
Mother is wrapped in blankets sitting cozily by the fireplace, her features illuminates against the red flickering flames. Everyone who meets her for the first time likes to say she has the most beautiful green eyes: The kind of green that pushes its way through the piles of bitter cold snow, reminding us all that spring is just around the corner.
“Good morning,” I say.
Brewing myself a steaming cup of home grown coffee, I slump onto the couch next to her. The gentle scent of her kindles childhood memories of bedtime stories and goodnight kisses. We sit there all morning, reminiscing through stacks and stacks of photo albums and sorting out all of her things into three piles: ‘Trash’, ‘donation’, ‘keep’.
It’s 4pm when I load the last box into my mini cooper. I pull the door down and hear the latch shut, packing up 20 years of memories and sending it to a care home. I walk up the porch steps and head inside to make sure I haven’t left anything behind.
The driveway is covered in a thick blanket of white. Every step mother and I take leave a trail of footsteps from the house to my mini. I swing the passenger door open for her, click her seatbelt in and lay her favorite plush velvet blanket over her legs.
We’re about halfway to the care home when the snow begins to fall pretty heavily. We sit in comfortable silence as she stretches in her seat and yawns, then puts her hands behind her head and leans back. Acknowledging her exhaustion I say “I’ll wake you up when we get there.” She turns her head and gently taps my shoulder with the kind of love in her eyes that could move heaven and earth if she had the power to.
“We should get there in about half an —”
“Joe!” Mother yells.
My first instinct is to slam on the brakes. I glance at mother, and her eyes are glued to the oncoming traffic in the lanes to the right of us. I turn my head just in time to see a bus cross the median and slam into my car.
I barely have time to scream before the air bags knock my back and sideways. The seatbelt tugs on my skin with every flip while my arms and legs flail, searching for somewhere, anywhere, to grip.
I watch as her fragile body jerks to the dashboard and collides with the windshield. The crushing of glass beneath her body mixed with the deafening sounds of chaos fills my ears. My vision becomes hazy as I go from pitch black to blinding white light.
The car tumbles over and over before plummeting into a huge pile of snow.
I open my eyes and see so much blood. Everywhere. I suck in cramped air, feeling my lungs caving in on themselves. “Mother!” I cry out. There is no air in this car; a lack of oxygen descends on my mind in a panic, in desperation I suck in another breath, filling my lungs with smoke as I wail “Mother!”
Her eyelids flutter but she doesn’t respond.
I try to move but I’m pinned by the collapsing roof and wrapped within deflated airbags. I unbuckle my seatbelt, reach for Mother and press my palms against her mangled flesh. But there is so much blood that it seeps right through my finger tips.
“Help!” I shout “Help!” I reach for mothers wrist and hold it between my fingers.
I try to scream for her to wake up but nothing comes out. I can’t breathe: I inhale but the air just won’t go in, like my lungs are fenced with metal poles that just won’t budge. Panic rises in my chest as my heart sinks into my shoes.
As I let go of Mother’s hand, the ache comes out like an uproar from my throat in the form of a silent scream. Tears begin spilling from my eyes as I pound on the steering wheel over and over again. Muffled sobs wrack against my chest as the world turns into a blur.
The last painful emotion slams against me before I lose the feeling of feeling. As I succumb into the darkness, my head lolls forward, lying lifelessly on the car horn.
The prolonged blare of the horn assaults my ear drums and creates a pounding rhythm in my head. The familiarity of the sound rings through me. I’ve heard this noise before: it’s what woke me up this morning.
That’s when it hits me.
I’ve lived this day before. Maybe once, maybe a thousand times—I’m stuck in some hell of a world where I have no way out. Where I’m forced to get in my car with mother and watch her die. Again and again.
I wrack my brain. Looking and searching for an alternate ending, anything but this purgatory.
That’s when the numbness of sleep hits me: My body relaxes, breath evens, eyelids become heavy and my jaw gapes. And when I wake, it’ll be —
November 23, 9:17am.