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I Can't Wake Up

"I can't see, but I don't wanna make a big deal about it," Kate says, removing her glasses to rub her eyes. When she puts them back on they're red. Watery. And scanning. As though she was just yanked from the back of a dark trunk and is grabbing for a landmark.

"Well, I mean, If you can't see I'd say that's a pretty big deal," her aunt Lois says, with a barely veiled tone of annoyance. The two women, an unlikely pair to be found shopping together on a dreary Midwest afternoon, had not spoken in the last fifteen years. Now placed with the task of securing "snacks for the house," which can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, they dove into the job at hand for comfort and distraction. Funerals have a way of bringing people together in proximity, but in this case only in the physical sense, not the emotional sense.

Kate pushed a finger under her glasses to rub her right eye some more and thought about how family and relatives are two very different things. At that point in time she'd have felt more comfortable picking out crackers with the guy who stocked the pop aisle. Maybe that guy would look at her with some sort of expression of warm ownership as if to communicate "you're with me."

"It's not that I can't see," Kate said to the back of her aunt's head, who was at that moment removing herself in favor of the engrossing facts offered as an alternate reality on the back of a box of Fiddle Faddle. "It's just that I can't, well, I can't see. It's like I can't wake up." Zero reaction to this. The words floating up into the speckled, security-dome-lined ceiling of the big box store. Kate looked down at her feet and at that moment pictured her father's feet, now burnt to ash. No longer part of the shuffle. Out of rotation forever. Her eyes started to water and she sucked back tears in such a real way that she could feel them sliding down her throat to pool and stagnate with all the others in the little throbbing cave just under her heart, where she holds things like memories of dead parents.

Christmas is a terrible time to be sad about something because you're surrounded by prompts to be ecstatically happy. Even more-so, Christmas is marketed as a holiday for families, and Kate's key family members were now mostly ghosts. Having lost both her mother and father in a four year time span left her feeling like she was standing at the lip of a sucking black hole, just waiting for her to give up and fall in so it could seal itself in completion. Kate was made of ghosts. Born from ghosts. And she now saw all remaining life through a ghostly haze, which was most likely caused by her newly spiking blood pressure, but still.

Caught in thought for who knows how long, Kate looked up and saw that her aunt was no longer in the same aisle, and went to look for her. They reconnect in the toy section, where Lois is fingering price tags for children's bikes, presumably considering the purchase for one of many cousins, whom Kate also hasn't talked to or seen in years. One bike, a vintage throwback pink Huffy, catches Kate's eye and she grips the handlebars, her face opening into a small smile.

"That bike's a bit small for you, don't you think?" Lois says, bird-eying both Kate and the cheerful Huffy.

"I used to have a bike just like this," Kate says, still gripping the handle bars, and rolling the bike out from the rack for a better look." One time dad took the Jeep to the shop and rode my bike to go pick it up when it was done. I was so embarrassed at the time to see his big dad butt rolling down the driveway in a bike so small, and so pink. I think I gave him a really hard time about it."

Kate positioned herself on the seat of the bike and pushed off, peddling down the aisle, down the next aisle, and out the sliding doors of the store. No one said one word.