by Salvatore Difalco

Today was more trying than most. Peter couldn’t get her out of his head. He smiled. It wasn’t funny. Wasn’t funny at all. He tried turning his head to check the clock over the sink, but he couldn’t. Ridiculous. His neck muscles were seized. He strained his eyes toward the kitchen window. Snow fell. A draft of cold air chilled his face. It’s okay, he thought. It’ll be okay.

Lately, he’d been stuck in his flat. Not only was he almost immobile, but street noises—shouting, backfiring, honking—triggered painful spasms, and sometimes falls. Dr. Eggers had found nothing physically wrong with him. Live your life, he had urged. Be free. Easier said than done. Dr. Eggers could look at Peter’s blood-work, tap his knees, dig around his armpits, and tell him he was fine, but he didn’t understand.

Then again, neither did the psychotherapist Dr. Eggers had referred. If anything, the sessions with Dr. Munson Ph.D. had worsened things. Far from offering calm and sage counsel, the edgy Dr. Munson had muddied Peter’s mind, at one point suggesting he may have been suffering from a rare form of pupaphobia. A fear of puppets. In other words, Dr. Munson had said, you’re afraid of becoming a puppet. The fear manifests itself in the stiffness and pain you’re experiencing.

Peter sat at his kitchen table straining to look out from his second floor window. Snow-shagged trees and bleak tenements surrounded his building. Lots of old folks lived in this area of town. Though only 40, he fit right in. He tried rising from the chair but his knees were locked. Every time he thought about the woman he felt worse, and yet he couldn’t stop thinking about her.

He went to grip his coffee cup, but his arm wouldn’t respond. Fuck sakes, he thought. This is bad. He sat there with his bent arms frozen at his sides. He sat there so long steam stopped rising from his cup and the cream in the coffee congealed.

Had she been mangled or shown any signs of trauma, Peter could have processed it, maybe even grieved or whatnot. Accidents happen. Death is a reality. But that she lay there bloodless, eyes wide open, pretty face frozen like a mannequin – he couldn’t get around that.

He’d witnessed the head-on collision from a coffee shop window. He couldn’t forget the sound. Like a train derailment. He’d knocked his coffee over. The coffee shop window had almost burst. The barista’s high-pitched screams had pierced his eardrums. But what haunted him day and night was the image of one of the victims, thrown from her car, lying in the middle of the road. She didn’t look human at all, as he recalled. So it had been hard to feel anything for her.

He tried looking out the window again. Nothing doing. He was locked in place. His heart sank. Peter wasn’t going anywhere that day. It was decided.

Salvatore Difalco is the author of two story collections, Black Rabbit (Anvil) and The Mountie At Niagara Falls (Anvil). His work has appeared in journals worldwide. He currently resides in Toronto, Canada.