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An excerpt from “The Lucid Nymph”

“I still can’t get over the view up here.” Hazel said, sipping wine and staring out the window at Lake Michigan from the 35th floor of Isabel’s high-rise Chicago apartment. She bent over to grab her cigarettes that lay on the coffee table.

Isabel’s head snapped up from the carrots she was chopping on the cutting board.

“Don’t even think about it. You know damn well you are not to smoke in here.” She took her knife and scraped the carrots into the big pot of chicken noodle soup she was making; their mother’s recipe.

Hazel rolled her eyes and looked back out the window. She watched the cars zoom by on Lakeshore Drive and the light fluffy snow that was falling out of the sky. It wasn’t cold enough for the lake to have any ice on it yet, but the small ice caps rolling in gave her the chills and she rubbed her arms, goose flesh rising.

Isabel stirred the pot and looked up at her sister again.

“So, Phil called me, told me about your little visit last night. What exactly were you thinking?”

It was Hazel’s turn now to snap her head around. “What? He called you? Is he my babysitter now?” She wanted a cigarette so badly now. The thought of going 35 floors down the elevator and standing out in that cold air to have a smoke made her shiver again.

Isabel took a sip of wine and stirred the soup again. She put a lid on it and turned the flame down.

“He still loves you. You are still married, you know. You are the mother of his children. But, yeah, he’s pissed. Tired of this. It’s been a year, Hazelnut.”

Hazel groaned at that stupid nickname that her sister gave her as a kid. It also kind of made her smile inside, but she didn’t dare show it.

“Yeah, well, his chilly reception didn’t exactly scream love. He couldn’t get me out of there fast enough. I didn’t even get to see the kids. It’s been a few weeks, you know. I miss them.” Her eyes dropped and she tried to concentrate on one snowflake at a time.

Isabel sighed and looked around her apartment. This used to be her apartment. She had lived here for a few years. She bought the ridiculously over-priced two bedroom “luxury” apartment when she split up with her asshole boyfriend.

At one time, the second bedroom had been her den-slash-guest room and a sort of sanctuary for her. She would sit on her computer for hours sometimes while the little flat screen on the dresser droned on about the latest celebrity gossip or if she was feeling productive, maybe a little CNN. It had a small window, but still a great view. She had managed to put a Queen bed in there for the rare guests that she might have and had painted it a nice soft blue.

Now, it was Hazelnut’s Depression Dungeon.

When Hazel called Isabel sobbing, saying her marriage was over and Phil had kicked her out, of course, she agreed to let her stay for “as long as she needed to.” Ha. She had no idea a year would go by and her little sister was still slumming it in her old sanctuary.

And that was when she bothered to come home at all. There were nights when Isabel had no idea where Hazel stayed or what she did. It was all so strange. This was not the sister she grew up with or the married, mother-of-two that had seemed to have everything.

“I know you miss them. It’s been a year, Hazel. It was an accident. A horrible mistake, and a horrible accident. You can’t keep living this way. You have children and a husband. When are you going to home to them?”

Hazel gulped the rest of her wine and sat on the couch. Isabel’s fluffy black cat, Sanford, came over and rubbed up against her legs. She reached down and scratched his ears. He purred and flopped onto his back and rolled around.

“Do you want me to move out?”

Isabel turned away and started to empty the dishwasher. Her irritation came through as she loudly put dishes away in the cupboards. Silverware clattered and Sanford jumped up and ran into the bedroom.

“We’ve had this conversation a million times. I said you could stay until you needed to. I’m just wondering if you even have a plan or if you plan on hiding out here forever? I love you, but yeah, I do sort of miss my life. I lived with you all my life growing up, I didn’t think we’d be doing it again.” She gave a crooked smile with that last remark.

Hazel was too drained to fight with her sister or cry or even be her usual defensive self. She still couldn’t remember what she did the night before or how she got to her house. Lately, she seemed to be in a constant dazed state. She wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol or the drugs or the depression, but she was confused and tired.

“I’m going down to smoke. Then I’m going to bed. If you want me out, tell me when. Until then, I could use some sleep. And, you don’t need to remind me about my great life.”

She grabbed her smokes and her jacket off the coat rack and slammed the door just as Isabel slammed a cupboard shut.

Hazel leaned against the mirrored wall in the elevator and looked across at her reflection. Her long brown hair looked thin and scraggly and her complexion was washed out. There were dark circles under her eyes and they were blood shot. Her thin frame seemed to disappear behind her baggy sweatshirt, oversized jacket, jeans and heavy boots. I look like a homeless person, she thought.

The elevator doors opened and she walked around the corner to the front of the building. The doorman nodded to her.

“Good Evening.”

Hazel put her head down and approached the desk. “Yeah, um, you too. Can you call me a cab?”

He nodded again and pushed the cab button on. It lit up a light out front of the building.

She mumbled a thank you and pushed herself out through the revolving doors. Once outside, the cold wind whipped her hair into her face and she was instantly freezing. She rummaged inside her purse for her cigarettes and lighter. She was surprised to find several items. A small vial of cocaine, a joint and a card with an address and phone number scribbled on it. There was no name on it.

She went to grab the cigarettes, but instead pulled out the joint. She looked around. The doorman was reading the paper and the driveway was empty. She shielded the joint from the wind with her cupped hands and lit it. She took a couple deep inhales and closed her eyes.

The cab started to come around the corner so she snubbed the joint out with her boot and picked it back up and put it in her purse.

“Where you headed?” The cab smelled of a mixture of cigarettes, car freshener and curry.

She looked up at the tall building and sighed. She handed him the card with the address on it. He looked at it and then looked at her.

He nodded and then began mumbling in a language she couldn’t understand. She was about to ask him to repeat himself when she saw the earpiece in his ear and realized he was on the phone.

The pot was kicking in and she felt totally relaxed. She sat back from the barrier window and put her head on the back seat.

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