Retrace Your Steps

Photo Credit: Vu Bui Licensed CC-BY-NC-ND.
Photo Credit: Vu Bui
Licensed CC-BY-NC-ND.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you cannot recall how you ended up where you are?

Everyone has. “Just retrace your steps…

This phrase swims around my brain as my head comes up from under water. I could not tell you how I ended up in this bathtub.

I peek over the side, water dripping down my face and onto the floor below. These familiar tiles, the stand alone sink, a single hook on the door, the lopsided medicine cabinet…I have not been in this house for two years, yet I could still tell you how many tiles there are on this floor. 146…or was it 147? Funny, I don’t think I ever took a bath in this tub while we lived here.

I wave my hands through the water and cup them to my face. Is this real? How did I end up here? The water turns to sand as it runs through my fingers and back into the bathwater. It cascades through my fingers making no sound as it hits the surface, yet I feel tiny pin pricks where the sand falls and settles onto my bare legs. I stare into the shower head as it kaleidoscopes in front of my eyes and try to recount the moments before this one. “Just retrace your steps…”

I turned the doorknob to see if it would open, the faulty latch giving out as I remembered it would. I stood in the dark living room; tears were running down my face now. This is where it happened. The phone rang out suddenly from the far room, a message blinking up at me from that goddamn machine; suddenly I am hearing her voice. I freeze, my breath coming in sharp gasps. This was not supposed to happen. Now what do I do? I can’t erase that sound from my mind, I can’t move for fear of someone waking up. No one has found me yet, but they will if I keep this up. I don’t dare erase it, I leave it alone. If I am weak they will come. If I move from this spot the squeaky boards will give me away. Just to the left, that one creaks, to the right my footing is safe. I move right and step into the hall after god knows how long, staring at the machine, willing the voice from my head.

Until that moment her voice had not been in my brain for ages, that feeling had been annihilated, buried. Now here it is, screeching into my subconscious. Drown it, don’t be weak.

That must be how I ended up in this tub. I climbed in, shut the curtain. Safe. The water made no sound as it poured from the faucet. Clean yourself of the weakness, leave it here, move on.

Why did I never take a bath in this tub? It was as big as a bed and deep, so incredibly deep you could submerge your shoulders and really go under. No need to hold your breath.

I’m uninvited in this place now. I shouldn’t be here. The voice is still on that machine. My face is wet, salty. I have not cried this much since I was 12. The memory flashes. I feel the water around me move down the drain, swirling. Something is shifting. I go under again, to the safety of silence. I plant my feet flat against the porcelain below me and push my way up. Up, up, up…

There is sand between my fingers and toes, slipping and sliding grains of pulverized sea glass falling through the cracks in my hands, down into the waves that are hitting me against my feet. I try to cup it again, to hold onto some of it, to capture it, a keepsake. Glittering, gliding time and space, the elements churning together in unison…This, right here, is the most beautiful sight I have ever seen…she would love to see this. She needs to see this. Maybe this will make her understand.

It’s falling faster than I can recover it, I plunge my hands deep into the waves, deeper and deeper…I shout out, “Hey! Look! You have got to see this!” I look forward, desperately, to the shore, past the sea weed and driftwood. There is a black box. The red dot blinks. Everything else falls away; there is a message that wants to be heard. How the hell did we get here?

“Just retrace your steps.”

Categories Fiction

Chelsea lives in Seattle and truly believes the Emerald City is one of the greatest cities on Earth. By day she is an Employment Consultant/Job Coach for Project SEARCH, a supported employment program for adults with disabilities located at Seattle Children's Hospital, by night she is the Artistic Director and Playwright in Residence at Copious Love Productions, an independent theatre company currently roaming the stages of Seattle. You may read her work at as well as on her personal blog

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