Flowing Fear

Photo by Ahmed Adly on Pexels.com

Jeff squeezed Moira’s hand as they stood in front of the door to Ricardo’s and Denise’s house. They could hear the music and laughter coming from the other side of the red door. The door’s color reminded Moira of what was on the other side, besides people and loud music. She glanced at Jeff and forced a smile.
“It will be alright. I’m here for you. Whenever you are feeling afraid, we’ll just go. Ok?” Jeff said reassuringly.
“Ok,” Moira said, and she adjusted her patterned dress.
Jeff knocked. It took a full seven minutes for someone to open the door, and when they did, Jeff’s fist was poised close to their face.
“Jeff! Moira! Come in!” Denise’s husband, Richardo, said.
“Hi Ricky, how are you?” Jeff said.
“I’m great! Things are getting started. We just popped open one of the reds.” Ricardo said as he closed the door.
Jeff glanced at Moira, and she swallowed thickly. The music and voices assaulted their senses. Ricardo led them to the living room, where most of their friends were. Upon noticing Jeff and Moira, the party-goers shook their hands, patted their backs, and hugged them. Moira peered around at the house. She had only been there once before for a holiday party. It had a high ceiling and an expansive living room, furnished with old-world furniture. It looked like a room for a university professor, yet neither Denise nor Ricardo were one. Denise was an up-and-coming writer, and Ricardo was a computer programmer.
“It’s been a while since we last saw the two of you.” A friend of Jeff’s said.
“Yeah, David, it’s been a few months,” Jeff said as he leaned into David.
“Moira, how have you been?” David’s wife, Lynsey, said.
“I’ve been well. Keeping busy with coordinating events for Pinedale.”
“That’s right; you’re the new events planner for the city. We didn’t get a chance to celebrate.” Lynsey said as she swung her glass of chardonnay close to Moira.
Moira tensed and stared at the glass. The greenish liquid swished, nearly tipping over the rim. She took a step back and touched her breastbone.
“Don’t worry, dear! I wasn’t going to spill it. I think I would cry if that happened.” Lynsey said, laughing along with David.
Jeff smiled shortly and peered at Moira. Moira nodded and tried to cover a shudder. Another couple emerged from the mass of swaying, talking attendees. Luckily for Moira, they each had a beer can in their hands. She chatted them up while Jeff chatted with David and Lynsey. Denise appeared at the top of the staircase, and the volume of conversing voices dimmed. Ricardo waited for her at the bottom. Moira rolled her eyes. They were always so theatrical.
“Denise always knew how to make an entrance,” David said, smirking.
“Look at her dress,” Lynsey said.
Denise’s frock glittered as if a star had imploded in the room. It had thin straps and flowed down to her ankles; it overshadowed all the other dresses. Denise spotted Moira and her group and walked over.
“Hey! Thank you all for coming.” Denise said, and she swept her arms around.
“Thank you for inviting us,” Lynsey said, and she hiccupped. “Excuse me.”
“I see you’re having a good time, Lynsey,” Ricardo said.
“The best,” Lynsey said, and she raised her glass.
Moira flinched, which Denise noticed.
“Moira… how about you? Are you enjoying the evening?” Denise said as she placed a hand on Moira’s shoulder.
“Yes, it’s very nice,” Moira said as she pushed a brown lock of her hair behind her ear.
“You don’t have a drink! Let’s get you one.” Ricardo said, and he made his way back to the open kitchen.
“Can you get her a beer!” Jeff yelled after him.
Moira tensed, hoping that Ricardo wasn’t returning with a glass of wine. Jeff wrapped an arm around her waist as if to steady her. The others went back to talking. Denise waited with them for Ricardo.
“So, Denise, I hear you have a book coming out soon?” Jeff said.
“Yes, it’s about a woman who is an alcoholic, and her family is having difficulty supporting her,” Denise said as she nodded, making her large earrings dance.
Moira’s breathe caught in the back of her throat. An image flashed in her mind; she saw a bottle of wine tipped over, spilling its remaining contents on the carpeted floor; her mother lay slumped on an armchair. Her eyes were glazed over, staring at nothing. Foam escaped her mouth, and a couple of pills sat on top of her moistened shirt. Moira grabbed Jeff’s arm.
“I’m going to step outside for a moment. I feel a bit hot.” Moira said weakly.
“Are you alright?” Denise said.
“Yes,” Moira said, and she squeezed Jeff’s arm.
“Do you need me to go with you?” Jeff said, his eyes wide.
“No, no. It’ll just be for a moment.” Moira said, and she made her way to the glass door that led to the backyard.
Ricardo almost walked by without noticing her.
“Moira. I have your drink.” Ricardo said as he raised a glass to her.
Moira recoiled and shook her head.
“You – you can give those to Jeff. I’ll be right back. Just getting some air.” Moira said, and she pushed through the door.
The cool night breeze touched her face, and she took a deep breath. She hugged her body as she made her way to the wooden patio set. Moira glanced back to see if anyone had seen her. Everyone was busy drinking and dancing. The image of her mother kept reappearing; it made her feel as if she were looking at a broken looping image from a projector. She had to close her eyes and hold onto a chaise to keep from falling over.
Moira was six when she last saw her mother; that memory was the only thing she had; it would supersede any other memory. Her mother was a raging alcoholic. At first she had a glass of wine a night, she would reassure Moira’s father that it was nothing. Yet, it progressed to a bottle a night, she claimed that work was stressing her out. At the end, Moira’s father had enough and was preparing to take Moira.
That night, Moira was sent into the house for the last time to say goodbye to her mother. What she found was that it was already too late to say goodbye. She remembered the dripping sound the most, it was deafening against the stillness of the scene. With each drop, Moira’s body shook, she wrapped her arms around tight to control it. She stifled a sob, cleared her throat, and straighten herself. Realizing she left her heart medication at home, Moira checked her pulse and began her breathing exercises. It was higher than she would like, she needed to go home.

“Moira, are you feeling better?” Denise said, she had stayed talking to Jeff and the rest of them.
“Yes, I’m fine. But I – ” Moira said.
“Ricky, did you get Moira a drink?” Denise said, eyeing her.
“Yeah, Jeff has it,” Ricardo said as he took a swig of his.
“I put it on the table back here. Whenever you want it, babe, it’s there.” Jeff said, pointing behind him.
Moira nodded quickly and smiled at the others. For a moment, she thought she had seen a smirk on Denise’s face. Is she catching on to me? For years, Moira and Jeff had managed to keep Moira’s fear to themselves. She would make sure to order a beer and have it in her hand, to avoid their friends giving her wine. No one outside of her and Jeff knew about it except her therapist.
“Ricky Rick, do you have any more of the red? I’m running low here, and that is a bad thing.” Lynsey slurred as she draped her arm on Moira’s shoulder, the one that held a glass of wine. Drops of wine rained on Moira’s dress as she gave a great yelp. The music had dimmed down enough for most of the crowd to hear her. They turned and stared. Moira’s face grew hot as she struggled to keep from hyperventilating.
“Sorry. It’s a new dress.” Moira said, rubbing at her dress and glancing at Jeff, who stood stiffly next to her.
“Denise, may I use your bathroom, please?” It sounded more like a plea than a question.
“Of course, here, follow me,” Denise said as she gave a wry smile.
They brushed past the others and the rest of the party-goers. Many of which were still giving Moira looks. Passing the large kitchen, the noise of the music dulled in the confines of the hallway; they stopped.
“The guest bathroom is down there, to your right,” Denise said, pointing to a staircase that led down.
“Thank you, Denise,” Moira said as she took a few steps down.
“Of course. Hopefully, it comes off. I think you would have a hard time accepting it if it didn’t; I sure would.” Denise said, there was that wry smile again.
Moira frowned, hurrying down the steps; what Denise said grated at her like a file to a nail. She realized she never really liked her. Denise is a bit arrogant and pompous, she thought. Ricardo, on the other hand, she liked. During the past few get-togethers, they would have deep, meaningful conversations about art and books, while Jeff would hang out with his friends and Denise would chat with hers. Moira looked forward to their discussions whenever they got invited. It helped her not to think about her fear while she was there. At the last two gatherings, Moira and Ricardo hadn’t had the chance to talk because Denise would be right there. It seemed that she attached herself to him to avoid them from talking. Denise might have been jealous, yet the conversations that they had were innocent.
Moira found the door to her right closed. She reached for the door handle and paused. Something from the staircase caught her attention, and she peered over. Is someone coming down? She waited, but no one appeared. Moira entered the room; it was pitch black. She looked for the light switch on the wall beside her. The light from the hallway gave her some visibility. She noticed a thin rope dangling a few feet in front of her from the ceiling. That’s the light switch? Moira tip-toed to the string and grabbed it. The door closed behind her before she could pull the rope. She gasped. She started to make her way back but then realized that she should pull the cord for light. Brightness consumed her vision for a few seconds. Blinking, she glanced about. Moira staggered back as she recognized where she was. She stood on a platform with stairs that led down to a cellar. It was occupied with rows of shelves filled with wine bottles. She clutched the sides of her face and shut her eyes. Her body convulsed. Moira turned and banged on the door, hoping that someone from the party would listen. She sobbed as her heart rate sped up to a lethal trot; she touched her chest, gasping for air.
At the staircase, a barefooted Denise smirked as she headed back up to the party with her heels in hand.


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