Miranda slowly opened her eyes, the pounding in her head more pronounced than usual. Judging by the fading sunlight coming through the blinds, she guessed evening would soon be approaching.
“Audrey,” she croaked, dehydrated. “Mommy’s awake.”
Miranda sat up on the couch and reached for the aspirin and the half-empty bottle of vodka on the end table nearby. She swallowed the pills quickly, anxious for her headache to disappear as she looked around the room for her daughter.
“Audrey, come see mommy.”
Not a single sound was coming from any corner of the house. Miranda became slightly concerned as she got up and proceeded to check each room throughout the house.
“Audrey, honey. Where are you?” Miranda’s voice grew louder with each room she ventured into. Audrey was only four years old and was usually playing in the living room when her mother woke up from her ‘naps’. Miranda began checking under beds and in closets when suddenly she heard the front door shut. She quickly made her way to the front of the one-story house to see her husband, Kent, walking toward the kitchen.
“Kent! Thank God you’re home.”
Kent turned around and immediately a look of disappointment overcame him.
“What’s wrong, Miranda?” Kent’s voice was replete with cynicism. “It appears that you didn’t have a good day today.”
Miranda knew he was referring to her current state. She was wearing an old night shirt that hadn’t been washed in a week, and she hadn’t even found time in the day to brush her hair or teeth, let alone take a shower. Miranda had completed rehab a few months earlier, but she routinely fell off the wagon more times than she was able to stay on it.
“Yes, that’s true,” Miranda responded, frustrated, “but that’s not why I’m upset. I can’t find Audrey.”
“How long have you been awake?”
“Long enough to have checked every room and closet in the house!” She responded, defensively.
Miranda could feel Kent’s judgmental tone piercing her already wounded psyche. It made things even worse that she could smell the all too familiar scent of another woman’s perfume on him.
“Did you make sure that all of the doors were still locked?” Kent asked.
He quickly turned away from Miranda and made his way to the back door in the utility room. Miranda checked the sliding glass door in their living room.
“The front door was still locked when I got home,” Kent raised his voice so that Miranda could hear him as they went in opposite directions. “Do you remember what time…”
“Kent!” Miranda shrieked.
Kent ran toward the sound of Miranda’s voice and found her standing on the back patio, the sliding glass door wide open.
“I, I don’t understand,” she stammered. “I always lock all the doors before I take my nap.”
Kent’s eyes grew cold as he stared down Miranda and then looked beyond her at their unfenced backyard. Their house was located a couple miles from the Oregon coastline with only a small, sparse forest in between them and the cliffs that surrounded the beach.
“Perhaps, if you wouldn’t drink before you you took your afternoon nap!”
“I told you,” Miranda responded, her body shaking from the realization that her daughter was in danger. “It was a bad day!”
Kent, frustrated and angry, turned toward his wife of seven years. “It’s always a bad day for you, Miranda!”
Miranda began sobbing.
“I…I just couldn’t get it together today. Audrey refused to eat her lunch, and then she started holding her breath like Landon used to do, and I, I just…”
“Stop it!” Kent snapped. “We need to find Audrey before the sun goes down. You go toward the cliffs and I’ll take the back way to the Murphy’s house, through the forest, to see if she went over there. When you reach the cliffs, stay there, and I’ll circle back around to find you.”
“Oh god, Kent. You don’t think Audrey…”
“I don’t want to think about that right now, Miranda. I just want to find our daughter!”
Kent quickly headed into the forest. Their closest neighbor, the Murphy’s, lived about a mile away. Miranda turned in the opposite direction and began making her way toward the coastline as fast as she could manage. In her haste, she had only thrown on slippers which weren’t helping her footing as she kept stumbling over fallen branches and partially hidden rocks.
Before they had children, Kent and Miranda used to walk the same path every night to watch the sun set. They had even staked one end of a rope to the top of the cliffs so they could get down to the beach, although they had only been ambitious enough to partake in the climb on a few special occasions. Shortly after their first child, Landon, was born Kent removed the rope on Miranda’s request as she was worried that a young boy would find the rope a temptation.
“Audrey!” Miranda yelled out for the thousandth time. The salty air coming off the ocean filled her nostrils as she stopped a few feet away from the cliff and fell to her knees. She began crying, not allowing herself to look over the edge out of fear that she would see Audrey’s broken body lying at the bottom. It had been three years since her first born, Landon, had died of leukemia, and the thought of losing another child squeezed the very breath from her lungs.
“Get up, Miranda.”
Miranda raised her head, startled. She turned around to see Kent standing only a few feet away from her. The look on his face was cold and distant.
“Ke, Kent…” Miranda wiped away her tears as she slowly stood up. “I didn’t expect you to make it here so quickly. I must have been slower than…”
“I didn’t go to the Murphy’s, Miranda.”
A sense of fear crawled through Miranda’s veins. She looked deep into Kent’s dark brown eyes, but the man staring back at her no longer resembled her husband.
“I, I don’t understand, Kent. I didn’t find Audrey. I was about to look over the cliff to see…”
“Audrey is safe,” Kent replied in a calm, but unfriendly voice.
Kent took two steps toward Miranda, now standing only an arms length from her. Miranda’s heart was nearly pounding out of her chest. She desperately wanted to step back from her husband, but she was already close to the edge, and her instincts were screaming to her that she was in danger.
“What’s going on, Kent?”
Kent remained incredibly still, his eyes never leaving Miranda while the sun slowly disappeared behind the horizon.
“I need to protect our daughter, Miranda…and, unfortunately, I can’t trust you anymore.”
Miranda’s fear turned to anger as the word ‘trust’ rolled off Kent’s tongue. She straightened her shoulders and stared back at him with the same coldness he had been showing her. “What the hell are you talking about, Kent? Where’s Audrey?”
“I told you, Audrey is safe.”
Miranda began nodding her head up and down, her wits having fully returned from her post-nap stupor.
“So what was the point of this, Kent? Scare me into thinking something had happened to our daughter so you could make me feel guilty? Build your case that I’m a horrible parent so you could justify leaving me for one of the sluts you’ve been sleeping around with these last couple of years?”
“It’s not like that, Miranda. You’re sick.”
“I’m sick of your bullshit, Kent; that’s what I’m sick of!”
Miranda leaned forward and shoved Kent backward.
“Landon died and instead of mourning him, you pretended like nothing was wrong. Then, you started working long hours and running around on me…why? Because I wasn’t giving you enough attention? You know what, Kent…let’s go back to the house right now, download the divorce paperwork, and I’ll sign the damn papers tonight!”
“You’re not going anywhere, Miranda!” Kent shouted.
He pulled out the bottle of vodka that Miranda had been drinking from earlier and threw it at her feet. Kent then lunged toward Miranda, grabbed her from behind her neck and forced her downward so that her face was only inches away from the shards of broken glass that lay on the ground.
“You can twist the truth all you want with your words,” Kent said as he tightened his grip on Miranda’s neck, “but it’s your fault our lives are broken!”
Kent was in a full-out rage. He yanked Miranda back up by her neck and swung her out toward the ledge. The slightest push from him would send her body crashing to the sand and rocks below.
“Kent, please!” She pleaded. “What about Audrey?”
“Audrey needs a mother who can love her and keep her safe. And you and I both know you can’t do that!”
Miranda’s temper boiled over as she surmised that perhaps Kent had found a new woman who he believed could take her place.
“You coward!” Miranda screamed. She quickly reached back with her left hand and grabbed Kent’s belt, knowing there was no way he could now push her over the cliff without risking his own demise.
“Do it!” she yelled. “I dare you!”
Kent was startled by his wife’s sudden move and took a step back, giving Miranda the opportunity to free herself. She quickly used all of her strength and the weight of her body to thrust herself to the ground, breaking Kent’s grip. She then grabbed a large shard of glass from the broken bottle and with all her might, stabbed Kent in the thigh. He screamed in agony as he fell back, the glass having severed his femoral artery.
“What have you done?” He cried out, frantically using both his hands to try and stop the bleeding. Miranda moved toward him and immediately applied pressure to the piece of glass still stuck in Kent’s thigh.
“Where’s Audrey, you bastard!”
“With my mother,” Kent blubbered.
“Are you sure?” She questioned, applying even more pressure to his thigh. Miranda considered that Kent might have left Audrey with his mistress.
“Yes, I swear! She’s with my mother!”
Miranda was satisfied with Kent’s answer and drew her hand back. She knew it would only be a matter of minutes before he passed out from the blood loss. She considered running to the house to call 9-1-1, but that would entail Kent remaining alive and in Audrey’s life…and Miranda could no longer allow that.
“Goodbye, Kent,” she said calmly as she began pushing his body toward the edge. He tried desperately to grab a hold of Miranda, but a swift kick to his thigh was all she needed to extinguish his efforts.
“Miranda,” Kent whimpered, his spirit crushed as his body was about to go over. She said nothing as she gave him one final shove and watched in the moonlight as his body fell into the shallow waves of the incoming tide below.
Miranda sat straight up in bed, her heart beating rapidly from her nightmare. She grabbed her cell phone and quickly pressed it for the time…2:30 AM. Miranda looked over at the other side of the bed and saw that Kent wasn’t there. The slightest bit of doubt crept into her mind that perhaps his death hadn’t been imagined. Slightly worried, she got up to look for him.
As she entered the hallway from their bedroom, Miranda turned slightly to the left and pushed Audrey’s door open to see her beautiful daughter sleeping soundly in her bed. It may have just been a dream, but Miranda knew there was a brutal, underlying truth that she had to face. She immediately resolved to put her drinking to an end. She thought about the bottle of vodka that she kept in one of the kitchen cabinets, and decided she needed to pour it down the sink that instant.
Walking toward the kitchen, she could see that one of the lights was on. Kent must have been having difficulty sleeping and come down to make himself some tea, which wasn’t an unusual occurrence. Miranda’s thoughts turned to her husband and how she wanted to fix their marriage. Not only would she stop drinking, but she would also suggest they begin counseling right away.
Miranda wasn’t particularly religious, but right now she was under the belief that her nightmare was an intervention from God or Spirit or something along those lines. She knew she had experienced a ‘wake-up call’, and that it was time for her to get her life back together.
She almost called out for Kent as she neared the entry way to the kitchen, but suddenly Miranda got a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach. Instead of entering the kitchen directly from the hallway, she changed directions and crept slowly toward the dining room where she could observe her husband through the archway. What she saw next shook her far worse than her nightmare.
Kent already had Miranda’s bottle of vodka out on the counter and was pouring a small amount of white powder into it. Miranda’s eyes then dropped to the counter’s surface were she could see a bottle of over-the-counter sleep medication with the lid removed.
Had Miranda’s dream been a premonition? Was the sleeping medication the reason she had been so groggy when she woke up from her nap in her nightmare?
She began to panic as fear and anger took over her senses…and then, just as quickly, a calm came over her. Her dream had already given her the answer as to how to deal with the situation; all Miranda had to do…was play along.