"Write a piece of prose based on the prompt: 'Life is like an hourglass. Eventually, everything hits the bottom. And all you have to do is wait it out until someone comes along and turns it around."This story was not what I originally had in mind. It simply refused to bend to my will, and here's the result:
How had it happened, this falling apart? Life had been good. Why was she curled on the sofa staring out at the patio, gnawing her lip?
When Liam rescued her a year ago—oh, he’d been trying for longer, but Sara hadn’t been ready—it seemed that Life had finally tired of knocking her around and had moved on to torture someone else. She’d spent four months in rehab, doctors and therapists all over her, and then the spas and cosmetic treatments that faded the track marks, that revived her waxy skin, that gave light to her dulled eyes. When Liam came to pick her up the day of her release, Sara had seen the surge of admiration—and satisfaction—in his eyes and vowed right then to make this man happy, whatever it took.
That had been eight months ago. The gnawing at her lip grew frenzied and she pressed her mouth closed until it hurt. Eight months of perfection—that was one of Liam’s favorite words. "Perfection," he’d whisper as his hungry hands ran over her body at night. "Perfection," as he took shot after shot of her in the newest bikini around the pool. "Perfection," as she allowed herself to be persuaded to take the top off, pose for the camera. "Perfection," he’d agree when his friends commented on her beauty, undressing her with their eyes.
It had started with the food, Sara decided. One morning the cook didn’t ask what she wanted for breakfast, instead brought a selection of fruit and yogurt. "Mr. Hanlon’s instructions, Ma’am." No more waffles or eggs Benedict. Lunch became vegetables and grilled chicken. The few evenings when Liam had dinner at home his meal was different from hers. "We want that lovely body to last many more years, don’t we?" He’d said when he caught her looking at his creme brulee.
And then there was the staff. Sara felt watched. She didn’t mind; she wasn’t doing anything wrong. But she wondered.
Liam brought his friends here; they rarely went out anymore. She didn’t miss it much; the women of Liam’s circle always snubbed Sara. But men always liked her, and at first she was glad for the respite from feminine venom. And Liam’s friends were so admiring, so kind. Except—well. That night a few weeks back, when Andre had stayed after everyone had left and Liam and him had surprised her as she came out of the shower.
"I can’t," she’d whispered.
"You will," he’d replied. "For me. You want to make me happy, don’t you?"
She did. Andre was the first. With the others Liam sometimes also participated, sometimes only watched. Sometimes he asked her to—do other things. And she did, even when the "games", as Liam called it, became cruel.
The afternoon light shimmered on the pool. She tasted blood at her lip. If she kept biting would she bleed to death? Maybe she should do it properly, in the marble jacuzzi of the master bedroom.
She couldn’t get a knife from the kitchen without the cook asking questions. But the cook was out on an errand for dinner tonight—ten people and a new menu. Sara dreaded dinner parties now—she knew what came after, what Liam would expect of her.
She could pretend she was getting a glass of juice and slip the knife into a pocket, dash upstairs. The maid wouldn’t—
The doorbell rang.
"Ma’am?" The maid stood at the living room entrance. "Miss Stone is here to see you."
Liam’s lawyer? She’d met Melanie Stone at some function months ago, hadn’t seen her since. And now she was here to see her?
The tragedy had occurred that morning as Liam was driving to work. There had been a car crash, a pile-up of seventeen cars and a derailed trailer on the freeway. Liam had been severely injured, had been rushed to the hospital. No, it had been Melanie’s call not to call her until they had news on Liam’s surgery. But he’d died on the operating table about—Melanie glanced at her watch—an hour ago.
"Liam’s dead?" Sara’s voice sounded flat even to herself.
Melanie would take care of all the arrangements. No, Sara didn’t have to get involved. Unless she wanted to.
Sara shook her head.
"Good, then." Was that approval she heard in Melanie’s voice? The lawyer flipped through some documents, didn’t look at Sara when she spoke. "He left you well provided for, Sara. The house is in your name, and there’s also a bank account—"
"The house? But—There must be some mistake."
"I had the deed of transfer executed myself. No mistake. As I was saying, there’s also a bank account, an investment portfolio. The balance should be—" Melanie pulled out some papers, put them back, "—I don’t have the exact figure, but I’m guessing around four-fifty, maybe closer to five."
"Five? Five what?"
"Five hundred thousand. Dollars."
Sara heard the rest of what Melanie had to say in a fog. Melanie must have noticed because when she walked her to the door, the lawyer gave Sara a brief hug.
"My sincere condolences, Sara," she said, but her expression was not one of commiseration. "I’ll be in touch in a few days to help you make plans."
Melanie rolled her eyes, but it wasn’t unkind. "I imagine you won’t want to stay here, right?"
Sara looked around the foyer, shook her head, embarrassed.
"We’ll put the house on the market next week. In the meantime," Melanie pulled out a plastic card and a paper one, "here’s a credit card linked to your personal account, and my numbers if you need anything."
Sara looked at the lawyer, her mind reeling.
"Anything," Melanie repeated. With a smile that was as quick to go as it had been to come, she started down the steps.
"Wait." Sara stopped her. "Melanie, I—Liam never would have—I don’t mean to speak ill of him, but, well, you knew him. He wouldn’t have left this—" she brandished the plastic rectangle. "Would he?"
Melanie looked off towards the sprawling lawn. "Men like Liam cannot take care of everything, Sara. That’s why they have trustworthy people around to arrange things for them. As Liam’s attorney, it is—was—my responsibility to make sure the things he’d have wanted to do got done."
"But he wouldn’t have wanted—"
"Sara, no one—not you, not I—could know exactly what he would have wanted." Melanie looked at Sara, and Sara had the distinct impression that Melanie was—happy. Very happy, right at this moment.
"Not me, Sara. It was all Liam. Legally," Melanie looked up at Sara, with another brief smile, "it was all him."