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Have a Nice Trip

        Emily’s phone buzzes. A text from work. “Too many kids out sick. Don’t need you today.”  She stares at the text for a few seconds, and then calls her husband.
        “Aw, babe, I’m sorry,” he says. “I know you were looking forward to getting out of the house.”  She can tell he’s distracted with work, so she doesn’t tell him she’s actually relieved to be free of obligation. She’s relieved not to have to be cheery for a class of teenagers. And she’s ashamed of the relief. “I’m stuck here all day,” he says. “But I’d much rather be home.” After their fight last night she’s happy to hear him say this, but doesn’t quite believe him. Their voices were louder last night than on any previous occasion. Their words were harsher. Her face burns now, thinking about it.
        “It’s okay. I’ll get some laundry done,” she promises. Her voice is light, but her body is heavy. Heavy and empty, recovering from her second miscarriage.
        “Good. Being productive will feel good. I have that client dinner tonight, so I won’t be home until late. But you should order whatever takeout sounds good, and enjoy the day off.” David confuses productivity with happiness, and in that way is seldom caught without his smile. Even through the miscarriages, he’s stayed upbeat. He’s content with his life, but Emily feels a dull ache in the background of her own. It’s like a crucial part of her is cracked but the broken pieces are holding up so much else that she has no choice but to leave it be. Her unsteady foundation is all that keeps her from free-falling.
        “Yeah, thanks. You have a productive day, too,” she tells him, stuffing her feelings.
        Emily hangs up the phone and forces herself do laundry. She slams the clothes into the dryer with too much force. She pays some bills and pours a bowl of cereal for lunch. As she eats, she checks her texts and email. Nothing. No one needs her. She feels the heat of shame again, and wishes she had a bucket for all her shame. A place to dump it so it wouldn’t weigh her down quite so much.
        “Gaaahh!” she lets out a loud groaning yell, a small amount of life escaping. She wishes she could step out of her skin the way she can step out of her house, but she’s stuck. Just stuck.
        She walks to the living room and folds herself into a ball on the couch, remote in hand. She channel surfs and finally settles on the reality show, Is It Cake?
        In this episode, contestants are making cakes that look like shoes. In the final scene, judges have to guess which items are cake and which are actual shoes. The theme for today’s show is chocolate, and Emily starts to crave something sweet.
        She rummages through her kitchen cabinets for a sweet treat. She finds a chocolate bar and, satisfied for now, takes it and returns to the couch. “Maybe I need a bucket for laziness, too,” she says aloud. She often talks aloud to no one.
        She eats the chocolate while watching another episode of Is It Cake? and finds herself laughing as she watches the bakers rush desperately to mold fondant into absurd shapes. She realizes she’s laughing harder than she’s laughed in a long time.
        As Emily reaches for the last square of chocolate, she turns the wrapper over and doesn’t recognize the brand or cover design. The label looks like something out of a children’s cartoon, bright and swirled with a grinning mushroom on the front.
        Emily’s stomach flutters.
        “Oh my god,” she says. The room, she realizes, has started to pulsate. She stands up but is dizzy so sits back down. Looking more closely at the front of the label, she squints and is able to make out “One Up! Psilocybin Mushrooms Chocolate Bar” in wavy font above the grinning mushroom. She turns the chocolate bar label over and sees: “Serving size 1 square. Servings per container: Eight.”
        Eight servings. Eight servings.
        Emily sits and tries to steady her breathing. Another episode of Is it Cake? is starting on the TV. The words are flying off the screen and into the room with Emily and she starts to shake.
        She’s never done drugs. They’ve always scared her. The lack of control, the loss of reality, it’s always been too terrifying. Any edibles in the house belong to David - David with his easy smile of expensive, white teeth. David who’s comfortable in any reality.
        She holds her phone tightly, like a lifeline, and tries to web search can you overdose on psilocybin? But the phone screen seems to be dancing to the music coming from the TV and Emily can’t keep up. She wants to call her husband, but the effort of that feels impossible. She places the phone down carefully beside her, suddenly feeling like she’s moving through thick tar, sticky and weighted.
        The TV is still playing and Emily wants it off but can’t find the right button on the remote. Her vision is doubled and blurry. She finds mute and decides that will have to do. Exhausted from this effort, she collapses on the couch, curled on her side facing the wall away from the TV. Tears smear along her face.
        On the wall is a painting of a man she doesn’t know. It’s a portrait of a man no one knows; a portrait passed down through David’s family for several generations, somehow landing here on Emily’s wall.
        “My great-great-great grandfather, I think,” David told Emily years ago. “No one else in the family would keep it, but I think I have his eyes, don’t you?”
        Emily looks at the portrait now and thinks the man with her husband’s eyes is smiling at her.
        “Hello?” Emily says, her mouth full of marbles. He just smiles back and Emily stares, watching for movement, until something else catches her attention. Her breathing is slower now, and as the trip really kicks in, she loses herself in the visual effects it brings on. She watches a wall twist its coat into spirals of gray paint that waterfall through the room, dancing as they fall to the floor. Emily stares as one spiral spawns another, and another, all in different colors now, moving in sync, like a beautiful, alien performance. She looks at the TV and cakes float in front of her, too, and she can’t help but laugh.  She imagines capturing these delights and tucking them away in case she wants to enjoy them later.  She looks at the portrait on the wall and finds he is laughing, too.
        Tears stream down Emily’s face as she laughs. Everything is upside down. She’s lost in the pulsations in her mind, following the hallucinations and reveling in their beauty. She feels a lightness that’s completely unfamiliar.
        She opens her eyes and sees the portrait of the man still smiling.
        “You’re happy,” he says.
        “I’m happy!” Emily replies.
        “But you’re the same as you were yesterday,” says the portrait, still smiling.
        “I’m the same but I’m happy,” Emily says.
        The sun is starting to set and the images are less demanding, less active. It’s been a few hours, and Emily feels the drug leaving her system. She decides to go sit outside and feel the sun’s final warmth of the day. She wants to tilt her head to the sun in thanks.
        She sits at the base of a large tree in her front yard and feels the vibrancy of the outside world. She closes her eyes. Her thoughts bounce around and she thinks of the portrait and cake. She hears crying and it shakes her from her thoughts. She looks up and finds it’s dusk.
        Her automatic outside house lights, recessed in soffit, have turned on. She sees a small girl
walking toward her, sniffling.
        “Hey!” she calls to the girl. “Hey, are you okay?”
        The girl keeps crying and walks toward Emily.
        “Are you okay?” Emily tries to focus. She’s grateful the sun has set and the world isn’t quite so bright, but her eyes are still echoing the dancing swirls and geometric patterns.

        “I don’t know where my mom went.” The girl sniffs and wipes her nose on her dress sleeve. Emily puts a hand on her stomach, and feels a strong tug to help the girl.
        “Do you live around here?” Emily doesn’t know if this is a reasonable question to ask the girl. Do six-or-seven year olds know where they live?
        The girl nods.
        “Mommy says stay put when I get lost, and she’ll come to the last spot she saw me.”
        So this happens a lot, Emily thinks.
        “Well, then, I guess this is a good place to sit.”
        “Why are you just sitting here?” the girl looks at Emily, now comfortable, tears forgotten.
        “I came out to watch the sun set.”  
        “The sun is set!” the girl states, triumphantly. “But you can see the moon now. You should lay down and then you can see the moon and the leaves will move in front of it and it’s verrrrrrry spoooooooky,” the girl is giggling now, and Emily smiles. The girl lays back under the tree, and Emily joins her. They look through the leaves to the moon. It’s nearly full, and Emily’s heart throbs. She is overwhelmed by the beauty of the tree against the moon’s backdrop. 
        “This isn’t so spoooooky,” she says playfully, smiling at the girl. “Hey, what’s your
        “Grace. What’s yours?”
        They lie under the tree in silence now, watching the breeze move the leaves above them.
        Emily feels a cool drop of rain on her face.
        “Rain!” Grace yells with glee.
        Emily laughs and looks up, not expecting any storms. The sky is mostly cloudless, and the rain is hardly a light sprinkle. She lets the earthy smell of droplets on the dirt wash over her.
        “I’m going to grab us a couple towels,” she says and quickly fetches two big, soft towels from her bathroom closet, neatly folded and ready for use.     
        “Here,” she hands one to Grace, who struggles to make use of it beyond wiping her face.
        “Thank you. Will you wrap it all the way around me?” Grace asks. Emily wraps it like a dress, making sure the little girl is dried off and warm. She wipes her own face and sits down. The light rain has already stopped.
        “Don’t sit down! We have to make mud drawings!”
        Grace grabs Emily’s hand and leads her to the driveway, along which there is a small patch of mud. “Your driveway is white, so it’s perfect.” Grace sticks a stubby finger in the mud and drags it along the driveway, drawing spiraling shapes.  
        “Like this!” Grace tells Emily. Emily obeys, sticking a finger in the sticky mud and using it to draw on the ground. She draws hearts and clouds and attempts a fox, but fails, and it looks like a frog instead. Grace draws a rainbow that arcs into Emily’s clouds, and says “oooooh” appreciatively at the fox. 
        Emily is laughing and so is the little girl.
        They finish their drawing and return to the base of the tree, setting down their towels to protect them from the moist ground, and lying down to stare at the moon again.
        “There are so many crickets and frogs here,” Grace says. “I love your house.” There’s a post-rain cacophony of animals and wind and nighttime neighborhood. Emily breathes out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding, a breath she’s probably been holding for years. She lets it go and lies quietly, listening to the world around her.
        The next thing she knows, David is yelling her name, shaking her.
        “Emily! Emily! Are you okay? EM!” He’s trying to sit her up, and she’s trying to focus on him in the dark.
        “Are you crazy? Did you sleep out here with the sprinklers on?” Emily realizes where she is and jumps up, looking around her.  She puts a hand to her head and finds a leaf in her tangled hair.
        “Where’s Grace? There was a girl here. A girl. GRACE?” Emily cries out, a desperate bleating. 
        “There’s no one else here. Emily, there is no little girl,” David repeats himself quietly. “There’s no little girl.”
        David reaches beside where Emily had just been sleeping and picks up a clean, folded towel. It’s unused.
        “There was a girl,” Emily says shakily, eying the towel. “A little girl. She was lost and she was looking for her mom. Waiting for her mom.” Emily puts a hand to her head, confused and aching. Then she remembers, and runs to her driveway, frantic, “We painted with mud!”
        When she reaches the driveway, she sees her drawings but nothing else. There are no rainbows
arcing to the clouds. There are none of Grace’s little swirls.
        Emily starts crying as reality hits her.
        She collapses in the driveway, and David drops to her side, putting the fresh towel around her shoulders along with one of his arms.
        “It’s okay, baby. You’re okay,” he says, staring earnestly, giving her that smile. He focuses on her eyes, and his own widen. “Are you high? Are you tripping right now?”  
           Emily cries into his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I messed up but I messed up in a good way, it was such a good way. I’m so sorry I’m such a grumpy, sad lump of a person. I’m sorry you’ve had to put up with that for so long. I have joy, and I just forgot. I love you, and I’m sorry I’ve been the way I’ve been.” She holds nothing back, stuffs nothing down, just lets it tumble.
           David can’t make sense of his wife’s sobs but asks no questions and just lets her cry. Slowly, he helps her inside the house. They take a seat in the living room, where the TV is still on, still muted, but no longer showing any cakes. Emily tries to pick up the remote control but she’s shaking, weak and exhausted, so David grabs it and turns off the TV.
        Emily points to the chocolate wrapper still on the couch before recounting her mistake and the trip that followed. David laughs and gives her leg a squeeze.
        “I guess you were more productive today than expected,” he says. Emily loves him for his lack of judgment.
        “And all you’ve eaten since lunch is chocolate?” he asks. Emily nods, eyebrows raised in an apologetic arch. He leads her to the kitchen for some dinner, and the last thing she sees as they walk out of the TV room is the portrait of the man hanging on the wall.  He is frozen in place, unmoving and unmoved.
Shayna Brown is an emerging writer, currently a semester away from completion of her Master of Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Austin, Texas with her son, four step-kids, and husband.  By day she runs a post-production sound studio for TV shows and movies, and mornings and nights are spent writing. She has been a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, and spoken at SXSW about vulnerability. She writes about family, vulnerability, and connection.  
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