The white letters flashed but Hazel did not step off the curb. Her feet held fast. She lifted her mug of coffee to her lips, staring at the sign.
Other pedestrians did. They hustled over the white paint of the crosswalk. One caught Hazel’s elbow with his swinging arm, then threw an apology over his shoulder. The contact sent a shot of hot coffee through the cup’s lid, nipping like a flame against the roof of her mouth. The pain jostled Hazel out of her trance.
She stepped to her left, exiting the stream of on-foot commuters. The sign was already flashing it’s contrary orange message and Hazel swung her gaze away. She narrowed her eyes, locking in on the glass door of the building across the road. Her destination. They faced off – Hazel and that door – while cars passed between and pedestrians refilled the sidewalk squares beside her.
Hazel knew who would win. She’d been in this battle before, more than once. The door always won.
Hazel saw the word in her peripheral. She ceded the stare down but did not obey the sign. This time, she closed her eyes.
With the darkness came amplified noise. Footsteps, conversations, tires against pavement, and the rattles and squeaks of vehicles. She searched for one sound, just one that could take her elsewhere and summon light into the dark. It was a technique she learned last year, when the panic was at its peak. She tried to remember the last time she’d needed to use it. A month? Two months? The question was a distraction, so Hazel returned to the sounds.
She found it. A swishing, as soft as a cotton dress moved by a breeze. The blank darkness of her vision began to break. Like a photo developing, the image spread. The sound became part of the whole.
Hazel stood, not on a city curb, but in a field. The wild grass reached her thighs. She stretched her fingers out to brush them across the tips of the grass. The space continued to fill. Cornflowers dotted the field, brilliant blue under golden light.
An ache crept into her bones. Hazel found it both painful and comforting. She longed to pick a handful of the flowers, to touch and hold them with more than her imagination. She’d clutch them as she skipped home. Mama would accept them with the grace of a queen receiving precious jewels.
“Thank you, my little Hazelnut. They are as beautiful as you.”
How many times had it gone that way?
The field began to fade. The sounds of morning in the city rose with a crescendo. Before it was fully gone, while the blue flowers still speckled her vision, Hazel breathed in the air of that field – of home, and twilight, and security. It filled her up.
She opened her eyes.
And she did.