Vanessa Willoughby

[FICTION] All Hope Abandon


It’s no surprise that my mother and I would join together to watch my ex-boyfriend burn. My mother knew it would happen. She said that she could smell the wood curdling soft and collapsing beneath the flames, could clearly see the way our small house got smaller while the fire swallowed the windows and the doors. She said she could hear the glass shattering, said she watched the dagger-like slivers fly at her face. God, she says, works in mysterious ways.


I didn’t inherit the gift of sight. When I was thirteen, my mother told me that her dreams could predict the future. I thought she meant that in the way of cheesy, Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday self-help psychobabble. I see the truth in dreams. I am not a magician; this gift is something much more serious. We were folding laundry in the living room. The windows were flung open and sprinklers were shuddering and ticking. Lavender and peachy pink brushstrokes collided across the horizon. The night was about to catch our New England neighborhood and we were surrounded by the glow of suburbia, unremarkable land that did not serve as isolated stretches of countryside, but fist-sized communities stuffed with lonely stay-at-home wives and paycheck to paycheck families pretending that they were satisfied. My mother’s right wrist was covered with a stack of wooden bracelets, a convenient method of hiding the bulging knot beneath her wrist. As a child, she’d fallen out of a tree and broken her wrist. Unable to pay the hospital fees, my mother’s parents treated it the best they could: setting the bone with a makeshift cast, a clockwork supply of whiskey with tea, cool washcloths slapped to the forehead, and daily prayer sessions, browned hands pressed to their only daughter’s cream-colored cheek and forearm.


You are a daughter of this inheritance. She was referring to a maternal family tradition, a higher power that touches the women in our family, elevating them to earthbound prophets. Her younger sister, Mia with the cat eyes shrouded in heavy-handed Wet N Wild eyeliner, predicted that her older sister would have a falling out with her childhood friend over an American pilot with big ears and a Chiclet-white smile. The vision came true. My mother married my father and lost her confidante turned honorary sister. Mia declared herself the better clairvoyant. Her visions, she said, felt like the uneasy familiarity of deja vu, half-saturated images waiting low at the base of her spine, shooting upward and released into her imagination when caught in the valley of sleep.


I was seventeen when my mom declared that I was a lost cause. My visions descended on a sporadic timetable and lacked the weight of clarity, hazy fragments without grounded scenes or distinct faces. Sometimes they were terrors disguised in the soft shimmer of defanged dreams. The nightmares were hard to control. I traded forged homework assignments for Valium and Xanax with a friend of a friend, someone’s greasy-haired boyfriend or bushy-browed, oily-skinned brother. Always the sort of feral boys who got off on delivering a closed fist upon receiving a “wrong” look, skilled snakes who had learned from their defeated snake charmers.


I didn’t think that my ex would cheat and clean out our bank account. We non-blessed plebeians let love turn us blind. In the beginning, he made me feel new in my skin. True, there were times that I sensed that something was wrong. He would come home on time, clothes still packed with the punch of our detergent, but his smile was unfamiliar, eyes searching for a dream in the distance. I discovered the text messages on his phone and I put my fist in my mouth and screamed. Then I called my mother. She picked up on the second ring. Before I could tear through my sobs, she said, I know. Didn’t I try to warn you? You shouldn’t have ignored my last vision.


She drove down a few hours later. We shoved my bags into her car. Mascara-saturated tears trembled on my top lip.


“He’s not going to make it,” she said. I waited for her to continue. I could feel black tar coat the pink insides of my throat.


“He’s going to fall asleep with a lit cigarette. The house is going to ash.” I didn’t believe her because I couldn’t concentrate on the morbid finality of her words. I could only concentrate on the grating feel of self-awareness turned against you.


Five hours later and the sun has set. The neighbors are locked in their houses, oblivious to his fate. His car sitting in the driveway. One light flicked on. The living room. The scene of my mother’s awful prediction.


“Just another minute or so. I think,” she coos. Hands with talon-like acrylics embedded on the fingernails, the ends digging into her palms. I avoid eye-contact with her. Suddenly, the burning begins. An orange and yellow orb grows in the living room, the color getting louder and louder. I feel trapped in the passenger seat, stiff and leg-locked. The orange orb leaks into other parts of the house, gaining momentum as its mouth opens wider. I hope that he is asleep, lulled into peaceful submission by the smoke.


“Ah, there it is,” my mother whispers. She smiles like an ugly duckling just asked to prom by the captain of the football team. My palms sweat and I chew my bottom lip. I reach up and pick at the loose skin.


When we hear the first call of the siren, my mother starts the car. My entire body is hot and I’ve picked off too much skin on my bottom lip. Pinpricks of blood make their way onto my tongue. We don’t speak as we drive away. I want to cry but when I look at my mother, I can’t. Her bracelets tap against each other as she handles the wheel. Her sour smile is like a muzzle. I wonder if we’re both villains.



Vanessa Willoughby is a freelance writer and editor. She is Creative Director for the literary and arts journal, Winter Tangerine. She is a Fiction Editor at the independent press, Brain Mill Press. She is Promotions Manager for Apogee Journal. Her bylines have appeared on, but are not limited to: Vice, Hazlitt, The Toast, The Hairpin, Bitch, Ms. Magazine, The Establishment, and Book Riot. She earned her BA from Emerson College and her MFA from The New School. The full archive of her work can be viewed at

1 Comment

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *