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Lightning flashed above the cabin, illuminating the pitch black night. Thunder crashed close by, causing her to shudder. Anita sat alone at the kitchen table, a plate of leftovers before her, hoping the lights didn’t go out. Anita was afraid of the dark.

Anita was afraid of a lot of things.

Besides the dark, there was the light. Anita feared sunburn and skin cancer. She never went to the beach for fear of sharks, or drowning, or having someone notice the roll of her stomach when she wore a bikini. She was afraid of falling and making a fool of herself, feared if she took up running she would get shin splints, felt that no one would talk to her if she went to a party, and of course she was afraid of public speaking. Most times she was afraid of speaking at all. She feared meeting new people, and losing the people she loved. She feared death, and most of life.

Anita came to the cabin alone, although she was afraid of being alone.

She had realized, in therapy of course, that being alone was one of the things that she feared most. She was becoming paralyzed, unable to live her life like what she imagined a normal person did. And although she was afraid of being alone, she was also becoming agoraphobic, afraid to leave her apartment. Anita needed to make some changes.

She picked at the leftovers as she continued to worry that the lights would go out. In her head her therapist’s voice echoed. “You have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It was the first time she had heard this expression and thought her therapist was very clever for making it up. The words rang true. “If only,” thought Anita.

Without warning, Anita started to choke.

A tiny fish bone from her dinner was caught in her throat.

“Why did I cook fish?” raced through Anita’s mind. “There are always bones!”

Anita panicked. She coughed. She held her throat and made the international sign for choking, although there was no one there to see her.

Suddenly she heard a knock. Anita didn’t even think of being afraid when she opened the door. At the door stood a woman dressed in a fisherman’s raincoat, yellow and wet, shining under the porch light.

“I saw your light when I drove by. I thought it was strange that someone would be here on such a night.”

Anita grabbed at her throat again. She tried to make a sound. She pointed to the fish.

“Hmmmm… fishbone?” the woman said, a bit too calmly. “Do you have a banana by chance?”

Anita gave the woman a puzzled look. She did have a banana. It was one of the few foods she could eat without fear of choking. She dug into the grocery bag and retrieved the two bananas she bought at the grocery before she came to the cabin. She never bought more than two, for fear they would turn black before she had a chance to eat them.

The woman in the yellow slicker quickly peeled the banana and gave it back to Anita.

“Here, eat this, slowly. It should push the bone out and down.”

Anita grabbed the banana and took a bite, and then another and another. Finally, she felt the tiny bone dislodge and slide down with the final bite.

Anita coughed and cleared her throat and finally was able to sputter out a croaky thank you.

The woman bowed slightly to Anita. “It was nothing. I just happened to come by at the right time. I am a firm believer in chance.” And with that, she let herself out, back into the stormy night.

Once again, Anita was left alone.

She had never considered that life might be about chance but what had just happened felt like a light switch had been turned on.

“What if I learn to take chances? I mean, maybe if I start by taking some chances, I’ll stop being afraid. Good things will happen.”

Just then lightning struck close by and the lights went out. Anita sat in the dark, the familiar fear creeping over her.

“There is nothing to fear but fear itself,” came into her mind. And with that, she felt her way to the closet and found an umbrella. She took a deep breath in, opened the door, and went out into the dark and stormy night.

Melanie Civin Kenion

Melanie Civin Kenion is spending her retirement writing poetry, traveling as much as possible, and playing Rummikub with her grandson.

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