The sun had finally shrugged toward the horizon, and the courtyard was finally coming alive again. There was a circle of young men playing cards at a picnic table under the sole palm tree. Two middle-aged women were sipping iced tea on a bench, mopping their brows and necks with tea towels. A toddler ran laughing and screeching from his father, who was barbecuing on the patio. Fragrant odors of chicken with a piquant sauce wafted across the grass where they tangled with scents from other grills. The traffic beyond the wrought iron gates of Mistral Manor Apartments had changed from the busy commuters’ stop-and-go pace to revved up engines given to sudden starts and languorous stops. It was mid-July and that meant the night would be warm and dusty and shimmering with life.
Simone propped her head on her hand as she sat at the round table. She traced the bright tile mosaic surface she had recently completed while she observed from her fourth floor perch. Just high enough to see between a variety of trees, she could also spot who went in and out from Cole’s Kaffee on the other side of the street. Tina and Harry Miles had left ten minutes ago, to be replaced at the table on the deck by Carter and Gloria, Simone’s neighbors across the hall. They were bringing back an iced mocha for her and a caramel bar, if any were left. They were good to her.
It was a decent start to an otherwise slow summer. Simone hadn’t really gone anywhere yet. The hopeful plan had been to be up and moving by the end of June, sign up for a harpsichord class, get back to easy exericse, get in touch with Higgins and Hughes, the law firm she had worked for until the end of April. Get back to her industrious lifestyle of long hours of labor made worthwhile by week-ends of recreation. Well, no one and nothing was cooperating with her wishes. May rained itself right into June and June sauntered into July with sunshine at last. And here she still sat.
Beneath her on a bench between the lavender, peonies and pots of red geraniums, Kari waved.
“Want me to come up later?” she called. “I’m meeting Trey for dinner and then we’re going salsa dancing. “Her hand flew to her mouth before she could stop it. “I know you miss dancing. Sorry.We are just… getting out of the hot apartment for a while. It’s been an age since we had a good meal, too.”
Simone grinned at her old roommate; Kari had moved in with Trey in October. “Well, of course you want to get out. It’s a perfect night for it. And I’m not so sure I miss the press of sweaty bodies in the clubs! If my light is on when you get home, give me a call if you want. And have fun!”
Trey emerged from the doorway of the apartment building and came up behind Kari, then took her hand. She pointed up at Simone and he waved as they left.
She shifted in her chair and opened the book she had been trying to read for a week. It was something light, Gloria had said when she loaned the novel. Something beachy, although there was no beach within an hour’s reach. Something to keep her mind off things, give her a laugh. But she could still, surprisingly, laugh; she just kept thinking about things. About how it could have been different if she had made other choices. Just walked away that last night of April instead of having continued the conversation, then gotten hooked by the debate, then snared in the argument and finally trapped by the same old story: demands, pleadings, tears. Yes, that man could weep to beat all. And just as fast be transformed into something unrecognizable, cold as steel and full of rage. She shook her head to clear it. The last thing she needed was for Bart’s face to loom at her all night. She flipped the page and read the next paragraph, then read it again and a third time. No use. She pushed it aside.
But four floors below there was a panoramic scene to sample, to absorb and wonder over. There was another small group forming a circle and she knew it would be a long night of music. Two guitars, three hand drums, a rain stick, a flute or two, a violin, even. It was Friday night and whoever was around came down and started up a song. Simone heard a penny whistle weave in and out and around the melody, light and clear and captivating. She caught her breath.
“He’s back,” Simone said aloud and sank deep into her chair. Sean McAllister had been touring the British Isles and Europe with his band for the last five months. He surely knew the whole sorry story by now, unless he had just gotten in. Kari may even have called him in spite of Simone’s protests. He might be disgusted with the whole thing, with her, and was avoiding her. That’s what some of the old crowd did. But, then, she also wasn’t partying anymore. She fervently hoped he wouldn’t look up. Her face still looked less than what she’d been told to expect, scars across her cheekbone and chin, nose still a bit bumpy. But what she really didn’t want him to see was her humilation. Shame.
He, along with so many others, had warned her. He had said yes, Bart was charming and capable and also impossible, a man who couldn’t have it any way but his own–a man who could flip like a switch if you looked at him wrong. Sean had told her: “I know him, he was with a band I was in a few years ago, remember? As your friend, as someone who cares about you for who you really are–not only your outstanding good looks and fabulous intellect, by the way–tell him to shove off!” At which point she had given him a swat across the head with her sweater and sent him back home with leftover spaghetti and salad from their late dinner. Before he left he ran down from the seventh floor and had again lectured her. “Better break it off or you will regret it. I want to come home and find you happy again.” Simone had saluted him and he’d enveloped her with a hug that she sank right into. But she had finally broken it off. Or tried to. And paid the price.
The Irish jig morphed into something eastern in flavor, became a light melancholic tune. It moved through the tree branches and leaves so that they seemed to sing a song of gentle longing. Simone shut her eyes and let her mind wander to better times.
Until she laid her hands upon her thighs and felt the right leg cast all the way up to her hip, the left leg still bandaged from slow-healing wounds. It had been an accident: she had wanted to believe that for weeks after she left the hospital. But it hadn’t been, not really. No, not at all.
Bart had made her get into the car and had driven out to the Pointe like a madman, slapping her as he drove, yelling things she had never heard before and still tried to forget. And when they had reached the spot, the place where only last summer she had climbed the small bluff with friends, he had yanked her out and shaken her until her mind went blank. She tumbled and as her helpless body bounced off rocks and earth she saw a profound blackness filled with garish bursts of light, then nothing. Until a week later, when she awakened, immobilized, wounded, astonished at what her life had come to. Everyone else was amazed she wasn’t paralyzed or dead but for her, it was a horror that she would end up here at all. She would not have believed it possible to fall for such a man. He would be end up incacerated for a long time, they told her; a car had driven up just as she had fallen over the ledge of rock so there was a witness. And may he suffer dearly, they added in more brutal words than that. She couldn’t know about his suffering. She hoped he was facing himself and feeling something, at least regret, but expected otherwise. There was no one left to hear apologies. He would certainly see it all as a serious inconvenience.
For Simone, there were court dates ahead and she dreaded them. Seeing him. Remembering what she tried to forget every day. But she had to stand up for herself. And then maybe she could move on.
Simone snapped her eyes open and bit her lip. She focused on the peaceful courtyard. The musicians played a lively song, improvising easily. The women who had rested before were now gone, and a group of children jumped rope, chanting rhymes. The sun was softer now, the heat diminished, the sky a more tender blue. Everywhere she looked there were people just living their lives on a July evening. They were spread out beneath her like a colorful safety net. She breathed deeply and her nostrils filled with the balmy air. She was grateful to be home at all the last two weeks, resting on this balcony that was washed in transluscent golden light, the courtyard a welcoming place.
A broad hand suddenly crossed her peripheral vision; in it was her tall iced mocha in a clear plastic glass. Simone turned her head to see who it was and then looked away. Sean knelt and took her hands into his, turned them over, and placed his lips in the center of each opening palm. Then he sat beside her and they watched the scene change once more.