Escape: Part 2


The SUV hummed along as the sunset melted away. The tires on pavement, the heater fan and warmth brought Darla to the edge of sleep. She speculated about whether or not she was being kidnapped by benign but nutty elders or if soon she would actually be at Granny Robb’s, eating something good. Curled up with a big mug of tea. Darla had called; Granny said she was up north but to come on. She’d be back soon, tomorrow probably. Just lock the doors, lay low. Darla could think in front of a crackling fire at her  grandmother’s; that was crucial. She’d feel like herself there, a semi-whole person. Separate from Abe.

It was too good to be true, these Gentry people picking her up. She imagined they were angels–that told her just how desperate she was–but she still had a world of trouble ahead.

“Got any kids?” Kenneth asked. “Or are you footloose?”

Darla sat up straight and blinked. “No, just a dog, a husky named Dixie…”

She felt a longing for Dixie that ached. She was mostly Abe’s dog but Dixie and she had become friends as she worked outdoors, the big dog padding after her when Abe was too busy or gone.

“Want a cat?”

Kenneth chuckled when Roslyn flicked his shoulder hard.

“Never mind him. Noto is her name, short for Notorious–I know, strange name but leave it to Kenneth. At the start she was notoriously fussy and expensive due to health needs. But he indulges me. He enjoys making me happy, lucky me! He’s got his parrot–talks back to me and Noto! You married, dear?”

She didn’t want to talk about personal things. This was a ride to safety, not a social excursion. She could tell them anything she wanted. She could as easily say she was single, a visiting professor from British Columbia. She had gotten lost after a seaside conference and then her car broke down so she decided to just have an adventure and see the States, not go home until she made it to Vancouver via hitchhiking. That she was spontaneous, independent, loved a good challenge.

Yeah, right.

“No, well, once, but things changed.”

“Hmm.” Kenneth took off the weathered straw hat and scratched his head. “Took us awhile to meet up and get hitched. But good thing, as it all worked out.”

Noto climbed up on Roslyn’s shoulder and meowed in assent. The cat sat there, tail twitching back and forth like a serpentine thing.

Roslyn scratched Noto’s ears. “We met at a gym when we were nearly forty. That’s twenty five years ago. We both ran marathons then and worked out. Both teachers, well, Kenneth became an administrator. I taught sixth grade. He was all about science. I was single and he was widowed young. So there we were, working up a sweat and trying not to steal a glance at each other week after week. He had good legs! One thing led to another. Coffee out, running dates, then dinner at my place…I guess some are meant to be married and some are not.”

Darla looked out the window. Could they go faster and talk less? She felt something rise up from her gut and it clutched her with misgiving. She and Abe: three years, six months, nine days. Too long. That’s what she finally decided even though he had this delicious appeal, the way he made her laugh, how he could rejuvenate things with a hammer and nails. His boldly good looks. His way with the campers, which was oddly patient. His lasagna and pot roast dinners. The way he held her when things were good. Up to Abe’s standards, that is. Yes, long enough. Now she had to keep out of his reach. Convince him she was not the one. They were a mistake that needed undoing.


The coastal road was full of switchbacks and Noto was thrown forward, landing on Darla’s lap, claws extended to catch hold. Darla tried to lift her and give her back. The cat hung on to her hoodie, then turned three times and settled on her lap, throwing Darla a look that indicated tolerance and possible appreciation. Darla smiled at Roslyn when she looked back.

“See? Noto’s good with people when she trusts them. Great instincts, too. So tell me about your grandmother.”

Kenneth grunted, either at the Noto remark or a truck that passed going around seventy instead of fifty.

“She helped raise me and now that my mom’s in Seattle, she’s my family. Granny used to own a gift shop in town.”

Why did she have to say that? The less information the better. Or was she being paranoid? Abe always warned her to say nothing.  Treat everyone with suspicion, except the campers and their families. They brought in money. Used to. He made less money since he married her, he said. All her fault, her shyness, her laziness.

Breathe, just breathe slowly. Think first, speak judiciously, act later.

“A gift shop in Winton? I wonder if I’ve been there.”

“Not likely! She sold it four years ago, or is it five? I was in college  when that occurred. Now she’s retired.”

Roslyn reached back for Noto but the tabby was purring, rumbling against Darla’s legs.

“The shop was called what, dear?”

I didn’t say, she thought. I don’t want to talk about anything, let you know me.

She considered asking them to stop, let her out, but the heat inside, the cold outdoors, the way the cat had snuggled close…Or she could just spew it, how terrified she was getting, how she didn’t know what to do. How Abe could be wonderful and then not, just like that.

No, keep steady now.


“Cornucopia? My goodness, I know that place! I’ve shopped there for years because she’s had the best jewelry and special things. I made it a habit to stop there for some Christmas gifts. You said her name was… Lisa? Lela? No, Lena! I did note there was a change in staff.”

Darla didn’t answer. She had lain her head back and closed her eyes. Roslyn got quiet again. The car swayed along the narrow road. The cat seemed to snore. Maybe she had cats wrong, they could okay companions, smaller and less willing to play but still… She recalled Dixie, those blue eyes, that furry breadth when Darla hugged her. Dixie had been consistently gentler than Abe had ever been and that undisputed fact brought a prickling of tears.

Kenneth spoke in a whisper to his wife. “Do you think something is wrong or is it just me?”

“Of course.” She whispered back. “Just trying to figure it out. What woman would hitchhike alone?”

“You know that shopkeeper?”

“I know of her but can’t recall her whole name.” Her voice grew  louder. “Well, we’re going to her house so we’ll meet.” She looked back at Darla to find her eyes still closed. “I think she’s running away.”

“Why that? From what?”

“I just feel it. She’s secretive. Worn out. Something desperate about her look.”

Darla didn’t care. She just wanted to sleep, dream of solutions, awaken somewhere else to find morning light greeting her like a balm. No fear. No wondering what was next. So what if they suspected something? She’d be at Granny’s soon. Never see them again.

They were close now. She opened her eyes a small slit and took in the lights of town. Saturday night and everything was lit up like a celebration in little Winton, tarnished jewel of the coast. It gave her a headache. If she had had money she’d be somewhere far from here. Mexico. Hawaii. Even Alaska sounded good tonight.


She sat up. Noto jumped off her lap.

“Turn left here,” Darla directed, “then turn left again and down four blocks to the beach. Otter Road; the house is an A-frame.”

They drove slowly up to Lena Robb’s dark house. Darla felt her jaw tense and then…no, really? There, parked right before the driveway, was her apparently repaired Volvo. Abe sat in it. He turned his head toward the Gentry car.

Darla fell over and bent down.”Keep going! Don’t stop! Abe is there!”

Kenneth said nothing but kept driving at a steady pace. Roslyn patted Darla’s back with her warm, thin hand. They drove on, right out of Winton and then sped up.

“Say now, Darla…how about coming to our place, having dinner? You can rest, call your grandmother.”

Darla clutched the back of Roslyn’s seat. Tears had breached her  will to just carry on and she could not stop. She cried so hard, the painful breaths emptying in small heaves, that Noto cried out with her. Roslyn took her hand and asked Kenneth to pull over.

“Please–right now, Kenneth.”


Darla could barely make out the dash lights but she felt like she was in an airplane or a space ship going somewhere strange and unknown and all she could think was I’m leaving I’m leaving I’m leaving I am really leaving.

The Gentrys waited until the crying stopped.

Roslyn spoke softly. “You’re safe, my girl. We’ll shelter you until you get Lena to come.”

“Yes, please let us help, dear,” Kenneth said, his voice husky.

They drove on to the Gentry cottage. Darkness was like a silky veil on Darla’s hot face as night accompanied them in a quest for comfort. Darla hummed to herself, an old lullaby her mother had sung to her when she was a kid and life was an unblemished horizon. How to get back? Or was she finally going forward? Noto curled up on her lap to better watch her the rest of the journey.


Escape: Part 1


The wind changed from ferocious to more familiar and the afternoon sun seeped into her skin but Darla gave up and sat down. She had been walking more than an hour, ever since the car broke down. It had shuddered and coasted to the edge of the road, right before the highway exit. She knew it was a bad idea to take Abe’s car but, then, she didn’t see that she had a choice. He was working on her beat up Volvo at his buddy’s–she had dropped him off, ostensibly to go to work. She had thought it over. It was either take her chances or try to placate him again. But she just couldn’t put the effort into peacemaking anymore. Not because she didn’t care because she did, sometimes. It just didn’t work.

She’d kept on until she got to this stretch of beach. It was easier to walk than the roadside. Abe would first look at her best friend Sarah’s, then Teddy’s studio above his café, and lastly the Knit and Purr (the owner’s sickly Persian cat had died during summer) where she worked three days a week. He wouldn’t try Granny Robb’s until tomorrow, likely–he did have to work later. And he didn’t like Granny, had told her a thousand times to stay away from her so he assumed she took his opinion and advice to heart. Darla hoped to be at Granny’s by nine o’clock and in the morning to be somewhere else. Had to keep moving, otherwise Abe would catch up and haul her back home.

Her new tennis shoes were chafing her left foot. A blister was ballooning on her heel so she took them off and stood up. The wet, smooth sand was soothing.

If Darla knew anything, she knew the ocean. She grew up not far from there; all this had been her playground. Kept alive in her memory were tidal secrets and all the places she could hide and explore. The weather’s shifts and turns here were an intimate part of her knowledge. She had lived to surf and kayak before Abe. Today the sea was restless as ever, gleaming waves muscling their way in, carrying humans, boats or debris with an indifferent elegance. She tilted her face to sea spray, then tied her tennis shoes together and tossed them over her shoulder. Darla’s feet pounded the wave-carved beach, hair loosening, legs lengthening. This is how it felt to be free. Like she had no origin or destination or ending, as if she was one hundred percent bona fide alive only in this moment. Every cell sparked and danced, primed for joy. Nothing–no one–could claim her as theirs.


Salt kissed her lips and light burnished her skin. She was turning to gold and snared by the rhythm of running so imagined she was a wild horse as she did when a child, galloping and cavorting past waves, rocks, driftwood, crabs, mussels, the world. Only when her breathing was pinched by the pounding of her heart did she slow and drop to the sand, gasping.

There was no time for this foolish play. What an idiot to dredge up memories made of childhood innocence. A naiveté not yet shredded by disappointment and loneliness. Now Darla had to deal with facts that required she come up with a better plan. Soon. She was an escapee, after all. Broke right out of Abe’s Coastal Camp–that’s what he called it since it was his summer camp. Abe’s work camp, he should call it, for all she had done for him to keep him even halfway placated. He loomed in her mind: that furrowed forehead signaling dissatisfaction, the immediate or delayed anger instigating more ridiculous demands–“corrective actions”, he called them. And too often the force of his broad hands marring her face or grasping on her shoulder, hair, neck. Those were “reminders”. Of who was in charge.

She had to climb the hill and get back to the road, find a ride to Granny’s. She was gone this week but she’d told her to come on. Darla put her socks back on and then her shoes, her heel tender. She had four protein bars in her bag and ate one as she hiked up the twisty trail. Two women passed her laughing, a blanket and a tote full of food between them. She kept her head down, not to be unseen but to avoid their normalcy, their happiness. She wondered if they carried wine, then banished the thought before it stole her mind away like a thief. The last thing she wanted ever again was a drink.

When she reached the road she loosened her shoe and stuck out her thumb. There were trees standing close together here; the ocean roar was gentled. An October sky was dissolving into a powdery grey-blue and coral. The sun would soon begin its disappearing act on the vast celestial stage. She had to be off the road by then. Fear pricked her innards. What had she done? Did it really have to come to this?


She waggled her thumb at several cars but they sped by, sometimes honking or swerving, as though her small presence might be a serious threat to them. She stepped back, close to underbrush and the darkening forest. After about twenty minutes she started walking fast even though her heel was hot and stinging. Darla took in the sea between treetops like a gulp of hope. She considered praying when headlights blinded her. She turned at the sound of the vehicle as it pulled up nice and easy.

The interior lights went on. They looked okay, both man and woman, each with greying hair. A brownish tabby cat curled up on the woman’s lap. The car was a new model SUV, deep blue. The woman rolled her window halfway down and stuck her face out.

“You need a ride, dear?” She peered over her glasses and smiled with pale peach lips closed. “You shouldn’t be out here all alone.”

“Well, about 60 miles is all. To Winton, up north. You know it?”

The older woman nodded, loose curls bouncing. “Oh, we go right by it on the way to our cottage. We’re eighteen miles past there.” She looked Darla up and down for a quick assessment then made a motion to the left with her head. “This is Kenneth, my husband. Just get rid of sand, please.”

Darla bent down and looked in the car. Kenneth had on an old straw hat but he pushed it back from his forehead, then peered at her. His hooded eyes made an attempt at smiling. He looked sixtyish or more, ruddier and younger than his wife.

“Well, I guess…”

“What happened, dear? No car? How on earth did you get here?”

Darla could feel the heat being leached from the air as the sun stayed its own course. She shivered; she had to get out of here. She stomped her feet to rid them of sand and brushed off her jeans.

“It broke down. I’m on my way to my grandmother’s, Lena Robb’s.”

The man gestured for her to get in back. “Pile in. I want to get to our place before it’s too late.”

Darla took off her backpack, tossed it in and settled in the leather seat. The cat jumped from between the front seats to the seat by Darla, walked over her twice with a sniff or two, then jumped back to the woman in front with a plaintive meow. Darla didn’t like cats that much but here she was, stuck with one again.

“I’m Roslyn Gentry, by the way.”

“Darla, ah, Darla Robb.” She took a painfully deep breath as they started off down the road, then looked out the window, through the pines. The ocean was receding; the sky was aflame. The SUV was warm and smelled faintly of cinnamon and, possibly, sausage. A tangy hint of sweat. No one spoke the first mile except the cat, who hissed at her once from her mistress’ shoulder.


(TO BE CONTINUED. Please come back for Part 2, to be posted this week.)

Two of Many Women

I was inspired by a colleague this week. I watched her work with someone nearly broken, a woman who still says she cares for the man who harms her. She is ambivalent about what to do. I had thought my co-worker might be soft-voiced and exceedingly careful but was illuminated by her ways and means. They are of a different culture than I am and I had asked for assistance, her insight so I might better understand. I watched her at work.

She was first polite, with few words. But soon she became bold and frank. She was insistent while respectful in her pleading for change. She didn’t cover the truth with easy lies or elaborate good will. The reality is: this person could lose her life to domestic violence. My colleague had seen it happen and so she was clear: “Save yourself, your children. You are a good woman and you need to stay alive.”

And then there is another client I work with whose face has visited me all week. She is slipping back into a lifestyle that demands violence as a ticket to live. It is this or possibly not survive, and she mostly believes it can still work right now. It is what she knows, and it is her default when she wants to give up. With her I am calm and gentle. I have to wait. I note the signs of her anger and speak about the depression that keeps her numb and listen for the moment when she will stop fighting life, herself, me, everyone. When she will remember how much she wants a little peace, a small kindness. Then she may look at me with eyes unguarded, the door open a crack, for at least an instant. I will have to be ready to respond. It has happened before. It can happen again. I know who she thinks owns her; she is hostage to this belief. But I am not afraid of her anger , just for her weary and scarred life. I am patient as one must be with any badly wounded creature, so that she will raise her head and see a hand not to maul but to accept.

So, four women, two of whom care and want to make a difference, two of whom are riddled with confusion but have so much to offer this world.

Later when I took a long walk after work and saw the century old trees shimmer in the light and heard the birds carousing, I thought, “this, this, this wonder!” But then the women came to me with their sorrow and need and a poem made itself with each step: This this this wonder that you survive….

Two Women…

This this this!

Wonder that you survive brutality.

I see you kneel:

your heart like a cup dipped

in shallow bitter waters.

But the well is so deep

you cannot see the bottom

where light spreads itself over the universe.

You have been tricked with blindness

that dark fruit of ceaseless disregard.

Let me see you stand

and reach into the sweet unknown

pull up that mysterious power that loves you.

It speaks your lost, blameless name.

This this this

wonder that you

survive brutality.

I see you kneel,

one day will see your cup running over

I will see you rise up

with blazing-white wings

and your eyes will not weep

o yes your eyes will so shine

                                  Love should not hurt. Help stop domestic violence.

Girls Who Wear Roses

Night was falling over the rooftops and a chill brushed her neck and spread a web of cold under her thin cotton shirt. It had been a long walk to the park but it was a longer way back. She had to skirt the edge of the neighborhood either way but now she had to keep any eye out for Dell, her boyfriend. Or that’s what he called himself. He’d be looking for her; he wanted money. He was like a bloodhound; he always found her. But she needed to give the money to Granny Ella for the telephone. Grandpa Les needed orthotics. She could only work so many hours at the nail salon. It had been tough for a year since her grandfather had lost his job. But Jenna’s other work–the men, the dark, the sudden fear–that wasn’t so new. It had been like that one way or another a long time, and she had just turned twenty-three at 8:07 this morning.

Granny reminded her with a steaming mug of coffee and a giant cinnamon roll brought right to her bedroom on a wooden inlaid tray. Jenna was getting dressed for work, but she stopped to take a few bites,  some sips.

“What do you think, Jenna? Getting your mother up in the middle of the night?And you coming so fast we barely had time to get dressed and say a prayer for smooth passage.” Granny laughed deep and long; it sounded like it came from all the way back to Jenna’s first day. “And then we waited and waited. You looked a little like a mewing kitten, all squinty eyes and little paws, so much hair on your pretty–well, we knew it would be!–head. Yes, and the rainstorm made everything look so good as we drove you home a couple days later, and the flowers started blossoming just for you. Decorated the whole neighborhood!”

Granny put her arms around Jenna. The soft bulk of her grandmother made her think of warm pillows. Jenna wanted to stay there and breathe her dusky rose scent. She didn’t know where it came from. Granny rarely wore perfume. But she smelled sweet, as though she wore a cape of warm red roses. Grandpa Les said it was because she had diabetes, that the sugar in her blood made her exhale sweetness. Jenna thought it was her heart breathing out into the world. She was that kind of person: sturdy and sweet.

Jenna would do anything for them. They had kept her with them since she was twelve.  So she worked thirty-two hours at the salon and added to her income any way she could. She had worked two, three jobs at a time since sixteen until work got scarce.

Another way to make cash was to sell a few drugs, something she knew how to do by the time her mother disappeared. That ended when a detective came to her grandparents’ door. He took Jenna to the jail downtown where she was kept for seven hours despite the fact that she had nothing on her and he had not really seen anything. But they both knew what was going on and the whole ordeal cured her–she’d wondered if that had been the point. He had known her mother once, before she had taken a wrong turn, he’d said with a sneer.

But a third way was just selling herself, which was something one of the girls at the salon told her about, eyes averted. Then Dell showed up and Jenna thought, well, he had money and he had a good car and he knew what he wanted. What did she have? Would she ever have? A lousy story and barely enough to get by. But then it was too late to think about again. Every time Dell shoved her out the car door she turned her mind into a blank, a wall, a place where nothing happened and no one lived. Just like when she was a kid and the parties shook the house and her mother’s boyfriends smelled like whiskey and danger. It had all disappeared if she closed her eyes and thought about the starry sky outside her window. When she got a little older,  she learned about the planets and thought of them, how beautiful they were and how far away. How she might live on one someday.

By now she had learned to make time stop. Nothing that mattered dared come near the corners of her mind. She had no name. She had no past or future until she took the money. And gave it to her grandparents when they needed it. They knew only that she worked too much, too many hours and Jenna agreed, but didn’t complain. They needed to know nothing. They had lived through enough.

The moon was shining. It’s light sliced across her path as she darted between cars, disappeared behind Carmen’s  Coffee and the A and P, ran across the darker side streets. Jenna checked her watch: eight fifty-nine. Her grandparents would be looking out the window, worrying a little. They liked to know how she was at the end of a day when they didn’t see her, a quick check in. Tonight there would be no presents to open but they’d be waiting to share German chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream. And rainbow- colored candles. It was odd, how they still thought of her as a kid when she hadn’t felt one for longer than she could remember.

Jenna turned down the alley where all the garages were lined up behind the small, shabby houses. She could see Grandpa Les’ Chevy half-in, the red paint looking purple in the night. Her feet slowed down; she was almost there.


Dell’s hand grabbed her shoulder and it shook a scream out of her. The weight of his body  dragged her down. She kicked until all the kick was gone and her back hit gravel. She saw the sky turn itself inside out and fall down around her. There was Dell’s grinning face right above her as he lifted his hand again. He smelled like good wine gone rotten. Jenna tried to push herself up from the ground but fell back. There were people barely visible behind Dell and he turned away from Jenna and stood up. They all got loud and the words split her head open, made her think of echoing canyons and each syllable felt like rocks falling on her head with alarming speed.

“Jenna, lay still!” Grandpa Les ordered. “I’m talking to Dell!”

Grandma Ella shuffled over and reached down to smooth her forehead. “There’s a girl, lie still, the police are coming, be good for grandma now, that’s my girl,” and her voice was water over wounds, strong but soft, clean and clear yet blurring the edges of everything. Jenna started to speak but the taste of roses stopped her. She put her hand to her mouth and pulled away a satiny petal.

“I’m so sorry, girl, the roses were for you, I had them in my hand when we heard  you cry out. I hit him with the roses…stupid…they’re not much good now.”

Grandpa Les’ voice was the loudest Jenna had ever heard it. “If you put one foot on this property again you’re gonna make me use this rifle, boy!”

Dell let out a low cackle. “We’re in a public alley. You don’t know who you’re trying to save, anyway. You don’t know her at all! Have you ever wondered where she gets her extra money, old man? Do you think she can pay for your bills with nothing? She’s lucky to have me!”

Grandpa Les took a step forward and slowly raised his ancient hunting rifle level with Dell’s eyes. He spoke so quietly Jenna had to listen hard and it hurt.

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll save your breath for the cops and judge. The whole neighborhood knows what you are and you took her where she never should’ve gone. You’re the sort that people cross the street to avoid, you know that? You think being poor is the worst thing? You need some powerful help. But your time with Jenna is done, you hear me? Finished.”

The neighbors had gathered one by one to see what Ella, Les and Jenna had going on and saw that they had their hands full, so they circled around Dell, arms looped and locked. Ella wiped a smear of blood off Jenna’s face and put the girl’s head on her wide lap. The police arrived, then the ambulance, flashing lights slipping over rapt faces. They put her on a gurney and Ella and Les gazed down at her. A dozen red, white, and yellow roses were laid on her chest and one unopened bud was placed in a pale curl at her ear. The EMT frowned.

“It’s her birthday,” Grandma Ella grumbled, and he shrugged.

Grandpa Les put his arm around his wife and pulled her close. “Girls who wear roses are the best ones, you know. We thought you were something wonderful long before you liked them.” He half-smiled sadly. “We’ll make up for things somehow. I was waiting to tell you I got a part-time job at the A and P. Yeah, your ole granddad’s not out of commission yet. That was the birthday present.” He pulled out his handkerchief and turned away.

Jenna tried to say that they’d had bad times before and gotten by. That she had made mistakes that would take a long time to get over. But before she could get it all out, Grandma Ella kissed her cheek. Jenna felt the roses warm up. Their scent filled the ambulance and made her dizzy but calm. She knew tomorrow would be terrible, a day of reckoning, with likely many more tough ones to come, but for now all the fear and regret flew away to the perfect beauty of the moon.

Copyright 2012 Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Simone’s Summer of Certain Wonders

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.