Second place winner of Bookshop's annual short story contest, 2018.
"Escape" by Joanne Wright
I sat in the dark on the cool tile floor against a wall of the salon, hugging the side of the piano, rain beating against the windows. I imagined his face staring in. Watching to see if I was awake, trying to get away. I thought of the water running over the orange dirt in rivulets down the creases of the driveway into the low spot, puddling. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t think he would show up.
Did he suspect? He came about 11:00. I saw the headlights coming down the lane. A suitcase was sitting open on the floor. I shoved it into an armoire in the landlady’s studio that we weren’t supposed to use. The front door was locked and he pounded on it.
Don’t you ever lock me out of this house.
I didn’t know you were coming.
You asked me to leave you the car didn’t you?
I didn’t know you were coming in, it’s late.
He had a bag with him from a fast food place. He sat at the table, boring his dark eyes into me, scowling, taking possession of, lest I forget, his house, his domaine, me. I folded my arms over my thin night shirt and hunched my shoulders. I went upstairs and laid in bed, heart pounding, staring at the ceiling. My mind’s eye saw the suitcase in the armoire, covered with old blankets. The plane tickets and new passports were at the neighbors’ house, under their bed on their dustless and shiny floor. I was dog-sitting for them. It was Thursday; they’d be back on Saturday. I would feed Apollo tomorrow morning, my last chore.
Over the preceding weeks I had slowly packed. Baby clothes. The wooden train set. Books. My faded blue maternity dress, the only one that would fit me when I was in my last trimester with the twins. It was my tent, covering my enormous belly, the belly that kept my legs and feet hidden from my view. They had been swollen, heavy and painful. As my pregnancy progressed into the hot summer months I even wore the varicose vein stockings I saw the old French ladies wearing as they pulled their wheeled market baskets down the cobbled streets, a baguette or two sticking straight up from the carts de rigueur. When I had access to the car I put boxes in the trunk and went to the freight office at the train station to ship them. Eleven years of life were jammed into those cardboard boxes.
I closed my eyes, just for a moment, and remembered that past winter, when Alex was away. I was doing my daily wood gathering, stacking enough in the garage so I could keep the fire going through the night by just opening the garage door and grabbing a log. I went through the rote motions, carrying a few logs, going back and forth from woodpile to garage. I loved the routine I had with the children when he was gone and I loved that he was not there with his blackness, scowls, and tyranny. I loved that I could think and feel and he was not there to crush any joie de vivre I had left. I cherished those moments, the movements, the wood, the fire, this house, this place.
I was at the woodpile when I heard a shuffling from the side of the house and Jessica whining, “ma-ma, ma-ma,” hearing in her voice the trembling of her lip. She didn’t realize I had just gone behind the house to get wood. She was wearing her white hat with the little white fluffy ball on top. I was lost and she was going to find me. As she started up the driveway, I ran to her and gathered her into my arms. “Did you think I was gone? I was just getting wood!” I pulled her body close to me and kissed her all over her face. “I’m here.” She pushed herself back to look at me and fell again to my chest so I could hold her tight.
I opened my eyes. Now, Jessica and her siblings were sleeping, had been for hours. It had been a day like any other for them, a night like any other night. In the morning, it would all change. But I was still lost.
I heard him crumpling up the food wrappers and stumbling around in the kitchen. I have to keep her here as long as possible I’d overheard him saying a few weeks earlier to one of his family members. He was giving them his distorted details of our life, a story in which he was a hero and I was out of my mind trying to tear apart the family that he was so valiantly and nobly trying to hold together despite my efforts. As insane as she is I know the kids want to be with her. He had called my parents too and told them that they shouldn’t help me financially, that I was acting crazy, that he was worried about me and that he hoped they hadn’t fallen for any bizarre story about me needing money. He just didn’t know what had gotten into me. He was doing all he could to take care of everyone.
He finally left the house some time after midnight going back to his studio where he’d been drinking and sleeping for the past few nights. After a half hour or so, I scurried downstairs in the dark like some desperate night creature seeking sustenance before having to hide from the light of day. I shut and locked the doors notwithstanding his stern warning. And then I sat against the wall, afraid to move, afraid to turn on the light, convinced that somewhere outside in the rain he was there, watching.
I looked at the large windows at the foot of the stairs.
I should close those curtains. But then he’ll see me closing them and know that I’m planning to escape.
He’ll get in the house and find the suitcase.
He’ll shove me against the wall.
Or this might be the night.
Sometimes, after an evening of circular conversation and trying to get away from him, after he’d come home reeking of alcohol--or even sometimes when he didn’t--when I had cried and cried and knew that even putting wet cold washrags over my eyes would not diminish the puffiness and redness the next morning and that I’d look a mess at work, sometimes I laid in bed next to him, wide awake, wondering if this was the night when he would go to the kitchen and get the butcher knife and stab me while I slept.
Tonight? Tomorrow night? Next month? Next year? This week? Never?
So there I sat. A college graduate, by all accounts a smart woman. A good mother. Motherhood was second nature to me and I loved it. Vous êtes faite pour ça my obstetrician told me. Yes, made to have babies. I was a natural.
There I sat, a responsible, hard-working woman.
There I remained, sitting against the wall in the dark afraid to move.
Joanne Wright is a proud graduate of UCSC and works full-time in education administration. On weekends, she can often be found at Bookshop Santa Cruz and Palace Art browsing through books and art supplies as well as at Chocolate sipping hot chocolate on the patio. Born and raised in South Jersey, she is thrilled that the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year.