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Only the Wind
The gravel crunches beneath my feet and I almost twist my ankle. Four inch heels were not made for walking, but then, I didn’t plan this. I hear a branch snap behind me, and I whirl around. There is nothing there, it must have just been the wind. I keep walking, my pace increasing with my heartbeat. I’m being silly, he’s not following me. I don’t know where I’m going, so I just walk. I have my winter coat, I’m wearing it over a cocktail dress. I have a large purse, it was a Christmas gift from Henry. I have my wallet with my driver’s license. I have a credit card and my passport. I have twenty-seven dollars and forty-two cents. I don’t have a destination. I don’t have keys. I don’t have my wedding band on. I left it on his pillow, and now I feel naked. But I don’t have a choice anymore. I put my fingers to the bruise above my eyebrow, just to make sure that this is not a nightmare.
I hear my name and look behind me, it was just the wind. It’s almost light, the sun begins to break through the dark sky, rays of dark red and purple streak the sky. He’ll wake up soon. He’ll see the ring and know where to find me. I’ll accidentally find my way back into his arms. He’ll hold me, whispering apologies, promising never again. I’ll soften with his words, so desperate to believe. But I can’t. I keep walking. I don’t want to go where I’m headed, I don’t want to leave him. I can’t believe I’m still in love with him, I can’t imagine my life without him. I look down at my hands, a white streak where my wedding band was runs along my finger. On of the many tattoos he left, just to mark where he’d been. A scar runs along my left ribs, I laughed at a neighbor’s joke. Blue fingerprints run along my arm, I didn’t answer my phone. A thousand other little marks, many of which will fade, many of which will linger to remind me, to remind him, a warning. My marriage has not been perfect, my body has become a map of the many little fights and frustrations over the years. I realize that I’m crying, and I tell the tears to stop, but they keep running down my face, hot and angry.
A car pulls over, a woman gets out and asks if I’m okay. Her eyes go to the bruises on my face and arms, a telltale red handprint wraps around my neck.
“I’m fine, thank you.” I tell her. She looks concerned.
“Do you need a ride anywhere, ma’am?” She asks me. For a moment, I almost tell her that I need a place to go, that I’ll go anywhere. I smile,
“No, I’m really okay, thank you though.” She shakes her head and gets back in the car and drives away.
It’s morning now, and I realize that I’m hungry, so I stop at a tiny cafe and order a latte and a banana muffin. Now I have twenty-one dollars and thirty-one cents. I sit down, pulling the muffin into small pieces and placing them in my mouth. I haven’t had a muffin in over a year. We always had egg-white omelets. It doesn’t matter now. The waitress brings my coffee. My phone vibrates, and I answer it. It’s Henry.
“ Where are you?” he asks.
“I don’t know” I say.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I just need some time.”
“ I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.” I know he’s telling the truth. I know he didn’t mean to do it. I know he never did. He never meant to do it. He never means to do it.
“I know you didn’t mean to do it.”
“Please, I hate myself. I really do, I just need you.” His voice cracks. “God, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I can’t come home yet.” I hear myself say.
“Can I at least see you?” It’s brighter outside, the quirky yellow clock on the wall reads 9:03. I tell him to call me tomorrow and hang up. I still don’t know where to go. I don’t have anywhere to go. Both my parents are dead. I don’t have any friends. I haven’t talked to my sister in over a year. I use one of the computers at the cafe, paying the 50 cents to use the internet. I look up hotels, if I use my credit card, his credit card, he’ll know where I am. I log off. I call my sister.
“Amy, it’s me.” I say.
“Yes.” I say. “I’m sorry I haven’t called.”
“It’s okay sweetie. I know you’ve been having trouble since the miscarriage.” I wince. She is trying to be sympathetic.
“That’s kinda why I called. I need a place to stay, and...” Amy interrupts.
“Of course. I’d come get you, but I have to take Lucy to her ballet class. I’ll have Nate come get you, where are you?” she asks. I look up at the sign.
“The Sunflower Cafe.” I say. It’s on 7342 Oak Street.
“Okay sweetie. Is everything okay with you and Henry?”
“Of course.” I lie, a reflex, before I realize that she’ll see the bruises. “I’ll tell you about it when I get there.” I finger the locket that hangs around my neck, the tiny picture frame hidden between my breasts. A tiny sonogram, I had the picture minimized to fit at a Kinkos. Henry had it made for me the day after we had the sonogram at the doctor’s office. I was four months pregnant, her name was Elizabeth. Beth.
“How was work, babe?” I asked him, kissing him on the back of the neck. He spun around.
“It was s***ty, Paige. Really f***ing s***ty.” He hissed. “I didn’t make partner -again.”
“I’m sorry. You deserved it, I know how hard you worked.” I squeezed his hand, trying to soothe him.
“I know that, Paige. But it doesn’t matter.”
“I have a surprise for you, though.” I looked up at him, hoping seeing the baby crib in the nursery would cheer him up. That thinking about our baby would make him forget to be angry. I led him upstairs. Her nursery was yellow, lace curtains framed the windows, and pictures of fairies, ballerinas and animals hung from the walls. The crib was white wood, handmade in Paris. It was delicate and perfect. Just like our baby would be.
“How much was it?” he demanded.
“Well, it was made in Paris, and I wanted it to be perfect, so...” He grabbed my arm.
“How. Much. Was. It.”
“It was $2000 dollars.” I whispered
“God D*** it!” He screamed, smashing the crib, “From f***ing Paris? How the f*** d’you expect me to pay for this? $2000 and you didn’t even think to ask?” The white crib lay shattered in the nursery. “I didn’t even want this f***ing baby!” He punched my stomach.
“Stop!” I shouted back, wrapping my arms around my abdomen. “You promised.” I whispered.
“It’s not even my f***ing baby. I don’t want the slimy little b****rd!” He shoved me, I fell down the stairs. When I stopped falling, I realized I was surrounded my blood, flowing freely. I felt a searing pain where Elizabeth had been. And then I knew. He was sobbing, crumpled on the floor beside me. ?“Jesus, Paige, what have I done?” I wanted to get up and leave him, right there, in that moment, in the pool of blood that had been our child. I wanted to hit him, to scream, to hurt him like he had hurt me, like he had hurt our baby, my baby.
But I couldn’t get up, so I let him wrap his arms around me, I let him hold me, whispering that he was sorry, that he hated himself. That he would get help. I let him carry me upstairs, ignoring the blood stain forming on the hardwood. I let him take off my blue dress and my black shoes. I let him place me in the bathtub, warm water washing away the blood. I let him run his fingers over all the bruises and cuts, the salt of his tears washing away his sin. And when he finished, I let him dry me off as I lay limp in his arms, and place me into bed, whispering his apologies. And I didn’t leave him.
“ Paige?” I hear my name, and this time it isn’t the wind. I turn around, expecting to see Amy’s husband.