To Disappear

I hear them talking all around me. Busy couples. Young professionals. Students. A girl In a purple scarf. I sit in the cafe and watch. I believe I’m safe, but I’ve believed that before. He’s always found me, but I’ve learned some tricks.

Last time he held a knife to my throat and said, “I own you, bitch.” He always beat me where the bruises wouldn’t show.

That’s why I cooperated for a long time, almost two years. I knew I couldn’t run like a frightened deer this time. I had to plan.

He grew careless. Started giving me money again. Money I saved. The more humble I behaved, the more he gave me.

“You are my beautiful star,” he would say. “Soon we will be together always.”

I cooked for him, and treated him like a prince. Then the night came when I made my special dish, a special lamb glazed with a sauce made from lily-of-the-valley among other things. He ate four helpings.

Even then I didn’t run. I went to the hospital to speak to the doctors, to explain we had eaten the same dinner. I even brought a sample of my sauce. It was, I confess, slightly altered. When his wife appeared, I left out respect.

I sip my ice tea and look over the crowd. It will soon be time to get moving again.

After I left the hospital, I walked to the train station and retrieved my bags, then took a train to Boston. I lived three days in a hostel, then paid a thousand dollars to buy a beat up, green Honda.

Now I figure it’s time to get across the border to Canada. I plan to drive west, and and find some place where I’ll be safe. With any luck, I’ll just disappear.

Prudence’s Correspondence

Pru, really didn’t think U’d be at Henry’s last night. Was there totally by chance. U looked great tho. Miss U much.

FU

Saw U & Henry today. U looked happy. RU together?

FU

Saw Henry today buying flowers.

FU

How long have U been w/Henry?

FU FU FU

I just want to talk.

Pervert. FU

Saw Henry at bar this afternoon.

You sick bastard. I called police.

Too late for Henry. Too late for U.

F

 

 

 

The students in Mrs. Irving’s counseling session slouched in their seats. It was the last period of the day, and the spring heat made the room feel stuffy and airless. Someone wore perfume that smelled like a mixture of cotton candy and vanilla. It mingled uncomfortably with the aroma of sweat and body odor that permeated the room.

“Now, kids,” Mrs. Irving said. “I know how traumatic it is when we loose a friend, especially a sweet girl like Jennifer Drew. It has repercussions that spread out through the entire community.” She spread her arms wide as if she were trying to encircle the assembled group.

Lexi Granger stifled a yawn and fumbled in her pencil case for her green pen. In its eraser she had embedded a tiny piece of a razor. Carefully she traced a white line on her finger.

“Would anyone like to share their remembrances of Jennifer?” Mrs. Irving brought her hands together.

The kids looked around. Who really wanted to talk about Jennifer Drew? She took a bunch of Oxycontin tablets and washed them down with a fifth of vodka. She had been there, and now she wasn’t. No one in this group was particularly close to her. Meredith Hargrove didn’t like her, and if Meredith didn’t like you, you were doomed.

Lexi punched the razor in the pad of her thumb and watched a drop of blood well up. In middle school Meredith used pick on her and say things like, “You should kill yourself ‘cause you’re a loser.” Now Meredith mostly left her alone. Maybe it was because in seventh grade Lexi’s mom died, and something like a shield formed around her heart.

“I didn’t really like know her,” said Missy Rogers. “We didn’t have any classes together, but it’s totally sad.” She crossed her legs and swung her stiletto-covered foot. Missy brought up the bottom half of the class. She was a good-time girl, bouncy, blonde, a three-letter jock and one of the richest kids in the school. Her parents owned a bunch of beer distributorships, and the taps flowed when Missy gave a party, which was every weekend.

Emma DiAngelo said, “Maybe she just never adjusted? Like I think she missed her old school?” She glanced at Meredith who gave her a small nod.

A few other kids offered comments about how alone Jennifer always seemed, how sad. They’re grieving and fragile, Mrs. Irving thought. She hoped they wouldn’t have a rash of copycats. It worried her.

Will Einbender stared out the window and wondered if he’d go to the funeral. He wouldn’t mind going. He’d get out of class for the morning and part of the afternoon. That’d be great.

Meredith Hargrove listened to everyone speak then said, “I think we should maybe collect money for flowers or see if there’s a charity Jennifer’s family would like us to send money to, Ms. Irving.” Meredith didn’t care in the least that Jennifer was dead. Jennifer was already the first girl in the school’s history to get fives on six AP tests her junior year. She had been admitted to Harvard and Brown and had the highest GPA in the class. Not any more. Meredith smiled at Mrs. Irving. “I don’t mind collecting the money.”

“How sweet, Meredith. What a wonderful idea.”

How stupid were adults, Lexi Granger wondered.

Meredith said, “Maybe we could talk to Mr. Roseman about setting up a scholarship.”

“You’re just amazing, Meredith,” Lexi said. She gave Meredith a poisonous smile. “I’m sure Jennifer wherever she is appreciates your . . . kindness.”

“Why thank you, Lexi,” Meredith said.

The bell rang.

“Bitch,” Meredith said as she breezed past Lexi.

Lexi grinned. “You’d better hope Jennifer’s not a vengeful ghost.”

Meredith flounced away with Emma DiAngelo.

In the locker room that afternoon Emma DiAngelo started fill her backpack when she saw Mike O’Connor, and she smiled. He starred in all the school plays and probably would have been a target for all the bullies except he also was the top ranked lacrosse goalie in the state. He was also six feet of gorgeous. Emma had a crush on him since middle school, but Meredith liked him too, so she never did more than say hi.

Mike O’Connor never said much to either of them.

Now he fiddled with the dial of his locker and threw the door open. He jammed books into his backpack. Emma was about to leave when he glanced up.

“Oh, Jesus. Just the thing to make my day, one of the Witch Bitches.”

Emma felt the air go out of her for a second. “You can’t call me that!”

“You gonna tell Meredith? Maybe send me some nasty e-mails like you did Jenny? Go ahead. I don’t give a shit. Everyone hates the both of you anyway. They only pretend to like you.”

Emma’s fingers tightened around her backpack as Mike O’Connor slammed his locker and stalked out of the room. Emma went into the bathroom and made herself puke.

Later Meredith Hargrove got into her shiny blue Audi with Emma DiAngelo and checked herself in the rearview mirror. Emma was quiet this afternoon. She said she felt sick and looked it too. Meredith hoped it wasn’t contagious. She pulled out of the parking spot and waved at Mrs. Standish, the Vice Principle.

Will Einbender joined the rest of the boys lacrosse team on the field. Coach Dickenson called for a silent prayer for Jennifer Drew before the guys started practice. Coach said Mike O’Connor wouldn’t be there today, so they’d have Greg Porter in goal. Greg was okay, but Mike was the man. Will knew Mike was close to Jennifer Drew, but practice was practice. Still, he figured Mike would be here for the game. Mike would never let down the team.

Missy Rogers wanted to get home so she could lie back on a lounge chair near the hot top and grab a beer. Her parents hadn’t opened the pool yet, but the hot tub was working. She wanted to soak up some rays while it was warm. Prom was coming, and she wanted to be tan. It would show off her new hot pink dress.

Lexi Granger walked out of the school and kept walking until she got to the park. She sat under a tree, got out her razor and began to pull it over her inner thighs. She wished it were Meredith Hargrove’s neck. She wondered why people like Jennifer seemed to get crushed while the ones like Meredith always seemed to win.

“What are you doing?”

Lexi looked up into Mike O’Connor’s face. She hadn’t heard him approach.

“Jesus Christ, are you crazy?” He sat down beside her. She wanted to tell him to shove off, but he looked so confused, Lexi didn’t have the heart.

“It makes me feel better,” she said at last. “Like the pain builds up, and I have to let it out or I’ll explode.”

He leaned back against the tree. “You shouldn’t cut yourself,” he said at last. “You should talk to someone.”

“Yeah, right. So they can tell me about my mental issues?” She dropped the razor into her pencil case. “Don’t you have someplace to be?”

“Coach let me off today. He knows Jenny and I were friends.”

“That’s good, I guess.”

He shrugged. “Tonight’s the viewing.”

“That blows.”

“Yeah.”

“So why’re you telling me?”

“Because Jenny said you were one of the few people who talked to her.”

Lexi pondered that for a few minutes. “Jenny was my peer tutor in pre-calc, y’know? She didn’t make me feel stupid. I actually got a B in math.”

She pulled out a white fuzzy dandelion top and examined it. When she was little, she used to call them wishies because when she’d blow on them, she’d make a wish and hope the little pieces of white fuzz would carry her wishes through the air.

“I don’t know why she did it,” Mike O’Connor said. “Six weeks from the end of school. She was almost free, and she couldn’t hang on any more.”

“It’s not your fault,” Lexi said. “Maybe she just was too deep into the shit.”

“Maybe.”

She touched his arm. “Hey, you think I could come to the viewing tonight? Everyone will go to the funeral tomorrow to get out of school. It’ll be a zoo.”

He looked at her for a moment and nodded. “You think you could leave the dog collar and razors at home?”

Lexi blew on the wishie. “Maybe, I’ll even wear regular clothes.”

Aftermath

A Quiet Place

ImageHe walked through the park, a book tucked under his arm, and went to look for a place not overrun by the raucous laughter of teenagers or the gurgles of children. He’d earn the right to a quiet bit of green, though it was getting harder to find it these days. Maggie always said he was a bit anti-social. He’d tell her he need a little quiet. She’d probably reply that he had al the quiet he wanted, but truth be told, he preferred to come here to sit among the ducks and swans and gulls with his book.

He made his way to his favorite spot: a small dirt path that led down to the stream. Most people didn’t bother with this path as it was very narrow and wound through a grove of trees down to the water. It was weedy and forlorn, but he liked coming this way. It was almost like a secret. He’d sit up against an old gnarled tree, book propped in his lap, and stare out over the water.

He had just settled himself when he heard footsteps, and he sighed. Usually footsteps meant a pack of teenagers with their backpacks and gadgets. They’d eat and talk too loud and roll around in the grass, leaving a mess behind. Wrappers and bottles and and half-eaten bananas. If they saw him, they’d laugh and make remarks about the “old fart under the tree”, but usually he remained invisible.

This time, however, a woman appeared. Her long auburn hair blew in front of her face, and he smiled, though she didn’t notice him. She made a pretty picture in her green jacket and black jeans as she stood by the water watching the birds soar down from the sky to alight on the sun-lit water, until he realized she was crying. The leaves on the swaying tree shivered. He heard the quacking of the ducks, the sobs of the woman, and the beating of his own heart.

He wanted to move because he felt like the intruder now, but he sat paralyzed and staring at the ground, willing himself to disappear. He listened to the woman cry the tears he couldn’t when they lowered Maggie into that deep, black hole in the ground, and he remember all the things he had meant to say to her over the years, but never did. Opportunities lost now. But he had loved her fiercely. My Old Goat. She had called him that, fondly he thought. Had she understood what was in his heart?

He looked up when he realized the air had gone still and quiet again. The woman had gone. His face was wet with tears, and he hugged his book to his chest.

Oh, Maggie, I miss you. I’ll miss you forever.

Changes

We smile at each other across the table, and I think of you as you were, when we made so many reckless promises. Before the dreams fell and shattered, the words hurled in anger, the lies told to cover more lies.

Memories can be sweet summer days. But they can also swirl around you like smoke obscuring what you don’t want to see and cut you like so many tiny shards of glass.

You have never understood that each cut leaves a tiny scar. Now we sit at opposite ends of the table, not touching, bound yet unbound. Frightened to let go, and exhausted by reality.

You sit back in your chair and sigh. “Are you happy?” You don’t wait for me to answer. You run a hand through your hair. It’s still thick and wavy. I’ve always thought it was your best feature. “It’s time for a change,” you say.

Part Of The View

The Irish school girls beg for money, 2 Euros for the Irish Heart Association,on busy Grafton Street as early morning commuters hurry past. In their overly long plaid skirts, white blouses, and red sweaters, the girls look very prim and proper, until I overhear one say, “This is shite.” Her friend swings her empty white bucket in silent agreement.

I make my way as always to St. Steven’s Green to watch the swans and ducks, the gulls and lowly pigeons. A woman in a rainbow sweater strolls by her arms loaded with bread . She asks if I would like some to feed the birds, but I decline. She nods. “You’ve come for the view,” she says.

“I’ve come for the view.”

She smiles, and her eyes twinkle a little. “It’s a good view. Peaceful.” She moves on, throwing chunks of bread into the water. The birds set up a clatter for a moment, then settle again as I seat myself on an out-of-the-way bench.

Outside the the park modern Dublin moves at a modern pace; its streets are crowded and voices speaking a variety of languages fill its streets. The Celtic Tiger may have been wounded but not mortally. I believe Ireland will sneak back on little cat feet. It’s part of it’s magic.

I feel myself relax, the peace and green, and the serenity restoring me somehow. It only happens here. Perhaps Leprechauns really do lurk under the bushes, just out of sight spreading their magic to us mortals.

I hear footsteps behind me and the click of a camera as a man in a jaunty tan cap begins to snap photographs. When I offer to get out of his way he says, “Oh no, love, you are the picture.”

Turnaround

“Try to be I more like Virginia and Liza,” Aunt Toni would say. “You have no sense of style. Are you really going to wear that dress? Green is all wrong for you. Slow down your eating, Miss Piggy.” Then she and her two horrid daughters would turn and laugh.

Most of the time, I shrugged it off. I only saw Aunt Tini once or twice a year. She lived in California, and we lived in Connecticut. She was twice divorced and preoccupied with men. my parents we happily married and ran a successful computer software manufacturing company.

Life was great until the plane crash that killed them.Then Aunt Toni swooped in like the Wicked Witch. She’d take over because she was sure that was what her late sister would want. What she really wanted was to get her hands on my trust fund, but, of course she couldn’t come out and demand the money. So figured she’d just make make me miserable. She sold her home and came east.

Did you ever have a bad dream only to wake up and realize you weren’t dreaming? That’s what’s life with Aunt Toni. I think they call it benign neglect, except there was nothing benign about Aunt Toni. my clothes allowance went to her girls.i got the hand-me-downs. If she could have pulled me out of my school, she would have, but that was iron clad in my parents’ will. Somehow, Aunt Toni got money for her girls to go to school with me so I had no refuge. Even when college rolled around, she told me that the price of college had gotten too much for my puny trust fund.

“Sacrifices will have to be made,” she said.

Then two weird things happened, and by weird, I mean amazing. First, Jack Ogelthorpe took over for his father managing my trust. He showed up at the house on a Saturday when Toni and her spawn weren’t home, and said he had concerns about the way the trust was being administrated. We had a long talk, and he promised to look into Toni’s questionable handling of my parents’ estate.

Second, I was assigned to work on a science fair project with Dave Carns who under his Clark Kent glasses had big blue eyes and a sweet disposition.When we won first place for our study of brain function under stress, it was one of the happiest days of my life. One of Dave’s too, because he asked me out.

Four years later, we’re living together about to dedicate ourselves to studying brains. Toni has been invited to leave and go back to California with her girls, and I barely give them a thought. Except I heard Virginia got a tattoo and gained thirty pounds while Liza took off with some guy who said he’d make her into an actress.She kind of is, i guess. Her latest film was called Lizard Tongue, and I hear it was a big seller.