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Grey Sparrow Journal and Press, as of January 31, 2018 will move to

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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by Janie Fried


“Whore,” he shouted. “You’re a whore.” He loomed. The back of her head sweated into bed pillows. With strong arms and thick hands, he pushed her bare thighs open. To the damp, exposed hair between her legs, he spit,  “Whore. Filthy whore.”

Her mouth hung open. Tears slid from her lip to her tongue.  She submitted to his terror. She let him scream into the place once of ecstasy and birth now vile, beyond redemption.

The Bible lay on the floor near the mattress.  A strip of yellow paper marked the page that had set her off in a torrent of confession. She no longer could lie to, or with, him. And it was hot, the heat, the heat. The heat of a dry afternoon on the bed of a rented house.

He was not her husband. They were to be married. They were not married. They lived together in a small brick house, plain, between other brick houses in the middle of the block where neighbors stayed inside mostly with televisions playing above the rattle of vents in central air units. Lawns burned yellow, brittle in the furnace of July.

The owee, owee of a distant siren from a police car came through thin glass behind screens on the windows. He sprang away from the bed, from her, as if she were ice.  She pulled her legs together, then curled to the side where she could observe him. He was large and muscular and could hit her, and had. She forgave him because he was full of vodka and juice. Hadn’t she wanted him to hit her? Hadn’t she provoked him? She wanted to argue with him, for him to see her, to understand and help her. A fool he was; she could not marry him.

To the Bible, the Bible she returned when he left the room, as he always did. This morning on the fourteenth day of the mercury rising above a hundred, she opened the thin pages to Deuteronomy:

“… the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die … thou shalt put evil away from among you.” Evil. She was evil with this man who was to be her husband. Now must she marry him? She cannot. She cannot. Isn’t the truth worth something? Telling the truth was her sacrifice. Her stoning.

She heard his Chevy roar to a start, then he was gone as she soon would be.  She closed the Bible and placed it on top of books she’d piled into a box. She pulled off the t-shirt she wore. Found new clothes – faded jeans and a cotton blouse. She dressed quickly. What to do?

She opened the top drawer of her dresser and took a bag of marijuana. She sat at the stool in front of her dresser. Shaking, she rolled a joint, found a lighter, flicked it, paper burned. She cooled down until she felt stoned.

Then she hurried. To her car she went. Fingers on hot metal, she opened the trunk. Quickly, without thought, she carried books, clothes, a few boxes of photos, her coffee cup and an alarm clock.  Into the trunk went things that meant something to her in a life that meant little.  She could breathe. She could walk. She could drive. She took the baggie of marijuana and placed it in the glove box. She decided to take a pillow and a quilt. The buzz of a lawnmower came from down the street as she returned to the bedroom.

Sweat poured across her lips, her armpits, her bare feet were soiled and hard. Into the front pocket of her jeans, she placed the car key. She felt it several times. She found one sandal. She was looking under the bed for the other when she heard him drive up.

She saw the sandal, grabbed it, and went for the front door. He was in the living room. From the screen, she could see the trunk of her car that had been open was closed.

“Where you going?” He came at her. She hurled the shoe. He grabbed her.

“I’m leaving. Get away from me.”

He pulled her near a chair and pushed her back until she was sitting.

“Stay there,” he said. “Stay there, or I’ll kill you.”

She believed he could. She looked at the front door, open except for the screen.

“Heeeeeelp, heeeeelp.” She screamed with her eyes closed. She screamed loudly and blindly she raced to the door.  She pushed the screen open. He had his hand on her leg. He was pulling her inside.

“Help me,” she screamed. “Help. Help. Help.”

Then there was silence, just a lawn mower, and then the lawn mower stopped. He was looking ahead at the lawns down the block when she kicked him and he let go. He fell back. She gripped her arms around a post on the porch. She hung onto it and screamed. She closed her eyes and clutched in the darkness.

When she opened her eyes, a police car was parked at the curb.

He was looking at the car.

The police officer walked carefully to the porch.

“What’s the trouble here?” He said it not to her. The shame of violence played out on the front yard. She thanked whoever it was, whatever neighbor called the police. If that was what happened. She was pretty sure it was.

“Nothing’s the matter,” quietly, calmly, he said to the officer.

“I want to leave,” she said. “He has threatened me. I want to leave. I just want to leave.” She sat on the top step of the porch, then slowly got to her feet. “My purse is inside. I’d like to go inside and to get my purse and leave.” She saw she was wearing one sandal. “That, too.”

The police officer walked inside. He looked around. He stayed near the door, as she got her purse and put on her sandal. With her head down, she left the house. She got into her car, took out the key. She rolled down the window as the officer now stood near her car.

 “You’re stoned,” said the man she could not marry. To her he said, “Hey, do you want to tell the police officer about the bag of pot in your car?”

The police officer moved closer until his chest was blocking her window. He leaned inside.

She looked at the glove box.

“It’s true,” she said. “I have some pot in my glove box. You can arrest me, if you want.”

The police officer stood up. He was silent for a moment. He turned and looked at the man she could not marry.

“Do you have a place to go?” the officer asked her.

“Yes.” She wasn’t sure where she was going but she knew it would be away from here. She wasn’t sure her mother would take her back. She could check into a motel, take a cool shower. Think clearly. “Yes, she said. “Yes, I do.”

“Start your car,” the officer said.

The man she couldn’t marry started toward her. The officer stood in front of him.

She backed out and drove from the house. A bruise was turning purple on her arm.