As quickly as she could after the scalding water caused the ancient pipes to start their rhythmic clanging, Jeriko scrubbed her face and armpits before shutting off the water. The pipes gave a long, loud squeal of protest, and she held her breath, listening for any sound of movement from the den just outside the thin bathroom door. All she could hear was the thud-thud of her own heart as it tried to beat its way out of her chest. After a minute, she wrung the washrag out over her head, tamped down her sleep-mussed hair, and finger-combed it into some semblance of order. She painted on some lip gloss, plucked a few stray eyebrow hairs, and applied some deodorant before shouldering her backpack, wincing as the straps rubbed her bruised biceps. Grabbing her mother’s long-defunct curling iron with her right hand, she locked eyes with her mirror image and steeled herself for the short but fraught journey from bathroom to front door.
Jeriko opened the rusty-hinged bathroom door quickly to reduce the duration of its squeal then stood silent and quaking, breath held and eyeing the couch bed between her and escape. Momma and last night’s bar find, a bad-tempered brawler named John Mark, both still lay immobile in a tangle of sheets and shed clothes, apparently in the same positions they’d been in a few minutes before. If it weren’t for the gentle rise and fall of their chests, they would almost look dead. Like most of Momma’s boyfriends, Jeriko wished John Mark was.
As she surveyed the debris strewn across the narrow path to the front door, marking the exact position of every empty bottle and crumpled beer can, Jeriko’s left hand brushed the sore spots on her right arm where John Mark’s huge paw had gripped her as he shook her back and forth when she tried to push him away after he had begun slapping her Momma. He had pulled Jeriko close then, close enough that his sickly sweet and whiskey-reeking breath made her gag, and hissed, “You little bitch, you try that shit again, and when I get done with your whore of a Momma over there, I’ll do you next.” He licked her nose then manhandled her into her room and kicked the door shut, and she sobbed herself to sleep with her pillows pressed firmly to her ears.
Now she stared at the ill-framed door limned by the golden sunrise light and visualized silently walking to it without kicking, stepping on, or tripping over any of the empties littering her path. She took a deep breath, half raised the curling iron and, eyes firmly on John Mark’s inert form, walked confidently toward the door, opened it, and walked down the three rotting wooden steps to the gravel path leading to the gate. The door banged shut behind her and she dropped the curling iron and began to run, breathing in great gulps of the cool and liberating morning air.
The fence on both sides of the gate had been gone for years, but instead of going around it, she stopped, lifted the latch, opened the gate, stepped through, and closed it firmly. She turned and began the long walk toward the next 8 hours of freedom.
Friday, July 21, 2017