The instant the old man handed her the fifty dollars he sped away. Perhaps he was scared the police might swoop down. Alone on the wide sidewalk, she turned round. Cars rushed by oblivious to everything. To her right, their red rear lights were dotted in lines like a pack of monstrous eyes. To her left, an endless stream of yellow headlights advanced terrifyingly towards her. Whose cars were they? Why so fast? She did not see J Jorge’s car.
It was around eight. Darkness had fallen, but on the horizon to her right far to the east an oversized crescent moon gleamed through the trees of the forest that stretched away further than she could imagine. The trees stood behind an aluminum barrier some two feet high extending for a mile or so along the edge of South 87th Street, Chicago.
Her awful toothache made her unsteady. Why did her right eye hurt? What did a molar have to do with the eyes? She did not know why it occurred to her to carry out her plan to escape from J Jorge, the plan she had thought so much about: before she fell asleep, when she was out with J Jorge or others, when she was eating, when she was rebuffing the advances of Emily the lesbian. The plan had become part of her. Yes it was time to start. She would never find a better moment. But where would she run? Was there a better refuge than the forest right now? No. She would wait there an hour or two, even all night. What mattered was to lose J Jorge.
With her eyes on the road, she put her right hand on the aluminum crash barrier, closing her fingers round the fifty-dollar bill to stop it flying off. She pressed her left hand as hard as she could against her tooth to ease the pain, and, at that moment she spotted the lights of a car accelerating towards her parallel to the sidewalk. She had a hunch it was J Jorge.
She jumped over the barrier. Without thinking, she raced off as hard as she could into the forest. She heard the squeal of breaks behind her. Her hunch had been right. It was J Jorge stopping. He would follow her, yes, he would follow her. But she was ahead of him. He was stronger than her. He would catch up with her, even though he was fatter than her and shorter, he would catch her for sure. He was an ex-champion boxer, but even so she had to try. For sure at night she would find a tree to hide behind in the dark. Yes she had to try. Then she heard his voice coming after her, “Stop, you fucking bitch!”
She did not turn towards him. The frightening wall of darkness moved backwards with each step. Her life had always a mixture of the dark and the unknown. Would running away take her to safety? She had to try, had to keep running.
The trees thinned out then closed in. Where had her strength come from? She managed to leap two fallen trees angled across the track. Only a beam of moonlight had prevented her from tripping and falling flat on her face. Thank God she had jumped them. J Jorge might just trip and fall, giving her a few more seconds to escape his clutches. Another trunk leapt, then three smaller ones. Why didn’t they clear the forest of dead tree trunks and not just leave then to rot where they lay? Why?
Outlined by silvery moonbeams, a clear path snaked through the trees. She felt flying insects that she could not make out strike her face. What felt like drops of water dampened her skin. She had to go faster. A pool of water appeared, its surface gleaming in the moonlight. Frogs were jumping in front of her in parallel lines on the right and on the left. Her foot kicked a frog which flew up and down in the air in front of her. Poor thing. The pool loomed. Who knew what would happen to her if her foot went in? She might plunge down or slip. If that happened he would catch her. Who knew what he would do to her?
“Stop you fucking bitch! Stop!”
Anything but being caught here. She poured all her strength into a giant leap across the pool. Jesus, how had she got over it? It was lucky she was wearing jeans. They let her move more freely than a skirt and had also stopped the twigs from cutting her legs. She sensed that he had also jumped over the pool: “Stop bitch! I’m going to kill you, you fucking bitch.
She could hear his panting breath trailing her. Damn it. A branch jutted out from a giant tree as if to spear her in the heart. But at the last moment, she swerved, Jesus, and dodged it. Perhaps it would get J Jorge in the heart! Another more-or-less clear pathway opened to the left. It was long and branched off into several darkened directions. Perhaps it would lead to somewhere to hide. A scattering of small tree trunks came into view, piled up, strewn, but they did not hinder her. Another pool, damn it, wider than the first. Hundreds of frogs frenziedly hopping and croaking. Was this world theirs alone, not one for all creatures? And these damned pools, why had fate put them in her path? How would she avoid them? A pool stretching for a few yards suddenly appeared. It was a disaster waiting to happen. She would not be able to jump it in one go, but she mustn’t despair. She had escaped and that was the end of it. She would have to leap with all her strength. But did she have any strength left? She would have to try even if it meant her foot landing in the water. Here goes. She was flying through the air. The trees opened to reveal a black space. She saw part of the moon’s vast arc above, cut across by branches and with night insects silhouetted against it. Such beauty above, yet she was in such dire straits. At the end of the leap she dropped and her foot landed in the water. Down it went. God it’s deep. The water went halfway up her calf and sprayed upwards splashing her face. Cold water, brackish and foul. A stagnant stench filled the air. No matter, she had to keep going. She could not give up. This is her opportunity to get out of the cage, the cell in which she has been imprisoned; her only recourse is to exploit this opportunity. She had to jump again to clear the pool. She felt J Jorge’s fingers groping for her backpack. The bastard had caught up with her. No she would not let him. She had to jump. If she remained as she was, he would catch her and might kill her, and who would find her in this stretch of forest? What an idiot, she had chosen her own grave and he would get away with it. Her body would only ever be found by chance a year or two later, maybe more! She had to jump. The moment she took off, a miracle happened. She heard him crashing into the water. He had fallen into the pool! A booming sound accompanied by the splash of heaving water and the stagnant smell permeating the ever dank forest. The filthy, stagnant water splashed her head and soaked her back. No worry, now she could turn round, confident that he would not be aware of her any more. She would run until she was tired. She would break free of him forever. She would not give up her freedom afterwards for anything, not now and not in the future. He had fallen and she had won. She had escaped. She turned round and was shocked to see a figure standing shrouded in darkness. Where had he come from? No features were visible, just a black statue in a long raincoat. In his left hand he held a flashlight that he was shining into J Jorge’s face at the edge of the poll. “Leave her be,” he said in a powerful voice.
At that moment, exhaustion took hold of her. Her legs turned to string, unable to carry her. She sunk unto her ass, panting hard, lungs bursting. J Jorge was not just splatted with mud and stagnant water, but with a unique and everlasting shame.
The man’s strong voice came again, “Stand up and back off or I’ll blow your brains out.”
She stared at J Jorge in the light of the man’s flashlight. But the guy sprawled in the mud was no longer J Jorge, the powerful, the scary, the tyrant, not him. it was someone else, a man defeated, humiliated, totally harmless. His smart orange jacket was splattered with mud, only a small patch on the back had escaped. Without thinking, she tried to kick him from where she sat, but the man shouted at her, “Let him pull himself out.”
When he stood up, the mud with its rank green slime covered his face filling its hollows. A statue made out of foul greenish mud. There were no gold chains hanging on his chest, no gold cross as thick as a finger, no rings on his fingers. The orange silk shirt had vanished, the expensive orange tie, the orange shoes that were a part of his personality and which he swaggered around in were now just muddy things. He wiped his face with both hands and angrily flung the mud and slime they collected onto the ground. All that could be made out of his features, which were dark in any case, was the whites of his eyes, which flashed for a moment before he was forced to close them because of the beam of the flashlight shining into them. She shouted at the man, “Kill him!”
The man growled at him, “Leave!”
J Jorge’s yelped in defeat, “Bitch.”
She cackled as she panted and spat in his direction. He slowly backed away, wading through the brackish water that went right over his shoes. The flashlight was on him until he disappeared among the trees. The man did not allow him to leave alone, but followed him at a distance until he saw him stop by his black limo on 87th Street. He tried to clean himself up. He took off his jacket and shook it out a few time, causing some of the mud to fly off. Then he threw it in the trunk of the car. He wiped his ears and face with paper tissues, pulling a few out, using them to wipe and then throwing them on the ground. He stamped his feet on the ground a few times to make some of the mud come off his shoes, but he wasn’t satisfied. He grabbed a few more tissues and quickly wiped them over. He got into the luxury car and headed off northbound.