DEEP CITY in Times Roman

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Avoiding Facts

Moonlight sprayed through the cotton curtains and outlined Jason’s cheeks, which showed the pallor of a middle-aged man who’d spent too many nights awake with worry. Cavale shuddered as she shoved away from his sheet-wrapped torso. She slipped off the bed and stared at him. Picturing images of the night before—Jason’s face knotted into tight folds as if he suffered intense pain—frightened her. So she chose to block the previous night’s events from her memories as she tugged on her jeans then crept downstairs.

Relieved to be alone, she plugged in the coffee maker and stared through the window at the fields, the wheat vacillating in the wind. Especially under the moonlight, they looked beautiful from a distance—a rippling, plush carpet. But up close, they were weeds. And working with the grain had dried her hands, sliced them and made them as brittle as an old woman’s. No. She wouldn’t work the fields again today. She’d escape to town. She’d worked diligently, sweat running under the bandana she’d tied around her head. In fact, her hard labor had impressed Jason. Yesterday, he’d returned from Manhattan just as she was winnowing wheat from the shaft. He’d dropped his backpack and stared at her. His eyes seemed to explode into blue lights.

Later, Jason collapsed into a recliner, and she wrapped a quilt around him, then coiled at his feet. When he awoke, he’d spread the quilt over her, too.

But she understood Jason was powered by the same energy that drove boys in her high school toward her, the same energy that powered the man at the truck stop. She glanced at the stairway. Perhaps, she thought, she could leave before Jason awoke. It was four a.m. He usually rose by 5:30 to milk Rosie before breakfast.

Setting the coffee cup on the counter, she sprang to the steps and ran to her room. She crammed jeans, shoes and underwear into her duffel bag, unhooked the still-packed garment bag, picked up her suitcase, and shuffled downstairs and out into the moonlit fields. She tucked her hair into a cap and tossed on a jacket.

Tears smeared her eyeliner, ran down her cheeks, and welled on her white collar. She worried that it would stain it—then she wouldn’t look appropriate for any job interviews. She’d saved enough money, almost a thousand dollars, even if it was less than she’d hoped to bring with her. But it was enough, and now, she’d find a place, go back to waitressing, and save more money to start school. By next fall, she’d have enough to enroll. She liked Jason, yes, and within the past three months, she’d grown attached to him and Will. They’d become the family she’d yearned for since she was a child. But she couldn’t give up her soul—she’d be nobody’s whore.

Pieces of beard from the heads of wheat caught on her skirt and left behind honey-colored slivers in the fabric. Oh Lord, she thought. I’ll have to find some bathroom or I’ll never be presentable. The wind picked up, twisted her hair, and hit against her scalp. Still, she pushed on, even if a part of her wanted to return to the cozy home.

Suddenly, a door slammed behind her. She glanced back but the tall grain blocked her view. She was neither sure where other farm houses were located nor exactly how far she’d trekked from Jason’s house. Perhaps, too, her ears were deceiving her. She was too frightened now to locate the sound. She considered that another farmer might have opened a barn door to milk his cows. Just the same, she didn’t want to run into him, either—or anyone—until she reached Manhattan. There, she’d be anonymous, hopefully mistaken for a college student, and left alone.

Up ahead, two dogs barked. She stopped for a second and tried to spot their position. She worried that they might be barking at another animal—a badger or a fox, even a bear. But it worried her more that they might have smelled some human. She listened for awhile. It seemed their yelping came from the east, so she veered west to avoid the creatures. She wondered then if it wouldn’t be better to cross the field to the road. Even if she didn’t want to explain anything to a passerby in some pick up, she’d at least, be more likely to avoid any hungry wildlife there. On the other hand, she worried about the sort of traveler who might be on the road, at least before dawn. Obviously, farmers and workers would be driving there, but what if some rapist or murderer were cruising for a victim? What if, she wondered, another pervert like the gray-haired male, were driving that highway this morning? Even though Cavale generally felt brave strolling the fields under the sun, she realized that even out here, far from any city ghetto, few places allowed a woman to feel safe when walking alone.

Then, only a few feet away, she heard a rustling. She didn’t know whether to stop or break into a run, so she kept moving at the same pace, all the while watching the spot where she heard the noise. She heard no voices or growls but the rustling sounds continued. Finally, the grain parted, and she caught the stare of the black eyes of a raccoon.

She sighed then laughed at herself, but she pulled the cap tighter over her ears and turned up the collar on her jacket. She widened her stride, and by picking up speed, she felt more confident. She moved on, eyes scanning the fields, her eyes listening for any disturbing sounds. It seemed like the walk took hours longer than it had when she walked with Will and Jason in this direction. She was thirsty now, and wanted to sit somewhere. But she was afraid that would slow down her momentum. And she needed to stay in her stride. Then, finally, on the horizon, a line of lights glimmered. This gave her hope, and she suddenly stepped lighter as she strolled toward Manhattan.

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