The Special Place
Tagline: Sometimes you need to get away for a bit to find some peace
Carol Anne crept through the reeds, her shoes squelching in the mud and shallow water. A twig snapped behind her, and she froze. Her feet sunk into the marshy ground, water seeping through her shoes. At least sinking was quiet.
It was dark out here in the marsh, the moon not yet high enough to lend her much light. After a moment where no other sound occurred she continued on her way. She exhaled her held breath as she yanked first one foot out then the other. Mud sucked greedily at her sullied shoes, but relinquished each foot after a hesitation.
From a nearby tree, cicadas set up their raucous chatter. They'd let her know if someone was following her.
Soon, she was far enough to the east to step on solid ground and skirt the marsh. It felt strange to feel a steady surface beneath her. The squishy ground had eased the pain in her ankle a little, but now it throbbed from the workout and the hard impacts.
He hadn't meant to hurt her. It just happened.
She reached across her chest to gently press the bruise on her upper arm. Even though it wasn't visible in the darkness, its precise shape was burned into her mind. All five of his fingers were visible in the deep purple and black circling her upper arm.
He always told her he was sorry. Not right away, but later. He made it up to her. Cruelty wasn't in his nature, but he was tired, stressed. He wasn't himself sometimes.
A small part of her knew this as the nonsense it was. After all, hadn't she seen cruelty in his eyes, the set of his mouth? She could tell the exact moment where his actions went from unconscious to purposeful. The moment he realized he was hurting her and squeezed a little harder.
This time, he'd kicked at her foot to trip her up, but he'd hit her ankle instead. The pain had blossomed, sharp at first, then subsiding to a dull ache, spreading up her leg and down her foot. He'd caught her before she could fall, grasping the meat of her upper arm.
That was when she'd seen it.
His eyes had narrowed, a hint of a smile twisting lips that could be so soft during the good times, making them look hard and, yes, mean. He'd thought about it before he squeezed. He'd held her eyes with his so he could watch every aspect of her reaction as his fingers tightened.
She'd fought back, wrenching at his fingers and finally kicking him in the shin. She'd meant to kick him in the knee, but it was hard to aim when you were wrestling someone a good one-hundred pounds bigger than you. And whereas her weight was soft, his was all muscle, solid to the touch.
He was so angry he punched her in the face. That was something he never did. Marking her face was a mistake.
Carol Anne raised tentative fingers to her eye socket, felt the solid puff of the swelling there. It felt like something was broken, shifting around under the skin. It had sounded that way, too. She'd never heard a crunch quite like it.
The ground shifted once more. Lush grass softened her steps, a cushion between her pain and the soil. She was nearly there.
This time was different. She'd had enough.
After he punched her in the face and knocked her to the ground, he stormed away, kicking a chair away from the kitchen table on his way past it. He went out the door to the backyard. The door had swung around and slammed closed behind him. It spoke of finality. A finality that woke her up.
While she waited for him to return, she cooked dinner. She was limping heavily and could barely see through the damaged eye, but she prepared his favorite grilled cheese sandwich, setting a handful of potato chips on the plate with it. There was a can of tomato soup, so she made that, too, throwing in a couple stale croutons and a pinch of shredded cheese. It all went to his place at the table, along with a glass of milk so cold bubbles frothed on the surface. She set his chair back upright.
With everything in its place, she left through the front door. He'd be in his shed, but she didn't want to chance him seeing her.
A slight hill stood before her. At the top was her special place. It took her longer to climb than usual, the pain in her ankle hindering her some, but she made it. Just as she reached the crown of the hill, the moon rose enough to push glowing fingers between the willow's fronds, illuminating the stump on which she liked to sit. Using her good arm, she pushed the branches aside and disappeared into the safety of her special place.
Settling on the stump, she breathed a sigh of relief at taking the weight off her ankle.
She closed her eyes and listened to the frogs singing their moonlight sonata in the marsh, joining with the chorus of the cicadas and other night insects.
She wondered if he'd drunk the milk yet, and whether he would be a problem anymore.
887 words, NCCO