Broken Pieces

Running Against Traffic by Gaelen VanDenbergh

Monday, July 1, 2013

Chapter 2

Paige woke from a heavy, dreamless sleep to what could only be a thousand or so birds singing opera at full volume outside her open bedroom window. A mosquito whined near her ear. Pushing herself upright and rubbing her eyes, she was suddenly yanked into high alert by another sound - muffled footsteps downstairs. Someone was milling around below. She could smell coffee brewing. She pulled her canister of mace from the pocket of her cargo shorts and smoothed her rumpled tee shirt, trying to regain her bearings. She clutched the mace tightly. If it was David down there, she would spray him but good. If it wasn’t David, she didn’t really have a plan.

Paige crept down the stairs, each step groaning so loudly beneath her bare feet that she wondered why she was bothering to try to be stealthy. She peered into the living room and saw the chair that she had propped under the doorknob the night before was placed neatly against the wall, and the front door was again ajar. A hot breeze wafted in, carrying with it some unidentifiable insects, and she jumped a foot when a voice called to her from the kitchen.

“Mornin’, Mrs. Davenport!” A mailman stood in the kitchen doorway, rocking back and forth on his heels. He looked like a bobble-head doll, his head was so large, wobbling about on his narrow stick frame. He was grinning at her, baring a set of oversized teeth that were growing clear out of his mouth.

“What - what are you doing here?” Paige managed to rasp, glued to the spot.

“I came to make sure you were all settled in! I made coffee…I’m Thomas. I brought your mail,” he added, proudly lurching forward, holding out a grocery store circular.

Paige relaxed a little. “Couldn’t you have left it outside in the mailbox?” she asked, snatching it and stalking past him to the kitchen.

“You don’t have one,” Thomas replied, cheerfully.

“Of course not.”

“Okay, see you tomorrow,” he called after her. “When’s Mr. Davenport coming back?”

“Good question,” Paige called back, rummaging around for a mug. She heard Thomas traipse out and close the door. What the hell was that about, she thought, filling her cup to the brim with coffee. But she couldn’t imagine what to do next. She wasn’t even sure what day it was – Saturday? They had driven here yesterday, and that was a Friday…She set the coffee cup in the sink and went back to bed.

Paige spent the next few days wandering from room to room in a fog. She knew what time it was by the shrill songbirds and the sound of Thomas coming in and out, and then by the orange glow of sunset through the windows, followed by darkness. Once in a while she would look at her cell phone to see that no one had called, and to glance at the actual time, though it meant little to her.

Thomas walking in and out without knocking in the mornings grated on her already shredded nerves, but she didn’t feel up to a discussion with him about it. The first time he called to her, and she hid out in her room, so he made the coffee and left. After that she just heard him come in, walk around, and leave again.

At times her insides twisted in knots and she would break out in a sweat, and then move to a state of numbness again, and then she would sleep, deep and dreamless, or fitful and splintered by waking several times long after dark, and then she was up and prowling again. There was no purpose to her life, nothing to do, no one to talk to. Paige Davenport had disappeared, and her silent phone told her no one was looking for her. It was a hollow realization. A few times in her murky mind, flashes of her parents came and left as quickly, little waves, clear water that slides up onto the sand and as quickly slips back into the dark ocean.

The house had quickly morphed from dreaded fate to unlikely friend, her only friend. It wrapped its rickety arms around her and hid her from the outside, not asking for anything, just shielding her from the world. Unfortunately, it couldn’t fetch her groceries. In the wee hours of one morning, as she sat cross-legged in bed, hearing the early chatter of a few birds and watching the black turn to gray, she dully contemplated getting a hold of a bottle of sleeping pills and floating away, becoming nothing, not a ripple in an ocean, not a breath of breeze, but absorbed into pure, silent blackness. No one would miss her. Thomas the mailman would be the only one to even discover her, and that was only because he let himself into her house daily.

But she didn’t really care enough to bother.

She noticed that she was picking at the last of a box of cereal. She was wrapped in a bed sheet that covered her matted hair like a babushka, and she pushed it to the side a bit to eyeball the empty peanut butter jar on the night stand. She grimly realized that she would have to go out for supplies. She stood and gathered the edges of the sheet up and around her to keep from tripping, and shuffled downstairs to the kitchen.

Paige gazed at the growing stack of mail on the Ugly Table, a stack that Thomas added to each morning, and saw that there were a few bills, already. She could smell herself. There was no help for it. It was time to take a hot shower, put on clean clothes, and venture into the town for vodka. While there she would find the bank and see how little money she actually had. If the town had a grocery store, she would buy some food.

After showering and shampooing for the first time in days, she felt raw and bleached. She pulled a short denim skirt and a black tank top out of her open suitcase and put them on. The skirt was already too loose in the waist and slipped down, catching on her hipbones. She pushed her bare feet into a pair of sandals, brushed out her damp hair, and clomped down the stairs and out the front door.

The sun glared at her as if she was a naughty child who had just been let out of the corner. Young lady, I hope you have learned your lesson.

But what did I do? she silently asked, squinting up at it. Never mind, don’t answer that. She pulled her sunglasses from her purse and put them on, looking up and down the street at the end of her driveway. She remembered which direction David had gone when he left, so she started walking that way, hoping it would lead her into town.

After a five minute walk, Paige found herself at the gas station at the end of the town’s main road, again. She stared down the main street. It was lined by trees that were tall and dark, the branches growing every which way. They seemed like cantankerous old men with wild hair, standing watch. She tried to will herself to walk the length of the street, under each of the town's two hanging traffic lights, to see where the street and presumably the town ended, but all she could see was a small park backed up against a wall of thick woods.

Paige became vaguely aware of a woman standing beside her. She turned slowly to face her.

"What are you looking for, sweetheart?" The woman asked. She appeared to be around forty, and was wearing a white skirt and white cowboy boots. A fitted top showed off her upper assets, but Paige’s eyes were drawn quickly to the woman’s hair, and then she could not rip away her gaze, as the hair had been dyed a vivid red that made her resemble a rooster, with all layers of feathers, the top fluffed up like a mighty comb.

“Hellooo,” the rooster said, waving her fingers in front of Paige’s face. She looked at her kindly. “Can I help you find something, Mrs. Davenport?” She spoke slowly, soothingly, as if she thought Paige might be about to flee if startled. She would be right about that.

“How did you know that was my name?” Paige asked, looking down from the hair into round blue eyes.

The rooster looked her up and down. “Please,” she laughed. “How do you think?”

The two women regarded each other for a moment. Then Paige held out her hand. “Paige Scott,” she said. “Please just call me Paige.”

“I understand all about these things,” Rooster said with a knowing wink. “We’ll talk.”

Oh no, we won’t, Paige thought. She quickly changed the subject. “Can you tell me if there is a grocery store around here, Ms…”

“Deirdre,” she replied, shaking her hand. “And yes, it’s my store. One block up and on your left, named after my daughter, Carmen.”

“Carmen. Got it.” Paige nodded. “Well.” She turned and walked quickly toward where Deirdre had pointed.

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Genre - Contemporary Fiction

Rating – PG13

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