“Don’t go.” I grabbed at her sleeve, a breathless fear rising.
She stared ahead, oblivious to my touch. “I have to.”
“But it’s getting
dark. People round here don't cross that bridge when it’s foggy. They take the highway. The road to the bridge gets slick. Can't see two feet in front of you.”
She shook her
head, “We’ll be fine. Besides, I want to drive at night when the kids are
asleep. It’s easier that way.”
I looked her over,
gathering clues to her state of mind from the state of her appearance. Her
shoulder-length red hair, once beautiful, was matted in a rat’s nest of
neglect. And the dress she wore--an orange and brown pattern, baggy and twisted
out of shape, like she’d slept in it. My cousin Kelsey was nothing less than a mess. Six kids, six
years and a sick marriage had taken its toll.
Was this woman the
same “Kels” I knew growing up? Back then, she was slender with cascading curls
of long vibrant red hair and transparent blue eyes, blue as sun-jeweled waters.
“I need to leave.”
Voice low as a
purr, I’d heard that familiar tone before. Call it determination or
stubborness, I realized she wouldn’t be listening to anything I had to say.
“You think he’s
with her, don’t you?”
Pulled a thread from her sleeve. “Yes, I do.”
“What do you hope
to accomplish? Do you plan on confronting them with your kids right there with
you?” I shook my head. “Not a good idea. That would be traumatic. You can’t do that to them.”
She tugged at the
same thread, this time successful at unraveling a line of cloth.
don’t you just stay here with me for awhile? Move here with me and
start your life over. He’s not worth it.”
of answering, she continued to pull and tug at the lone thread,
Why she married
him. . .
Kelsey could have
had her pick, but she chose a man who never worked.
Why she married .
Beat her too.
spoke. “I know what I look like to you. I do look in the mirror, you know.”
Her eyes fixed forward as if focusing on something. “Just tired, that's all.“
She rubbed her
right eye and as she did so, I noticed her wrist looked crooked.
“What’s with that?" I asked. "Your arm looks odd.”
She drew her arm
down and tucked it under her sleeve. “A tiny fracture. Guess I broke it lifting
furniture or something. It healed okay though.”
I stomped. “Why,
why do you stay with him?”
She smiled from
the corner of her lip. “He’s my husband, silly.” She looked away. “Besides, I
love. . .” She shrugged—as if the gesture itself finished the sentence. "He was, was so romantic when we first met.
Flowers, even when he couldn’t afford. . . Her voice caught in he throat for a
moment. “I was beautiful.” Her voice trailed off. “He said so.”
I grabbed at
straws, “Well good riddance. You may have lost him, but you have the kids. Even if
he doesn’t love you anymore, he cares about his kids. He does care about his
kids, doesn’t he?”
She leaned back
against the car and looked up at me.
A chill ran
through me. Something about her eyes seemed to set off an innate fear.
Uneasy, she must
have sensed my thoughts. She turned away, instead focusing on the kids playing
on the merry-go-round at my apartment complex.
Nodding her head,
she answered, “Oh, of course he likes the kids. He just doesn’t want to be
bothered with raising them.” She slapped a mosquito off her arm.
“The kids are my
“And his too. He
needs to step up and help you.”
She dug the heel
of her shoe into the gravel edging the lot. “He won’t.”
“But. . .”
She cut in. “Look, it’s getting dark. We’d better go.” She held her
hands to her mouth and let out a shrill whistle. “Kids--get in the car, we’re
gripped the door handle. “Please Kels, don’t go. We could--we could take the
kids to the zoo tomorrow. How about it?”
With a gentle, but
firm touch, she peeled my hands off the handle and took them into hers. “You have to work tomorrow. Besides, we’ve already overstayed our welcome.”
“But you only got
here yesterday. One day, that’s all. It’s nothing.”
She laughed. “Say
goodbye to the kids, dear cousin.”
opened the door and threw in a diaper bag. The kids surrounded the car, scented
with sun and play, glistening hair clinging to their heads. My brow, still
crinkled in disapproval at her decision, I stared down at Shay and softened. He
was the oldest, the one who’d seen the most. Things a child shouldn’t see.
Tall and thin for
his age; he seemed older than six years, guarded, yet vulnerable. My heart
went out to him. I wrapped my arms around him and gave him a big bear squeeze.
“I love you, buddy.”
The freckled face
smiled back at me. For a moment, he reminded me of Kels, the way she used to
be. I lifted him up and planted a kiss on his cheek, then turned to the others.
Amy, Tammy, the twins Bobby and Trace and the baby, little Marce-- my namesake.
I lingered longest with her and nibbled on her tiny ear until she giggled.
“Time to go.”
I helped her
fasten the children in her old blue Impala. Finally, she leaned in to start the
chugging engine. A gray cloud of noxious smoke from the exhaust blew out. I
Her eyes met mine
as if longing to tell me something, lips moving as if to speak, but no
word—nothing escaped her mouth.
I broke the
silence. “Kels, is there something you want, something you need to tell me?”
She leaned in to
kiss my cheek. “I love you Marcy, always have. You are my truest friend in the
world. The only one.”
Tears swelled and
overflowed my eyes. “I-I love you too.” Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a wad
of money and pressed it into her hand.
“What this for?”
“Oh, I don’t
know--to help you start a new life maybe.” I closed her fist around it with my
hands. “I mean it.”
force, she pushed the wad of money back into my hands. “Keep it, Marcy. Keep
it. I won’t, don't need your money.”
“Don’t be proud.”
I fired back. “You know you’re going to need it. If not for you, then take it
for them.” I pointed toward the kids, their tiny faces turned toward us,
hanging on every word.
“My answer is NO.
And you know how stubborn I am. I don’t need it and I won’t take it from you.
Not now. Not ever.”
Her features set
in stone, I knew it was pointless to argue. Why upset the kids? They’d
certainly been through enough.
We fell into each
other’s arms and clung, trembling.
I spoke what was in my heart. “I’m so sad
all this happened to you. I-I wish your life had turned out better, happier.”
For a moment, I
thought she’d break down, that the tears would come, the wall would crumble.
But she pulled away. Her eyes moist, fluid, she kissed my cheek. “Bye now.”
Kelsey slid into the tattered driver’s seat and put the car in reverse.
“Hey,” I yelled
over the sound of the struggling engine, “Can we say a prayer together?”
She shook her
head. “No time.” With that, she switched gears and pulled out the lot.
Following the car,
I motioned. “Aren’t you going to buckle up?”
“I will later,”
she yelled back.
I blew her a kiss
in the same moment she blew me one, inspiring a weak smile. I smiled back, my
own lips trembling. The kids waved and said sweet goodbyes in little singsong
close that old bridge tonight.
whine of cicadas punctuated their departure as the old blue Impala rattled off
down the road, a trail of gray fumes in its wake. Lips moving in prayer, I ran
down the road after it waving at the kids, following with my eyes as far as I
But long shadows
swallowed the light between us, the view quickly diminished to a mere dim and
What was she
I thought of her eyes again. Blue as sun-jeweled waters.
And watched as
the opaque fog coiled in, fear cementing my feet to the ground as thoughts came
together like puzzle pieces.