Cindy sat alone in the kitchen as Shirley Maples left for work. She sat thinking. It was the longest time she sat still with her thoughts that she could remember. For her whole life, she had been running. When she was a child, from her mother’s upraised hands and the lewdness of the constant stream of men that flowed by in her mother’s life. In school, from those who called her a Guinea bastard. To New York, for a better life. To Patrick, for security. From Patrick, for the same reason. It had never seemed safe to sit still.
But here she was. In many ways it felt scarier than when she ran from Patrick with a bat in hand. She did not know how to sit still. Being alone in silence was terrifying.
But necessary. She was going to have to decide what to do. She couldn’t stay here forever.
She could start over now. The realization still hadn’t hit her. At any moment she expected Patrick to break the door down and come after her with a butcher knife. It never happened. With that not to worry about, Cindy was unsure of what to do next. Once she’d passed by a mirror. Nothing reflected back at her but a sketched image of herself. All this time, she didn’t even know who the hell she was, let alone make something of her life.
Cindy wasn’t a caretaker or a fixer. Never in her life had she sought out to save anyone. And yet here she was, faced with the decision to save the freedom of someone, someone she hardly even knew. Though somehow she felt she knew him, like she knew him forever. And he stood at the brink of being convicted for crimes he didn’t do. That she knew he didn’t do. That she could save him. Christ.
She would be in the spotlight again. Too often, she’d been the center of attention, at home and in school. For being too promiscuous, too wild, too drunk. She never felt she could be herself without a spectacle of attention demanding her to change to suit their needs. She was never in her wildness trying to get attention. She wanted to be free. And it was happening again, exactly the same way.
So was it worth letting this guy go to jail and possibly fry, so she could be free. Or rather, was she willing to become a media trap so this guy could live.
She sighed. She decided to take a walk. She didn’t feel trapped here, for although this was a small town and she was in a house that had aroused much curiosity, most of the houses were spaced far apart enough so she could escape through the back door without much notice. She was still leery about being recognized on the streets, though, the last thing she wanted to deal with in her state of mind was a run-in with the Hughes’. Si she stuck to the mountain in Shirley’s back yard.
Cindy had gone there a couple of times before she was hiding out. She’d go there to run from the clamor of the kids and from Shirley and Bill’s yelling, not caring if it was Niagara Falls or a garbage dump. It was the only place where she felt alone.
But today she was alone, and there was no one to run from, and it was what struck her for the first time was the grandeur of this mountain that she’d seen probably a hundred times before. She never noticed how many different greens the foliage held, how grand and magnificent it looked in size, or even the snow that rested upon it when most of the other snow had melted away. She wished she could memorize the picture, so she just sat and stared. She was unaware of how long she stood there; when she snapped to attention, she realized there were tears streaming down her eyes. Annoyed at herself, she brushed them away. It was just a mountain, after all.
Breathing in deeply, she began her journey. Not many people climbed here. There were rumors of snakes and bears living there. Cindy had never seen them. She assumed it was just because she was female that people told her to stay away from the mountain. Women were supposed to preserve strawberries for the annual festival, clean and raise babies here. Not here. Neither had her mother.
The sun was nearly above her when she first turned to survey her progress. She was more than halfway above. Amidst other green peaks she saw tiny specks of what was the town, a couple of minute colored dots scurried back and forth. She suddenly felt very small.
There was a whole world down there, she thought. So busy with the day, and yet the rest of the world lay still, untouched. It breathed a life of its own, without her, without anyone else. She wondered how much of what they all thought was important didn’t matter after all. Or what she thought, either.
Suddenly she felt very silly. All this time she’d been so afraid of being hunted down from every corner, and now she wondered how many people noticed that she had even left in the first place. Somehow, because the two most significant people in her life, her mother and husband, had been obsessed with her, everyone else had to be too. Watching the world buzz about with her unnoticed, she had to laugh. No one cared that she was here, she laughed. No one knew, and no one cared. Her nemeses were dead. So now she was free. She could do what she wanted now. What a scary thought.
The smell of evergreen enchanted her. She watched her breath as she exhaled. She remembered as a child waiting for the schoolbus on cold winter mornings, blowing air, pretending she’d blew a puff of smoke. She smiled. She felt like a child once again.
Feeling her freedom, she knew what to do now. She felt exhilarated and alive, like nothing could touch her. She was free now. And she knew that whatever happened because of her decision, free she would remain.