stephanie jaye evans stephanie jaye evans
stephanie jaye evans
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Books

Safe From Harm

Safe From Harm

Excerpt

Prologue

No one was there when she let herself into the dark house, the preacher's house, her friend's house—the house filled with happy memories, warm memories, family memories—she was alone, alone and empty, and there was only this house where she could come, when she wanted, if it was empty, if they were gone, she could come and let herself in with her key, it was her key, it was. Her key to this house.

She dropped the key on the floor.

The dog was a dog and he didn't care. He was used to her visits and he came and pressed his head against her side and walked with her to the kitchen. She didn't put a light on. She didn't need to. She knew the house.

The cool, dark kitchen smelled of, what? Bergamot. Earl Grey, maybe. Names she had learned here in this house. Her hand found a mug in the sink and she touched her tongue to the rim, then tilted the cooled tea into her mouth. Milky and sweet and smoky.

They had had tea. The family had sat around the table, and they had drank tea, together, like a family, sweet, milky tea like a family in a book. She drank the tepid tea dregs from the three cups, rinsed the mugs and put them in the dishwasher.

The fridge was filled with cartons of milk and juice, a Ziploc with carrot sticks, another with celery, plastic containers filled with blurred mysteries. She rested her head against the cool polished steel and looked for a long time. She pulled a container out and popped the top. Cookie dough. She scooped some out with her finger and tasted it. Ginger. With lemon. She gave the dog a pinch of dough. She carefully sealed the carton and put it back in and chose another. This held a vegetable casserole that had started to fur. She dumped the contents into the sink and ran the disposal. Rinsed the plastic carton out and put it in the dishwasher, too.

She wiped the counters down. Rinsed and dried the sink. Dropped the dishtowel into the basket on the floor of the laundry room. All without turning on a light.

The bed in the parents' room was made, but mussed. Someone had taken a nap without moving the bedspread. She smoothed the wrinkles, and tucked in a sheet corner that peeked out from under the spread. She tried a spray of the mom's perfume. Spritzed her wrists and rubbed them together and then sniffed. Cristalle Eau Verte—it smelled clean, astringent. She sprayed a little at the base of her throat, too. She put a hand down for the dog to smell and he sneezed, then licked her hand and nudged his head underneath it. She rubbed the velvet of his ears.

In the dark family room, she drew her hand over the backs of the couch and the chairs, feeling the rough and the smooth. She sat in the preacher's chair and the leather creaked. His Bible was open over the arm of the chair and she picked up the heavy limp book, the cover soft as the dog's ear, and turned a few of the whisper thin pages. The pages crackled under her fingers. She couldn't see the words in the dark. She found the frayed ribbon that marked his place and tied a loose knot in it. A message, if he could read it.

For a long time, she sat there, the dog resting his big head on her knees.

The stairway was lined with the daughters' pictures, shadowy and vague in the dark. One blonde head, then one brown head, then the blonde again, and then the brown, the girls in the picture growing younger as she climbed the stairs to the room where her old friend, her ex friend, slept each night.

The room glowed dimly from the big goose lamp that held a five watt bulb in its expansive belly, the light on, day or night. There were trophies in the bookcase and dried corsages on the bulletin board that held dozens of pictures of the girl with her friends, her family, her guy. A pair of worn-out toe shoes hung from the end of the ballet barre fixed to one wall. Clothes spilled from a dresser drawer. Twin brass beds stood side by side, a homemade quilt draped over a brass rail. It had the alphabet appliqued on it. For the letter "J" it said "J" is for "Jo" and there was a little girl in a pinafore and a bonnet, carefully stitched in.

She wanted to sleep here tonight. She wanted to take a hot bath with pink bath salts and a bar of soap that would float if it slipped from your grasp. She wanted to dry off with a thick white towel, and put on pajamas, cotton ones, laundered thin, with flowers sprinkled over the top. And elastic waist bottoms that came all the way down to her toes.

She closed her eyes.

She wanted to curl up with the quilt on the little brass bed. The mom would bring her a cup of tea, hot and sweet and milky. The mom would read to her. "In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of—the cow jumping over the moon . . ." The mom would smooth her hair off her face, and kiss her right here, the exact spot the tear had reached. And hear her say her prayers. And tuck her in.

She wanted to lie down on that soft, warm bed, and close her eyes, and go to sleep.

And never wake up.


© Stephanie Jaye Evans