“I can’t do it,” she says, crumpling to the wooden chair on the deck of her cabin.
I place my hand on her shoulder in a silent show of support and bite my lip, wondering how hard to push. She’s still so fragile. I need to help bend her view, but she feels so breakable. “You can.”
“He’ll know. He’ll stop me.”
I kick at the leaves beneath my feet and curl my sleeves around my hands into a ball. She’s right, of course. He will know. Why do I think I can convince her to do something I never could? I move in front of her and sink down to grasp both her hands in mine. “Katy,” I tilt my head to force her to look at me. “This is serious. More than you know. It doesn’t just stop with this one thing. Do you get what I’m saying?”
She rubs her nose, red from the cold, and shivers. She nods with vacant eyes and looks away.
I’ve made the same noncommittal nod before. Yes, I understand. Yes, I will leave. But I never did. And now I stand, a woman of forty seven, dead inside.
“No, I’m serious.” I look to the sky, a swirl of bruised clouds pregnant with rain. She’s not hearing me. I push off of her knees and stand. She looks up at me with startled eyes and I feel my own prick with tears. I take two steps back and rip off my sweater. I chuck it to the ground and my heart thrums. I feel dizzy.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
“Making you understand.” I tug at the v-neck of my shirt and pull it hard, exposing the angry line, still hateful after all these years.
Her mouth falls open and she blinks.
I can tell the words are there, the questions, but she seems frozen, unable to put a voice to them.
“Yes,” I say. Yes answers almost everything. Yes, he did this. Yes, he did other things.
Instead of what I expect, she says, “The accident?”
I gasp. The unspoken truth sits heavy on my shoulders. I feel panic crawling up my neck but I fight it as I lift my chin. This is the one thing that ‘yes’ doesn’t completely answer. My eyes focus and stop on a spot behind her, deep in the woods.
“It wasn’t an accident,” I say. The tears recede as the calm of resolve folds me inside it again. “I’ve never told anyone.”
I let the rush of memories wave through me. The stink of stale whiskey on his breath. The way he pushed me up against the wall, the cool of the blade, a paradox of torture and mercy. I had closed my eyes, thinking I was about to slip right out of existence. But when he left me in pool of fear on our living room floor, something inside me snapped.
Now I prepare myself to speak the words that have been buried for so long. “He was going to kill me. I had to do it first. He was always drunk when he came home. He used to pull the car into the garage and fall asleep in the driver’s set, not come in for hours.” I give a little laugh, but it comes out sounding deranged. I shrug, the simplicity of it like an anchor. “He hadn’t turned off the car. I just closed the garage door.”
Her face flushes as she realizes I’m a murderer. That I took a life.
I wait, letting myself accept the spoken words for the first time, letting it digest and settle into my bones. I can see her going through the thought process and my lip quivers. “That’s why,” I say in a voice I don’t recognize, “that’s why you have to get out now.”
I watch a tear slide down her cheek. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
My chest tightens. I open my mouth to speak and shake my head. “There aren’t words. Some things can’t be explained,” I say, feeling small.
She stands and turns away from me and I think I might break apart. Then she angles to the side, so I can see her profile against the reds and oranges of the trees.
She extends her hand. “Come on,” she says. “Come help me pack.”
I may not ever find absolution in this life of mine. But today, I find peace.
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