This is a short story about Heather, a young girl, who has spent much of her short life riding the currents, allowing “them” to decide her fate, her journey. She clings desperate to our grandmother’s notion that a saving prince awaits all of us good natured girls, one who will whisk us to a better life. In the dampness of an old motel room, Heather realizes that the only person who can take the reins of her life is her.
This story is apart of a series, “She Says,” that I am working on. A series of stories meant to speak with–not for–women. I hope you enjoy it, and Thanks for stopping by.
The night had waned, the two no longer having tables to busy or bus, rolled silverware. It was the best part of the night as far as they were concerned. Ruby’s Buffett was closing, with the last table of customers sitting over coffee and cheap cakes. Ruby’s was a town favorite, tucked away on a small side street, off the only main road in Millington, Tennessee. Christy rolled slowly, dyed brown hair falling in her face. She was the oldest server there, and hefty, with a bad leg. Heather was young, but already had lines on her face. Loving hearing Christy talk, she rolled slowly, too.
“So, you gonna take that bus up there and tell him, are ya?”
Heather patting her pocket with money saved, “Yep.”
Before leaving that night, she ventured slowly into the manager’s office to make sure she was off the schedule for the next several days. She was. That space on the calendar bearing everyone’s name but hers was how she got through much of that month. The manager, Ruby, also the owner—with a bright red face contorted in perpetual anger, sadistically terrorized every employee. Heather, along with the other staff wondered what had made her so cruel. Other than being the boss, no one knew anything else about her. She did wear a wedding ring; a plain gold band, too small for her chubby fingers. Heather tried to imagine Ruby falling in love, wearing a dress, and a beaming groom to be placing that ring on her finger, but she couldn’t.
Heather called Stewart almost every day. Sometimes she would catch him at just the right time, and they’d talk for hours, but he didn’t know she was coming to see him. He was still staying with his aunt Connie in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in the nicest house Heather had ever seen. It was built to look like a cabin, sitting over several acres, including a lake. Heather had been up a time before, a few months back. She spent three days there, mostly going back and forth to Walmart with Connie buying flowers—Marigolds—to plant, listening to her talk about how much she couldn’t stand her husband, Clyde. He stayed in the basement, mostly, afraid Connie would yell at him and when he did come out, she did—yell at him. He would roll his shoulders down, like dogs tuck their tails, and this made Heather feel sorry for him.
The first night she was there, Stewart hadn’t come home. He had picked her up earlier that day from the bus station—while on his lunch break, dropping her off saying, “Connie will look after you while I’m at work,” with his usual twisted grin. The second night, he didn’t make it home until the wee hours of the morning. Heather had been sitting quietly in the room Connie had set up for her, when she overheard Connie from the living room on the phone with Stewart, telling him, “You’d better get your sorry ass here after work and see this poor thing that’s been sitting here waitin’ on you—for what, only the Devil knows.” Heather, holding one of the bed pillows in her lap, fixed her eyes on its floral pattern.
Heather heard Stewart when he came in, reading the small clock next to the bed; It was 2:12 A.M. She knew it was him because he was the only one who would come in through the back door. Everyone else came through the front door, having a house key and all; Steward was, as Connie said, “A wandering man.” She felt her heart drop into her stomach, when he opened the door to her room. He sat beside her on the bed, then took her small, trembling body in his hands—rough from labor. She would later tell Christy that they had made love for hours, and that it was magical because that is what it felt like to her. She fell asleep in his arms and awoke to the smells of breakfast cooking. Stumbling into the kitchen, she saw Connie cooking eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy.
“He just left,” she said, seeing the look on Heather’s face.
“You hungry?” she continued.
Clyde tip-toed into the kitchen. He was dressed like a cowboy, down to dusty leather boots. He scanned the kitchen.
“Right here, Clyde,” Connie said, annoyed, handing him a cup of cup of hot coffee. Heather watched the steam rise off the top, turning into a line as he carried it away.
“I guess we’ll get the last of those Marigolds in the garden today?” She asked, looking over at Heather.
Heather sat down, head down, sliding her hands in between her long legs. “Sounds good, ma’am.”
Stewart didn’t come back that night, or even the next day to take her back to the bus. Connie dropped her off at the bus station. As Heather was getting on the bus, Connie called out to her, “You’re a sweet girl. Leave Stewart, alone. He’s a sociopath. He’ll never do right by any woman. Heather paused, and turned back to Connie waving her hands, bracelets clinking on her wrist. “What’s a sociopath?”
“He ain’t got any real feelings. It’s all about him. Look, he’s been that way since he was a kid. Look how he treated you. He knew you were coming. He could’ve taken you around, out to eat, but what’d he do? Let you sit there for three days like a fool.” Heather stood stunned, holding her mouth open like a cheerio until the bus driver honked his horn.
“You gettin’ on or not, Miss?”
Heather sat down on a full bus next to the kindest person she could find. She needed someone kind. It was an older woman, from India, who talked about her religion. Heather couldn’t make a lot of sense of what she was saying but listened. The woman had just lost her sister to cancer, but believed people never died, but were just born again over and over. The woman was convinced that she had once been a powerful landowning man, but because she did not give enough supplementations to some God, she was reborn a poor Indian woman living in America. She did something right to be born in America, she said, but with a laugh added, “but to come back a woman, I must’ve really done something terrible.” She asked Heather who she had been in her past life. Heather shrugged her shoulders, saying, “I believe in Jesus, so I guess I don’t get a second go-around.”
As they moved through the silence of Mississippi back to Memphis, Tennessee, dusk came. The old lady had fallen asleep, her hands clutching a box of graham crackers, with the look of a cherub—chubby cheeks and all. Heather stared outside, mesmerized by the purples, and pinks streaking across the sky. The colors soon bartered for darkness and there wasn’t much left to see. She hung on the few houses passed, some with lights on, wondering who lived there, and what the people were doing inside. She thought about what the woman had said about past lives. She thought she must’ve done something wrong in her last life, too.
After closing that night, Christy drove her to Memphis—to the Greyhound station, off Union Ave, so she could catch the night bus back to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The station was crowded with people and smells Heather was used to, only in concentrate. “Rich people don’t take buses,” Heather heard a woman waiting in line behind her at the ticket counter saying. “They fly planes or sleep on train cars or pack up their new station wagons for easy street,” she went on. Though it was only her second time taking the bus, it all felt so routine: Stand in line, pay for a ticket, check in luggage, and wait. The clerk, annoyed, pointed her to line B. Shuffling to the line, an older white man bumped her with his cane. He could barely see but kept going, talking as he went, “I’m sorry, sir, very sorry.” She could tell he was looking for something, or someone. Later, she would see him on her same bus, sitting next to an older woman, their hands clasped together, and Heather knew it was her he had been looking for.
The bus was dead empty and would stay that way until they made it to Jackson, Mississippi. Heather hoped she would not have to give up what all Greyhound bus patrons pray for—two seats to yourself as people shuffled on the bus in what appeared to be a mass exodus from Jackson. She pretended to sleep so no one could ask her, “Can I sit here?”
The question never came. Instead, a middle-aged white man slumped in the seat next to her, with eyes wide. She pretended to wake up. He was overweight, and that weight spilled into her seat. She moved as close to the window as possible, uncomfortable.
“Where ya headed?” he asked, throwing his hair back, then clasping it into a ponytail. Customary bus talk.
“Yeah, I’m headed somewhere else. Somewhere I can hide.”
“You got a wire?”
“Nawh, I can tell you’re harmless,” he said, dead serious.
“I got some Xanax.”
Heather opened her purse, taking out two Xanax, giving herself one and the man one. Hyde, a new server at Ruby’s had given them to her when she told him she was taking a bus. He had told her, “take these Snow White and sleep through it.” He called her Snow White the first day they met, and she had been tasked with training him. He was a quick learner.
“Who are you?” the man yelled, throwing the pill down, jumping up from the seat.
He sat down next to a man a few seats up. Heather could hear him telling the man that there was a girl in the back trying to poison people with pharmaceuticals. She looked at the pill still in her hand, now afraid to take it, dropping it to the bottom of her purse. The bus driver—an older white woman—called out to the back, “Folks, you best be behaving back there, now.”
The bus rolled into a wet, soggy, but hot Hattiesburg, Mississippi at the crack of dawn. A small gas station attached to a small diner served as the town’s bus station. Patrons waiting for the bus huddled under umbrellas and the roof ledge of the gas station to avoid the rain. A small girl stomped her feet in one of the puddles, glimmering with the colors of gasoline in it. Heather watched as the old man who had hit her with the cane get off first, with his wife—or what she assumed was his wife—in tow. An older woman, in what looked like a Sunday dress and a black umbrella with a wooden handle greeted them both with a smile. Heather would see them again at one of the tables inside eating breakfast. They were all smiles and laughter. Heather eyed them intently from her table as she ate a hot biscuit with jelly, wondering what they were talking about.
Heather watched the rain fall relentlessly on the pay phone outside. She needed to call a cab for a ride to the closest motel. Once there and settled, she would call Stewart. Her heart fluttered at the thought of him holding her like he did that night at Connie’s, and she could tell him that she was pregnant. Stewart had always talked about wanting a baby, and how she’d make a great mother. Before he left Millington—and her, they had even tried for a baby. After a few months of trying, he turned to her one night, and said, “I guess I just can’t have kids.” “Maybe, it’s me,” she said back. “No, honey, you ain’t the only one. I’ve tried knocking up every girl I’ve ever been with. I want a baby. Lots of ‘em.” Heather laid in bed that night, biting her nails, and praying to Jesus—begging him for a fertile womb.
The cabbie pulled up, and Heather ran outside, ducking the rain.
“Haven’t ever seen it rain like this. You?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Global warming,” she said, lighting a cigarette.
Heather looked out the window, not knowing what she had meant.
“Nearest motel, right?”
“So whatcha’ here for?”
“I’m here to see a friend. A good friend.”
The woman, late 30’s, dressed like a lumberjack, grinned. “A man?” she asked.
Heather blushed. “Yes.”
“Why ain’t this man picking you up, instead of me?”
“Well he doesn’t know I’m here. It’s a surprise.”
“Look, how old are you, anyhow?”
“Men are pigs. You know, I shouldn’t say that and insult the pig. Men are worse than pigs.”
Heather looked out the window again, nervous, with her hands clasped together.
“It’s really raining hard,” Heather said, not wanting the woman to feel ignored.
“Global warming, darling. These storms are just gonna get worse, you know.”
“You bet your bottom dollar they are. This whole planet is fucked.” The woman slammed one of her hands on the dashboard. “Agriculture, that’s when it all started. That’s when humanity took a road they never should’ve taken.”
“Yep. That’s where it all went to shit.”
Heather looked out the window again and remained silent until the cabbie turned into a small motel. It had a green roof, and at the entrance two large pots with Marigolds in them.
“Closest motel, Marigold Inn. Decent place, really. Cable, bath tubs, even. Six bucks and ninety cents for the ride,” the cabbie said.
“Thank you,” Heather said, handing her fee over.
“Hey look, don’t let that sociopath push you around.”
Heather walked away, stunned. There was that word again. Sociopath. She had heard it before on TV, about serial killers and stuff but Stewart had never killed anyone, she thought.
Inside, she felt like a new woman. She tore her clothes off, sticky, and wet, taking a long hot bath. She had neatly packed her makeup bag to include a bath ball. She got a set of them from her stepmother for Christmas last year. This was the last one. She loved watching them fizz and foam, making the water smell like lavender, leaving her skin smooth. She used her hands to skim the oils from the top of the water, and over her belly. Her stomach, just a few months ago, flat as a board now had a small pudge. She loved it.
She crawled out of the bath and into the creaky bed. It smelled like a mixture of mold, and cheap perfume. A clock next to the bed read 10:02 A.M. She would sleep for a few hours, and then call him, she thought. She knew he worked until about three or four in the afternoon on Thursdays. Holding the small roundness of her belly, she thought of seeing Stewart again, of his face lighting up when she told him, and with this, she dozed into the most peaceful sleep.
Suddenly, a rapid knock came at the door, jolting Heather up. She jumped up, heart racing, running to lock the door. “How did I forget to lock the door?” She asked, looking out of the peephole to see nothing but an empty parking lot and the Popeye’s restaurant that sat across the way. She turned back to the clock. It read 12:06 P.M. Her chest tightened. She sat down by the phone and dialed his work number. She knew three of the numbers he could be reached at by heart. His work, his best friend, and his aunt’s phone number.
“Clay’s AC, how can we help ya?”
She recognized the voice. It was Carol, Clay’s wife. She used to be a police officer but quit her job to answer the phone for the shop after her lupus got bad.
“Is Stewart there?”
“He’s at lunch, baby.”
“Okay, can you tell him to please call The Marigold Inn, Room #12 when he gets back?”
Heather paced the room with a nervous excitement. Then she got dressed. She put on a pink skirt with a white top she had found at the Good Will. It was the only outfit she owned other than a pair of jeans, an old High School T-Shirt and her work uniforms. She stared at the clock and then the phone and back to the clock.
At 3:00 P.M, she called Clay’s again.
“Clay’s AC, how can we help ya?” Carol answered.
“Hi, is Stewart, there?”
“Honey, he’s gone for the day.”
“Uhm…did you give—”
The phone clicked. She called Connie. No answer. She called his best friend. He said he hadn’t seen Stewart in week. She called Connie again. No answer.
It was past nine o’clock before that phone ever rang. She answered it on the first ring.
“It’s Connie. I saw this number on my call back—who’s this?”
“Connie, it’s me, Heather. Is Stewart around?”
“You in Hattiesburg?”
Heather felt a lump form in her throat.
“Does Stewart know this?”
“Yes, he told me to come. Do you know where’s he at? I’m at the Marigold Inn.”
“Heather, Stewart comes and goes. If I see him, you know I’ll tell him.”
Later that night, around midnight, Heather pulled the Gideon’s Bible out of the little drawer next to the bed. She wrote on the front page: Where’s Stewart? On the back she wrote: Heather Montley. That was Stewart’s last name.
That night sleep came in intervals. Someone kept knocking on her door and running away. She mostly sat up in the bed, too afraid to sleep, and when sleep came, she would be jerked awake by more knocks. She kept her eyes, heavy with sleep on the flimsy door and lock. She cried softly, wishing Stewart would call. She called him almost every other day from home, and could reach him, and yet here, now, he was like a ghost, she thought with a quiet anger growing. She held onto the hope that he would be at work the next day–Friday. She would take a cab there if she had too, she thought. But Friday came and went, and he didn’t show up for work at all that day, according to Carol, who Heather finally saw face to face after catching a cab to Clay’s AC at noon. Carol looked nothing like Heather had imagined. She wore a tight red dress, and a bleached blonde wig. The cabbie had been some small Chinese man with broken English, and wide rimmed glasses. Heather was grateful for a silent ride but wondered what had brought him all the way from China.
Lying on the motel bed, she felt her stomach gnawing with hunger. The clock read 4:31 P.M. She had spent the money she needed for food on the cab rides to Stewart’s job and back to the motel. The seven dollars she had left would be needed for a cab back to the bus station. Her bus was leaving at 5:00 A.M that next morning. She hung on to the hope he’d call by a cheap, bare thread. To soothe her anxiety, she took to flights of fantasy, imagining Stewart knocking on the door with a big bucket of chicken, and biscuits from the Popeye’s just a few feet from her door, them eating, and laughing. All her earlier fantasies of lovemaking had evolved into eating. By midnight, her hunger was so intense, she began to feel dizzy. She tore the room up looking for anything to eat, finding two packets of sugar next to a packet of coffee, and one coffee mug. She blended hot water with the sugar and drank it. She called Connie one more time, just to see if he’d answer. Clyde answered, “Now who in the tarnation is calling in the middle of the night?” She hung up, without a whisper, lying on the bed, letting tears roll from her cheeks, streaking her makeup.
“Where are you, Stewart?” she asked, staring at the ceiling fan, covered in inches of dust.
The same cabbie who had dropped her, picked her up.
“Headed back home already?” she said as Heather crawled into the car, dizzy and disorientated from having not eaten.
“Hey, you okay?” “You look paler than a white sheet.”
“No, you ain’t. What’s wrong with you?” You need to go to the hospital?”
“No. No. I’m just so hungry. I’m pregnant and just really hungry. I haven’t eaten in a while.”
“What? Honey, why haven’t you eaten anything?” Look, never mind. Here, let’s go to this Popeyes, and get you some breakfast. You like Popeye’s?”
“I only have seven dollars and I need it to get to the station.”
“Put your money up,” She said, jerking the cab around to the drive thru window of Popeye’s. She asked what Heather wanted, ordered it upsized, and adding an apple turnover to that.
“Eat it up, baby girl. All of it. You’re feeding two.”
Heather ate, as more tears came. The cabbie reached around, dotting her eyes with a napkin.
“That bastard told you to get an abortion, didn’t he?”
Heather, full sobs now, talking with her mouth full, “Worse. He never even came to see me. Just ducked and dodged my calls.”
“Oh, honey, you’ve just been sitting alone at that damn motel hungry, haven’t you? Well, let’s you get back on that bus, and home. And then get yourself in college. How old are you, anyways?”
“What would you like to do? A teacher? A vet? What?”
Heather looked out the window. No one had really asked her this question. She knew what it was she wanted to be but was too afraid to tell anyone. She used to tell people when she was younger, but they’d just laugh. She even told Stewart once. He said, “Yeah, okay, baby, that’ll be the day.”
Heather sipped the last of her orange juice, hearing bubbles in the straw. “I always wanted to be a librarian—I love the smell of new books and old ones, too.”
The cabbie smiled. “You’re young. Get a grant. A Pell grant from your local university and sign up for classes—after the baby is born, of course—if you keep the baby. You don’t have to keep the baby, you know? Look, there’s nothing stopping you, darling…well except for climate change, but hey, it’ll be at least twenty years before it gets real bad. Okay?”
At the bus station, the cabbie told her as she got out, “I wish you luck. All the luck the universe can afford to offer.”
Heather turned back. “Thank you. Thank you so much…for the food and everything.” The cabbie waved with a smile showing good teeth, and it was then that Heather noticed a small mood ring on her left pinky finger, same as the one she wore. She looked down to her own hand to take note of it. It was there, now a deep green. When she looked up, the cabbie was driving off.
On the bus, Heather sat next to a girl, maybe a little older than herself. “What’s global warming?”
The girl shrugged her shoulders, putting headphones in her ear. A CD player sat on her lap. She moved her head to the music. Heather looked down at her hands, clasped. She opened them, laying them flat on her bare knees. She made up her mind to go to the library when she got back home. She could find the answers herself, she thought.
If you have any fiction work that you feel would speak to women, written for the female gaze/perspective and would like to have your work featured on this blog, please contact me. I would love to share other work by other writer’s interested in female empowerment.