January 23, 2010: Special thanks to David Shrock and Anton Gully for astute suggestions that I've now incorporated into the piece. Thanks!
Miriam loved to take walks. Long walks. It was the only way to escape the incessant demands of her increasingly unwieldy life. One part of her habitual neighborhood route was special. Not much to look at—a jumbo of electric wires and overgrown kudzu. But whenever she got near it, things changed. The whirring in her mind slowed a bit and she could breathe deeper. Sometimes she stopped and prayed there. There, where the kudzu leaves levitated in the wind, everything seemed okay. And lately nothing in her world had been okay.
She was within sight of her special place when a man dashed out of the woods into her path. She jumped.
“Sorry, ma’am. Didn’t mean to scare you. But I was wondering, could you spare some change? My car broke down about a mile up the road and I really need to get home to Gainesville.”
She thought he must’ve passed at least 50 houses where someone could help him, but decided not to question his story. He looked homeless—dark brown matted hair, sun-battered skin, bloodshot eyes, and one front tooth missing. What was a homeless man doing all the way out here?
“Sir, I don’t have anything with me to give you.” She really didn’t. She didn’t carry money with her and today she’d even decided to forgo the iPod.
The stranger looked her up and down and then up and down once more, stopping his gaze at her sports bra. She squirmed. She hated when men did this. Time to move on. She walked forward.
The man stepped directly in front of her. “I don’t believe you.”
She felt a faint tremble inside. “I’m serious. I would give you something if I had it. I don’t even have pockets, see?”
After the man’s eyes passed over her hips and then over the cell phone in her right hand, he said, “Okay, ma’am, sorry to have disturbed you,” and moved off the trail.
She let out her breath slowly—not realizing she’d been holding it—and walked past him. Now just a few feet away from her favorite spot, she decided she would stop on the way back—when she hoped he would be gone.
She heard steps pounding behind her. Scarcely a second later she was tackled to the ground. “I told you I didn’t believe you,” the man said, pointing a gun in her face. His body was twitching. Her mind went completely blank. All she could see was his face, as if permanently imprinted on her retinas—even as she felt herself dragged across the dirt path and into the edge of the woods.
Then she was high above it all, watching. Watching as he pulled down her pants, watching as he clumsily tried to pull her sports bra over her head. Watching as—
The gun. The gun was beside him. No longer in his hand. If she willed it, if she could move her…Suddenly it was in her hand. A huge explosion rang in her ears.
She wasn’t exactly sure what happened next. All she saw was a man holding the side of his face as he ran. On the ground was a huge red stain. Blood sure does look brighter in person than on TV, she thought vaguely. Her pants were down at her ankles. She pulled them up and readjusted her sports bra. It took all of her mental energy to do these tasks because her hands were shaking so badly.
Off to the side she thought she saw—then heard—movement. She was terrified, but couldn’t help turning her head. A little boy stood silently looking at her. In his hands, butt end towards the ground, was a gun just like the man’s. The boy saw her eyes rest on the gun and sensed her fear.
“Paint gun, ma’am. My friends and I were in the woods and—” he looked uncomfortable. He stepped towards her and reached to pick up the gun on the ground beside her. “Reckon you won’t be needing this anymore.” He took the gun into his other hand and began walking away.
She called out, “Have I seen you somewhere before?”
He turned around. “I don’t know ma’am, maybe.”
“Do you live in the neighborhood?”
He seemed to hesitate. “I live,” he pointed towards the kudzu, “back in there.” She followed his finger into the mess of kudzu. When she looked back, he’d disappeared.
- Current Location:Atlanta, GA
- Current Mood: okay
- Current Music:Grizzly Bear