She boards a train, making sure it is heading west. She gets off after an hour and a half, asks around and finds another train to take her further. If they aren’t looking for her already, they will be soon enough. At the next station, a further two hours away, she buys blonde dye and a pair of scissors. He loves her hair, and she feels a little hollow as she hacks it off, as she flushes the coloring out in the restroom sink and sees it turned almost white. She changes her clothes and finds a bus that will take her across state lines. Maybe he will be waiting in San Francisco.
In a small town just east of absolutely nowhere, a man tells her that she looks like that girl who sings on TV, and she tells him she gets that a lot, even though she doesn’t know who the man means, and no one has ever told her that she looks like anyone else. He asks her to spend the night with him, and she does, for fifty dollars and a ride to the next town over.
For two weeks she is able to work there as a waitress, which pays poorly, but at least pays, then she buys a bus ticket and boards a Greyhound to Boise. She decides to stay in Boise for a little while. She doesn’t know if they are still looking for her. He won’t be in San Francisco for a long time yet. At a small dentist's clinic she gets a job as a secretary. She has worked in offices before, and has a kind smile, a comforting manner. The dentist is a nice woman who knows someone who is looking for a tenant, and as simple as that she is set up for a new life, as if she has been there for years, as if she has never slept on truck beds or walked until her soles gave out.
Her landlady has a nephew, a pale young man with dimples and hair that refuses to lie flat. He asks her out and takes her dancing, and in the corner of the bar he steals a kiss. I’m pregnant, she says, and when he asks her who the father is she tells him that he died. He stays with her for reasons she can’t really understand, but she lets him, sleeps in his bed and wonders why he wants her. After three months of this he asks her to marry him. She answers yes, realizing, even as she says it, that the consequences of her actions have ceased mattering to her.
One early morning in the gray light of dawn she packs a bag and leaves the keys to the flat on the kitchen table before walking down the dusty highway with the sun at her back. She is starting to show, and feels something moving inside of her, sometimes. It is late August, and warm. She walks along the road, sticking a thumb out whenever she spots a car, feeling her own weight slowing her down. After walking for three hours someone finally stops, a small red Sedan with a small, nervous looking woman behind the wheel. Going west? The woman asks her, and she nods, grateful, hurries to get in. I can take you as far as Burns, the other woman says, after pulling out into traffic.
There’s a man goes with that belly? She asks after they have been driving for a while.
He’s overseas, she answers.
I’ll pray for him, the woman says, reaching over to pat her knee.
They part ways in Burns, but she meets another driver there, going her way, and so she is handed over, moved further by hands other than her own.
San Francisco is loud, which is how she remembers it, dirty and crowded. It has been five years since the last time she was here, and the memories of that time are not happy ones. A man broke her arm, the last time she was in San Francisco. It rained almost every day. Now she stands outside the main bus-depot and tries to remember how to get to the motel he had told her about. She turns left, left again and then right. It takes fifteen minutes of walking and then she sees the house with the blue door, the little sign next to it. Breath hitching, she hurries across the street and rings the bell, waiting impatiently for someone to let her in.
She doesn’t sleep much the first week in the city, terrified of being found, and of not being found, of him being gone. She is frightened of spending the rest of her life waiting for him. After breakfast on the tenth day she writes him a short letter that she leaves with reception, packs her bag and goes, though she doesn’t leave the city, can’t, won’t. With money she has saved she moves into a tiny studio close to the bus-depot, cheap and decrepit. Time passes. She has stopped being sick in the mornings. He never comes for her. She wakes up most days wondering at this, wondering why she has been abandoned.
There must be a baby. A man she doesn’t know takes some of her money and forges her an ID card. She has become someone whose name feels clumsy on her tongue, whose face looks different in the mirror. If anyone is still looking for her, she does not think they would recognize this person. I used to dance at parties, she tells herself in the morning. I used to sing in the shower. She has become someone whose history she cannot account for.
At a place called a Birthing Center she gives birth to a boy for just two thousand dollars. He comes into the world screaming and gray eyed, and she holds him for a day and a night before signing the papers and letting them take him away. I would have called you Abraham, she tells his imprint as she packs up her belongings and throws away the documents she has been given. I would have called you Isak, for your father. She leaves in the afternoon on a bus headed towards Los Angeles. I would have named you Jacob, for your brother’s ghost.
In two years she will meet her lover again in a different city altogether. He will be walking hand in hand with another woman, willowy and beautiful. She’ll stop right in front of him and grab him by the shoulders, open her mouth to scream at him for having left her, for having let her grieve him, scream at him for the thousand indignities she has suffered since she first met him, since he got her pregnant and convinced her to go. He’ll push her back a step, dislodge her hands. Who are you, he will ask, barely concealed disdain in his eyes, and she’ll close her mouth quietly and just look at him. He’ll grab the other woman by the elbow and they will walk quickly past her. I lit my life on fire for you, she’ll think, turning to stare at their backs as they disappear into the crowd. She hadn’t thought it would feel quite so cold.
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I drew this story in the critique rounds. I like the story, it does a nice job of showing the young woman's desperation and unpleasant (and perhaps stupid) choices. I came to care about her, even as I wanted to shake her by the shoulders and tell her to not be stupid. Your prose is clean and the story moves at a good pace. I'm normally not much for present tense, In this case, it both draws me in and distances me. I got a little confused in the beginning with "they will be looking" and "he loves her hair" as she's hacking it off. It seems li...
Hey, thanks for the critique! I think if I did rework this story I would use past tense, I agree it works better.