Cassandra clutched the frog in one hand. The water from the hose lazily gushed out into the dirt beside her. She felt her fingers tighten into a fist, the slippery skin exploding through the cracks next to her knuckles. Her feet sank into the ground, just far enough for the mud to cover her toes. She stared ahead, feeling the weight of the lump in her hand. It dropped into the mud. She turned around and walked back to the house.
The house was old. Most of the houses in the neighborhood had been razed and rebuilt, huge sprawling mansions that left no room for a yard. Only a few original homes remained. Cassandra pulled the heavy screen door open and stepped onto a towel past the threshold.
"What were you doing?" asked her mother.
"Nothing. I went out back."
Her mother was shaky. She jumped whenever someone came into the room.
"Is the locksmith finished?" Cassandra asked.
"He has two more locks to change, I hope he hurries..."
Cassandra nodded. "Hopefully before anyone else gets here."
She thought about how quickly things can change. Just two days ago Cassandra had gotten a call from her sister. She said Tom had come over to her house, with blood splattered all over his fists, going up to his elbows. He was looking for mom. He was crying.
"Where's mom?" Cassandra had asked her sister.
"I don't know. Tom said she drove away and she's not answering her phone."
Then, she called. She had driven up the canyon and was staying at an antiquated family resort. Cassandra stopped at a convenience store and threw underwear and toiletries into a basket. She rushed through checkout and started up the unfamiliar road. The winding canyon highway was lush despite the dry heat of the valley. Cassandra thought about what could possibly have happened. Why was this time different? She pulled into the parking area next to the sign that read:
Welcome to the crater! Fullbright Resort's own geothermal spring!
The resort was made up of tiny, quaint huts. She squinted at each door, straining to see the numbers. When she found the right one, she knocked on the pale purple door. It opened gingerly.
"What happened?" Cassandra asked, glancing at her mother's blood spattered pants. The air inside the hut was hot and stagnant.
"I don't know! But I know I can't go back."
Cassandra gently hugged her mother.
"We need to turn on the A/C. Have you been here for 2 days without the A/C on?"
"Well, I did notice it was awful hot."
They dumped out the plastic bags on the bed. Toothpaste, mouthwash, a brush, panties.
"Shoot, I swear I threw some deodorant in. Where did it go?"
"Oh thank you, that was sweet. You didn't need to do that, they have a nice shop here! I used to come here when I was a girl with my parents. That's why I thought to come here, because I figure I just need to disappear."
"What? No, mom, you can't just stay here. We'll figure it out, you can stay with me."
They gathered the few things she had purchased at the resort gift shop and got into the car. Cassandra put the keys in the ignition, and turned to her mother.
"Should we take a dip in the springs?" They both let out a weak chuckle.
"No, I think we can't manage that today," her mother said, unnecessarily.
Cassandra smiled wanly at the memory. Suddenly, the front door opened and a short woman with spiky hair and glasses pushed open the screen and stepped into the house.
"Who are you?" the woman asked, glancing around the interior of the house and finally resting her gaze on Cassandra.
"I am Cassandra, and this is my mother, Ann. Who are you?"
"I am Annette, the estate executor. Why are you in this house?"
Cassandra felt rage leaping up her chest into her throat. "I live here! I...lived here. And my mother lives here." She could not keep her voice from shaking.
Annette looked from Cassandra to her mother and back. "How did you get a locksmith to change these locks?" Her green eyes were almost kind as they peered over the top of her glasses. She was just as patronizing as she was curious.
"Because this is her residence. She has lived here for 23 years! Tom locked her out of her own house after he beat her up. So, this is still her residence, and she has the address on her drivers license." Cassandra could hardly hold back a howl of rage.
Annette turned her gaze to Ann, who was staring silently at the floor.
"Well, Ann, I heard that it was your intent to divorce Tom. So this really isn't your residence anymore."
"Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong," Cassandra said firmly. Then she paused. "So it seems you do know who we are after all..." Her mouth turned upward in a bitter smile.
Annette smiled laboriously. "Yes, I think I remember now. Well, we must come to an amenable agreement about this because if you are changing the locks, I will require a copy of all keys."
"That won't be necessary, and I think it's time for you to go," Cassandra strode quickly toward Annette herding her toward the door.
Once the door was safely shut with Annette on the other side, Cassandra slouched to the floor and felt tears stream down her face. How dare they? she thought.
"Mom. We need to get you a lawyer. I don't know what to do." Cassandra sobbed.
"Ok, honey. If you think so. I really don't like lawyers, but if we have to, I guess..."
After her mom went to bed, Cassandra opened the french doors to the back patio. The summer air was hot breath on her face and moths smacked into the lights. The rod iron table and chairs were still there from, who knows, maybe even Tom's childhood. Cassandra's expression was stone as she recalled one summer spent sanding and painting the table and all four chairs.
"It's the least you can do," her mother had said. "I paid for your rent this semester."
"True," Cassandra had said, "because you agreed to if I got a scholarship to pay for all my tuition."
It didn't matter. The iron table and chairs had to be sanded and painted. And so she had done the work while drowning out the screaming with headphones. Even the sander against iron couldn't drown out the guttural roar of Tom's rage against her mother. She painted the iron with a small black brush, lying on her back to get all of the corners.
"It's just yelling," her mom had said one day.
"Yeah. Ok. But it's actually verbal abuse," Cassandra said, bitterly.
"Oh honey, that's just how men are. They just need attention and they like to have things just so. They...they need to feel like they're important!" she said, almost triumphantly.
"No mom, that's not true. It is so unhealthy that you think that! Men should not be allowed to act like animals and have that be acceptable behavior!"
"Ok..." her mom had said, submissively. So submissively.
Cassandra walked past the table and all four chairs. She pushed through the wooden gate to the back. The hose was still running. She squelched through the mud to get to the faucet. Her wrist made a snapping noise as she turned the water off quickly. The moon was supremely bright and its light reflected off the pooled water. She looked for the frog, but it was gone.