Fly Away Page 37


I roll sideways and open my nightstand drawer and reach for the Xanax.

* * *

You think it was a betrayal? Kate says beside me, and her voice brings me out of my memories, pulls me up like a leash snap.

I remember where I really am. In a hospital bed, connected to a ventilator, a hole drilled in my head, watching my life flash before my eyes.

“I was in trouble,” I say quietly. And they tried to help me.

How did I not know that? How did I miss the obvious?

You see now, don’t you?

“Stop stop stop. I don’t want to do this anymore.” I roll onto my side and close my eyes.

You need to remember.

“No. I need to forget.”

September 3, 2010

2:10 P.M.

In the hospital conference room, the police detective stood with his legs spread far enough apart to hold him steady if an earthquake struck. He had a small notepad open and was reviewing his notes.

Johnny glanced around the quiet room. Most of the chairs were empty, pushed in close to the table. Two Kleenex boxes stood at the ready in the middle of the table. Beside him, Margie was trying her best to sit tall and straight, but this had been a tiring vigil; she kept slumping in defeat. He’d called her early this morning; she and Bud had been on a plane from Arizona by nine-fifteen. Now Bud was at Johnny’s house, waiting for the boys to come home from school. Marah was in with Tully.

He and Margie had been in this room before. Here, they’d been told that the surgeons had failed to get clean margins on Kate’s cancer and that it had spread to her lymph nodes and that there were quality-of-life decisions to be made. He reached over to hold Margie’s cold, big-knuckled hand.

The detective cleared his throat.

Johnny looked up.

“The toxicology report won’t be in for a while, but a search of Ms. Hart’s residence revealed several prescription drugs—Vicodin, Xanax, and Ambien, primarily. We haven’t found any witnesses to the accident yet, but our estimate, based on the crime scene analysis, is that she was driving in excess of fifty miles per hour on Columbia Street, heading toward the waterfront, in the rain. She hit a concrete stanchion at a high rate of speed.”

“Were there skid marks?” Johnny asked. He heard Margie draw in a breath, and he knew that this question hadn’t occurred to her. Skid marks before a collision meant that the driver had tried to stop. No skid marks meant something else.

The detective looked at Johnny. “I don’t know.”

Johnny nodded. “Thanks, Detective.”

After the detective left, Margie turned to Johnny. He saw the tears in her eyes and regretted his question. His mother-in-law had already suffered so much. “I’m sorry, Margie.”

“Are you saying … Do you think she drove into it on purpose?”

The question stripped Johnny of his strength, left him exposed.

“Johnny?”

“You’ve seen her more recently than I have. What do you think?”

Margie sighed. “I think she felt very alone in the last year.”

Johnny got to his feet and mumbled an excuse about needing to use the bathroom and left the room.

In the hallway, he leaned against the wall and hung his head. When he finally looked up, he saw a door across the hall from him, and a sign: CHAPEL.

When was the last time he’d been in a church?

Kate’s funeral.

He crossed the hall and opened the door. It was a small, narrow room, utilitarian-looking at best, with a few pews and a makeshift altar at the front. The first thing he noticed was the quiet. The second was the girl seated off to the right in the front pew. She was slumped down so far, all he could see was a tuft of gelled pink hair.

He moved forward slowly, his footsteps lost on the carpeted floor. “May I join you?”

Marah looked up sharply. He could see that she’d been crying. “Like I could stop you.”

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“Do you want to stop me?” he asked quietly. He had made so many mistakes with her, he didn’t want to add to the pile by pushing her too hard when she’d come here to be alone.

She stared at him a long time and then slowly shook her head. She looked so young right now, like a kid at Halloween, dressing up for attention.

He sat down cautiously, waited a while before he said, “Does praying help you?”

“Not so far.” Tears filled her eyes. “Do you know what I did to Tully last week?”

“No.”

“It’s my fault she’s here.”

“It’s not your fault, baby. It was a car accident. There’s nothing you could have done—”

“It’s your fault, too,” Marah said, sounding miserable.

To that, Johnny didn’t know what to say. He knew what his daughter meant; he felt the same thing. They’d let Tully down, cast her out of their life, made her feel alone, and here she was.

“I can’t stand this,” Marah cried. She bolted to her feet and headed for the door.

“Marah!” he yelled.

At the door, she paused and looked back.

“Don’t hurt yourself,” he said.

“Too late,” she said quietly, and left the room. The door banged shut behind her.

Johnny got slowly to his feet. Feeling every one of his fifty-five years, he went back out to the waiting room, where he found Margie seated in the corner, knitting.

He sat down beside her.

“I tried calling Dorothy again,” she said after a while. “No answer.”

“Will she get the note you had Bud put on her door?”

Margie seemed to hunch down at that. “Sooner or later,” she said quietly. And then, “I hope it’s sooner.”

September 3, 2010

2:59 P.M.

On this cool September afternoon, leaves were falling all over the town of Snohomish, on the roadsides and in parking lots and on riverbanks. As Dorothy Hart stood in her stall at the farmers’ market, staring out over the view that had become her life, she saw little bits of beauty. The last wild roses for sale in Erika’s red buckets across the way, a young woman with a plump, curly-haired baby on her hip tasting some of Kent’s smoked salmon, a little boy sipping homemade cider from a Dixie cup. The farmers’ market was a bustle of color and activity and sights and sounds. Only a few short blocks from the historic center of town, this lively market sprang up on a patch of pavement every Friday from noon to five: white tent roofs rose above it all like ice-cream peaks; beneath them, a dazzling, glittering array of fruits and nuts, berries, herbs, vegetables, crafts, and honey. The patchwork colors were gorgeous in this fading autumnal light.

In the small booth, Dorothy was coming to the bottom of her limited supply of produce. She had a long, low table set up, draped in newspaper—the Sunday comics this week—and dotted with boxes that held this week’s crop: bright red apples, plump raspberries, baskets full of herbs, and the vegetables: green beans, tomatoes, broccoli, and summer squash. Of those, only a few remained; lonely apples in the bottom of an otherwise empty box, a handful of green beans.

She was out of almost everything. The sky—cloudless and blue—was a bright backdrop to the melee as she packed up her boxes and carried them across the aisle to the Cascade Farms stall.

The owner, a big, wild-haired man with a potbelly and a hook of a nose, gave her a smile. “Looks like a good day for you, Dorothy.”

“Really good, Owen. Thanks again for letting me use part of your booth. The raspberries were gone in a nanosecond.”

She handed him the stack of wooden boxes. He took them from her and put them in the back of his rusted pickup truck. He would drop them off at her house later. “You sure we can’t give you a ride home?”

“Naw. I’m good, but thanks. Tell Erika hi. See you guys later.”

She walked back to her part of the shared stall, feeling a slight tingle of sweat along the back of her neck. A bead slid down her spine, dampening the waistband of her baggy pants. She unbuttoned the ragged plaid shirt that was basically her uniform—she had at least six of them—and took it off, tying it around her waist by the sleeves. The ribbed red tank she had on underneath was blotched with sweat beneath her arms, but there was nothing she could do about it.

She was sixty-nine years old, with long gray hair, skin that looked like ten miles of dry riverbed, and eyes that held all the sorrow she’d experienced in her life. The last thing she cared about was whether she smelled. She retied the red bandanna across her forehead and climbed onto the rusted bike that was her only mode of transportation.

One day at a time.

The guiding tenet of this new life of hers. In the past five years, she’d turned her life around, pared down and stripped away until only what mattered remained. She left almost no carbon imprint on the planet. She composted everything. She grew and tended and sold her organically grown produce, and she ate only organic food. Fruits, nuts, vegetables, and grains. She was not pretty anymore, and she was as thin and stringy as her beans, but none of that bothered her. In fact, it pleased her. The life she’d led showed on her face.

She was alone now. It was how it always should have been. How many times had her father told her that? You’re cold as ice, Dotty. You’ll end up alone if you can’t thaw. It was criminal that his voice was still in her head after all these years.

She put a rubber band around her pant leg and climbed onto the bike. With a flourish, she was off, pedaling through town with her cash box banging around in the basket between her handlebars. Cars honked at her and came too close, but she barely noticed. She’d learned that people were uncomfortable with old hippies in general, but especially those on bicycles.

At the corner, she held her arm out to indicate her intention and turned onto Main Street. It gave her a small bit of pleasure, just following the rules, indicating her turn. She knew it sounded odd and most people wouldn’t understand, but her whole life had been spent in the wildlands of anarchy, and the peace that came with rules and fences and society had proven to be unexpectedly comforting. She parked her bike in one of the stands outside the pharmacy. The newer residents of town, the hipper suburbanites who’d chosen this once-sleepy town as their home because it was thirty-some miles from downtown Seattle, would lock their bikes up in bright red tubing and protect their investment.

It always made Dorothy smile, seeing that sort of care being taken for things. Someday, if they were lucky, they’d learn what needed to be held close in life, and what wasn’t worth worrying over. Retying her bandanna as she walked down the cracked, uneven sidewalk, she was surprised by the number of people in town today. Tourists moved in flocks in and out of the antique stores that had become Snohomish’s raison d’être. On this street, once the only one in town, banked on one side by the wide, flat ribbon of the Snohomish River and on the other by the start of the new part of town, the storefronts retained the frontier look of the old days.

She went into a brightly lit pharmacy and strode directly to the prescription counter. Along the way there were plenty of pretty things that caught her eye—brightly colored barrettes, coffee mugs with inspirational sayings, greeting cards—but she knew that less was more. Besides, she had no money left and her check from Tully hadn’t come in yet this month.

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