Fly Away Page 39


It was dark out here in the woods, so dark that only with patience and slow going could she find her way, and the pain of each step reverberated up through her body. Her neck ached like hell and her face literally pulsed with pain, but she didn’t stop or slow down until she got to the bus station in Eatonville. There, hidden on three sides by dirty Plexiglas, she slumped onto the bench and finally breathed.

She pulled out a joint—her last one—and smoked it as she sat there in the dark, and it helped, but not enough. Her pain was still unbearable, as was her regret. Already she feared she would go back.

She climbed onto the bus when it arrived, ignoring the driver’s judgmental look.

Two and a half hours later, at just past ten P.M., she got off the bus in downtown Seattle. Pioneer Square, to be exact. It was where you could disappear in Seattle. She knew all about being invisible. It was what she needed now, to become an insubstantial shadow in a blurry world.

But as she moved in this place that should have welcomed her with its dark corners and blind alleys, her headache intensified. It felt like hammer blows to the skull. She heard the small whimpering sound she made and thought that it couldn’t be coming from her. She’d learned how to suffer through pain quietly, hadn’t she? He’d taught her how a long time ago.

She hurt so much she couldn’t think straight.

The next thing she knew, she was falling.

Nineteen

Cloud came awake in stages. First came the realization of her pain, then of her breathing, then that she smelled clean. That told her where she was.

Hospital. She’d been in enough of them in her life to recognize the sights and smells and sounds. It was November 2005, and she was running away.

She lay quietly, afraid to open her eyes. She remembered the night before in staccato images—a red flashing light, being lifted onto a gurney and wheeled into a bright white room. Doctors and nurses buzzing around her, asking who had beaten her up and who they could call for her. She’d closed her eyes and ignored them. Her mouth had been so dry she couldn’t talk even if she had had something to say, and now the shaking in her hands was back.

There was someone in the room with her. She could hear breathing, and the flipping of pages on a chart. Cautiously, she opened her good eye. The other felt swollen shut.

“Hello, Dorothy,” said a plump black woman with dreadlocks and a smattering of dark freckles across her fleshy cheeks.

Cloud swallowed hard. She could have corrected this earnest-looking young woman, told her that Dorothy had died in 1973, but really, who cared? “Go away,” she said, wishing she could lift a hand to gesture. She was afraid to reveal how shaky she was. You never wanted to show weakness in a hospital. One wrong move and you could find yourself in the psych ward.

“I’m Dr. Karen Moody. I don’t know if you remember, but you tried to hit one of the paramedics who brought you in here.”

Cloud sighed. “You’re here to eval me. Let me make it easy: I’m not a threat to myself or others. If I lashed out it was an accident.”

“I take it this isn’t your first psych evaluation. You know the rules.”

Cloud shrugged.

“I’ve got your medical records, Dorothy. And I’ve spoken to the police. It all tells quite a story.”

Cloud stared at her, saying nothing.

“The number of broken bones is certainly not normal. And I saw the cigarette burns on your collarbone. I’m guessing there are more.”

“I’m clumsy.”

The doctor closed the chart. “I doubt that, Dorothy. And I’m guessing you self-medicate to forget.”

“Is that your way of calling me a drunk and a stoner? If it is, you’re right. I’m both. Have been for decades.”

The doctor stared down at her, eyes narrowed and assessing. Then she reached into her pocket and pulled out a card. “Take this, Dorothy. I work at a rehab facility. If you’re ready to change your life, I’d like to help you.”

Cloud took the card, studied it. “I guess you know who my daughter is. You figure she’ll pay for anything.”

“I want to help you, Dorothy. That’s what I do.”

“Why? Why would you want to help me?”

The doctor slowly lifted her sleeve.

Cloud saw the series of small, puckering pink starburst scars that coiled up the dark flesh. Cigarette burns. “I know about drinking to forget.”

Cloud didn’t know what to say.

“It stops working. Well, actually, it never worked, but after a while the drinking makes it worse. I know. I could help you. Or I’d like to try. It’s up to you.”

Cloud watched the woman walk out of the hospital room and shut the door behind her. In the quiet darkness, she found it difficult to breathe. She hadn’t thought about those scars in years.

Sit still, damn it, you know you have this coming.

She swallowed hard. On the wall in front of her, the clock ticked forward the minutes. It was 12:01. Just past midnight.

A new day.

She closed her eyes and fell asleep.

* * *

Someone was touching her, stroking her forehead.

It had to be a dream.

She forced her gritty eyes open. At first there was only darkness. Then, gradually, her good eye adjusted. She saw the charcoal square of a window, with a pale exterior light casting a golden glow into her room. The door was open; beyond it, the nurses’ station was brightly lit and quiet.

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It was the middle of the night. She could tell by the quiet.

“Hey,” someone said.

Tully.

She would know her daughter’s voice anywhere, even in this antiseptic darkness.

Cloud turned her head on the pillow, wincing at the pain it caused.

Her daughter stood there, frowning slightly. Even at this hour, Tully looked gorgeous—sleek auburn hair, beautiful chocolate brown eyes, mouth that should have been too big but somehow fit her perfectly. She was, what—forty-four now? Forty-five?

“What happened?” Tully asked, pulling her hand away from Cloud’s forehead.

She missed the comfort of that touch more than she had any right to. “I got beat up,” she said, adding, “by a stranger,” so she looked slightly less pathetic.

“I wasn’t asking what put you here. I was asking what happened to you.”

“I guess your precious grandmother never told you, huh?” She wished she could find the anger that had fueled her for so many years, but it was just gone. All she had left was sadness and regret and exhaustion. How could she explain to her daughter what she’d never been able to understand for herself? There was a darkness in her, a weakness that had swallowed her whole. All her life she had tried to protect Tully from the truth of it, keeping her away the way you’d tell a child to stand back from a cliff’s edge. It was too late to undo all that damage now.

None of it mattered anymore, and knowing the truth wouldn’t help either of them. Maybe there had been a time, long ago, when talking would have made a difference, but not anymore. Tully was still talking—of course—but Cloud wasn’t listening. She knew what Tully wanted, what she needed, but Cloud didn’t have the strength or the clarity to be what her daughter needed. She never had. “Forget about me.”

“I wish I could, but you’re my mother.”

“You break my heart,” Cloud said quietly.

“You break mine, too.”

“I wish…” Cloud began, and stopped. What was the point of all this pain?

“What?”

“I wish I could be what you need, but I can’t. You need to let me go.”

“I don’t know how to do that. After everything, you’re still my mother.”

“I was never your mother. We both know that.”

“I’ll always keep coming back. Someday you’ll be ready for me.”

And there it was, the whole of their relationship boiled down to its essence. Her daughter’s unending need and Cloud’s equally overwhelming failure. They were a broken toy that couldn’t be repaired. Now Tully was talking, saying something about dreams and motherhood and holding on. All of it just made Cloud feel worse.

She closed her eyes and said, “Go away.”

She could feel Tully beside her, hear her daughter breathing in the dark.

Time passed in sounds: the creaking of the floor beneath Tully’s feet, the heaviness of a sigh.

Finally, after what seemed like hours of pretense, the room went quiet.

Cloud opened her one good eye and saw that Tully had fallen asleep in the chair by the wall. She pushed the covers back and got out of bed, wincing when she put weight on her bad ankle. Limping to the closet, she opened the door, hoping her belongings were there.

Luckily, she saw a brown paper bag. Her hands were shaking as she reached for it and opened it up. Inside lay the clothes she’d been wearing—torn brown painter’s pants, a stained gray T-shirt, a flannel shirt, worn boots, and her underpants. No bra, no socks.

At the bottom, coiled like a little snail, lay her necklace.

Well, it wasn’t really a necklace anymore, just a few bits of dried macaroni and a single bead strung on a ragged strand of string.

Cloud picked it up. The poor, pathetic little thing lay in her wrinkled palm and made her remember.

Happy birthday. I made this for you …

Ten-year-old Tully had held it out in her pudgy pink palms as if it were the Hope diamond. Here, Mommy.

What would have happened if Cloud had said, It’s perfect. I love it. I love you, all those years ago?

She felt a fresh surge of pain. Pocketing the barely-there necklace, she dressed quickly and then glanced back at her daughter.

She limped closer and began to reach out, but when she saw her hand, pale and veiny and knobby and shaking—a witch’s hand—she drew it back without even touching her daughter’s sleeve.

She had no right to touch this woman, no right to yearn for what had never been, no right even to regret.

At that, she thought: I need a drink. She glanced at her daughter one last time and then opened the door. Moving cautiously down one hallway and then another, she made her way to an exit.

Outside, the darkness of Seattle swallowed her, and once again she was invisible.

* * *

Reaching into her pocket, Cloud found the wadded-up sixty dollars she’d taken from Truc.

He’d be waking up soon, growling like a bear, stretching his arms, calling for her to bring him coffee.

She pushed the thought away and kept walking. Limping. It was dawn now. Breaks of pale gray light fell falteringly between the buildings on either side of her. When rain began to fall, spittingly, then angrily, she climbed up onto the stoop of a vacant-looking building and sat down, pulling her feet in close to her body.

Her headache was getting worse. So was the shaking in her hands. But the bars weren’t open yet and neither were the liquor stores.

Across the street, dawn lit the sky behind a row of old brick buildings. Sagging sheets hung in broken windows. Beside her, a scrawny-looking cat prowled between stinking, overfull garbage cans. Rain studded bits of paper and trash to the sidewalk.

How many times in her life had she slept in a place just like this? And this was a better choice than others she’d made. Men like Truc. In the dark, they were all the same, the men she’d chosen in her life, and those who had been chosen for her. Fists and booze and anger.

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