Monday, November 21, 2011

The Misty Hill

Several ideas swirled through my brain when I first saw this picture Sandy took for our next writing/photo challenge, but I stopped on the image of a girl that's been in my head for years, that's been a part of me. A girl. And a porch. And an older woman walking in the rain ... let's see where they take me.

The Misty Hill

She sat in the old wooden rocking chair on the porch, feeling it creak with her weight as she leaned back far enough to prop her feet, clad in knee-high, chunky black boots on the banister in front of her. A light mist began to fall as Lumina slowly lifted her crumpled pack of cigarettes to her black lips, pulling one out while simultaneously reaching for her lighter. Donning a silver ring on every finger, she threw her head back to get her dark, red-streaked hair out of her eyes before lighting the tip of the cigarette. Closing her dark eyelids, she slowly took in the first drag, reveling in the way it expanded her lungs, feeling instant release as the nicotine coursed through her veins. Slapping the lighter shut, she opened her eyes, releasing the smoke through her lips as she tossed her long bangs to the side once more and looked out to the sidewalk in front of her.

It was autumn, but a cold, rainy one. Lumina leaned forward over her studded belt to pull at her black, fishnet tights before tightening the laces on her boots and recrossing them on the banister. She pulled in another long drag, leaning back farther to blow the smoke up toward the wooden overhang above her. Suddenly, she heard him rustling in the house, stumbling toward the kitchen from the bedroom. Her heart tightened in her chest as her stomach wove into several small knots. She froze in place, not daring to make a sound. Maybe he wouldn't hear her. She lowered her lashes as she took another hit, so quiet she could hear the cigarette paper crackling. It's red butt burned in the reflection of her dark pupils as she stared at it, transfixed.

But the smoke must have wafted into the kitchen, because moments later, his silhouette stood in front of the screen door behind her.

"What are you doing out here? It's cold," he grumbled, his eyes barely open.

"Just havin' a smoke," she said, her voice worn, like sandpaper.

"You look like a whore," he snarled, his bloodshot eyes now more open as he examined her body.

"Fuck you," she snapped, before catching herself. And in an instant, the screen door whipped open and he was in her face, whiskey-filled rage permeating from every pore in his skin. He held both of her shoulders tightly, pinning her against the back wall as the rocking chair creaked under the added weight.

"I, I'm sorry ... please, let go," she sputtered. But he refused to budge, his stale, acrid breath violating her entire existence. She remembered the burning cigarette then, fantasizing the look on his face as she pressed it to his thigh. But the memories of the last time she attempted defiance flashed through her mind, reminding her of the fine, silvery scar next to her left eye. So instead, she lowered her long, mascara doused lashes and simply held her breath, waiting.

His painful grip finally loosened as he realized he was half dressed and freezing. He let go, staring her down a moment longer with his pale, translucent eyes,  before opening the screen door back up and going inside. She looked down at her tattooed wrists, remembering the prick of the ink-filled needle, the intoxicating feeling of relief she'd felt. She zoomed in on the still fresh bruises from the other night. Realizing her cigarette was almost out, she took one last drag before smashing it against the wet wooden stand next to her. She pulled her feet off the banister, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees, her forehead in her hands. Slowly, she rubbed her temples, her dark purple nails a stark contrast to her pale, angelic skin. She pulled her pack of cigarettes out again and took another, taking a moment to gaze into the flame of her lighter before lighting the tip of the cigarette.

Suddenly, she heard footsteps and saw a heavyset woman walking down the sidewalk. She narrowed her eyes, squinting through the misty rain. The woman looked Slovenian, perhaps Serbian, but definitely Eastern European, Lumina observed. She'd seen her many times, like clockwork, walking home from the bakery at the same time every day. But something felt different today. Her step was slightly slower, her umbrella tipped a bit farther forward, as though it was harder for her to hold up. And the blue scarf around her head looked iridescent somehow. Lumina took another hit of her cigarette while watching the woman's slow, deliberate gait as she made her way past her house and down the hill. She knew she shouldn't leave. She knew she'd get into trouble, but in that moment, she didn't care. Lumina stood up and walked down the porch steps, beginning to follow the woman. The cool mist clung to her long, dark hair, making it's red streaks a deep burgundy. She pulled the edges of her black sleeves down past her palms, clasping them with her fingers as she continued walking and smoking.

A skater glided past her going in the opposite direction, sneering at her as he passed while mumbling, "freak," under his breath. She was used to it by then. Eventually, the woman turned down a narrow street and into a driveway of a small brick bungalow. Lumina stayed back a bit, not wanting to alert the woman of her presence. She saw now she had a bag in her hand with what looked like a loaf of bread. Lumina's stomach grumbled at the sight, though the cigarette was helping stave off her hunger. Her black, pleated skirt was beginning to get soaked by the continuous mist as Lumina realized she'd wandered off far enough and should turn around before he realized she'd gone. But something made her stay.

She began walking toward the woman's house, not sure why or what she'd do once she got there. But, there she found herself, by the side door, peering through the window. By now, the sun had set and darkness began to cloak her surroundings. Lumina didn't care. She was mesmerized by the scene before her. The older woman had cooked a huge pot of chicken stew and was slicing the rye bread while someone sat down at the table. Lumina assumed the elderly, gray-haired man was her husband. He, too, looked Eastern European, his ethnic nose sharp and filled with character. Lumina quickly realized she'd been breathing onto the windowpane, causing it to fog up. She used her sleeve to clear the moisture while trying to remain hidden from any of their views.

What am I doing? she thought, thinking of the punishment waiting for her upon her return.

She brought her dark, smoky eyes back to the glass, peering in at the couple, now serving the stew with bread and butter. Her stomach grumbled again, pulling her back into reality. She pulled away from the glass and began walking back down the drive, but to her mortification, she heard the side door swing open and a low voice yell, "Hey. Girl."

She picked up her speed, but she heard quick footfalls gaining on her.

Damn these boots, she cursed as she tried to walk faster. But it was too late, the woman had caught up and gently touched her upper arm.

"Child," she said, as Lumina turned to face her, before catching herself and looking down.

"I'm sorry, I wasn't spying ... I was just. I ..." she trailed off, her mind and mouth utterly betraying her.

"I saw you follow me home," she said, her voice thick with a melodic accent that momentarily assailed Lumina's senses. Her words caused Lumina's cheeks to flush with embarrassment. "I was going to invite you in, but you appeared as though you wanted to remain invisible."

Lumina simply nodded, painfully yearning for another cigarette, just something, anything to do besides standing in the rain with this awkward stranger. But she did not relent, even as Lumina pulled away and turned around.

"How about you come out of the shadows for a moment?" She whispered, causing her to pause near a large maple tree. "How about you join us for dinner?"

Lumina knew she mustn't. She'd never talked to a single person in the neighborhood since they'd moved there three months ago. But, everything inside of her overpowered her mindful fears. She timidly turned back around and walked toward the house. The woman examined her entirely now, causing Lumina to slightly cringe. Normally, she never cared what others thought. She wanted to be left alone and dressed the part. But this woman didn't seem to look at her that way. She seemed intrigued instead. It terrified her.

Counting from 10 to zero in her head while taking deep breathes, Lumina walked beside the woman and into the house, where the man had already begun eating.

"Come, sit. Have some stew," she said in that same, thick accent. "I'm Doina. This is my husband, George."

The old man only glanced up briefly and nodded, before returning to his stew.

"I'm ... Lumina," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. And moments later, she was at the table, scooping up mouthful after mouthful of the best stew she'd ever tasted. Every bite of the baked bread felt like heaven. The entire experience was surreal, as though she'd fallen asleep on that porch and was merely dreaming.

"Why do you hide behind this mask?" Doina asked suddenly, breaking Lumina of her contented silence.

"I don't know ... I don't like myself I guess. I'd rather hide than be seen," she answered.

"I've seen the man you stay with ... he's no man at all. He's pure evil," she said, before touching her fingers to her lips as though realizing her bluntness for the first time. But for some reason, it didn't offend Lumina. Instead, her words hit a deep place inside of her, shifting something.

Doina leaned forward, examining Lumina in a way that made her feel stripped to her core. After several long, painstaking minutes, she shifted back in her chair and folded her arms. George had finally stopped eating and sat back as well, watching her.

"How about you come stay with us?" she said. Lumina stared at her in shock.

"But, I've only just met you," she said, completely aghast. Doina huffed.

"No matter. You need a good home. You don't need what that man is giving you," she said. Again, each word cut into Lumina, causing her eyes to water. She dabbed at the inner corners of them with her napkin, set it down and rose from the table.

"I must go," she said, feeling her knees begin to tremble. But something inside her felt different. She felt less hazy, less trapped somehow. George rose as well, trying to stop her, but Doina held up her hand, halting him. Lumina ran out into the biting mist, wobbling under the cutting breeze as she made her way back home. But she felt her knees buckle beneath her, causing her to fall forward, hitting her head on the pavement.

Rubbing her forehead, Lumina opened her eyes, groggily looking around her. She noticed she was back on the porch, a snuffed out cigarette butt under her right hand. It had been a dream after all, she realized, her stomach dropping. But the subtle change inside her was still there. Without thinking, she stood up and walked into the house. She exhaled with relief seeing he was passed out on the couch, the stench of stale beer curdling her stomach. She entered his bedroom and feverishly began packing her tattered duffel bag with everything she could fit. She lifted the loose wooden floorboard beneath the dresser and grabbed the wad of cash she'd stolen, little by little, from him over the last several months. But as she walked past the hallway mirror, she saw her reflection and noticed a gash in her forehead. She quickly looked down at her knees and saw her tights had been torn, her kneecaps skinned. She let out a shaky breath and ran into the bathroom, grabbing a towel. She lathered it in soap and washed her entire face clean, every ounce of black makeup soiling the towel. She then grabbed a pair of scissors and one strand at a time, cut off all of her hair before shaving her entire head.

She stared, examining every defined contour of her skull, her face, her sharp jawline, her prominent nose, pointed cheekbones, her dark green irises and softly arched eyebrows. She felt as though she saw herself for the first time. Tears streamed down her face at the woman she saw before her, no longer hiding behind a mask. She licked her pale pink lips, tasting the salt of her tears before wiping them away with her hands. The scar by her eye was almost translucent in the bathroom light. Lumina heard him stir then and realized she had to go. Taking one last look at herself in the mirror, she shut off the light, picked up her bag and ran toward the front door.

But suddenly, a strong hand grabbed her, whipping her around.

"Jussst where d'ya think yer going?" he slurred, anger, fear and lust in his eyes. She said nothing at first, she only stared at him, watching his eyes widen in shock at her appearance.

"What the fuck have ya done to yerself?" He screamed, wrapping his hand around her throat, closing off her air supply. She desperately grasped at it his fingers before something caught the corner of her eye. Smoke ... a half-burned cigarette in the tray next to her. Without hesitation, she grabbed it and brought the end to his left temple, causing him to wail in both horror and pain, releasing her. She kneed him in the groin then stood over his crumbled body on the dirty floor.

"Don't ever ... ever touch me like that again," she growled in a low, measured voice. She then turned and walked out of the house and down the hill.

She knew she needed to get to the bus station and as far away from him as possible, but something made her turn up that narrow side street first. The brick bungalow was dark. In fact, it looked completely abandoned now, the windows boarded. Lumina shook her head in confusion, looking back down at her skinned knees again. She began to turn away, before something made her try the side door. It opened easily as Lumina stepped in. The house was vacant, without a trace of a human being's presence. Except for something on the table.

Lumina walked toward it, seeing that whatever it was, it was covered by a towel. She slowly lifted the cloth, feeling immediate warmth hit her face.

It was a loaf of rye bread, an umbrella ... and a blue scarf.


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