She could feel herself wanting simpler and simpler things as it became harder to compartmentalize, to rationalize, to trust that she would soon be free. She wanted to sit, to stand, to move, to breathe freely. The tree seemed to be pressing harder and harder, and she wondered whether she was imagining it or whether it actually was sinking slowly into the moist ground, pushing her ribs to the breaking point.
* * *
Grey skies and coffee.
Pull the front door behind you, slamming it tight. Listen to the loose glass rattle, wonder when it will fall out and slice someone’s foot open. Down the stairs, brown paint wearing thin. Cut across the lawn, finding the key in your pocket. Take a look at the neighbors’ houses. Nothing going on.
Look for traffic, insert key, feel the lock pop open. Watch your coat, maybe sigh a little as you lower yourself down into the seat. Slam the door, fasten lap belt, start the car, shoulder belt slides into place. Hair out of face, check mirror, carefully shift transmission into gear and pull out.
Pass the church, new sign. New when? A year ago? Two? Three?
Pass the yellow house with the barking dogs.
Pass the yard with the huge boat in the driveway, oversized garage that had to be set back, building plans modified late in construction, a sign mounted one day cursing the mayor and the governor.
Wait for the jogger, hands limp in front of her, headphones on, doesn’t look into your eyes. Turn onto Peak Street, an easy four blocks. Drive past the junior high with loitering juniors, past the college with dozens of bikes chained up but not a student in sight.
Benjamin Street, always busy. Any time of the day. Wait for the light, turn right and it’s one block down to Dexter Avenue. Wait, wait, turn again, and turn into the parking lot. One tiny space, it’s yours.
Ignition off, key out, door open, slide out, coat collecting grime from the wagon’s side panel. Next comes the Busy Walk, a busy person’s walk across the parking lot, chin high and purse shouldered.
Turn onto the sidewalk, walk past the empty dingy white plastic patio furniture, the smell of roasting coffee beans fogging into the air.
Door #1. Yes, we’re OPEN.
Door #2, and there’s the counter. Earthy folk music playing, earthy folk woman behind the counter, always in her twenties, always a bandana, always something pierced. Wobbly round black tables intermittently full. An old man doing a crossword puzzle from the paper. A young man in tight black turtleneck with legs crossed presidentially, reading Ayn Rand. Two librarian girlfriends look up at you through large thick glasses, their tote bags on the floor leaning against their chairs.
Shaggy-haired student with his Macintosh laptop, nodding to music on his headphones.
Always the moment’s pause, as though you’re thinking about it. Twenty-ounce cappuccino, very dry. $3.57. Hand over a five-dollar bill and a punch card. Smile, thanks, keep the buck, forty-three cent tip. The milk steamer roars. Wait. Take a small glass of water, toss the waxed paper cup in the trash. Watch the beans cooling in the roaster. Read about the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea, which produce a bean that is mild and sweet yet lively.
Plastic spoon from the dingy bin. Just stand there, spooning the foam off and eating it straight. The first few scoops are pure foamy milk. Further down, brown espresso begins swirling its way into the foam. Finally, you hit liquid.
Toss the spoon, cap the cup, smile at the earthy folk woman and you’re back on the street in the cold air, holding your cup, the inside of your hand burning and the outside freezing.
* * *
She tried to will herself into a sort of semiconscious state, tried to close off any notice of time passing outside and blood leaking inside. They would come soon, and she just had to be ready to call to them. Calling, calling, she called and called.