“Where are you going?”
Jen stared out the window at the clouds below. “Anywhere but here.”
“No really, where are you headed?” the older woman insisted.
“I don’t know.”
The old woman grumbled something under her breath and then resumed reading her beaten copy of Reader’s Digest.
To Jen, the clouds looked like puffs of white cigarette smoke. In truth, she had no idea where she was headed. The plane ticket would take her to Paris, but beyond that, she had no itinerary. She just knew she had to get as far away from Victor as possible.
Jen turned toward the stewardess. “Just water.”
The old woman chuckled. “I’m not such a lightweight. I’ll take a glass of whiskey.”
The stewardess left as the old woman turned to Jen. “You don’t drink?”
Jen turned her attention back to the smokey clouds outside the plane. “No.”
“Too bad.” The old woman wheezed. Her breath sounded like air trying to escape a small puncture in a vehicle’s tire. Jen didn’t care for the woman’s choice in perfume. She smelled like a funeral home, and her ratty gray hair and long, red-painted fingernails didn’t help.
What are you up to, Victor? Jen wondered. Will you come after me? The knife she dug into his leg would make that difficult, but she knew it wouldn’t stop Victor if he was determined to chase her down.
She felt the old woman elbow her left arm. The muscles reacted with a dramatic flinch. “You look deep in thought, honey.”
“Tired,” she mumbled, hoping to shake off the woman’s incessant need to be friendly.
“Honey, I’m tired. Seventy will do that to you. You look a year shy of twenty-five, so I don’t want to hear about tired. What could you possibly have to worry about at your age?”
Jen refused to answer the woman’s somewhat rhetorical question. Can I get away with pretending to be asleep?
The stewardess returned with a glass of water for Jen and a glass of whiskey for the old woman. The scent of alcohol swept into Jen’s nose, and she closed her eyes, fighting with every fiber of her being the memories that tried to overcome her weak and tired mind.
Victor lifted the bottle of whisky and brought it crashing down on Jen’s head. The glass shattered, and whiskey poured over her like blood. She hit the tile floor, her left arm taking the brunt of the impact. Her jaw struck the tile, and she immediately tasted the metallic flavor of her own blood.
“You want to fuck with me?” he shouted.
She tried to look up at him, at his tall, towering figure, his bald head catching the kitchen’s eerie glow, but her right eye was swollen with the hit he gave her before striking her with the bottle.
Using her hands and elbows, she tried to pull herself along the floor. She felt his meaty hand grab her ankle, and then she was being pulled, sucked back into his whirlpool of violence.
Something struck her arm again, and she flinched violently. Her eyes popped open, and the old woman retracted her hand like a scared cat.
“Geez, honey, I was just going to offer you a drink. You look like you could use it.”
Jen felt something cold dripping down her leg and saw that she had toppled over her cup of water. She righted the cup and then turned to the old woman. “Please leave me alone. It’s nothing personal, but I don’t want to talk to you right now.”
She turned to stare out the window, at the puffy white clouds that reminded her of cigarette smoke, but instead caught her reflection in the window. Her face had healed – her black eye was gone, and her chipped tooth had been repaired to almost new condition. But deep in her eyes, she saw Victor, his very presence watching over her soul, waiting for her to sleep, waiting for her to let her guard down…
“You know,” the old woman whispered in Jen’s ear, her breath smelling like tobacco and whiskey, “you don’t have to be alone in this.”
Jen turned to her. The woman’s brown eyes seemed to sparkle a bit, but Jen figured it was the alcohol. “You don’t know anything about me.”
The old woman barked out a laugh. “My years, my dear. My years. I’ve seen and heard everything. Everything.” She leaned in close, her voice almost conspiratorial. “He’ll always catch up to you if you keep him in there.” She pointed to Jen’s chest, where her bright red scarf draped across her gray overcoat. “Get him out of there, and you’ll be free.”
Jen pulled her coat closer to her, as if she had somehow accidentally become vulnerable while talking to the old woman. “I promise you, you know nothing about my situation.”
The old woman set her empty glass on the tray in front of her and then reached into her purse. She set a photograph down on the tray in front of Jen.
Jen stared at the old woman for a minute before finally picking up the Polaroid. It was a photo of the old woman, in her late thirties maybe. Her face and arms were covered in bruises, blacker than shadow. Blood spots freckled her neck, and her eyes were sunken into deep, dark abysses.
Horrified, Jen dropped the photo on the tray and gasped. “What is this?”
“Why? Do you…do you carry this around with you?”
The old woman nodded as she took the photo back and slid it into her purse.
“Why? That’s…that’s disgusting.”
“Is it? It helps me remember where I came from. What I came through.”
“But…I hardly recognized you in that picture.”
“Me too. I was a different person. Much weaker than I am now.” A confident smile crept across the old woman’s face. “But that was years ago. Many, many years ago.”
The stewardess came by and took their glasses.
Jen turned at stared out the window. The puffs of clouds were growing darker as night drifted across their section of the planet. “His name…his name is Victor. I thought I loved him…”
“We all thought we loved them, honey. Maybe we did. Maybe we loved them for who we thought they could be, who we wished they would be.”
“He’s going to come after me.”
The old woman said nothing at first. Jen suddenly realized she longed for the woman’s words, as if they were food to her spirit, morsels for her beaten soul. “He might,” she finally said. “He might not.”
Jen’s heart sank.
“But…his physical presence, wherever it may be, is not as important as his presence within you. You must chase him out of your heart, out of your mind. That’s where they take root, honey. Inside of you.”
They allowed stillness to remain between them for a time.
The person in the seat in front of Jen shuffled and then turned around. She was a middle-aged woman, long brown hair flowing down the sides of her young face. She slid her arm between the seats and handed Jen a business card.
Jen took it, and the woman retreated to her original position in her seat.
April Hargrove – Chairwoman
CFS – Caged Fox Society
The old woman chuckled. “Ah, April. Haven’t seen her in a while.”
Jen flipped the card around. Printed on the other side was a black cage with an orange fox inside. The letters ‘CFS’ were embossed in the lower right corner in black.
The old woman tapped the corner of the card with her bony finger. “Give her a call. They’ll be good to you. Help you fight your demons…both inside and out.”