Red Dress Club prompt: This week you have two options from which to choose: a middle-of-the-night phone call from a person from your past, or a week after attending a funeral of a close friend, you receive a postcard telling you the friend is not dead and to meet at a pizza place.
Only Way Out
When the phone call comes at two a.m., I am not surprised. I’ve been expecting it. It took four years, but I knew it would come.
The caller utters one word. “Help.”
I am already out of bed, my feet thrust into my shoes by the time the line goes dead. I throw a sweatshirt on over my t-shirt. I grab my cell phone and keys from the night stand, my purse from the kitchen counter.
I am out the door and in my car in under two minutes. I steal a glance at the car-seat in the rearview mirror as I back out of the drive.
At this time of night it will take me thirteen minutes to get there.
I kill my headlights before turning into the drive. The street is quiet, belying the horror that has taken place inside the two-story brick home.
I have a key, but I don’t need it. The door is unlocked.
I step into the living room. It is dark, but light from the kitchen spills into the room, highlighting the overturned lamp, the papers scattered on the floor, the broken picture frame – all things I expect to see.
I walk down the dimly lit hallway. There is a hole in the wall. Stains, some rust-colored and some crimson, dot the carpet, leading the way like some sort of twisted treasure map, to the room at the end.
I pause at the threshold and look to the room to my left. I don’t want to, but I can’t help it. The door is partially closed so all I can see are the shoes, those red and white Nikes I have grown to hate.
I find her in the bathroom. Her head is bent, long hair shrouding her face and the baby I know she cradles in her arms. I take a step forward and she looks up.
I had been prepared for the tousled house, the hole in the wall, the blood on the carpet. Nothing could have prepared me for her face.
“Shelby!” I gasp and fall to my knees in front of her.
“He’s okay,” she manages through lips that are swollen and coated in dried blood. She looks down at her son and back up at me. Her eyes are purple, one nearly swollen shut. “He’s okay,” she repeats.
I am relieved but no less urgent.
I hook my hand under her arm. “We have to go.”
“Can you walk?”
“Take Drew,” she says and hands him to me.
Bracing a hand on the bathtub, she winces as she struggles to her knees.
She attempts to stand, slips and smacks against the side of the tub. She cries out.
I nervously look over my shoulder.
She tries again. Her movements are slow, each one producing a flash of pain across her face.
Finally to her feet, she walks to the bedroom. She grabs the diaper bag and a duffle bag and starts yanking clothes off hangers and pulling open drawers.
I bounce Drew on my hip and wonder how much longer we have.
The bag full, Shelby starts down the hall and I follow. She pauses at the room with the red and white Nikes.
“Shelby, let’s go,” I whisper.
She pushes the door open and I see him. Her abuser, her husband.
She thrusts the duffle and diaper bags at me. “Take Drew and go.”
“I’m not leaving you Shelby.”
“You were not here tonight. You came by earlier today and picked up Drew. You never saw me. Him. Any of this.” Her face has grown hard, her voice resolute.
She bends down and picks up the bat, the instrument of tonight’s destruction. My heart accelerates.
“He’ll never stop, Cindy. He’ll come after me, Drew. We’ll never be safe.”
I look at my battered friend and wonder how she got here. A million things about this scenario won’t add up. The police will figure it out. But Shelby is right. It’s the only way.
Juggling Drew and the bags, we hug awkwardly. When we pull apart, her eyes are vacant. She has gone somewhere far away.
I walk down the hall and start to hum, not a song, but a random collection of noises. I hold Drew close to me and hope the sound is loud enough to drown out the crack of the bat on his father’s skull.