Enough was enough. Anevay Jaimson left work early and sped off in her pickup truck, the man’s sly touch still crawling on her skin. The sexual harassment had become a regular occurrence —something she couldn’t ignore. She drove past run-down gas stations and dumpy antique stores, along streets where listless old men stood on corners and cornfields were landmarks. She drove until everything she knew became unrecognizable. The road, not the winding kind that wandered through pastoral scenery, seemed endless. It continued straight ahead like a metaphor for life, or death. She drove like she was at gunpoint— recklessly, impulsively to where she would end up. The date of her father’s birthday echoed in her head, yet her steady hands intuitively adjusted the steering wheel. As she drove, she untied the apron still clinging to her hips. With one swift motion she tossed it onto the seat beside her.
She was sure this time she’d be fired, imagining her boss eyeing her slowly as she pushed through the diner’s double doors. He would look at her long and hard. He was the type of man who never got a passing glance from any woman, the boy who desperately wished for the comfort of strong, tender thighs wrapped around him. Anevay took out a cigarette and lit it, taking long drags and watching the smoke fly out of her open window. It made breathing one less burden for her.
She made a sharp right turn onto an unmarked dirt road and slammed on the brake. The truck stalled. A few feet away a thick mass of spruce trees obstructed her vision. Looking into them was like peering into the pitch dark with no moon. She knew she had arrived, but she made no sudden movement. Her hands gripped the wheel tightly, her arms locked into parallel lines like oak plywood. Anevay let her foot off the brake, and the truck rolled forward voluntarily. You shouldn’t have come, she told herself. It had been a decade since she had last been here.
Anevay felt the rocks crunching beneath the truck, wedging themselves into the rubber cracks of the tires. She imagined her fragile body rolling over shattered glass. She bit her tongue hard, tasted blood, as her truck approached the vacant lot. The trailer, once white, now had rust stains trailing from the windows. An awning drooped over the front porch steps. A pink tricycle lay on its side, abandoned. Other toys were displayed like an exhibit of her childhood. Nothing had changed. It was as if she had entered a memory.
Anevay shut off her engine and extinguished her cigarette. A neighborhood dog barked ferociously in the distance. She imagined its square head constricted by a metal chain, its powerful jaw snarling and spitting.
“Damn dog,” its owner said. Anevay heard the dog yelp.
Its whimpers reverberated through the woods, echoing in distress. Anevay traced her fingers over the smooth scar hidden in her thick black hair, recalling the screaming and crying; the fists swinging and shoving; the curses polluting the air; the dank smell of bourbon oozing from his pores. That time she had gotten too close. The jagged edge of his broken bottle had skimmed her head. She remembered a red rush of blood and then a mad rush to the hospital for stiches, the sickly medicinal flavor of the cherry lollipop her reward for being a good girl.
That day she and her mother had left for good.
In the car ride from the hospital her mother had told her they weren’t going back home. Anevay had shrieked and tried to slap her mother, but her blows could not reach her from the back seat. Her mother did not turn her square Cherokee face around. Instead, facing forward, she told Anevay to sit still, so Anevary cried at the top of her lungs. She cried until her voice became an angry whisper. She cried until she fell asleep.
When Anevay woke up she was on a hotel bed. Her mother was lying on the twin bed beside her, flipping through TV channels. Anevay pretended she was asleep, watching her mother through the curtain of her eyelashes. Her body was propped up on starch white pillows. She seemed relaxed with one leg stretched out and the other bent at the knee, but her face remained rigid. Her dark, almost black, eyes rarely blinked. Anevay studied her mother’s face, noticing the small crows feet starting to form by her eyes. She was nearly thirty. Above the corner of her mother’s left eye Anevay could make out a purple reddish bruise underneath her concealer, still fresh. Fearless yet broken, her mother stared blankly at the static television. She flipped hypnotically past digital images as if she was searching for something, as if the dotted pixels on the screen were codes that could explain secret truths.
Pulling herself out of her memory, Anevay lifted her finger from the scar, dropping her hand to her side. Even the coarse black wires of her hair couldn’t hide the scar. She knew it was still there. Anevay wanted to suffocate the emptiness inside her. She reached for her lighter and a pack of cigarettes in her purse. The cool metal in her palm steadied her as she lit the cigarette between her shaking fingers. The sweet, sticky vapor spurted out of her mouth in quick puffs. Sometimes she wished her tired body would simply break down, decompose like the minerals in animal bones, and go back to where it came from.
“Why did I come back to this god awful place?” she said out loud. She opened the truck’s door and stepped out.
Her tan midriff showed slightly between her jeans and a black t-shirt. A few freckles dotted her arms and cheeks and her left cheek displayed a darker birthmark. As she walked to the lawn her sharp jaw line clenched, her arms swinging beside her.
Looking around, Anevay could see her father everywhere, in fragments. She remembered his big white freckled hands, his smell of pine soap and mild sweat after returning home from his carpenter jobs, and his short rare bursts of laugher. The memory of her father taking her to a pawnshop flooded her mind. He had held her hand, driving the car like a father should for once, not dancing back and forth on the dotted line. His usually blood shot eyes had been as bright and clear as crystal lakes that day. Inside the shop, he told her to buy anything she wanted. Anevay peered into the glass display cases. Her eye landed on a plastic Tweety Bird watch. “That one,” she had said, her stubby finger smearing the glass as she pointed. On the car ride home she unrolled the car window and stuck her hand out. She felt the current travel through her fingers spread like eagle’s wings, the yellow watch securely strapped around her wrist. She had worn it every day afterward, pressing it close to her ear to hear the seconds tick by.
Anevay looked down to where the brown grass met the edge of the dirt road. It was the spot she had last seen him stumbling outside with his hands reaching up in the air as the nauseating motion of the car carried her away, dust intruding on her innocent eyes until he was nothing but dirt.
Anevay took out her lighter and played with it in a daze. The cigarette still dangled between her lips as she watched the blue flame rise and die by the flick of her thumb. She sat down and smoked, still playing with the lighter. The sun began to move inch by inch across her face, half of it darkened with shadow. The lighter fluid was running low.
She looked over her shoulder. On the dead lawn the ugly hunk of rotting metal mocked her. She imagined burning the trailer to the ground to make her mark, to say ‘fuck you’ to her father, dead but never gone. She imagined the soot and ash rising higher and so far away from her that not even the burnt smell of fire would remain on her clothes. She reached down and untied her shoes. The dead grass pricked her feet as she walked over to her truck, yanking out a spare container of gasoline. She unscrewed the cap as she walked over to the trailer. Walking along the edge of the trailer, she doused the bare, rusted exterior. She threw the empty plastic container across the lawn and reached into her back pocket. Flicking the lighter on, she stepped forward, her naked feet behind the line that divided her from her past and what was left of her. She extended her hand down to the gasoline like a thirsty dog. A surge of fire surrounded the trailer, climbing and eating its way up to the sky. Anevay jumped back and watched, the blaze heating her entire body. For the first time in her life Anevay felt the meaning of her name: superior. She never wanted to forget the feeling of her bare feet rooted on solid ground, but she had to go.
Anevay took a detour, pulling into a gas station to buy another lighter.
The door made a jingle sound as she entered. Rows of fatty foods and cheap-boxed dinners sat on the shelves. Making her way through an aisle to the front, she grabbed a bag of gummy bears and a lottery ticket and placed them on the counter.
“Feeling lucky today?” the teenager behind the counter asked, scanning the lottery ticket.
Anevay smiled faintly, not looking at his face. The nametag on the boy’s red vest read, “Sid.” The doorbell jingled again as a family walked in, laughing. A few miles away a fire truck siren echoed wildly in the distance.
“Oh and this,” Anevay said, quickly placing a lighter on the counter.
“I’m trying to quit,” Sid said, scanning the barcode. The cash register beeped.
“ Good for you.”
“Twelve dollars and sixty two cents. Oh, I forgot to ask. Did you find everything you’re looking for?” Sid asked.
“No,” she replied, handing him exact change, avoiding his confused stare as she walked out, the doorbell jingling loudly behind her.