by Elizabeth Decker
She never expected to hear from him again. Never. So when the phone rang in the middle of the afternoon she thought nothing of it and answered on the second ring, "Hello?"
"Hey Gail," came the voice on the other end. She felt sick, about to vomit, then remembered the feeling of spit dripping down her cheek. She remembered the crack made in the wall when he missed hitting her face with his fist when she told him she wanted to leave. She remembered the anger, the blame, and the insincerity of it all. But what she remembered most was being locked out in the cold. She hadn't remembered these things in years. She shivered as the voice on the other end continued, "It's Robert."
"Robert who?" she questioned. But she knew. She knew his voice. She knew the sound of his breath before he spoke a word. Four and a half years later she could not erase the sound of his voice, the deep resin that seemed to growl and purr at the same time. It sounded sexy once. Like the first time he ever called when her boyfriend Matt was away in California searching for his self, when he phoned and said, "Hey Gail. Want some company?" It sounded, at the time, so comforting, so inviting that she couldn't resist the invitation for some spicy Indian food which led to after-dinner drinks at a bar next door because the night was still young. In the end, silently curled up like a spoon against his warm body, she slept feeling safe, captured by his strong sculptured arms.
Gail stood in the middle of the room not believing her ears, not knowing whether to hang up, scream, or laugh. What she did notice was that after many years the sound of his voice had only one effect: repulsion.
"It's Robert. Robert Shaper," he said slowly. She noticed a sigh or a huff. Maybe the conversation was not going the way he intended. So she tried to help.
"Oh, how can I help you?" she asked, as friendly as the IRS after April 15th.
"Well," he started again, "I heard you had a kid. I wanted to find out how you were, what's up?"
Unbelievable, she thought! His overconfidence in calling after so long and after such circumstances only reinforced that the size of his ego left no room for human compassion. "I have another call waiting. I can't talk to you," said Gail but before she could hang up he cut her off.
"Call me at the office. You have the number." And Robert hung up leaving Gail standing in the middle of her living room with her mouth open. Yeah right, she thought, in my back pocket.
Four and a half years ago in the dead of winter, she called a number that used to be hers to ask permission of the man on the other end to come and get the rest of her stuff. She felt scared and inferior. It seemed much colder than ten degrees outside. "Gail who?" was all he said when she identified herself. Gail, the woman you wanted to marry, then tossed aside after she discovered your affair with your secretary. The woman who wanted to leave but who you threatened into staying. The woman who you trusted to raise your daughter.
“Robert, it's me, Gail. You told me to come and get the rest of my stuff. I don't have the keys."
"Oh right, Gail. Come in an hour, I'm busy now," and he hung up the phone. Robert was cold and in control, the way he liked it.
That night, Gail sat in front of the stove to keep warm, drank two glasses of merlot, and made mental notes of the things she’d left behind so she could get in and get out. There was her camera, a Cannon AE1, along with a couple of lenses she had collected over the years. Her favorite was the wide angle. She loved to view the world from behind the camera that sometimes acted as a curtain separating her from the outside world. She had a gift, which could make time stand still just long enough to snap a picture. She captured moments in time.
There would be a few clothes upstairs in the master bedroom closet that would be hanging next to his in plastic, if he ever thought to pick up the dry cleaning at the place on Willow Street. In the basement was an area Gail had transformed into a fort for his ten-year-old daughter, a private place where a little girl could think, where her active imagination could carry her away from the doldrums and confusion of life as a girl whose parents live in separate states. On the cold cement floor Gail had laid the handwoven African rug her parents had sent from Morocco and then made a table out of crates and a headboard from her old bed. She set up paints, colored pens, and paper so Tina could paint. Tina loved to paint. Her mom was an artist. The rug's going to be hard to move, she thought. How the hell am I going to get it out by myself?
"Oh God!" she gasped. The time was a quarter to nine. Almost an hour had passed. She worried that if she were late he wouldn't let her in. She grabbed her coat and a hat and checked for the gloves in her pocket because she knew the steering wheel would be cold. It took ten minutes for the car to start, another ten to make her way to Lincoln Park, and ten more to get up enough nerve to get out of the car and walk to the door.
She rang the bell and waited. No one came. She rang again and waited for about fifteen minutes. As she turned to walk away, the outside light came on and there was Robert looking as smug as ever, a silhouette in the door looking out. His face was cold and hard as he said, "You're late."
"Yes, well sorry," she apologized. "I’ll call you tomorrow and set up another time." She began walking down the icy steps, then lost her footing and fell to the ground, hard. Sitting on the ice with her back to Robert, she tried desperately to hold in her cries of pain as she heard him laugh.
"God you're pathetic," he sneered. "Come in and get your shit." How could he be so cruel? But she told herself, go in, get the stuff and let it be over. No more excuses luring her over to try and talk her out of leaving and dramatically threatening to kill himself as a last result if she walked out the door. Gail of course knew that he would never do that. He loved himself too much to take his life and she knew that he would never leave his daughter. The only good thing about him was Tina.
Once she was inside, his mood seemed to change. He was warmer. "Would you like a glass of wine?" he asked. She noticed there were already two dirty wine glasses in the sink. One had pink lipstick on it. He was either "busy" with his secretary or had staged it just to make her jealous. Probably the latter, she thought. Who wears pink lipstick in the middle of winter? Even whores have more taste than that.
"No thanks. I stopped drinking," Gail said without meeting his eyes, and set about gathering up her things.
It took all of ten minutes to get her stuff. The clothes weren't upstairs because he never picked up the dry cleaning, (a year later she would get a bill). The African rug in the basement was too heavy to carry herself. He wouldn't help if she asked. Chains, chains, and more chains, she thought. I'm chained to this fucking house. How much could the rug be worth? Does it matter? Fuck it. "I'm done. Thanks Robert. It was nice to see you."
"Was?" he said. Robert stood in front of the door with a glass of wine in his hand. He looked a little crooked to her although he was standing straight on his feet. She knew one leg was shorter, but why hadn't she ever noticed how deformed he was? "Stay for a drink," he said in a soft voice, the voice he’d used on Valentine's Day a year ago when he said how much he loved her and tried to convince her that he would never stand in the way of her freedom. Get out of his house, her inner voice screamed, but he stood in her way.
Robert put down his glass and moved closer to her as she stood frozen in the hallway not knowing what to do. How much had he drunk? Her eyes darted from his to the sink in the kitchen, then back to him. Hard to tell. He was always good at keeping his composure even when fully loaded. "I miss you," he said.
"Really, I’ve got to go. Please move," she said calmly.
"Not before you give me a little kiss. For old time's sake."
"You’ve got to be kidding, right? Goodbye Robert," and Gail pushed her way to the door, holding only her camera.
"C'mon Gail. One little kiss. Then you can go, you stupid bitch!" He lunged for her and dropped his glass of wine, which shattered on the floor along with the camera, which she dropped in fear. He held her shoulders tightly as she struggled to break free. "Just one little kiss," he repeated between clenched teeth that reminded her of a mad dog.
"Let me go!" she shouted as she tried to knee him in the groin, because that always worked on TV. But she missed and it made him madder. He grabbed the back of her hair and pulled her neck down and began to slobber all over her. He pulled and pulled as she started to beg, "Please let me go," until she was pinned to the floor.
"Just one fuck for the road," he laughed as he tore off her clothes. She lay helpless on the floor. He was too strong to fight off and when he was done, he stood above her and pulled up his pants and said, "There Gail. Maybe now you are pregnant and you’ll have to come back.” He was sick, she thought, and no matter how hurt she was she would not cry.
Now four and a half years later, she sat in her apartment staring at the phone in her hand. The question he’d called to ask floated back to her and her mind was racing with all the things she wished she could say.
A kid? she wanted to say. Yes, I have a child now, but it's not yours. Yours died on a cold February night, only five weeks old, when it was sucked from my womb and discarded in the trash. I couldn’t justify bringing a child into this world conceived out of hate and anger and violence. So when I discovered I was pregnant a month after you threw me down and fucked me on the cold tile floor, I did not hesitate to find an abortion clinic. I killed your baby as I wished I had killed you, terminated your existence. That baby, your baby that you forced into the world as you forced me down on the floor, on my back, helpless, is the same helpless baby I set free. And now, four and a half years later, you call out of the blue and ask how I am? HOW I AM?
But instead Gail said nothing, and as the beginning of a smile started to spread across her face she hung up and went into the bathroom to clean the toilet.
Elizabeth Decker is a writer who has published over 175 articles on wellness for www.robeks.com. She is also a published poet. Currently, she is putting together a book combining her art, short stories, and poetry.
(c) Elizabeth Decker
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