excerpt: Cora’s birthday

Cora opened the side door of the house and stood on the grey concrete porch. The steps were wet from the rain overnight and the street was quiet. She closed the door behind her, listened for the click of the lock before stepping down. Signs of spring sprinkled down with the rain. Somewhere up in the branches, sparrows were singing to each other and the snow had melted completely off the driveway. Cora’s midnight blue car sat in the driveway. She walked around it to stand in the front yard. Cora looked up at the windows facing the street. Each one was dark. She nodded to herself. She had not forgotten to turn off the lights up in the girls’ rooms after all. She pulled her cell phone out of the pack. Just past 7:30am. They were still asleep at their father’s apartment. The house was empty. Cora knelt down to retie one shoe; purple and white Sauconys that she bought two weeks ago and broke in. They were comfortable. Her pack shifted on her back when she bent forward. The top of it nudged her in the back of the head. Cora tied her shoe and straightened. The pack weighed exactly 18 lbs. Some food, supplies, cameras, extra batteries and minimal clothing; she didn’t need more. The streetlights flickered and turned off. The sun was rising.

Cora looked down the street to the roundabout at the end. No one was awake yet. She fell asleep the night before with the question that niggled its way under her skin, boring its way through her brain like a worm: “What if one day, I just started walking…” Cora woke up with it dancing in her mind. She dreamed in the night that she was walking down an empty highway. The asphalt was black and the dividing lines startlingly yellow. Farmers’ fields on either side, Cora walked alone, never seeing a single soul. When she woke up in the morning, Cora showered and got dressed. She made coffee, ate breakfast, washed the dishes. She turned on her laptop and checked for email. Nothing interesting; a handful of other notices. No personal mail. Five requests for help. Cora deleted everything and turned off the laptop. She straightened the pile of books her oldest daughter had left on the coffee table. She wrote a note to them both and left it tucked underneath the pile. She checked the front door to make sure it was locked. The deadbolt rattled when Cora shook the door. She avoided looking at the collage of family photos on the wall. It had been a year but she still could not bear to take it down. Smiling faces. How she could not have known what was really going on behind those dark brown eyes? It stabbed her through the heart each time.

Cora climbed the stairs to her bedroom again and rummaged in the closet. She found the black backpack wedged between the water fountain her mother gave her two summers ago and the dress that Cora’s grandmother wore at her 50th anniversary party twenty years ago. Cora frowned as she checked the pack out. It would do. She filled the backpack. Cora checked her phone again for the time. The battery was full. Her daughters would call her later. They were with him for the week. She set the phone down beside her on the bed, face down, then she changed her mind and slipped it into the front pocket of the pack. It was the first week in sixteen years that she had been away from them at all. Her heart ached. When the pack was full, Cora put it on her back and stepped on the scales to check the weight. She put her shoes on and tied them. She checked the locks on the doors once more and then left through the side door.

It smelled like spring; that raw, earthy, pungent smell of the soil after rain. In another few weeks the daffodils and tulips would show up. Cora pulled the straps on the pack tighter under her arms so it hugged her back. The sparrows flitted over her head, swooping down and around the corner of the house. Cora watched them disappear into the back yard as she stepped out into the street. Puddles lined the gutters. Cora saw her reflection in one that faced north. She turned and walked in the opposite direction.

note: this was a story that almost wasn’t. It’s still being written… this is just a short excerpt.


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