The tail end of Chapter Five of The Man on Little Creek Drive. Happy Friday.
Amy tossed and turned in the too-hot quilt, Dan’s words flashing in her brain.
A cool wisp of air blew over Amy’s toes and she stopped moving. The visions from the fight disappeared as she slipped into sleep.
Amy sat a park bench. Huge trees towered overhead, creating a cool green canopy, and the sweet scent of honeysuckle hung heavy in the air.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”
A man wearing a leather jacket sat down next to Amy. His face turned slightly away from hers, obscured by chin-length dark curls. “Do you mind if I sit here?”
Amy shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”
The man perched on the bench and darted a quick glance at her. “I used to know an Amy Mullins – that wouldn’t be you, would it?”
Taken aback, she scooted slightly away as she asked, “Who wants to know?”
He ducked his head. “A friend of a friend, you could say.” He nodded around the park. “I don’t mean to bother you. Just came out to enjoy this lovely day.”
His voice was warm, friendly, and Amy relaxed. She nodded, enjoying the breeze blowing across her cheek.
“I hear things are a little tricky at your house right now.”
Amy’s face burned. She didn’t know how to reply, but that didn’t seem to bother the man.
“It’s all right, Amy. I know. It’s rough when your husband loses his job and takes it out on you, isn’t it?”
Yes, she thought, and she could tell the man understood.
“You’re hoping someone can tell you what to do, how to help your husband and make everything better again, aren’t you?”
Amy could only nod.
“I wish I could be that someone.” He sighed, running his hands through his hair. Amy noticed that his nails were edged with greenish-black, and an odor drifted from the air around him. Like the spoiled scent of a flower left to rot in a vase.
A shiver ran through her, and she wanted to pull away again, but there wasn’t any room left on the bench to move. And there was something oddly peaceful about him. What did dirty fingernails say about a man anyway? A gardener might have those nails.
“What’s your name?” Amy asked, but the man shook his head.
“You don’t need my name. You need my advice.”
“Fine,” she replied, curious what words of wisdom this odd stranger might have for her. “Go ahead, advise me.”
“I’ll tell you the truth, Amy,” he leaned in close, as he tilted his head to the side as if telling her an important secret he didn’t want anyone else to hear. “Dan’s weak.”
“That’s not a very nice thing to say,” she protested, choosing to ignore the tiny voice in her head that agreed with the man. “Dan is not weak, and you shouldn’t talk about him like that.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s true, and he isn’t going to improve anytime soon.”
“Sure he will. He’ll find a job and things are going to be back to normal. Better than normal, even.”
The man lowered his head and slowly turned toward her. He reached out a dirty-nailed hand to place over hers. His palm was cool and damp. She didn’t pull her hand away.
“He won’t get better, Amy. He’ll just keep drinking and before you know it, you’ll become your friend Jean, waiting and watching for him to turn violent.”
“No! No, Dan would never hit me.”
The man’s voice was soft and low, but insistent. “Amy, do you really want to take that chance? What about EJ? Is this how you want her to grow up?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Amy snatched her hand back and quickly shifted her body away from his.
She jerked her chin and looked straight ahead at a large live oak tree, staring at the heavy, knotted black branches curling into a cloud of green leaves.
The air felt heavy, earthy and hot. Amy’s eyelids began to close. She was so tired. And his words, despite upsetting
her, had the strangest effect on her; almost hypnotic. All she wanted to do was drift into a long, dark sleep.
The man slid closer, whispering, “I know. I’ve seen it too many times before. I know what you’re going through, Amy. I only want to help you.”
Amy blinked through the dull fog of fatigue, and jumped to her feet. “No. You’re wrong. You have to be.”
Amy reached out her hand as the man faded from her sight. The park disappeared, and all the lovely trees and quiet green. She was left standing in a carpeted hallway, looking at a ten-year-old girl.
“Mama? Were you sleepwalking?”
Amy felt such an instant wave of sadness, she almost fell over.
Amy sighed. “Sorry, EJ, I was just… I was just coming out for a glass of water.”
EJ stared up at Amy, her hands on the hips of her purple polka-dot pajamas. “But you always bring water to your room, so –”
“I ran out.” Amy cut her off, patting her daughter’s shoulder. “Good night, EJ.”
“Mama, can you come into our room for a second? I need you to check the closet door.” EJ bit her lip, hoping desperately that Amy would come into the bedroom, check the door, and discover some funny little problem with the lock that made it open and close without anyone touching it.
Amy shook her head. “I need to go back to sleep, EJ. Busy day tomorrow. You, too.”
“But Mama, I really need you to look at this –”
“Go back to bed, EJ!” Amy pointed to the bedroom door. “In your room. Now!” Then Amy headed back down the hall.
EJ watched as her mother disappeared, and she returned to her bed, feeling sick to her stomach. She closed her eyes.
The closet door closed.