Hey! Part 3
Audrey spent the rest of the day ambling around the apartment, lost in her own home. She quit working, and she didn’t really care about whatever consequences would come with that. She had other things on her mind. Like the fact that she’d let a child die. Funny, how a thing like that made it hard to put on a happy air, and all to sell a fucking pan to somebody.
She traversed from her work-desk to the kitchen, to the bathroom and to her bedroom, then back again, over and over, changing spots almost every ten minutes. Her body needed to move, as if it could get her out of the dark sludge her mind was stuck in. But no amount of pacing could free her from that muck of guilt and dread that heaped itself onto her more and more, as the day wound down.
She had tried to conjure up other explanations and scapegoats, but they’d flitted away as quickly as they came. Maybe she was dreaming this all, or at least everything about this morning. Maybe the report was wrong, overblown, some kind of horrible hoax. Maybe she was just crazy, locked up in an asylum and on a heavy sedative, to calm the woman who’d gone round the bend after selling one too many pots to too many faceless voices.
No, no, and no.
This was real. It was happening. She was just adrift in the sea of a terrible failing, looking for the proverbial lifesaver to keep her afloat.
Lifesaver. Now that was an ironic term for her to consider.
Once she came to accept that there was no way out from this, the next thought to plague her was: “What now?” What the hell was a person to do in a situation like this? She supposed the right thing to do would be to come forward with what she’d seen, to go to authorities, to testify at whatever court case was bound to ensue. But . . .
But what good would that do? Though she loathed herself to think it, Marcy Houghton was dead; nothing would change that, so what would come of her admitting to seeing Marcy that day? And it was Marcy now, not “the girl”—Audrey could no longer put the name aside. It would not be denied. Just like it was now Martin Cheswick, Child Killer—not that nice old man with the flowers.
The news report had said there was “incontrovertible proof” that Cheswick had taken and killed poor Marcy. By the sound of it, he’d been caught red-handed. There was no way out of it for him. And that part of Audrey that dealt in stories filled in the gaps of the report, thinking back to that basement, hardly daring to imagine what Cheswick did to Marcy (or left of her) down there, before he could bury the evidence. And that led Audrey to fill in more gaps. The news had said Cheswick buried other pieces of evidence from other abductions. But buried where?
Lovely flowers and freshly turned dirt had flashed into Audrey’s mind. Times when she had seen Cheswick tending his garden with her own eyes. Had she ever seen him put anything other than soil and flowers into the areas he was digging up? Any bags or bundles of cloth at his knees? She didn’t think so; or maybe she just wouldn’t allow herself to remember if she had.
Questions about what “pieces of evidence” implied threatened to follow this line of thought, but she beat them back, already sickened enough by the revelations of the morning. Besides, the matter of what came next still needed addressing.
The internal debate went back and forth for hours, her conscience trying to waylay her selfishness, but Audrey knew she’d already decided on the matter long before then. She would stay quiet. She would not go forward. Easier said than done, but it would have to be done, and whatever came with that would be on her shoulders. And she thought she could bear it—at least, she hoped she could—if she had to. After all, had her response been that surprising? She was expecting an important call when it had all happened. She had been preoccupied. Distracted. Unsuspecting. Who wouldn’t overlook the truth of the matter as easily as she had? That didn’t make it right, but it surely made it understandable, at the very least. Surely. Besides, she still had a life ahead of her, and a promising one at that. That’d go down the drain if she admitted to what she witnessed. She could see the headlines now: CHILDREN’S WRITER COULD HAVE PREVENTED CHILD’S DEATH. The irony of it wouldn’t go unnoticed by the public.
Cheswick would pay for what he did. That was what it all boiled down to, right? Justice would be served. There seemed no doubt about that. And whatever Audrey knew would stay with her.
“It’ll all work out,” she eventually said aloud, looking out at the darkened evening beyond her living room window. She hadn’t realized until now that she’d managed to keep herself rooted to the couch for a good hour. Maybe that was a good sign. Maybe this wouldn’t drive her over the edge. Maybe she could cope.
“It’ll all work out.”
Audrey didn’t sleep well that night. Her body was weary from pacing, and her mind was weary with reconciliations, but she could not manage to give into slumber. She lay there, rolling over like a sea, again and again, trying to ease herself. It didn’t take.
Her thoughts wandered in the dark. She wondered about what to get her sister, Dana, for her birthday. That was just next month, and she still didn’t know whether to get her a certificate to the spa or maybe draw up something special for her, or maybe something else entirely. But then thoughts of presents led her to imagine what Marcy Houghton had got for her seventh birthday, and what her party had been like. And then a scolding whisper in her head reminded her that Marcy would never get an eighth birthday.
She thought about what excuse to give her boss, to explain away her sudden absence that day. A vague family emergency seemed like a good bet—and then she wondered what Marcy Houghton’s family was going through now, the pain they must be feeling, the utter hell that came with the loss of a child. Then she’d tried her best to think on something else.
She’d considered getting up and watching TV, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. There wouldn’t be any news on by that time, but she could just picture a news-break popping up anyway, no matter what channel she tried turning it to.
By 4:00 in the morning, it had finally reached a point where she was forcing herself to stare at the lines in her linen, focusing on the rise and fall of her sheets, and (hopefully) nothing else. It worked, for a while. But as she took in the smooth white curve of her pillow, she started to think about what kind of fabric was used to line your average coffin, and of what use it was to give a dead person a pillow when they were finally laid into the darkness of the earth.
She’d grabbed her pillows and threw them to the floor after that, burying her face in the crooks of her arms until her alarm came calling.
For the first time in a long while, she’d actually welcomed the noise. It meant she could work—that she could actually distract herself with something. Of course, that didn’t turn out to be true, but she was grasping at the proverbial straws by then.
She’d started off by calling her boss and apologizing, saying that her father had a minor heart scare the previous morning which had begged her presence. Maybe it was the tired shake in her voice that helped to sell it, because her boss didn’t give her any trouble over the matter.
The day’s work was pretty much a bust. From 7:00 to 3:00, she’d made a hundred or so calls, about half of which went unanswered; the other half just proved to be irritating, and occasionally, downright maddening. Hearing the creaky voices of old retired ladies repeatedly asking if there was a buy one, get one free option like so many other infomercials promoted; listening to others badger her for calling them and blowing up their phones all the time; trying to comprehend what others—who were interested in ordering, but who could barely speak English—were saying. In her sleepless state, it’d all been too much for her, and by the time she clocked out, she was more than ready to try and give sleep another shot.
She took a quick shower to see if that would relax her and then she crawled into bed. She left her pillows on the floor.
Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. He has been published in the likes of Sanitarium Magazine, The Sirens Call, Trysts of Fate, and other such titles.
You can find him at:
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