January 17th: On the run
, by Margaret Karmazin

I knew this day would come.  That’s why, some time ago, I had this special purse made.  It’s a nice leather, soft and grained, a dark brown.  There’s a secret compartment on the bottom about an inch and a half thick.  It has a zipper around it, hidden by a rolled flap that comes down over it, so you’d never know.  Inside the compartment, I keep a short, blond streaked wig and two passports – my real one and a fake one, along with a matching driver’s license, that my very good acquaintance Jacko got me when he was needing some cash.  Actually, it’s not really fake, but belonged to some chick that died or something.  The passport’s good for eight more years, but the license only two.

I look enough like her to get away with it.  When I put on the wig and big framed glasses, I can pass.  My jaw is just a shade squarer, but I don’t think they look all that hard at passport pics.

I keep a good wad of cash in that secret compartment too, so I’m all set when the time comes.

“Never call attention to me,” he always warned; it’s his mantra.  “I’ll overlook a few transgressions, but not that.”

I understand, of course.  But it’s hard to maintain perfection.  So one time I slip; I say something to someone I shouldn’t and then I know.  No point in going home to pack.  He’ll be waiting for me or someone will.  No, the minute the words leave my mouth, I know what I have to do.

I walk straight out of the store and onto the street where I stick out my hand, and by some grace of the universe, a taxi pulls to the curb.
“Sky Harbor airport,” I say and we’re off.  Once there, I duck into a restroom and put on the wig and the fake glasses.  The first flight out is to Atlanta and they have room.  It leaves in forty-two minutes so I chew my fingernails till then.  Once aboard, I still don’t feel safe, but better than before.  I need to get to Philadelphia where I keep a stash in a safety deposit box at one of the banks.  Not a great way to invest money, but while the stock market dropped, at least my stuff stayed the same.  The money has been lying there for six years; I paid the box ahead for ten.

The woman sitting next to me in the plane shows troublesome signs of being a talker, but after a beginning spurt, she falls silent and sleeps.  We arrive in Atlanta in three and a half hours.  I check the boards for a flight to Philadelphia.  There isn’t one for seven hours.  I run down several long walkways, ask someone where the taxi stands are, do about a zillion more long walks till I find them and get one.  “Bus station,” I tell the driver.

Long wait, almost piss my pants as I buy a ticket for the first bus out that is going in the general direction of Philly – Richmond, Virginia.  The bus is loading, but I make it.  By now I think my bowels are backed up into next week. There is a half decent toilet on the bus and I use it.  A bit of running water too, so I try to wash up, using toilet paper and handiwipes.  I always carry an extra pair of underpants in my purse and a plastic bag.

About now I start panicking that he’s got someone on me and this person will be waiting in Richmond.   I’m hardly able to eat the cheese crackers and Cadbury bar I buy at the bus station, my stomach is such a whirling mess.  Acid is my middle name.

Just then my cell rings and as I fish it out of my purse, I’m so discombobulated I drop it on the floor and it slides under the seat in front of me.  The man sitting there reaches for it and hands it back.  My hand is shaking so bad I almost drop it again.  Though it has stopped ringing, I check who called.  Him, it’s him!

He calls again in ten minutes.  Naturally, I don’t answer.  My heart is pounding so hard it feels like when I was hyperthyroid that time.  I don’t feel up to listening to his messages, not yet.

When the bus finally pulls in, I’m so tense my legs are mush and I half collapse down the steps off the bus.  But, miracle, I don’t see anyone suspicious, so I take a cab to a department store where I buy a couple of belts, a throw pillow and a maternity top.  In a restroom stall, I assemble the outfit and leave my jacket hanging open over the whole thing.  The jacket isn’t very warm; after all I was wearing it in Phoenix just for the look, while here in Richmond I could use more warmth.  But I don’t want to waste more time shopping and grab a taxi to the Amtrak station where I buy a ticket for Philly.

This is important now, this part.  I have simply got to get to that safety deposit box.  By now it’s after five in the afternoon and I’ll arrive in Philly around midnight.  Where will I go?  I dig out my cell and call someone I used to know there, but their phone has been disconnected.  I try a third or fourth cousin of my mother’s, some distant relation and someone else answers, says they’ve lived there eight years now.

I really don’t want to be alone.  Then I remember this Ted guy I met once, back when I used to work for a living – met him at a seminar in Harrisburg.  I open my fat, falling apart wallet and ruffle through and sure enough, there’s his card.  I have trouble throwing things like that away; you never know when they’ll come in handy.

He answers and sounds a little high.  It’s obvious he doesn’t remember me until I say “long red hair” (he never knew it was a wig) and then he says, yeah, come on over, and gives me the address.

As the train rattles along, every so often, I change cars.  I check my messages now and he has left two, the first one sweet and gooey and the second down to business: “Could  you have some reason you don’t want to come home?  Could it be that you’ve done something you wish you hadn’t?”  He ended, ominously, with that.

My legs feel like jelly, but I make it to the lounge car and order a double martini, then drink only half.  I can’t risk losing what pathetic edge I have.

Philly is not somewhere you want to be walking around loose at night, so I fight someone for a cab.  It crosses my mind that I could be endangering Ted, but I let it go.  Probably not, they would just get me.  Maybe smack him around a little, nothing serious.  I remember to remove the throw pillow and when he opens the door, he’s too loaded to notice I’m carrying it.

He is wearing red sweat pants and apparently nothing else and holding what looks like a pink martini.  “Hey,” he says, “what happened to your hair?”

“Cut it off,” I say, “and bleached it blond.  Got tired of total strangers yelling ‘Hey Red!’”

He’s disappointed, but gets over it and doesn’t seem to notice the long dark straggle sticking out at my neckline.  I sneak it back under the wig when he turns his head.

“I just need to crash for the night, that’s all,” I say.  “I am totally exhausted.”

“Gotta have a drink first,” he blurts, then heads off to the kitchen.  He returns with another pink martini and says, “I add cherry juice for the antioxidants.”

It tastes delicious.  Just when I’m wondering if I can ask for food, he says, “Hungry?  There’s pizza in the kitchen.”

I go get some and wonder how old it is – a few hours?  Couple of days?  Will it kill me?  I can’t afford to be puking anywhere.  But it tastes good.

I figure he’s going to hit on me, but instead he starts on a long, intense story about his girlfriend leaving and I decide the only way I have any hope of getting sleep is if he passes out.  So I encourage him to have two more drinks and eventually he does.  I find the BR, pee and follow suit.  The two of us snore and fart on the sofa and floor.

He’s up early and getting ready for work as if no debauchery had occurred, as if he had turned in at ten after taking the dog out.  He looks spiffy in his suit and tie and I think wow, he cleans up good.  Speaking of that, I must stink like someone on a chain gang in the Georgia sun.

“Can I take a shower before I split?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says, “help yourself.  Just lock the door and slam it behind you.  No bolt or chain will be on but hopefully I won’t get robbed today; they’ll wait to try tomorrow.”

I love him for this, his easy-goingness, his trusting me and I kiss him on his freshly shaven cheek.  I say, “The chances are slim, but if it ever happens I can help you some way, don’t hesitate to ask.”  Of course he has no way to get in touch with me if he wanted to.

“Why? You have a cell number you want to give me?” he says, but by his eyes, I know he’s not stupid.  I give him a fake number and he leaves, patting me on the arm.  Some people are just born saints.  Anyway, where I hope I’m heading, the phone I have won’t work.

After I stand under the hot shower for fifteen full minutes, SUCH a pleasure, I realize I don’t have anything to wear.  Already used the clean undies.  So, unfortunately, I’m going to have to steal from my benefactor.  A pair of BVDs, fly and all, some beat up jeans I find in a bottom drawer and the maternity deal on top and I am out of there.  I leave him what I think is enough to cover what I took, lay it on his bed, which looks forever unused.  My hand wants to linger there, running over that soft surface, as if touching the last kind person I’ll ever know.

The bank opens at nine and for a few moments, I think I am going to have trouble because first, I can’t find the key to the box and second, the woman behind the gate where all that stuff is, is giving me the look sales clerks in fancy stores give the hoi polloi.  Okay, I probably don’t look too classy what with the sliding down jeans and the maternity get up and then I realize the pillow has slid down a bit too, so I turn around and adjust it best I can.  The woman probably thinks I’m planning to hold up the bank.

Finally, I locate the key in one of my purse’s zillion side pockets and hand it to her.  My heart stops while we look into each other’s eyes; I try not to appear desperate.  Then, as if time starts up again, she says, “Step over here and sign,” and so I do, using my real name because I have to, and then I am inside the little closet where they direct you to look through your stuff.  Inside the box are several envelopes and I add up the money.  Twenty-nine thousand dollars.  I pack some in my bra, both sides, some in my pockets and the rest in various places in my purse, then I adjust the strap and hang the purse crosswise over my chest.  A tight fit what with the fake stomach.  I hand the closed, empty box back to the woman and figure it will be the last time I ever see it, whether my luck is good or bad.

It’s broad daylight outside and even though I’m nervous as shit, I figure I don’t look too much like myself in this get up.  Although he knows the way I walk;  it’s very distinctive and some have called it “like a truck driver,” whatever that means.  So I try to be more feminine, take smaller steps.  My aim now is the airport and where to, I don’t know.  Then my heart leaps into my mouth.  I think I see Darnel who works for him.  Terrified, I dart into a bookstore. Unfortunately, there’s no back door, but I see a café on the second floor and there are probably restrooms.  It looks like this possible Darnel is walking into the store, so I take the winding staircase two at a time.  I spot the restroom sign and make it to the ladies as his head is appearing at the top of the stairs and I’m pretty sure he has not seen me.  But then why did he come into the store?  Someone like him who looks like a thug.  I am pretty sure that Darnel has never read a book in his life past tenth grade or whenever it was he quit.

Several women come in and out of the restroom and I’m sure I’m going to be living in there for days.  I start to get cabin fever in addition to the regular hysteria, then I have the idea of asking one of the women if she’ll help me out.  This is taking a somewhat huge chance, but I’m like that, nervy sometimes.  The one I choose is an elderly woman who seems to be having some trouble adjusting her bra; she keeps fiddling with a strap.  One of her legs is swollen and I wonder why.  I make my approach.

“Um, excuse me, but I wonder if you’d help me out.  I’m scared to go out there.”

She looks at me as if I’m a possible terrorist.

“I’m not a terrorist,” I say, trying to joke around, but it doesn’t go over.

“What do you want?” she says.

“There’s a man I saw out there.  He didn’t see me.  I think it’s someone I lived with once.  He beat the crap out of me.  I had a restraining order on him.  I’d really like to get out of here without him seeing me, but I don’t even know if it’s him for sure.”

She looks at me more sympathetically now.  “Sounds like the bastard my daughter married. The last thing you need in your condition,”  she said, eyeing my fake belly. (I had forgotten about my “condition.”) What do you want me to do?”

“Could you maybe go see what he’s doing?  Like if he’s still out there?  And if there’s a way I could possibly get by him?”

“What’s he look like?” she says.

“Over six feet tall, body builder build, football player neck, shaved head, light brown skin, green eyes, sensuous lips, kind of blank look in his eyes.  I think he’s wearing a black shirt.”

“I’ll be right back,” she says.  She pats my arm.  “Don’t you worry.”

She’s gone for what seems way too long and when she returns, there are two teenagers at the mirrors, giving each other eye rolls that say, “What’s she hanging in here for?”

I rush to meet Grandma.  She says, “There’s nobody that looks exactly like that.  There’s a dark guy with a shaved head, but his eyes are brown.  He’s sitting with a woman and they’re both reading the paper.”

My relief is tangible.  The woman pats me again.  “Come on, honey, I’ll walk out with you.”  And as we passed through the café section, I got a better look at “Darnel” and finally began to breathe.

Out on the street, the woman says, “You need a ride, honey?  You okay?”

“No, I’m good,” I assure her.  “Thanks for your help, I appreciate it more than you know.”

Arranging a taxi to the airport isn’t easy for some reason; takes me three tries.  I figure I’ll get something to eat there and a drink for crying out loud. The place is hugely complicated and I have to make a quick decision on what to tell the driver.  I pick US Air because I know they have international flights.  He lets me out and I drop money while I am paying him, all flustered.

Inside, I see a flight to Paris leaving on time at 6:55.  I rush around like a mad woman trying to find the desk and when I do, yes, there is room, I can get a ticket!  I am so grateful, I have an urge to throw myself across the counter and hug the woman, but contain myself.  There are still more than five hours to go.  During this time, I really should buy myself something else to wear, get a good, hearty meal and that drink I promised myself.

The cell rings.  Yeah, it’s him and I make a decision.  I dig the SIM card out of the phone, drop it on the floor and smash it with my foot – about ten times – then toss the frickin’ mess and the phone into the nearest trash can.  Why bother listening to the message?

But he’s done his job.  My heart is threatening to bang out of my chest.  It spoils the chicken wrap I try to eat, but I force the whole thing down, then vomit in the ladies room with about ten people listening.

It hits me that he might figure out I’m going to Paris.  I never made it a secret that I’m in love with that city and he knows I speak some French.  Maybe I ought to go somewhere else or at least for the next few hours, not be a sitting duck here.  Once I’m on the plane he can’t do anything till it lands and I’m out of customs.  And then there’ll be people around and not ones he can necessarily control.

I cruise the airport looking for other flights and find one to Reykjavik.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate freezing weather so the chances of me going to Reykjavik are slim as a UFO landing in the back yard.  I buy a couple of magazines and sit in the flight-to- Reykjavik waiting area.  There’s me with my blond wig, big glasses, and pillow maternity belly in  Reykjavik land where I stay for as long as I can stand it.  Eventually, I dart back to the Paris section, quick ditch my pillow in a restroom, and see they are loading.  I have to pass through more checks, can’t take my drink in, blah blah blah.  I use the blond passport and hope to God no one questions it or my life will be over.

No one does.  No record of my real name on that flight.  I get in line and follow the others onto the plane.  A part of me, the part that still hopes, is thrilled.


Margaret Karmazin’s credits include 130 stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Potomac Review, Confrontation, Mobius, Absent Willow Review, Pennsylvania Review and Wild Violet. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Words of Wisdom were nominated for Pushcart awards and Piper’s Ash, Ltd. published a chapbook of her sci-fi, COSMIC WOMEN. Her story, “The Manly Thing,” was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. She helped write the introduction for and has a story included in STILL GOING STRONG, stories in TEN TWISTED TALES, PIECES OF EIGHT (AUTISM ACCEPTANCE), ZERO GRAVITY, COVER OF DARKNESS and CIRCLING URANUS and a novel, REPLACING FIONA, published by eTreasuresPublishing.com.

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