JULY 5, 1970
Standing by the bedroom wall, her hands wrapped in white rope behind the board, the flash of Wally’s camera blinded Micky. She closed her eyes and imagined the light fixture on the ceiling crashing down on his head.
Instead of going to the park last night to watch the public fireworks display, Wally had handed Micky a sparkler and lit it, saying, "Hold this to the sky and pray for the Lutheran Church. They just voted to allow women to be pastors."
They spent half of today in church and then dinner with Wally's friends who liked to talk about books she'd never heard of. Afterward, she waited in his red GTO in the shopping center while he went in to check on the recovering animals in his vet clinic. Wally was a veterinary surgeon. That night he tied her to the bloodwood plank again.
When he finished taking pictures, he untied her, pushed the bloodwood under the bed, and set the alarm clock to six for her to get up and make his breakfast.
He pulled his sex book out of his nightstand drawer and showed Micky a picture of a girl getting spanked. "You know this is what has to happen when a wife doesn't serve her husband. Because if she's not properly disciplined, she's on her way to hell. Her husband is obligated to save her." He tapped her forehead with his finger. "God's will."
Wally's wrong, she thought. People can get a divorce if their marriage doesn't work. Daddy didn't like Mama being an astrologer, so he got a divorce and built a cabin in the mountains.
Micky hadn’t seen Mama since the night she ran away from home, more than two years ago. The last time she saw Daddy was eight years ago on her tenth birthday. She touched the star sapphire that Daddy had given her and wished on it for Wally to be done for the night.
"I've got a surgery in the morning," he said, answering her silent wish.
"Who is it?"
"That Great Pyrenees pup—patellar luxation."
"His knees, right?"
"Good. You're learning, Michaela." He knelt beside the bed. "Let's say our prayers."
Still in her garter belt and black stockings, she knelt. "Now I lay me down to sleep," he prayed. "Father, you know my worries and care for my troubles. I lay these situations at your feet. I will always be faithful. Amen."
"Amen," she said and got into bed next to him. "Good night," he said and gave her a kiss on her forehead in the same place he'd tapped.
She lay beside him close to the edge, keeping as much space between them as possible. Staring at the shiny points on the light fixture hanging from the middle of the ceiling, she imagined the bloodwood plank sliding out from under the bed and flying back to Brazil like a magic carpet. Imagined the girl in Wally's book standing up and swinging her arm back and slapping the man spanking her with all her might.
Beside her Wally snored and made clicking sounds in his throat.
She prayed: Please forgive me for feeling not only angry but doubtful of You. If You took my memory, it might be easier for me to be good.
She counted past a thousand, trying to get to sleep, breathing in Wally's English Leather cologne that he sprayed all over himself on weekends.
She could hear fireworks go off in the distance.
Then God commanded her—a white blaze of light in her mind: GO blazing in white letters over a blue arrow pointing to the door.
Wally lay on his back, his eyes twitching, his snore like a growl, the click in his throat.
She lifted the sheet and slipped out of bed, edged down the dark hall to the laundry room. She felt around for the basket of clean clothes she'd brought in from the line yesterday but hadn't folded yet. Not bothering to take off the garter belt and stockings, she shook out her granny dress she found in the basket. Never mind it needed ironing, she yanked it over her head and sprinted into the living room and snatched her purse off the rosewood end table by the comfy lounge chair where she read her library books. In the kitchen, she opened the cupboard to get the Quaker Oats box where she stashed money. The coins jangled; she listened for Wally.
As silently as possible, she opened the screen door to the high-pitched choir of the crickets and slid her black-nyloned feet into the sneakers she'd gotten all muddy from watering her garden. The latch on the gate creaked. She froze and listened: Crickets chirping. Rumble of thunder. Distant siren. She closed the gate behind her and ran to the street and jumped into the Falcon Wally bought her two weeks ago—tossing onto the seat her patent leather black purse filled with a rat-tail comb, three pens, two pencils, driver's permit, Chapstick, Kleenex, library card, thirty dollars and eighty-seven cents from the Quaker oats carton—and the wad of clean clothes she'd grabbed from the basket. Raindrops splashed onto the windshield as she jammed the key into the ignition.
If she drove north, she would wind up in Wyoming—un-good memories.
If south, Pueblo—un-good memories.
She couldn't go to the neighborhood where she'd lived with Chaz and Floss before she met Wally. She might find someone she knew, but it would be the first place Wally would hunt her. She kept looking in the rear-view mirror dreading he was following—silly because all she could see were anonymous headlights.
She drove west, feeling trapped in the great outdoors, raindrops falling like enormous glistening tears on the windshield.
A glaring zigzag of lightning struck right in front of the car—and BOOM! She knew where to go: Of course! Into the mountains to Daddy's cabin.
Lightning lit up the Tastee Freez where Daddy used to buy giant ice cream cones for her and big brother Ty. The giant color TV sign flashed color by color until all colors lit. Fat raindrops dropped past the floodlights by the shopping mall; the wet street gleamed with neon signs shining rainbows into the puddles.
A sudden qualm—Daddy might not own the cabin anymore. But where else could she go? She had no one. Not back to Mama and her creepy boyfriend. Daddy disappeared eight years ago; her brother Ty was in the Army (most likely in Vietnam); Chaz was dead.
She had never spoken to Wally about the Golconda cabin. She'd be safe from him there. How had she let herself marry him? No, she wasn't going to provoke herself—just sing and drive. She turned on the radio but heard only static. The Falcon seemed intuitive about heading to the mountains, and for the first time in forever, she believed she made a good decision—going to a place she loved. The qualm faded, and she drove resolutely.
At first the road ran flat with a ridge of hills to the west. As she entered the mountains, the night grew darker. Steep, twisty, a drop-off on the right side of the road. She gripped the wheel and determined not to think of anything that could freak her out. She'd only been driving for a month.
She sang, "I Say a Little Prayer" over and over, like she did at Wally's house when he wasn't there because that song always made her think of Chaz. Never mind Chaz didn't believe in prayers, she liked to sing him one. Maybe now in heaven, he would like prayer. Or if he went to hell, maybe prayer could lift him out. If she didn't pretend she was forgetting him, Wally would smack her. Now driving, she could sing to Chaz freely.
The rain stopped. Now the lightning was behind, and she rolled down the window. The tires whirred on the road, and she burst into singing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." She missed Chaz's voice singing with her. The dark clouds broke up. Still so dark, no moon. After many miles, she came upon a tall sign for a gas station she'd never seen before—the first light in miles and brand new, not open. "In the Summertime" caught in her throat because a new gas station meant she might be on the wrong road. But she kept driving and peering into the night for something familiar, and then whew, finally a sign said Golconda 6 Miles.
Strange. Beautiful. The stars took over the sky. She turned on a familiar gravelly road that would surely lead to the lane that led to the cabin. She jounced over the rocks and ridges, and there was Daddy's cabin, a dark spot on the hillside under the stars.
A wild thought passed through her mind that Daddy would be there, but the clearing was vacant, outlined by the mountains. The white sparkle of the sky shimmered. She listened to the rush of Gangue Creek tumbling over stones in the crevice across the meadow. Gazing at the glistening Milky Way just outside the windshield, a drape of peace surrounded her. She stretched out on the front seat of the Falcon.
When she woke at sunrise, flaming red clouds clustered at the top of Fire Peak. The chilly morning air felt fresh. In daylight, the cabin looked vacant, yet the qualm rose again that the cabin belonged to someone besides Daddy. At least no cars around. She went up to the porch and peeked in the window. It looked the same as it used to!!!
Everything was how she remembered. The knotty pine walls, the old furniture that had Daddy cussing when he brought the load here in an old truck he'd borrowed. The scratched wooden buffet that held unmatched dishes, the iron bedstead with the squeaky springs, the black and white striped mattress where Daddy would spread his sleeping bag. The chest filled with raggedy towels. The old green sofa with the same plushy, velvety texture the upholstery had eight years ago when she had her tenth birthday here. Everything the same as if Daddy had never disappeared and any second would come through the door and tell her to clean the fish he and Ty had caught.
To her enormous relief, when she tried the door, it swung open.