#writephoto prompt : Arch enemy
“Use the image below to create a post on your own blog… poetry, prose, humour… light or dark, whatever you choose, by noon (GMT) Wednesday 12th April and link back to this post with a pingback. Please make sure that the pingback works and if not, copy and paste your link into the comments section of this post.”
“It’s just an arch, not a god,” Arthur said.
During our 2 years of marriage, I’d learned to read the upturn of his right lip, the timbre of his voice, and the inflections attached to the ends of his sentences.
What he said, and how he said it, provided clues. Those clues could tell me the method he’d use to hurt me today.
The twinkle in his eyes told me he might be in a particularly good mood…or he wanted to make me anticipate the possibilities.
“The scenery is beautiful,” I said with an appeasing smile.
“How did you find a hotel with those accommodations at such a modest price?”
I replied a half truth. “You wanted a remote vacation spot. I found a book at the library about a great view for less than expected.”
Arthur always did love to get something for almost nothing. I love to read about ancient civilizations at the city library. The clues were there, I just had to follow them.
He didn’t bother to ask the hotel clerk why the price for our room was an eighth of what he’d pay at a popular resort, nor did he trust me with money. He controlled every aspect of this vacation, from the destination to the clothes that we wore, and he took every opportunity to remind me of my place.
“You love it here,” he said.
His pupils widened, a bad sign. Out here, no one could hear me scream.
Was he planning to be rid of me? It had to be the reason he allowed me to wear pants instead of a dress with easy access! He’d fooled me before, though.
“Legend has it that only the pure of heart can walk through these arches,” I said with a voice as calm as I could manage.
“You believe that dribble?” he chuckled. “You never were very bright.”
The inflection at the end of his sentence, the way his mouth turned downward…he wasn’t done with me quite yet. He planned just enough torment to pair my pain with one more thing, one more place…one more person I once loved.
“If the legend is true, you won’t make it past the first three inches,” I said, laughing at him. Oh, how he hated to be laughed at.
Weeks of running, days of practicing jumps and rolls, just as the emissary had instructed, were about to pay off. I’d timed my practices to coincide with his employee meetings, using the park lands behind our house. Then I’d arrive home in time to shower, dress, and be there for his phone call telling me what he expected for dinner. Thank God the nuns taught us how to cook so well!
During our marriage, I’d asked him to allow me a few hours a week in the library, a practice he found both harmless and convenient. He’d drop me off while he bedded his mistress, always there to pick me up on time. He’d snicker, thinking I couldn’t smell the faint scent of her perfume or see the smudges of red lipstick he hadn’t wiped thoroughly from his face and neck.
“Ungrateful Bitch!” he yelled at me. I ran through the arch, sprinting ahead of him.
How this cat loved to chase his mouse! But over the past year, he’d chosen the cheese too many times.
I ran to the cliff’s edge where a cross made of white rock marked my stopping point.
“You’re too slow and you’re getting fat!” I said, laughing at him again.
During those seconds of rage, I jumped onto an overhang wide enough to accommodate my feet, hugging the steel rungs of a ladder. He catapulted over the edge to the shallow sea 40 feet below.
I waited for the adrenaline shakes to pass and climbed up the rungs, grasping the cross to help me push my body away from the edge. I crawled several feet away from danger and walked past the arches, my destination the one story, sprawling, hotel. I had memorized the sequence… knock at the back door 3 times, then once. Silently count to 4 and then knock 5 times in a row. The door creaked open.
“Welcome,” a woman in a loose white suit said.
“Your emissary met me at the library, she explained what I had to do, and I signed the million dollar policy on my husband. I…I don’t know how to thank you.”
She stared at me silently, then said, “Enter.”
What was I missing? I glanced at the hard eyes…she’d seen too much death. Strong hands…in her 40’s, small scars on her face. She was wearing a leather shoulder holster under her loose white jacket.
My gut said I might not make it out of this alive.
“I have nothing, The house is in his name. Our car is in his name. He left everything he owns to his mother in his will.”
“The insurance goes to our Sisters of Mercy charity,” she said. “Part of the funds are used to support this facility.”
“If I stay here, I could change my hair color, put on a pair of spectacles…”
“There’s another great war coming,” she said. “By the time 1940 rolls around, we’ll have our money from the insurance company. You were an orphan. No one will care to look for you.”
“I can see it in your eyes…you’re considering killing me. I was dead either way,” I sighed.
“You read people quite well.”
“I lived in a Catholic orphanage until I was 18 and knew little about the world,” I said, eyes downcast. “I met Arthur a week after I was hired at a diner. He saw a naive girl, an easy mark, a scared rabbit to chase until he tired of the game. I learned how to read the intentions of a man who didn’t become rich from employment as the manager of a department store. If I’ve learned that much about reading people in 2 years, what do you think I can learn from an organization who helps women escape their husbands?”
She still wanted to kill me. She’d said there was a war starting. What if…
“You remind me of the way the nuns looked at us during an exam. Are you testing me?”
At that pronouncement, the woman smiled. “You found the clues leading to us that few could follow. Our country needs people who blend into a crowd, not too pretty, not too plain, but endowed with a nice figure. To get this far, you had to be smart, to think on your feet, to be aware of what’s around you, and not be skittish. Most of all, you had to show an ability to remain calm in the face of death. You have a raw talent few possess.”
“What would you have me do?”
“We’ll teach you how to defend yourself. Once you have passed your probation as a provocateur, we’ll assign you to Hollywood as a demure film librarian in spectacles, the spy no one sees coming. That place is full of Nazi’s.”
My arch-enemy had chased me to a cliff, and I was prepared for what came next. But I hadn’t thought past the moment I’d watched him fall into the shallows.
In my desperation to escape my husband, I’d allowed the right words said by the wrong people to continue dictating the direction of my life. Once, I believed that miracles happened and behind every cloud was a silver lining. Life isn’t that grandiose.
I was saved from slavery and death at the hands of a man, only to become an expendable pawn for my country. I found no divine intervention, and the angel watching over my shoulder had an agenda. There is only one truth in a violent universe: You are either the predator or the prey.
“Nazi’s?” I gasped. “When do I start learning how to defeat them?”
“Now,” she said, pointing to another doorway. “Once you’re at the training facility, make a list of the personal items you want us to retrieve from your home. You’ve earned it.”
Convinced of my eagerness to die for my country, she led me down a set of stone steps, through a secret passageway and into a black Studebaker. Yes, I’d spy for my country, but I needn’t die for it. After all, no war, regardless of the battlefield, is forever.
Sister Ruth used to say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” I’d believed there was such a thing as true love. I was fooled once, but I wouldn’t be fooled again now that I knew what to look for. I’d find a rich old man, have a child, and dote over my husband for a few years. I’d ask him to take out a life insurance policy, in case something happened and I had to raise our child alone. When he believed life couldn’t be any better, I’d find a way to dispose of the bastard. Then I’d enroll the kid in boarding school while I traveled the world.
I felt the breeze against my hair, enjoyed the scent of meadows on the narrow paved road, and examined a vehicle coming toward us; another black Studebaker. We pulled over to the side, allowing a single woman wearing a white suit to pass.
Who was next in line to lose her innocence under the arches?