By: Ruth Z. Deming
She lived at the end of the block. People were always staring at her when she came out to play with her daughters, Josie and Ridley, who swam in a little blue pool with mermaids on the bottom. She’d carefully hold their little arms, soft to the touch and as big around as a puppy’s tiny legs, and one day, she slipped on her butt.
“Mommy! Mommy!” cried the oldest child, Josie. “Are you all right?”
“Sure am, Sweetie, I’ll just run inside and take a Tylenol.”
She ordered the girls indoors. No one was going to kidnap her darlings on this quiet street in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.
She opened a cabinet way up top and pulled out the pill box, a sparkling toothpaste white.
One extra-strength Tylenol with a glass of water. Glug! Glug! Glug! Down the hatch. Of course she bought the generic Tylenol. So many choices. This one, hard to believe, was as round as an M&M, and colored red. It has a sweet taste. Enteric coated. This means it does not dissolve in the stomach, where it might cause irritation, but rather in the small intestine.
Her husband, Gregory, who insisted he was frugal, was a cheapskate, pure and simple. When was the last time he took her out to a nice restaurant, like Angelos’s, even though they had a coupon for thirty percent off?
A plan began to work in her mind. Confessing to herself she found motherhood challenging – boring was the word she refused to say – she began to plan an escape of some sort a year earlier. She didn’t believe in divorce, but she would teach him a lesson. One he would never forget. Everything was ready. Her heart pumped with excitement.
She walked next door to Don and Mary’s house. They were an older couple with grandchildren in Florida. When Mary answered the chiming of the doorbell, Georgia asked a simple question.
“Would you watch the girls for ten minutes until Greg gets home?”
“Our pleasure,” said Mary, whose hair was up in curlers. Georgia tried not to stare, but didn’t realize people still used curlers.
She set out in her two- door blue Nissan Sentra. That husband of hers wouldn’t get a four-door, which, with a family of four, would make her auto trips so much easier. He had a huge blue van, with a dent on the side. Why fix it? was his philosophy. Too much money.
Georgia sped off in her little blue car with religious stickers – He Died for Our Sins – Arise! – and a chromium Fish – all on the rear. It looked like a museum piece. She wanted her little Josie and Ridley to become good Christians like Mommy was.
She munched on Snyder’s pretzel rods as she drove. She waved at Ian who was walking his new black puppy. In her rear view, she saw him down on the sidewalk playing with – what was her name? – Wags.
She turned on the radio to her favorite station, WXPN-FM. They played new songs that made her think and reflect. Old songs, too, like Tom Petty, who died of a heart attack; Bruce Springsteen, whose unstoppable songs always told a romantic story. He’d suffered from depression, she read in his autobiography. Her paternal grandfather, Louis, had taken his own life.
She pressed the power window button and let the wind sail through her short curly blonde hair. Was she doing the right thing?
“Dear Lord,” she prayed out loud. “Please help your little Georgia.”
A feeling of freedom came over her. Free as she had never felt before. God, she was almost certain, was on her side.
At the Philadelphia International Airport, she turned into a parking lot with a shuttle bus to the airport. “Surveillance at all times,” read a sign. She sure hoped so. Opening the trunk, she pressed down on “Jesus Loves Us” and removed a large plaid suitcase, with walking wheels.
She checked the pockets of her long grey trousers to make sure the tickets were tucked inside. A sign directed passengers to the shuttle bus. The wheels of the suitcase clicked on the black asphalt and she joined a small circle of travelers. She wore her green Phillies cap she kept on a hook near the front door. When Greg came home he’d notice it was missing.
She kept her eyes down as she didn’t want to speak to anybody. God forbid if she were tempted to lust after another man. Wasn’t it President Jimmy Carter who had said, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”
Lord have mercy.
She finally boarded the first of three airplanes. This was an American Airlines flight. The flight attendants wore red uniforms, bright as the cardinals in her front yard. Brett helped her put her two bags on the overhead compartment and clicked them shut.
In less than four hours she would be in Los Angeles.
She sat in the aisle seat, with her pocketbook tucked under her seat.
The captain introduced himself on the loudspeaker and said it was a fine day here in Philadelphia and at arrival time in L.A., the rain should be tapering off.
As a young girl, she and her family would fly to the Caribbean to escape the wet muggy heat of South Philadelphia, where they lived in a brick row house. Her postman father, Tony, saved money and worked overtime, so they could take vacations.
Georgia stared out the window as the plane lifted miraculously from the ground. It reminded her of a goose ascending into the air from a park near home, where she took the girls. The pilot said the passengers could unbuckle their seat belts. She pulled her pocketbook onto her seat and reached for her newest paperback, The Orphan’s Tale, about hiding from the Nazis.
Her head kept bobbing back and forth and finally she fell asleep.
At home, Georgia and Gregory slept in a king-sized bed on the first floor of their home. He controlled the remote control. When he fell asleep, Georgia would pry it out of his hand and watch what she wanted, in the few minutes before sleep closed her eyes.
There was a newscast which showed a new Japanese train. She sat up in bed to view it closer. Then she stood up and moved closer to the TV as if she were going to board it. “Shinkansen bullet” was the name she carefully memorized. She vowed to visit it. She must visit it. She was compelled.
And she did. People were friendly aboard the train. When the attendants saw her ivory-white face they spoke to her in English, the universal language. She still clutched her novel The Orphan’s Train as she sat by the window.
“I am on the world’s fastest train,” she thought. It had 17 cars and went 160 miles per hour. “And here I am, Dear Lord, just like I planned.”
There were mountains in the distance. She’d read The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Hemingway. These were real mountains, not like in Willow Grove, where their street, Red Barn Road, was steep, all right, but a mountain it was not.
The seats were soft and comfortable, like the most comfortable couch you could buy at Raymour and Flanigan back home. A classic gray, that matched her trousers. A man bent over her. “Is this seat taken?” he asked.
She had no choice but to say, “No.”
She pulled out her bookmark and began to read. She was unable to focus but kept trying. She felt something on her leg. A bug? On the train? It was his hand sliding up her leg and thigh.
She bopped it with her book and quickly slid out of the seat.
Seventeen cars, she thought, and sped out the door.
He was up and striding after her. She told herself not to panic. What did he want from her?
She flashed back to her children and to Greg, whom she desperately missed. Had he sent this imbecile to find her? Of course not.
She lurched as the train rounded corners. Passengers were eating at their seats, drinking coffee and tea. There must be a dining car. She flew past the passengers, 1700 in total.
She found the dining car and entered. Was he behind her? Thank God, no.
Behind a counter, a man asked her what she’d like to order.
“Sir,” she said to the man in the dyed black hair. “I’m being followed. Do you understand what that means?”
“Yes! Security guard. I will get security guard.” On his phone, he punched in a number and spoke rapidly.
He was here. The stalker entered the dining car. Georgia looked closely at him, while trembling. Well-dressed. Caucasian. Wearing a checked suit with a blue sweater underneath. He walked up to her and put his arms around her.
“You,” he said, with a trembling voice, “are the woman I’ve been searching for my entire life. What a great beauty you are. I have coin. We must be together.”
In his hand he held a red Swiss Army Knife. A blade was extended toward her.
She tried to open her mouth to yell “Help” but no words would come out.
She pushed him hard, nothing happened. She pushed again with all her might. Still nothing. Then she took a step backward and pushed again. He fell backward onto the floor, his head bloodied.
“Oh, Dear God,” she said aloud. “Have I killed this man?”
Three security guards dressed in navy uniforms and navy caps with shiny peaks, knocked the knife from his hand, picked him up from the floor and handcuffed him.
They dragged him out of the room – she watched in fascination – and he was gone.
She sat down on a blue-cushioned bench and breathed, simply breathed, on and off, on and off.
An attendant arrived. “What can I get you to eat?”
“I’ll have an egg salad sandwich,” she answered. “Do you have egg salad sandwiches?”
“White, wheat or rye, dear?”
“Toasted rye. Instead of potato chips do you have pretzels?”
“Coming right up, dear.”
Georgia was so confused, she couldn’t decide if the trip had been worth it. She took small bites of her egg salad sandwich. The egg salad was smooth and creamy. Never had she tasted anything as good as this, not even the spaghetti and meatballs at Angelo’s. She found herself smiling. Her mouth was smiling and her whole body smiled, too. She closed her eyes in ecstasy.