The flame flickered inside the old rusting heater. Most of the device’s original beige enamel had been overtaken by encroaching red corrosion. The small mobile home reeked with the sharp odor of kerosene. Yes, the fumes probably were harmful, but it didn’t really matter. What a time for a storm to hit. She’d been stuck with him.
She snapped out of her reflection long enough to move. She opened the tiny window above the dilapidated couch to see if fresh air might venture inside. Her foot nearly touched the floor when the couch swallowed it up. She realized a few moments later that the solid stench wasn’t swayed even with the frigid breeze, but wasn’t that how it always smelled? The acrid odor permeated the entire home. Sometimes she believed she would go crazy if she couldn’t just get some fresh air. She found her seat again on the tattered orange carpet in front of the heater.
The whole trailer park was without electricity and had been most of the week. The blizzard hadn’t let up until today. The main drive wasn’t clear and the landlord, or land-lush, as was so aptly applied, showed no signs of concern. He simply wanted his rent and for the tenants to keep their miniscule drives clear. Of course, it was all hunky-dory if the drive wasn’t only five feet in length. The main road was the trouble. That damned main road that would never be cleared.
It didn’t surprise her. Ed was just like them. He wouldn’t help. He wouldn’t help anyone. He enjoyed the blizzard. Why did all of this emerge now? She felt so hopeless. Normally, she just pushed those feelings aside and focused her energy on cleaning or trying to repair any of the countless broken things in the home.
They’d been stuck for a week and the isolation was getting to her. The world outside ceased to exist when the snows came. There was nothing anywhere outside that door.
She didn’t want to think. There was too much to think about. They’d lived together for six years and he hadn’t done anything. They had been together eight years and he was always going to college. He was going to get his degree. He was going to be a professional and they would have a wonderful life. How time made the truth come out. She wasn’t ready to see the truth behind it, but it came anyway.
He was never going to college. He was never going to get a job. He was never getting them out of the park. They would be living in that shitty mobile home for the rest of their lives. She was not ready for such thoughts. She didn’t want to see a reality that harsh.
She couldn’t bear to think of life concluding in such circumstances. They didn’t have kids, didn’t plan to have any anytime soon. She swirled the last of the warm, flat Mountain Dew around in the bottom of the cup before downing it. That was it. They only had what snow they could melt to drink and a few cans of pinto beans to last until the ice melted. The pipes had all burst with the initial freeze.
Isolation brought out worries in the subconscious that you were otherwise never aware of. She didn’t want to think of the bad things. She hadn’t wanted to think of them in a long time.
Maybe that was her problem. Maybe if she had dealt with them when they happened, it wouldn’t matter now. All the things she didn’t want to think of were there. Ignoring them made them scream louder. Pushing them away only made them come forth. Attempting to forget the past had only intensified it.
Her mind had dodged the real problem: Ed. He was the human pillory. She couldn’t escape the rumors when she was alone. She could fob them off when other people tried to talk to her. No, he wasn’t unfaithful, wasn’t doing anything to hurt her. He would never do that.
But, he’d done it before, hadn’t he? He’d hurt her in so many ways. What if she lashed out once… just once? What if she hurt him? Could he be hurt? Would it even matter because he still lived with her? She could move her legs, she could move her hands, she was capable of free thought and opinion, but when the day ended, she was incapable of progress or change.
Normally, she wouldn’t consider causing him pain. The recent circumstances had progressed beyond anything remotely normal. How Ed had changed. His fair skin was now ruddy red. His blue eyes were bloodshot. His thick blond hair was sparse and faded. She wasn’t a pageant contestant and had no illusions otherwise, but she hadn’t let herself go to that point. She couldn’t. Now, there was proof that his physical deterioration in appearance only reflected the filth inside.
Hurting him really just seemed called for, in the grand scheme of things. She would just be asking for it if she didn’t do anything. She would be begging him to hit her again. So, what if she ended it? What would happen? It’s not like the cops could come rushing in when there was no telephone service. The phones were even more silent than the house.
There was probably someone in the park with a cell phone, but she didn’t feel like trudging through the sub-zero temperatures to find them. She didn’t have a coat or warm jacket, no boots to walk through the twelve inches of snow.
It was just her and the diminishing supply of heating fuel. It was amazing that the three five-gallon jugs were already down to one and a half. She’d just filled the heater so there was a day or so left in total. At least he’d been decent enough to get some fuel. It was her money, but he’d really used it for heating fuel this time, not alcohol. It was a miracle.
The entire trailer park seemed full of waste, at that moment. She wasn’t sure she wanted any part of it. Everyone seemed content with tired lives of degradation and sloth. They wanted nothing. Most of them lived off the government even though they were perfectly healthy. Children had parents who wanted them enslaved in a system that was void of improvement or ambition. She didn’t belong. They didn’t belong.
So, why was she there? She didn’t have any family, but she’d saved five hundred bucks without Ed finding out about it. He didn’t steal that to pay the Trailer Queen for services rendered, that much she saw to. It was in her secret bank account.
Queenie dominated the Hope Hills Trailer Park. She had most of the men on regular schedules. Queenie, a prostitute with four children, had no real name. Most of the women hated her, but as with everyone, they were all in an inescapable slump. Ambition quickly faded and any drive to improve soon met despondency.
Maybe it wasn’t Ed, who sent her in that direction. Her thoughts were pushing her somewhere, even if she had no desire to see what lie at the end of it.
Ed thought he could do that to that poor girl and get away with it. Even Queenie hadn’t been enough to satisfy his lusts. The cops had visited just before the storm hit to question him about the attack.
A girl from one of the trailers towards the front of the park had been waiting for the school bus. Her parents wouldn’t even drive her just to the road wait on the bus. It had been well below freezing outside. She’d noticed her that morning as she came in from work. Chloe Reedy didn’t have a coat, either. She was ten years younger, and had her life ahead of her. Her parents were meth addicts that didn’t leave their trailer.
She’d waved to Chloe as she came in from the night shift at Double Kwik. Ed was leaving for an interview, which turned out to be nonexistent. She’d called the company hosting the alleged “interview” because he didn’t come home. They’d never heard of him.
She should’ve suspected something. She should’ve suspected something serious. Guilt weighed on her heart. She knew she should’ve let her get in the car. She should’ve let Chloe sit in her car while she waited on the bus. Why hadn’t she picked Chloe up? Did that make her as guilty as Ed?
The memory of the cold girl and with the painfully red face haunted her. She would’ve driven her to school, without thought, had she known. She would’ve taken her to safety and wouldn’t be beating herself up. Why didn’t she suspect something? Ed never left that early for anything. Potential employers had to match his schedule, not the other way around.
He appeared so guilty when they questioned him. She couldn’t say anything, because she was in shock herself. Not that, anything but that. She’d missed over half the conversation when the officers began. Chloe was a child. Ed couldn’t be that cruel, could he? Not the Ed she knew.
Of course, the Ed she knew hadn’t actually existed for several years. Apparently, he’d never existed at all. Maybe she was jumping to conclusions. That was a sick crime, even for men like Ed. It had to be some horrible misunderstanding. The trailer park was full of criminals, past and present, but Ed had never been convicted of a crime.
But they came to him first, didn’t they? Why would they come to him first, just out of guesswork? Their trailer was farther towards the back of the park. Maybe they came there because Chloe told them to. Something happened and something was catching up to him.
What if that made her an accomplice? Would they believe she was just in shock? She had been shocked. She could hardly move and had been unable to speak until an hour later. She prayed so hard it wasn’t true. When she’d asked Ed about it, he’d only laughed. No, of course he didn’t do it. He wouldn’t do something like that, but she knew. Deep in her, she knew.
Chloe had to be hospitalized after the attack. Since they couldn’t find DNA, all they really had was circumstantial evidences and her testimony. No one else was awake to see her in that area, or so they said. Regardless, she knew there was likely someone who saw something. The cops knew what kind of park it was. She made no excuses for them. She knew what she was living in and around. She was under the same label just for being there.
A loud, garbled snore drifted from the back bedroom before the mattress madly squeaked. He rolled in bed. He couldn’t roll like a normal person; he had to shake the trailer. For once, she wished there was no more noise, that he would just die and she wouldn’t have to worry about it.
She hated him. Things had escalated since the day of questioning. Suddenly, she realized there were many things about Ed to hate. Her drive to improve her life had diminished since she had gotten with him. That included her ability to distinguish truth. She’d grown so used to him that changes weren’t obvious.
She’d heard Chloe was ready to be released just before the storm knocked the power out. The phones quickly followed. It wasn’t as if they could afford a cell phone. She could barely keep them housed. They didn’t have a kid so there was no other help. She wasn’t going to be like Queenie and have a child just to be kept up by the government. She refused to bring a child into poverty.
So, how often had Ed mangled girls? How many other teens had he raped and beaten? Why didn’t she suspect him before the cops came? How stupid could she be? He never left the house before noon, except for that one day. He didn’t verbally admit doing it, but the rest of him showed he did it, and was proud of it. He would never touch her again. He didn’t deserve to touch anyone ever again.
The weatherman had said there wouldn’t be a break in the cold for another week. A week before the ice melted. A week of isolation with Ed. It was unthinkable. She scooted over towards the armchair. Her legs had fallen asleep and she tried to shake them out in the cramped living room. She deserved better.
Everything she had worked for the past three years was shit. Ed never had a job, but managed to have money for his liquor. He couldn’t help with the electric bill, but he certainly could buy his booze.
That was it. The word that brought an idea. The idea that gave her a rush of hope and exhilaration: Booze.
Fate needed to decide everything. That was it. She would let her future ride on the winds of chance. She assembled her clothes, careful to dress in warm layers. She would crawl out of the park if she had to. She couldn’t stand her surroundings. She would suffocate if she didn’t leave. She would… would do something else. She just couldn’t be there any longer.
She dressed as warmly as possible and started collecting paper. She had just bought a newspaper before the storm hit. She’d hoped somewhere within the countless ads for trivial products would be a better future, but the search proved fruitless.
She wound the pieces tighter and tighter together until she created a small rope. She opened the lid of the kerosene fuel tank and inserted one end. This was for Chloe. She didn’t want the dump she’d lived in. She didn’t want what things she had. She didn’t want Ed. They were all intertwined and keeping one more thing than she needed would drag the residue into her new life.
If it was meant to be, the fire would extinguish itself, and she would return to life at the park. She would excuse her nightly escape as trying to get a ride with someone to get food. The rest of the world seemed mobile and working. The blizzard had only really laid waste inside the park. The utility companies didn’t regard the residents as valuable customers. They weren’t in any hurry to restore functionality.
If it was not meant to be, the trailer would burn to the ground and Ed would never know what happened. She would arrive at the homeless shelter and swallow her pride. She would accept any help offered. The fifth of whiskey he finished off guaranteed he would be unconscious for the night. She would be rid of him, of her old house, and her old life. He deserved far worse for Chloe, but it was the best she could deliver, all things considered.
She grabbed her purse and took one last look. It was going to be a relief to know where she was supposed to be. The paper rope was nearly two feet long and had started soaking kerosene up. Since the old mobile home was so old, it should go up quickly. She flicked the lighter and looked down. It was all waiting. Her hands trembled as she held up the end of the rope. She wouldn’t be blamed. He still had the bottle of whiskey beside him in bed. The piece of crap heater was a time bomb anyway; even the cops had pointed it out when they questioned him.
“This is for you and me, Chloe.” She whispered.
She lit the paper and went out the door. From the corner of her eye, she saw the dry-rotted carpet ignite when the flame touched it. The fire spread into a small circle around the rope. This was the first day of the rest of her life.
She walked out the front door and whispered, “Good-bye Ed.”