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"Lizzie's Kitchen" by Leslie Bonnette

Gary Miller

“Now?” The word floated from the phone like a small gray cloud which hovered motionlessly, then descended upon her, leaving Lizzie unable to speak or move.  Without thinking, she answered, “I suppose so.”  Words were sticking, getting caught; the conversation between friends seemed strained. In the silence, her heart pounded like a prisoner’s might after seeing a hole in the chain link fence. 

This country kitchen, lace curtains, barn board cabinets, decorated with her pottery began to feel like someone else’s.  She sat there on the old, painted, chair for what seemed like a long time and told her friend that she would think about it --- leaving, that is, but she wasn’t sure she could.  How could she leave?  “This is my home,” she thought, as pictures of more tender times rushed in like water wanting to drown her.  Lizzie’s knees began to quiver.          

In the mill town one steamy summer Sunday evening two summers ago, Lizzie sat watching her clothes spin in the dryer, a paperback balanced on her knees: size 4 dungarees, two tiny sweatshirts, bibs, jeans, work shirts, underwear; a basket of single socks, unclaimed tee shirts and a child’s jacket shared the solitary row of plastic chairs with her.  The washing machine hummed, clanged, stopped.  In its place, muffled bass notes drifted through the ragged screen door that opened onto an alley out back.  “Night Moves” moaned Bob Seeger, “…oh-oh oh, I remember those Night Moves.” Breathing in the seductive sounds, moonlight glistening off the notes, cool blue lights leaked out from the bar next door and a warm amber glow beckoned Lizzie in. “Just for a minute, until the clothes are dry,” she thought. “There’s nothing wrong with a cold beer, a little conversation.”

His smile made his dark eyes wrinkle; his softly curling dark hair barely touched his collar. With a slight raise of an eyebrow, Lizzie sat down beside him, his left sleeve brushing against her arm. The muscular forearms of a drummer rested on the bar. “Hi, nice evening,” he said in a gentle voice and innocent lisp. Her chest and shoulders relaxed, and she ordered up the beer that would make them friends; and each cool beer gave them more in common. The wad of quarters for the languishing laundry bulged in her hip pocket.  “I can tell you know your music,” he said, adding, “I’m a musician, I oughtta know.” He played ZZ Top to her Elton John, she played Billy Joel to his Lynyrd Skynnard;The Doobie Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, through the newness of the night, the musician and the young mother exchanged their bar bullshit and crazy dreams.           

Now in the kitchen that felt like someone else’s, Lizzie sat like petrified wood unable to pull coherent thoughts together, so important now; in this kitchen. Lizzie remembered, she needed leave now, make a plan. He couldn’t see her putting her daughter’s and her things in boxes, moving. “Please, don’t let him come.” She thinks of her daughter. The time is now.

Gathering her desperate fear into thoughtless movement, burying her feeling of panic, Lizzie summoned her instinctual determination and walked through the hallway into the bedroom.  Lizzie ruffled through her closet to find her knapsack and draped it innocently on the bedpost. Above all, he cannot see her gathering their things. Again, she sees her daughter’s face in her mind’s eye. Swiftly she snatches up the telephone bills with all the familiar numbers. Lizzie grabs her journal, photos, notebooks, and stows them under the mattress. Back into the kitchen, she finds her notepad and dials 411: information for battered women’s shelters; she makes a list: Barb would be Burlington; Amy, Albany; Penny, Portland -- everything in code. He couldn’t see these, he couldn’t know.  Clothes for a few days, make-up, shampoo. Good Night Moon, toys, Teddy. Now racing from room to room, the shrill ring of the phone snapped her back into reality. “My car shit the bed,” he said. “Can you pick me up?” “I can’t,” Lizzie whispered, and hung up. This was it; the time is now.   

Lizzie glanced toward the driveway, her old blue Subaru, with its two black fenders, stood capably by: gas, money, checkbook.  NOW!  With a raging heart and swift, direct movement, Lizzie tears through the apartment one the last time, stopping at the refrigerator, she grabs a wine cooler and shoves it into her pocket. “Good-bye,” she silently mouths to no one, and gently waves good-bye to their home.