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Authors: Luanne Rice

Home Fires (7 page)

BOOK: Home Fires
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“So, where are you all from?” the driver asked.

Kurt started telling him about the island. Maggie overheard part of it, but the Bailey's was having a delayed effect, and she started to feel drowsy. Next thing she knew, she smelled pot. Kurt and the driver were passing a joint back and forth.

“My name's Fritz, by the way,” he said. “How about you?”

Kurt told him.

“Y'all got pretty girlfriends, Kurt and Eugene,” he said. The more he talked, the more pronounced his southern accent became.

“Thanks.” Maggie actually heard Kurt say the word.

“You bored back there?” he asked, checking his rearview mirror. He met Maggie's eyes dead on. Blushing, she looked away.

“No,” she said.

“'Cause if you were, I could offer you some interesting reading material. There in the bookshelf.”

Maggie ignored him, but Vanessa reached right past her. She pulled down a battered paperback. Maggie didn't want to give her the satisfaction of looking, but Vanessa gently tapped her elbow. Maggie glanced over.

The cover showed a naked woman lying in a field. Purple bruises covered her body; a cord cut deeply into her neck. Her tongue, black and bloated, protruded from her mouth. It was a real photograph of a dead woman. The book's title was

Maggie and Vanessa looked at each other. Eugene was stoned, his eyes closed. Quietly, Maggie slid the book back onto the shelf.

“What'd y'all find?” Fritz asked, half turning in his seat.

“Nothing,” Maggie said steadily.

“C'mon—I saw you looking at one of my books. Don't keep it to yourself.”

Kurt swung around to give Maggie a dirty look.

“He's nice enough to give us a ride,” Kurt said. “Don't be a jerk.”

Maggie stared at him calmly, trying to communicate to him that there was a reason why she wasn't eager to look through the books with Fritz. At the same time she kept glancing at Fritz, to make sure he had both hands on the wheel.

“Like I said, you boys have yourselves two sweet ladies.”

That seemed to make Kurt feel okay. He relaxed, facing forward again. Vanessa reached for Maggie's hand, and she squeezed it.

“Matter of fact, I would be very happy to pay a hundred bucks to fuck either one of them. If that doesn't offend you, that is.”

Maggie felt her throat close around a sharp cry. Vanessa's mouth had dropped open; she was shaking Eugene to wake him up.

Now Fritz and Kurt were conferring, their heads close together. Good, Maggie thought. Kurt's playing it cool. Instead of blowing up, causing a big scene and setting off God knows what kind of reaction a creep like Fritz might have, he's reasoning with him. Maggie tried to send Kurt a silent message. She gave him permission to tell Fritz anything he wanted: that she and Vanessa had STDs, AIDS, anything.

Fritz nodded. He seemed to understand Kurt's explanation.

Now Kurt was climbing into the little cabin, to hold Maggie in his arms. How could she have doubted him before? Shaking with fear, she let him protectively stroke her hair and kiss her face.

“It's okay,” he whispered in her ear.

“Let's get out of here,” she whispered back.

“I know. I know.”

“Right now, okay?”

Reaching for the book, she laid it on her knee, so Kurt would understand that they were dealing with a sick one.

“The thing is,” Kurt whispered, “he'll pay one hundred bucks
right now. All you have to do is let him . . . you know. It's no different than if he were some guy at school. I'm not your first guy anyway, and if it doesn't bother you, it doesn't bother me. He'll wear a condom. . . .”

Maggie couldn't believe her ears. She leaned back, to look Kurt right in the eyes. Had Fritz slipped him some bizarre personality-altering drug?

“Kurt . . .” she said. “Please?”

“Oh my God,” Vanessa whispered.

They were slowing down. Maggie craned her neck, to see out the window, and saw that Fritz was pulling into a rest stop.

“One hundred bucks,” Kurt said urgently. He held Maggie's upper arms with such force that they throbbed. She pushed him away.

“Get us out of this,” she said.

His eyes narrowed, and she could feel his disgust.

“Hey, Fritz,” Kurt said. “Never mind. We've really gotta get to Boston.”

“My father's waiting for us,” Vanessa said, her voice practically a trill.

“You got no daddy waiting in Boston,” Fritz said pleasantly. Maggie could see that he'd taken one hand off the wheel. Between downshifts, he had unzipped his fly and was stroking himself.

“Fritz, man,” Kurt said. “We've gotta book.”

“We'll have us a little party,” Fritz said. “Teach you boys a thing or two.”

Kurt was stammering away, trying to change Fritz's mind, while Maggie looked around the cabin. She felt under the pillow, slid her hand along the bottom of the mattress in search of a weapon. Then she saw it: the bookshelf.

While Fritz parked the truck Maggie slipped behind Kurt. Very carefully, without drawing any attention to herself, she slid free the slat that kept the books from flying around. Flat and narrow, about twelve inches long, the wooden bar felt solid in her hand.

“Why'd we stop?” Eugene asked, coming to.

“No, please, no,” Vanessa said to the back of Fritz's head. She started to cry.

From where Maggie sat, she saw Fritz reach into the door pocket. His hand closed around an object; she caught the glint of metal. Later, she would realize that she'd seen a gun. But in that split second, she merely reacted to her own sickening fear. She swung back and hit Fritz across the face with the bar.

He reeled back, blood spurting from his nose. He dropped whatever he'd been holding to cover his face with both his hands.

“Little bitch!” he screamed, blood burbling through his fingers.

Maggie and her friends scrambled out of the cab. Except for one other truck, the parking lot was empty. They ran into the woods, a shallow stand of scrub pines interspersed with trash cans and picnic tables. Two gunshots rang out; they kept running until they cleared the woods and came to a busy strip of gas stations, fast-food restaurants, and a Quality Inn.

Maggie paused, struggling to catch her breath. The others continued ahead, but stopped when they realized she had fallen behind.

“Come on,” Kurt said.

She stared at him with a steady gaze, taking in his handsome face, his strong body, the shame in his wide, green eyes. Then she turned away. Shivering, and not from the cold, she walked in the opposite direction.

“Maggie!” Vanessa called. “Come on, we have to stick together.”

Maggie just kept walking. She really expected Vanessa or Kurt to run after her, try to convince her to turn around, but they didn't. Actually, she was relieved.

She walked into the Quality Inn. The lobby was warm, and one of her favorite songs by James Taylor was playing on the loudspeaker. The desk clerk was a pretty black girl, not much older than Maggie herself.

“May I help you?” the girl asked.

“Do you have a pay phone?”

“Right over there.” The girl pointed to a bank of telephones along the wall. Maggie thanked her.

She would call Anne. She'd make up some excuse and ask Anne to cover for her with her mother. She didn't ask herself why, but she knew she needed to hear a motherly voice. She'd hitchhike back to the ferry, slip onto the island, and everything would be fine again. Dialing Anne's number, she had to try three times before her fingers got it right.


Maggie clutched the receiver, unable to speak.

“Hello?” Anne said again.

“Anne?” Maggie said. And then it all poured out. No excuses, no lies, nothing but the truth about Fritz and Kurt and Boston and having her nipple pierced and the Bailey's Irish Cream and seeing the seal and how she had never gotten to take Karen alone on the ferry at Christmas. She was crying very hard, and her face was wet from tears and spit.

“Where are you, honey?” Anne asked, her voice very calm.

“I don't know,” Maggie sobbed.

“Can you find out? Just leave the phone where it is, and ask someone the name of the town and the route number.”

Maggie pressed the receiver to her breast and tried to stop crying. The sobs subsided, but she couldn't stop the tears yet. Very carefully, like a beginning gymnast crossing the balance beam for the first time, she walked to the reception desk.

“Excuse me,” she said to the girl. “Can you tell me the address? Of where we are right now?”

“Sure. It's Thirteen-oh-four Memorial Highway.”

“Um, what town?”

“It's Wakefield. Massachusetts,” the girl said with a soft, kind smile.

“Thank you,” Maggie said.

She told Anne.

“Stay there,” Anne said. “There's a ferry pulling in right now. I'll be there in two hours.”

“Okay.” Maggie didn't even try to argue.

“Will you be safe?” Anne asked. “Is it a nice place? Do you feel secure?”

“Yes,” Maggie said, looking at the girl behind the desk.

“Two hours,” Anne said. “Keep warm.”

After Maggie hung up, she took a seat at one end of the plush sofa at the lobby's far end. A selection of magazines and sightseeing brochures were fanned out on a long, low table. Maggie just stared at them. She tried to make herself very small so no one would notice her. So no one would ask her to leave.

She closed her eyes. After a few minutes she heard someone walking toward her.

Frightened, she started. But it was the desk clerk, smiling at Maggie, setting a mug on the table in front of her.

“Hot chocolate,” the girl said. “You look like you could use something to warm you up.”

“Thank you,” Maggie said. Reaching for the steaming mug, she tried to smile. She couldn't quite, not just yet. But it was obvious the girl knew what she meant. The girl pushed the mug closer. Then she picked a discarded gum wrapper off the floor, as if she was cleaning up just for Maggie, and she went back to her desk.


months Anne's life had been without shape. Without Matt or Karen. She had navigated her days like a sleepwalker, moving through time with neither hope nor purpose. She never answered the phone, avoiding the calls of even Matt or her closest friends. No one understood what had happened to her. They could sympathize, they could try to imagine her hell, but they couldn't know. Her silence made everyone doubt her. After a while her phone hardly rang at all.

Now, in the middle of the coldest winter she could remember, Anne felt something inside beginning to stir. She didn't awaken hating herself every day. She no longer spent those cloudy blue hours between midnight and three wishing that she would die.

In the week he was off-island, Anne often found herself thinking of Thomas Devlin. His loneliness, like her own, had driven him to seek even greater isolation on the island. He knew how it felt to lose someone he loved. Trying to save his wife, he had seen her life slip away. Hearing that had given Anne a bizarre kind of peace. She wasn't the only one.

She knew she was getting better because she had started reading the classifieds.

New Shoreham Star
had exactly one-half column of employment listings, and most of them were peculiar to island life. L.P. James's Shipyard needed a boat varnisher; Spera Seafood was seeking experienced lobster handlers. The Island Convalescent Home needed third-shift nurses, nurses' aides, and kitchen help. Some mysterious “Wanda” with an island exchange was advertising for “open-minded women who like to talk on the phone.” The ferry company was looking for office help, and the fire company needed a dispatcher.

Anne hadn't worked since Karen was born. She had wanted to stay home with the baby, and Matt's salary and her collage income had made it possible. But now she had the urge to be around people. She could still do her collages, but maybe she could find a friendly office to work in. She decided to call Stanley Gray at the ferry office.


slept the whole way from Wakefield to the ferry and through the crossing itself. It was the small ferry, with the open car deck, and they stayed in the car for the ride. Anne kept the engine running for heat, the windows cracked so they couldn't asphyxiate. Maggie smelled of smoke, sour milk, and liquor. Anne kept glancing at her, huddled in a ball on the seat. The ferry docked with a lurching thump, and Maggie woke with a start.

She sat up with “Where am I?” written all over her face.

“We're here already?” she asked.

“Home again,” Anne said.

“Oh God,” Maggie said. She smacked the crown of her head with her right hand and held it there. “Do I have to go home? Did you tell my mother?”

“Not yet.”

“Not yet,” Maggie said, her voice echoing with doom.

The ferrymen took their places, making fast the hemp docking lines that were bigger in diameter than Anne's upper arm. Ice glazed the dark brown pilings. Anne watched the men knock dagger-sharp icicles from the stocky bronze bollards, working fast but clumsily in their heavy gloves.

“I'm not going to tell her,” Anne said. “But you are.”

Vehement, Maggie shook her head. “I can't.”

One of the men signaled Anne, and she shifted into first. The man looked familiar; she had the feeling he had been one of the volunteers she'd seen at the fire. Driving off the boat, she waved to him, but he seemed not to see.

“Asshole,” Maggie said, staring at him over her shoulder. Anne drove up Transit Street, touched by her niece's reaction to the snub. Pulling into her usual parking spot, she patted Maggie's hand.

“Come on upstairs. I want you to see my new apartment.”

Anne led Maggie up the narrow wooden stairs and unlocked the door. She hadn't done much in terms of decorating, but she had scrubbed the place clean, and her worktable looked busy. Stepping inside, she glanced out her window and noted with pleasure that the harbor lights were coming on.

Maggie didn't say anything. She stood in the doorway, just looking around.

“What do you think?” Anne asked.

“This is where you live?”

“Yes,” Anne said. She motioned for Maggie to sit on the sofa, and she sat beside her.

BOOK: Home Fires
9.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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