I knew my door was locked; I’d heard the click. While my custodians sometimes ignore my dietary preferences, they are vigilant about securing the exits. If I escaped, which I was determined to do, I’d be pursued like the brown fox, although, unlike the fox, not these days, quick.
Now that their charge was incarcerated for the night, my wardens were imbibing like parent-free teens. Hearing my name bob up in the sea of cackles, I struggled towards the door. By the time I got close enough to hear, the partiers were onto another topic. Just as well. It’s infuriating to hear yourself talked about in the 3rd person by those who control your life. I resented it when I was five and I resent it now that I’m 85.
Since hearing their whispered plans for my future, I had developed a counter strategy. I was determined to witness, for the last time, my reflection in the Lake. To hang between air and water, leaning as close to a kiss as I could without succumbing. Like the carefree child I once was, I would fill my mouth with marble-sized pebbles and spit them one by one into the Lake. The ripples would transform the water and my image would dance with its remembered partner. But that dance could only happen if I broke free and reached the Lake.
Crouched in the corner of the room rubbing my arthritic legs, scenes of adroit detectives opening locked doors with a paper clip or a credit card chuckled at my ineptitude. As a youth, I could open a car door with a wire coat hanger but cars and life are more complicated now.
In any case, with the posse poised outside, there was no use thinking of immediate escape. If I made it out the door, I would be walking into my captors’ hands and a rigorous interrogation. My plan was to get up at first light, as I had decades earlier, to escape and then, as silent as mercury, head for the water.
Water is my favorite element. In her many guises, she offers escape from the ordinary. In harsh moments her pounding muffles the din of life, in quiet moments she tantalizes us with the mystery of what hides below her surface, and most sublime, in peaceful moments she reflects our faces and summons us to our home shore.
I spent a fitful night, moving from side to side, seeking some fleeting comfort. Finally first light came, the dawn chorus, still reliable, urged me to action. After cautiously jiggling the door handle to no effect, I tried the window: a successful escape route 80 years earlier. I am almost as scrawny as I was then although my caretakers shove food at me as though worried that momentarily UN inspectors will come by to check my health status.
I dragged a chair to the window and struggled onto it. I was counting on my guards, having enjoyed a late night of carousing, being out for the count. If they did wake, I hoped that my groans and clangs would be passed off as forest noises.
The small rectangular window opened to the side and had no grating. I chose to go feet first, risky but possible. Then legs dangling over the bushes below, I teetered and collapsed like a soggy tea bag into the prickly blackberry maze.
Gasping and stinging from the hostile thorns, I struggled to focus on breathing deeply, a calming strategy learned in childbirth classes, decades before. “When in doubt breath out,” they had said. Well, I was in doubt.
I finally summoned the courage to roll and lurched into the open. My exposed skin stung like flesh raw from swarming wasps. Fearing pursuers, I scrambled to my feet and headed for the water. In my panic, I headed in the wrong direction, righted myself and struggled down the hill.
At the shore, I pocketed a handful of smooth black pebbles. I intended to lie on the dock and fill my mouth with them. Then drop them one by one into my reflection.
When I had done this as a child, I had been caught by my ever-vigilant mother, who snuck up and wacked my head. Gasping in surprise a few stones had caught in my throat to the consternation of all, myself included. I had managed, eyes popping, to choke up the errant pebbles with no harm done. No harm done, that is, except for a short penal sentence. This time at least I would escape mother, now otherwise engaged as a long time member of the heavenly choir.
I lowered myself unto the dock, soggy from winter rain, and slipped a few pebbles into my mouth. They tasted smooth and as dependable as sea-worn shells.
The water served as a mirror but instead of an image of my small eager friend, a wrinkled face with crumpled cheeks greeted me. But when I spit a pebble into the water, the wrinkles transformed into ripples.
“Mother,” a voice screamed, exploding the startled birds roosting in the reeds.
“For god’s sakes, there she is,” someone cried.
I glanced to see the posse heading down the hill, legs pumping. The dog, eager partner in the chase, yapped and twirled in excitement.
I had only a moment to spare. I wiggled forward as ungainly as a seal out of water, scratching my stomach on the rough surface, but joyful to be heading home at last. And then, splash.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Published originally in The Write Place at the Write Time Fall 2014