It had been a hard day at the diner and my feet hurt as I made the long walk home. All I could think about was a shower and crawling into bed – my empty bed now that Charles had left. It had been six months, and I had come to enjoy climbing under my crisp sheets, my pink and white coverlet, having all the room to myself, the pillows piled up behind me while I watched reruns of "Golden Girls."
Now that Charles was gone, I ate an early dinner. He always wanted two or three drinks before we sat down. By then he was irritable. He complained about my cooking.
“This is overdone. Can’t you remember how I like my steak?”
My answer was always, “I’m sorry, Charles.”
“One of these days I’m gonna just stop coming home. I can eat better food in a diner.”
We’d been married ten years, and two were happy. The third year, I learned that Charles was cheating on me. I didn’t have the courage to leave him. I loved him and he promised me the affair was over. I believed him and dreamed of having a family together.
As I walked home along Madison Street, deserted as usual in the evening, I heard footsteps behind me. I turned my head and glanced back. A man in a dark overcoat followed about fifty feet behind me. He wore a hat pulled low over his forehead. A shiver ran down my spine, and I wondered if I should be afraid or if I was over-reacting. Charles accused me of over-reacting when I found an orange lipstick in his car. I knew it was not mine.
I walked faster, and it seemed to me the footsteps behind me grew faster as well. Someone is chasing me, I thought, and I am alone and helpless.
On either side of the street, the buildings were dark and closed. Should I run, or should I continue to walk normally? If I ran, would he be more apt to attack or if I continued to walk as though I were not afraid, would he continue to follow me? Maybe I’d reach my apartment before he made his play. My mind raced with possible actions I might take, but none of them seemed feasible. I felt sweat trickle down my sides.
If I still had the cell phone, I’d call 911, but my contract had run out. I stopped carrying it with me. When Charles left me and took his girlfriend to live in Brazil, I realized I barely had enough money left to pay the rent. Scouring classifieds in the newspaper, I found the job at Martha’s Grill, working in the kitchen. No one there ever complained about my cooking.
As I walked and thought of Charles’ cruelty, his dumping me for another woman, my anger mounted.
“Charles, if I die here on this street, it’s your fault. If this man attacks me, I’ll come back and haunt you and make your life as miserable as you made mine.” Suddenly I realized I was talking out loud. I turned and stopped in my tracks. Defiance on my face and in my voice, I yelled at the man in black.
“What do you want? I have no money. I’m broke! You took it all. You left me with nothing. Here,” I held out my large black bag. “Take it! Take my bag with nothing in it but used Kleenex, cough drops.” I began pulling things from the bag. “Last week’s sale flyer from Bostwick’s Discount Foods. You never ate discounted food. You always had to have the most expensive of everything, didn’t you, Charles?” I screamed at the man who had stopped about ten feet from me. He stood like a dark statue outlined by the pale light of a street lamp.
Aggravated by his silence, I threw the handbag as hard as I could. It sailed like a huge black raven taking wing. It fell on the ground before him. I stood there refusing to run, refusing to give in again. I’d not lie down and roll over like a submissive bitch ever again – not for anyone. This time I’d fight. Adrenaline coursed through my body like a rushing river charging over its banks. I became Zena, warrior princess, ready to take on a stranger, or Charles, or whoever threatened me.
My self-pity, my fear, flew away like my flying handbag. In its place self-confidence sprang forth, confidence to challenge the unknown, to confront it head on. I crouched, breathing hard, filling my lungs to their depths, every muscle tightened, poised to fight for myself.
The black suited figure stood quietly for a moment, turned to his right, ambled across the deserted street and disappeared around the corner.
Glenda Beall is a writer from North Carolina.