Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Chapter Four - Maria

(Prior chapters in chronological order can be found here)

    Maria watched the green sign with its reflective white paint as it passed by at sixty-five miles per hour. As her headlights illuminated the sign, it informed her that Dothan was five miles away from her present location. Maria clutched the steering wheel and checked her rearview mirror for what seemed like the thousandth time since driving out of Miami, Florida at Eight the previous evening. The sun was just making its appearance in her rearview mirrors and the clock on the dashboard of the 1985 Volkswagen Rabbit read 6:30 A.M.

    She knew it was time to stop and sleep. When she had entered the interstate in Miami, Maria had told herself she was just running to the store and would be right back. That was the only way to keep her nerves from once again getting the better of her. The only way to keep herself from going to the store to buy a gallon of milk they didn’t need and going back home. This was her fourth attempt at leaving Nigel. The first three times she had wussed out and went back home to him. Him and his syringes on the coffee table.

    Nigel thought it was hilarious that he used his dead mother’s set of collectible silver spoons when shooting up. He always thought he was somehow “sticking it to the bitch” as he put it.

    “If mummy could see me now,” he’d laugh while tying the tourniquet and carefully portioning out the powder on a spoon with the flag of Britain on the handle. His accent always slurred when he was high, Maria noticed. It was the only tell. His eyes didn’t change, pupils didn’t contract or dilate. Just the accent changed ever so slightly, as if forgetting where it came from.

    Passing a sign for a motel at the next exit, Maria forced herself back to the present. She estimated that Nigel noticed her lack of return from the grocery store around ten, after waking up from a heroin-induced stupor. It would have taken him a while to re-orient himself, Maria knew. He liked that disconnected feeling that being high afforded him. Like a little kid, he would fling his arms wide and spin, spin, spin, spin, spin, until he fell over, laughing so hard he didn’t notice when the glass of bourbon shattered and cut his palms as he put out a hand to break his fall.

    Maria had pulled off of Interstate 10 and was now in downtown Dothan. She pulled into the parking lot of a no-tell motel. It was a dark and dingy place with only one working street light on the entire block. The outside of the building had once been white, but the cheap dye used in the paint job on the roof had run down the sides of the building over the years, and now it looked like the roof had been crying pink and green tears.

    She opened the driver side door of the Rabbit, heaving with her shoulder to coerce the thing into obedience. The car was slowly, but surely falling apart; she was surprised it had survived this long really. Considering there had been two two stops for gas, two hour long breaks at rest areas to collect her wits and convince herself NOT to turn around and go home, not to mention the three times she had exited the Interstate while still in Florida and driven through backwater towns just in case anybody had been following her.

    Maria knew Nigel didn’t care about her so much as he cared about money. Money was what made his drug addictions go round after all. Which is why Maria was driving a Rabbit now, after Nigel had sold her classic car out from under her one day when she was in Ft Lauderdale with friends. She had come home from a weekend away to find this decrepit, once-green with paint peeling to reveal rust spots and primer, piece of shit Rabbit.

    Taking a deep breath and gathering all of her courage, Maria said to herself, “I’ve seen enough horror movies to know where this is going,” and got out of the car. She practically ran to the front door of the one-story building and crashed through the glass double doors in an effort to limit her exposure outside to a minimum. She half expected vagrants and drug dealers to come out of the woodwork and converge on her car, stripping it to the chassis while she rented a room.

    The woman at the front desk was dressed in a pink sundress, and had a kind smile. Maria rented a room for the day and was thankful that the sun would be up fully in a matter of a half hour or so. She didn’t feel quite so unsafe in the broad daylight. It was much easier to imagine all of the horrors of your life were following on your heels when it was dark out. Funny, she thought, how the darker it was, the more exposed she felt, like there was nowhere to hide.

    Maria pulled her car in front of the room two doors away from the one she was staying in. She immediately register that she was taking precautions against discovery, even though in all probability, Nigel couldn’t possibly figure out where she was heading. Maria dialed the front desk and asked where the nearest Walgreens or CVS was located. It was only a couple of blocks away. Tired though she was, Maria decided to venture out one more time before shutting herself into the motel room again, and closing the curtains against the outside world. When she returned from the CVS, Maria took off her clothes and lay on the bed in her bra and panties. She set the alarm on her cell phone and slept fitfully for the next three hours.

    Upon rising, Maria dumped the contents of the plastic bag onto the bed and dug through them: potato chips, pop, Lunchable,  shampoo, conditioner, body wash, box of hair color. She opened the box of hair color labeled Egyptian Plum, and mixed the two chemicals in the provided squeeze bottle. While she waited for it to change color, Maria pulled the rubber band out of her long, blond hair and gave it a thorough brushing. She took a swig of the pop and ate a couple of potato chips to settle her growling stomach.

    Maria slipped the thin, cheap plastic gloves over her hands and started squeezing the purplish red dye into her roots. She only needed to cover about half of her hair, so she hadn’t bothered buying two bottles of color. After thoroughly saturating most of her hair with the colorant, Maria massaged it in for several minutes making sure it covered every strand. Then she twisted it up into a bun and wrapped the rubber band around it again.
    After washing her hands twice, she opened up the Lunchable and ate while keeping an eye on the clock. Maria felt antsy. She knew it had been a bad idea to use the card, since it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to track her via the bank’s website. The first order of business when Maria finished with her hair was to go to the Dothan branch of her bank and clean out the savings account. In hindsight she should have planned better and found a way to set aside cash until she had a stockpile to run on for a while.
    After forty minutes had passed, Maria took the shampoo and conditioner and hopped into the shower, running the water as hot as she could. It took her ten solid minutes of scrubbing before the water ran clear, and when she stepped out and looked into the mirror, she barely recognized herself.  After dressing, Maria ran her fingers down the pages of the business directory and found a cheap barber shop. She packed all of the garbage from the hotel room into a plastic bag, including the towel she’d used to dry off as it was now a mottled shade of bruise-purple.
    Maria stashed all of the garbage in the dumpster behind the motel and got into her car. After getting directions over the phone, she headed for the barber shop which advertised five dollar hair cuts. Thirty minutes later she walked out of the shop feeling naked, her hair barely brushing the back of her neck. The stylist had cut it in a cute, chin-length, low-maintenance bob. Maria handed over her last ten, telling the girl to keep the change and then made one final stop at the local branch of her bank to withdraw funds.
    She still felt a little bit jumpy and knew that her nerves wouldn’t settle until she got out of Dothan. This is where she hoped any trail she had left would end. After doing some quick mental math, Maria withdrew eight hundred dollars from the checking and another eight hundred from savings. She would have to get where she was going and have money left over, so frugality was the name of the game. After walking out of the bank, Maria got into her car and left Dothan.
    Just then her cell phone started playing the ringtone she assigned to Nigel. Shit, she thought. Maria didn’t want to answer the phone. She reached towards it cautiously as if it were a snake that might bite her. She stopped half way however when the phone stopped its ringing and beeped the missed call notification, followed by the voice mail tone. Maria scooped up her phone and shut it off, putting the call from Nigel out of her mind. She couldn’t face him, even only in a verbal sense, until she was far, far away where he couldn’t find her.

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