Eliza was flying. Her hair a red cape behind her as she zoomed past the tall buildings of the city below. She laughed joyously enjoying the feeling of liberation and dipped and dived like a small plane in an aerial acrobatics show. A buzzing began in her ear. The volume increased as she shook her head to free herself of the annoying sound, but the buzzing continued…
Eliza awoke and it took her a few moments to realize her surroundings. She could hear Michael snoring softly beside her. Groaning, she buried her head in her pillow, trying desperately to recapture the remnants of her dream. It was no use; it was slipping away like water through her fingers. Struggling out of bed, she made her way to the bathroom and into a hot shower. The warm water washing away the last lingering images and the sheer delight she had felt swirled down the drain. Wrapping herself in a towel, she wiped the condensation from the mirror. A stranger stared back, haunted green eyes framed by a pale face, etched with tiny fatigue lines. Inches from the mirror she examined the delicate map of lines, tracing the little paths. How did they get here? she wondered. Pulling herself away from the reflection, she ran a comb through the mass of auburn curls and quickly dressed.
Eliza opened the kitchen blinds, having a few moments of peace, before Michael stirred and started performing his morning rituals. The city looked drab and tedious as she gazed out the window. It was as if the city were mocking her, by reflecting the hollowness inside her. Silently, she prepared breakfast and steeled herself, against the future onslaught of gibes. Michael could be cruel, never physically abusive, but bruising her spirit with his harsh remarks.
The chair scraping across the floor rattled her nerves. Michael stood in the doorway, with a sly grin on his face. He was a tall man with a commanding presence and his once handsome face took on a brutish appearance. "So how are we feeling this morning?" Michael said with a calculating smile. He enjoyed making her feel uncomfortable, but she refused to give him the satisfaction. Throwing on a bright face, she placed his breakfast in front of him. "Wonderful", she said with false affection. He handed her a slip of paper; "Can you pull these things out of the storage closet, today? I also need you to call the caterers and confirm, for this Saturday,” he said finishing his breakfast. "Yes, yes of course!" she exclaimed. "Good, then I will see you in a few days" he said heading towards the door. Eliza heard the door shut and he was gone. Baffled, she cleaned the kitchen and headed towards the storage closet. He was cordial this morning, almost cheerful, she thought. Relief flowed over her as she realized she had a few days to herself.
Surveying the apartment, it was tastefully decorated, but it felt sterile to Eliza. She longed to add a few personal touches, photographs, an old blanket thrown over a chair, a scatter of well worn books, but Michael laughed at her sentimental suggestions. Unlocking the closet door she rifled through forgotten belongings, until she found the needed items and placed them in the office. Taking one last look around before she locked the door, something caught her eye. Paint supplies were lying in the corner, sable brushes, tubes of paint, watercolor paper and a wood drawing board. Before she could change her mind, she grabbed the materials and headed for the kitchen.
Eliza separated sheets of paper from the roll of watercolor paper and ran it under the faucet for a few minutes, making sure it was evenly wet on both sides. She placed the sheet on the wood drawing block and stapled the edges. Pulling out her palette, she began mixing colors. Eliza checked the paper, almost dry she thought. Continuing to mix colors, a memory began to flower as she placed a few tentative strokes on the now dry paper.
It was a glorious afternoon and she and Michael were driving up the coast to San Francisco. "Do you want to stop and stretch?" he asked. Eliza nodded and smiled. Stopping by a small of span of beach they got out of the car. The mountains were a riot of color, red, gold, green and purple and the breeze carried a faint smell of sage. They followed a little path down to the beach and Eliza kicked off her shoes, the sand soft as powder beneath her. Waves of sapphire blue gently kissed her feet. Michael called to her and she ran and collapsed beside him, hugging her knees. She leaned into him, shivering a little. "Are you cold?" he asked. "Yes, just a bit." she said smiling. Taking off his jacket, he wrapped it around her and pulled her in closer. Gazing out at the ocean, they fell into a comfortable silence, watching the seagulls wheel and dive over the water.
Eliza snapped out of her reverie and examined her work.
She gasped; her memory lay before her, the mountains, the beach, and the water. I've only been painting for a few moments she thought. And why does the apartment smell of sage? Scrutinizing her recent work, she knew it was quite good. She glanced at the clock and realized hours have passed by. Eliza gathered up her brushes and lovingly began cleaning them. She placed her treasures back into the closet and slipped back into her gray routine, like slipping on an old sweater. But for a few brief hours her world was full of color.
Damn this lock thought Eliza angrily. Shifting the packages to her hip, she jiggled it one more time. Click. Success! Giving the heavy door a mighty shove, she stumbled into the entryway. She found Michael in the living room scowling at her painting. Quickly and quietly she made her way to the kitchen and began methodically putting away the groceries. Opening a small cabinet she pulled down a glass and a bottle of Irish whiskey. Pouring herself a healthy slug, shielding herself from the impending barrage of criticism.
How had she come to this? She wondered. A terrified woman seeking strength in a bottle. It was a happy marriage in the beginning. But looking back she realized how Michael had slowly closed the walls around her. The mental abuse had gradually escalated with a little squeeze here and a little tightening there. Moving to New York had been the start of it all. Remembering a few lines from a Nanci Griffith song brought a fleeting smile to her lips. “But, how I miss my native tongue 'cause... New York City sorta brings out the stupids in me”. Seven years in this city and I still feel like a fish out of water, she thought. She was an East Texas girl, born and bred and she could feel the strong tug of home.
Physical abuse was on the horizon; the tension was boiling in Michael and now was the time to leave, before it was too late. Going back to Texas was not an option. It would be the first place he’d look. She had a tidy sum of money saved from selling paintings at street fairs and festivals. Always leave a door open her mother had told her. So she had kept the bank account hidden from Michael. Finding a place to live was going to be difficult and she would have to be careful. Of course! She thought. New Orleans! He would never think to look there. Before meeting Michael, she and her best friend Scott would go to New Orleans several times a year. Oh, how we enjoyed that city, she thought. During Hurricane Katrina, Michael had let loose such a vile diatribe against the people and city of New Orleans, that she never expressed her love of the place.
The kitchen door swung open. "So how is the little artist?" Michael asked with a wolfish grin. Almost dropping her glass, she replied, “I was just about to start dinner. What do you think of the painting?" What do I think of the painting?” he mocked. “I think you could find better use of your time. You certainly don't have any real talent. Why do you insist on pursuing this hobby?" he sneered. Eliza could feel the hot barbs bubbling to her lips. How dare he, she thought wildly. But she bit back the scalding words and swiftly left the room, his bitter taunts biting like mad dogs at her back.
To be continued...
copyright Sherry Obsheatz