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He just held onto my upper arm so tight that the mark of his fingertips was like a tattoo, a black sun with four small moons revolving around it. Related Articles. She is also t Look Inside. You see, Fran, this is what you do.
Click here. Subjects Fiction Literature. She stayed with Bobby because she wanted her son to have a father, and because, in spite of everything, she loved him. Then one night, when she saw the look on her ten-year-old son's face, Fran finally made a choice—and ran for both their lives. Now she is starting over in a city far from home, far from Bobby. In this place she uses a name that isn't hers, watches over her son, and tries to forget.
For the woman who now calls herself Beth, every day is a chance to heal, to put together the pieces of her shattered self. The great vaulted ceiling of the train station arched four stories over us, Robert and I and our one small carryall bag, inside only toothbrushes, a change of clothes, some video-game cartridges and a book, a romance novel, stupid, shallow, but I had enough of real life every day to last me forever. The courtroom in the state supreme court had been nothing at all like Thirtieth Street Station.
It was low-ceilinged, dingy, paneled in dark wood that sucked up all the light from low windows that looked out on Police Plaza.
It seemed more like a rec room than a courtroom. Robert was staring up at the ceiling, so high above that those of us scattered around the floor so far below were diminished, almost negated by it. At one end of the huge vaulted room was a black statue of an angel holding a dead or dying man. But whatever the opposite of normal circumstances was, this was it. I shivered in the air-conditioning, dressed for July in a room whose temperature was lowered to April, my mind cold as January.
The sheer heroic thrust of the station made me feel tiny, almost invisible, almost safe, except that my eyes wandered constantly from the double glass doors to the street at one end to the double glass doors to the street at the other.
Waiting, watching, waiting for Bobby to come through the doors, his hands clenched in his pants pockets, his face the dusky color that flooded it whenever he was angry about anything, which was lots of the time. A finger of sweat traced my spine and slid into the cleft where my underpants began. The cotton at my crotch was wet, summer sweat and fear.
He had driven us from New York to Philadelphia in total silence, like a well-trained chauffeur. As we got out of the old Plymouth Volare in front of the train station, he had leaned across the front seat, looking up at me through the open passenger door.
He had smelled like English Leather, which Bobby had worn when we were both young, before we were married. Bobby had worn it that time when I was nineteen, the first time. Or twenty. Maybe he was testing me then, to see how much I could take. Maybe he did that every time, until finally he had decided that I would take anything. Anything at all.
Where are we going now? Where are we going? And there was the coffee kiosk, and here was the bench, and here we were, my ten-year-old son and I, waiting for—what? Waiting to escape, to get gone, to disappear so that Bobby could never find us.
If Robert had been an ordinary ten-year-old he would have cajoled and whined, asked and asked and asked until I snapped at him to keep quiet. He had to have heard the sound of the slaps, the thump of the punches, the birdcall of my sobs as I taped myself up, swabbed myself off, put my pieces back together again.
But he looked away, the way he knew we both wanted him to, my husband for his reasons, me for mine. An accident.
I had an accident. The accident was that I met Bobby Benedetto in a bar, and I fell crazy in love with him. And after that I fell further and further every year.
On the outside I looked fine: Nobody got to see the hitting, which was really the humiliation, which turned into the hatred.
Not just hating Bobby, but hating myself, too, the cringing self that was afraid to pick up the remote control from the coffee table in case it was just that thing that set him off. I remember a story in the Daily News a couple of years ago about a guy who kept a woman chained in the basement of the building where he was a custodian.
Whenever he felt like it, he went down the concrete steps and did what he wanted to her. Part of me had been in a cellar, too, waiting for the sound of footfalls on the stairs. I stayed because I thought things would get better, or at least not worse.
I stayed because I wanted my son to have a father and I wanted a home. For a long time I stayed because I loved Bobby Benedetto, because no one had ever gotten to me the way he did. I think he knew that.
He made me his accomplice in what he did, and I made Robert mine. The secret was killing the kid in him and the woman in me, what was left of her. I had to save him, and myself. Besides, he knew. He knew we were running away from his father, as far and as fast as we could. There are people who will do almost anything in America, who will paint your house, paint your toenails, choose your clothes, mind your kids.
In Manhattan, at the best private schools, you can even hire a nitpicker if your kid gets head lice. And there are people who will help you get away from your husband, who will find you a new house, a new job, a new life, even a new name.
There are people, Patty Bancroft had said, who will help you; it is better if you know no more than that. I looked down at Robert, hunched over on the bench, bent almost double over a little electronic game he carried with him everywhere. Ninjas in glowing green lunged forward and kicked men in black masks; the black masks fell back, fell over like felled trees.
The ninjas bowed. The number at one corner of the screen grew larger.
Robert was breathing as though he had been running. I ran my hand over his dark hair, cut like a long tonsure over his narrow, pointed skull. My touch was an annoyance; he leaned slightly to one side and rocked forward to meet the ninjas, take them on, knock them down. He was good at these games, at losing himself in the tinny electronic sounds and glowing pictures. My sister, Grace, said all the kids were, these days. But I wondered. I looked across the station at a small girl in overalls who was toddling from stranger to stranger, smiling and waving while her mother followed six paces behind.
Even when he was small Robert had never, ever been like that. When Robert was three he sometimes sat and stared and rocked slightly back and forth, and I worried that he was autistic.
In the station he looked up from his video game and stared at me as though he was trying to figure out who I was, with the strange hair, the glasses, the long floaty dress. The ninjas were all dead. He had won. Around the perimeter of the station were small shops and kiosks: The voice of the train announcer was vaguely English; there was a stately air to the enterprise, unlike the shabby overlit corridors of the airports.
No planes, Patty Bancroft told me when we first talked on the phone two weeks before. Plane trips are too easy to trace. The women she helped never flew away; they were not birds but crawling creatures, supplicants, beaten down.
Trains, buses, cars. And secrecy. She said her people knew one another only as voices over the telephone and had in common only that for reasons of their own they had wanted to help women escape the men who hurt them, to give those women new lives in new places, to help them lose themselves, start over in the great expansive anonymous sameness of America.
No title, no address, just a handful of lonely black characters.
I put the card in my locker at the hospital. I must have picked it up a hundred times until, six months later, I called the number. She remembered me right away. I felt the pain in my molars, the back of my head, the length of my spine.
Pack plenty of clean underpants, I thought to myself. A toothbrush.
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