(For Part XII click here)
In the clenched silence, the man in the window didn’t flinch, and Sylvia let the tension out of her gun arm. She kept her eyes on his eyes — and her finger a slight squeeze away from killing him. From the back seat, there were whimpering sounds of fear and the retching gag of someone throwing up. Madison sat rigid, trying to control the tremble in her leg as she tightened her calf muscle to hold the brake and be ready to move.
“Madison, keep your arm low and take the money. Stay back in the seat. Don’t get in the line of fire,” Sylvia said in the same dead tone. Then, in flawless Turkish …
“These are Karga’s women. Karga. He has made you a generous offer. Take his money and let us pass.”
Sylvia was giving the man a way out, and he knew it. For less than a second, he considered his options, then nodded without moving either of his hands.
“Madison, don’t give him the money yet.” Sylvia said, and with her left hand pointed forward and back without moving her eyes.
The man spoke harshly and carefully waved his right hand. The other man in front of the car lowered his gun and stepped back off the road, and the lights of the pickup truck brightened and began to recede.
“Arkadas?” Sylvia said, her eyes steady and her finger still on the trigger.
“Da. Arkadas.” The man said grudgingly, moving his body slightly back.
“Give him the money, Maddy and drive away – slowly. Just like it’s Mayfield Avenue.”
Madison handed the money through the window and took her foot off the brake. The car crept forward and pulled away. Sylvia watched the man on the road until they were past and turned in the seat to make sure the headlights weren’t following them. They drove slowly, in hard silence — as if any sound would reconjure the demons. When they were through the village, Sylvia flipped the safety on the gun and let her hand go limp into her lap. She dropped the back of her head onto the seat and stared up with her eyes closed, breathing heavily through her mouth.
“Okay, girls! It’s over. Just a little further and we can all go home. Go ahead, Maddy. There’s nothing between us and the Black Sea — but careful, this isn’t a very good road.”
“Oh, my God!” Madison gasped. “Oh, my God! Aaah! What did you say to that guy?”
Sylvia exhaled and took her head off the seat.
“I told him,” Sylvia swallowed, “I told him … if he didn’t let us go, you weren’t going to take him to the Senior Prom.” And then she laughed. And Madison laughed. And the two women laughed like lunatics, uncontrollably, on and on, tears gathering in their eyes, hysterical with tension and relief.
“Oh, God, Maddy!” Sylvia said laughing, choking and fighting with the words, “Stop! Stop! Stop! I’m gonna pee.”
Madison touched the brake and Sylvia jumped out, digging at the front of her jeans before she realized she still had the gun in her hand. She tossed it back into the car, pulled her jeans down and leaned on the side of the car.
“Well, that’s not something you see every day,” Madison said, still laughing.
A little over an hour later, Sylvia directed Madison past a couple of travel trailers to a field of short grass, gravel and weeds. They parked. It was nearly dawn, with enough light to imagine the water from the salt smell in the air. Sylvia opened her door and got out. Then she opened the back door.
“That’s it. We’re here. Come on, girls. It’s okay. Everybody out.”
Madison turned the key off, opened her door and just sat there, without enough energy to move. She could hear water over the scuffling in the back seat. The girls stumbled out of the car like toys poured from a box. A couple of them stood up, flexing their legs, but the others sat on the ground, barely conscious. Sylvia reached into the back seat and retrieved a couple of empty water bottles.
“See that rock?” she said, pointing. “Right beside it, there’s a faucet out of the ground. It’s good water. Go drink and fill these for the other girls. It’s okay: I’ll watch you. Go ahead.”
Madison finally got out of the car and came around to Sylvia. The light was brighter and she could see Sylvia, a vast expanse of water and the girls.
“What do we do now?”
“This place hasn’t changed in forty years,” Sylvia said. “We used to stop here and swim. A half a million dollars worth of antibiotics in the trucks, and we went skinny dipping? God!” Sylvia shook her head.
On the far horizon, a pencil-thin red line crawled toward them. Ever so slowly, it widened and deepened as the two women, too empty to move, stood watching without really seeing – dumb to the beauty of it. And then suddenly the sun full blossomed in front of them, and they had to turn away. Sylvia squinted the light out of her eyes.
“Let the girls go down to the water and clean up, Maddy. There’s a phone at that café. I’m going to call Freddy to come and get us.”
Everything else was a blur. Freddy and Teddy, one girl/five girls, Jennifer crying on her father’s shoulder, more tears, a few locals, some talk, useless talk. “Food?” “No, just sleep.” And finally a bed.
Both women slept most of the day, and after showers and a quick trip for a couple of shapeless dresses, they sat in the gathering darkness of a patio restaurant, alone with a bottle of wine.
“What do we do now?” Madison asked again.
“Nothing,” Sylvia said. “I’m done. Freddy and Teddy can deal with it. As far as I’m concerned, tomorrow we drive up to Varna and get a flight out of here.”
“If we can stand the smell. It really stinks in that car.”
“We’ll keep the windows open.”
“I don’t know, Maddy. Home? Back to real life?”
“Are you really going to be able to do that?”
Sylvia lifted her glass and took a drink.
“That’s a question I’ve been trying not to answer. What about you? Senior Prom?”
“Probably not,” Madison chuckled.
It was her turn to drink.
“I was thinking – uh — maybe, I could just stay with you.”
“Hmmm. Well … after your mother kills me and your father burns the corpse for a witch … it might work out.”
“I’m serious. I’d go to school and everything, but — I just — I just can’t go back to being a kid. You know exactly what I mean. You’re the only one who does.”
“Yes, I know what you mean, Maddy, but ….” Sylvia hesitated.
Madison saw the opening and pushed it.
“That’s it. You know. You’ve been Mrs. Ferguson for a long time. I’m just new at it, and I could use some help. We could figure things out together. And you’d have somebody to talk to. Somebody who knows you’re a bad bitch with a gun.”
Madison leaned forward. “Were you really going to shoot that guy?”
“He thought so,” Sylvia drank again.
“See what I mean? We can’t tell that story anywhere else. I don’t think the girls at Mayfield Church Choir would appreciate the situation.”
“No, probably not,” Sylvia laughed. “Okay, I’ll tell you what. We’ve got the rest of the summer, and if you still feel this way in August, I’ll see what I can do. Now, let’s eat. Stay away from the shkembe.”
Madison opened the menu. She knew she’d won – this round. She smiled to herself, and there was just the tiniest sparkle in her eyes.
— The End —