A Short Story by JannaTWrites:
**November 22, 2001 (Thanksgiving Night)**
Tammy Adler curled in bed on her right side with her eyes closed. She willed every fiber of her body to portray peaceful slumber, even while turmoil churned within and adrenaline sped her heart rate, making it hard to breathe.
She heard the heavy footsteps clomping up the stairs and fought the urge to vomit. Relax…breathe, she reminded herself. She hoped her black eye and swollen left cheek would remind him that he won. She prayed the sleeping pills in his mashed potatoes and the 2 beers he had while watching the recorded football game were enough to dull his senses. An extra prayer went out that he stopped at two beers, and the Packers won; otherwise, she’d have to deal with a different monster.
At last check, it was nearly ten o’clock, but Tammy had no sense of time, and couldn’t risk opening her eyes to peek. Dread and anticipation built like afternoon thunderclouds as 1AM approached. By then, Jess would be waiting in a car nearby. Getting out was hard enough; escaping with three-year-old Gary Jr. paralyzed her with fear. Failure was a death sentence; Gary warned her last time she tried to go. Tammy wondered how she let Jess convince her leaving was good idea.
**November 21, 2001**
“I can’t stay long,” Tammy said, as her eyes scanned the faces around her in Target. She drove a little further to the one on Lomas Boulevard. Gary should be at work, but he’d checked up on Tammy before. He made her carry a cell phone with GPS tracking turned on. The one time she forgot it, he accused her of meeting a boyfriend and choked her with a wire hanger until she promised it wouldn’t happen again.
“You’re right, you need to get out,” Jess said, her long legs able to easily keep up with Tammy’s short stride.
Tammy stopped her cart in the middle of the aisle. “You know he’ll kill me,” Tammy whispered.
“He’ll kill you if you don’t.
Tammy put a twelve-pack of Coors in the cart. Gary had to have it for the Thanksgiving Day football games the next day.
“Don’t kid yourself, Tammy. In case you haven’t looked in the mirror, you’re not hiding anything. I know you didn’t get that shiner falling down the stairs.”
Tammy shook her head and glanced at her shopping list. She guided her cart to the cereal aisle.
“You can’t even meet me for lunch,” Jess said, keeping her voice low so passing shoppers wouldn’t hear. “We have to visit while you shop; at a store ten miles from your house, which you’ll probably have to make up some stupid excuse for. Doesn’t that seem wrong to you?”
Tammy shrugged her shoulders and kept her eyes focused in front of her. “Please don’t start with this again.”
Jess grabbed her arm, forcing Tammy to stop the cart. “I know you don’t want to talk about it, but it’s getting worse. You used to be able to cover up the bruises, but now your face is fair game.”
“He wasn’t always like this…”
“I know. I’m afraid for you, Tammy.” Jess’ brows furrowed over her teary eyes.
“I’m afraid for me, too,” Tammy whispered, swiping the back of her hand over her eyes to erase her tears. “I have to keep moving. If shopping takes too long, I’ll have to explain.”
Jess let her frustration out in a long sigh. “Tomorrw night. After he goes to bed, sneak out with Gary Jr. and I’ll meet you around the corner. Hop in my car and you’re out of there. Done.”
“Are you nuts?” Tammy grunted. “It’s not that easy. There’s no way I can pack our clothes, and even if I got away with that, I couldn’t possibly carry them and Gary at the same time. And, there’s a cold front coming in. They’re predicting four inches of snow overnight.” She tossed two boxes of Cheerios in the cart.
“You don’t need to pack clothes. I’ll get everything you’ll need. We’d be out of New Mexico by sunrise, no matter which direction we go.”
Tammy studied her with squinted eyes. “I just remembered. I need Tylenol.”
“I’m not joking.”
“I’m not either. You’re giving me a headache.”
“Couldn’t be the right-hook,” Jess mumbled.
Tammy ignored the jab. “There’s no way I could get out of the house. Gary’s a light sleeper and the stairs creak.”
“Nothing sleeping pills can’t fix.”
“I can’t kill him!”
Jess cocked her head to the side. “I could, but I’m not suggesting you kill him. Just give him a few to relax him a bit.”
“He won’t take them. He hates medicine.”
“You don’t hand them to him, silly. You crush a couple of them up and mix them in his mashed potatoes.”
Tammy smiled. “Maybe that would work. I had no idea you were so devious.” She plucked a small bottle of Tylenol off the shelf, behind the one in front, and dropped it in the cart. Her smile faded. “But what do I do after I go. He’ll find me.”
“I think you’re being paranoid, but if it makes you feel better, you can change your name and color your hair.” Tammy grabbed a bottle of Nytol off the shelf. “How about blonde? He’d never suspect that.”
“I wouldn’t either. I’ve always been a brunette.”
“So what do you say – after Thanksgiving, at 1AM?”
“I don’t know…” Tammy checked her watch. “Better head to the checkout lane.”
Tammy watched the lady in front of her unload her sizeable cart of groceries onto the conveyor belt. Her thoughts drifted to the bliss she felt in the first years of marriage. Conflicting emotions rumbled inside. Her heart ached for the love that had long since disappeared, but for the first time in years, she felt the stirrings of hope. Could Jess’ plan work?
“What would I do after I leave?”
“I can’t do forensic science anymore because he’d be able to track me down too easily. What would I do for work?”
“I have a friend who manages a bank in Chicago. She’s always looking for tellers and investment account managers. I can talk to her.”
Tammy nodded her head. She put the divider on the conveyor and unloaded her cart.
“Does this mean you’ll do it?”
“Promise me you’ll get a rental car, Jess. If he sees us, you’re done, too.”
“Dang, girl. He’s messed with your head bad. I’ll be fine.”
After they got through the checkout lane, they said their goodbyes and parted with a hug, and the exchange of a fistful of sleeping pills.
**November 22, 2001**
Tammy feigned light snoring as the bedroom door creaked open. She heard Gary toss his shoes on the floor, and then let out a sleepy yawn.
“Damn turkey,” he muttered.
No, it was the mashed potatoes, Tammy thought.
She heard the whip of fabric as he flung his shirt on the floor, then his jeans. He brushed his teeth, letting the water run for the entire minute. She wouldn’t be the one to tell him that only brushing his teeth for half the recommended time only made his breath half as foul.
The mattress springs creaked as he dropped himself into bed. The lingering smell of beer, sweat and Stetson made her already-queasy stomach lurch. She could feel his breath on her face. Breathe in snore, exhale, she coached herself.
“You’re not fooling me, Tam.”
She flinched when he put his hand on her shoulder, but didn’t open her eyes. He removed his hand, to her relief. She yelped and flung her hands to her cheek when the searing pain of his open-palm slap hit her already swollen face. She struggled to avoid granting him the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
“Sorry, I’m too tired tonight, darling,” he said with a sneer, “you’ll have to wait until morning.” He stroked her swollen cheek with the back of his hand before rolling over with his back to her. Minutes later, he was snoring.
She listened to his rhythmic snorting and whistling and watched his side rise and fall with each breath, too afraid to disturb his slumber by rolling over to check the clock. In retrospect, she realized she should have worn a watch. Finally, she gently twisted and glimpsed the alarm clock: 11:21PM. One hour and thirty-nine minutes to pray for a guardian angel.
At 12:50, Tammy slid out from under the covers, careful not to bounce the mattress. She slipped on the running shoes she’d stowed under the bed, but froze in place when Gary’s snoring rhythm disrupted. He rolled onto his back and his arm flopped onto the bed – where she should have been laying.
Her breathing shallow, she prayed he wouldn’t open his eyes. She stared at him for two minutes by the dim glow of the bathroom nightlight. Satisfied he wouldn’t rouse again, she crept out of the room before she lost her nerve.
“Gary, honey, Mommy’s got you,” Tammy whispered into her son’s ear.
He moaned and rubbed his eyes.
“Shhh. Be very quiet.” She sat him up, slid his coat on over his pajamas and tennis shoes on his feet. She hoisted him onto her hip.
“Where are we going?” he asked; his voice still sleepy.
“Shhh. I’ll explain later.” What she would tell him, she didn’t know. She couldn’t think about that just yet.
Tammy gingerly stepped down each carpeted stair. Sure enough, the fifth stair creaked. Dang it. She didn’t pause to listen for Gary to stir, but instead, took quicker steps. Her heart pounded harder and she could feel the blood surging through the veins in her temples. Beads of sweat broke out on her forehead, even though the house was kept at a chilly sixty-five degrees.
She set her son down to open the front door.
“Tammy?” she heard her husband groggily call from their bedroom.
She shooed Gary outside and eased the door shut behind them, turning the knob so the latch didn’t click. She grabbed his hand and pulled him along as she guided them the snow-dusted sidewalk. The ice underneath the snow slowed down her pace. Please, God. Faster…faster! She prayed and urged herself on.
She reached the corner and saw Jess’ car about thirty feet away.
“Tammy!” The eerie sound of her name bellowed in the darkness made the hairs on her neck prickle to attention. She knew her lack of a coat was not the reason for the shiver that slid down her spine.
“You’ll be sorry!” His voice grew louder and angrier.
“Why’s Daddy mad?”
“It’s okay, baby,” she said before scooping up her son. She dashed for the car. Tammy slipped, but somehow managed to steady herself before completing the fall. She heard footsteps pounding in the icy snow behind her. Or was it blood bursting in her ears? She didn’t know and refused to turn around to find out.
Tammy opened the back door of Jess’ car and tossed Gary inside before slamming the door.
“Mommy!” Gary cried, now frightened.
She slid into the front seat. “Go!” she shouted as she slammed her door shut. She turned around to see her husband still chasing the car, shaking his fist in the air. She imagined the string of curses he must’ve been screaming for all the neighbors to hear. Two turns later, they were speeding down Juan Tabo Boulevard, headed toward I-40. Soon, she would be away from Gary, and Albuquerque, forever.
“You should’ve gotten a rental car,” Tammy said as she leaned over into the backseat. “I’m sure he knows your car.” She wiped the tears off little Gary’s cheeks before buckling buckle his seatbelt. He stopped crying, but wore a confused look. “We’re gonna be fine,” Tammy muttered, more for her own reassurance, and then slid back into her seat.
“Don’t worry about me. What’ll it be – east or west?”
“Do you really think your friend in Chicago can get me a job?” Tammy latched her seatbelt.
“Yes. I called her today.”
“East it is, then.
This is the third story I’m sharing about a character in my second novel. It takes place eleven years before the novel story, and is an exercise in character development. Please feel free to share any comments. If you don’t like the story or character, it is helpful to know why. Thanks for reading 🙂