I was home, finally home, but not quite home yet. I could see it from the passenger seat of Dougie’s van. He’d pulled up on the wrong side of the street, two doors down from my house, but I could see it, I could practically smell it. I wanted out, out of the fucking van, out of this seat, away from him. But he turned off the engine.
“Not so fast,” he said, reaching across me and pushing the lock down.
I should laugh, a locked door wasn’t going to keep me here. After being thirty minutes away at that party last night, no, this morning, last night and this morning, finally getting to my street and my sidewalk and my house. Nothing like a locked door was going to keep me around him any longer.
He undid the buttons on his jeans and told me, “Suck it. Then you can leave.”
I looked around the street. It was still early, five, six in the morning, Sunday morning? Nobody was out walking their dog, none of my roommates were up, all the curtains were closed, the paper was still sitting on the front steps. I instinctively pulled away from him, backing into the passenger door, my breathing getting fast and my chest tight. I turned my cheek to the cold window, pressed against it as hard as I could, closed my eyes and I could smell it, just beyond the glass.
Like every autumn until I’d moved away from home, I’d gone to my grandmother’s house to help with the yard pickup. We’d do this more than once a year, but in the autumn we raked the leaves from her aspen and oak trees and pile them into her rusted wheelbarrow. Daddy would roll the wheelbarrow into the backyard up to the big oil drum and then scoop handfuls of leaves into the drum, packing them in tight, then take out a book of matches to light the whole thing on fire. The smell of the leaves burning and the bits of garbage, orange rinds, squeezed-out lemons, half-eaten grapefruits, scraps of meals my grandmother ate by herself at her glass table, which sat between two picture windows filled with perfectly shaped and luxuriously fed violets in simple clay pots, created a brown-tinted smoke that hung in the air over the yard and I didn’t want to leave until the last bits had burned completely through and through, until Daddy had stirred the big drum one last time, kicking up leftovers, the smoke in my hair and on all of our clothes so that we could still smell it when we got back to our house and I recognized the futility of trying to hold onto anything and saw the importance of transformation, of passing seasons, what age can do. When I closed my eyes that smell would come back to me and the knowledge I’d gained then, the rightness of putting everything in its place and the incredibly fresh time when I was still open to believing in goodness and the right way of things.
Then Dougie had a knife in his hand, the point of it on my leg, pushing, making an indentation and I opened my eyes and his other hand was on myneck, pulling me down to his dick and he kept the knife there and he kept his hand pushing on my neck, pulling my hair until he’d gotten what he wanted from me.
I spit him out and wiped my mouth off on his cotton T-shirt. He put the knife away, leaned across and unlocked the door, grabbed the handle and pushed the door open.
I unfolded first one leg then the other, picked up my purse and held it close to my stomach. I felt the pavement under me and took a couple steps. The door slammed shut. The van pulled away. I walked slowly toward my house, not sure if I could trust my own legs to keep me up. I walked across the lawn, the house looking more and more familiar, the smell of newly cut grass. I took a tentative step up toward my own front door, reached out for the railing.
I turned back toward the big oak in our front yard. Somewhere, someone was burning leaves.
Cheryl Diane Kidder has a B.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her work, nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared or is forthcoming in CutThroat Magazine, Weber–The Contemporary West, Pembroke Magazine, decomP Magazine, Tinge Magazine, Brevity Magazine, Brain,Child, Identity Theory, In Posse Review, and elsewhere. For a full listing see: Truewest. Follow her on Twitter: @chekid.