This story is by Barbara Lee and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
From Bill’s phone descriptions to get me to live with him again, I imagined a winding driveway through a pastoral setting that ended at a quaint farmhouse that was perfect for us. After bumping along a mile long driveway which was hardly more than two pig paths, and looking at the house, I knew he had lied.
Peeling paint barely covered its wood siding, and several window panes were missing. Two couches spilled off the side of the porch. PVC pipe, lumber, and bulging plastic bags littered the rest of the porch. What I didn’t see was a stick of firewood, so I wondered if there was a wood stove for heat.
Securing and feeding the animals, I finally opened the door to the house. Old beat up furniture filled the living room, and where a wood stove should be, a two by four propped up a stove pipe. I wanted to cry, but my tears turned to anger. “What the hell is all this stuff? You told me you moved everything out.”
“Well, I guess I didn’t have time.”
While Bill and Jake, his brother, crammed my stuff into corners, I investigated other rooms, which were just as bad, with the addition of bird and mouse shit everywhere.
Back in the living room when I asked Bill about the missing wood stove, he said, “Those son of a bitches took it and I’ll have it back tomorrow.“ Feeling overwhelmed and suspicious of his chilly attitude toward me, I agreed to spend the night at his mom’s. Maybe a night’s sleep would lessen my fears about returning here.
The next morning when I grabbed coffee and a bowl of cereal, Bill’s only greeting was, “I’m heading to the house. See you when you get there.”
Driving to the house I thought about my decision to come here. It was four months ago when Bill first called and told me he wanted me back. At the time, having some minor health and money problems, I felt vulnerable and wondered about living alone. So when he’d say, “You know, Annie, I don’t want you to do it alone, you can come live with me,” I wanted to believe him.
I was hesitant at first, but his calls became more frequent and persuasive. Convinced of his sincerity, I rented my place, packed all my stuff and moved to Virginia with him…to a house that looked like a prop from a horror movie.
Pushing the memories aside as I reached the makeshift gate, I saw Bill appear on the porch. “Me and Jake are leaving to return the U-Haul.” I noticed the couch and patched recliner sitting in the yard with full trash bags. Encouraged by Bill’s efforts to clean up, but also wondering about his distant moods, I only said, “See you later.”
Into our second week of living in the house, there was still a lot of work. Bear hunting season, Bill’s passion, opened after we arrived, and his frequent absences became a sore point between us.
I was surprised one morning when a strange woman called, asking why Bill hadn’t picked up her son to go hunting. Pretending to know about the situation, I told her Bill decided against taking her son hunting that day.
Phoning Dana, the only sister-in-law I knew well, I asked her if she knew the woman and her son. Moments of silence passed before she said. “Jake told me to stay out of it. It wasn’t none of my business.”
Alarmed, my breathing got shallow. “I came almost 1,800 miles to start over with Bill. I need to know what’s going on.”
“I know, I know. Bill and Arlene were an item in the county last year. I heard she got real mad when she found out he was bringing his ex wife back from Colorado. I thought when you arrived that would be the end of it. But I guess not.”
“So what about the boy? Is Bill taking him on hunts?”
“Every now and then, but I don’t know about now.”
I was stunned. I could have handled crappy living conditions, as awful as they were. Thinking Bill cared about me when all along he’d been deceiving me, made me feel like shit.
Early the next morning I stood in the kitchen doorway and watched Bill pack his lunch. “Did you have a good hunt yesterday?”
He stopped briefly and said, “Yeah, we took down a good sized bear this side of the Shenandoah, took care of it at Ted’s last night.”
“Before I forget, Arlene called you yesterday.” I paused, “She thought you were taking Jared on the hunt.”
He didn’t bother to look up. “I don’t know why she’d think that.”
“Maybe because you’ve been taking Jared with you, and you have a relationship with Arlene, or maybe you’re just screwing her.” I took a breath. “Who is she, Bill, and what’s going on?”
I had his full attention. He put down the half made sandwich, looked at me, and in a sullen tone said, “Nothing’s going on. She’s just a dumb bitch. I admit a few months back I laid with her a few times. When she got all clingy, I didn’t want nothin’ to do with her.”
“And the boy?”
“I felt bad about him so I took him hunting with me a few times. There’s something wrong with trying to help him? But I should’ve known you’d throw a fit no matter what I did.” He slammed the door to the fridge so hard it rocked. I recognized his dark look and aggressive body language as warning signs of his building rage.
I backed off. “That phone call really upset me, Bill, and I need you to talk to me.”
“You can think whatever you want bitch. I don’t give a rat’s ass.” He headed toward the doorway where I stood, and I flinched when he clipped my shoulder with his own. I heard his truck start with a roar, then clatter down the driveway.
My hands shook as I exhaled. In a panic I called Dana. When she picked up, she said, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, but I’m scared. Bill just left in an ugly state. I need to know what’s going on, so I can get out of here if I need to.”
Hearing my desperation, Dana didn’t hesitate. “We all think he’s tangled up with more than just Arlene. There’s another woman across the mountain. And nobody can figure out why he brought you back here, especially up that Godforsaken hollow to that house. Unless he’s getting even for something.”
I swallowed hard, remembering the divorce. She went on, “Just don’t make sense. Half the time he doesn’t even show up to hunt, and nobody knows why. He’s more closed up than he’s ever been. If I was you I’d get out of there.”
Although I felt sick to my stomach, I also felt an urgent need to get out quickly. With my friend, Bonnie, and other church folks, I might have a chance. When I called and asked her if I could stay with her while I made arrangements for Colorado, she said of course, we’d make it work, and she’d come whenever I needed her. The next call was to my friend, Leslie, about taking my horses. She agreed to help me load and transport them to her place for as long as I needed.
Word must have flown through the church membership, because Brad Tucker called within 20 minutes. He already had two guys, two pick ups and trailers ready. We decided to move that day. Bonnie would come early afternoon and Leslie would be here early evening for my horses.
With help coming together so quickly I knew in my heart my decision to leave was the right one. No longer conflicted about abandoning a failing relationship a second time, I felt at peace.
When the guys arrived Brad got out of his truck and gave me a quick hug and smile, “Glad you’re okay Annie.” He waved toward the other truck. “You already know Tom, Larry and Josh.”
When we reached the house Brad commented, “Wow, if you made it up that hellish driveway, we certainly can get you back down.”
The men loaded the trailers with furniture, while boxes of books, bedding and odd items filled the pick up trucks. After they left I had an hour to get organized for their next trip, so I packed kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom stuff.
I met Bonnie and drove her to the house. When it came into view she just stared. Placing the first boxes in my truck, she looked at me. “You know, most women would have run screaming from this house the first day.No one would want to live in a place like this, Annie, especially with a man who took no interest in fixing it or being with her.”
“I feel so stupid for being deceived. I was just scared and didn’t want to fail again.” The words caught in my throat and I wanted to cry, but there wasn’t time.
Bonnie took my hands, “ It’s not wrong to want a marriage to succeed, and not wrong to get out when you’ve tried and it still sucks.”
Another few hours and the rest of my stuff sat in three pickups and two trailers. Before leaving Brad said, “Looks like we got everything. When you come back for the horses have someone with you in case Bill shows up unexpectedly.”
“Thanks, I’ll have Bonnie with me.”
Bonnie and I came back a last time to check the house and get the horses. Walking toward the front door from the kitchen, we heard a truck. Stepping onto the porch we watched Bill cross the yard and take the steps two at a time. When he opened the door to an empty room, his eyes narrowed. He walked toward the back rooms, and as Bonnie and I reached the porch steps, he bellowed, “What the hell bitch! You think you’re just going to sneak out of here?”
Bonnie stood at the bottom of the steps waiting. I took the first step, felt a slap on my back and heard him growl, “Then let me help you along, you selfish whore.”
Missing the last step, I tripped and ended with my face in the dirt. Bonnie screamed, “Are you crazy? I’m calling the sheriff.”
I brushed myself off. “No Bonnie, Brad and everyone in the church has heard about this place by now, and all the nasty rumors about Bill. If anything happens to me, he’ll have more than the law on his back,” I said loud enough for Bill to hear.
Hurrying to my truck we heard him yell like a frustrated child. “My stuff had better all be here.”
As we came around the last bend, Leslie and her husband already had the horses loaded. Before getting into the cab of her truck, she looked at me. “You all right? You look a little shaken.”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’ll talk to you soon.”
Later I called Brad, and when I told him what happened, he assured me he and Larry would have a talk with Bill.
As I made plans to leave for Colorado, I felt relieved not to see or hear from Bill. Dana told me he hadn’t said a word to anyone about my arrival or exit, just acted like nothing ever happened.
Two weeks after my return home, I feel unsettled as I lick my wounds and try to forgive myself for being duped. Having been surprised in the past by unannounced visits from Bill, I now keep a 12 gauge shotgun at the front door, and a .38 under my pillow, just in case.