Exercising the craft—January 11, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: When he arrived at the hospital to collect her, she was no longer there.

https://promptuarium.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/no-longer-there/

***

[Note: literary magazine New Millennium Writings named me a semi-finalist in the 41st New Millennium Writings writing contest for this story]

When he arrived at the hospital to collect her, she was no longer there.

He didn’t want to believe it at first. This morning before he’d left the hospital, he’d caught her sighing in weariness. For a moment he felt a twinge from his conscience. Perhaps—just perhaps—he shouldn’t have applied so much force this time. Even though she’d told the hospital staff that she’d taken an exceptionally nasty fall down the back stairs, a few people had looked skeptical. One or two of them eyed him on that first night.

And maybe she’d learned her lesson this time.

But this. Had she really disappeared, or had she simply gone down the hall? Maybe she wanted to thank the various nurses who had helped her this time. He had to admit these nurses were much nicer than the ones in the previous hospital.

Maybe that’s why they’d looked at him so askance.

He sighed long and deep, put his hands on his hips, and hung his head for a moment. Now he would have to spend time looking for her. And then he would have to spend time making her understand that she couldn’t run away like this. Running away from home didn’t accomplish anything. And it just made things worse later. For her, anyway.

After another sigh, he looked up and threw his hands into the air. Why couldn’t she just submit? In the early years it wasn’t so hard. Lately, however, ever since she began spending time with that divorced friend of hers, she’d started saying odd things. Talking back. Asserting her opinion.

No more. This time around he’d make sure she didn’t have any opinions to share.

***

Even though more than an hour had passed since they’d left the hospital, she couldn’t help turning around over and over to make sure no one followed them. She didn’t want to believe she’d left him behind. She didn’t dare to believe she’d left him behind.

This wasn’t the first time she’d tried and certainly not the first time she’d thought about it. Oh, no, she’d thought about it dozens of times. Hundreds. Maybe even thousands. Fear induced the dream. Being jaded kept it alive. Brazenness had convinced her she could actually pull it off.

He’d left her alone with others; that was his primary mistake. He thought she wouldn’t tell anyone what had happened, but she did. She told all of them. And she’d convinced them to help her and then she’d convinced them to pretend like they didn’t know anything.

The pretense was imperative, she’d told the first nurse in a fierce whisper. They had to play along, had to act like they knew nothing about how she really got the bruises. When the cop had showed up, she’d told him too. I’ll tell you everything you want to know, she said, and I’ll even testify, but I have to get out of here first and you have to help me by staying away from the hospital until the day I’m supposed to be discharged. You have to play along. You have to be very quiet until he’s gone, and then we can get away.

The cop wanted her stay in town, but she was adamant. She was leaving. Either he could help her prosecute this jerk or he could let the jerk off scot free. It didn’t matter to her in the long run, because she’d spent months planning her escape. She would get away, and he would never find her. This time it would work. She’d left no detail unexamined.

He thought he could control her. He had underestimated her desire to be free. So he would pay for it.

This time he would lose her for good.

The thought made her heartrate settle down a little bit, and after one more look over her shoulder she settled into the seat and closed her eyes. For the first time she could breathe slowly and deeply. She could breathe free.