Escape

The girl lay in bed, listening to her roommates’ heavy breathing; listening to Sister Jean Raphael slowly pacing the hall to the beat of the Hail Mary; listening to the outside world, the world beyond her bedroom window, the world so frightening and so delightful when drizzled in moonlight – unlike tonight. Tonight, all was still. The birds hid their heads under their wings. The wind left the leaves alone.

Perhaps tonight was not the right night. Perhaps she needed to wait for the moon – the blessed, beckoning moon that called to her outside. Not tonight. Tonight, the moon slept … maybe she would sleep too …

There was one faint whistle in the darkness, a whistle almost too far to hear – but she heard the call. It was the 440 train, from Aix-en-Provence to Lyons, traveling north. The girl heard the call. And she came.

The girl slid out from under her covers and noiselessly pulled on a contraband pair of jeans and an olive-green sweater she had stuffed under her bed. She pulled out her backpack and scooped her toothbrush and pajamas into it – everything else of necessity was already smuggled in there. Everything, that is, except –

She could hear Sr Jean Raphael roll off the balls of her feet as she came to the end of the hall. There was a clink of beads and a rustle of a veil as (the girl knew without seeing) Sister threw it over her shoulder impatiently and turned on her heel and continued down the hall in the opposite direction. When the nun had passed the landing at the top of the grand staircase (the girl could hear the three distinct creaks as Sister passed) the girl drew in a deep breath, opened the bedroom door, and crossed the hall in a sudden move.

Across the hall was Sister’s room. Cell might have been a better term; it was hardly big enough to fit a narrow bed and even narrower priedieu, but it was plenty big enough to hold a very important cupboard, which the girl now sidled up to. She took a bobby pin from her hair (stuck there for the purpose), bent it, and deliberately inserted it into the cupboard lock. Quietly, carefully, oh-so-patiently, the girl twisted the pin until it clicked, and the little wooden door swung open. There, inside, the cupboard held all the treasures of the class of seconde: confiscated jewelry and makeup (held until the parents returned), secret stashes of candy, a pack of cigarettes, a cheap romance novel or two (those would be the key talking points for some parents next holiday weekend). The girl reached in with two fingers and pulled out two items: a slim leather wallet and a well worn American passport. She slipped both into her pocket, closed the cupboard door, and retreated across the hall.

Once back in her room with her still sleeping roommates she took a deep breath. Now for the difficult part. She slung the backpack over her shoulders, opened the window, pushed back the shutters (gently, since they squeaked), and looked outside into the vast darkness.

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Flying

She swung through the doors, and it wasn’t until she looked up that she realized it was dusk. She stood on the steps and stared at the greying sky, where the birds flew between the cracks in the clouds. It had been grey that morning when she entered the office, and it was grey now as she left. She slung her bag across her shoulders and began making her way down the empty sidewalk.

One drop, but she didn’t notice. Another, and still her head hung low. Three, four, five, and a gust of wind made her twitch her nose; then, suddenly, the great cloud overhead broke open and dropped its contents on her head. She stood, drenched before she could think to move; a clap of thunder woke her, and she shook herself, and as if by divine inspiration, she smiled. She threw off the bag, and started to walk; she untied her hair, and started to run; her shoes fell off as she ran, and with each step she shed another concern; first one worry dropped, then another; the wind caught up her doubts and they whirled in a windstorm into the sky. She was stripped of all but a hope; she took a leap of faith and found herself flying.

Professor

The looming clouds didn’t seem to bother him. He stood by the lamppost, his puffy navy blue coat hanging from his shoulders, his eyes blinking slowly behind the round glasses. A gasp of wind blew up the avenue, catching up scraps of paper and sending them wisping through the air. His hair stood on end. The cars shook and shivered in the cold; their headlines stared out into the quickly-falling dusk. He still stood.

He stood still as a class of freshmen let out from the building behind him, swarming the sidewalk, jostling and joking in oblivion. He stood still as a homeless man lurched past him; the man shook his gnarled locks and glanced only once at the stubborn academic. It was over now; what was there to be stubborn about anymore? He stood still as the bus slowed and swayed close to the curb. The doors wheezed open, and the man stepped stiffly onto the bus. The doors clanged behind him; the bus jerked forward, and, without a glance backward, he rode away for the last time.

Mrs. Smith

Even though they stood at opposite ends of the room, they were conscious only of each other’s presence. The whole room was conscious of their presence — their united existence, the invisible, connecting thread strung between them, affecting each other’s smallest movements, slightest thoughts, with an intangible twitch. He, with his coolly unimpressed air, stood by the window, tossing off well-worn puns to the gaggle of women who made their way, consciously or unconsciously, through the crowd to congregate in that very spot. She, on the other hand,  was judiciously helping the hostess hand out drinks to those members of the party gathered by the bar. She turned her back, and he straightened his; he coughed, and she twitched her nose; when either’s laugh rung out across the crowd, the other grew silent and still, as if a song had been put on mute. They did not make eye contact; they merely breathed in sync. They could hear snatches of each other’s separate conversations, and the call-and-response became apparent to even the least observant.

One of the gaggle, a particularly peckish type named Linda, broke away from the flock momentarily to forage from the snack table. She bumped into another woman scraping the sides of the potato salad bowl. Linda apologized with a giggle. “What a party! I love people watching. And this *charming* man — he’s enchanted every woman in the room.”

“Yes,” said the woman, without looking up. “That’s my husband.”

Snow

Whether it was the pale transparency of her face, or the icy touch of her hand, or her sharply pointed nose, anyone who met her was struck with an unexpected chill. She was not unkind; she was not aggressive or disdainful in her demeanor; but the questioning glint in her eye and the gentle lift of her shoulders when she breathed were the only indications that she was not a perfectly molded wax figure. She glided across the room like an iceberg; when she spoke, each word that fell from the sedentary line of her lips floated gently to the ground, spinning with its fellows in a cascade of crystals. “Excuse me,” she said, and the room shivered. The man in the back corner, with the furrowed brow and over-sized trench-coat, sneezed.

K

There she sat, facing him across the bright green lawn. There she sat, her golden curls as so many daffodils waving in the breeze, her face reflecting a golden marigold; she sat, as an evening primrose, basking in the pink and purple hues of the coming night. The royal blue canopy above cast uncertain shadows across her face, shrouding her in an aura of sanctity. He took another step; he had reached her throne. He glanced down at the hem of her gown, trailing across the cold white marble. He knelt before her and held her hands, and looked up to meet her eyes, but they were not there to greet his. The red leaves left the trees above their heads and landed despondently at his feet. There was no wind; there was no sun. He felt the stifling air envelop him, close in and pressure him from every side. While her ruby mouth spat words of welcome, her eyes, previously his alone, now searched above his head for another. His face fell. Surely … he saw her eyes light up and he turned around to follow their gaze. There stood an image of himself, a shadow of a reflection of him. Dressed in the best of finery, leading a pearly white horse, the newcomer advanced and came to stand before the lady – his lady – and grinned at the brown-clad figure kneeling at her feet. “Welcome home, brother.”