The Last Quiet Place

By M. Malcomb Moore

          Cassie hated elevators more than city driving, even more than doctors.  Today, the day before her birthday, she would experience all three. She pictured her family and friends standing around her grave, saying how tragic it was, dying the day before her birthday. Rush hour horns, a thousand signs, and trucks bullying the highways pummeled her shattered nerves. “This shrink better be worth it,” she mumbled to herself, tightening her grip on the steering wheel.

          “Sixth street, four more blocks.” Cassie spoke aloud in an effort to revitalize her eroding confidence. She had recited the directions a dozen times since making the appointment with Dr. Richards.  His referral called him the best psychologist in the state.  Even so, Cassie was uneasy about spilling her trauma to a total stranger. “Finally, Emerson Metro Offices.”  Cassie’s car rolled quietly through the concrete maze of the parking garage. Cars sat like coffins in a mausoleum for commuters. The parking arrows seemed to point to a space reserved for her own grave marker in a cemetery. She double checked her car doors and walked alone to the elevators. The click of her cowboy boots echoed off a dozen stone walls like the solo drummer playing for a caisson. She wanted to be home on the ranch riding her horse Freedom and feeling the kiss of the sun through the open sky. Her kids were there, her husband was there, her heart was there. She stood staring at the elevator doors opening to invite her into a quiet little room. Twenty-one floors separated her from the appointment she already loathed. There was no time for stairs. She stepped in and the metal doors closed behind her.

          “I’m here to see Dr. Richards,” Cassie whispered through her cluttered throat. The receptionist reached for a clipboard, responding with professional indifference.

          “Your name, please?”

          “Cassie, Cassie Hawthorn.” The name didn’t belong here. The marble floors, brass fixtures, music and the sterile smile of air conditioning all whispered their contempt for this country intruder.

          “Please take a seat and fill out the highlighted areas. The doctor will be with you in a moment.” Cassie took the furthest chair from the window. She hated heights and didn’t want to look out from twenty stories up. Crossing her legs, she planted the clipboard and began to write.

          Name: Cassie Hawthorn. Address: Route 2, Kingston, Colorado, and on it went asking more details than she had even shared with her horses. Then came the question Cassie dreaded.

Please state the nature of your concern. Her mind sank into her memories, searching for a place to begin.

. . . . .

          “Cass, Cassie, time to get up, girl. It’s your weddin day and no daughter of mine is gonna be sleeppin late when there’s a bunch to do.” Mom always woke me last, waiting for my three big brothers to clear the bathroom and give me a little privacy.  Today was no different.  Her baby was flying from the nest and she was determined to hang on to that last bit of authority.

          By the time I made it downstairs, empty chairs surrounded the breakfast table stacked with plates smeared with syrup and butter. Dad and my brothers would always race to get the chores done before the sun broke through the night sky. It was a game they invented to fight off the boredom of the morning routine.

          By noon we had packed up all the cars with all the wedding props, dresses, tuxes and presents, all heading to the church to be assembled in a once-in-a-lifetime ritual of saying ‘goodbye’ and ‘hello’ at the same time. Everyone was smiling.

          They all knew since high school that I would marry Neal, even if he was shorter than me. They loved him; I loved him. It was Neal’s step brother from Chicago that no one was prepared to deal with, especially me.

          His name was Alexander, like the conqueror which pretty much describes the way he came across. Neal asked him to be the best man since he was the only relative on his side. There was no doubt in Alex’s mind about the “best man” part. Everything he did shouted ‘look at me,’ and we did, usually with a concealed snicker of amazement how anybody could be so taken with himself.  From the day he came to the wedding rehearsal in a Mercedes convertible with this painted up, blond miniskirt in tow, we knew we were in for some good laughs.

          All through the rehearsal dinner, the wedding and the reception he would make cracks about how country life was boring, smelled of pig shit and the people were stuffy and naïve.

          “I thought maybe you guys would wear overalls instead of tuxes,” he said. “Champagne? Where’s the goat’s milk? The dude praying during the wedding, you guys still believe in that religion stuff?”

          I was glad to be the bride so I could leave the reception early and get away from the ass. Life with Neal was like looking at the first winter’s snow at dawn, simple, sacred and peaceful. We spent our days working the horses and mending fences. Nights would find us in front of the fireplace drinking wine, laughing about our childhoods until Neal would carry me upstairs to lose ourselves in each other’s lovin.

          After four years, Neal Jr. was born, and we kissed the quiet goodbye. Two more years and sweet Rachel Ann joined us and we traded their peaceful loving nights for diapers and two in the morning breast feeding.

          After our ninth anniversary, Alexander came to live with us. I pleaded with Neal to get him a room in town, but he would hear none of it. He was his only brother, and he was obsessed to care for him.  I knew we were in trouble the morning I found dear Alex passed out drunk on the front porch nearly froze.

          “Cass, I know he’s an ass,” Neal would say, “but we gotta help him get through this. He lost his wife, his kids, his job and all his money. He ain’t got nobody but us anymore” His warm heart would always talk me into just another week with this animal in our house.

          My dad died that year, in the winter. I made a point of stopping by his grave on my way home from church to bring new flowers and tell Dad about my problems. Neal didn’t go to services anymore, so the weekly stop at the cemetery was my time to find some peace from the chaos at home. It was my last quiet place. The grave stones were always still and cold, arranged in a silent maze of grey granite. We used to play there as kids, reading the stones, climbing the trees and even wondering what it would be like to be dead. At the top of the hill was a mausoleum, one of those graves like a little house you put the bodies in.  Nobody was ever buried there so we would open the big metal gate and lie in the near dark room on the stone shelf until we would start laughing. Sometimes we would make spooky sounds just to hear the echo. Since Dad died, the cemetery wasn’t fun anymore.

          Three months ago, after having my one way conversation with Dad, I made my way to that still empty granite house at the top of the hill. The metal gate was rusty but I could still force it open. I went in and cried, trying to find some peace in the quiet. Lost in my tears, I was deaf to the steps approaching on the sidewalk outside. The wrought iron swung open with the squeal of rusted hinges.

          “Well, Cassie, girl, I saw your truck down on the road. Paid a visit to your old man, huh? You’re such a nice girl.” The reek of Alex’s drunken breath nearly made me puke. His stumbling body nearly filled the doorway with an ominous silhouette. He was moving toward me. “Say, Cassie girl, we’re like, ya know, kissing cousins or something. Why don’t you give old Alex a kiss?”

          My movement around him was useless. He covered my mouth with one hand and grabbed my hair with the other fist yanking me to the floor. “Don’t be afraid, sweet thing, I’ll be gentle, just don’t fight me or I’ll have to hurt you.” He began ripping my dress open then off.  He was on top of me, inside of me, stealing the last quiet place in my dying world. I never told Neal about that day, or anyone, not even Dad.  I never visited the grave again. I never made love to Neal again.

. . . . . . .

          Mrs. Hawthorn, MRS. HAWTHORN, excuse me.  Dr. Richards will see you now.

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