Lavina, Montana, October 15, 1941. I wake with a start, my nightgown damp with sweat. Dark memories from another life clamor for attention. For nearly fifty years the nightmare has played out, in an endless reverberation across my restless mind.
Sam dashes up the lane in his sulky, askew in the seat. He snaps the whip, altogether missing the horse’s flank. I move to the side of our bedroom window, concealed by the lace curtain.
Fear inches up my spine and creeps down my arms like hundreds of tiny pinpricks. Foreboding clenches at my insides.
Taking a deep breath, I steel myself for his arrival. Spying the letter opener on my dressing table, I place it in the waistband of my skirt, but then reconsider. Slight of stature, I am no match for his brawn. If he manages to grab the instrument from me, there is no telling what might happen. Nausea sweeps over me.
I risk another peek and shudder, my heart pounding. There’s no time to bar the front door.
How dare he come home in such a condition in the middle of the day!
Shaking like a leaf in a windstorm, I step to the top of the stairs. He flings open the door, staggering into our entryway. I swallow the lump in my throat and stand my ground.
"Maggie! What the hell are you doing up there?" Disheveled, his fair hair falling rakishly across his forehead, he tosses the sharp words into the air. His piercing blue eyes lock with mine and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
With weak knees, taking one cautious step at a time, I begin a halting descent. My pulse racing, I stop halfway, feeling stronger and somehow larger standing above, peering down on him.
Gaping at me, he hollers, "Damn it woman, get yourself down here this instant and give me a proper welcome home!" He lurches toward the stairway, tripping on the umbrella stand, sending its contents clattering across the oak floor. He regains his balance enough to grip the banister, steadying himself and leering at me with eyes ablaze.
I stare back, my thoughts tangled, my heart twisted with emotion. Frozen, I am afraid to move forward, yet unable to turn away.
Then, mindful of our children napping nearby, I force myself down the steps. I hold my breath, bracing myself for what I know lies ahead. Fast and venomous as a striking rattlesnake, he grabs and overpowers me. With brute strength, he grips my backside and crushes me fully against his angry, unyielding body.
I roll over, hoping to lessen the ache in my shoulder, a persistent reminder of the time he shoved me down the steps. Why had I succumbed to his malignant guile? I will grant he did have a way about him which was exceedingly hard to resist, and in the early days we had loved each other with passion.
Through the open window, I see no hint of dawn. I breathe in the fresh night air, tinged with a scent of burnt leaves.
Well-acquainted with the wee hours of the night, I know sleep will elude me. I push back the covers and struggle to rise, placing both feet on the cold, wooden floor. My spine is now stiff with age and it resists as I bend down to pull on my cotton slippers. Grasping the bedpost to steady myself, I stand and ease first one arm, then the other, into my chenille housecoat, careful not to aggravate my shoulder.
In the front room, I pick up the faded quilt, cocooning it around me to still my shiver. Settling into my old rocker, the nightmare begins to soften, as the chair's lulling movement conjures soothing images of rocking my children.
But the groan and creak of the floorboards beneath me unleash a worn-out misery which wraps its tentacles around my heart, driving my attention back to Sam. After all these years, how can I still feel so conflicted?
In the end, it comes down to choices. Yet, how can I regret the past? Yes, they brought my greatest sorrows, but they also brought my greatest joys.
I clutch my chest and my heart stings. I tremble and take a few deliberate, calming breaths. The memories of Sam’s cruelty and my lost children flood into my mind, creating a stream of unstoppable tears. The nightmare has had its way with me once more.
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