She spoke, she paused, she considered, reconsidered and she resisted before a final embrace of all that strained to come forth in a gut-wrenching emission of half-mocking laughter that deteriorated into a Nile of tears as she gnawed on her lower lip…reddening the left corner.

She rambled, avoided, retreated, and charged the ghosts of her life in a babbling self-interrogation and examination of things gone wrong, good and evil, wrongs to be righted, and people she desperately wanted a second chance to tell only that she was sorry—for what, she was not sure. Gone were her effervescence and affected nightclub charm. Only nervous, blue, vulnerable eyes peered out from behind a veil, dissolving with each passing moment.

As she talked, somewhere far away muffled sounds drifted in—arguments in adjacent apartments, pieces of television commercials wondering “where the yellow went,” a distant police siren, and the fluttering near the window of a sooty chimney swift searching for sanctuary, much like the tortured woman whom Michael watched now in the subdued lighting of the apartment.

Dixie spoke of family—her sisters particularly, reddish blondes who looked like her—her Baptist church, long since abandoned, and a pastor who seemed to be speaking to her every Sunday—too close to home. Brief smiles punctuated embraces of simpler times—a lifelong collection of butterfly charms…monarchs and swallowtails adorning her childhood bedroom.

Rambling, she asked him if he knew that she could type 100 words a minute now. She remembered and recounted whispers about her and Frank around corporate water fountains with yellowed handles.

Then, she scurried to safety behind stories of her gardens, gold and purple pansies in late Southern winters, and the fragrance of red azaleas that winds carried across gardens she tended so lovingly in the springs before she moved here.

Ancient tablets were brought forth from behind heavy doors that were rusted shut…concealing a gateway to a distant realm to which only she had the key—a key reluctantly used and now revealing smells and textures of darkness that made Michael want to retch.

This man, Frank, had become the long-dead man now reincarnated in some kind of twisted nightmare—the long-gone abuser of little girls who still preyed on the weak, now returned from the grave to tell the woman-child that she deserved no better—a male of no gentleness, a brute of lethal vileness, a thing and entity that reveled in cruelty. He was at once a charmer who elevated the broken bird with lavish attention only to withdraw and heighten the savagery of the clenched fist disguised as a helping hand—a hammer to render her subservient and unquestioning.

All attempts to extricate herself brought only a pounding of her self-image and a promise to get her fired from her new job due to his power—pure masculine power with no semblance of the feminine so essential to balance the delicate dance in a world he’d redefined as only the abused and the abuser—selective affection applied only as hot and cold partitions in a game of expendable gifts to exploit the terror in an expendable woman.

During that long, tortuous purge, the strangest and most wonderful transformation began to take place. Michael realized that he was witnessing a long-overdue birthing process—a second birth. Dixie was emerging from a womb of sorts. The old Dixie melted away before his eyes as the walls seemed to close in on her where the pain seemed unbearable, just before she burst into the blinding light at the end of the narrow, dark tunnel ahead—born again, gasping in a fresh breath in a vivid new world where the grays and blacks gave way to a rainbow of bright colors.

She had calculated a false freedom when she first left him, but now she had taken her first deep, cleansing breaths as a free woman, once utterly and awfully alone in a rented world—now a butterfly come forth from the shell of the cocoon of despair and hollowness that had imprisoned her for so long.

The soft hum of the condo’s air unit brought them gently to real time, and the gentle breeze moved the drapes around them.

There was almost an audible bump as the now rotten poison apple she had tasted so long ago fell away from her countenance to the grounds of a new landscape filled with fruit as in the original Garden. Distant hymns of redemption played.

Used by permission from the author & publisher.  ©2014 Merle Temple. All rights reserved.

©Copyright 2014 Bridgital/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.