Even with music playing, we could hear gentle snores from Michael in the back seat.
I was itching to ask Bettany more questions about her situation. Not because it would make any difference, but because I'm curious. I'm always trying to imagine people's stories, and here was one that had just landed in my lap. Besides, I might be able to help. Who could tell?
"You sure you'll be okay at your sister's?" I asked. "I mean safe."
Bettany glanced at the back seat, checking that Michael was really asleep. He was slumped against the bag of linens, his toy cars resting in his limp hands.
"I don't know," she said. "I've left before, and he always comes to get me. I always resist at first, but, you know, I do love him. I mean, we've got a kid and everything, and it's not like I can support us very well. I didn't even finish high school. So then I figure if I just stay with him until I get a diploma or something, then I can leave. I'll just lay down the law and tell him that he can't keep hurting me. I'm pretty tough when I want to be."
"What about your sister? Can't you do that while you stay with your sister?"
"Pam's great," she answered, "but she only has a one-bedroom. I sleep on the couch, Michael sleeps on the floor. And she's super controlling, like a control freak. And won't watch Michael at all, so I can't get out ever, never mind going back to school. Plus she's like this religious wing-nut -- always on me about how I should be reborn and shit.
"So this is just a break, I guess," she concluded. "A vacation."
"Doesn't sound like much of a vacation if you're sleeping on a couch and fearing for your everlasting soul. What would you study if you went back to school?"
"I was actually thinking of becoming a florist!" I glanced at her; her face was lit up. "I just love flowers. Anything beautiful, you know? I can't live with ugliness. That house back in Sharbot Lake, it was just about killing my soul. You ever feel like that?"
I mumbled something positive, but my brain was spinning. I had a two-bedroom place in Toronto. It wasn't large, but it at least had a real bed in the spare room. And it had the advantage that her husband would have no clue where it was.
The big question was: could I trust her?
"Jim - that's my husband - never felt that way," she continued. "Beauty just wasn't something that meant anything to him. You know? Not that he was a slob or anything. He kept the place neat enough. But like, pictures on the wall and stuff? One time I bought this poster at a thrift shop and he was all, 'Why'd you waste money on shit like that? Goddamn pictures ain't gonna feed your boy!' I mean, jees. I wasn't about to starve my own son or anything, but you need some beauty in life, right?"
"Sounds like you just had different needs," I said.
"I'll say. But his were the only ones that mattered. He smashed that picture into about a million pieces." She paused. "But I'm done with him now. For good. I can't let Michael learn that this is the way to treat a woman.
"I'll just stay with Pam until I can get on welfare then get my own place and go back to school. It shouldn't take more than a few months to get subsidized housing. If Jim comes calling, I'll just tell him to hit the road."
A few months. I pictured her sharing that tiny apartment with her sister for months.
"Maybe I can help. I realize this is pretty rash, and you don't even know me, but I do have a spare bedroom. You and Michael are welcome to use it until you get settled." There. I'd said it.
"Really?! Oh, Carla! Oh! That's -- that's just -- " She was incoherent.
"I take it that's a 'yes'," I offered.
"Yes! Of course. You have no idea what this means to us," she said. "This is definitely not how I thought this day would end."
Carole King sang to us as we moved westward. We sang along.
Once amid the soft silver sadness in the skyFor previous entries, visit my Fiction Friday page.
There came a man of fortune, a drifter passing by
He wore a torn and tattered cloth around his leathered hide
And a coat of many colors, yellow-green on either side
He moved with some uncertainty, as if he didn't know
Just what he was there for, or where he ought to go
Once he reached for something golden hanging from a tree
And his hand came down empty
Soon within my tapestry along the rutted road
He sat down on a river rock and turned into a toad
It seemed that he had fallen into someone's wicked spell
And I wept to see him suffer, though I didn't know him well