Goodnight Elisabeth
by Jennifer-Oksana

"I thought it might be better to get gone and stay gone," says the lean, tall woman from behind the screen door, the stranger who has driven him out to the California desert, a place he despises and rarely visits. Never for pleasure, at least. It's too barren, and reminds him of things he prefers not to think of.

The past has always been better left dead.

He never imagined she could be anything less than glamorous. But there she is, barefoot and wearing nothing better than a thin-strapped tank top and a pair of shorts that do not hide that she's gained weight. Her belly has rounded, her thighs have thickened, and there's a tan now, a desert tan if he's ever seen one, and it'll never fade, no matter if she spends the rest of her life in the dark.

"There was a body."

"It's not hard to do." Her voice is different, even. If he didn't know, he'd swear she'd never been further than the Mojave, the flats, the towns with nothing to do but speed and alcohol.

"You got married."

"And divorced." She's wearing her hair pulled back in a ponytail; the toenail polish is a gaudy, cheap red. There's a can of Bud Light in her left hand, and the cigarette butts litter the rocks outside of the front door. If he could cry for her, he would.

"The child?"

"A boy." And of course that would be the reason, the only reason that the postcard came. Dee J. Reynolds. 11459 Calle Arroyo East. Barstow. And he'd known the minute it arrived that it was from her, and what she wanted.

"You're planning to leave again."

"Maybe." He wants her to open the door. She won't, of course. She's embarrassed by the way she looks, by the decay of all her glamour into nothingness. The price of safety is beauty and power, but she has her reasons for the decay.

"Let me see him."

"That wouldn't be a good idea." And she's right of course. He knows that he wouldn't be satisfied with just looking. He'd demand they come back to Los Angeles with him, so he could protect them both. He knows that he couldn't. The minute they came back--particularly her, with so many enemies--it would be over. It's a pipe dream, a fairy tale, and she's given up everything to keep the boy safe.

"What's his name? Can you tell me that much at least?"

She pauses, swaying in the front door. Her fingernails are plastic, decorated with butterflies and neon pink. Behind them, the television is playing sports at top volume. Beside his foot is a pink pitcher of sun tea, two days past when it should come in.

"Sean," she finally whispers, giving him one final gift. "His name is Sean. You should go now."

He stands there, waiting, looking at her. He knows too well that he'll never see her again, that before the week is out, Dee and Sean Reynolds will have left Barstow. Perhaps they'll go deeper into the desert, places so remote that not even the devil himself would follow. Perhaps she'll think it a pattern, go north to the Valley, blend into those who lived and died by the California Aqueduct. Perhaps they will go east, and she will marry again, have another child to allay her fears. He can't tell. There is no direction in her eyes, just the patient waiting of someone who very much wants him to go.

"I'll always love you," he says, turning toward his rental car. It will be two twenty five a gallon to fill up, and the drive back to Los Angeles will be slow. "I love you, Cordelia."

Her cheeks burn with some unknown emotion as she hears her lost name, meant to be forgotten forever.

"Go home, Connor," she calls to him, her free hand trembling as she fights the urge to open the screen door. "Go home and forget me."

There is a spray of gravel as the car drives away and Dee Reynolds sinks to her knees, still clutching her beer.

"I love you," she says to the linoleum before straightening up and looking at the clock.


Soon it will be time to pick Sean up from school.


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