Copyright is held by the author.
LILY GLANCED at the clock on the dashboard as both hands gripped the wheel. She forced her mouth wide, hoping to stretch out her clenched jaw. A few minutes more and they’d be there. A few hours later, they could leave. She still wasn’t sure how she would suffer the in-between.
The blowing snow made it hard to see the lines but she knew the twists and turns by heart, they had seared their mark in her flesh like a secret tattoo. She tried to outrun them, to give them the slip, but they wrapped their length around her throat and toyed with the pressure. They owned her.
Jason snored quietly beside her, his body full of holiday cheer. They spent the morning at his family’s place for Christmas brunch. She had tried her best to avoid a visit to her parents, but Jason was persistent. He said he wanted Bree to grow up knowing both sets of grandparents. He gave in to her wishes the year before, but this year Lily was the one to give in. Since she couldn’t bring herself to tell him why she stayed away, she knew she had no choice but to cave on the visit.
Lily felt the leather give as she pressed her palms firmly to the wheel. The tremble started in her shoulders and travelled down her arms. She gripped the wheel harder hoping it would go away. She couldn’t risk it today. Last summer she let herself slip and ended up rolling her pick-up on a tight turn. She told Jason she was fiddling with the radio and looked up too late. She thought he believed her, but he kept too close an eye for a long while. When the feelings surfaced she would force her eyes to the rearview mirror, to Bree’s sweet, sweet face and most of the time it was enough to make her ease off the pedal. But it was always there, hiding under everything she tried to layer on top.
Lily passed the yellow sign warning her to slow down for the final bend. She could see her parents’ house in the distance. It had been three years since she last visited. She wondered if her mother still worked part-time at the drugstore, or if she continued to pledge allegiance to that uptight Women’s Bridge Brigade. She knew her dad would work his fields until the day he died, though she heard he had stopped making things out of wood and that made her sad. Doll houses, rocking horses, children’s chairs. She used to help carry the finished pieces to the end of the driveway and then write their price on an old piece of cardboard in thick, black marker. She loved the smell of pine from her father’s jacket as it hung on a hook behind the kitchen door. When she was little she used to hide behind it and press her face into the folds, wrapping the limbless sleeves around her small body. She hasn’t done that in years but she knows his jacket would still be there, wanting to save her even now.
Lily rounded the final curve and was grateful that winter had hidden the lilies. Summer was more difficult with the bright orange flowers igniting both sides of the road like a fiery declaration of hell. Her mother had named her after the flowers, saying she had begged for it from the womb. She said Lily would kick up a storm whenever she walked passed them. Her dad said they were just no good ditch lilies that choked out other plants, that once they took hold you couldn’t get rid of them no matter what you tried. He said if someone got too close they’d end up with ugly freckles all over her face. Something to do with a Chinese superstition he read about once in a magazine. Her mother scoffed but her dad made her promise to stay out of the ditch, saying she was far too beautiful for freckles. Lily figured it was just his sneaky way of keeping her from the road but she kept her distance just in case. She had once seen a barn cat chewing on the petals and then found its body at the side of their house a couple of days later. She wouldn’t take the chance, just in case her dad was right.
Almost there, she whispered to no one. I made it. She immediately regretted the assumption of triumph. The last time she visited she had secretly vomited twice.
Lily bit down on her lip suddenly as the memory came full throttle. She pulled the car over to the side of the road and put it in park as quietly as she could. She didn’t want to wake Jason or Bree. As always, she would weather the memory alone. Lily looked down at the tattoo on her left wrist. Breathe.
The powerful grip of the duct tape is what she remembered most, how it forcefully sealed her mouth and silenced her screams. Once, about a year after it happened, Lily stole a roll of the grey tape from work and took it home. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror and tore a piece off with her teeth the way he had that night. She placed it over her mouth and slowly pressed down from one corner to the other. Her heart pounded wildly inside her chest but she forced herself to look at the girl in the mirror, to witness her wide eyes and trembling chin. Lily wanted to touch her, to brush the hair from her face and fold her in her arms, but her sobs made her choke and she had to pull off the tape so she could breathe.
Lily’s mother had told her stories about things like that but they were just bullshit ramblings and they were always about someone’s cousin’s neighbour’s friend, so they really didn’t count. Lily got good grades and never missed a chore. She believed in charity and that you only got what you gave in this world. So did her dad, that’s why he let her take the truck that night, as a reward for acing her driving test.
She parked the truck a short distance from the other cars and made sure she locked all the doors. The heat hung around that day and it smelled like rain so Lily rolled the windows all the way up. Charlotte and Debby were waiting for her in the corner booth at the Burger Palace and Jenna walked in a few minutes later. The girls drank Coke and shared fries drenched in ketchup and salt. Charlotte asked Lily how it felt to drive to town all by herself. Lily tried to be cool about it but she couldn’t hide the huge smile that bubbled up.
The four girls crammed themselves into the truck and turned the music up. They rode around making plans for where to go the next weekend and figuring out how many people they could fit in the back of the pick-up. Lily dropped off Jenna first, then Debby, and finally Charlotte. She checked her watch and smiled as she pulled out of her friend’s driveway.
She was almost home when the moon disappeared behind thick, dark clouds and she felt the damp, heavy air press down even harder. A few fat splashes of rain hit her windshield. Then a few more. When the guy waved her over from the side of the road she slowed down. She saw his uniform — fireman or army maybe. His arms waved frantically so Lily figured he was in trouble, though she didn’t see a car. She thought he was Larry’s son, Josh, from two farms over. Lily hadn’t seen him in over a year. When did he join the army? He’d be drenched in no time.
She brought the truck to a stop as he looked up from under his cap, smiled and shifted his backpack from his shoulder to the road. His hand was on the door before she finished her hello. He slammed the stick shift into park with one hand and dragged Lily from the truck with the other, hitting her hard across the mouth when she tried to scream. She fell backward into the ditch, smashing her head against something jagged and hard. With a crack of white light the dark clouds let go their cover, surprising the sleeping lilies that lined the ditch. A cold wetness spread through Lily’s shirt and chilled her skin. His legs straddled her hips and his hands taped her mouth. She struggled to turn away, but he pressed an elbow to the side of her cheek and pinned her down. The smell of the lilies was wild and damp and their silent screams filled her head. She could see her house in the distance and stretched her fingers toward the glow from her parents’ bedroom. He grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm behind her back. All around her the lilies shuddered and their pollen stung her eyes. Fresh petals caught beneath his elbow and crushed against her face. Lily closed her eyes and prayed to God. As he ground his hips into hers she sobbed and wondered how she would ever explain the freckles to her father.
Lily turned away from him when he found her. When he heard the truck peel off he figured an animal had been hit and walked out to see if it was suffering. He slowly peeled the tape from her mouth and carefully wrapped his jacket around her shoulders before he picked her up and carried her inside. He wept quietly as he rocked his daughter in his arms. He made soft comforting sounds in her ear while her mother screamed hysterically about stolen trucks and stupid, stupid girls who stop for boys. Her father brushed away bits of dirt and crushed petals from her hair. He gave Lily some water and wiped her face with the sleeve of his shirt while her mother cursed herself out.
Lily’s one hand fumbled with the car door while the other frantically worked to unbuckle the seatbelt. Her legs trembled violently as she threw up behind the car. She wiped the dampness from her forehead and then kicked some loose snow over the vomit. When she looked up she saw Jason getting out of the car.
“Hey, what’s going on? You all right?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to stop.” Lily looked away from the mottled snow. “I’m fine.”
“You can’t be fine,” Jason reached out to take hold of her arm, “you just threw up.”
“I’m fine,” she said, quickly making her way back to the front of the car. “Lunch didn’t sit well with me, that’s all.”
“I’ll drive,” said Jason, holding out his hand for the keys.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m fine and we’re already here.” Lily tightened her grip on the keys and pointed to her parent’s house before she slipped back behind the wheel and started the car.
She made her way down the long, snow-covered driveway and parked in front of the garage. She looked over at the house and scanned the fresh snow, flat and footprint free for as far as she could see. She noticed the stillness of the living room curtains. The door would be locked by habit now so they would have to ring the bell. When she left home at 17 her mother was angry and asked for her key. She made Lily promise never to tell anyone about what happened that night. She said it would bring shame to the whole family and that she’d never be able to walk into Bridge Club again. Lily gave her key willingly. Her father had tucked it back into her coat pocket, but she found it just before she left and placed it on the table by the front door. Lily didn’t want a key. She never imagined herself ever coming back.
As she stood on the front porch, holding Bree tightly in her arms, Lily prayed for strength and a quiet stomach. And though she knew it was ridiculous, she checked her reflection in the front window. Her skin looked smooth and white but that didn’t fool her. She knew a stain of shame lived just beneath the surface, waiting to be revealed.
Lily closed her eyes and buried her face in Bree’s snowsuit. It was a mistake to come, she realized sadly. She knew that no matter how much time passed, it would never be any different; the freckles were all her parents would ever see.