Escape smelled like a thick layer of Febreze over stale cigarette smoke.
I dropped my duffle bag on the patch of linoleum in front of the trailer’s stove and closed the thin metal door behind me. It didn’t latch the first time and I had to slam it.
The whole trailer shook.
I’ll need better locks.
Not that locks had kept me safe before. Locks and sitting very still and being very small had not kept me safe at all.
Everyone minds their own here. They all keep to themselves. That’s what Kevin, the park manager, had said when I put down my cash for the trailer. It’s safe and it’s quiet and we don’t truck with no nonsense.
Safe, quiet, and no nonsense made this little scrap of swamp a perfect place to end my week of helter-skelter traveling. Doubling back, buying a ticket west only to go east. Buses. Trains.
Out in front of my trailer, there was a used car—a POS Toyota with bad brakes and a broken radio. I bought it in Virginia, from a high school football player with dreams the crappy car could not hold, and drove north before heading south again.
But I had to stop somewhere. I couldn’t drive forever.
So, seven days, hundreds of miles to here. To this place that didn’t even show up on a state map of North Carolina.
“Home sweet home,” I sighed, putting my hands on my hips and surveying my new kingdom.
Kevin called it a trailer, but really it was an old RV that had rolled to a stop at the Flowered Manor Trailer Park and Camp Ground and refused to keep going. Someone had taken off the wheels and put the RV up on blocks and maybe that same someone had carefully, lovingly planted the morning glory vines to hide those cement blocks.
The flowers were a nice touch, admirable really in their delusional quality, but didn’t much hide the fact that it was an RV.
A crappy one. In a crappy trailer park so off the beaten path it was practically impossible to find.
Perfect. So, so perfect.
My deep breath shuddered through me and I allowed some of the fear I lived with to lift away, like crows startled from a winter field. Usually I gathered the fear back because fear kept me safe.
Fear was familiar.
But in this crazy little trailer, there was no need.
We don’t truck with no nonsense.
Good, I thought, smiling for the first time in a long time. Bravado making me giddy. Neither do I.
I also didn’t truck with the smell of this place.
It was two steps from the kitchen to the dining area and I leaned over the Formica table and beige banquette seating to pull back the curtains and yank open the windows. A fetid breeze blew through, slipping across my neck and down the collar of my white cotton shirt.
I closed my eyes because I was tired down to my bones and…it felt good. The breeze, on my skin…it just felt good. Different.
And these days I was in the business of different.
My entire life I’d had long hair against my neck or pulled back in a ponytail so heavy it made my head hurt. My hair was naturally red and curly and thick. So thick.
Mom used to say it was the prettiest thing about me. Which is one of those kinds of compliments that isn’t really a compliment at all, because it leaves so much room for awful to grow up around it. But it was the nicest thing she said about me, so I took it to heart, because she was my mom.
Chopping it off had been a weird relief. Not just from headaches and the heat, but this new butchered hair allowed me to feel the breeze like I never had before. The sun against the nape of my neck was a revelation.
When the wind blew, my short hair lifted and the feeling rippled down my back, like a domino fall of nerve endings.
I liked it. A lot.
The quiet was broken by the distant, muffled sound of a phone ringing.
It wasn’t mine. I’d left my cell in the bottom of a trash can in the Tulsa bus station. The other trailers were close, but not so close that I’d be able to hear a cell phone ringing in a purse. And that’s what it sounded like.
The counters of my small kitchen were empty. The driver and front-seat-passenger captain seats that had been turned to create a little sitting area were both bare.
There were no purses left forgotten by the previous tenant.
I glanced down at the fabric of the bench seats that made up the banquettes.
Am I really thinking about putting my hand in there? It looked clean enough, for all its shabbiness, but still…disgusting things fell between seat cushions. It was a fact.
The phone rang again and with it the instinct to answer a ringing phone kicked in, and I shoved my hand down into the crease between the top and bottom cushions and then wedged it along sideways, running into nothing, not even cracker crumbs or the odd toy car, until I hit the plastic case of a phone. I pulled it out and glanced at its face.