I want to be home, where no one can enter my skin. I step on the asphalt to warm my soles, but now I am exposed. Turn to look for headlights, imagine car tires crunching over my toes and feel the cracks and breaks through my whole body. Back to the grass, which itches with midnight dew. I look back again. He probably hasn’t noticed yet, but any minute now. I should really stick to the ditch, but it’s muddy down there and probably full of snakes. The porch light, my destination, buzzes in the distance. I wonder if they’re home. I wonder if they’re lunatics. I wonder if this is going to turn into a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-type situation. I wonder if they’re kindly old people. I wonder if they’re asleep. I wonder what I must look like. Summer dress. Feet covered with mud and wet grass. Streams of black sadness down my face like the cover of a Courtney Love album. I’m not some sad, fragile little thing. I’m not your victim. I can take care of myself, if I can just get away unseen.
I look back and see the headlights creeping now, far behind me. That’s got to be him, there’s nobody else out here for miles. That was what we’d liked about it. Hidden away. A break from ourselves. A break from the demons that pursue us slowly and unrelentingly as horror movie monsters. I slide down into the ditch and lie flat on my belly. The grass feels like a thousand bugs entering my skin. I laugh at how stupid this is. How did I even get here, face-down in a fucking ditch, in the middle of nowhere? I want to be home, quiet and safe. Home, taking a bath and emerging all clean and whole and demon-free. Above, the car creeps slowly by. The cold, sticky wet is seeping into my dress. Mosquitoes whine in my ears, their needles pricking my neck. I see the beam of a flashlight shine up and down. I hold my breath and close my eyes. I want to evaporate into the air like mist. I want no one to mourn or remember me, just let me disappear.
The car keeps going and I stand upright. I step faster through the shadows. The ground is uneven down here, all mud and soft-topped mole tunnels, and I imagine my ankles twisting and snapping. How long would I lie here like a fox in a trap until someone pounced? How long would it take me to crawl on hands and knees to the house with the porch light? I stop for a moment to breathe in the lush darkness. When it is this dark, there are so many stars.
The porch light gets closer, and hot blood floods me. Out in the open, clear as day, the porch light is both salvation and threat. Kamikaze moths tick-tick against the bulb. The porch is screened-in, and I can almost taste the crackly peels of paint hanging from its ramshackle walls. I sprint across the yard and open the creaky screen door. I throw myself inside and collapse on the astro-turf next to a dusty wicker chair. I lie there for a few seconds, breathing slow breaths. The plasticky green bristle sticks in my knees and hands. The house’s interior door opens. There is a kind-faced old woman in a long, white nightgown thick as sponge cake. Hallelujah.
“What are you doing?” she says, looking me up and down. She looks unsure about me, and then I see the butcher knife at her side.
I open my mouth to explain, and the screen door creaks behind me. The stony eyes of my boyfriend emerge. My insides collapse.
“What in the hell is going on here?” the woman says.
No one speaks.
The woman looks at my boyfriend, then at me, and decides that he looks like the one she should be talking to. “Is this girl with you?” she says.
I know I can’t say it out loud now, but I stare at her face, pleading. Don’t make me go with him. Let me use your phone. I’ll call someone to pick me up. Look, I’ll wait by the porch light. You can watch me the whole time.
“Yes,” my boyfriend says, performing a sigh. “She’s with me. I’m so sorry we bothered you ma’am.”
The woman gives him an incredulous glare. “Well,” she says, “tell your girlfriend she can’t just go trespassing on other people’s porches.”
“I will tell her that,” he says. His fingers grip my arm, yanking me toward the headlights.