It was dark outside as I walked confidently down the unfamiliar passage splayed before me. Steam rose is wisps of curling white vapor from the wet pavement, the click of my stiletto heals echoed through the blackness. It was warm yet there were goosebumps on my pale, ivory skin, my breaths came to me in shallow, shuddering gasps. I felt uneasy as though someone might be watching me from afar.
A flash of white light disturbed the dark ally way before me and I stumbled to the ground in my temporary blindness. The scene had changed, the uneasy feeling I had sensed before was replaced with terror as I heard the scuff of footsteps growing closer. I tried to scream as a faceless shadow appeared over my defenseless body, but the noise would not come. A bone chilling laugh rang out wickedly from the nameless fear that stood over my hunched figure and I recoiled from the horrifying sound.
Then the pain started. It was like a hundred white hot knives were plunging into my flesh, burning and receding, leaving behind a numb coldness were the wound should have been. I was on my knees, my face inches from the pavement as my fingers clawed the sides of my scalp in agony, my eyes snapped shut in an effort to escape from the pain. I felt my whole body convulse and go cold as the knives continued their attack, my skin felt like ice under my clutching fingers. The dark creature's humor grew louder, but there was another strange noise that plagued this once silent night and interrupted his sinister pleasure. A sizzling, the faint, but resolute sound that graces one's ears when bacon meets the frying pan.
I ignored it, my senses were overloaded, the pain that was coursing through my body brought moisture to my eyes. The swell of salty tears flowed from beneath my closed lids and still the laughter continued. I waited for the tears to glide down my cheeks, to bring the temporary relief of the warm liquid streaming down my icy cold face, but the relief never came. The sizzling intensified and I felt the salt harden on the side of my cheek as the water that had encased it evaporated into the air. I inhaled the vapor as I took a deep shuddering gasp to fill my aching lungs. I exhaled and the pain was gone, a rush of wind drowned out any sound and the world was silent.
I opened my eyes and everything around me was red. I was surrounded in deep, crimson flames that danced about me in a never ending circle of color. They licked at my face and my hands, but I neither burned nor blistered. They were as gentle and warm as a slight summer breeze. The figure that had been laughing above me was now deadly quiet as flames consumed my tiny frame. An evil grin spread across his unseen face and he lunged forward...
I sat up abruptly, my eyes wide in terror. My gasping breaths broke through the silence of my plain, expensive looking bedroom as I wiped the cold sweat from my brow. That dream had been so vivid, most of my dreams were pointless, unorganized thoughts, but this one had felt so real...I turned to switch on a light and felt the sheets stir beside me.
Oh crap I woke him up!
The man I called my husband spoke without facing me, his voice was irritated and cold, "Meiling, what is the matter?"
I glanced down at my hands and spoke in a voice barely above a whisper, "I-I'm sorry to wake you Jiang, it was just a dream."
He sat up in bed and eyed me warily, "You need your rest, dreams cannot hurt you."
"Yes I know," I said feigning a small smile, but not meeting his eyes, "I'll get a glass of water and then go back to sleep."
I started to get up but his firm, unwelcome hand grasped my shoulder and held me down, "I'll get it," he said sternly. It was not a helpful gesture, but a command that I stay where I was.
I nodded obediently and he disappeared out of the room. I felt the angry tears pool in my eyes as I watched my husband's severe and demanding figure sweep imperialistically from the room. I hated him. I hated the way he made me feel two feet tall, and how he made me flinch with every degrading command. I hated everything about him; his cold, uncaring eyes, his formal and distant tone, his rough, greedy hands...
Wetness streamed down my cheeks as I reminded myself that this was the man I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with. I was eighteen and miserable, a prisoner in my own home, a prisoner to my own husband. This was not the way my life should be, I should be in college with my friends living in a dorm room with a roommate. But instead of a college campus, I was being held hostage in my own extravagant estate.
Like most things in my life, matrimony had not been my decision. My parents had lived in China before moving to the United States and they had always held fast to the "old ways". So my marriage was an arranged one, the first time I saw my husband was when I was walking down the aisle towards the end of my freedom. I was only sixteen and Jiang was twenty, gross I know, but at the time I believed I didn't have any say in the matter. Had I known then what my life would be like now, I would have run out of the room screaming and caught the next flight to Mexico, wedding dress and all.
"Here you are love," he said and handed me the tall, frosted glass of water. I smiled slightly and took a tentative sip while he watched. The ice cold water burned my throat, but I welcomed it gratefully.
Once he was satisfied that I had been taken care of he took the glass and set it on the nightstand, making sure I was prevented from doing anything myself. I wasn't surprised; I was rarely allowed to do anything, my schedule revolved around his decisions, my limited freedom depended on his generosity. I was his prize, his most precious possession, but that was all I would ever be~a possession.
He settled himself back down beside me and was silent. I lay my head against my pillow and pulled the egyptian cotton sheets up to my chest. Defiantly I picked up the glass of water and then set it back down. Pathetic, I thought to myself and closed my eyes wishing that I could sleep the next seventy years of my life away.
I awoke the next morning to an empty room, Jiang was already at his work. I did not remember what he did~we didn't speak often enough for me to take interest in his occupation~but he obviously made a lot of money seeing as our property taxes probably cost more than most people's houses. Not that I cared how wealthy we were, I had learned only too well that money could not buy you happiness.
I pushed the warm sheets to the end of the bed and grabbed the pile of clothes my husband set out for me to wear that day. A maroon turtle neck sweater and a floor length floral skirt. I sighed and brushed my long, waist length black hair, it fell pin straight down my back and ended in a soft curl. I had no makeup and very limited accessories so my morning ritual did not take long to complete. The only jewelry I ever wore was my enormous diamond engagement ring, my wedding band, and the delicate ruby necklace my mother had given me as a child. This necklace was my most prized possession. The small, flattened silver circle shone brightly on my neck despite its old age and the oval cut ruby was a deep and brilliant red.
I brushed my teeth, made the bed to perfection and walked down the intricate winding staircase to the kitchen sporting my overly conservative garments. I took an apple from the fridge and looked around the room for some sign of what I should do on this mundane and monotonous day. My eyes fell on the small pile of mail that Jiang must have brought in before he left, there was one unopened letter that caught my eye.
I turned it over to see the mailing address and was shocked to find that it was for me. I never got any mail, everything was in Jiang's name; our insurance, our credit cards, even the cable bill. I opened the small white envelope with an excitement that I hadn't felt in a long time; my fingers were nearly shaking with giddiness as I removed the folded note from its case and opened it. My eyes searched the small, messy handwriting on the invitation hungrily, it was from my High School friend Lee, she had invited my husband and I to a charity dinner at the hospital where her father worked.
I dropped the paper and squealed with joy as I reached for the phone. It was probably a little insane to be this excited about an invitation to a stupid dinner, but I was quite literally a desperate house wife. I punched the speed dial that read "work" and tapped my foot anxiously as it rang, on the third ring Jiang's voice spoke formally into the receiver.
"Good morning, Jiang Chen"
"Jiang?" I asked hesitantly into the plastic handheld, I had to approach this carefully or he would never concede to going.
"Meiling? Why are you calling me at work," he said sternly, "I am not supposed to take personal calls at the office."
"I just needed to ask you something important," I said biting my knuckles in nervous fear.
He sighed as though I was putting him under some huge inconvenience, "Very well, what is it?"
I fought to control my voice in my delight, "Well my old friend Lee has very kindly invited us to a charity dinner at the hospital where her father works~he's a surgeon you know~and I thought it would be terribly rude to not go... Did I mention he's a surgeon? One of the best in the state from what Lee tells me."
I thought it was a good idea to mention Lee's father's social status, Jiang liked to surround himself with what he called the "Elite" and I'm sure surgeon's were on that list. I returned to biting my already abused knuckles while I waited for his response. It always took him an exceptionally long time to come to any decision as though his choice would determine the fate of the world...
"No," he finally concluded. My face dropped in disappointment.
"Jiang, please I haven't seen Lee in nearly two years... It would mean a lot to me," I begged, something which I did not often do.
"My answer is no Meiling, I forbid it!" and with that I heard the line disconnect. I dropped the handheld onto the counter not even bothering to switch it off. My brief chance at happiness fluttered out the window and an anger burned in the base of my chest from deep within me.
I picked up the invitation and crumpled it beneath my fingers, I felt a sharp pain in my hand and it grew cold and numb, but I didn't care. The paper began to curl within my fist and I dropped it into the garbage, barely noticing as it lay smoking in the trash bin. This was the last straw, I could not live like this, I had been pushed too far.
"I'm outta here!" I called to the empty kitchen.
I rushed upstairs and threw anything I could find into a black duffle bag; sneakers, underwear, jackets, a brush. I flung open the closet door and found the safe that was hidden beneath a pile of old clothing, pushing them aside I opened the lock. Inside I found five thousand dollars in cash and my passport, they all vanished into my bag. My last deed I did out of common courtesy. After living with a man for two years the least you can do is give him an explanation for why you're leaving right?
I rummaged through his desk and found a stationary set and a pen, I hesitated for a moment and then wrote the first things that came to mind:
I'm sorry but I am leaving you.
The past two years have been the worst
of my life and I'v finally had enough.
Don't come looking for me.
No longer yours, Meiling
I set the letter delicately on his pillow and and hurried down the stairs towards the garage.
I opened the door and there it was~my baby. The shiny, black Honda Civic that my mother and father had gotten me for my sixteenth birthday. It was practically new, I had barely been able to persuade Jiang to allow me to get a license and my driving time was usually limited to grocery store runs and trips to the dry cleaners. I took the keys off the hook and stroked my car lovingly, the black paint sparkled beneath my fingers practically begging me to release it from this dark, musty prison. Don't worry we're getting the hell outta this place, I cooed in my head as I made my way towards the handle. I had never been more happy to see the flash of the head lights as I hit the unlock button.
Ah my gateway to freedom.
I climbed in the front seat, tossed the bag in the back and started the engine, it purred to life and I hit the garage door opener. My foot tapped impatiently on the gas pedal as the stupid door took its own sweet time opening, was it usually this slow? Once it was open just enough for my car to fit through, I floored it backwards, turning the wheel so sharply I actually heard the tires squeal in protest. I laughed at the pure enjoyment of the sound, putting the car into drive before it had even completely stopped. My foot hit the floor as I stepped on the gas, peeling out into traffic without a second glance at the house that had been my home for almost two years. 150 Goodman way? More like good riddance and out of my way...