NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP…
Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.
- G. K. Chesterton
I only had a few patients to see this morning, and I was looking forward to spending the rest of the day working in my garden. I always took Old Creek Highway into town, even though it added an extra ten minutes to my journey. The fields on both sides of the road, abundant with wildflowers in all colors of the rainbow and inviting shade trees looming protectively over waif-like brooks make the trip almost dream-like. That is, until I see her.
Several times I considered asking her why she was there. It couldn’t have been to retrieve something she had lost since she never crossed the rail into the woods. I doubted she would wait there for someone, standing right next to the highway like that. I couldn’t figure it out. I never did pull over though and approach her. She was a lost soul; the whole town knew. After her mother ran off, being raised by her alcoholic, registered sex-offender daddy couldn’t possibly do much for her self-esteem.
As I passed her this morning, I wondered if the black eyes she had a few days ago were fading. Whenever I saw the bruises, cuts and overall malaise, I wanted to contact family services and confront the son-of-a-bitch who sired her. Being familiar with the staff over at the county offices, I knew that would have been a losing proposition. Nothing was ever treated as confidential, and fingers would have been shaken at Burt Josler and he would have been told ‘no, no’, and that would have ended their involvement in her case. It wouldn’t have ended there for Serena however. She may not have survived that kind of intervention.
Come to think about it, there was something different about her today. Now, what could it… Oh, now I realize what it was. She was dressed warmly, but still carrying a jacket, and had that big purple bag of hers over her shoulder, and it looked filled to overflowing. She didn’t have her thumb out to pick up a ride, and no buses ran through this area of the county. She was just staring--as always--but, at what? Somehow I knew I’d never get the chance to ask her.
* * * * * * * * * *
It’s been a week and a half now since I last saw Serena. Lots of folks around town thought it odd that her daddy never spoke of her anymore. Not me, though, because I knew him for the monster he was. And besides, after pulling over by the rail where she stood, when I looked over, I had found the half-buried shoe box. I’m no Dr. ‘G’ from the television, but I did graduate from medical school. I know a dead fetus when I see one. My guess would be around ten weeks--give or take a lifetime. The brand new teddy bear in the box told me Serena had planned to keep it. As if a little one stood a chance in Hell of making it in that household…
* * * * * * * * * *
Burt drank himself to death awhile back. Henry from Dunnings Funeral Home put on a nice service, although no one from town showed up. I stopped in for a minute for some coffee and a sweet roll and to sign the register. Mine was the only signature. Interesting how some people leave no empty space when they pass on. Even though I believed his existence was the good Lord’s only mistake, I attended the service since the sweet rolls were fresh from the bakery that morning and Dunnings got their coffee from Lara’s Diner. Lara’s coffee packed just the punch I needed to get me through the day.
It’s funny how, as time passes, it’s almost as if those who have gone away never existed. I still think about her though, every time I pass her spot on the highway. I picture her older, perhaps married with a couple of kids, living in a tidy split-level, with an in-ground pool and a vegetable garden in the backyard. In my heart, I know my vision’s just a fantasy, but still I hope there’s a tiny little corner of this world where Serena found a moment’s peace. And a chance.