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The memory keeper, p.32
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       The Memory Keeper, p.32

           Lisa Stowe

  Chapter 32

  The night had turned frigid and clear, with a moon so bright it washed out the headlights of passing cars on the highway above Wallace. Cody walked with her hands up the sleeves of her jacket. She was shivering, her cheeks ached with cold, and her nose was running. It was early evening, but places were closing up and there was little traffic. The hotel was brightly lit though.

  Cody walked through the entrance and into the warm lobby. She’d half expected to see her mother still sitting there, but the chairs were empty. So instead she approached the desk.

  “Can you tell me if May Marsh is still here?”

  The desk clerk plunked away on computer keys. “Yes, she decided to keep her room another night. Shall I ring her for you?”

  “No, I know the room.”

  The elevator took her up, and within moments she was knocking on the door and facing her mother with an odd sense of emptiness, as if her emotions had been dropped in the street somewhere along the route here.

  May wore her housecoat, a kind of light weight robe she had worn for years. It was getting frayed and faded, but she always said it was too comfortable to replace. She sat back down in an armchair, propped her swollen feet on the bed, and muted the television show she’d been watching. The remains of her dinner piled the table next to her, and she poked at the peel of a baked potato with the fork.

  “You didn’t come back,” she said.

  “I told you I wasn’t going to,” Cody responded, and sat down on the edge of the bed. “You didn’t take the bus home.”

  “Of course not. I knew you’d realize your mistake and come get me.”

  “I want to ask you something mom." Cody picked at the bedspread.

  “Yes? Those so-called friends have shown their true colors haven’t they? How many times have I warned you-”

  “Stop it mom,” Cody said. “Just…stop. You’ve made it clear over the years that you think I’m worthless. So why didn’t you adopt me out? Just get rid of me?”

  “What’s gotten in to you? What are you talking about?" May dropped her fork on the plate.

  “Answer the question. You think I’m stupid, you tell me I’m ugly, you make it clear I’m unlovable. You’ve had years of telling me over and over what a burden I was to bring up on your own. So why do it? Why the hell didn’t you just abort me?”

  May’s triple chins quivered, and she put a hand over her heart. “Why are you talking like this? How could you ask me something like that? Hand me those tissues.”

  Cody looked at the box of tissue on the bedside table, within May’s reach if she sat upright. Cody would have to stand and take a few steps to pick the box up. She shook her head.

  “Why am I talking to you like this?” she repeated. “Why have you talked to me the way you’ve done my whole life?”

  May stretched, wheezing, for the tissue box and pulled one out, dabbing the corners of her eyes.

  “By the time your father left us you were almost five. A little old to abort, Cody.”

  The words were like a sharp pain slicing into Cody’s chest. She couldn’t breathe and hunched over, gripping her hands between her knees.

  “But I would never have done something like that anyway,” May continued. “And why would I adopt you out? You’re my daughter.”

  “But you act like you hate me.”

  “Of course I don’t hate you. I’ve raised you the best I know how, to prepare you for the world. You think I’ve been cruel? What do you think the world will do? You think anyone out there will be kind to you? You think anyone will be loyal or do what they promise? No!" May was breathing heavier and sat up straighter.

  “What are you saying?”

  “I’m saying quit feeling sorry for yourself and thank me for making you strong! All I’ve done is show you what life is really like. You can’t trust anyone. The only way you’ll be safe from hurt is if I take care of you. Just the two of us, the way it’s always been.”

  Cody couldn’t stop the tears. She was being flooded, and the flow was washing out years and unspoken words and misunderstood love. “This is about dad, isn’t it?”

  “Your father left us,” May said harshly. “Left us. With nothing. He said he loved us. But for all he knew we starved to death. He never came back. He left me.”

  “And what? Did you think I was going to leave you, too? Is that why you brainwashed me into thinking no one else would want me? So I’d stay with you?”

  “No!" May struggled to her feet. “No! I’ve tried to keep you safe! So you wouldn’t have to go through the same thing!" She clutched her chest.

  “I don’t believe you. I think you were afraid to be alone. And you kept me with you by convincing me I was worthless. But I’m not." Cody stood and walked to the door, barely able to see the handle through the tears.

  “Where are you going?" May was sweating now, something like fear in her eyes.

  “I don’t know,” Cody said. “But I’m going alone, wherever it is. No family.”

  “You’re leaving?" May’s voice rose. “I always knew you’d turn out just like that worthless father of yours!”

  Cody walked out without bothering to shut the door, without even being aware of leaving the room. She found herself in the elevator; she found herself in the cold. She walked down the street, letting pools of light from the streetlamps swallow her up and spit her out into darkness. She followed that darkness because in it she couldn’t see her reflection in windows, because in it she disappeared.

  She was passing the gas station, headed for her only connection to Charles, when headlights swept across her, blinding her. She heard the engine cut out and the slam of a door as she rounded the station, taking the now familiar route.

  “Cody." Matt caught her arm. “I’ve been looking for you.”

  She had no words to answer him, but he wouldn’t let go of her.

  “It’s too dark, and getting too cold, for you to hike up there. I get that you don’t want to talk to me, but at least let me take you back to Rachel’s.”

  Cody watched the shadowed dance of tree branches pushed by a frigid breeze creeping slowly through the woods. “It’s not you, Matt,” she finally said. “It’s me. Lost, overwhelmed, sad, I don’t know what I’m feeling except for the anger. That’s pretty clear. And I think I’m as mad at myself as I am at my mother.”

  “So be angry,” Matt said, tugging on her coat sleeve. “But how about you do it inside the truck where it’s warm?”

  She let him lead her back to his truck, and wordlessly sank into the seat, lifting her face to the heat blowing from the vents. She shivered, and her teeth chattered as if speaking the words she couldn’t give voice to.

  “Here,” Matt said, getting in and gesturing to a cup holder. “I got you hot chocolate. Figured you’d be half frozen.”

  “I think I understand my mom,” Cody said, accepting the warm cardboard cup. She sipped at the sweetness and felt heat seep down to her stomach.

  “Okay,” Matt said, “Is that a good thing?”

  Cody shrugged. “She looks at me and sees my father. She thinks I’m going to leave her like he did.”

  “If you’re smart you will,” Matt said. “You want me to take you to see Jess, or to Florence’s?”

  “Florence’s,” Cody said, feeling as drained as her hot chocolate cup.

  “Look,” Matt said after a few moments of silence. “I’m sorry I dumped the stuff about Keith on you. I should have figured you’d be upset by it. I was just thinking it meant you’d have relatives, connections to your grandfather. I didn’t stop to think about the quality of those relatives.”

  “It’s okay,” Cody said automatically.

  “No, it’s not,” Matt said. “But at least we’re cleaning up part of this mess. Keith will face charges for what he’s done, and maybe we’ll finally be rid of him. And you won’t be a target anymore with T.J. locked up.”

  “I never thought I was,” Cody said.

  “I knew you were, I
just wasn’t sure who was aiming. At first I thought it was connected to Nate and Kelly, like I said earlier. If I’d been more aware of what was going on, I would have solved this long before you got punched in the jaw. So I’m sorry about that, too.”

  “Quit apologizing,” Cody said. “I’m finding that really annoying. I don’t think I’ll apologize for anything ever again.”

  “Well, then I’m sorry dinner didn’t work out, too.”

  “Knock it off.”

  “And I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to tell you I was sorry about…sorry, I lost my train of thought.”

  Cody shook her head and tried to hang onto the self-pity, but somehow a laugh worked its way out. She let it escape, and then sighed.

  “I think I’ve been clinging to my mom as much as I have to my grandfather, for different reasons. I don’t have anyone to blame but myself for staying with her as long as I have. And I think I’ve done that so when things go wrong I can point to her as the reason.”

  “What are you going to do about it?" Matt asked as they neared the pull off to Florence’s.

  “No idea,” Cody said. “I was thinking earlier I needed a place of my own, away from her.”

  “That’s a start. It gets old doing nothing but trying to keep family happy.”

  Cody shrugged, as if pushing away his words. “I need to figure out who I really am, not who mom tells me I am, and I don’t know how to do that.”

  “No one does, Cody. We’re all products of what people expect of us. I sure as hell wouldn’t be in law enforcement if I hadn’t been trying to please my family.”

  “So you’re saying there’s no way to be happy?”

  “We figure out how to find little spaces of happiness. We learn how to get by, how to be content with what we’ve got. We try to hang on to a few dreams, maybe hope for something more. But that’s about it.”

  “I don’t know if that’s sad or cynical,” Cody said as Matt parked. “Is that the dome light of my car on?”

  “No, I think it’s Rachel’s,” Matt said.

  Cody got out of the truck and walked around to the Jeep. The front passenger door hung open, and as she reached up to shut it, she glanced inside.

  “Wow. Rachel’s cleaned it.”

  “She’s early,” Matt said. “She usually only does that in the spring.”

  Cody shut the door and the dome light blinked off. She waited a second for her eyes to adjust to the moonlight, and then started for the steps. “Coming up?”

  “Yeah, I suppose I can for a minute. Maybe Florence will feed me.”

  “I’m not apologizing for you not getting dinner,” Cody said.

  “Maybe not, but you agreed to have a meal with me, so you still owe me.”

  Cody climbed the frosty stairs feeling light, as if she’d shed her mother’s pounds. Maybe she didn’t need family in order to be part of something. Maybe having a few friends would be enough.

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