Kind Gestures by S. Webster
Marty’s Diner – 5 pm
The clock over Kitty’s head shows two minutes after five when Beth enters the diner. She is carrying the shopping bag from Veronica’s Boutique. Margaret is sitting in a corner booth, head bent over her book and hand holding her coffee mid-way between table and lips. She doesn’t look up. Sue Putnam sits alone at a table near the door sipping sweet tea, glances up and smiles. Beth hears Veronica telling Terry that in this heat take-out was a good idea as they follow her through the door. She waves them ahead of her in line and slips into the rest room.
Once behind the closed door Beth is tempted to pray but doesn’t. She will pray later, afterwards. She places the shopping bag on the toilet seat and slips out of her clothes – .all of them. Carefully she takes out the negligee and puts it on. She places her underwear in the box before placing it back in the bag under the tissue. Next she pulls her skirt over her hips tucking the lace hem of the negligee inside. Then she pulls her blouse back over her head and reaches for the door.
Tony calls out her name and holds the salad up. Beth hands him the correct amount and puts the now boxed and bagged salad over the crushed tissue inside the bag from Veronica’s. She puts the bag on the floor and takes a deep breath as she slowly pulls her shirt over her head and pushes the skirt down around her ankles.
Margaret hears a collective gasp and looks up. “Holy Shit”, she whispers to herself and eases the book closed. What in the world!
Still holding her breath Sue leans her seat toward the door and quietly flips the sign to closed and locks it. Tony stares, mouth and cash register staying open. Kitty falls onto a stool at the counter. Veronica and Terry are barely breathing as they look at Beth’s body. No one moves and no one speaks. All of them are looking at the bruises and scratches from knees to breasts.
Beth turns slowly for them and begins,
‘This morning God told me I have suffered enough and with his blessing I am leaving.”
Picking her clothes up from the floor, she continues.
“Our boys are with their grandparents. I have mailed a letter to their school today asking that they watch out for them. Another letter has been sent to someone here in town who I feel I can trust to know where I am going. It is not my mother, who has always felt that I deserved this in some way.”
“Does anyone deserve this?” Beth asks as she turns once more and raises her arms.
They do not know what to say. Veronica reaches out for a chair to ease into. Terry is the first to move toward Beth. She takes the blouse from Beth and drops it over her head gently guiding her hands through the sleeves one at a time. Slowly Beth steps into her skirt and pulls it into place. With tears welling up in her eyes Terry reaches out to hold her. Beth has no tears and whispers in Terry’s ear, “Be careful, he is going to be very angry.”
She bends to collect her bag and walks toward the door.
Sue unlocks it and steps aside unable to look up.
With her hand on the knob Beth turns and looks from one to the other and says, “I am sorry.”
She walks out into the heat of August closing the door quietly behind her.
Sue moves toward the window to watch Beth get into her car and then looks back to where her battered body stood. Beth’s words hang in the air.
Tony is the first to speak, “Dad! You are not going to believe this.”
Kitty cannot look at anyone so she picks up the dish cloth and begins wiping the counter again.
Veronica eases herself off the chair and says to no one in particular, “I want to go home.”
Terry feels sick as she fumbles for her car keys. Margaret returns to her coffee and book trying to block out what she just saw.
Sue is still staring out the window watching Beth drive away. She is stunned by how much there must be hidden in this town she has come to love.