Hannah has a ticket in her hand and two choices: husband's abuse or mama's grudge.
| The thin red second hand made its way round and round the smoke-yellowed clock hanging high on the brick wall. The cream of the crop of Seattle’s homeless and otherwise down-and-out population gathered here in the King Street Station, occupying many a hard plastic chair, reading copies of the latest free newspaper or simply staring at the dirty floor that, in some distant decade, may have been white. A blank-eyed man wearing a torn grey parka – it looked like it was blue at one time – stared at the clock through a stringy mess of matted, greasy grey hair. His lips moved silently as he stared, but no words emerged. He scratched his scraggly, disheveled beard with a dirty hand.|
That could be you, Hannah thought, fear welling up in her stomach. If Mama doesn’t take you back, you could end up like him. Maybe it'd be better to just go home to Greg. For the thousandth time that hour, she weighed the pros and cons of her decision, fighting the conflicting urges to run out of the station and to sit here and wait for the train.
She knew Greg would never change. Staying with him meant the possibility of another humiliating day explaining to her co-workers why she was wearing sunglasses indoors. She knew they didn’t believe her when she said she had a migraine, but didn’t want to miss any work. The pity in their eyes filled her with shame; she knew they could see the angry black and blue shadow creeping around the frames of her cheap shades. They knew. She knew they knew. She prayed every time that one of them would have the guts to say something, to tell the boss, the police, someone. She certainly never would. And they never did. As long as there was alcohol, and as long as she stayed with him, that humiliation would continue.
Any other woman would have long since run home at that point, she told herself. No woman would tolerate that for so long, but he repeatedly told her that no other man would ever take her, that he was the best she could ever do.
With her body beaten and her dignity in shreds, she could finally take no more. Even now, her heart shivered with fear. The ticket in her hand promised her a one-way trip to San Francisco, and there awaited the other, equally disconcerting option:
She assumed Mama still lived in San Francisco. She had had the little house just outside the city for decades, and Hannah hoped and prayed that she still had it. Even if Mama still owned it, still lived in it, that did not necessarily guarantee that Hannah would ever lay her head in it again. It didn’t guarantee she’d even see the inside of it again.
Hannah hadn’t been home in fifteen years. She hadn’t spoken to Mama for at least twelve, and even then it wasn’t pleasant. Mama was the stubborn type, and admittedly, so was Hannah. Neither was quick to back down, and they both held grudges. She envisioned Mama’s face, tried to picture her a decade and a half older. She saw the deep crevasse of disapproval that undoubtedly appeared in Mama’s forehead whenever Hannah’s name was mentioned.
It was your own damn fault, she reminded herself. You knew she would hate you for it. You knew she’d never forgive you. Beneath her sunglasses, her blue eyes stung with tears at the inevitable thought of her mother turning her away. Once again she found herself at a crossroads, uncertain whether to run to her angry mother or her abusive husband.
You know Greg will beat the shit out of you, she told herself. There’s a chance Mama might let you in. She clutched the ticket tightly in her hand. But would she let her in? Would she forgive her? Was fifteen years really enough?
“I raised you better than that, Hannah,” her mother’s cold words reverberated through her head. “I raised you better than to get into this situation in the first place, but I could have lived with you giving it up, or raising your bastard child under my roof.” Hannah remembered lying there in the hospital bed, her body weak from the massive hemorrhage that had nearly cost her life and had blown her secret wide open. She listened silently as Mama berated her over the beeps and blips of the hospital equipment all around her. “But to murder your own child? Haven’t you paid attention once in church? Didn’t you read the Bible?”
“Mama, I’m sorry!” Hannah replied weakly. “I was scared, I didn’t know what to do. Please, forgive me!”
“You may ask forgiveness of the Lord, child,” Mama hissed. “But not of me. Not for the murder of my grandchild, bastard or otherwise.” Without another word, Mama left her sobbing daughter alone in the cold, sterile whiteness of the hospital room, alone with her guilt.
The hemorrhage from her botched abortion nearly killed her, but she recovered. After her release from the hospital days later, she sneaked into Mama and Daddy’s house, took a few prized belongings, and slipped into the night. For fifteen years, guilt plagued her.
As the last conversation with Mama played over and over in her mind, Hannah tried to recall the exact moment that Mama had banished her, told her never to come home again. But the more she thought about it, thinking heavily about it for the first time ever, she realized Mama had never told her to leave forever. She had been angry, had said she could not forgive Hannah, but never told her to leave. She wondered if the whole thing had been her own guilt banishing her from Mama.
The train began boarding.
The ticket was moist with sweat from her hand as she clutched it tightly. It was now or never. Back to Greg and working behind sunglasses, or to Mama in the hopes that losing her daughter for fifteen years was enough to warrant a warm homecoming.
Hannah took a breath. She slowly crumpled the ticket and walked towards a wastebasket. She walked past the blank-eyed man, paused as she heard him muttering to himself, to his demons, to his past, to the wall.
That could be you, she reminded herself.
She flattened out the ticket, turned away from the trash, and slowly walked to the train. She handed her ticket to the man with the Amtrak uniform.
Hannah boarded the train, and went home.