Sequence: The Heron’s Foot (part two)
The West Market Café served weak coffee with its blue plate special. This, chops, peas, and fried potatoes. Feeling herself foreign to the neighborhood, Freda ate and drank, and kept a fixated gaze on her own hands. She mused. Mr. Bruner, she’d begun to feel certain, had come to the courtroom to see her sentenced. His work clothes, even viewed dimly among the spectators standing at the back, distinguished him, and in retrospect, she knew he’d been there.
The judge had suspended her fine because she’d promised, with Phillip by her side, that she would work to save her marriage. Well. Between the two of them, they’d known this to be a convenient lie. And then…because it genuinely was his ambition, Phillip adopted the sartorial affectations and exuded the self-regard of an underworld figure. Freda widened her eyes. Mr. Bruner had a short and direct manner. His description of events had made an impression on Mrs. Bruner.
There was more. She’d visited friends in hospital, and had never before seen anything remarkable in the way the staff went about their business. Today, it seemed to her, that from the point of her arrival, everyone had given signs of this phenomenon, this unnatural watchfulness, as though cued by her presence to brace themselves for the taking on of some important role.
Of course, at the beginning was a blank, a hole that was the axle of a wheel, each incident following the attack having moved Freda ahead on this strange path, while the center remained an enigma. She ought to look more closely.
The first patrolman, the one who’d spotted the bottle, had listened in monolithic silence and answered nothing, when she’d insisted on the two men, and the chloroform. The detectives who’d questioned her had done the same. The man who wore a suit had asked Freda, “What if one of your neighbors said they’d heard you and your…I’ll say, roommate, fighting?”
“I would suppose she’d heard someone else, then. Because Martin and I don’t fight.”
Their nearest neighbor was a wan, bleached blond, with deep lines around her mouth, though she was not so many years older than Freda. Her picture had come directly to Freda’s mind. And she’d understood, as the interview continued, that she was making mistakes.
The Eastland Women’s Home—not a residence, but an institute of gentle incarceration for female alcoholics—resembled its neighbor on Front Street. It was a mansion of dull, brown brick, substantially a square; but the nineteenth century architect had attached towers at two corners, and decorated its face with a wraparound porch, trimmed in budget-conscious tin fretwork. This house had a sign, swinging between two posts; and beside the entry, a smaller sign―a discreet bronze plaque―screwed into the mortar. Neither gave hours, nor any other particular guidance to the visitor.
The Heron’s Foot
(2019, Stephanie Foster)