This piece is the opening chapter of a book I started writing a couple of years ago. When I started graduate school for my MFA in Creative Writing, I decided to adapt the story into a screenplay. Though the story has changed somewhat, this scene is still one of my favorites, even though it’s a bit dark. I hope you enjoy it.
Like every autumn for the past thirty-seven years, Martha and George Cornett journeyed to the small town known for its street-lined rows of quaint rustic shops peddling creations from the colony of resident artists. In recent trips, the couple noticed a growing number of imported goods popping onto shop shelves, followed by more and more vacant buildings showing their wrinkled age as paint chipped from neglect and disinterest. First the wooden exterior of a closed fast-food restaurant began to deteriorate without the added protection of fresh paint and attention, and then the hottest and oldest eatery at the corner of the town’s only stoplight intersection. The town’s pride slowly blew away with each paint chip on the wind, bringing discourse and hatred from the locals and intermixing it with the arrogance of outsiders believing they knew better how natives should live their lives.
Each year, the Cornetts began their fall drive in the bustling metropolis with its rapidly advancing murder rate and journeyed to the village nestled between colorful hillsides. The Cornetts hoped to migrate here in their retirement years — perhaps they could experience the simpler, peaceful life. When all the trips came to an end and the final influx of tourists into the small burg thinned out, shopowners winterized their establishments, locked the doors, and went to Florida for the winter, not to return until the winter thaw.
Families that made their year-round homes in Peaceful Valley looked forward to the quiet months without massive lines of traffic reaching to the county line in three directions. They relished the time of year when they could get a parking space in front of the barbershop without circling the block a dozen times. In a town with only five north-south streets and six east-west, parking spots were a prime commodity for anyone needing to do business in the county seat.
Like most towns, Peaceful Valley had its hometown staples. The county courthouse stood regal in the center of town, the locals gathered at McDonalds for breakfast to catch up on gossip and politics, and the one-hundred-and-thirty-six-year-old newspaper protected public interests from governmental corruption and provided a forum of viewpoints and weekly record in a community attempting to survive where the trinity of natives, transplants, and tourists converged. The three gelled as easily as African-Americans and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizards, an organization that launched its Indiana presence about a half-hour north of the village. Because of the twisting, winding roads that cut through the hilly terrain, natives measured their day trips and jaunts on time, rather than distance.
The Cornetts had traveled an hour to spend the weekend here, but Martha wasn’t thinking of the quaint shops, the red, orange and yellow foliage, or even the trip home. Instead, she thought of her husband, lying on the pavement, bleeding from his nose and mouth as the biggest of the two men landed a fist hard against her cheekbone, causing both a solid thud and a crack, followed by blinding pain shooting through her nasal cavity and eye socket.
“No, please…” Martha uttered weakly, keeping her eyes on her husband, who now lay still in front of a closing storefront, nestled off the main street on a smaller, less traveled alleyway where businesses struggled to survive without sufficient traffic to generate enough income to pay the steep rent of greedy landlords. She didn’t brace herself for the next blow, but searched frantically through rapidly swelling eyes to spot the rise and fall of George’s chest, which would bear witness that they would be together long enough to celebrate their sixtieth anniversary next year. She had been with George since she was fifteen. Even with his habit of dropping his socks next to the hamper and chewing with his mouth open, Martha loved the man. He was a part of her. She searched, but couldn’t tell if air was moving through his lungs. He had stopped moving, and his breath no longer came in rasps through the mangled bones in his face. His right leg lay distorted at his side from the kicking and the stomping of the grown savages, who were now taking turns punching Martha near the scar from her hysterectomy twenty-two years ago. One slammed her head against the step where she had fallen.
The alley was abruptly dark as a clerk turned off lights that shone through the storefront. Martha heard a door slam nearby. Her mind screamed to the clerk who had just sold them three pounds of fudge, but Martha’s jaw wouldn’t work. Pain shot through her head with each attempt to move her mouth. She heard a car start and screech away.
She’ll get help, Martha thought. She’ll get help.
Martha looked back at George. He didn’t move, and the blood no longer flowed out of the side of his mouth to join a growing puddle on the worn, tarred pavement. He looked pale, a white-tinged blue hue. Martha closed her eyes and wept, the tears stinging cuts to her face and nose that split more with each impact of knuckled flesh or leather steel-toed boot. Fifty-nine years flashed quickly by, as she saw her youthful groom in military garb smiling at her from the altar; the tears that strayed down his cheek as he looked upon the face of their firstborn son; the anger when their daughter came home after curfew; the pride when his own son joined the military to follow in Dad’s shoes; the love as he handed her a diamond necklace just before they left home yesterday.
She couldn’t imagine life without George. As she opened her eyes again to see the man she had spent most of her life with, a flash caught her attention as the man towering over her launched a silver bat still fresh with George’s blood over his head, bringing it solidly against the side of Martha’s head.
© 2012 Linda B. Margison