She Can Help
Amanda Leanne October 31, 2017
Tara put the car into park and sat back in her seat. Staring at the ramshackle house, she lifted her phone and scrolled to the email. The address was correct, but the photos were quite different. On the advertisement, the house was gleaming white, with two large pecan trees butting up to either side. Stone pavers marched cleanly to the wooden steps that led to the wrap around porch. An old colonial, complete with handmade rocking chairs and functional wooden shutters. The reality was a bit different.
The sun was beginning to set and so it was still light out enough to see the weeds that choked the smooth river stones that once made a pristine path. The pecan trees were bare, drooping naked in the late fall. And although those changes could be attributed to the different seasons, the flaking paint and sun-bleached stairs, dangling shutters and boarded up windows, said a different story.
Even as her courage wavered, the memory of the yelling, the blows landing on her head and exposed back, the shattering of glass, echoed in her head. No insurance meant help wasn’t going to be cheap, or if it was, it wasn’t going to be traditional. The woman’s qualifications as a therapist had checked out. She had raving reviews on all the major online rating sites. None of them, though, had mentioned the creepy state of her “home office.”
She was here for therapy, recovery from severe abuse. Paranoia and caution had become her protective coat anytime she left her home. A few deep breaths and she turned off the car, pocketed the keys, and held her phone close as she exited the safety of her vehicle and made her way up the overgrown path. Her eyes darted to the dark windows, the tall grass, the lack of any sign of life. The chairs were gone save one, with a broken rocker and the wood cracked with age.
Several steadying breaths later, she knocked on the door, feeling the paint flakes crunch under her knuckles. Have the reviews been recent? If so, why had no one mentioned this woman’s home? Tara would have felt better if there had even been a simple “place looks scary, but the therapist, not so much!” She shook her head and knocked again. There was a rustling beyond the door and the gentle thumps of light-weight footfalls coming to the door. Tara composed her face, trying to look polite and not terrified, as the door squeaked open.
“You must be Tara, come in.”
Tara’s smile froze as she blinked in surprise.
The child lifted her hand, motioning Tara into the dark house. Faint light, either dim bulbs or actual candlelight, lit a vague path through the entry and to an open doorway on the right. Warmth seemed to come from the hidden room.
“Go on in and take a seat in the blue chair. I’ll be along shortly. Tea?”
“Uh, no thank you.”
“Water, perhaps? I know these chats can leave one quite parched. It’s not a problem. The tea is sweet, though, so fair warning on that.”
“Water would be fine.”
The girl couldn’t be more than nine or ten years old. She wore a light colored gown, floor length, with a ruffled square collar. Her footsteps were completely inaudible as she fluttered down the hall, making Tara look around for the person she had heard earlier. Perhaps it had been the therapist, already waiting in the other room.
Hesitating only a moment longer, Tara forced her feet to round the corner. The room was empty with the exception of two high-backed chairs, a small table, and the massive fireplace. Or so it seemed. The corners and edges were dark. It looked as if there was more lighting than what the fire provided. The mantle on the fireplace was nearly as high as her shoulder and just as wide as it was tall. It was severely oversized for the small room. One chair was green, the other blue. She took the blue chair. Her heart nearly stopped as the cushion dropped her several inches further than she expected, making her claw at the frayed arms in panic.
“Sorry about that. They have definitely seen better days.”
The girl sat a beautiful crystal glass of water on the small table between the chairs. Tara half expected the child to take the other chair, as weird as it all was becoming. Instead, she walked around in front of Tara, smiled, and then stepped back into the fire. Tara sat frozen, her mouth locked open as the flames ate away the girl’s gown and hair, all while the child smiled, almost gently.
Just as Tara was finding her voice the fire died. There was nothing there. Blackened stone, charred chunks of wood, but no ash or even coals. The room still had a warm glow from the invisible candles. Tara choked off the groans, still unsure of what was happening. She wanted to bolt, or scream, or call…someone.
“She has a flair for the dramatic, that one.”
Tara screamed, falling back into her chair. The older woman was lighting a cigarette in one of those long holders she held clutched between her mauve painted lips. She wore a cream-colored blouse, button up with narrow pleats running down either side, over her breasts. Her skirt was a dark color, knee length, exposing the tan hose covered legs, crossed at the knee. Sensible heels, pale hair in a loose bun, and heavily lined eyes completed the picture.
“I’m Dr. Fairchild and you must be Tara.” The woman’s heavy southern accent fit her to a T.
Her heart was still pounding in her chest, her eyes wide, and Tara struggled to find words.
“The rate is low, dear, but it did start two minutes ago. You might want to start movin’ your jaw if you want your monies worth.”
There was an ashtray on the table now, but the woman flicked her ashes to the floor. There was also a snifter of dark liquor, which she nipped from. Tara was worried she was going crazy.
“I don’t understand what just happened…” her finger shook as it pointed toward the fireplace.
“Little girls being girls is all. We’re not here to gab about my house and family, though, we’re here for you.”
Tara picked up the glass of water and took a long drink. She wasn’t worried anymore. If it was drugged, so be it. She was losing her mind.
“Um, my ex-husband, he uh…”
“He was a bastard.” She shifted back into her seat, nodding with a knowing expression as she looked into the re-lit fireplace. Sans young child.
“Yes.” Tara ran through the checks she had done. The woman had legitimate degrees. Or at least the Dr. Fairchild she had made an appointment with. “He hurt me.”
She felt her head getting fuzzy. The room was warmer, brighter, cleaner, newer. Her muscles were relaxing. She wondered if she had been drugged but quickly felt any care of it slip from her fingers. Her breath eased, her heart slowed.
“Ah, see, there ya go darlin’. Now, tell me about this shit stain of a bag of flesh.” Dr. Fairchild sneered as she took another drag from the cigarette, tapping the end to ash on the floor.
“He…he liked to knock me around. He thought he was a man. Some burly man and he could just toss me around and I…I let him! I let him just hit me and throw things at me and he killed my cat.”
“He told me awful things, things he said he would do to me. He said no one would believe me, no one could love me.” Tara didn’t feel the tears running down her cheeks until Dr. Fairchild pressed the soft silk of a handkerchief to her skin. “I can’t tell anyone. I can’t do anything. My family, they all are wrapped around his finger.”
“Blood is supposed to be thicker than water.” Tara’s hands were suddenly being held by the woman’s cool fingers.
“Just close your eyes, dear, let go and let me feel around in your pretty little head for a moment.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to refuse, almost a repulsion, but she felt the decision slip from her. Tara’s eyes slid shut, her body went completely limp and then rigid, as if in pain. Flashes of moments with Joshua came blasting through her brain. Like slivers of memories, as sharp as glass, slicing through her heart and head. His words, his hands, everything flying outward and forward. Losing her job because of the number of sick days she took. Sneaking away and finding the women’s shelter. Her fear of living outside of that house, of having a job where he could find her. The entire downward spiral of her life beginning from the first moment he grabbed her throat and screamed in her face until the Women’s Center.
With a sigh, Dr. Fairchild sat back in her seat and Tara’s eyes fluttered open. The air clarified. The room was pristine. The floors polished wood, the white walls with ornate trim. Dainty ceramics and silver candle holders stood on side tables. A large black piano sat at an angle in one corner.
Although Tara was suddenly more aware, her eyes and mind clearing more by the minute, she no longer felt the fear. Her body was relaxed like after a full massage. In fact, something like confidence was building. She saw Dr. Fairchild quickly wipe away a tear in the corner of her eye and then Tara was talking. Clear and precise, her words poured out. All of the anger and fear and hatred, everything over the past five years that had made her life hell came pouring out.
When she was spent, she felt complete, as if all the parts of her that he had shattered had been rebuilt. Smiling, she looked at the doctor. The woman gave her a motherly smile of her own before standing up, straightening her skirt, and then she pulled out a gold cigarette case to place another in the long stem.
“Come. We’re almost done and then you can make your payment and be on your way, a whole new woman.” Her smile didn’t meet her eyes, Tara noticed. She didn’t think it ever had.
“Where are we going?”
“Into the basement, dear, for the final bit of your recovery.”
Tara followed Dr. Fairchild out of the room and down the hall. The entire house had woke up. It was beautiful, as if captured from a pristine moment back in the late 1800’s. Nothing was modern, there was no outlets or electronics anywhere, and yet Tara never felt more at home. The heavy window coverings in deep blues and greens, the wood was so warm and glowed. She was almost worried about brushing the walls, afraid she would somehow streak them with unseen dirt on her fingers.
“You’re fine dear. And thank you. It always has been a lovely place. It just has its moments, ya know?” She tossed a wink over her shoulder as she passed by an elegant staircase and continued to the door beyond.
A tug of hesitation pulled behind Tara’s belly button. Something in her gut twisted, tried pulling away.
“Now, now, don’t you back out on me. You’re payin’ for the full treatment here at Dr. Fairchild’s and I aim to cure!” She opened the door and headed down into the dark.
Tara pushed down the odd feeling. She already felt alive, more alive than she had in years. Whatever was down there would either be something she would run up and out, far away from, or another massive stepping stone. As she thought over the past few minutes, she realized it was as if those memories, those dark torrents of events, had been pulled from her experiences. She remembered them, but only as one would remember an old movie. They had less feeling, less strength, and she felt disconnected from who she was then.
The stairway had enough light to see by. The woman reached the end and waited for Tara to catch up. It was only when she had stepped onto the white tile floor that her eyes suddenly focused on the room around them. The floor was ceramic tile, but the walls were black. Or they weren’t there at all. The tiles seemed to fade into a darkness that surrounded the room. Feminine giggle and laughs came from the darkness, echoing and yet fading deep into the world beyond. The patter of feet on the cold ceramic. And yet, that wasn’t what pulled all of her attention.
In the center of the room sat two old dentist chairs. Pale green and plastic. The footstools pulled out. There were straps on the arms, the legs, the headrest, and the chest area. One chair had all the straps pulled aside, beckoning her forth. The other was occupied. Her heart froze. All of the relief from before flew back in, deeply rooting itself in her chest as she met his slitted black eyes. The blond hair stuck to his sweaty forehead. He was wearing his military work out gear. Black shorts and the gray shirt with “ARMY” printed across the chest. He wore white socks, but no shoes. His mouth was screwed into a sneer, but a chin strap prevented him from trying to speak more than angry mumbles.
“I…” Tara turned, running into Dr. Fairchild.
Her wrists were suddenly locked in the steel grip of the older woman. The sudden strength baffled Tara. The fear was back, her breathing was labored, and her heart near bursting.
“This is for you. You’ll thank me afterward, I promise. In fact, I bet you’ll leave me a shinin’ review of my unique and amazin’ skills.” Dr. Fairchild smiled, her perfect white teeth peeking out of the mauve lips as she pushed Tara back.
She fell back into the chair. Pushing off and against the cold plastic, the woman shoved her back again and suddenly there were women on either side, strapping her in. They were all smiling. Gentle touches to her face, her arms, words of encouragement.
“It’s okay. This is your salvation.”
“Shh, we were scared too. We’ll never fear another man.”
Tara felt herself hyperventilating as they finished strapping her in. An odd metal helmet was brought forward and placed over her head. She saw a similar one being taken to her ex-husband. She felt the icy metal prongs touching the skin under her hair, not piercing her scalp, but nearly. The world swam as her gasps became shorter and faster. The women kept whispering comforting words and caressing her skin. And then the room exploded into a white blaze. Everything faded, everything dropped away. A high note shot through her skull. She thought she was screaming, she had no way of knowing if she was or wasn’t.
When she thought her heart would burst, her lungs would collapse, and her mind would cave, the light and sound blinked out. Darkness enveloped her. The world was calm. She was calm. Something was gone. Something had changed. She blinked, slowly and carefully. She was in the blue chair, back in the living room. The walls were hidden in shadow again, the fire had died down. Only her half-empty glass of water sat on the side table.
Her mind was fuzzy. Maybe she fell asleep? But when? Before the girl stepped into the flames? Before the doctor or the weird memory flashes? Before the basement? She shook her head and stood. She squinted at the walls. Perhaps they were white at one time. She could almost see where the piano had been. And then she stopped. She thought back to her ex-husband and felt nothing. No fear, no anger, nothing. There was no pain. She felt her face lift. She was smiling. When had she last smiled?
“This is your payment.”
The little girl walked into the room. Following her was her ex-husband, blubbering like a fool. His eyes widened in…fright. Was he scared of her? He was scared? She had never seen him scared before.
“He will be taking the car.” The little girl walked the man out the door.
Tara winced and looked down at her hands. They were white, pale. There was a line on the inside of her arms, from her wrist halfway up to her elbow. Her phone was gone. So were the keys. And then she froze, staring at the swirling fabric of the white cotton skirt.
“You’ll stay with us now.”
Tara nodded, smiling, as the house faded into white and wood, sunshine and fresh air. She laughed as she followed the girl to the kitchen. The women from the basement wore similar dresses, drinking and laughing as they stood around the counter picking at a platter of cookies and chocolate.
Joshua sat at the wheel of the car. His eyes looked through the windshield at the front of the Women’s Center. Tara’s body was in the back seat. Her arms and neck crusted in blood. He completed the review, five stars, on Dr. Fairchild’s site on Tara’s phone and then tossed it in the back seat with her body. He didn’t know where the pistol came from, he thought it was his. Nothing mattered, though, not after the pain of what he felt. He felt her screams, her fists, the glass shattering on the wall behind him. Or her. His hands were on her neck. Her fists were pushing him away and yet his neck constricted. He felt the stings in his hair as his fist tightened in hers. He felt every ounce of pain he had ever given her. And the sobs exploded from his mouth as the bullet exited the barrel. The gun clunked into the console, six inches from the bloody knife covered in his fingerprints.