The first thing I notice is the smell. It is foreign, pungent, overwhelming, demanding to be noticed. I can even smell it outside as I knock, waiting for her to answer. She opens the door with a bright smile, which surprises me. I am here to help her escape. I have 9-1 dialed on my cell phone. I have mace in my pocket. I have a suitcase ready to be hastily filled. Newly purchased toiletries sit in plastic bags in my car.
The heat is sweltering as I enter. It’s clear that she is alone. Her husband’s absence, a constant hulking, shadowy presence in this house on all of my past visits, is powerfully noticeable. She tells me we don’t have to rush, which surprises me, considering the long blue-black bruise that mars her beautiful face. She is in the middle of cleaning, she tells me, and that’s when I notice the undertone of bleach in the smell that permeates the entire home. She adds that she is also cooking, indicating the source of the smell, the huge boiler on the stove, its metal lid rattling.
And I wonder what’s in the pot.