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Deep in the Valley

It is Wednesday night and she drives to a motel deep in the valley. She has never been deep in the valley. The deep valley is far away. She loves the way deep in the valley sounds and she loves the thoughts she thinks about it. She thinks of the envelopes taped to the headboard of her single bed. She has slept in that single bed forever, since she was a child. There have been many other beds over the years, single beds in white rooms with black barred windows, common rooms where she sat with people who rubbed tabletops, watched games played, rules chucked aside, listened to piano keys plunked by cross-eyed women.

It is hot in October. It is humid in Los Angeles. It is not a regular night. It is the start of the Jewish New Year. It is the first night leading the Jews, she, and her mother and father, into days of repentance, collective guilt, and interior monologues.

Will you come to temple with Daddy and me tomorrow?

Maybe tomorrow I’ll come with you and Daddy. But don’t worry tonight. I’ll be out late.

Her mother nods. Her father walks in. Her mother says, She’s not coming tonight. She’ll be out late, but we aren’t to worry. Right, honey? And she’ll probably come with us tomorrow morning for services.

Her mother and father are used to her late nights, her disappearances, her living at home in her childhood bedroom. She thinks it is strangely nice that the three of them had lived together for so many years.

They walk from her parents’ bedroom down the stairs. She stops halfway and says, Maybe I’ll come tomorrow. Probably you can count on it.

At the bottom of the stairs her mother calls up.

You could wear that new dress we bought. You look so pretty in purple.

From below, her parents wave goodbye. From above she waves back. Her father opens the front door. The sun is still in the sky. The trees in the front yard frame her parents at the threshold. They look back at her. She floats on the stairs; her face scrubbed clean like her father prefers. Her hair, long and wavy, is still wet from the shower.

She stopped drying her hair in the first mirage. Over the years she has lived in rooms without locks along hallways that were always locked and required keys to enter and exit. She cannot remember those places, or her rooms in those places. Cords, electricity, shoelaces, belts, hairpins, razors, studded earrings, none of that was ever allowed in any of the mirages.

Her mother blows up a kiss.

I’m so glad we’ll all be together tomorrow.

She blows back the kiss. Her delicate hands send her mother down the walk to her father. She sends her mother to pray. Her mother leaves believing they will all pray together in temple tomorrow leaning against flattened burgundy nap in seats that sort of rock, listening to the shofar blow while she twists her mother’s wedding ring round and round and round on her mother’s finger until, like always, her father takes her busy hand and smoothes it, quiets it, laces his fingers in between hers, crooks her arm up into his elbow, and smiles down at her.

When the front door closes she walks up the stairs.

Her hair is dry now and she is in the car. Her bag is in the backseat, the contents winnowed. She has chosen her dead dog’s favorite ball that she has kept for years, the latest issue of a fashion magazine, a pill bottle, and an undershirt she found in her father’s drawer years back. She has worn it to a white softness finer than silk. There is a frayed hole at the collar. The hole makes her feel safe.

She stops at the red light at the bottom of the hill on the street that leads deep into the valley. She feels good. In the next car an older man smiles at her through his window, his hair rising and falling in the air conditioning. He smiles over like he is a Jew too and also avoiding temple. She smiles back and turns up the music. At the green light she presses hard on the gas and her hair whips behind her in the heat. It is still steamy though the sun is long gone.

She thinks of all the clicks and snaps and locks behind her. She can still hear them. But tonight there were only three: the solid click of the front door; the softer snap of her bedroom door, lockless for years; the back door lock when she left.

She thinks of her mother and father in temple, prayer books open. She sees them listening to the sermon. She sees them listening to appeals for contributions. She sees them listening to the schedule for morning services and the temple activities for the days of awe and atonement from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur comes to a close.

She thinks of those who will be inscribed for the coming year in the Book of Life. Who shall live and who shall die and she thinks about that songed incantation, that musical recitation of all the different ways people will die during the coming year. She thinks about those whose time has come. She thinks about those who will not be inscribed in the Book of Life.

She rents the motel room for a few days and pays with her new credit card. She was given the card after she avoided another mirage for a year. When her parents gave it to her they said they were proud she was handling the pressure. She agreed. She had been handling the pressure well. The clerk at the desk, a boy, is nice enough. He smiles but does not make dumb polite chatter. He does not ask to see her driver’s license. She is used to showing her license because she looks young. She knows she looks older than a teenager but not quite a woman. She knows she looks perpetually suspended: otherworldly and not quite grown. She is thirty-three. This year her birthday falls during the Days of Awe, on the day Yom Kippur comes to a close. She signs the receipt in her tiny handwriting. The clerk’s silence seems right to her. She is near now. Probably no one ought to talk to her.

The room is sort of okay, beiges and pinks, with a flat, kingsized bed. It is a motel but the mini-bar is stocked. On top of the mini-bar is a binder filled with information about tourist attractions. The Bible is in one nightstand on sticky floral contact paper and a local phone book is in the other. Neither is quite the Book of Life she thinks and unpacks her bag.

She walks down the hall to fill the plastic ice bucket. The hallway is quiet. There is only the hum of the ice machine. The halls are not quite fresh, but she has lived in much worse. She has lived in places she tries to forget. She turns her head when memories of those mirages squiggle her brain.

She fills the ice bucket. She hangs the Do Not Disturb sign outside the door. The door clicks and she snaps the lock. She peels the plastic from the tall glass in the bathroom. She fills the glass from the tap. In the bedroom she strips naked and avoids the mirror. She pulls on her father’s undershirt and sits cross-legged on the bed. The bedspread crackles. Squeezing her dog’s ball, she slowly flips through the fashion magazine.

She knows what she hopes. She knows she floated her mother false hope. She feels badly about that false hope. But her final false hope is not as bad as other things she has put her mother and father through. She never wanted her mother and father to suffer. She just cannot do anything about anything when it all comes upon her. When it all comes upon her she wants to whirl and whirl. The faster she can whirl, the faster she will float, out there, up there, float to a place where it really does feel good, to a place where it is warm, buttery warm, and she is calm. That is where she wants to be. She wants to be in the warmth and calm. She wants to be cocooned and at peace. She is on the last page of the last chapter of last year’s book. This year she does not want to be inscribed. This year she will not be inscribed. This year it will be done. This year is done. This year she is done. She knows that.

She knows where she is going. There is nowhere else to go. There is nothing else to try. There are no other beliefs to believe. She no longer imagines she possesses something everyone else seems to have. The box is too little now. The box she is in is too little. She has become clear in her thinking. She knows that the little box she is in will never expand. The little box has no doors. The little box has no windows. The little box only has walls that keep pressing in. The walls keep pressing in toward the center. She is standing in the center of the little box. She knows the walls of the little box will keep pressing in until the little box is a tiny white square, small and perfectly folded, perfectly folded like one of her father’s handkerchiefs, like the handkerchiefs stacked in her father’s top drawer, and she will be inside that little box, perfectly folded like a tiny handkerchief, and no one will be able to unfold her ever again.

She reads an article in the magazine about applying mascara in a new way. At the mirror she tries the new technique the article says will make her look like a star. She brushes mascara onto her lashes. She follows the directions in the article but her eyelashes look the same as always. New techniques are always overrated she thinks.

She turns on the radio and finds a clear station. The station plays music without interruption. It is pretty music without words. Pretty music without words seems right to her too. She is near now. Probably she ought not hear the words of others.

She folds down the bedspread. She has drunk the water and fills the glass up with ice cubes. The ice cubes are cubed, perfectly cubed. The cubes are clear. The cubes are perfectly clear, not cloudy at all. She loves the tinkling pinging sound the ice cubes make when they hit each other and ping against the sides of the glass. She refills the glass from the tap.

The curtains are drawn and she pulls them open. The view is not great, and there is no moon, but looking at the dark sky is much better than looking at the faded cabbage roses on the curtains. On the bed she plumps the pillows behind her. She unscrews the bottle and pours into her palm all of the pills. She has hoarded all of the pills for a long time. She has hoarded the pills from her last visits to mirages, mirages with green bars and many guards. She hoarded the pills between visits and then for a year. She swallows the pills. She has learned that pills go down quicker if she snaps her fingers. Her fingers snap to the beat of the music. She takes a long drink of water. She clicks off the light. Through the open curtains the white light from distant constellations floats into the motel room. The white light is faint but makes the motel room look star dusted and almost romantic. Her mother and father will not be home from temple yet. It will be an hour before services end and everyone has kissed everyone they know and wished strangers a happy, yes and to you, a healthy new year, may we all be blessed. May we all be blessed she can hear the strangers say while shaking hands awkwardly with those ahead and behind. She wonders when her mother and father will find the envelopes. She wonders which of them will pull the envelopes off her headboard and ball up the tape she used into a sticky nothing and throw the sticky nothing away.

She selected her words carefully. She wrote the letter several times. She wanted loving words. She wanted firm words. She wanted her words to tell her mother and father those other times they found her perhaps she had not taken the necessary steps to see it through; to see herself through it, though she thought she had. She wanted her words to tell her mother and father that maybe those times she had not been sure, or not as sure, but she had seemed sure on the inside where it counts. The words she selected about this time leave no doubt. She has no doubts. She selected words to tell her mother and father they cannot save her. She does not need their saving. She is saving herself. She selected words to tell them their repentance is not necessary, their atonement not required; they are absolved of their misplaced guilt. Her words tell them there is no belief called just if. Her words tell them she is freeing them, just if they will be freed.

She knows her mother and father will give the concert tickets to her boyfriend, a birthday present she bought with money earned at the pet store. Her boyfriend will not be prepared. She never told him a lot about herself. She just danced in and out of the light.

She hopes her mother and father have had enough time. She hopes they have prepared over the years. They should have prepared. They should have prepared for her, for the fact of her, for the fact of her core, of what is there, and what is not. Everyone sees her broken wings. Since she was young she knew she was different. She saw her difference. Everyone saw her difference. She saw her broken wings. Since she was young she knew she was a creature created differently. She knows she was created differently from everyone around her.

She hopes her mother understands the floated false hope and forgives her pretending that mother and father, and daughter, would pray together tomorrow. She hopes her father has the strength. She hopes that if her father does not have the strength, that he will find the strength. She hopes her mother and father find peace. She hopes finally they will be at peace. She hopes with that peace her mother and father will remember what it feels like to be fearless and brave. She has loathed herself for the fear she has made them feel. She just never had any choice. Now she is fearless and brave. Bravely she lies down deep in the valley.

Cherise Wolas is a writer, film producer, lawyer, and co-president of Ovie Entertainment. She’s now working on a book of interconnected short stories and a novel.