the $20 bill

By Michele Bardsley

“LUCILLE, GET YOUR big butt in here with a beer,” roared Boyd from the living room.

Huddled in the kitchen, cradling her sore cheek, Lucille listened to the sounds of the television. Football. God, she hated football. She shuffled to the fridge and grabbed a can. Taking a deep breath, she hurried into the living room and handed it to Boyd. He flipped open the top, gulped a long swallow, and belched.

“We’re almost out of beer.” Her cheek still throbbed, but she’d learned long ago not to baby the injuries.

Boyd reached into his wallet and handed her a $20 bill. “Get the good shit, okay? None of that cheap crap you brought home last time.” His gaze flicked over her. “For Christ’s sake, Lucy, cover up that mess you call a face.”

Lucille nodded, clutching the money, and hurried into the bathroom. She quickly spread foundation over the discolored flesh, avoiding, as always, her own blue-eyed gaze.

Then she looked.

Fear and hurt and need. The emotions were there, urging her to take a chance. Locking the bathroom door, she dug into the cabinet and took out the tampon box. Boyd hated “feminine things,” and would rather stick his hand in fresh manure than handle a tampon.

Lucille grinned, even though the bruised cheek protested the movement, and plucked out the roll of bills from the box. Carefully, quietly, she removed the rubber band, added the twenty, and tucked the money into the front of her jeans.

Counting the stash had gotten her through the worst of the beatings. With Boyd’s twenty, she had $511. It had taken more than two years to save that piddly amount, but right now, it felt like a million dollars.

Tossing the box into the little plastic trash can, she looked in the mirror again. Courage, she mouthed to the woman staring at her with such hope, such pain. She checked her make-up and hair, took a deep breath, and crept into the bedroom. She put on a sweater big enough to hide the lump of money in her front pocket then she looked around. Nothing was really hers. For the last six years, she hadn’t even owned herself.

Her heart pounded as she walked down the hall and into the living room. As she passed Boyd’s recliner, his hand shot out and took her wrist. Her blood chilled. Oh God. Oh God!

“Give me a kiss, sweetheart,” he demanded. She bent and allowed him to ravage her mouth. He patted her on the behind. “Remember—get the good shit.”

“I will,” Lucille promised.

The minute she got outside, she inhaled. The autumn air was sweet and pure in her lungs. She wanted to run, to shout, to dance. Instead, she got into the banged-up truck and drove away.

She passed the grocery story, then Main Street, and finally, the city limits. The highway gleamed black and smooth in the late afternoon sunshine. Lucille rolled down the window and laughed until tears streamed down her face.

Photo by John Canelis on Unsplash

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