Lora opened the car door and Jessica jumped out and started to run across the street. Lora stopped her with a strategically placed forearm to the chest. Jessica rocked back on her heals and looked up slightly hurt. After making a very cute pouty face Jessica placed her tiny hand in her mother's outstretched palm. Lora slammed the car door and they fell in behind the rest of the four and five-year-olds, parents in toe, making their way to the Foster's front door. Leslie's mom had gone all out. She was making sure the whole neighborhood knew it was her daughter's birthday. The front of the house as well as the split rail fence and the maple tree in the yard was covered with multiple shades of pink streamers and balloons. Lora reverently wished she could throw that kind of a blowout for Jessica's up and coming birthday but she knew she couldn't afford it and she really hoped Jessica wouldn't be too disappointed.

When they reached the foyer Lora gave up trying to keep Jessica from wriggling loose of her grasp. Jessica ran toward the living room, where it sounded like a clown was performing. Lora didn't bother to look. She was already overwhelmed by the obvious wealth of the Foster family. The house was lovely, everything Lora wished one day she could have. Lora saw Leslie's mother standing in the doorway of the living room. Lora smiled gingerly and handed her the gift. She explained she had some chores she needed to do and that she would be back for Jessica in a few hours. Mrs. Foster was distracted. She was splitting her attention between Lora and her husband whom she was yelling at to take pictures. Finally, she assured Lora that it would be fine and ran off to play hostess.

Lora passed by a group of mother's on the porch on her way out. Lora didn't bother to make small talk. She really didn't have anything in common with them. They all had careers, husbands, and SUVs. Lora was a struggling single mother, still in college, and driving a twenty-year-old Fort Escort. There was also the age difference. Lora was probably a good ten to fifteen years younger then the other parents. She had started out her family early. She'd married at eighteen and gave birth at twenty. Lora got in the car. As she turned the key in the ignition Godsmack blared out of the speakers. Lora noted with relish the startled expressions of the mothers on the porch. She revved the engine until it made a high pitched squeal and dropped it down into first. She left a cloud of black smoke behind her as she turned the corner and speed toward home.

Lora had no intention of doing chores. She intended on going home and spending a nice afternoon by herself. Being a single mother she rarely experienced such an opportunity. Lora and Jessica only lived about a mile away in a little white two-bedroom house on the outskirts of town. After Lora had left Matt her aunt had rented the house beside hers out to Lora and Jessica. Lora knew it was just another way for her aunt to have a front row view of family gossip but she had needed the place so she had put up with the indignity. The rent was cheep and it was a good neighborhood for Jessica to grow up in.

Lora pulled up in the little concrete driveway that predominated her front yard. Even after she jumped out and slammed the door the engine continued to wheeze and rattle. "The death rattle," her father called it. Lora was sure the car wouldn't make it through another winter. She patted the hood lovingly and gave it her best wished for long life. The Escort had been her liberator. It had been her ticket out the night Matt had pulled his last act of violence against her. She had driven long into the night to get away from him and back to her family. That same night she had dubbed the car "Freedom" and the name had stuck.

Thinking about the car made Lora relive it all again in just the few steps it took to get to her front door. It had been different before Jessica was born. Matt lived a life of depravity; drinking, experimenting with drugs and sex. Lora had been young and naive. She had foolishly thought they were expanding their minds. But once she found herself with child she had given all of it up. Matt on the other hand delved only deeper. His violent temper had grown while the child grew inside Lora. He had quit hitting her in the stomach because of the baby and had taken to hitting her in the face. For some reason that was when Lora knew that things were really out of control. Before that she had always thought it was some how her fault and that she deserved it.

In the months that fallowed Jessica's birth Lora tried to let Matt be a father. She left him with the baby for only a half-hour to go for a much-needed walk around the block one afternoon. When she came back around the corner at the head of their road she could already hear the baby screaming. Being an over protective new mother she ran the rest of the way home to find Matt passed out on the couch only a foot away from the screaming child. Lora hadn't really understood how much Matt's drinking and drug use had cost them until they were likely to loose their home. She had planned for her and the baby to move back home with her parents. It was quite a move because her parents lived two states away. The night Matt found out her plans to leave she had to call the police to guard her while she got a few belonging from their home, mostly the baby stuff. She packed what she could in the back for her little Escort and was off without looking back. Matt hadn't contacted her since that night and Lora felt grateful for it.

As Lora pulled out her keys to unlock the door she shock her head in an attempt to forget. Walking into the living room she had a vague feeling of alarm. It was the same feeling she used to get just before Matt would walk into the room. She stood still and looked around. She could see through to the kitchen that the back door was standing open just a crack. Lora told herself she was just being silly. She probably forgot to shut it all the way when she had taken the trash out that morning. She pushed the back door shut and plopped her purse and keys down on the kitchen table. She grabbed a mug, filled it with water from the tape, and placed it in the center of the microwave. She set the digital timer for sixty seconds and hit the start button. The little glass window lit up and the mug spun round. Lora stared at it for a second. She still couldn't shake that felling of unease.

As the timer on the microwave blared she pulled the mug out deposited a tea bag in it and walked back into the living room. Lora sat down in her old second hand recliner and kicked off her sneakers. She turned on the TV with the remote and flipped it to the local news purely for back ground noise. Lora picked up a novel she had been reading and started to ignore the news. Lora still felt funny, like something wasn't quite right. Then she realized what it was. She took a deep breath and smelled the faint scent of clove cigarettes. Lora didn't smoke them. The only person she knew who did she had left three years ago. She caught the glint of a shadow moving in the corner of her eye. Lora looked up at she heard the television being clicked off.

"Hey, Kitten. You missed me?" Lora's mouth dropped open and her heartbeat sped up. Matt stood not three feet away with his hand on the top of the television. He had a stub of a clove cigarette hanging from his lower lip and a half-empty fifty of vodka dangled from his left hand. He was definitely the man she had married and divorced. Yet, he was changed. His penchant for hard living had obviously not wavered. His hair was long and scraggily, a sad mockery of Jessica's auburn locks. Matt wore a long beard, the kind you see on the homeless, matted and tangled. He had on a white dress shirt paper-thin and see-through from ware. His blue jeans were two sizes to big and white with age. The knees were ripped and threads dangled from the edges. They were smeared and stained with god-knows-what. His ragged work boots had no laces and the tongues lopped out lazily. On his once handsome face there was a fine sheen of filth. There was a dark purple bruise under his left eye. His smirk was the same.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Lora started to get up, she had one leg bent under her and the delay that caused gave him just enough time to advance. Before Lora knew it Matt was looming over her.

"Sit down and shut up." Lora opened her mouth to protest as Matt used his free hand to shove her back down into the chair. "I had to go through a hell of a lot of shit to get here today and your going to fucking listen to me. Got it?" The old fear of him came back and all Lora could do was nod. She was trying to go over the options in her mind as he spoke but she wasn't getting very fare. All Lora wanted to do was run. "I got this fucking state cop knocking on my old man's door trying to serve me papers and my dad doesn't know what the fucks going on so he excepts them." Matt pulled out a large role of crumpled white paper from the back pocket of his jeans and droped it in Lora's lap. As the paper uncurled she looked down to see "Child Support Hearing" on the top of the first page.

Lora bit her lip. She had forgotten about the child support hearing. It was scheduled for tomorrow at noon. She had planned on going but didn't think he would show. She didn't think that they had even found him to serve the papers. The state had made her file the claim when she had applied for welfare after leaving him three years ago. Basically, they just wanted the money back they had paid her. The notice of hearing was the first she had heard from them about it. She saw it as a formality. She didn't want and didn't really expect him to pay it. She realized that Matt was still raving and that she had better try and explain it to him. "Listen, I didn't..."

"No, you listen," Matt interrupted her. All Lora could do was wait for him to cool down a little and maybe he would listen. "I had to take time off work and my dad had to lone me the damn money for bus fare. Then I get to the bus station and there isn't even a taxi driver willing to drive me out this fare." Matt squinted his eyes and poked his grimy index finger in her face. "And you're the reason. You sorry little bitch." The anger flared in his face. Lora had seen this before and she knew an eruption was coming. "You fucking cunt. It's not enough I waste my time trying to satisfy you and loose my sanity over it. Look at me." He slammed his hands into his chest and the vodka sloshed inside the bottle. "I'm a drunk cause of you. You ruined my life. Are you happy?" To punctuate his disgust he threw the bottle against the wall just above Lora's head. It smashed sending a torrent of alcohol and glass shards down on her. She threw up her arms to shield her face just in time. The larges chunk of the bottle that survived the impact bounced off the crown of Lora's head leaving a deep gouge in her scalp.

Matt sat down onto the couch and started muttering to himself with his head in his hands. Lora felt her temperature rise, her muscles tense, her jaw tightened, and her teeth ground together. The first trickle of blood run through her hair towards the back of her collar. Something inside Lora that for years had remained locked away, something that had grown with every passing day that Matt didn't give enough of a shit about his own daughter to see if she were still alive, something that kept her awake at night, and away from other men was now emerging in a way it never had before. Lora had never fought back when he had hit her. She had always feared it would make it worse. But now she one thought kept repeating itself in her mind, He will not getting away with it again.

Lora wound her index and middle fingers into the handle of the mug. Her knuckles felt the heat of the liquid inside the heavy stone ware. She slowly rose from her chair. She held the mug a little behind her back. The blood was starting to soak the back of her t-shirt. Lora stood directly in front of Matt. "You think that you can brake into my house and throw things around and I'm just going to stand for it." Her voice was low and deep. It resounded from somewhere inside her she had never tapped into before. Matt looked up at her his bloodshot eyes wild and angry.

"You fucking whore," he roared as he started to stand. That was exactly what Lora had been hoping he'd say. She swung her arm out wide and let the mug crash into Matt's right temple. The hot tea splashed into his face and the mug broke on impact. She stepped back as Matt howled in pain. The cigarette dropped from his mouth and he grabbed the side of his head. Lora had time to think, Didn't see that one coming did ya, Asshole. Then she realized she hadn't thought past nailing him with the mug. But she knew she had better act fast before he came to his senses.

Lora started to run towards the back door. Matt caught her by the back of her t-shirt. Lora heard the fibers rip, the collar gagged her, and she was halted in mid-stride. His fist slammed into the back of her head as his steel-toed boot landed in the crook of her right knee. Lora caught herself with outstretched hands as she fell to the floor. Matt was on her in a second. He grabbed her shoulder and threw her on her back. Lora's head smashing into the linoleum of the kitchen floor. He sat on her midsection, his hands around her throat. Lora rained blows down around his head and shoulders but to no avail. He seemed not to register the pain, if there was any. Matt's arms were longer then hers and she could barely reach him. This is it, she thought, he isn't even bothering to beat me. He's finally going to kill me. She couldn't breath. He was crushing her throat. Lora had one last look at him before she started to black out. Matt had a small trail of blood down the right side of his face and it had started to drip from the end of his beard on to her t-shirt. She realized, as she lost consciousness, that he was smiling.

Lora's head throbbed. In her ears there was a daul roaring sound, like ocean waves. She started to sit up and fell back down. Lora could hear a commotion in another room. She listened closely and could hear his talking to himself. Matt mumbled, "What have I done. God help me." He was feeling sorry for himself. Just like he always had after hurting her. Lora realized this was her chance to get out. She rolled over on her side and sat up slowly trying desperately not to cough. Her throat was dry and raw. She got to her feet with the help of the table. She grabbed her keys off the table and switched her crutch from one kitchen chair to the next till she made her way to the back door.

The phone rang. Lora stopped and stood as silently as she could. Lora desperately needed to cough but she held it until her chest hurt. The noise in the back room had stopped. The phone rang again. At the third ring the answering machine picked up and she heard her friendly and formiliar voice greeting the caller and asking them to leave a message. She heard her Aunt Catherine's voice in the distantce, "Lora, are you ok? I heard a terrible rakette over there. I know your home." Matt walked into the living room facing the answering machine, which was near the front door. As soon as she saw him she knew she had to act.

Lora opened the back door and ran. The screen door slammed behind her. She tried to scream, "Help me!" But it came out as a squeak. She coughed while she ran all the way around the house to the car. She jumped in and fumbled to find the right key because her hands were shaking so hard. She had finally found it as Matt bounded out the front door. He tripped and fell down the front steps and rolled into the yard. Lora got the car started, engine squealing. She put it in reverse and pushed the gas to the floor. The car's tires smoked as she burned rubber backing out onto the street. She jammed the gearshift into first and gunned the car. The tires squealed again. She had backed up past two houses and now was gaining speed as she started to pass her front yard.

Lora was focused on the road as she shifted to second. In a flash Matt was in front of her at the curb. She thought, He couldn't be stupid enough to jump in front of me. In the movies when a car hits someone they go up on the hood. That didn't happen to Matt. In an instant he was under the car. The car rolled over a small hump and Lora pressed the break as hard as she could. The car screeched to a stop at the end of the block. When Lora let her foot off the clutch the engine died. She didn't even bother to shift into park.

She got out of the car and stopped a few feet away. Mrs. Crump, her seventy-two-year old neighbor, was standing over Matt. Her Aunt Catherine was standing on her front porch clutching her cordless phone. "You better call 9-1-1 Cathy," Mrs. Crump yelled. Lora walked very slowly towards were Matt lay. His head lay to one side blood was spreading out in a pool around it. But something wasn't right. His head wasn't the right shape. Lora started coughing, she could hardly breath, and her head started spinning. Mrs. Crump came to her side and helped hold her up. "Here sit down Lora", she said just as Lora lost consciousness for the second time.

She awoke in the emergency room. Her mother was beside her patting her hand. She tried to talk and her mother hushed her. "The doctor says your larynx was ruptured. You should try not to speak."

Lora mouthed "Jessica" and her mother understood. "Dad's got her in the waiting room. She's fine." Her mother's gentle smile and sad eyes let Lora know that all was not well. Betty was a large and friendly woman. Lora new when her mother was upset even though Betty tried hard to hide her worry behind a smile. Betty registered Lora's concern and used her free hand to smooth Lora's dark curls out of her eyes. "He's gone Baby. Matt didn't make it. He'll never hurt you again." Tears welled in her mother's eyes and she pulled away her hand for just a second to wipe them away. Betty quickly returned her hand to Lora's and replaced her reassuring smile.

Some where through all the pain the idea registered that Matt was dead but what's more Lora had killed him. Lora's mother saw the mix of guilt and fear cross her daughter's face. "Shush, now baby. It's not your fault. Mrs. Crump was at her mailbox when it happened. She saw the whole thing. Matt was drunk and stumbling. Mrs. Crump said he tripped over the curb and feel right in your path. You couldn't have stopped in time. It just happened that he fell the right way and the tire caught him in the head. They said it probably happened instantly. He wasn't in any pain, which is more then he deserved."

A young nurse walked into the doorway with a clipboard and said they were ready to take Lora up to a room. She informed Betty that she would have to go back to the waiting room and fill out some more paper work. Lora's mom got up, patted her daughter's hand one more time, and smiled. As she started to walk away Lora closed her tired eyes. When her mother reached the doorway she turned.

"Well, Lora I guess Freedom saved you again." Her mother left the room and the young nurse started to help Lora into a wheel chair. As the nurse was transferring her IV bag onto the hock at the top of the wheelchair Lora smiled to herself and thought of her dilapidated twenty-year-old Escort with love.

All text and images copyright ©2004-2007, Aimee Nance. All rights reserved.