Anita Wu: Hopes and Dreams

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Hopes and Dreams

Anita Wu 

“Did you ever wish we didn’t have to move, Zo?”

Zo looked up at me with those blue eyes that always mesmerized those around her and always made me wonder what I did to deserve her. She always seemed to know the perfect words to say, too, when it mattered. “Mom, you know I would follow you everywhere.”

She beamed the widest smile, and I pulled her into an embrace so that she did not notice the tears that burned my eyes.

“Mom,” Zo whispered. “I know it’s cold, but it is not comfortable on this swing.”

I let go of her, chuckling. Zo never liked people on her swing — her prized possession, as she liked to call it. She had dreamed of a swinging chair on a patio for years, but Jeoff never let her leave the house, much less build it. It was the first thing she did when we escaped to this cabin in the woods. She crafted it just large enough to fit two persons snugly, but she truly wanted it all to herself. So she did not take kindly to anyone taking up her space, not even her mother. “Yes, yes. Sorry.”

She gave me that smile again, and I wished I could pause and save this moment forever — where we lay on her swing on the porch of our cabin, surrounded by the summer trees, clear blue skies, and a hint of clouds to accent the mountains far in the distance.

It had taken us — me — a long time before we reached this oasis. I had fallen into the lie of Jeoff’s protection. The allure of leaving my first life — where I stole bread to feed my family or sold myself for medications to sell on the streets, only to be sold a lie and beaten when purchasers chased me for retribution — won me over. Jeoff promised food, shelter, and a companion, someone who would always be by my side.

Yet, he too sold me a lie. My second life was a broken vase that would shatter if a feather fell upon it. Jeoff lived a hole far deeper than mine, where one misstep could cost him his life. Yet again, he never shared a single nugget of information with me. He told me to stay put, to watch our daughter, and never let her leave home. But “home” was a single room with no windows, no light, and no furniture. I lay in the corner at night, my arms around Zo to remind her that I would always be there.

I dreamed of a better third life.

I let go of Zo now. “Do you want to get some wood to start a fire then?”

“Of course!” She beamed, jumping off the patio swing. “Can I try making the fire today? I’ve been practicing.”

“Practicing?” I arched my eyebrow. “Don’t go starting any forest fires now. You’ll burn down our home.”

“Don’t worry, they’re tiny. And I put them out as soon as they start to catch. It’s really fun to throw dirt over a tiny fire. Could we make an oven like that?”

“We can try something,” I told her, chasing her off into the forest. I watched, smiling, as she pranced away, her tiny figure disappearing into the distance.

My smile faded when I recognized a man lounging a distance away, sitting at the base of a tree, watching me. Jeoff’s friend’s gaze followed Zo.

I ran into the cabin, slammed the door, bolted the lock, and scanned the room for weapons, settling on a knife from our makeshift kitchen.

I heard the impatient knocks on the door. Three knocks meant last warning. Once upon a time, I stood watch on the other side of the door and covered my ears to the wrangle and screams inside the home. Now being no longer in the safety of the outside amused me. “Bluery, we just want to chat.”

I tightened my grip on the short knife. “Ben, you’re never here to just talk.”

A chuckle. “You remember, huh? Then you know I’m here to collect.”

“There’s nothing to collect. I’ve paid off my debt. And you made sure of that.”

“True.” The knob on the door shook. “But Jeoff did not.”

“His debt is not mine.”

Ben kicked the wooden door, tearing the chain lock from its hinges and slamming the door against the wall. He greeted me with a wicked smile, one I knew too well. “But sweetie, he’s your husband. And don’t you remember it’s rude to not invite me into your home?”

“Ex-husband,” I clarified as I inched closer to a window, hiding the knife behind me.

“Not in my books. You’re still one happy family. Besides,” Ben leaned against the doorframe, “he said you’d happily pay off his balance for him.”

“Bastard,” I spat as I circled Ben, trying to get to the door that he was blocking.

“Bluery,” Ben gave me his sweet voice. “You’ve always been a smart cookie. You have the money somewhere. Or if not, come with us, and I’m sure we can negotiate something that will work perfectly. Nothing you haven’t done before. You’re already an expert. Your daughter can come too. She’ll be more than willing to help you, I’m sure.”

“Leave her out of this. This has nothing to do with her.”

“Nor me,” I whispered.

“Ah ah ah. I can’t hear you, darling.” Ben cupped his ear as he turned his head. He always let his guard down around women, believing that he would be able to snap them in half if he wanted. I took this opportunity.

I raced towards him and slashed his arm and cheek, moving quickly to face him, opening his throat to my reach, slashing once more, and sending my calf between his legs for good measure. He grunted and fell to his knees. I stepped around him and sprinted out the door. The cuts were shallow, and I knew he would give chase, vengeance on his mind, no care for what his boss would do to him should he return without the money or a live body to work.

I didn’t care. I needed to find Zo.

I scrambled, like the day that I impulsively took Zo out of the house against Jeoff’s instruction. He came home early that day before I even got three steps off the lawn. He screamed when he saw me outside. I snapped my head in his direction, saw the muddied, torn clothes, bruises on his arm, and blood running down his face, and knew that that was my only chance.

I would never forget the words he shouted at me as he limped our way. I grabbed Zo in my arms and sprinted down the street. She clung to me, her little hands wrapped tightly around my neck as if she would lose her life if she let go. And perhaps she may have. We made our way into the forest at some point and stumbled upon our cabin, now home.

That was six months ago, and I had wished to never again hear those insults.

But I heard those words now, and I cursed. I hoped history repeated itself, for the alternative seemed far worse.

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