"Loathly Lady: A lady so hideous that no one would marry her
except Sir Gawain; and immediately after the marriage her
ugliness–the effect of an enchantment– disappeared, and she
became a model of beauty. Love beautifies."
Where did she go, what did she do? Those two thoughts plagued Freddy for days when she woke up in the motel on the beach. For that matter where was she? How had she gotten there? Why?
She sat up, half-dressed, in the badly battered chair by the window of the small room and watched people at play outside, across the road on the white sand with little shade. Her head ached severely this time. She could feel it throb and when she placed her hand over the worst of it she could actually feel that throbbing with her hand. It was as though someone with a large hammer was trying to batter a hole in her brow, from the inside out.
She sipped from the glass of warm water that she’d found on the table. She imagined it with ice in it, and held the glass to her forehead hoping it might ease the pain a bit, but it only made things worse. She thought about ice, looked quickly for an ice bucket but didn’t find one.
If she leaned closer to the window and looked down the road she could just see the sign for this place, a motel on the beach in...somewhere. "O’Brien’s Boatel" it read. A motel for boaters with boats that floated but didn’t sleep passengers. This was a harbor then, she thought, and not just a beach. Freddy let her eyes roam the room again, seeking a phone, or a phone book or even an ashtray with matches in it. There must be something to help her memory, jog that sense back into action. There was no phone, no ashtray. "O’Brien’s Boatel," she thought and thought she said aloud, but it had no resonance this time either.
"I’ve always been so put together," she thought. "I’ve never been like this, ever, not ever." She shook her head twice, but the pain was too great, so she stopped. Pushing herself back up and out of the deeply dented chair, she staggered the three feet to the bed onto which she collapsed and instantly fell asleep.
She dreamt. She dreamt of people whose faces and names didn’t match up. She thought she dreamt of Max, of Mikhael, of Brianna, but their names were all wrong, confused and distorted. She dreamt of men whose faces called up no names but her own. She dreamt of other beds, other rooms. She dreamt of other things that made no sense, shapes and smells and sounds that brought no answers, no fully-developed concepts. The dreams were never bad, never frightening, but the were incomplete and inconclusive. There were indistinct voices, there were shapes. Once she thought there was blood, but it became mud immediately. She dreamt, and slept, until it was dark again and when she awoke it was night.
She was very dry, very thirsty. Her clothing was wet and sticky and smelled bad. Her headache was gone and she remembered that she was at the O’Brien Boatel, on the beach, somewhere. It made her smile to remember that much, but for the moment that was all she remembered. Slowly she pulled herself to the edge of the bed and made herself sit up. Remarkably it felt good to be sitting upright. Her hands clung to the mattress as her feet struggled to settle, toes and heels, on the carpeted floor. There was an odd smell in the room, an odor of illness that hung there in the air around her. She looked at the uncurtained window, wondering if it opened, if it would allow fresh air in, or stale air out. She decided it might and tried to stand up, to move to it. Her legs were weak, though, and wouldn’t instantly support her, so she sat back down on the edge of the bed, breathing hard through her open mouth.
It took her a few minutes, but she managed, finally, to rise and go to the window where she cranked it open. A burst of clean sea air streamed in through the opening and hit her in the face, and across her chest. It felt good and instantly refreshed her, but that new feeling lasted only a moment. Then she was only chilled by the air and that sense of reawakening was lost.
Freddy looked around her, took in the entire space and found the door to the bathroom. She staggered to it, entered into the darkness and found the sink which she held onto as she turned on the cold water tap. She could hear the water lapping about in the cold bowl. She dipped her fingers into the water and slowly brought both hands up to her face, letting the cool water slip down over her skin. The sensation was divine. She felt renewed by the chill of it. As the water dripped down her chin, falling onto her breasts, she reached behind and unzipped the skirt she was wearing, letting it fall to the floor around her bare feet. She stepped out of it and kicked it aside. Then she proceeded to wash her face, dishing up water in her cupped hands until she could breathe easily again, until her eyes cleared and her sight was restored and her head felt pleasant and reliable again. She turned off the tap and, without drying her hands, took off the rest of her soiled and spoiled clothing.
When she was naked she moved over to the stall shower, turned it on and stepped in. Fifteen minutes later she knew who, what, where and why. Then, and only then, did she permit herself to cry.
Her memory of the time with Hans was somewhat vague, veiled as it was with liquor and drugs. Her memory of meeting Mikhael in the park was equally dulled by the experience that followed it. What remained of both of those encounters was a less-than-vague sense that neither had ended satisfactorily. What came clearer to her, instantly and irrevocably, was the experience that followed. It was that memory which now haunted her waking hours, left her so inexpressibly sad.
She felt the need to share her thoughts, but there was really no one in whom she could confide. She was in the O’Brien Boatel, without a car, in the small coastal town of Bath, Maine. She clearly remembered the bus dropping her off a few blocks away and her walk to the beach at sunset. She had only one small bag with her, a knapsack of sorts, with a few changes of clothing inside, a toothbrush, which she had now used several times in a row as she tried to remove the awful taste of her own drying saliva from her mouth, and a hairbrush. Her wallet was missing along with its combination of cash, credit cards and photographs.
She recalled watching the sunset and the peace that brought to her at the time. She remembered crossing the road and checking into this place, but she remembered little of what happened afterward. She did recall the walk from Hans’ apartment to the small apartment she had once shared with Mikhael, wondering if he had kept it, had a lease in his name. She mounted the front stoop and looked at the bells outside the massive wood and glass, both painted green, front door. There was his name, still over the bell to their apartment. She rang the bell, waited for a response, got none, and then, with resignation, she sat down on the top step of the stoop to wait for him. She didn’t have too long to wait.
He came out of the green door in a hurry, nearly kicking her in the back, and almost falling over her. He cursed as he caught himself, righting himself, asserting balance over tumbling down the stairs.
"What do you....?" He stopped realizing it was Freddy. "What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you. I rang the bell but you didn’t answer."
"I wasn’t expecting any one. You’re a surprise, Fredericka."
"May I come up?"
"I am on my way out. To an appointment."
"May I come?"
"It would not interest you, I am afraid."
"How would you know? It’s been years since you’ve seen me. I may have changed."
"You could not change, my darling. You are still this Fredericka I once loved."
"Only once, Mikhael?"
"Well, at least the first time, then, Fredericka."
"That’s nice. That’s honest at least."
"Was there something you needed?"
"From you, Mikhael, no."
"Then you must excuse me, please. I have places to go."
He moved around her and headed down the stairs. Freddy stood up and without undue haste followed him down the street. It took her two blocks to realize he was headed for Central Park again. That left her smiling. She was sure she knew where he would be if she lost sight of him. They had always met in a certain spot in the Ramble, a wooded enclave above the Central Park lake. Surely if he was headed in that direction she would find him there.
As happens, she never lost sight of Mikhael and indeed he was headed in that very direction. She decided to let him go and find him later. This way she would not be hurrying and he would have his tryst and she could surprise them, eliciting a bit of revenge for her mistreatment by him and his callous admission of his lack of love for her.
She thought she had come a long way emotionally twenty minutes later when she stumbled into their tiny glen in the rocks, sheltered by arbor vitae shrubs. She was proud of herself for making the emotional transition. She swung her knapsack of possessions over one shoulder and stooped low to get between two of the bushes without scraping her face or disturbing her hair badly when her foot came up against an unfamiliar object. She pulled it back quickly - an obvious reaction to the unexpected, then slowly moved forward again. As the thick dark green branches parted in front of her and snapped together again behind her head, she saw him. Mikhael was lying on the rocks, not moving.
She gasped. She stood very still, holding her breath. The sharp intake of wind, held for an interminable interval, slowly seeped out of her leaving her deflated. She gasped again, this time unable to hold the breath and as she let it out, her knees crumbled and she fell forward, into the dead body of her almost husband, her former boyfriend, her life-long tormentor. He was lying on his back, looking up at the sky, his eyes wide and clearly horrified. His right hand was over his heart, his elbow crooked. His left hand, holding a long knife was thrown up high above his head, the wrist broken against a shark piece of granite that grew perpendicular to the rock below it. To Freddy’s untrained eye it looked as though he had been thrown down abruptly by someone and that he had struck his head on the same hard-edged outcropping and died that way, probably instantly.
All of this she remembered now in Maine. This entire sequence was now so clear that what happened next seemed more like a dream to her.
There had been a sound from behind the bushes. Freddy had been tempted to call out, shout for help, but her knees and her hands were now covered in blood, Mikhael’s blood. She struggled to her feet, but never made it to the full upright position of someone standing . Instead, arms came from behind her and held her tightly even as she fought against them. A third hand reached across her face, clamping itself across her mouth and her nose. It held a handkerchief, wet and smelly and in fewer seconds than she realized she had fallen into a stupor, her eyelids heavy and her senses dulled.
Two men turned her over and lay her down across Mikhael’s rapidly cooling body. As she lay there she could feel the heat leaving him as his blood thinned and cooled. His body felt so completely unfamiliar to her, yet she knew it was his. Above her, in the vague blindness that the sun on her face now produced, she heard two voices, indistinct and indistinguishable.
"Who...she?" said the first one.
"Dunno...b....sh....in street," said the second.
Freddy felt hands on her hips, her thighs, her legs. Then the same hands, she was sure they were the same hands, on her arms, her armpits, her breasts. They lingered there longer than other places. Then she felt her hair being pulled away from her face.
"N...thi..." said the first man.
"Y...shu...?" asked the second.
"Absolutely," that word was so clear she could hardly believe it.
"No. Too dangerous," another phrase that seemed complete somehow.
There were quiet mutterings, then a laugh, then nothing for a while. Finally she felt the two men lift her to her feet.
"Can you walk, honey?" the second voice asked her.
She responded with a sort of grunt, tried to move her legs and found that they would move, almost in a forward fashion.
"Good enough," said the first one. "Let’s get her out of here."
Together, one on each side, they moved her forward and she obliged by moving her legs in a sort of rhythmic pattern that felt like walking. She heard one of the men whistle after a while, a sharp, single high-pitched sound followed by the clear scraping of automobile brakes. Then a door was opened and she was put inside the vehicle.
"She has a bus to catch," the first voice said. "Can you get her to Port Authority?"
"Sure thing, but who’s paying?" asked a new voice, she presumed was the driver.
"Here. This should cover you with enough left over to get her to the bus."
"She got a ticket?"
"Yeah. The five-forty to Bangor, Maine. It’s in her pocket. She may need help getting on board. It was quite a farewell party, you know."
"Yeah, Bub, I can see that."
There was a low murmuring she couldn’t hear and then the driver spoke again.
"She’s kind of hideous, dirty too."
"You should see her when she’s not drinking. Kinda cute, actually," said number one.
"Beautiful, more like," said number two.
There was a long silence. She had no memory of what came next, but she knew that someone was looking at her.
"This her luggage?" asked the driver voice.
"No. No, that’s mine," said number two. "You okay with this, fella?"
"Yeah, sure. Actually, I’ve seen worse in my time."
A car door slammed; she heard the engine rev and felt the forward motion of the cab as it sped off into traffic. Until she woke up in the O’Brien Boatel that was all she remembered. That was everything.
Only now she realized, she remembered one other thing. She remembered what man number two looked like. She had seen him there, holding her things, frowning a bit, but looking right at her. There had been something oddly familiar about the conversation she had partially heard, something oddly familiar. Then, suddenly she knew what she had forgotten until this moment, realized what she had known all along. She knew that face.