Elizabeth Fergason

Rescue Strategy

Their marriage counselor was a collector. The obligatory African masks yes, but in addition, life-sized wooden statues of ebony warriors, enormous clay urns, numerous overlapping woven rugs, exotic weavings and at least a dozen fertility figures. Isabel found the place claustrophobic and made a point to enter before Gary so that she might claim the chair by the window. It was her husband who had to deal with the clutter.

“So?” Dr. Schott extracted their file from a stack on her desk. She looked from Gary to Isabel. “Where were we?”

Gary motioned toward Isabel with an open hand. “The Bodhi can answer. I went first last time.” Isabel looked away. This name-calling was new.

During their sessions, she often found herself gazing out the window, having drifted from the overcrowded office, the conversation, their problems. Her focus would rest instead on a cool stand of sequoias just outside the window. The redwood’s feathery green branches lightly grazed the glass and they shivered delicately in the slightest of breeze. Without the trees, Isabel doubted she could survive the counseling sessions. She said, “I believe we were discussing forgiveness.”

Dr. Schott nodded. “That’s right. Last week, we decided both of you need to do some active forgiving before the relationship can move forward.” She tapped her long nails against their file. “How did the exercise go?” Dr. Schott had a fondness for exercises. The previous week she’d asked Isabel and Gary to create forgiveness cards. Three by five index cards with the words, I FORGIVE YOU, written on them. They were to hand them to one another as conflicts arose.

They never did the exercises. In fact, the exercises they hadn’t done compiled quiet a list: they had not gone to the park to take turns pushing each other on the swings and they had yet to leave each other little gifts in secret hiding places. The hiring of a sitter once a week for “date night” seemed the most implausible of all. Jamo, their son, was their only glue. Still, during the past week, Isabel was unable to stop imagining the cards she might have made. Using a red marker, she’d form the three words, I FORGIVE YOU, in the elaborate, curling style she’d used as a girl on her school notebooks. She could even add some stickers, a red heart maybe, or some tiny flowers or even a baby-faced cupid pointing his delicate arrow at the bold words. But granting forgiveness seemed presumptuous. Suppose Gary didn’t think he’d done anything wrong and she went and passed him one of her flowery notes. He’d get really pissed and they’d be even worse off than they were. Besides, Gary was the one who needed to forgive, not her.

Isabel said, “We never made the cards. We never do any of the exercises. Surely you’ve noticed.”

Dr. Schott tilted her head a little to the side and raised her eyebrows. That was all. Isabel guessed the counselor was accustomed to dealing with recalcitrant couples.

Dr. Schott turned to Gary, “And how did your week go?”

Gary always used his time to vent. In the early sessions, Isabel had tried to interrupt him, to put in a little defense for herself, but Dr. Schott raised her palm, the experienced traffic cop. Later, Isabel figured it out. Gary was allowed to vent as much as he wished, for it was she who’d had the affair. She used up her time already (and with someone else at that). Gary’s monologue stayed consistent. He said that until the day he’d learned about the affair, he’d thought his love for Isabel unfathomable. And, that even later, even today, his anger and hurt felt as fresh as ever. It went on and on. Same old, same old. “Fuck you, Isabel,” was usually the sign he was winding down.

As for the therapist, she nodded her head from time to time and sipped tea from a small, exquisitely painted mug that may have come from Tibet.

Today, after Gary finished his tirade, Dr. Schott turned to Isabel, who felt as if she’d been caught napping. “Do you know what it feels like to be lied to? Let me read you this.” Dr. Schott had a passion for literature. The most current issue of The New York Review of Books rested on her desk. The counselor picked up a book from beneath the paper and read a passage written by the poet, Adrienne Rich.

When we discover that someone we trusted can be trusted no longer, it forces us to reexamine the universe, to question the whole instinct and concept of trust.

In an earlier session, Dr. Schott had misquoted the ancient Buddhist monk, Shantideva by saying, “Betrayal is like a single flash of lightening destroying years of trust and love.” But quote or misquote, Isabel felt comforted whenever the counselor read to them. She said, “Yes, I understand how hurtful I’ve been.” Gary appeared unmoved. He looked at the floor and used the tip of his smooth, black shoe to work at the corner of a prayer rug.

Dr. Schott believed in the benefits of symbolic imagery. Early on, she’d suggested to Gary that he collect some fist-sized rocks, one for each grievance he felt.  He was to put the rocks in a backpack and wear it for the week. This was to create a physical awareness of the weight of his anger. Isabel had gone as far as to buy a new backpack at the camping store the day following their session. She left it in the kitchen, but Gary ignored it and soon Jamo took it over for his school things.

The small red light near the office door lit up, indicating their time was up and new clients were waiting. Isabel scooted forward to the edge of her chair. Maybe they’d get away without one of Dr. Schott’s exercises. But she knew it was of no use when the woman said, “Before you go, I’d like to suggest something.” Isabel sat back. She was surprised the counselor hadn’t given up on them. Gary sighed audibly.

“This may seem rather extreme. But, whenever I have a situation such as yours . . .” Dr Schott trailed off for a moment as if she was searching for the right words. “When one partner is experiencing great difficulty in letting go of his anger, this exercise has proven completely effective.” She opened the bottom drawer of her desk and pulled out a sheet of instructions. Isabel couldn’t help but think of them as instructions of last resort, handed out in only the worst of circumstances.

Dr. Schott said, “I want the two of you to take a walk together. Hike far out into the woods away from everyone. On this hike to a remote spot you should bring along a paper bag and a pair of scissors. Once you are certain that you’re alone and won’t be disturbed by others, Gary, I want you to take the shears and cut all of Isabel’s hair from her head. Cut as much of it as you can.” The counselor paused to let this sink in.

Isabel involuntarily reached up and touched her hair. This was the most outrageous suggestion by far. Her hair was her pride. Lush, auburn ringlets, which framed her face and bounced when she walked. Even after she took her vows, she could not adhere to the severe, short style of the other Buddhist chaplains. Whenever she was on duty at St. James, she’d pinned it up in a bun. Little tendrils were always escaping.

She glanced over at Gary and saw the small twitch of a sardonic smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

Her sisters had adored her hair. Twin gingers they were, with frizzy, Brillo Pads of orange, just like their mother. Isabel was the family beauty and they loved her for it, although it often felt a bigger life was expected of her. As a child, she’d once heard her mother say to an aunt, “Isabel’s the one who’ll pull us up out of this rubble.” But of course, she’d not done any such thing.

Dr. Schott nodded in her direction. “Isabel, you are to collect your shorn locks and put them into the bag. Take them home with you to keep.”

“For what?”

“The next time Gary gets mad at you, I want you to bring out the bag of hair and show it to him. You won’t need to say anything. He’ll see it and remember what you gave up for him. His ability to forgive will grow stronger.”

Gary laughed out loud and Isabel smiled a little, in spite of her alarm. She feigned nonchalance. “Is it really such a big deal to have a shaved head? Why, these days it’s almost stylish.”

Gary agreed. “She can get her Buddha on and walk around looking like a Zen monk.” He held both hands up and touched his fingers together in the ohm mudra, adding, “Isabel, the sacred faker.”

Isabel said, “I wish you’d see the precepts as koans, rather than inviolate rules.”

Gary glared at her. “What about our wedding vows? Are those koans as well?”

Dr. Schott interrupted. Her voice was grave. “This is not a meaningless austerity. It won’t be as easy as you think.”

Gary leaned toward the counselor. “Since arriving in California, my wife has become very caught up with her own looks.”

Not true. Gary was the one caught up with appearances. He often complained that her clothes were too dowdy. He didn’t hesitate to point out the extra pounds she’d gained since moving to America. Part of her understood his behavior, for Silicon Valley was an overly-competitive place. The moms at Jamo’s school were so lithe and thin. Most of them spent their free time at one of the nearby exercise studios: Pilates Zone, Ballet Barre, Soul Cycle. Why, last fall, she’d attended a Botox party at one of the mom’s homes. She’d showed up thinking it was a school committee meeting.

Dr. Schott passed the instructions to Isabel. “This exercise hasn’t failed me yet. For centuries, throughout history, women’s heads have been shaved in chastisement for adultery. This is nothing new.”

Gary and Isabel filed out of the special exit which allowed them, as well as the next incoming couple, anonymity. Dr. Schott touched Isabel on the arm as she passed through the doorway. “How is your son?”

“Better now,” Isabel said.  “Thank you for asking.”

“It’s the year of the Dragon,” Jamo announced the following morning.

Isabel slipped into an old, fleece jacket of Gary’s for the walk to school. “Yes, it is,”

“But I’m not a dragon, I’m a sheep,” Jamo dropped to all fours.  “Baaaaa, Baaaa!”

“Do you mean that you were born in the year of the ram? I never knew that.”

“I need grass. Me and Kevvy are both sheep. We want to put some grass in our lunch boxes.” He laughed to himself and Isabel understood that he was imagining opening the lunchbox full of grass in front of his friends.

She adjusted the backpack on his shoulders. “Let’s go then. We’ll stop by the meadow.”

The meadow was not much of a meadow. It was just the vacant lot next door. Isabel had grown weary of looking at the empty, dirt-filled parcel and last fall, she’d secretly sown the entire thing with a cover crop of winter rye grass. It was the same kind of grass which grew along the country roads leading out of Dublin and up to Howth and Enniskerry. Her grandmother lived in Enniskerry. How she missed her! Last autumn, by the bright shine of a harvest moon, she broadcast the seed by hand. Now, the grass was over a foot tall. Jamo pulled some of it from the earth and brought up not only the long, thin blades, but also, coarse clods of dirt, clinging to the roots.

Isabel looked at the clumps of dirt. “I’ll bring scissors tomorrow and we’ll cut the grass away from the roots. Can you wait?”

Jamo nodded and they continued their walk on to school.

Once back home, Isabel filled the kitchen sink with hot, soapy water and immersed the little plastic parts of the inhaler Jamo used earlier that morning for his asthma treatment. This was a morning ritual.

After he found out about the affair, Gary had moved out. He was away for only one night, when Jamo began gasping for air. At the hospital, the doctor explained that their son was an asthmatic with a particular set of triggers. His airways started to constrict whenever he felt anxious or upset. The doctor called Jamo a walking barometer. He’d actually laughed a little, perhaps at his own clever term. Neither Isabel nor Gary found it amusing that their son measured emotional climate in every breath. Gary moved back, into the spare room. Isabel set up a camping cot next to Jamo’s bed so she could check his breathing throughout the night. At the end of the hall, their bedroom loomed useless and vacant.

In midmorning, Gary stopped by the house. It was a new habit of his, coming home from work at odd hours. Checking up on her, Isabel supposed. Sometimes she wondered if he wasn’t hoping to catch her up to no good. She stayed where she was in the laundry room sorting their whites from the darks. She listened to his footsteps as he trod through the house, into one room and out the other, until he located her by the washer with a handful of his dirty undershirts. He stood in the doorway. His words were terse and commanding, “Company dinner tonight. Line up the sitter.” With a quick jerk of his head, he pivoted around and made his way back through the house. This is as bad as it can get, Isabel told herself.   

She’d known the man she was seeing was ending it before he’d ever said a word. By then, she and Paul were meeting once, sometimes twice a week. They met in the mornings, north of town at a small motel out on Cross Mountain Highway. They always rented the same room, room number seven, located at the farthest point from the road.

A young Indian couple ran the motel and Isabel found the couple to be much nicer than most of the people she’d met in California. Each time she booked a room they spoke kindly to her in a friendly, quiet way. The wife was lovely, with fine, aquiline features and lustrous, dark hair falling almost to her waist. One time, Isabel entered the office to find the husband slowly brushing his wife’s long tresses. She’d felt a rush of embarrassment to witness such intimacy. Sometimes, when handing the key back across the desk, she’d get the crazy urge to ask the couple over for a Sunday afternoon barbecue. They struck her as people who’d be content with a simple meal and a game of horseshoes or cards.

Paul was a musician and, at first, he too struck her as a person who preferred a simple life. They met at the Menlo Zen Center, where she attended Monday morning meditations. Paul almost always arrived late and he often placed his zafu next to hers. Last summer, she signed up for additional instruction in the Four Immeasurables, and as it happened, Paul was the teacher. After the first class, he offered to take their group out for coffee. When he’d squeezed in beside her in the café booth, she thought his interest in her was more empathetic than anything else, for she was shy about speaking up in class. Sitting in the booth with Paul reminded her of late nights out with Gary in the coffee shops of Dublin, at the Brother Hubbard or the Fumbally. She and Gary would spend hours sharing their opinions, discussing ideas, and later on, after they fell in love, making plans. Nowadays, it seemed the only thing Gary wished to talk about was the money he could earn on his stock options or how much their house was worth. It was still a type of planning, she knew, but her heart wasn’t in it. Gary was controlled by his career. She understood he’d been driven all along and that it was the reason he’d left America to go to Ireland—to speed up his career advancements. They would have never met if Gary hadn’t been ambitious enough to move to her country. But she’d not given much thought to his ambition back then, her own drive being minuscule.

Isabel was working the late shift the night Gary showed up at St. James’s with a raging, sore throat. The nurse gave him two paracetamols and ordered fluids. Isabel, just one bed away, was sitting vigil with an old man at end of life. Near dawn’s light, Gary asked her out over the dead man’s body. Audacious yes, but the dead are dead. They quickly became inseparable, and within the year, they were engaged. She agreed to marry him without hesitation, without once considering the possibility of leaving Dublin or moving away from her family.

What Gary called his “golden opportunity” arrived just before Jamo’s third birthday. In his new job, Gary’s presence was required at corporate functions and often with “the wife” on arm. Americans were bowled over by her Irish accent. Gary’s investors would walk up to her and demand, “Say something.” This, without even a proper hello or how are you. She told Gary she felt like a puppet. His answer was curt. “Deal with it.” He reminded her that his career was their future. The dinners were the least of it. Gary’s CEO was a mixed martial arts fanatic, and once every couple of months, they were required to fly out to Las Vegas with him to watch a match. The violence in the ring made Isabel’s stomach turn.

The musician, refreshingly, had no interest in material pursuits. That first evening at the café, she and Paul fell into easy conversation around music and singing. He invited her to a backyard concert for the following Sunday afternoon. Gary was away, traveling for business in China. She called the sitter and thus it began.

Too soon, though, Paul wanted more than she could provide. He struggled with depression and needed someone who could listen to his worries, someone to console him. Although, in Dublin, it had been her job in do just that, it was now too much. She had Jamo to take care of and she had her husband as well. There wasn’t enough left over for nurturing Paul. She could show up at the roadside motel and they could make love, but that was as much as she had to offer.

When her lover began to understand her limitations, he broke off their meetings. The sadness she felt wasn’t only about the end of their affair, for what was the affair in essence, but a distraction from her isolation? The sadness came also from understanding how far she’d fallen, how very lost she’d become.


The old, movie house in Palo Alto was converted into a bookstore, but it still maintained the intimate feeling of a movie theater. With rows and rows of books and soft, roomy chairs, the place gave Isabel comfort. After the love affair ended, she began spending those open mornings at the bookstore. She felt she could not return to the Menlo Zen Center; it was Paul’s territory. At the bookstore, sometimes she sat and read, sometimes she meditated.

She found a copy of the book Dr. Schott had read from, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, by Adrienne Rich and settled into a favorite chair near the children’s section.

We are thrust back onto some bleak, jutting ledge in a dark pierced by sheets of fire, swept by sheets of rain, in a world before kinship, or naming, or tenderness exist, we are brought close to formlessness.

She closed her eyes and sank deeper in her chair. She focused on her breath, the cool sensation of the inhale at the tip of her nose and a moment later, the warm release of her exhale. But her meditation was cut short when, Christine, a mother from Jamo’s kindergarten class, popped her head over a bookshelf and boomed, “Isabel is that you?”

Isabel cringed. Bookstores should be treated like libraries: Speak softly, and move quietly. Christine, a tall blond, who always seemed to be brimming with energy, came around the end of the aisle chattering in a robust tone that seemed to reverberate off the shelves and reach into the store’s farthest corners.

“Dear one! I’ve been so very worried about you and I’ve been meaning to call.” Christine threw back her head and her pale hair cascaded over her shoulders. “But, you know how busy we all are these days.”

It was true. People were busy. These winter mornings, the elderly or the homeless were usually the only ones filling the chairs inside the bookstore. Isabel closed her book and looked up at the woman standing above her. “Why worried?” she asked. It was a reflexive response, but she was genuinely curious. Isabel thought of Christine as being much too involved with her family and her pet project, a charity fashion show she ran each Spring, to notice much else around her. Isabel understood that her attitude toward Christine was judgmental.

“Why, the divorce,” Christine responded. “Jamo told Ashley about it at school a few weeks back. Jamo said that you and your husband, what is it, Jerry?  Jamo said you two were splitting up.”

Isabel’s felt her face flush with the heat of shame. Jamo was telling classmates that his parents were getting a divorce after they’d carefully explained on the day Gary moved out that they were simply taking some time apart. They’d described it as being the same as what his teacher did whenever a kid got overexcited or too angry, just a little time out, that’s all. Obviously, their son hadn’t bought it. The trip to hospital had told them that. Isabel sat up straight. “We most certainly are not,” she said.

“Ashley insisted.”

Isabel cut her off. “I said, Christine, we most certainly are not getting a divorce.” She could barely keep her voice under control. She stood up so that the woman could no longer loom over her. “Your Ashley must have made some mistake.”

A year earlier she wouldn’t have dreamt of speaking to Christine this way. But under duress, her convictions flew right out the window and all her practice went with it. She was weak. Weak for her clinging: for wallowing around in the pain of homesickness, and for the craving: for wanting back the Gary she used to know, and of course, for betraying him.

Christine must have detected Isabel’s anger because she took a step back while conceding, “Well, I guess you should know.” A moment later, her face lit up. “And, I’m just so glad!” she gushed. “One more divorced couple in that kindergarten class is the last thing we need.” She swept a silky strand away from her face. “Marriage isn’t easy work, but somebody’s got to do it.”

Isabel nodded dumbly in agreement and tried to smile. She felt completely empty.

That night, after Jamo was asleep, she slipped off her cot and went into the family room where Gary was watching television and working on his laptop. “Sorry to disturb you,” she said. He didn’t look up, but this was nothing new. It was the very kind of behavior, which drove her to the musician. She’d entered the room to tell Gary about her encounter with Christine at the bookstore, but she changed her mind. She asked, “Do you want to cut all my hair off?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m serious. If it’ll help, let’s do it.”

“Please,” he said. Finally, he looked up from the screen. “Don’t torment me any more than you already have.”

She stood quiet for a moment and then offered, “If we don’t talk to one another, we can’t make it any better.”

Gary reached for the remote and switched off the television.  He closed this laptop and stood up. “Isabel,” he said, “It’s never going to get any better than this.” She turned away quickly, her bleak heart caving in. She went into their bedroom and sat down at the vanity. The wasteland of the empty room felt like an accusation.

In the chaplaincy program, she’d specialized in end-of-life care. The other students, who were mostly middle-aged mothers and grandmothers, asked her why a woman so young would wish to focus on end-of-life? But it suited her: her pensive nature, her inherent seriousness. She liked the starkness, the realness of end-of-life work. Her mother was proud of her, both sisters too. She wasn’t a nun, but it was close enough. After Gary came along, the work no longer fit her. Why would a young woman choose to focus on the morbid? After Gary, it became difficult to spend time at the side of the dying. Her compassion never left her, but her interests changed. The move to America offered an escape. She promised herself that when she returned to chaplaincy practice, she would work with children. Rollicking, impulsive, lively, children, who had their whole lives before them. She and Gary had agreed that she’d wait one more year, until Jamo was in school for the full day before she returned to work. But she should have gone back earlier; this, instead of taking a lover. Her true self, her purity had evaporated in face of adversity, and all the metta, all the compassion, in the world could not atone for her actions. She picked up her hairbrush and began the nightly ritual of one hundred strokes. She could hear Gary moving along the hallway, the door to the guest room clicking shut.


They were at the counselor’s office again. Dr. Schott rested her hands on their file. “Well, where were we?” She looked from Gary to Isabel.

Gary turned toward Isabel, but she shook her head. “No, you begin.” She switched her gaze out the window. A dark raincloud hovered just beyond the sequoias. Inside the office, the air felt heavy. She remembered a similar rainy afternoon the week before, when she and Gary were on their way to a company dinner at the Rosewood Hotel. They stopped for a traffic light on Sand Hill Road, not far from Gary’s office, and a beggar, a man about their own age, stepped off the median. He came up to the car and tapped lightly on the glass.

Gary rolled down his window. “You again? Christ!”

“Gary, please.” Isabel reached over and touched his arm.

“Last week, in this very spot, I offered this guy a job. Can you believe it? He asked me for money and I gave him my card. We actually need a janitor over at the office.”

Isabel hoped the man couldn’t hear the scorn in his voice. He sounded so put out, so disgusted, as if all of humanity had let him down, instead of this one, poor man out on the street. But, of course, it was she who’d let Gary down. She pushed the thought away.

Gary smacked the steering wheel. “The fucker never even phoned me.” He turned to the man who was dripping wet in the rain. “What about a wife, dude? Got one? Would you sell me your wife? You lazy prick. I bet you just would. Well, you’ve still got my card. Send her on over.”

Isabel caught her breath. She’d never seen Gary like this. So base, so cruel. The light turned green and she pointed. “Can’t we go now?” Gary stepped hard on the gas and the man jumped away.

Dr. Schott cleared her throat. “Gary, why don’t you begin today?”

He said, “She keeps following me around the house. I can’t get any work done.”

“Is she trying to pick a fight?”

“No, but she’s wanting something.”

Dr. Schott looked at Isabel. “Isabel?” she asked. “What is it that you wish from Gary?” The therapist sounded sympathetic.

Isabel’s voice trembled as she said, “I don’t know, somehow, I thought that we . . . ,” she faltered. It felt as if all their future depended on her answer. “I thought that if we came here and if I apologized, that maybe Gary could forgive me. I hoped that we could be a couple again.” She thought back to Christine in the bookstore. “Even if it is just for Jamo’s sake and nothing more.”

Gary wouldn’t look at her. His lips were pressed so tightly together that the skin around his nostrils turned color to pale green. He seemed barely able to contain his anger.

Dr. Schott patted the small wooden footstool near her chair. “Come here,” she said to Isabel. “Come sit by me.”

Without hesitating, Isabel moved across the room and as soon as she did, a great wave of grief rose up inside her. She felt like a child at her mother’s knee. Dr. Schott rested a hand on Isabel’s shoulder. “I can see how much you’re suffering.”

Dr. Schott turned to Gary. “I believe Isabel wants to be a couple again for reasons extending beyond your son. I believe she loves you and is truly sorry for her transgression.”

Sitting next to Dr. Schott, Isabel felt stronger. She looked at Gary and said, “I miss the intimacy we used to have, our ease in being together.”

The counselor gave Isabel’s shoulder a squeeze and said, “We’ve been working on this for some time now. Gary, can you picture the two of you together as a couple again? Not right away, necessarily, but sometime down the road, can you see you and Isabel reunited in an intimate relationship?”

Gary didn’t answer. He stretched his long legs out across the carpets. He cracked his knuckles and clasped his hands behind his head. How could he be so calm, Isabel wondered, when so much rested on this one moment. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just don’t know. Jamo needs us together, true, but it’s like a trap, really. I come home at night to do my part and be with Jamo.” He dropped his arms and slowly shook his head. “Isabel is a stranger to me now. I really can’t imagine her as a part of my life.” Isabel felt sad, almost sick, but not surprised.


For almost a week, Jamo and Isabel forgot about the grass they’d planned to cut for his lunchbox. Then Jamo remembered and, once more, they left early for school. This time, Isabel brought along the kitchen shears. They went into the meadow, where she carefully cut handfuls of cool, rye grass. At school, the teacher took up the project and brought out a small wooden trough. Jamo was so excited. For a moment, it was hard for Isabel to imagine her son ever worrying about his parents. She kissed him on top of the head and said, goodbye. This small, sweet boy was real victim of her indiscretion. His world could not be unfurled.

She walked home slowly, trying to sort it all out. Gary was gone or as good as gone. Paul had not been there in the first place. Throughout the affair, he’d never come close to filling the ragged hole inside her. It was foolish to have imagined he would. She felt exhausted from her constant worry, her looping mind that never let go. She took a deep breath and tried to escape by chanting a mantra-like recitation from the Noble Eightfold Path: Right thought, right action, right words. Her meditation was interrupted by the idea that the very best words for Gary would have been no words at all. Truthfulness is a precept yes, but it often comes at great cost. Anger was what Shantideva had written about in the Boddihasatva. Anger described as a single flash of lightening, which could shatter good works gathered over a thousand ages. She should have spared Gary her confession, no matter how angry she was with him.

Before entering the house, Isabel stopped at the garage and placed the scissors in the car. She went into the kitchen and grabbed her keys, along with a blue, plastic bag from the Sunday paper. There was a place out in the foothills she knew about. It was private, yet easy to reach, just a short way off the road and in the woods. It wasn’t so far out that she’d miss Jamo’s pick-up time. She and Gary had hiked there a couple of years ago, right after their move to California. Jamo was still so small that Gary carried him in a backpack.

On the drive out, Isabel passed the little motel where she and Paul used to meet. She imagined the Indian couple inside the office. They’d be watching TV, the wife sitting nearest to the door the way she always did. By the light of the flickering screen, you’d see her long, dark hair spilling over her shoulders and into her lap.

Isabel drove beneath great stands of giant sequoias. She looped off the main road into the deeper foothills. The place where she parked wasn’t a parking lot at all, but more of an informal pull-out. She gathered her items and set off into the woods. The fast pace of too-hot-to-handle Silicon Valley was behind her, replaced by a cool, misty, calm and by serenity and slowness. Isabel felt as if time was measured differently in the forest, by dripping dewdrops and dappled sunlight. After a few minutes of walking, she found a flat spot at the base of a tall tree and she dropped to her knees. A rush of wings occurred somewhere above her, a hawk maybe, or perhaps a dove.

She closed her eyes and bowed her head. Her hair fell forward. Within the dark tent of it, the rich, loamy scent of the earth embraced her senses. It was the same kind of thick, moist air she’d breathed all her life in Ireland. She inhaled deeply and held in her breath. She felt rooted to the spot, almost at home. She might stay there forever. She released the breath and let her chant begin. Samma sati, Samma kammanta, Samma vaca. She said it again and again, and for the briefest instance, she felt a sliver of redemption. With head bowed and eyes squeezed shut, she swept her hands across the ground in search of the scissors.


Elizabeth Fergason

Elizabeth Fergason is a native of North Carolina. Published pieces include the five-part memoir series, “First Pancake” on bettyconfidential.com. New work is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine and Blue Moon. Elizabeth lives in Woodside, California.