Aiding and Abetting

I show the fugitive some hospitality. That's just the way it is with empty-nesters. We give strangers too much credit, or sometimes, not enough.

Sep 5 2013, 7:15pm

All images by Olivia Hinds

Hilary Leichter’s work has appeared in n+1, Tin House, the Kenyon Review, the Indiana Review, and many other publications. She is a recipient of a 2013 fellowship from the Edward F. Albee Foundation and lives in Brooklyn.

I show the fugitive some hospitality. That's just the way it is with empty-nesters. We give strangers too much credit, or sometimes, not enough.

“You're a big-hearted one, aren't you.” says the fugitive, toneless.  

“Sure, if you'd like.” 

What the fugitive doesn’t know is that my heart is small and scared, governed by a deep fear of getting things wrong. I bring her some green tea. Did I bring her the right kind of leaf?

See, this is what I mean. 

“No. Thanks.” she says, hovering over her mug, not thrilled.   

“Whatever appeals.” I pull the mug away. “You're the guest!”

“I think you might be a poor judge of character,” she says, smiling now. She closes her eyes, same as when I found her crouching behind the hedge. There, she just looked at me and closed her eyes and smiled, like I was a joke and I had come to collect some laughter from the bushes.

She wears sunglasses when she sits on the couch by the window. She says she wants to go shopping for fancy shoes at the mall, a strange choice for a woman on the run. “Haha!” I say. She is not cool with my limited imagination.  

“Sometimes, a wanted woman wants to look her best,” she says. “Don't you ever want to look your best?” she asks me, and I imagine dipping my toes into a red wedge. 

But the mall is far away. There is a security detail at the mall, and there is a cork board near the parking lot where people post pictures of things gone missing. She goes through my old dresses instead, and claims them as disguises. She is the same size as my eldest daughter and ends up wearing her old cross-country sweatshirt. 

I've done a great job of keeping the coast clear. We eat breakfast before sunrise. She uses the laundry room as headquarters. She is surly about wanting to take long baths. I walk the perimeter of the hedge, hoping to find another one just like her.

“Is this pepperoni?” she asks, with a cheek full of my frozen pizza.

“I was saving that for an emergency.”

“I don't eat meat,” she says.

“Oh! They didn't mention that on the news program.” 

“What do you think I am, a monster?” She storms off without cleaning her plate. I clean it because I feel bad, but also maybe I'm afraid.

She watches me walking the hedge. 

My position has changed, but I'm not sure how. 

“You're always welcome here,” I often say, “though you're wanted elsewhere.” 

The VICE Reader is a series in which we publish original fiction—mostly. We also feature the occasional poem, essay, book review, diary entry, Graham Greene-style dream-diary entry, Zemblan fable, letter to the editor, letter to a fictional character, and anything else that is so good we feel it must be shared among the literary-minded and the internet at large.

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