You Don’t Need a
to Know Which Way the
©2010 The Angst Guy (email@example.com)
Daria and associated characters are ©2010 MTV Networks
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Synopsis: A terrible secret from the past catches up with a former hippie radical, engulfing her family, her job, and the rest of her life.
Author’s Notes: At the end of January 2007, Bliss Ticks proposed a PPMB Iron Chef as follows: “Write a story where Helen is homeless. It can be in her past, future, with her family, without them...whatever. Only one condition: The story cannot end with her ‘getting a home’- it's just too obvious. Flashback stories are permitted, however.” My contribution is here.
Acknowledgements: Bliss Ticks has my gratitude for his clever challenge that gave this tale life.
“Hey, um... ma’am?”
The gray-haired woman turned around, hands buried in the pockets of her threadbare overcoat. The young social worker motioned her over to the doorway of the multipurpose room with the cinderblock walls. A used-car commercial blared from the flickering TV.
“I hate to bother you, but we’re short-staffed and need help back in the kitchen,” said the social worker. “Could give me hand with dishes, please? I’ll make it worth your time.”
The gray-haired woman bit her lower lip as she considered the offer. Her blue eyes bore a trace of genuine fear. “Can I spend the night here?” she whispered.
The social worker glanced behind the woman at the two scruffy winos watching the tube from an old sofa, then lowered her voice. “No, but you can get some extra food for dinner if you do and hang out here for a few hours. It’s a lot safer here than being out there. Warmer, too, probably.”
The older woman looked down at the floor, thought some more. “Okay,” she whispered, shoulders slumping. “Thank you.”
“No problem. I should be thanking you, though.” The social worker motioned for her to follow. “Back this way.”
They wound their way through a dark hallway to the kitchen. The homeless shelter had been a church a half century earlier, and the kitchen had once fed parishioners. The old woman’s coat went on a hook behind the kitchen door. She wore a baggy gray-brown sweater with a large hole under one arm, dirty fatigue pants, old boots. When she pulled off her black woolen gloves—
“Ah!” Shocked, the social worker started to reach for the old woman’s hands. “Ohmigod! Are you all right?”
The older woman flinched in pain as her hands vanished into the huge pockets of her pants.
“I’m sorry!” said the social worker. “I just wanted to know if you were all right. I won’t touch you if you don’t want me to. Does that hurt?”
The woman shook her head no.
“Did you burn your fingers?”
No response except a tightening of the lips.
“Well, you can’t put those bandages in water. I have some big rubber gloves. Can you put your hands in warm water that way?”
After a beat, the woman nodded yes.
“Well, if you’re sure it’s okay. There’s the sink. Wait, here’s the gloves. Put these on, see if they fit. The detergent’s right there. Sorry we have so many dishes, but at least they’re plastic. Doesn’t matter if you drop one. I have to clean out the oven. Wish it was self-cleaning, but you know how tight budgets are lately. D’oh!” The social worker slapped herself on the forehead. “My name’s Katie! What’s yours?”
The old woman swallowed, her blue eyes focused on the linoleum floor. “H-... Linda.” She looked up. “It’s Linda.”
“Linda, great!” Katie reached out to shake hands, then remembered and jerked her hand back in embarrassment. “Sorry! I forgot about... well, forget that. Thanks so much for helping out. Do you mind if I talk? Makes the time go by faster.”
Linda shrugged and glanced at the open kitchen door. Down the hall in the multipurpose room, a late afternoon comedy show was starting on TV, a rerun.
“You want me to turn on the TV in here while you work? I can turn this little one on. Wish we could get cable here, but we need the money for more important things.”
“No,” whispered Linda, turning on the sink’s hot water.
“Fine with me. Wish they’d turn down that set in the MPR. Annoying.”
Out in the multipurpose room, someone changed the channel.
—sports, and weather. Channel Thirteen’s Action News at six!
“Well,” said Katie with a sigh, “looks like we’re gonna get the news whether we want it or not.”
Linda picked up the rubber gloves and slowly pulled them on over her scarred, bandaged fingers. She gritted her teeth as she did.
top story tonight: The largest manhunt in recent history is in its second day
within a two-hundred mile radius of the
“Oh, man!” exclaimed Katie, on her knees in front of the open oven. “She was a lawyer?”
—is being sought in connection with the discovery of a body buried under
a house near
“Have you heard about that?” asked Katie, leaning into the oven. “Pretty wild, isn’t it? It’s been on all the TV stations and the papers. Man, some people, I tell you.”
—is thought to have once belonged to the SDS, the Students for a
Democratic Society, a radical leftist group that opposed the Vietnam War and
sought the overthrow of the government of the
in the dragnet yesterday were Helen Morgendorffer’s husband, Jake, who worked
in Lawndale as a business consultant, Earl Yeager, of Phoenix, Arizona, who
went by the nickname Coyote, and Earl’s wife Willow Yeager, formerly Willow
Shelby. All four are in their early fifties. The FBI announced tonight that it
is placing Helen Morgendorffer on its list of its ten most wanted fugitives.
Helen is five foot seven, approximately one hundred thirty-five pounds, with
short brunette hair and brown eyes. She was last seen leaving home for her
workplace yesterday morning. Her nineteen ninety-seven Ford Explorer, seen
here, was discovered in an alley in south
“Jeez Louise!” grumbled Katie, rubbing her runny nose on her sleeve. “This oven cleaner stinks to high heaven. Whew! You doing okay over there? Good. You’re coming along great with those. Keeps your hands warm, doesn’t it? I like doing dishes in cold weather. You sure your hands are okay? Okay, just checking.”
—records indicate that Helen and her then boyfriend Jake were arrested for assaulting a police officer on August ninth, nineteen sixty-nine, and were jailed for one night before being released. An unnamed source in the Boulder police department said that the police at the time did not believe the couple posed a serious public threat, noting in the records that Helen, who allegedly punched the officer during a traffic stop, was drunk, and she apologized for the incident. The couple was not charged. The undercover agent, whose name has not yet been released, was reported missing shortly after Helen Barksdale and Jake Morgendorffer left the area, but they were never connected with the agent’s disappearance.
and Jake Morgendorffer have two adult daughters, both of whom are reported to
be college students. They are in police custody for questioning, one in
In other news, President Bush said today that—
Katie got to her feet, waving at her
face. “Can’t take anymore of that stuff. I’ll finish
later. Whoa! How’d you ever get done with those dishes so fast? You must’ve
worked in a restaurant. Not gonna say, huh? That’s okay. I got a lot of stuff
in my past I hate talking about, too. My ex-husband Wind, for one. I used to
have a houseboat, can you believe that? Had it docked in
Linda shook her head as she carefully peeled off the rubber gloves.
“Don’t mean to be nosy,” said Katie. She wiped her nose. “I can’t stand that oven cleaner.”
“I’ll do it,” Linda whispered.
“Nah, I can’t have you do it. Your hands are—”
“Please.” Linda took a shuddering breath. “Can I stay overnight? I have nowhere else to go.”
Katie groaned and wiped her forehead with her sleeve. “Oh, man, I’ve love to have you stay over, but the director said we can’t for security reasons. Tell you what, though, if you’re going to be in the area. We can give you extra food and maybe some other stuff for your help. I’d rather have you around than these young gangsta-wannabes. They won’t help with anything. They act like this is their mom’s place or something. If you can help us out here and there, I’ll see what I can do. Where do you stay now?”
Linda spread her injured hands. “Nowhere,” she whispered.
“Jeez. I’d say the old Y, but that’s pretty bad. Have you been to the Y already? It’s not really a Y anymore, and it’s not safe at all. I gotta think. Let me call some people.”
“No.” Linda dropped her hands. “I’ll go.”
“Wait.” Katie blew out a long breath. “Oh, what the hell. We have a spare room downstairs. It sucks, but it’s safer than being out there. Clean out the oven, and it’s yours. Nothing down there the director cares about, anyway. Do you smoke? Good, can’t do that here, either. Deal? Oven for the room?”
Linda nodded, the movement of her head barely visible.
“Good. Well, there’s the oven cleaner and the brush. Good luck.”
It was a very small room in the shelter’s musty basement, with a small table and a wobbly kiddie chair. The bed had a mattress with a ripped plastic cover, a stained sheet, and two musty Army surplus blankets. The window was painted over in black. The heater did not work. The pipes in the ceiling made noises when anyone in the shelter flushed a toilet or ran water in a sink. It was as cold as a Martian icecap. Linda’s warm breath created clouds in the air under the dim overhead light bulb.
“Thank you,” whispered Linda, her face working. “Thank you so much.”
“Eh, well, it’s not much.” Katie cleared her throat. She was afraid she might cry and hoped she didn’t. The old woman didn’t seem like a regular crazy street person. She must have really hit some bad times. It was just plain sad, that’s what it was. “Kinda early to turn in, but you earned it. See you in the morning for breakfast. I’ll see what I can do if you want to stay on longer.”
When the door was closed, Linda leaned forward and rested her head against it, eyes closed. After a few moments, tears ran down her cheeks and fell to the concrete floor. She wept without making a sound.
Later she planned to check her big coat pockets for the small bottle of gray hair dye, the solution for her blue contacts, the lozenges that roughened her voice. She planned to inspect her fingertips to make sure the acid had eaten away the whorls and ridges so she would never leave fingerprints. And she planned to leave at dawn and move on to another shelter to get lunch, and then another for dinner, and then move on to another city for a day or two, and then another city, and then another and another and another and another and another and another forever and ever, running and running and running and running without end, until the day when she heard her real name shouted out and felt a hand grasp her arm—
Now, though, she remembered the past. She again knew the feel of a gun in her hand, felt it jerk hard twice, smelled the stink of burnt gunpowder, experienced the drugged fog that could not block out the screams of those around her. She remembered the mad panic, the ruined plans for revolution, the secret burial and the forever-long drive back to the college campus. She remembered the years of moving around the country, getting married and having children, studying law because she was so afraid she would have to use her knowledge to defend herself in court or get herself out of prison. And she remembered daring to think it was all behind her, thinking she was free at last and the ghosts were truly buried so far far away, and then she got the phone call from Jake, as the police were pulling up outside his office....
The song came back as it always did. She blinked
back tears and heard the song in her mind, fresh and clear and funny and true
as when she and Jake and
She pulled away from the door and wiped her eyes on her sweater sleeve. Her fingers ached, her feet ached, her bones ached, everything inside her was in the deepest pain, but nothing ached so much as her heart. Everyone she loved was gone. She pulled on her overcoat, lay down on the cold bed on top of the blankets, and closed her eyes. Hours later, when she finally slept, she began to dream of home.
Author’s Notes II: This tale was based on the life of Kathleen Soliah, a former member of the Symbionese
Liberation Army, who was on the run from the early 1970s until 1999, when she
was captured while living under an assumed name (married and with children).
Helen Morgendorffer and company are assumed here to have briefly been part of
the Weathermen. The song Helen (“Linda,” as in
Kathleen Soliah’s story
“Subterranean Homesick Blues” and its place in 1960s counterculture
Lyrics to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (fanfic has modified version)
“Jane and the Lanes”
“Lane Miserables” (script)
“Art Burn” (script)
Original: 02/02/07, modified 02/09/07, 03/16/09, 11/15/09, 05/19/10