Willimantic is a small blip of a town between New York City and Boston. It used to be called Heroin Town.
Considering the fact that most of the textile factories and thread factories shut down in the 70s and moved down South (as in Central America, since even Southerners were insisting on union wages), and considering the larger fact that Connecticut was no longer home to the big insurance companies, you would not be surprised at the condition of Willimantic by the late 90s.
Once a sprawling, working class community with huge Victorian homes, ancient buildings and bustling businesses on Main Street, along with a steady influx of French Canadians, Puerto Ricans, and Irish-Americans, many houses now stood empty, became occupied by UConn students, or became drug havens for heroin junkies, and many of the businesses either went bust or else moved to the strip mall down on I-195. It was said that the mall, a venture put forward as a generator of new jobs during the recession in the late 80s, had actually killed what was left of downtown life. Here and there a few storefronts attempted to breathe life, and actually did survive, albeit piecemeal. Two restaurants actually maintained good business, drawing in the yuppies who lived on the outskirts of Willimantic or from Mansfield, near the state university set in the midst of cow pasture. But it was nothing like what it was. Such was the state of economics in Southern New England.
And what of the lost souls who wandered up and down the street, search for the last hit, the new high that would surely take them from the everyday misery of the memories lucking behind the empty theater across from cracked, crumbling Hooker hotel (actually J. C. Hooker, who never imagined himself being known as a swatter’s haven, a hooker’s hotel?)? Or the greasy spoon still serving cholesterol to truckers traveling through from Providence to Hartford, to New York, to beyond?
Nestled in the midst of this slow death was a fledgling cafe, once a fledgling bookstore specializing in feminist studies and other such subversive material. The ghosts of the bustling city lived in the alley between the cafe and Greenleaf lamp shop, and through their descendants who, not imagining any other place to live, continued to shop and eat on Main Street, continuing to take their children downtown, choosing the desolate scenery over the larger yet still desolate city of Hartford. Or the students from either Eastern State or Connect State looking for cheap rent and privacy from the desperation of campus life.
Such was the woman who stepped out of the back of the building where the vegetarian cafe was located. As she walked down the narrow pathway she tried not to notice the ever watching eyes behind the windows in the slum apartments to the left of her, the barely painted exterior of the back of the next building that did not look like an apartment building from the front, but just another office building. She had not been surprised at its decrepit sate when she was first shown the apartment in the building next door, nor was she particularly afraid of the young men who occasionally wandered out to fix their rusty cars.
She was cautious, silent, hoping that their stares were more of caution than of interest. Two years were gone, and yet no act of revenge, no smell of sulfur, no evidence of a hex. Yet.
For the last three years she was living with her head ready to turn at a second’s notice to look back, to the side, looking for the change in temperature, the spirit that she knew to be lurking somewhere, for the face of the man who drove the energy towards her, who she knew to be motivated only for one purpose: to drive her up to and beyond the limits of her sanity.
She looked around the parking lot to see if the red 1987 Subaru station was still sitting in the parking lot before unlocking her car and settling into her driver’s seat. Looking in the rearview mirror, she saw herself and grimaced at her already melting hair in the evening humidity of late summer heat.
The moon already lurked in the shadowy sky, but it would be late in the night before the cool night air would give relief from the July sun. She softly touched her face, noticing how her coffee brown skin seemed to glow in the rays of moonlight. Seemingly pleased with herself, she started the engine of her gray 1988 Chevy Nova and sauntered out the parking lot. The adjacent parking lot was nearly empty, save for a stray taxi, and two police cars which were each occupied with white male officers. They seemed engrossed in deep conversation. The road seemed to carry the gray Chevy towards the stop sign.
She watched a thin woman entering the small gym the right of the intersection, and felt a slight sensation of guilt. As in response, the thin woman flipped her hair and turned to look her. The gray car zoomed across the intersection and up the hill, rushing pass the overhanging trees and looming Victorian houses, threading through the narrow streets and parked cars. She kept her eyes on oncoming cars at several intersections, expecting some fool to ignore the stop signs she crossed, as if an accident was tomorrow’s promise. When she reached the Route 6 highway she began to relax, settling into the monotony of highways connecting to highways, connecting and collecting cities.
Her eyes never the left the road, but her mind swayed back and forth from the road to her apartment in Willimantic, to the bedroom where she knew her lover was waiting, her moment to raise energy she needed to do battle, to focus on the inner shrine she built in her belly, the womb where she wished to fill with more than sperm. All of this she would try to spill forth to her spirit guide in Glastonbury in an elaborate ritual that could help cast out for the good of many the enemy now pursuing her destruction.
“Will he cure you?” asked her lover, as they later lay entwined, their love juices still pouring from their bodies. “No,” she answered, “but he will help me break down the walls that protect him and allow him to continue to work against me unchallenged.”
And so soon she shot off onto I-384 to Glastonbury in her tony car, where her elf-like spirit guide sat waiting for her arrival.
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