Ultimately, Addie runs to Phoenix because it seems like the city most likely to spite The Demon. There’s the name, obviously; but that isn’t as appealing as the (presumptive) lack of mud.
Of course, she knows nothing about the desert—nothing about any sort of landscape, really. She’d been born in Milwaukee, and The Demon had never seen a reason to take her outside the county. But she assumes that, in the desert, there isn’t enough rain to make the earth sodden and resistant to footsteps. When trudged across, the ground will not squeal in objection. When digging a hole, there will be no Sisyphean rush of bilgewater to mock her progress.
In no way, shape or form will Phoenix resemble her backyard. There will be no mower, no half-finished shed, and no planters shedding their paintjobs. When she looks out her kitchen windows, she will not be confronted with desolate patches of crabgrass. There will be no raindrops pattering against the backdoor, and no hands pawing at the knob, each rattle punctuating The Demon’s commands to “open the fucking door, you stupid bitch.”
When cleaning, she will not be forced to scrub away unspeakable things. There will be no Demon to clap her on the shoulder and tell her, “Good girl, good girl,” nodding at the bleach-soaked dishtowel, and then adding: “You’re a good daughter, you know.” She will not be forced to reflect upon the person to whom the dishtowel belongs, or what her maternal family once described as ‘the inevitable,’ which is inching closer and closer and closer (and has maybe already arrived? —but she can’t bring herself to look outside).
In Phoenix, she can refashion herself into the heroine of a different story. When people ask about her mother, she’ll say things like, “she only bakes with genetically-modified fruit. She wants to prove that we have nothing to fear” and “she wants to come down here next year and hunt for aliens. She says that, even if we don’t find any, we’ll still run into plenty of loonies.” Addie will make her sound like the sort of person who Does Things and Has Opinions, the sort of person that others want to be around. Her version of the story will not allow for neighbors who know too much and do too little, who shake their heads and murmur about people who simply don’t want to be helped.
In her Phoenix, characters like the Demon will be implausible. She will stroll down sunbaked streets without fear. When people look at her, they’ll know that she was raised well. It will never occur to anyone to examine her past for stains, and no one will ever take her mother’s name in vain.
T. Rios is a writer, pacifist, and public-transit enthusiast. She has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her work has previously appeared in venues such as The Billfold, Rabbit Rabbit, and 10,000 Tons of Black Ink.