The light flashed in her eyes, sharp and painful. There was a heaviness, then a lightness, then it was dark.
Marion opened her eyes to the sight of her cream-colored ceiling. She took a deep breath, feeling the softness of the coverlet beneath her. She was cold, and it was then that the realized that she was wearing only her bra and slip. She sat up now, looking around quickly, almost wildly, as if she expected someone to attack her. She put her hand to her heart, which was racing beneath her fingertips. She couldn't remember the dream she'd had, but she was now very aware of how it made her feel.
She swung her legs quickly off the side of the bed and stood up with the intent to grab her robe out of her closet. Her hand skimmed the coverlet and she felt it made contact with something and knock it to the ground. An envelope.
Marion stared at it for a second, not recognizing what it was. Then the realization hit her like a brick to the back of her head and swooped down upon it, grabbing it and holding it to her chest. She was kneeling on the floor, looking around distrustfully. Some irrational fear held her, that someone could see her, could see what she had done.
Sighing now, she sat back slowly onto the bed, cradling the massively overstuffed envelope in her hands. It wasn't hers.
But sitting there, holding it, in her house, in her bedroom, fingering the edges of the green paper rectangles just poking from the outside – how could she not feel somehow that it belonged to her, that she was meant to have it?
Marion wasn't a religious person. Neither was her father, nor her sister, Lila. Her mother was, but in a unique way. After Eunice Crane's oldest brother, Steven, died in a drowning accident as a child, she didn't believe in God's mercy. Eunice didn't believe that God worked to make people's lives better; He worked to make them worse. He tested His children, constantly. He made them work to have happiness.
So Eunice didn't believe in miracles; she believed in "opportunities." Opportunities, not miracles, were the proof that God existed. When something bad would happen to Marion and Lila when they were girls, she would tell them that occasionally, God passed "opportunities" a person's way, and it was up to them to take them or leave them.
"Take your opportunities where you can find them, girls," she would tell them. Then she'd shrug in her nonchalant way. "Who knows? It might the last one God's ever going to send you."
Lila laughed off her mother's teachings as soon as she no longer needed the protection of their parents' roof, and Marion occasionally joined in when Lila would recall those memories with ridicule. But her heart wasn't completely in it. A part of her could appreciate what her mother told them. There didn't seem to be a merciful god looking out for people, at least, not everyone. After all, why were some able to live comfortably while others suffered? Why did some have to be poor and toil and sweat, while others could spend money like it grew on trees?
It was this last thought that made Marion remember where this money came from. That blowhard Texan who'd been flirting with her earlier that day in the office. He'd gotten right into her face, smiled his toothy grin, and she was forced to sit there and be pleasant while he breathed his whiskey breath on her.
Marion couldn't help but smile now as she thought of what he'd say on Monday when he realized the money was gone. He'd probably threaten Mr. Lowery and blame everyone but himself.
"Idiot," Marion said out loud. "Who in their right mind hands over that sum of money with no security?"
But then, Marion heard her mother's voice in her head again: God sends opportunities. It's up to you to take them.
Marion stood up quickly from the bed, marched over to the closet where her open, half-filled suitcase still lay when she decided to lie down and close her eyes. She really had had a headache earlier, and she thought that if she was going to make the kind of drive she'd planned, she should rest a little. But the few minutes of rest she'd planned had turned into hours, and the windows of her room were now dark with night.
Marion looked down at her bag. She only had a few more things to pack, really, and she could be on the road in under an hour. If she drove all night and all day the next day, stopping only for food, she could reach Sam before Monday – before anyone had a chance to know the money was gone.
She now ran through in her head again what she'd tell Sam: she'd greet him with incredible enthusiasm, and tell him that she'd won some money in a radio contest. She wouldn't tell him the full amount; just enough that he'd believe she could have won something like that.
She'd tell him that she'd decided to quit her job, and when he reacted with shock, she'd tell him about Cassidy, that he'd tried to make a move on her and that her boss took his side because of the large commission the company was going to get from their deal. She'd tell him that she couldn't work for a man who'd allow her to be treated like that.
Sam would believe her; of course he would. He loved her. He loved her enough that when she showed him the money he'd agree to elope. Sam had an assistant; he could run the hardware store for a few days. They'd marry in New York; they'd fly there. Once they were married and settled in the city for a few days, Marion would tell him that an aunt wired her some money as a wedding present – just enough to go on a nice honeymoon in Europe.
Once they were there – Paris, Madrid, wherever it was – Marion would finally tell Sam the truth. She could imagine that he might be upset, maybe a little angry with her – but what could he do? They would already be married, and he would be so deep in debt that he couldn't possibly go through another divorce and alimony. Besides, they would be in a foreign country, and no one knew where they were.
She'd assure him that as long as they were careful, they would be safe. Sam now had enough money to pay off his father's debts – little by little as before, and to keep sending his ex-wife her alimony every month. Marion would send her sister a letter explaining everything, and telling her to feign ignorance of all of it if anyone came asking. Lila was a good sister and friend; she'd do it for her.
They'd live in Europe, as man and wife. Happily ever after.
A half an hour later, Marion was fully dressed, with her suitcase packed and a new black purse stuffed with an envelope that was going to change her life. She nearly made it to the door when she realized that she needed another jolt of courage.
The answer came in the form of a glass of red wine. It was the last glassful from that bottle – left over from two nights earlier when Lila came over for dinner. Now, it seemed like a sign: the last glass of wine from the last bottle she'd drink in this house.
Marion held the glass against her cheek and looked up at the wooden counter that separated her dining room from her living room. She swallowed as she looked at the picture of her mother's smiling face.
Marion got up and put the glass in the sink, not bothering to rinse it out and imagining the sticky blood red ring that would form at the bottom. Marion turned around to see her mother's blue eyes crinkled with joy, staring at her. Marion smiled back and shrugged, as if the old woman could see her.
Picking up the suitcase and her coat, Marion headed for the door, then stopped and turned around again. She walked over to the picture, half tempted to pack it in her bag. She reached for it, but stopped. Some things were meant to stay.
"Goodnight, Mother," Marion said, then turned the wooden frame to the wall and turned out the light.