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Acts of Leaving

I swing the braided strap over my shoulder, inhale the leather’s musk. I am collecting, like snapshots, all the little acts of leaving her, filing them away as proof that I took action. I pull open the door, walk through it.

I knew I should travel light, so I got Jeanne to buy me this new purse two weeks ago. I told her I wanted one big enough to hold a bottle of liquor. She liked the joke and bought the big purse for me. No problem. But I haven’t packed any liquor in it, just a change of clothes and a small toiletries bag. That’s all I need to leave her.

I’ve timed this walk to the Greyhound station twice, a circuitous route that avoids our friendly neighbors and winds instead past homes of those who don’t talk to Jeanne and me, who pretend we don’t exist, who I hope will not help tomorrow or the next day when Jeanne comes knocking on their doors to ask whether they’ve seen me walking by.

Jeanne knows everyone, a well-connected leader type. I fulfill a specific role, make Jeanne look more like one of the big guys. In me, she has a wife just like the rest of them. I wonder how many of them hit their wives.

I cannot go to the place battered women-on-the-run usually go in Salem because she is on the board. And that board cozies up to the boards of women’s safe-house shelters in four nearby counties. I have to get at least to Eugene, maybe farther south if I want to be out of her reach.

“I hope I don’t get drive-by shot-at,” Jeanne said over her coffee mug this morning, her grin crossing her entire face.

“Jeanne, that’s awful,” I said, a risky response to those mean cracks I don’t like.

“I’m just kidding,” she said, moving toward me. I fought my flinch. A Salem city councilor now, she has a day planned in Portland, an hour north, including a tour of the Peninsula Park district, known lately for violent gang activity.

Jeanne talks about gangs as if they were an invasive species. “Those are kids you’re talking about,” I let slip once and paid for it. In those days, I used to fantasize about Jeanne driving drunk into a tree. But I don’t want her dead anymore. Dark mishap fantasies don’t compare to the euphoria of leaving her.

“One way to Eugene, please,” I say, and exhilaration rushes through me as the sweaty, pale bills fall from my fingers. My gut flexes, a measure of the effort to lift myself up two steps into the bus, another act of leaving.

I want to cherish the moment Jeanne realizes I’ve left her and so settle into the vinyl seat and close my eyes to calculate hours. Her Portland meeting will finish by four, but there will be drinks after and then excuses about traffic. Jeanne might even decide to spend the night in Portland.

My breath gets stuck in my chest when the bus begins to roll. My fingers trace squiggles of rain along the window’s glass, and I imagine her calling to tell me she won't be home, the phone ringing forever. I see her getting angry, calling a friend to check on me. A hundred scenarios whiz through my mind. Raindrops hit and streak the glass while the miles between us multiply.

The bus stops for gas in Corvallis, and I shop for gum in the mini-mart. Leaving her will taste like spearmint or cinnamon, whatever I choose. The boy behind the counter points a remote control at a mounted television above him, raising the volume on a news story.

Onscreen, patrol car lights spin blue and red, lighting an urban street scene. The pretty blond anchorwoman with a red umbrella and a microphone says something about a drive-by shooting. A tragedy. Three dead, including a city councilor from Salem.

I walk out into the rain, weeping. I can’t leave her now. She’s already gone.


Kristy Lin Billuni is a writer, teacher, and collaborator in San Francisco. She is a regular contributor to Fiera, the women’s sexual health blog. Billuni’s short stories have appeared in two anthologies from Cleis Press, and she is proud to be a Great Flash Fiction War finalist. Also known as the Sexy Grammarian, she cultivates sexy, bold, free writers who understand their own artistic process. You can find more of her original work at

Acts of Leaving is a 2016 Fiction War Fall Finalist entry. Please do not reproduce without permission from the author. Originally published at Image credit: @dnevozhai


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